Saturday, August 31, 2013

Robbers' Roost

by Pa Rock

Three weeks ago today I went off on an impulse drive to Jerome, Arizona, and just after leaving that beautiful and very historic hillside city, I stopped in the small town of Clarkdale where I perused a couple of used bookstores.  One of the treasures that I acquired while digging through the dusty stacks was a hardbound, second-edition of a book written by Zane Grey in 1930 entitled Robbers' Roost.

I have an interest in the early 1930's due, in large measure, to an independent writing project that has been consuming my spare time for the past couple of months.  While not necessarily a fan of westerns, I reasoned that reading Robbers' Roost might give me some insight into popular literature of the times, as well as language and word usage.

Zane Grey wrote to entertain the common man, but he was no piker when it came to literary style.  He could tell a good story in a manner that held the reader's attention, while not fearing to use big words and complicated sentences to describe the grandness of the American West.  It was Grey's powers of description that elevated him well above the other prolific chronicler of the Old West, Louis L'Amour.

Robbers' Roost is the tale of Jim Wall, a drifter with a criminal past, who fell in with an outlaw, Hank Hayes, when he witnessed Hayes needlessly robbing a Mormon who had just openly cheated a young ferryman.  Hayes led Jim Wall to the Star Ranch where he and his outlaw gang were employed by an Englishman rancher who had more cattle and money than he could manage.  Hayes' outfit and another gang of outlaws, also employed at the Star Ranch, were both planning of relieving the Englishman of his cattle and his money.

The story began to get complicated when the Englishman, Mr. Herrick, detailed Jim to take the buggy and pick up his sister, Helen, who was arriving by stage in a town that was a full day's ride from the ranch.  Jim successfully retrieved Helen Herrick from the stage stop and brought her to the Star Ranch.  Jim, of course, managed to fall hopelessly in love with the beautiful Helen as they slowly made their way back to the ranch.

But Hank Hayes had plans of his own when it came to Miss Herrick.  Hank succeeded in relieving Herrick of most of his cattle without the gentleman rancher being any the wiser.  He then really stirred the kettle when he robbed Herrick at gunpoint and kidnapped Helen to hold her for ransom.  The gang, with Helen in tow, made its way to a secret hideaway that Hayes had discovered during his earlier travels.  They called the secluded spot "Robbers' Roost."  Jim Wall, who was fleeing with the gang, had to work hard at maintaining his status as a fellow outlaw while keeping a close eye on Helen to insure that Hank did not have his way with her.  Wall was also constantly on the lookout for a way to rescue the distressed damsel.

Soon the other outlaw gang found them and the bullets began to fly.

Robbers' Roost was penned by Zane Grey when he was at the height of his writing power.  The story is gripping, and Grey's descriptions of the desolate, yet magnificent Utah landscape are every bit as vivid as if they had been captured by the paints of Frederick Remington.  The author took me someplace I had never been and left me wanting to experience more.   That, by my definition, is great literature - even if it was penned by a cowboy author who could really crank them out.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

I saw a comment on the Internet today which opined that Barack Obama was more like Nixon than Martin Luther King, Jr.  And while there have been times that I have regretted what I judge to be Obama's lack of belly-fire on certain issues, overall I would have to say that our current President has been instrumental in kicking down some doors that recently appeared to be all but impregnable. 

The Affordable Care Act, which could have been even more universal had it been based on the Medicare single-payer model, is nonetheless the law of the land and contains much in the way of needed assistance to millions who have historically struggled to have the most basic of health care.    Many Republicans seem to think anything which aids anybody is an abomination and needs to be excised from government – and many in the teabag fringe of that political entity feel that government itself needs to be excised from the national landscape. 

The United States Supreme Court has upheld the ACA (also known as “Obamacare”), and despite dozens and dozens of Republican attempts to repeal or defund the legislation, it remains standing tall, or at least upright, as one of the most significant social changes since the days of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

Another startling social change is the shift in public and government attitudes toward gay issues during the few scant years that Barack Obama has been in the White House.  The President himself struck down the silly military policy of "Don't Ask - Don't Tell," the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act after the Obama administration refused to enforce it, and thirteen states along with the District of Columbia, several counties in New Mexico, and Five Indian Nations now legally sanction gay marriage.

Would flabby-jowled, paranoid, sneaky, and eternally angry Dick Nixon have stood for any of that?   You can bet your bippy that he would have thrown down the full force of the FBI, CIA, IRS, and the Watergate Plumbers to block such progressive social movements.

And now the moral compass of social change has swung toward marijuana use, surely a topic that would have sent Tricky Dick howling over the edge of sanity.  It was those dope-smoking hippies, after all, who did so much to proclaim and showcase his evilness. 

For the past few years states have begun passing laws allowing for the regulated growing and distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes, most if not all, through voter initiatives.   Last fall Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana – for recreational purposes.    (Heavens to Murgatroyd!)   All of those laws were in direct opposition to federal law which forbade the production, sale, purchase, possession, or use of the devil weed.

So with this direct challenge to their supremacy on the marijuana front, what were the feds to do?   There were initial (and sporadic) attempts to enforce federal law, as well as a great deal of looking the other way – that is until yesterday when our government, the Obama-led federal government, signaled a marijuana paradigm shift of seismic proportions.

In a memo to the offices of all U.S. Attorneys, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that the Justice Department has now relinquished power to the states to regulate the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes – as long as the states have and enforce policies to safeguard public health and safety.

The dam, she is cracked - and the rainy season is upon us.  Change will soon be rushing forward from sea to shining sea!

Nixon, indeed!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Walmart Loosens Up

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Word out of Bentonville, Arkansas, is that Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is preparing to offer insurance benefits to the same-sex partners and spouses of their employees.  The corporation, which got its start as a five-and-dime in rural northwest Arkansas, has a long history of ultra-conservative positions, so this sudden change-of-heart is reverberating loudly across the Walmart community of employees as well as the nation.

Walmart, the bell cow of the Fortune 500, is a bit late in coming to the game.  Over sixty-percent of the member corporations of that elite group already offer domestic partner benefits.  A Walmart corporate spokesman noted that of its thirty primary competitors, all but two (Publix and Stop and Shop) already offer benefits to same-sex partners and spouses.

Walmart is the second largest employer in the United States, only trailing the federal government in total number of employees.   The Walmart workforce within the United States exceeds 1.3 million.  Those employees who have been with the company for over a year and work an average of thirty hours or more per week qualify for insurance benefits. 

A spokesman for Walmart said that domestic partners, married or unmarried, are qualified for the insurance benefits as long as they have been together exclusively for twelve months – and that no proof is required for enrollment.

One has to wonder how the denizens of Tea Bag Nation, many of whom view their frequent visits to the local Walmart as near-religious experiences, will react to this heresy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

America Marches On

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Tea baggers and the extremist fringe of the Republican Party have recently had a lot for which to be thankful:  George Zimmerman, a Florida vigilante, was acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, the United States Supreme Court essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act opening the door for many states to immediately impose voting restrictions to keep those odious poor people and minorities away from the polls, and  most Americans, even the insane and/or criminal Americans, are quickly securing the “right” to rush out and buy any type of weapon that strikes their fancy.   Justice Scalia is reportedly even mulling over the notion that the Second Amendment would allow private ownership of rocket launchers.

We, as a nation, are rapidly becoming Ted Nugent’s wet dream – or the personification of the love child of Ayn Rand and John Birch.  It’s a scary landscape, one that would be unbearably daunting if not for the perspective afforded by history.

That perspective was on bold display today as the country celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  It was a time for the sane portion of America to wave a few flags and honor a few heroes of their own.   Three Democratic Presidents were in attendance and addressed the crowd.  The two surviving Republican Presidents, both named Bush, were noticeably absent.

I was able to tune into much of the event during lunch via my local National Public Radio station.  I heard the speeches of Presidents Carter and Clinton in their entirety, and caught a portion of President Obama’s address.  Dr. King’s sister and some of his children also spoke.

All three Presidents were eloquent, but it was Clinton who delivered the sharpest line of the afternoon when he noted, “A great democracy doesn’t make it harder to vote than buy as assault weapon.”  That one sailed right over the tidal pool and out of the ball park!  Jimmy Carter commented on the perspective of history in showing that we have come a long way in the past five decades.  However, as the U.S. Supreme Court, a Florida jury, and several state legislatures have recently proven, we still have a very long way to go. 

Today was a pleasant reprieve from all of the right-wing hate,  It was good to see a whole cadre of civil rights activists being honored by a grateful nation and to know that their bravery in the face of almost constant peril opened doors for so many – doors that are almost taken for granted today.   It was a grand look back and a brief glimpse forward.  We know where we have been, and with the perspective of history, we have a sense of the barriers that still need to be crossed.

Let the baggers spend as much money, time, and energy as they can muster in fighting health care for all, trying to defund public schools, patrolling the borders, painting misspelled protest signs, and cutting eye-holes in bed sheets – America is marching on without them!

(If you haven’t already done so, check out the new “March on Washington” forever stamps currently available at your local post office.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Desert Storm

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

There was no corn as high as an elephant's eye - or any other height for that matter - but last night the wind (and rain) definitely did come roaring down the plain - and across the Valley of Hell.

We have had a few sporadic showers over the past couple of days, and the forecast was for the possibility of another rain teaser yesterday evening.  A little after 5:00 p.m. I got a text message from some unnamed government entity warning that a major dust storm was on the way.   Being a concerned desert-dweller, I immediately put aside my dinner and the TV remote and rushed outside to get a view of the approaching haboob.  Sadly, nothing was apparent other than a smattering of what appeared to be rain clouds.

(That wasn't too surprising because whenever anything newsworthy comes to the Valley, it usually heads straight for Scottsdale or Tempe.  Of course, I wasn't sure whether bad weather would follow that protocol or not.)

Things began to get dicey a couple of hours later.  I was pounding away at my computer keyboard when I noticed that the television signal was starting to  flicker on and off.  Then the two bathroom skylights began to rattle and sound like they were going to take off.

Once again I rushed outside.

This time the tranquility was gone, blown away by what appeared to be gale-force winds that were sending sheets of water flying sideways across my recently arid neighborhood.   The winds were also taking down tree limbs and pieces of dead fronds from the palms.  It was a spectacle seldom seen in this vicinity.

(I stood outside for several minutes - under a carport, and not very well protected - watching my trash can which I had placed on the curb prior to the storm.  I fully expected the half-full trash bin to go flying down the street scattering my refuse across the prim and prissy military neighborhood.  Eventually the dancing lightening drove me back indoors, and the trash can, heavy even when it's empty, had the amazing good grace to stay put.)

This morning there are pieces of trees and cactus scattered about the base, and even one large, uprooted sign - all souvenirs from a desert storm of grand proportions.

And I understand Scottsdale did get theirs as well, just not exclusively!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "MyDog"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."  Josh Billings

"Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think that you are god.  Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods."  Christopher Hitchens

Today is National Dog Day, a wonderful opportunity to present a poetic tribute to the noble animal that truly is man's best friend - and there are literally thousands and thousands of really good dog poems from which to choose.      Robert W. Service, "the bard of the Yukon," penned this sentimental ode to the species that has always held such a warm spot in the heart of man.    His poignant words easily describe most of the vagrant mongrels who wander through our lives seeking nothing more than food, water, shelter, and affection - and, in return, offering a lifetime of love.

Here's to you Lassie, Old Yeller, Greyfriars Bobby, and Marmaduke - and all of your cousins, real or imagined.  May your day be very, very special!

My Dog 
by Robert W. Service

'Twas in a pub just off the Strand
When I was in my cups,
There passed a bloke with in his hand
Two tiny puling pups;
And one was on me with a bound,
Seeking to lick my face,
And so I bought him for a pound
And took him to my place.

Three acres by the shore I own,
A hut, a pint wood;
And there for fifteen years alone
He shared my solitude.
It was his own, his only world,
And when with hunting spent,
Each night beside my bed he curled,
And slept in sheer content.

My dog is dead. Though lone I be
I'll never have another;
For with his master-worship he
Was closer than a brother.
My foot is frail and I am old,
Yet how my heart can pity
Pups straining on a short leash-hold
And pent up in the city.

From all thought of self above,
And purged of sex emotion,
I know no form of living love
So deep as dogs devotion.
I have no hope at all of heaven,
I've lived in sin and strife;
But thank God! I at least have given
One dog a happy life.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jodie Foster's Worst Role Ever

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

If one were teaching a course in creative writing and needed to come up with an example of a one-dimensional character, that teacher could do no better than the character of Delacourt played by Jodie Foster in the new movie release, Elysium.  Delacourt is a ruthless bitch out to seize power in an us-versus-them future world.  And that is absolutely all we know about her- she is a ruthless bitch who has to slog her way through some of the most borific dialogue ever attached to a major motion picture.   We don't know how she became such a bitch, or why she remains such a bitch, or how she rose to such a high position in government.   We don't know if she has children, a man in her life, a girlfriend, an over-bearing mother, or a drug habit.  All we know when the final credits role is that Delacourt is a ruthless bitch.

That is a pristine example of a one-dimensional character - and it was certainly the only thing pristine, or even interesting, about Elysium.  Matt Damon, the film's leading actor, also has to trudge through a morass of predictable dialogue, but his character has a bit more depth and substance than the one consigned to Ms. Foster.

The movie, Elysium, is a futuristic drama in which people with means and money have relocated to a green-space satellite orbiting a highly polluted and over-populated Earth.  It has the look and feel of a science fiction film of a couple of years ago entitled District 9 - due in great measure, one would suppose, to the fact that both films were written and directed by a young South African named Neill Blomkamp.   Both movies appear to be little more than perverse glimpses into Blomkamp's amusement park of a psyche - something that worked for George Lucas but misses the mark with Blomkamp.

Memo to would-be producers with deep pockets:  Not every movie is deserving of a sequel.

Memo to Jodie Foster:  Get an agent.  Craig's List is an unseemly place to look for roles.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Rent" Rises in Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Theatre Aficionado

The Phoenix Theatre brought the curtain up on its 93rd season last night with Rent - a musical look at a group of young people who form a family bond while struggling to survive on the mean streets of New York City during the AIDS epidemic.  The story, told through dynamic rock music, is a soul-wrenching tour through the bowels and heart of a great city.

As with all productions at the newly renovated Phoenix Theatre, the cast performed flawlessly.  Jeffrey Wei as the romantic transvestite, Angel, and Lee Hollis Bussie who played Angel's boyfriend, Collins, were exceptionally noteworthy, as were Preston Ellis (Roger, the young songwriter) and Marisha Castle who portrayed his junkie/stripper (and highly sympathetic) girlfriend, Mimi.   Miss Castle's powerful voice could rattle teacups all the way over in Tempe.

Rent is what I would consider to be the third of four great musical street dramas set in New York City. It was preceded on the stage by West Side Story and Hair, and Into the Heights came along in its wake.   Rent's most closely related antecedent, at least in my opinion, is the sixties "tribal" rock musical, Hair.   While Hair is built around resistance to the war in Vietnam and the joyful use of marijuana, Rent has brought life in the same city a couple of decades on down the road and shows a much more grim  reality with its focus on AIDS and intravenous drug use - still with great music, however!

Somehow I scored a front row ticket to the show (that happens sometimes when you order as a single and are available to fill gaps in the seating).  That location almost put me within sweat-slinging distance of the cast, but it also gave me an astonishingly close-up view of the stagecraft that goes into creating such a complicated and exciting production.  A great deal of brilliance and elbow grease went into putting this show together.

It was a wonderful night at the theatre - and the new seats are awesome!

Friday, August 23, 2013

God Has Spoken!

by Pa Rock
Religious Observer

God, it would appear, is seriously pissed - and she is flinging her wrath down upon inhabitants of a rural belt around Cincinnati, Ohio.  Back in the year of our Lord, 2010, in the month of June, she took out a sixty-two foot statue of her boy, Jesus Christ, with a hot bolt of lightening.  The King of Kings Statue, also known as "Touchdown Jesus," featured the Messiah sitting cross-legged on the ground with his arms extended wide and high into the air.  While it may have seemed a bit whimsical to some, God obviously was not amused.

Yesterday God let loose another lightening bolt - this time fifty-one road-miles from the charred spot where Touchdown Jesus once held court.    Her focus was on the Creationism Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.  One employee was injured while clearing people off of the "museum's" Zip Line.  That person apparently touched something that had been electrified by lightening.

It's a miracle, we must suppose, that God missed the Zip Line itself, where a bunch of dim-witted, over-cooked, tourists would have been left dangling from a wire like a string of macabre, burned out Christmas lights.

In addition to the Zip Line, the "museum" also has a wealth of manufactured materials to back up the biblical story of creation, including some really cool plastic dinosaurs that are ideal props for family photos.

Current admission prices are:  $15.95 for children aged 5-12, $29.95 for adults aged 13-59, and a senior bargain for those over 60 at just $23.95.

At those prices, they'd better have a Zip Line - and maybe even a bar!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gearing Up to Slow Down

by Pa Rock
Time Traveler 

The last time I actually resided in a small town, a really small town, was the year 2004.  The intervening years I have been in communities with plenty of places to shop and lots to do.  Why then, did I opt to return to Hooterville?

It sounded like such a wonderful idea at the time, and actually still does.  My little retirement farm will provide me with the opportunity to be near family, four distinct seasons, rain - glorious rain, fresh organic eggs by the basketful, days where the biggest crisis will be figuring out where the dog disappeared to, and, of course, green acres in mad abundance.

But as I gear up for the tranquility of retirement in the country, I am beginning to be reminded of some aspects of small town life that I had forgotten, peculiarities, if you will.  The most striking anachronism is the fact that some of the businesses with whom I most communicate by long distance cannot email documents, forcing me to look for a fax machine. The guy who sprays for pests can't accept payment over the phone - which I can sort of understand because he is a genuine small businessman who appears to be his own bookkeeper.   (Send the check, please.)  However, then I learn that City Utilities also cannot accept my hook-up fee over the phone.  (Fortunately I have a son in the area who can walk in with the cash.)

Everyday I learn a few more rustic oddities about life in the country.  I'm not sure yet whether I'll have to climb the telephone pole in the front yard in order to make a call, but I'll be ready to do it just in case.  And if I have trouble finding someone to play checkers with, one of the neighbors might have a talking pig with time on his hooves.

I am so anxious to retire and get the hell out of Phoenix!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Glendale City Council to Set Rules for Prayer

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Mayor Jerry Weiers of Glendale, Arizona, a former four-term Republican member of our joke of a state legislature,  has come up with a plan to give God room to at least observe at city council meetings.  Mayor Weiers wants to end the practice of a "moment of silence" at the beginning of council meetings and replace it with (of course) a prayer.  He said that he sees an opening prayer as an opportunity for each council member to bring someone of "any" faith from their district to say a prayer.  He justified his obvious attempt to breach the wall between church and state by noting that our legislature does it.

Color me surprised!

Now, according to our major Valley rag, council members are trying to decide what guidelines will be imposed to make the mayor's political prayer gambit work in a manner that would appear to be fair.  Proposed rules for prayer are being bandied about, with some news reports saying that the number of suggested safeguards is now well into the teens.

Color me surprised on that, as well.

Regardless of what prayers are spoken openly at the meetings, I would guess that several people sitting at the council table (or perhaps kneeling) will also be offering silent prayers - in an effort to cosmically bar any members from showing up with a Muslim cleric to intone the blessing.

After all, free speech and religious tolerance can only extend so far.

What a shame that the Glendale City Council doesn't have some pressing city business on which to focus.