Thursday, May 31, 2012

Good Christian Hate-Mongers

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I am getting old, but I can still remember when being a "Christian" was viewed in a positive light.  Christians were good people who followed the teachings of Jesus, loved their neighbors - all of their neighbors, and were paragons of peace and forgiveness.  And while I am certain, or at least hopeful, that most who claim to be followers of Jesus today are still basically very good people, it is the rotten apples of the religion who garner most of the headlines.

Here are stories of three Christian outrages that have been in the news over the past couple of weeks:

First is the tale of Reverend Charles Worley of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina.  Worley told his congregation that lesbians and "queers" should be rounded up, put in concentration camps with electric fencing, and left to die.  Nice one, Charlie.  You're certainly not bothered by any of that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" stuff, are you?

Another Baptist minister, Curtis Knapp of the New Hope Baptist Church in Seneca, Kansas, is a little more humane than old Charlie.  Curtis told his parishioners that the government should round up gay people and kill them.  He obviously has strong moral objections to just leaving people to starve to death in electrified pens.  And as for that "thou shalt not kill" stuff, why there's probably an exception covering gay people in the Bible somewhere - if you read it in the right way - like standing on your head while the rattlesnake venom slowly makes it way toward your calcified heart!

But the absolute worst Christian outrage of the last couple of weeks is a video clip that is getting a bazillion hits on YouTube.  In that cell phone classic, Pastor Jeff Sampl of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Indiana is seen standing behind two small boys, smiling ear-to-ear, as one of the lads (age three) sings a little ditty which declares "ain't no homo going to make it to heaven."  Jeff, you've taught your children well.  It warms the cockles to know that hate, bigotry, and stupidity will survive for yet another generation.  Won't Jesus be entertained when this little child comes unto him!

Where did you three good old boys learn your Christian basics - from Fred Phelps or Anita Bryant?  Maybe you should consider expanding your religious teachings to include some of the standards of old time religion - like The Golden Rule or The Ten Commandments.  I suspect that it's what Jesus would do.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

United Airline's President's Club: Fit for a Romney, But Damned Few Others!

by Pa Rock
Globe Hobbler

Wednesday evening finds me still in Guam sitting in the hallway outside of the United Airline's President's Club -  shamelessly stealing their Wi-Fi service.  I tried to gain entry to the club, but was turned back by a recent street walker turned club supervisor who assured me that I was not good enough to enter.  As I relieved the member's-only candy dish of a handful of peppermints, I mangled a line from Groucho Marx and told the officious bitch that it did not seem like the type of club that I would want to join anyway.

After being turned away by Her Nibs, I did go down to the airport snack bar where the commoners gather.  It is quite the proletariat watering hole - lots of noise and action - and no one, absolutely no one - bothers to take their trash to the trash cans.  The airport snack bar is a true slice of local culture, and quite enjoyable.  (If anyone from the Romney Klan walked in there, they would be afraid to touch anything, much less sit down and eat!)  Their loss.

The sun is setting, and I am ready to fly back to Okinawa.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Packed and Waiting

.by Pa Rock

It's early Wednesday afternoon on Guam.  My bags are packed and I am waiting in the lobby of the Hilton for Valerie to finish her massage.  We will go someplace for lunch and then drive to Andersen Air Force Base where we will drop off our friend's car.  From there we will catch a ride to the airport with some Air Force personnel - and expect to be back on Okinawa later this evening.

I have tomorrow off so that I can finish some of the business associated with getting myself and my stuff out of the Far East a few weeks from now.  Friday I will return to work for a one-day work week.

The days are beginning to rush by, and that is for the best because I am becoming homesick and anxious to return to the United States - even to the furnace room of hell - Phoenix, Arizona!

Of Boonie Dogs and Foster Kids

by Pa Rock

We had dinner this evening at the Jamaican Grill, a very good restaurant that a friend introduced us to during our last visit to Guam.  Everything on the menu was "jerk" something or other - I had jerk chicken - and dessert was fried bananas with ice cream.  And while the food was excellent, it was the after-dinner conversation that nourished my need to know more about the culture of Guam.

Joining Valerie and I at the Jamaican Grill were four Americans who have lived on Guam for several years.  Valerie had met Rose on the flight back to Okinawa when we were here before.  She had been born to American parents on Okinawa forty years or so ago and was returning in search of her childhood nanny.  Rose is a school librarian.  Also in our group was an ex-marine along with his Filipino wife and their school-age daughter.  The ex-marine works as a property manager, and his wife is a nurse.

At some point in the conversation the nurse asked for a "to go" box to take scraps to her "boonie" dog.  There are many dogs which seem to be just running free on Guam, and she explained that these are often referred to as "boonie" dogs, or dogs that come into town from the boonies.  Rose picked up the conversational thread and said that there is really very little in the way of a "humane society" on Guam - no organization with a mission to take care of animals in need.

That led me to throw in my two-cents worth on the subject of foster care.  Obviously, having worked with children in foster care for years, it is a subject close to my heart.  I said that I heard several times on the radio this week that Guam is in desperate need of foster parents.  The statistics being broadcast were that there are 207 children in foster care on Guam, and only 29 foster families.  Both numbers are well below what one would expect on an island of this size.

One reason there are so few children in foster care here is probably due to the nature of the large extended families where almost everyone functions as a  parental figure or a stand-in:  an "auntie" or an "uncle."  It was suggested at the dinner table that these extended relationships might even make the concept of foster care difficult to achieve - with foster parents fearing that family members would show up at their homes to take the children or cause trouble.

There were no solutions offered on either subject, just a lot of conjecture.  And with the national mood (Guam is a U.S. territory) being to cut any services not directly related to armaments and war, both topics will probably remain confined to after-dinner conversation for the foreseeable future.

We ignore the needs of society at our peril.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Macy's of Guam and Other Attractions

by Pa Rock
Island Explorer

Our second day on the island of Guam was focused on shopping and exploring some back roads.  Valerie made a sojourn to Ross's while I roamed through the aisles and stacks of a locally-owned bookstore.  Later, heading north, we stopped at the Mall of Micronesia which is anchored by a Macy's.   Another mall, another bookstore.  I'm so easy to entertain!

Our final stop on the shopping excursion was at the Base Exchange at Andersen Air Force Base.   There I focused on finding tee-shirts and such for my grandkids, and was very successful.

Driving back toward out hotel we decided to explore a few side roads.  The first led us through some lush vegetation that included mango trees and coconut palms - but ended at a pair of auto salvage places with an obligatory pack of roving junkyard dogs!  A second side road led to the Guam International Country Club, an immense old concrete building that looked as though it was probably a prison in a past life.  It overlooked a golf course which was surprisingly empty on this holiday Monday.  The country club did not appear to be very exclusive because we just roamed in an traipsed around like we were old-money locals with membership cards.

Our late lunch was at a Chinese restaurant located in a strip mall.  The food was delicious!

It is almost dark at the Agana Hilton, and I am preparing to head out onto patio by the bay to watch another show.  I will post a few more lines from paradise tomorrow.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Riding Bessie and Other Romantic Island Tails

by Pa Rock
Culture Vulture

It's a beautiful evening in Agana, Guam, and I am sitting out on the large patio of the Hilton Hotel among the tiki torches listening to native drums and watching Polynesian dancers tell tales of the sea with their gyrating hips and swaying grass skirts.  Some of the dancers have their own torches.  Tumon Bay is their backdrop - and it is truly a magical night.

I've never seen a show like this in the Ozarks, or in Phoenix either, for that matter.

Our agency nurse on Okinawa lived on Guam for many years and still maintains a residence and a car here.   She loaned us her car to use during our stay.  The nurse is a reserve major in the Air Force and has an officer's sticker on the windshield - so it was kind of fun having the young gate guards salute us when we drove onto the navy base.  Valerie did get a bit flustered however and returned one of their salutes with her left hand!

So, armed with a car, we spent our first day back on Guam driving around Agana and  then heading south to where the most beautiful beaches are.  We hit many of the cultural centers in Agana - Denny's for breakfast (it was horrid), K-Mart, and the Harley Davidson Shop where I found a really great Harley shirt on the clearance table.  It has long sleeves, so I am not certain what use it will be in Phoenix, but we'll see.  (If Joe Arpaio loses his election, hell will undoubtedly freeze over - and I'll be ready!)

(One of the male dancers is now jumping around the stage chopping up a sugar cane stalk with a machete!  And  now he's twirling some sort of native baton to the beat of the island drums - and he is very, very good!)

On our drive south we stopped at an old fort near where Magellan supposedly landed when he was doing his around-the-world thing.  It was located on a park-like setting high over the Pacific.  As we pulled in we passed a very large Chamorro gentleman with a Mohawk haircut who had four water buffaloes with him.  He was placing small children on the largest one, a mango-loving bovine names Bessie.  The man, who went by the name "Big John," was clearly having as much fun as the kids.

As we were walking up to take some pictures of Bessie and her sisters, Valerie up and asked Big John if I could sit on Bessie - and despite my best efforts to demure, he promptly gave me a leg up and I was water buffalo-borne.  Valerie thought that was really hysterical until I finally got off and Big John put her on Bessie - then it wasn't so humorous!   The best part though was when Big John had Valerie bite into a mango and let Bessie take it from her with her cow teeth!  It was a weird bit of mango-loving!

One of our most interesting stops of the afternoon was the beach at Iranijan, a place where we had spent time on our last visit to Guam.  Valerie did swim a little at Iranijan.  She also found a one-eyed dog who appeared to be starving and very fearful.  She went across the street to the little market and got the poor creature some dog food - and then spent time trying to rehabilitate her new friend.  (Valerie also recently invited an itinerant cat into her home, and the cat showed her appreciation by having a litter of kittens on her bed!  She is truly soft-hearted.)

I took pictures at Iranijan of a young man who was doing the most amazing dives - and my cheapo camera was able to catch his airborne contortions!)

Our final diversion was at Jeff's Pirate Cove, a tourist mecca that has gift shops, a big open-air restaurant,  and (today) a live band.  Jeff's was rocking this holiday weekend!

(Now we are at the segment of the performance where the dancers are pulling audience members up on stage.  Excuse me while I duck beneath my table!)

It is hot in Guam, much warmer than it was during our trip over Thanksgiving.  We also drove through a heavy rain today, but like most ocean storms, it quickly blew out to sea.

Having fun - obviously!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Heading for Guam, Again!

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

It has been a very busy day, one in which I have focused on getting things wrapped up at home and at the office so that I would have a fairly clean conscience as Valerie and I take flight to Guam later tonight.  It will be our second visit to America's furthest-flung possession.  We were also on Guam over Thanksgiving.

My morning began with five emails from five different government and moving company functionaries regarding the shipment of my household goods back to the states.  It is apparently going to be one of those processes!  I did have the presence of mind to request one extra day of vacation beyond the end of this trip so that I could deal with those and any other issues that bubble up during my absence.

It is getting uncomfortably muggy on Okinawa, and the six-month typhoon season officially begins next week.  The dry heat of Phoenix will certainly take some getting used to!

Friday, May 25, 2012


by Pa Rock
Old Fool

There was so much that I had to get done today.  I left home about 8:00 a.m. with my list, knowing that I had lots to do with no time to waste.   Unplanned interruptions in my tight schedule could not be tolerated.  So, of course...

My first stop was at Torii Station, an army facility about ten miles north of my apartment.  I needed to visit with my personnel clerk (and good friend), Hisako, who had finally managed to secure the official orders that would send me home in July.  She and I went over the paperwork, and then she left her office and walked with me to another building when I engaged a different lady about getting airline tickets that would eventually take me back to  Phoenix.  That lady required some information which I didn't have with me, and I told her that I would go home and get it and be back, ideally before lunch.  An unplanned interruption, but one that I could hopefully manage.

From there I headed south and stopped at Lester Naval Hospital which is located very close to my apartment.  (It is where my oldest son was born nearly thirty-nine years ago.)   I had a prescription to fill at the hospital's pharmacy.  It was as I was leaving Lester that my day took a sudden turn for the worse.

All of the military bases on Okinawa have one or more traffic gates where visitors have to stop and show guards their government I.D. cards as they enter.  Leaving is much simpler:  you just exit through the gate on the other side of the guard shack and drive away.  They are referred to as "gates " because each has an actual tall wire gate that can be closed and locked in the event of an emergency.

I was in line waiting to exit when my mind must have wandered a bit to the left  because I suddenly heard a loud crunching noise - and then realized that I had hit the post that holds up the gate.   (Local cars have the steering wheel on the driver's right and the left hand side of the car runs along the outer edge of the road - and I had misjudged the distance between my car and the gatepost.)  The crash tore off the front hubcap, ripped off the passenger mirror, and put a large, wide scrape down the entire side of the car.  The gate guard, who had been standing only a few feet away, came over, took my information, and told me to wait for the military police.

I stood in the shade of a small tree (with my poor little car blocking one lane of fairly busy traffic) for the better part of an hour.  Finally a young lady driving a security forces car (the Air Force equivalent of military police) arrived, took pictures, and gave me some paperwork.  One of the questions she asked during her investigation was how long I had been driving?  When I told her forty-eight years, I suspect that she was thinking about how I had been ripping up and down the roads since before her parents were born!  As the young policewoman was leaving, she told me that my accident was one of the most common types that Americans on Okinawa seem to experience.  (Good old "common" me!)

I went home and put out an all-call to my friends for assistance.  (My fear was that the Japanese police would take an undue interest if spotted my dinged-up car on the road and noticed that my passenger mirror was missing.)  Valerie showed up to help, and she and I spent a very long afternoon running her errands and mine - which now included a visit to my insurance agency and an unproductive stop by a repair shop.  Tomorrow night she and I are heading to Guam for some well-deserved R&R.  We are borrowing the car of a friend while we are on that small island - but Valerie will be driving!

And as for the gate and gatepost at Camp Lester?  Not a scratch!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

For a Few Dollars More

by Pa Rock
Disgruntled Passenger

I heard on the radio yesterday that one of the major airlines is going to begin charging extra for aisle and window seats.  I don’t remember which airline it was that was going to perpetuate this outrage on the flying public, and it doesn’t make any difference because all of the others will dutifully follow suit within a few weeks.

Remember the good old days before airlines were “deregulated,” back when the government had more control over this vital public transportation system.  This is clearly a case where things do not run better when left to free market principles.    

Airlines have historically divided their planes into comfort and service levels – first class, business class, and cattle.  The amenities are reduced to almost nothing in the cattle section, and if a passenger in the cheap seats wishes to purchase something to eat or drink, the cost becomes a little more dear with each flight.

Next they went after our luggage.  If a person wanted to stow a second suitcase in the plane’s underbelly, there would be an extra fee - even though there was no apparent shortage of space in the cargo holds.  That played out on all of us because people responded by stuffing everything they could into large “carry-ons” that were actually medium-sized suitcases, and then interfered with boarding and deplaning as they struggled to get their over-sized “carry-ons” into or out of the overhead storage compartments.

Overbooking has also become the norm as a way to keep from flying with empty seats.  A person might buy his ticket well in advance and then arrive at the airport for the flight only to learn that he has no seat after all because too many schmucks who bought tickets actually showed up to use them.  The purchase of a ticket appears to be a contractual agreement in which only one party is held accountable.

And don’t even get me started on peanuts.

It would be much more fair and expedient if airlines just figured the actual cost of their expenses and translated that into standard ticket pricing.  Yes, the cost of the tickets would fluctuate with the price of jet fuel and peanuts, but the flying public would no longer have to stand in line while some idiot tried to save a few dollars by cramming a suitcase for every member of his family into the overhead bins.   The airlines need to quit trying to segregate us by ability or willingness to pay crap fees, and instead concentrate on customer service and flying their damned planes.

And if they need a few dollars more, maybe they should consider squeezing it out of the CEO's pay - instead of milking it from the cows customers in coach.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The High Price of Being a Laughingstock

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Even though I currently reside in the Far East (for less than two more months), I dutifully pay state taxes in Arizona.  In fact, I send quite a hefty payment to the Arizona Director of Revenue each year.   I consider myself to be a good American and usually don't mind assisting the government through the payment of taxes.  Unlike the crazy teabaggers, I realize that government and society cannot function without a steady stream of income.   Things like roads, schools, airports, hospitals, libraries, and even prisons come with a cost.

But Arizona politicians are wasting my money in some astounding ways, and it's starting to really piss me off.

I have commented on of the cast of clowns before.  Governor Jan Brewer, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio have all grabbed headlines recently by shamefully sucking up to the birthers.  Attorney General Tom Horne earned his Arizona chops by trying to stomp out ethnic studies in Tucson, and before that battling efforts by women to empower themselves.  Recently recalled State Senator Russell Pearce became a national celebrity and a national disgrace by sponsoring legislation that promoted racial profiling of Hispanics - and most of the above have been actively involved in the state's anti-immigrant efforts.

What they have not been involved in are ways to create jobs or improve the state's sorry economy.

But when it comes to wasting tax dollars, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the king of the hill.   The old coot, who has been in office an intolerable sixteen years, has, according to county records as reviewed by the local press, cost the taxpayers of Maricopa County $58.4 million in legal fees, settlements, and judgments.  Of that amount, nearly $20 million (35 percent) has been paid out over the past five years!  People are dying in his jails, people are suffering in his jails, civil rights of individuals, both documented and undocumented, are routinely being ignored or violated, and political "enemies" are being targeted with harassment and phony indictments.

While there are many clowns in Arizona politics, Joe Arpaio is clearly driving the clown car.    Arizona is a national laughingstock, thanks in no small measure to his outrages.

The latest Arpaio drama occurred this week when Joe revealed that he is sending one of his deputies to Hawaii, at state expense, to help with his birther investigation.  He has a "cold-case posse" of volunteers who are working on this spurious piece of business, and those good old boys generally cover their own expenses.  But Joe decided to send along one of his 900-plus deputies to help with "security issues" when the group gathers on Waikiki to discuss its strategy for dealing with those nefarious Hawaii officials - those sneaky lovers of Kenyan socialists who have been plotting Barack Obama's road to the White House since 1961.

When asked by the local press in Phoenix how he could spare a deputy for the birther junket, Old Joe replied that he has over 900 deputies and he could certainly spare one.

How many more could you spare, Joe?  I thought conservatives were supposed to be concerned with cutting government spending - and not figuring out how to pad their payrolls with excess personnel, or devising ways to score tropical vacations on the public's dime.

How much infrastructure could $58.4 million buy?  How many life-saving mammograms could that Hawaii money purchase for poor women.  How much more revenue would be generated if people outside of Arizona didn't view the state as a refuge for lunatics and weren't afraid to venture into the state?

The government of Arizona is disgraceful on its best day - and Joe Arpaio owns much of the blame for the state's mangled reputation.  It is well past time for Joe and several other elected officials to quit pandering to the nuts and get back to the serious business of governing and improving living conditions in the state.

I'll be telling Joe Arpaio how I really feel in the voting booth on election day.

It's time to clean house in the Scorpion State!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Of Mother Nature and Little Women

by Pa Rock

Yesterday was sort of a red-letter day in my life when it comes to observing and experiencing natural phenomenon.  It began early in the day when someone entered our Monday morning staff meeting and announced that the solar eclipse was happening at that moment.  We rushed outside as a group and got to see the event at its zenith.  Approximately ninety-percent of the sun was darkened by the moon passing between it and Earth, with only a narrow slice of bright sun appearing along the bottom of the dark moon.  It was an amazing sight, one that I have not seen before and probably never will again.

That was followed about four hours later by a relatively brief, but nonetheless jarring, earthquake.

Quite a combination - an eclipse and an earthquake on the same day!  In medieval times the Church would have started rounding up suspected witches!  It was a strange pair of occurrences.

Last evening, as I was reading myself to sleep, it got even stranger.

The current book on my bedside table is the Library of America's edition of the works of Louisa May Alcott.   As mentioned here before, Little Men was one of my very favorite books while growing up - and it was the first book that I owned all to myself.  This volume, the one from Library of America, contains the three interlocking novels of Miss Alcott:  Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys, and I am currently on the first of those, Little Women.  While reading last night I came across this paragraph, which had some resonance with the events of earlier in the day:

"The unusual spectacle of her busy mother rocking comfortably, and reading early in the morning, made Jo feel as if some naturnal (sic) phenomenon had occurred;  for an eclipse, an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption would hardly have seemed stranger."

Stranger, indeed!

Well, actually it does get stranger.  My good friend, Daniel Murphy, has been attending a workshop in central Mexico and he was supposed to have arrived back on Okinawa last night - and I was to have met him at the airport.  That didn't happen because Daniel's flight from Mexico was cancelled and he had to make arrangements to do some of his travel by bus.  His flight was cancelled because of particulate matter in the air - matter that was spewed into the air by an active volcano!

That's three for three.  Not bad, Miss Alcott, not bad at all!  I shall continue reading your books, but with greater care to detail and a healthy dose of trepidation!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "Oh Lord, Our Father"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I recently came across the following piece by Mark Twain that wasn't originally published in the form of a poem.  It was actually the prayer at the end of Twain's cynical and deeply disturbing short story called The War Prayer.  What follows is the prayer part of that story.   It should shame any person who finds it easy or expedient to conflate God and war.

Oh Lord, Our Father
by Mark Twain

O Lord, our father,
Our young patriots, idols of our hearts,
Go forth to battle - be Thou near them!
With them, in spirit, we also go forth
From the sweet peace of our beloved firesides To smite the foe. 

O Lord, our God,
Help us to tear their soldiers
To bloody shreds with our shells;
Help us to cover their smiling fields
With the pale forms of their patriot dead; Help us to drown the thunder of
the guns With the shrieks of their wounded,
Writhing in pain. 

Help us to lay waste their humble homes
With a hurricane of fire;
Help us to wring the hearts of their
Unoffending widows with unavailing grief; Help us to turn them out roofless
With their little children to wander unfriended The wastes of their
desolated land
In rags and hunger and thirst,
Sports of the sun flames of summer
And the icy winds of winter,
Burdened in spirit, worn with travail,
Imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it - 

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord,
Blast their hopes,
Blight their lives,
Protract their bitter pilgrimage,
Make heavy their steps,
Water their way with their tears,
Stain the white snow with the blood
Of their wounded feet! 

We ask it in the spirit of love -
Of Him who is the source of love,
And Who is the ever-faithful
Refuge and Friend of all that are sore beset And seek His aid with humble
and contrite hearts. 


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Burton and Depp Go for the Throat

by Pa Rock
Film Critic

Apparently a Gothic horror tale can be set in Maine and not come from the pen of Stephen King.

The concept of Dark Shadows goes back to the 1960's when it ran as a soap opera for several years on television.  Director Tim Burton recognized it as the perfect vehicle for him and his celluloid-other-half, Johnny Depp, to have some campy fun and make a pile of cash in the process.

Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a dashing vampire who comes back from the grave, literally, in 1972, after being imprisoned in a casket and buried by a jilted witch two centuries earlier.  After finishing off the crew of workers who accidentally freed him (he had built up quite a thirst over two hundred years), Barnabas eventually finds his way into the modern town of Collinsport, Maine.  And while the once rustic fishing village still bears his family name, much has necessarily changed during his prolonged absence.

The family mansion, on up the road and through the woods, still houses several members of the Collins clan, but it too has suffered change - through deterioration - of both the structure and the family.  Barnabas sets out to restore his house and family, all the while having to deal with the still-living witch who turned him into a vampire and buried him deep underground in the distant past.

Johnny Depp as Barnabas is, as he almost always is in Tim Burton films, a very quirky and campy character who dominates the film.   Fortunately, for those of us who are growing tired of Captain Jack Sparrow, Mr. Depp chose not to prance his way through this one.

Joining Depp in this farcical tale is another pony from Burton's stable of quirky actors, Helena Bonham Carter.  She plays a drugged and drunken psychiatrist who lives in the Collins' mansion where she takes care of  a child who has issues, as seemingly do all of the Collinses.

British actor, Christopher Lee, who is most well known for his roles in horror films stretching back over decades,  makes a brief appearance as a fishing captain.  Lee has worked with Burton and Depp before on several projects.  He will be ninety-years-old next week and has been involved in four movies since filming was finished on Dark Shadows!

Another senior citizen, rocker Alice Cooper, is featured in this movie playing himself and singing at a party at the Collins' mansion.  Depp refers to the singer in the movie as "the ugliest woman I've ever seen."  Alice Cooper is also believed to still be under the age of ninety.

Other stars of note in this very entertaining movie are Michelle Pfeiffer (the current primary occupant of the mansion), Eva Green  (the witch), and Bella Heathcote (Depp's love interest in the past and present).

Tim Burton's Dark Shadows is visually captivating:  the creaking old mansion, the rugged sea coast with its fearsome rocks and crashing waves, the dark and tranquil woods, and even the quaint but busy seaside town of Collinsport.  (At one point when a sweeping panorama of Collinsport is being presented, the background music is "A Summer Place.")  There is, in fact, an abundance of nostalgia from the sixties and seventies in this movie.  Unfortunately, those of less than a certain age (mine, for instance) may miss some of it.

Dark Shadows is a funny movie that reaffirms the comic genius of both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.  Yes, there are scenes with innocent people getting ripped apart to feed Barnabas Collins, but they are incidental to the story and we are not made to feel any emotional connection to them.  I have a friend who fears vampire movies.  I venture to guess that she will not run from the theatre screaming after viewing this vampire flick, and she will probably sleep soundly that same night.

I give it two fangs up!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Arizona Begins Ushering in a New Generation of Crazies

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Neo-Nazi J.T. Ready is dead - by his own hand, State Senator Russell Pearce has been recalled, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office are facing trial in Federal Court regarding thirty-two pages of findings by the Department of Justice, Andrew Thomas, the former Maricopa County Attorney, and his chief deputy have had their law licenses taken away by the state, and Governor Jan Brewer suffers sweetly under the twin delusions that she is Rosie the Riveter and her father died fighting Nazis - just not the J.T. Ready kind.  Clearly, its time to bring on the next generation of crazies in the Scorpion State.

While the whole roster hasn't yet been revealed, one clear contender for the Batshit Throne is Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a man focused on becoming governor.  Bennett made news this week when he told a radio interviewer that if the state of Hawaii did not honor his request for a copy of the long-form birth certificate of Barack Obama, he would "consider" keeping the President off of the Arizona ballot.

Yup, when things get dull, stir up the birthers.

President Obama's short-form and long-form birth certificates have been in the public domain for quite some time.  So have the newspaper clippings from Honolulu announcing his birth - in Hawaii - a state that is part of the United States - and was at the time of President Obama's birth.

Hawaii was deluged with requests for copies of the President's birth certificate from nearly every crank in America.  The state sent these citizen investigators copies of the standard short-form certificate, as per Hawaiian law - a fact that fanned the flames of birtherism because they smelled a conspiracy, or their dirty shorts, or something.  Last year President Obama released the long-form certificate in an effort to quiet the crackpots, but they would not accept as valid anything released by a black, Kenyan, socialist with the middle name of "Hussein."  Did I mention he was black?

Two years ago Hawaii passed a new law, one that gave their Secretary of State the authority to ignore the never-ending deluge of requests for copies of the birth certificate of Barack Hussein Obama.

Secretary of State Bennett said he acted when he received 1,200 emails from constituents requesting that he use his official powers to get a copy of the long-form birth certificate, and instead of just pulling it off the Internet, he wrote to his counterpart in Hawaii.  The counterpart wrote back to the Arizona politician declining the request and saying that they were "tired of all the requests."

As are we all.

Yes, Barack Obama is a citizen by birth in the United States of America   Yes, his father was a black man from Kenya and his mother was a white woman from Kansas - making him "mixed race,"  and yes, he has an exotic-sounding name.     Yes, he went to Harvard (always suspect by cracker standards) and headed the prestigious Harvard Law Review.   Yes, he worked as a community organizer to aid the poor.  Yes, he attended a large black church whose minister would occasionally wax political and try to stir his congregagtion - in the style of Jerry Falwell,  James Dobson, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Oral Roberts, and Pat Robertson.   And, yes, with all of those facts known and in the public record, Americans chose him to be their President in 2008 by a wider margin than George Bush received in either of his elections.

Barack Obama is a natural-born American citizen and he was elected President by a well informed electorate - and he just happens to be a black man.  That's the real issue, and it is time to move on.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The American Underbelly

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

That sticky slime oozing its way down the streets and sidewalks of certain large segments of backwater America isn't the trail of a giant, radiated snail or a  herd of creatures fleeing the local swamp.   No, it's the collective drool of every racist who has been impatiently waiting for nearly four years to show that colored boy in the White House what they really think.  The last time people didn't pay enough attention, they were fooled - but they won't be fooled again!

The current identity crisis within the Republican Party seems to be whether or not to dig up Reverend Jeremiah Wright, play some radical soundbites from a few of the minister's sermons, and then remind everyone that he and President Obama are best friends forever - a blatant untruth, but veracity counts for precious little in politics.

John McCain was smart enough to try to temper the racists and keep them at a distance during his run for the presidency against Mr. Obama, and now many of them feel that they were cheated out of their opportunity to tell the country just how black Barack Obama really is.

Obama did go on the air back in 2008 and spoke to America on the subject of race, and he was, as usual, eloquent.

Race is an intentionally divisive issue, and one that is destined to backfire in our 21st century world - like it or not.   So if billionaires who feel they have some divine right to run this country want to influence an election by using 1950's logic and tactics, bring it on.  Race-baiting will be a loser.

Mitt Romney is distancing himself from purported plans to use Super PAC money to resurrect Reverend Wright and slime the country with racist innuendo - today.   Tomorrow it may be fair game in the Mittsterville.  He has been known to change his mind on major issues, sometimes with little more than a coffee break between pronouncements.  But if the Republicans, or their sugar daddies, or their militias in bed sheets go there, sooner or later the topic will bounce over to Romney's religion - and then it's really on!

Religion should stay out of elections - and it damned well should stay out of government! 

If billionaires want to have an inordinate influence on the country and massage their bloated egos in the process, maybe they should consider opening factories in depressed areas and creating jobs.   That would be a helluva lot more patriotic than stirring up hate groups - and they might make a few dollars in the process!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guam Again!

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

Those of you who follow my Far Eastern travel adventures on the Okinawan blog ( know three things for certain:  I love to travel, I love to take pictures, and I am way behind in getting my pictures posted to the blog.  In fact, only about two-thirds of the photos that I took in Taiwan (February) have made it onto the blog thus far.  A few more are posted each weekend, and eventually it will be complete.

I have taken some wonderful excursions since arriving on Okinawa nearly two years ago.  During the time that I have been here I have visited Korea twice - once for fun, and once for training and fun.  I have also been to Vietnam and Taiwan, and taken local ferry rides to three islands off of the coast of Okinawa (Yoron, Takashima, and Ie Shima).

Last Thanksgiving my friend Valerie and I flew to the American island of Guam for a few days of rest and relaxation - and had a wonderful time.  None of our friends were interested in going, and one said that it would just be beaches with little else to see and do.  And there were beaches - some of the most beautiful that I have seen anywhere.  We drove the circumference of most of the island, and continually had to stop the car so that I could take postcard shots of all that we encountered.  There were quaint villages, each with its own Catholic church (a holdover from when Spain was the island's landlord), jungle settings, waterfalls, a small university, great restaurants, and did I mention beaches?

Guam, being an American possession that one day should become a state, also has American shopping - including a Ross's (with customers lined up completely around the interior of the building waiting to pay for purchases), a Denny's, a Macy's, and...a K-Mart!  Talk about culture!

Valerie and I had such a nice time in Guam that we have decided to go again.  We will be leaving the Sunday before Memorial Day and staying four nights.  We are both looking forward to getting off of Okinawa for a few more days.

It looks as though I will be heading home on or about July 14th.  I had hoped to see Hong Kong and China before my grand exit from Asia, but the time is racing by so swiftly that those travels seem unlikely to happen.   Even so, I will be coming back to the States with a wealth of memories - and a bazillion pictures on the blog!

Don't cry for me, Argentina.  I'll get there someday!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

God Hates No One

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Nine-year-old Josef Miles and his mother, Patty Akrouche,  were walking near the campus of Washburn University in Topeka this past Saturday when they encountered some of the vermin from the Westboro Baptist Church (sic) holding one of their hate rallies on the campus green.  Pastor (sic) Fred Phelps and his crew are notorious for showing up at public events, including funerals of service men and women, where they scream and yell, walk on American flags, and wave signs with incendiary slogans like "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."  They have been officially branded as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

(The Phelps family is not a stranger to Washburn University.  Indeed, many of their family members received law degrees from Washburn.)

Young Josef, who had probably never come face-to-face with pure evil before, took offense - as any human being should.  He asked his mother if he could make his own sign, and she encouraged him in the civic effort.  Using a  regular notebook he  penciled in bold letters, "God Hates No One" and then proceeded to stand next to the protesters displaying his message.

Ms. Akrouche said that she was very proud of her son, and she commented that the encounter ushered in Mother's Day one day early.

Now if we could only get this kid and his sign to Tampa in time for the Republican Convention in August!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Reversion Day on Okinawa: 40 Years Later

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the United States returning Okinawa to the control of the Japanese government - an event commonly referred to on the island as "Reversion Day."  I happened to have been living on Okinawa when the original event took place, and now, forty years later, it is amazing to see what has changed and what has not.

There is evidence of human habitation on Okinawa as long as 4,000 years ago.   China had an early interest in the island and basically took over governance in 605 A.D.  The next 1,200 years witnessed the development of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, with control of the island shifting between various local warring families and with shifting amounts of Chinese and Japanese influence.  The Kingdom of the Ryukyus was abolished by the Meiji dynasty in 1872 and Okinawa became an official prefecture of Japan - or a Japanese state.

The United States invaded Okinawa in April of 1945 in what would become the largest sea battle in history, and after weeks of fighting, the Japanese suffered defeat in the battle and the loss of the island.  Over one-quarter of the island's native population died in the Battle of Okinawa, and many of the survivors were reduced to eating dirt and grass.

On May 15, 1972, Okinawa was officially returned to Japan at the direction of President Nixon - exactly one century after Japan abolished local governance on the island.

Forty years ago the dollar was the accepted local currency, car steering wheels were on the driver's left, and people drove on the right-hand side of the road.  Today we use Japanese yen to make purchases on the local economy.  (It was 300 yen to the dollar then, it is 78 yen to the dollar today.)  Car steering wheels are on the driver's right, and people drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Forty years ago some Okinawans were angry about one occupying power handing their island off to another occupying power, and many small groups would gather in front of the United States military bases to protest reversion.  Not surprisingly, some are still angry about being handed off to the government of Japan.  I witnessed one fairly large reversion protest march on Saturday, and we have been told to expect to encounter more.  Okinawans are a very peaceful and polite people, so these demonstrations consist mainly of carrying signs and chanting.

So things have changed in some respects but not in others.  Today Naha, the capital of the Prefecture of Okinawa, is a sprawling metropolis and commercial center.  It boasts an international airport, a deep-water harbor that serves vessels from much of Asia, and even a monorail system (built to impress Bill and Hillary Clinton when they visited here for a G-8 conference during the 1990's)..  Most of the southern half of the island, in fact, is strongly invested in commercialism.   The U.S. military presence pumps millions of dollars into the local economy and serves as a major employer of local nationals.  Many Okinawans seem to be doing quite well in dealing with the governments of Japan and the United States, but some still wish for simpler times when they had more control over their own destiny as a people.

I probably won't be returning to Okinawa after I leave this July, but I have had two eventful tours here and I have grown to truly like and respect the Okinawan people.  I wish them a future that strengthens their pride and treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday's Poetry: The Vampire

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Le Vampire by French poet Charles Baudelaire was first published in his collection, Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil), more than a century-and-a-half ago.  There are several good English translations of this work available on the Internet.   The one that follows is by Roy Campbell from his 1952 work entitled Poems of Baudelaire.

I sought out a poem on vampires as a tribute to Tim Burton's Dark Shadows which opens on Okinawa next Sunday.  Being an enormous fan of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Dark Shadows itself, I am truly psyched about this movie and will be munching popcorn at one of the earliest showings.

I was surprised to learn that there are several "classic" vampire poems lurking in cyberspace.   I was searching for one whose primary bloodsucker was male, out of respect to Barnabas Collins, but was unable to find one that I liked.  Le Vampire in its many translations impressed me as being the best of the lot - even if the fiend was a female.

Turn up your collar and enjoy this fine poem by Baudelaire.

The Vampire
Charles Baudelaire
     (as translated by Roy Campbell)

You, who like a dagger ploughed
Into my heart with deadly thrill:
You who, stronger than a crowd
Of demons, mad, and dressed to kill,

Of my dejected soul have made
Your bed, your lodging, and domain:
To whom I'm linked (Unseemly jade!)
As is a convict to his chain,

Or as the gamester to his dice,
Or as the drunkard to his dram,
Or as the carrion to its lice —
I curse you. Would my curse could damn!

I have besought the sudden blade
To win for me my freedom back.
Perfidious poison I have prayed
To help my cowardice. Alack!

Both poison and the sword disdained
My cowardice, and seemed to say
"You are not fit to be unchained
From your damned servitude. Away,

You imbecile! since if from her empire
We were to liberate the slave,
You'd raise the carrion of your vampire,
By your own kisses, from the grave."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Low-Hanging Fruit #3: Rush Limbaugh and the Sanctity of Marriage

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When it comes to low-hanging fruit, radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh is on a limb by himself.  In fact, his limb is so bent by the massive ego of the blathering boob that he doesn't dangle at all, but sits permanently in the mud blaming his advancing rot on everyone but himself.

While the effusive and offensive Mr. Limbaugh should have been permanently taken off the air after his "slut" remarks regarding a Georgetown grad student, and although he did lose a butt-load of sponsors over that poisonous, multi-day tirade, he remains on the air where he constantly stirs America's angry underbelly.

This week Rush exploded over President Obama's belated support of gay marriage.  Rush was particularly incensed that Shepard Smith of the "fair and balanced" Fox News had spoken of the President's announcement in positive terms.  Well, as always, "positive" is not a language that Rush speaks - or even tolerates.  In his tirade against Smith he implied that the Fox commentator had his own gay household, and he indicated that pro-gay marriage language will never carry a public election because "the hicks and hayseeds" would always vote it down.

Hicks and hayseeds, Rush?  One must assume that you are speaking of the Republican base - those good folks who think they are allies of the one-percent, when, in fact, they are only dupes and tools the master class.  That was quite a bright insight into the minds of those with vulgar levels of wealth - such as yourself.

But who better to lead the charge to preserve the sanctity of marriage than a man who has been married four times.  With that much experience, you must certainly be an expert.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Godspell on Okinawa

by Pa Rock
Culture Vulture

Congratulations to the Pacific Okinawan Players for their outstanding production of Godspell.  Myself and two close friends attended last night's performance at the Community Center Auditorium on Camp Foster, and when we left we were of the unanimous opinion that we had seen a really good show.

I had been to one prior performance by this group (100 Lunches), and knew from that experience that their resources were limited.  What a pleasant surprise it was to watch the small troupe (ten people on stage and a kick-ass band) handle the musical so well.  The spirit was moving therm!

Live theatre is a rarity out here on the world's elbow.  All of the people involved with the Pacific Okinawan Players are to be commended for giving of themselves to bring some culture and refinement to our isolated piece of the world.

Great work, guys!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Low-Hanging Fruit #2: Bristol Palin on Marriage and Parenting

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist 

President Obama predictably stirred a firestorm of opinion when he announced earlier this week that he now supports the notion of gay marriage.  Liberals were enthusiastic about his new-found advocacy on the topic, conservatives and religious fundamentalists were less than enthusiastic, and Log Cabin (gay) Republicans were incensed that Dick Cheney didn't get credit for being the first President to support gay marriage.  Mitt Romney's opinion was, as usual, dependent upon his audience.

One of the more interesting takes on the President's announcement came from former Alaska First Daughter, Bristol Palin.   Ms. Palin seemed to be particularly distressed regarding President Obama's admission that the feelings of his daughters, Malia and Sasha, played a role in his decision.  The President noted that they have friends growing up with parents who are same-sex couples, and that "it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently."

Ms. Palin, herself the daughter of a politician, was having none of that.  She posted her opinion (on Facebook) of the Obama girls being interjected into the national discourse:

"While its great to listen to your kids' ideas, there's also a time when dads simply need to be dads.  In this case, it would've been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends' parents are no doubt lovely people, that's not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage.  Or that - as great as  their friends may be - we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother / father home.  Ideally, fathers help shape their kids' worldview."

That fruit is hanging so low that it almost seems immoral to pick it.

So far all we know from research is that kids do better when they grow up in a home where the parents love, respect, and interact with them in a healthy and positive manner.  Love is not dependent upon gender.   The one man-one woman concept is in itself evolving.  (Consider, for instance, the Mormon Church's fairly recent history of practicing polygamy - or the fact that marriage had to be along racial lines in this country until just a few decades ago.)  Moses didn't carry anything down from the mountain that spelled out who could marry whom, yet some contemporary ministers feel that not only do they have God's ear, but they have his (or her) voice as well.  Do we really need or want people like Jimmy Swaggart or Ted Haggard setting our moral compasses?

Warren Jeffs considers himself to be a man of God.  Do we want him setting the rules for marriage?

Just because some flaming evangelist says it's so - does not make it so.

Some people grow up in lovely households with a lovely mother and a lovely father and still manage to do drugs, break laws, or get pregnant out of wedlock.  And because those things happen does not mean that there was a lack of loving or parenting.  Kids are constantly bombarded by forces outside of the family - radio, television, the Internet, Facebook, and peers - and sometimes they make bad choices.  Parenting is damned hard, 24/7!

Bristol, raise your son carefully and raise him well.  Make him the first person in your life, and be the first person in his.  When it comes to shaping his worldview, try to guide him into making good choices through both word and deed.  Give him love, show him compassion, provide him with a good education, teach him to care for others, and empower him with a strong work ethic.

And if you find someone with whom you want to share your life, make sure that person has the same level of commitment to children as you do before you bring him into your household.  

Parenting is an exercise of the heart, not the pulpit.

And it is completely gender neutral.

Low-Hanging Fruit #1: Michelle Bachmann, the Swiss Miss?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Some people make themselves such easy targets that it almost seems unfair to point out their stupidity, hypocrisy, or batshit craziness.  Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, of course, can always be relied upon to generate jaw-dropping headlines - even when she doesn't intend to.  Ms. Bachmann said recently that her angry presidential campaign had been almost gaffe-free, a statement that in and of itself constitutes a falsehood of almost Biblical proportions.  (Didn't she claim to have been born in the same city as cowboy actor and American icon John Wayne, when, in point of fact, she wasn't?  She was actually born in the same city as serial killer John Wayne Gacy!)

Ms. Bachmann, presumably as American and anti-socialist as a person can be, shocked the nation this week when it was revealed that she applied for Swiss citizenship last February, and it was granted on March 19th.  When I saw that gem on the Internet a couple of days ago, I thought that I must have accidentally landed on the website of The Onion and come across a story that was so bizarre that it was barely even funny.

But no.  Michele Bachmann, hubbie Marcus, and their three youngest children had applied for and been granted citizenship in Switzerland.   The staunchest foe of Obamacare had actively sought citizenship in a European country that has state-sponsored health care for all of its citizens!  Can it get any crazier than that?

Ms. Bachmann, while trying to explain her application for citizenship in a basically socialist foreign country, said that she actually became Swiss in 1978 when she married Marcus, the son of Swiss immigrants.  That is obviously not true, or why would she have had to apply for citizenship in 2012?  But that was her story and she was sticking to it.  She did it for love.

After her move for Swiss citizenship (actually dual citizenship - both U.S. and Swiss) became public knowledge, the ever flexible congresswoman who is running for re-election, made a political decision to withdraw it.  (There will be plenty of time to become a European socialist later when she is eventually voted out of Congress and loses her government-funded health care.)

Maybe now when reporters ask her embarrassing questions which she is unable to answer, Michele can switch into her Swiss mode and yodel.  (I had my doubts about her Americanism when I first saw the photos of Michele and Marcus trying to eat corn dogs!)

Is Mitt Romney Swiss too, or is he trusting foreigners to watch his money?

(I am suddenly very suspicious.  The next time Michele Bachmann decides to run for President, I want to see her long-form birth certificate!)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Barack Obama Flexes His Christianity

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist  

What an absolute thrill it was to wake up on the world's elbow this morning to the news that the President of the United States has finally quit worrying about the tinfoil-hat-wearing-loonies and has boldly taken America into the twenty-first century!  The Armed Forces Radio Network (AFRN) put it this way:  President Obama has come out in favor of gay marriage.

And it's about damned time!

Yes, I understand the possible political consequences - a President Romney taking away women's birth control along with their shoes - but I trust in America and think it is a far better place than conservatives realize.  And the President's sudden burst of leadership can only help speed our national enlightenment.

I have been an active supporter of Barack Obama since before he even declared his candidacy for President way back in 2007.   His passion and idealism filled a void that had haunted many of us for eight sad years.  Like many Obama supporters, I felt a lot of disappointment when he didn't storm into the Capitol on Inauguration Day with thousands of pounds of legislation aimed at correcting the excesses and crimes of his predecessor.

And while the President seemed to be behaving far too cautiously for my liking, a look back over the last few years does reveal some whopping successes.  He had only been in office nine days when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which guaranteed that women who do the same jobs as men be paid the same wages.  What a concept!  A little over a year later he had managed to get the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed into law.    True, it was badly damaged in the legislative process by Republicans on the take from doctors and insurance companies, and Blue Dog Democrats who feared losing their cushy jobs, but the act was a significant start toward giving all Americans access to health care - a gigantic foot in the door, so to speak.

It was Barack Obama who eventually oversaw the dismantling of the hoary old policy of Don't Ask - Don't Tell from the Clinton Administration - and while many conservatives predicted the immediate collapse of the entire U.S. military, the new policy produced nary a ripple in military operations, much less the tsunami that the right-wing fringe so desperately wanted to happen.  Young people, like those in the military, know gay people - and it's no big deal.

Now thankfully the President has applied that same logic to the subject of gay marriage.  He has bravely taken himself to a place where most of America was patiently (or not so patiently) waiting.  The religious right and their political party will go nuts for awhile, pray to the heavens for their white, English-speaking Jesus to come down and turn the Kenyan usurper into a Tallahassee janitor, and deliver them from evil.  But their wrath, like intestinal gas, will eventually pass.

Sadly for them,  they are the one's with the least understanding of what Christ was all about.  They may mumble that "Do unto others" stuff, but it does not have a home in their hearts.  Turning the other cheek?  Well, that's just for pansies. And that camel passing through the eye of a needle sounds more socialist than Biblical.   They are more in tune to the old time religion of smiting, stoning, and killing.   Most of America has figured out that Christ was about love, but these religious hate-mongers seem to have misplaced their Bibles - at least the New Testament - the part that contains the teachings of Christ.

Committed couples should have the right to visit each other in the hospital.  They should be able to leave property to one another without paying taxes that people who are married do not have to pay.  They should be entitled to all  of the same legal privileges afforded to people who have their names inked together on a marriage license.  And they should have the right to marry, if that is where their hearts lead them, regardless of their gender.  It's more than fair - it is very, very Christian.  And so is Barack Obama.

President Obama is a Christian, a real one.

God bless him.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mean Max is an Orphan

by Pa Rock

I grew up in a house where books were a rarity.  My parents were busy trying to make money, the only thing they regarded as a sure sign of success, and reading wasn't a priority.   It was something to be learned and practiced at school.  Most of the classrooms in the small country school that I attended did have a shelf of books that we could check out, and the Book Mobile from the country library came by once a month to give us the opportunity to expand our horizons even further.

One of the first actual books for a child to make its way into our home was Louisa May Alcott's wonderful Little Men.  I came across it in our local Ben Franklin Store (think Wal-Mart without the angst) and was taken by the cover which showed a group of young children playing and having a wonderful time.  That book became mine.  I bought it with my own money and read it cover-to-cover.  I loved Little Men then, and I love it now!  (In fact, an Alcott collection, including Little Men, is the next book up on my nightstand.)

But there were no picture books in our home, or books that would attract little kids and help them learn how to read.  For that we had to get on the bus and go to school.

(My parents did have some Reader's Digest Condensed Books lying around the house, and as I got older I read a few of those abbreviated novels.  Condensing works fine with milk, but the process is necessarily demeaning and destructive when it comes to novels.)

My first experience with picture books for young children came when my oldest son, Nick, was a toddler.  We  would often part with pocket change to buy him Little Golden Books.   (It seems like they were twenty-five cents each back in the day - but definitely no more than a dollar.)  We would read books to Nick, and by the time he entered kindergarten he could read them himself.  When he was in first grade he set a class record for the number of books he read!

But to back up a bit, while Nick was still toddling around with a book in one hand and a stuffed animal in the other, his parents were in college trying to get their teaching credentials.  One semester I had a space to kill in my class schedule and wound up taking a class that was far from being a requirement to be a high school teacher.  The class was Children's Literature  (affectionately called "Kiddie Lit") and it turned out to be a wonderful investment - for my role as a dad.

The class was at Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, and my instructor was a young PhD named Jimmy Couch.  Dr. Couch, if memory serves, was not the regular instructor for that class, but was filling in for a colleague who had the summer off.  As a student in that class I had to read hundreds of children's books and  do some sort of synopsis card on each book that I completed.

The final project for Kiddie Lit was to write and illustrate a children's book, make the cover, and bind it.  At the time my parents had two grandchildren, my son, Nick, and my sister's daughter, Heidi.  My book was about two youngsters, aptly named Nick and Heidi, who had built their own fort out of cardboard boxes and other stuff.  As they were playing they began to argue about who was bravest, boys or girls?  Then they went for a walk through the woods where they encountered a tree that suddenly sneezed and slung angry bees everywhere.  They were both frightened and ran away - proving that sometimes it is prudent not to be too brave.  The book's title, of course, was Trees That Sneeze Bees, and it was pretty damned good,

Trees That Sneeze Bees was written in tortured rhyming verse not too dissimilar to Dr. Seuss, the premier children's author of the past century.

Theodore Seuss Geisel  (Dr. Seuss) died over twenty years ago, but the amazing body of work that he left behind will enthrall children of all ages throughout all ages.

Today the second best author and illustrator of children's books of this generation passed on.  Maurice Sendak, like Dr. Seuss, left an amazing body of work that includes one of the classics of the genre:  Where the Wild Things Are.   I was fifteen when Sendak published his masterpiece, and I first became aware of it several years later in Dr. Couch's class.  I immediately fell in love with mean little Max, a monster of a child who gets sent to his room without supper because he misbehaved.  As Max sits in his room a jungle starts growing and...well, everyone knows the rest of the story because, after all, it is a classic of children's literature.

And if you don't know little Max, get thee to a bookstore and buy a copy of his adventure, because without that particular bit of literary background, you are destined to be under-educated, boring, and really, really, ugly!

Maurice Sendak, you will be missed, but thank you for leaving us with Max and all of your other great contributions to the field of children's literature.  It was a pleasure strolling down the pathways of your imagination.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Language

by Pa Rock
Cantankerous Critic

Language evolves.  I understand that, though I may not always agree with the notion that the words we speak and the patterns we speak them in are subject to change over time.   But I get it, and I am adaptable - to a point.   That said, there are some things in the constant evolution of American grammar that just bug the bejeezus out of me - such as the phrase "on accident."

I first heard that particular grammatical vulgarism more than thirty years ago.  An elementary school teacher used it in her retelling of a playground incident.  After she finished her tirade about which child should be canonized and which should be sent off to the gulag, I inserted myself into her manner of speaking - in a manner of speaking.  Something, I told her, may happen "accidentally" or "by accident" or "as the result of an accident," but nothing happens "on accident," and would she please quit talking like a hillbilly.  Of course, we were in extreme southwest Missouri and I was soon to learn that in the few years that I had been away from the area, "on accident" had wormed its way permanently into the local vernacular.

But I clung fast to my standards and refused to use the phrase.  My efforts to change new local idiom were about as effective as "pissing up a rope," another clever use of words that probably also has Ozark origins.

I was at a meeting recently when the subject of expanding one's vocabulary came up.  One participant said that he enjoys reading the dictionary looking for interesting words that he can incorporate into his vocabulary. There was also discussion about the various vocabulary word sites that will email subscribers a new word every day along with definition and an example of proper usage.  Yet another person (okay, it was me) said that reading good books will aid in expanding one's vocabulary.

Reading decent literature can also be a key to absorbing some good grammatical habits.  I am currently reading The Moonlit Earth by Christopher Rice, one of my favorite authors of the thriller genre.  Although only thirty-four-years-old, Mr. Rice, the son of novelist Anne Rice and the late poet Stan Rice, is one hell of a fine plotter and wordsmith.  He obviously grew up around people who understood proper English usage, and one would expect that even without the fine editors at  Simon and Schuster, Mr. Rice would have no problem expressing himself properly in the English language.

And he does not disappoint!

Last night I came upon this little jewel of a sentence, and it set me off on the tirade that I have just concluded:

"And in an instant, his vision was so blurred he would not keep running lest he dart in front of a motor scooter by accident."

Bravo, Mr. Rice!  Bravo!  Half of America may not understand the phrase "by accident," but perhaps they can buy a clue from Vanna!  I'm sure that you used it "on purpose!"

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday's Poetry: Two Views of Cowboy Hell

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today while reading through some cowboy poetry, I came across The Hell-Bound Train, a very old cowboy ballad, author unknown, which was being sung by cattle punchers in the earliest days of the twentieth century.  The piece stands very well on its own, and tells a gritty tale in disgustingly real terms, as most cowboy poetry tends to do.

But The Hell-Bound Train and its take on cowboy purgatory put me in mind of another very old song that addresses the same topic.  I say that Ghost Riders in the Sky is old, when in point of fact, it is less than 90 days younger than me.  So yup, its old!  Many, many artists have recorded it over the years, but the Johnny Cash version is the one with which most people are familiar.  (Peggy Lee even recorded it back in the day!)

Enjoy the poetry, and mend your evil ways!

The Hell-Bound Train
Author Unknown

A Texas cowboy lay down on a barroom floor,
Having drunk so much he could drink no more;
So he fell asleep with a troubled brain,
To dream that he rode on a hell-bound train.

The engine with murderous blood was damp,
And was brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp;
An imp for fuel was shoveling bones,
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans.

The boiler was filled with lager beer,
And the Devil himself was the engineer;
The passengers were a most motley crew
Church member, atheist, Gentile and Jew.

Rich men in broadcloth, beggars in rags,
Handsome young ladies, withered old hags.
Yellow and black men, red, brown and white,
All chained together -- O God, what a sight!

While the train rushed on at an awful pace,
The sulfurous fumes scorched their hands and face;
Wider and wider the country grew,
As faster and faster the engine flew

Louder and louder the thunder crashed,
And brighter and brighter the lightning flashed;
Hotter and hotter the air became,
Till the clothes were burnt from each quivering flame.

And out of the distance there arose a yell,
"Ha, ha," said the Devil, "we're nearing hell!"
Then, oh, how the passengers shrieked with pain,
And begged the Devil to stop the train.

But he capered about and danced with glee,
And laughed and joked at their misery.
"My faithful friends, you have done the work,
And the Devil never can a payday shirk.
"You've bullied the weak, you've robbed the poor,
The starving brother you've turned from the door;
You've laid up gold where the canker rust,
And you have given free vent to your beastly lust.

"You've justice scorned and corruption sown,
And trampled the laws of nature down;
You have drink, rioted, cheated, plundered, and lied,
And mocked at God in your hell-born pride.

"You have paid full fare, so I'll carry you through;
For its only right you should have your due.
Why, the laborer always expects his hire,
So I'll land you safe in the lake of fire --
"Where your flesh will waste in the flames that roar,
And my imps torment you forever more."
Then the cowboy awoke with an anguished cry,
His clothes wet with sweat and and his hair standing high.

Then he prayed as he'd never had prayed till that hour
To be saved from his sin and the demon's power.
And his prayers and pleadings were not in vain;
For he never rode the hell-bound train.

Ghost Riders in the Sky
by Stan Jones

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat

He's riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain't caught 'em yet
'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire
As they ride on hear their cry

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi Yaaaaay

Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky