Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Age of Ignorance

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A group of evangelical Christians are at work in Texas trying to browbeat the Texas Board of Education into not approving use of a particular biology textbook in Texas schools.  A voluntary (and unnamed) reviewer has concluded that the text contains errors that need to be corrected by the publisher.  Those errors, not surprisingly, are references to evolution indicating that it is based on legitimate science.    The complainants would rather their children, and everybody else’s children, be taught the creation story from the Bible.

The Pew Research Center released the results of a new survey this week which reflected America’s thinking on evolution, and, not surprisingly, the findings fell along party lines – and it showed that the divide is increasing dramatically. 

In 2009 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats committed to the idea that humans have evolved over millions of years as a species here on earth.  When the same question was recently posed by Pew in 2013, the Democratic percentage had increased to 67% and the Republican percentage of those believing in the theory of evolution had dropped eleven points to just 43 percent.    (Texas Republicans, one must assume, would come in even lower.)

The Pew Center was at a loss to explain the precipitous drop other than to suggest some of the better educated Republicans may have shuffled over to the “independent” category.

Republicans are clearly expressing some discomfort with the notion of science.  Another barometer gauging the GOP’s trust (or lack thereof) in science is climate change and global warming.  That may be a bit more understandable because talks on ways to curb global warming invariably lead to discussions of limiting greenhouse gases – a process that would most certainly place some curbs on transportation and manufacturing.   Republicans are quick to defend their base – big corporations – and the titans of business repay that kindness with cold, hard cash.

Recent data from the Pew Center puts the number of Americans who believe the earth is getting warmer at 67 percent.    In 2009 35% of Republicans, 53 percent of independents, and 75% of Democrats said there is solid evidence that the earth’s temperatures are rising.  The 2013 findings on the same question show increases in all three groups – even Republicans.  Those figures are 50% for Republicans, 62% for independents, and 88% for Democrats. 

But here is the kicker:  The Tea-Bagger Republicans, the ones who turn out in droves for the primaries and choose their party’s candidates for the general elections – 41% of those folks parrot Rush Limbaugh and say that global warming is just not happening, and another 28% say that not enough is known yet.

The Republican Party’s seeming rejection of science as its members who should know better pander to the likes of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and the phony hillbillies of Duck Dynasty, only helps to seal its doom.  The Grand Old Party will surely march into the abyss of insignificance while holding high its banner of ignorance.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "The Passing of the Year"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Tomorrow night is New Year's Eve, and at the stroke of midnight 2013 will slip quietly into the history books and make way for the unknowns of 2014.  It is a time of quiet reflections, new beginnings, and black-eyed peas.

Robert W. Service was a native of Scotland who honed his poetry skills while working on ranches in Western Canada.  His unique ability to craft his verse in a manner that could be appreciated  across class lines earned him the appellation "the People's Poet."   His topics were ordinary - his writing was not.

Here, in The Passing of the Year, Service shares a few thoughts with the old year as he patiently awaits the arrival of its replacement.

Happy 2014!

The Passing of the Year
by Robert W. Service

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
     My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
     And wait to feel the old year go.
I dedicate to solemn thought
     Amid my too-unthinking days,
This sober moment, sadly fraught
     With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time
     You stand to bow your last adieu;
A moment, and the prompter's chime
     Will ring the curtain down on you.
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
     You falter as a Sage in pain;
Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,
     And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
     Let us all read, whate'er the cost:
O Maiden! why that bitter tear?
     Is it for dear one you have lost?
Is it for fond illusion gone?
     For trusted lover proved untrue?
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
     What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right
     So sleek, so prosperously clad!
What see you in that aged wight
     That makes your smile so gay and glad?
What opportunity unmissed?
     What golden gain, what pride of place?
What splendid hope? O Optimist!
     What read you in that withered face?

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,
     What find you in that filmy gaze?
What menace of a tragic doom?
     What dark, condemning yesterdays?
What urge to crime, what evil done?
     What cold, confronting shape of fear?
O haggard, haunted, hidden One
     What see you in the dying year?

And so from face to face I flit,
     The countless eyes that stare and stare;
Some are with approbation lit,
     And some are shadowed with despair.
Some show a smile and some a frown;
     Some joy and hope, some pain and woe:
Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!
     Old weary year! it's time to go.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;
     My fire is almost ashes too;
But once again, before you go,
     And I prepare to meet the New:
Old Year! a parting word that's true,
     For we've been comrades, you and I --
I thank God for each day of you;
     There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Graffiti Pack

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

I have been watching the George Lucas film classic, American Graffiti, this evening and thoroughly enjoying the experience.  The 1973 movie follows a large group of young people cruising the streets of Los Angeles on a weekend night.  The soundtrack is vintage 1950's and 1960's with many of the tunes strung together by Wolfman Jack's rambling radio commentary

The music is great, but it is the superlative cast of young stars that made this movie so memorable.   The "kids" of American Graffiti (though most weren't as young as the characters they played) formed a unique group of young actors that fit squarely in cinematic history between the Rat Pack of the 1950's and 1960's, and the Brat Pack of the 1980's.

It's an ensemble cast with all of the actors playing characters of roughly equal importance.  Richard Dreyfus, who could easily pass for a high school freshman in the film, was actually twenty-six when this movie was made.  Ron Howard probably came the nearest of any cast member to being the age of the character he portrayed.  Howard played a recent high school graduate getting ready to head off to college.  He was nineteen at the time the movie was filmed.

Howard's girlfriend in American Graffiti was Cindy Williams who later became famous as Shirley of the television sitcom Laverne and Shirley.  Ms. Williams, like Dreyfus, was a young adult twenty-six when she played Ron Howard's romantic interest.  Suzanne Somers, the mysterious blond in the Thunderbird, was twenty-seven, and Harrison Ford, the juvenile delinquent drag-racer, was the old man of the group at thirty-one - though he looked to be about nineteen.

The baby of the cast was fourteen-year-old McKenzie Phillips.  She spent most of the evening cruising with twenty-eight-year-old Paul Le Mot.  Ms. Philips gave quite a credible performance as the pesky little sister who gets palmed off on Le Mot early in the movie.

The actors, the music, and the wonderful old cars are all essential elements of this American film classic.  Even if Star Wars had never happened, George Lucas earned his spot on the Walk of Fame with American Graffiti.

This movie captures an era of innocence that those of us of a certain age remember fondly. It was created to be a great piece of Americana, and it has surpassed expectations!  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Warren Buffett Takes on Congress with a Chain-Email

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The problems with Congress, and this Congress in particular, are the stuff of legend.   This Congress is sometimes called "do-nothing," but in reality it far worse than that.  With a government shutdown, the sequester, forty-plus bills to repeal health care for millions, ignoring the tragedy of Newtown, ending unemployment benefits during the holiday season, and continuous snipping at the social safety net, this Congress has proven itself to be far more far more destructive than if it had simply sat back and done nothing.

The American public's approval rating of Congress is abysmal and sinking daily.  The only beneficiaries from the current Congress seem to be the big corporations and the members of Congress themselves.  

Today I received a chain-email regarding Congress that was purportedly started by billionaire Warren Buffet.  The instructions were clear.  If I agreed with the content, I was to quickly forward it to twenty people, and if I did not agree I should delete it and go on about my mundane life.   The letter claimed that if everyone participated, in three days most people in the United States would receive it.

What a powerful epistle that would be!

I had doubts that Warren Buffet would actually communicate through a chain-email - after all, a man of his means could send us all first class letters or blanket the country with public information announcements.  But I did like the content of the email and decided to include it in this post - thereby bothering only only a handful of loyal readers rather than annoying my entire mailing list.

The Buffet plan is called the "Congressional Reform Act of 2013."  It contains the following provisions:

  • No tenure and no pension.  A member of Congress receives a salary while in office and no pay when out of office.  (Many will, of course, slide into lobbying, but at least they will be off of the public dole.)
  • Members of past, present, and future Congresses will participate in Social Security.  All funds currently in the Congressional retirement system will be immediately moved to the Social Security system.
  • Congress will no longer be able to vote themselves pay raises.  Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or three percent.
  • Congress will lose their current health care system and be required to use the same types of health care systems as the American people.
  • Congress must equally abide by all laws which it imposes on the American people.
  • All Congressional contracts with past and present members of Congress are void after December 31st of this year.
The plan also hosts a reminder that the founding fathers envisioned Congress as being composed of citizen legislators and not career politicians.

While all of this sounds a bit tea-baggy, it omits the baggers' penchant for guns, racism, and homophobia.  It also fails to invoke a blood-thirsty Jesus.   So, all in all, these modest reforms probably couldn't hurt.

Boehner beware - the emails are flying!

Friday, December 27, 2013

She Reads?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Everybody's favorite half-baked Alaskan, Sarah Palin, is constantly scheming to stay in the public eye, and her penchant for attention knows no shame.

When faux hillbilly Phil Robertson got in trouble for homophobic and insensitive racial remarks, Palin was among the very first  right-wing mouthpieces to jump in and defend his ignorance - saying that Robertson's hate speech was, in reality, only the exercise of free speech.

Today, not surprisingly, it was revealed (by the former half-term governor herself) that she had not even read Robertson's remarks when she began shooting from the lip.  She just knew that people who were a lot smarter than her didn't like what Papa Duck had said - and shame, shame, shame on them and A&E!

In Sarah's defense, she probably didn't have time to read the remarks because she was focused on getting to the microphones ahead of Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal!

What was John McCain thinking?  Or drinking?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Queen Elizabeth Pardons a War Hero

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Though he never wore a uniform, Alan Turing, a young British patriot, was clearly a hero of World War II.   Turing was the scientist and mathematician who invented the Bombe, a machine that was able to successfully decipher messages which had been encoded by the Germans' highly sophisticated (and thought to be impenetrable) Enigma code machine   His invention ultimately saved thousands of lives.  He later created the Turing machine which was the forerunner of the modern computer.

But in the middle of the 20th century the country of Great Britain was dealing with a social issue, one that completely overrode Alan Turing's brilliant achievements.   Mr. Turing was gay, or in the parlance of the times a "homosexual," something that was illegal in that country and remained outside of the law until the late 1960's.   As a further irritant to the government, Alan Turing was nearly forty when it was revealed that he had a nineteen-year-old boyfriend.

(Turing's case closely parallels that of famed British playwright and novelist, Oscar Wilde, from half-a century earlier.   Wilde, who also scandalized Britain with his relationship to a much younger man, was ultimately been found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison - a sentence that effectively ended the writing career of one of Great Britain's greatest wordsmiths.)

When Alan Turing was confronted by the government regarding his unacceptable proclivities, he did not deny his true nature.  Turing was convicted of homosexual activity in 1952 and ultimately offered a choice - a prison sentence (like the one that had wrecked Oscar Wilde's health and career) or chemical castration.  The war hero chose the latter.   Two years later he made another decision - and ended his life by consuming a cyanide-laced apple.

Now, almost sixty years later after a great mind snuffed himself, Queen Elizabeth II has issued a royal pardon to Alan Turing, effectively securing his place as one of the greatest minds ever produced on that little island.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown referred to Turing's sentence as "appalling."  Current Prime Minister David Cameron said:

"Alan Turing was a remarkable man who played a key role in saving the country in World War II by cracking the German enigma code.  His action saved countless lives.  He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the 'father of modern computing.'"

With the Queen's pardon and the important words of the country's political leaders, it would appear as though Britain is finally focusing on exiting the Dark Ages.

Good work, Liz. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Taking a Bite Out of Rudolph

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

RWNJ (Right Wing Nut Junketeer) Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa), along with a group of fellow House members, flew to the Middle East over the holidays to help with the peace process (or shop, or sunbathe, or play golf, or whatever), all on the taxpayer's dime - of course.    After leaving Cairo, Mr. King decided to stop by Oslo, Norway, on his way back to the States.  While there he sampled the local cuisine.

What was on the corn-fed congressman's menu?  Why reindeer, of course.  Today he posted a photo on Twitter showing his fancy meal that contained reindeer meat.  The less-than-culturally-sensitive Mr. King thought the folks back home needed to see how well Norwegians (and congressmen) live - or at least how well they eat.  (His tweet failed to mention Norway's wildly successful single-payer health care system - a system far more socialized than anything ever even imagined by the Obama administration.)

While some of the home-state good old boys probably thought eating reindeer was pretty cool and daydreamed about thinning out a few Scandinavian herds with their favorite automatic weapons, King's younger constituents were no doubt horrified!

(And Sarah Palin thinks it's the Democrats who are waging a war on Christmas!)

What will you be shoveling down your gullet for Easter, Steve?  Rabbit?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

White Christmas in Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

This year I gave myself the gift of joy for Christmas - a ticket to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" performed by the wonderful people at the Phoenix Theatre.  My seat, second row center, was directly behind the only two empty seats on the front row - in other words, the best seat in the house!  That was this afternoon - Christmas Eve.

This performance was the last of a three-week run, and the cast truly gave it their all.

"White Christmas" is a very simple story, sort of a Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney "Hey gang, let's put on a show!" show.  But the storyline is the only simple element in the production.  It has songs galore - many easily recognizable even nearly sixty years since the material was first staged.  Songs, and dancing, beautiful sets, dancing, fanciful Christmas lighting, and did I mention dancing?  More than a dozen talented hoofers, often in tap shoes, rocked the stage throughout the production.

The last time I saw dancing of that calibre was at the Bolshoi.

As with everything performed at the Phoenix Theatre, this was a thoroughly professional production - and highly, highly entertaining.  I have seen several of the professional actors in other plays during my stay in Phoenix, and each and every one excelled in "White Christmas."

Johanna Carlisle, a familiar face throughout the Valley's theatrical venues, was a standout as Martha, the manager of the Vermont inn where the musical is set.  I've seen her in several different plays, and this was the best of the bunch. Ms. Carlisle owns the stage with her comedic, dancing, and singing talents.  My gawd, can that woman belt out a song!

The one bit of irony was a performance that ended with the line, "And may all your Christmases be white," was performed in Phoenix, Arizona!

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "Christmas Bells"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America's best known poets, penned "Christmas Bells" in 1864 while our nation was at war with itself.  His lines show the impact that war can exert over Christmas, and then turn around and offer up a promise of the goodness of the season conquering the ravages of war,  as well as a promise for out times - that the wrong shall ultimately fail.

Happy holidays!

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Betty Lankford

by Pa Rock

One of my last remaining relatives of my parents' generation passed away last night.  Betty Joan Macy Lankford died peacefully in her home in Seneca, Missouri, following a brief illness.

Aunt Betty was born February 22, 1933, to my grandparents, Charles and Hazel (Nutt) Macy in rural Newton County, Missouri.  She married Cecil Lankford in 1950, and they became the parents of three children:  Steven, Dennis, and Angela.  Betty was preceded in death by Cecil, their son Steven, her parents, and all three of her siblings:  Wayne, Garland, and Tommy.

Wayne Macy, Tommy's son, was an important part of Aunt Betty's extended family.   Wayne and I are first cousins, though he is much younger - just a few months older than my oldest son.  Wayne also lives near Seneca and has spent a great deal of time and effort in caring for her.  I learned recently that he has been keeping Betty's yard mowed for the past couple of years, and he was a constant visitor during her final illness.  Wayne is the model nephew in every respect.

The last time I saw Aunt Betty was two years ago when I was back in the States for a visit from Okinawa.  I did telephone her a little over a week ago and had a nice visit.  She knew her situation and held nothing back.  When I asked how she was doing, Betty replied, "I'm checking out."

My father and mother each "checked out" during the month of December.  Winter, especially winter in the Midwest, is hard on the elderly.

I will miss Aunt Betty, but I take comfort in knowing that she lived a long and happy life.  Rest in peace and contentment Aunt Betty - you've earned the rest.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hello . . . Meals on Wheels?

by Pa Rock
Man of the Kitchen

I took a quick trip through the local grocery this evening that set me back close to a hundred dollars, and, as almost every consumer knows, you don't get much of anything for a hundred dollar bill.

(I can remember my mother filling the entire back seat and floor of a big sedan with groceries - for twenty-five dollars or less.  That was in the 1950's when gas occasionally dropped below twenty cents a gallon and a pack of smokes was a quarter.)

One prize that I did secure on today's trip up and down the grocery aisles was a package of really nice-looking, boneless pork chops.   They were destined to be supper.

The chops were in the pan simmering over a low heat when I got an email from an old friend in the Midwest who proceeded to describe a gourmet meal that he had cooking in the crock pot.  And while my friend's meal sounded wonderful, I was too focused on those pork chops to be covetous of his slow-cooker masterpiece.

My mindset changed, however, after I had set out one of my finest paper plates and started digging through the cabinet in search of an appropriate side dish.  Cream-style corn sounded good, or maybe some baby peas.  Even a few new potatoes would hit the spot.  But my vegetable shelf was bare.   I diligently began searching the nearby shelves for any stray cans of veggies that might have been misfiled, and I finally came up with something that could do in a pinch - and the pinch was definitely on!

After cutting up the pork chops into bite-sized pieces, I opened a single small can of beanie-weenies and poured them straight onto the plate.  Absolutely no preparation required!

You cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but, if he is hungry enough, he might come up with a few new tricks of his own.

(Note:  For those fearful of what I might create for Christmas dinner, please know that I am going to be a guest in the home of my friend Marjorie.   She runs a holiday rescue for the culinary clueless!)

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Ugly Reality of Duck Dynasty

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I don't watch reality television shows and frankly don't understand their appeal.  That's probably because I encountered enough "reality" as a state child protection worker to last me a lifetime-and-a-half.  But even though I'm not a reality television viewer, much less an addict, I have heard of Duck Dynasty and have friends and relatives who do watch it.  However, I won't name names.

One of my co-workers explained the premise to me saying that Duck Dynasty involved a family of backwoods rednecks, the Robertsons, who got rich making duck calls.  They got rich, but they never gave up their backwoods ways and hillbilly culture - especially after the cameras started rolling.  Today the show apparently forms the backbone of the A&E network, and it is the most popular reality show in America.  The family also controls a vast merchandising empire with annual sales of $400 million - and they sell a helluva lot more than just duck calls.

The members of the family are an assortment of bearded men wearing camouflage gear who closely resemble the band members of AC/DC.   This summer while visiting the Ozarks, I just missed getting to see Willie Robertson, one of the family members, at a county fair - missed him by one day, dang it!

The  patriarch is a fellow named Phil Robertson, and it is Phil who has been in the news all week since it was revealed that he gave an interview to GQ magazine in which he made disparaging and idiotic remarks about gays and blacks.   Here is a sampler:

"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.  Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.  Don't be deceived.  Neither the adulterers, the idolators, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers - they won't inherit the kingdom of God.  Don't deceive yourself.  It's not right."

Papa Duck also added some comments about pre-Civil Rights blacks being contented and happy farmers.

After all of that hit the fan, an old video was discovered and released in which Phil referred to gay people as being "ruthless and full of murder . . . . arrogant . . . liable to invent ways of doing evil."

A&E suspended Phil Robertson from his hit show, and then the usual cast of right-wing crazies lined up in support of the outspoken, bearded millionaire.  Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, and a good portion of the Fox News (sic) team tried to cast the whole affair as being an infringement on poor Phil's 1st Amendment rights.  (That argument is a stretch because no one is denying him his right to speak.  His employer just yanked away his podium - but he can still yammer all her wants, and Fox would probably be delighted to broadcast his every syllable.)

One Republican Congressional candidate today, trying to get a seat on the hillbilly bandwagon, compared Phil Robertson to Rosa Parks, noting that both challenged the status quo and suffered for it.  Surely comparisons to Gandhi will follow.

Some argue that A&E got what it paid for.  Comedian Seth Rogen tweeted today:  "It's strange that A&E hired a guy for being a backwoods redneck and then were surprised when he started talking like a backwoods redneck."

Wal-Mart has reportedly sold out of Duck Dynasty merchandise as shoppers rush to the mega-chainstores to support the Robertson family with their wallets.

Only in America - where there continues to be at least one born every minute!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Favorite Holiday Movies

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

I caught a snippet on National Public Radio (NPR) the other morning where a couple of broadcasters were discussing their favorite Christmas movies.  In fact, they had asked the radio audience for theirs a couple of days prior.  One of the broadcasters said his favorite was Love, Actually, and added that was the choice of many who had responded to their quick survey.  The other radio personality selected Die Hard as her top Christmas movie.

I have never seen Love, Actually (my bad), but have heard that it is fine holiday fare.   However, Die Hard as a Christmas movie (and I have seen it) would seem to be pushing the envelope right off of the table.  Yes, it takes place at an office party on Christmas Eve, but if Santa's sleigh had flown by the window as the jolly sod was out making his rounds, Bruce Willis and the bad guys would have destroyed the sleigh, massacred the reindeer, and blown the fat guy to smithereens!

I like Christmas movies with conflict, usually family conflict, but without automatic weapons' fire.

A Christmas Carol (any version) has, as a major focus, the plight of the Cratchit family and the health of Tiny Tim.  It's a Wonderful Life tells the tale of George Bailey as he struggles with family stressors, the loss of a significant amount of money, and keeping his town out of the hands of evil Mr. Potter.  In both of those movies Santa Claus and the Christmas story itself aren't centrally featured - they are stories of people overcoming hardships and changing their lives for the benefit of others - and the "spirit" of Christmas is pervasive.

It like that conflict stuff, but I also like plenty of humor.  My three favorite Christmas movies revolve around families in crisis who encounter plenty of odd-ball situations to keep the chuckle-meter bouncing.

Number three on my list is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation from 1989.  The movie was a sequel to the earlier Chevy Chase hit, National Lampoon's Vacation, and took the characters from the original movie, the Griswold family and plopped them down in the middle of the holiday season.  Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), the father, was the continual conflict generator as he struggled to outshine the neighborhood  with his decorations and illuminations - inside of the house and out.  Lots of sight gags, lots of laughs.

Did you know that a very young Johnny Galecki (Leonard from The Big Bang Theory) played the role of Griswold's son, Rusty?

Number two was a movie made the following year in 1990: the classic Home Alone.  The power went out in their Chicago neighborhood the night before the McCallister family and various other assorted relatives were to get up early, catch their airport shuttles, and fly to Paris for Christmas.  When they finally woke up and realized they were late, the entire household jumped into overdrive getting ready and rushing into the shuttles.  They made it to the airport just in the nick of time, hopped on their plane, and several hours later realized that young Kevin was not with them.  He had accidentally been left home alone!

The role of Kevin was a career-maker for young Macaulay Culkin.

I watched Home Alone last night for the umpteenth time.  It holds up very, very well.

But my favorite holiday movie of all time is 1994's The Ref starring Dennis Leary as a hard-luck burglar who kidnaps the WRONG couple in an effort to evade the law.  Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, as the bitter and cruel Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur, are enough to convince their captor rather quickly that life in prison might be preferable to dealing with his hostages.  This movie is a very clever take on the O. Henry classic, The Ransom of Red Chief.  Another favorite film of mine is Ruthless People, which is also based on The Ransom of Red Chief.

The Ref is a tale of how a family begins to heal itself in the midst of a crisis.  The writing and acting are superb.  Besides the three leads, fine performances are also turned in by Glynis Johns (Lloyd's completely evil mother) and Christine Baranski (a.k.a. "Slipper socks, medium!").

It was such a treat getting to see Home Alone last night.  I hope that I encounter The Ref before the season is over.  Unlike Die Hard, The Ref is a compelling tale in which the holiday, and a kidnapper, bring the spirit of Christmas back to a family that has spent many years slowly forgetting the joys of the season and the importance of being a family.

Those are my picks.  How about you?  Which movies ring your chimes this special time of year?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Harold Camping Meets His End Times

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Harold Camping, a Christian preacher whose primary claim to fame was the occasional prediction of the exact date the Rapture - or the day Christ would return to smoke the sinners - or the day the world would end - died this past Sunday, December 15th.    His three predictions for the end of times (September 6, 1994, May 21, 2011, and October 21, 2001) all failed to be the end of the world as we know it.

Rest in peace, Harold.  Your times have definitely ended.  Hopefully you have encountered an eternal kingdom where the deity is tolerant of those who earned their keep while on Earth by begging in His name and trying to scare the bejeezus out of people.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Arizona in Winter: Fifty Shades of Brown

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

Winter in the desert is brown.

It is eight days before Christmas.  There has been no snow in the Valley of Hell, nor will there be any - and rain in the winter is no more common here than rain in the summer.   The grass is a perpetual brown - brown like the homes, and businesses, and even the Wal-Marts.

The temperature reaches highs in the seventies most days.  According to the "meteorologists" who give the local weather reports, there is a layer of warm air up high that is holding all of this cool air down close to the ground.  That warm air is also holding in a layer of air pollution whose smell seems to always be with us.  It is a faint, but irritating, odor that puts one in mind of trash that has been burned out-of-doors - perhaps yesterday.

The palm trees look neglected and ragged, and the combination of desert dryness and air tinged with pollution is taking a toll on some of the large cacti and other outdoor plants.  The old people standing in long lines to buy liquor also look ragged.

The brown covers the ground like a limitless Army blanket or mover's tarp.  It extends, uninterrupted, in every direction for as far at the eye can see.  The only breaks in the brown monotony of the desert in winter are the green golf courses which are kept well watered to pamper our doctors and tourists - and Scottsdale.

Residents of the Valley, particularly the "snow birds" who are here only for the winter months, love to hear stories about snowstorms in other parts of the country.  They all have their own personal tales about great blizzards that they have experienced, and most are quick to comment that the best part of living in this area is that they no longer have to shovel snow from their driveways.

And they don't.    Here they can spend their winters sitting on their brown lawn furniture in the brown backyards, inhaling brown air, and drinking their brown liquor.  When the alcohol runs low, they pile into their brown golf carts and head out to a brown Wal-Mart for more.

Can you blame me for dreaming of a white Christmas?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tomorrow's Significant Birthdays

by Pa Rock
Father and Citizen Journalist

Tomorrow marks the birthday of three significant individuals.  The first is that of my daughter, Molly Macy Files, who will be an almost unbelievable thirty-seven-years-old.  Molly is a very active mother of three small children, and, as far as I am concerned, she sets the bar for good parenting.  She is committed to the education, development, health, and well-being of Sebastian, Judah, and Willow.  Molly is an exceptional wife and mother.  Happy birthday, honey!

Chelsea Elizabeth (PFC Bradley) Manning will turn twenty-six tomorrow in her prison cell at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.  This will be the fourth birthday that the military whistle-blower has spent behind bars.  Private Manning released copies of extensive secret government information, much of which proved embarrassing to the U.S. Department of State.   Many credit Chelsea with exposing government misuse of power, and credit her with positive changes that the military and State Department felt compelled to make after ordinary Americans got a good look into the dark recesses of its government closets.   Stay strong, Chelsea.

Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2013, Pope Francis, turns seventy-seven tomorrow.  The Pope has fractured many papal stereotypes and seems intent on bringing the Catholic Church into the modern age.  It was recently revealed that he is leaving the Vatican some nights and traveling incognito into the streets of Rome where he is ministering to the poor.   The Pope is also making statements that are driving the old guard nuts.   He wants to Church to be more broadly open to people and much more tolerant, an institution that is better known for charitable works than for being anti-abortion, anti-divorce, and anti-gay.  Today it was announced that The Advocate magazine, a nationally known and respected news source focused on gay issues, has also named Pope Francis as its Person of the Year.

Keep washing those feet, Your Holiness!  You are already a saint in my book!

All in all, December 17th would appear to be an excellent day for giving birth to babies who will go on to become hard working and courageous people.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Christmas Wrap and Howl!

by Pa Rock
Holiday Wrapper

I plan gift-giving very carefully, always with an eye toward not having to wrap anything.  If the birthday or Christmas prezzie can be ordered off of the Internet and shipped to the most worthy recipients, that is the way I will go.  If I have specific things that I have to mail as presents, nothing gets individually wrapped in pretty paper.  They all get stuffed into a box and shipped - as is.

The spirit moves me - just not to the point of wrapping.  My attempts at dressing gifts in festive paper are much more than just artistic failures - they are full blown disasters.  I invariably wind up making cuts that would embarrass lumberjacks, turning what should be neatly folded corners into wadded catastrophes, and covering the entire mess in tape, a lot of which gets horribly twisted in the process.

There is one time a year when I get trapped into wrapping - and this year's fiasco occurred tonight.  Well, in point of fact, I am taking a break from the carnage - much of the damage is yet to be done.

The one day a year when I am forced to wrap is when I prepare boxes of goodies for mailing to my kids and their kids.  I put everything that I have collected over the past few months, unwrapped, and stuff those items into cardboard boxes.  Instead ob being smart and using purchased boxes, I have collected good used boxes from retailers.  (I continue to make that mistake year after year.)  Those used boxes have bar codes, stickers, and other printed  matter the make it necessary to wrap them in brown paper prior to mailing.  So far tonight I have done one-and-a-half out of four.  And what I have wrapped looks hideous.

Break's over!  It's time to get back to cutting and taping - and howling louder than the neighbor's cursed dog!

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

When Will the Shooting Stop?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Today is the first anniversary of the slaughter of all of those bright, happy little children at the Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut - perhaps the greatest single moment of national shame in our America's history.   Okay, the shooting itself was a premeditated crime, a tragedy.  The shame comes in with the realization that as a nation we have done absolutely nothing to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring again, and, in fact, legislatures put far more effort into protecting and promoting the gun lobby than they have in protecting children - and that is truly shameful!

Sixty-two percent of gun bills that have been enacted in the past year have benefited the gun industry.  Meanwhile, the bodies of dead kids just keep piling up.

Yesterday there was yet another school shooting - this one in Colorado less than eight miles from Columbine High School.  The shooter, a student, wounded two other students (one critically), before killing himself.  The school where the fighting occurred is not too far from the theatre in Aurora where so many died a year ago last summer.  In the time between the Aurora shooting and the school shooting yesterday, Colorado voters recalled two legislators from office for favoring commonsense gun regulations.

Will the bloodshed ever end in Colorado - or anyplace else in America for that matter?

A friend and I were watching the news coverage of yesterday's school shooting over the Internet.  The television reporter was interviewing an anxious mother who had showed up at the school to find and claim her daughter.  After the mother told a little about her daughter, she stepped away from the reporter - and then immediately returned to air an afterthought.  The mother said that she certainly hoped people would not use this shooting to clamor for gun control - "because we need our guns - for protection."

Yes, ma'am.  When all human beings in America (including mental patients, ex-cons, spouse-abusers, and others of that stripe)  are armed, primarily with automatic weapons (of course), we will be so much safer!  The reporter then passed up a great opportunity to ask the woman, someone who could have easily lost a child that day, exactly what planet she was from.

That's what I wanted to know.

That protection malarkey was, is, and always will be nonsense.  The best protection would be sensible gun regulations - ones that do not permit the ownership of automatic weapons with monster  clips, background checks on all gun buyers - even those who purchase guns through private sales or at the mega-gun shows, and an adequately funded national mental health system.

Unfortunately, the gun industry has spent truckloads of money purchasing greedy legislators - people who are far more concerned with their own financial futures than they are with the lives of children.  America learned nothing from Newtown, and those morons responsible for making our laws are proud of it!

Luke's Holiday Musical Revue

by Pa Rock
Jingle Bear

Last night I had a wonderful time enjoying the Holiday Musical Revue at Luke Air Force Base.  The exceptionally fine show was conceived and performed by the very good people of the local community theatre group - The Luke Experience.    The director was Allyson Schonfeld, and the musical numbers were performed by the usual cast of sparkling characters.

The show was a clever combination of a play - Dicken's A Christmas Carol - interspersed with numerous carols and holiday standards - some classic, and others of a more modern nature.  In addition to the seasonal storyline and great music, the performance was enhanced by best lighting design of any of the productions that I have attended at Luke.

The next production by this ambitious theatre group will be Dracula, and open auditions will be held in January.

I will be leaving Luke to retire at the end of February, so the Holiday Revue will probably be the last production of theirs that I will be able to attend.   The regular efforts of The Luke Experience have made my time in the desert much more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been.

Here are my New Year's wishes for The Luke Experience:   May many more people turn out for your productions in 2014, and may some even go beyond attending and become active in the shows - on the stage and behind the scenes.   May 2014 be your best season ever!

Thank you for being here!

Break a leg!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Crappy Odds Just Got Crappier

by Pa Rock
Rambler and Gambler

I used to play Powerball, faithfully purchasing one ticket for each of the two nights a week that the drawing was held.  Then Arizona brought in the other large national lottery, Mega Millions, and I would occasionally by a ticket for one of the twice-a-week drawings - but I was basically loyal to Powerball.

That loyalty ended last year when I returned from overseas and learned that, in my absence, Powerball had doubled the price of its tickets from one dollar to two.  What an outrage!  The greedy bastards wanted to quickly build enormous jackpots, and the strategy worked.  I quit buying Powerball tickets until one of those crazy jackpots (a half-a-billion dollars or so) would come along - and then I usually bought as part of an office pool.

My loyalty switched to Mega Millions which began boasting that they would never raise the price of their tickets - and they didn't.  But two months ago those greedy bastards did something even dirtier.  They raised the odds.

In order to win the grand prize in Mega Millions, like in Powerball, one must match five numbers from one pool of numbers and then a sixth number from a separate pool of numbers.  Mega Millions had been structured to where the first pool contained numbers one through fifty-six, and the second pool was comprised of numbers one through forty-six.   The odds of winning the big prize was approximately one in 176 million.  Piece of cake.

That was then, but this is now.

Now in order to take home the big Mega Millions prize, participants must match five numbers from a pool of one through seventy-five.  The other pool, the one for the individual number, was lessened to one through fifteen.  One pool was drastically increased while the other was drastically cut.  The net result was that the odds of winning jumped to one in 259 million.  Total winners, including numerous lesser cash prizes. was reduced to two for every three prior to the change.

Mega Millions is making much more money - and jackpots now appear to be on steroids - like their counterparts over at Powerball.  There have no grand prize winners in Mega Millions since the structure was changed in October.

Tonight's Mega Millions prize is $400 million, give or take.  Of course, this is Friday the 13th which might also screw with the odds!

An article in today's Los Angeles Times pointed out that a person's odds of getting struck by lightning are about one in a million, and the odds of being murdered are one in 18,989.  (A bit of sanity in Congress and state legislatures could change the murder odds dramatically and make us much safer, but saving human life is nowhere nearly as important as maintaining political contributions from the gun lobby.)

When I win, I'm investing in lightening rods, attack helicopters, and Congressmen!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Affluenza Defense and the Crime of Being Poor

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White murdered Mayor George Moscone and fellow city supervisor, Harvey Milk, his lawyers argued that White was not responsible for his actions due to depression.   The lawyers said that White’s shift in eating habits from healthy food to junk food, including Twinkies, was evidence of the depression.    Reporters quickly latched onto that rationale and labeled it the “Twinkie Defense.”  During the intervening three decades, “Twinkie Defense,” has developed into a derisive catchall phrase for off-the-wall defense strategies.

The most recent “Twinkie Defense” of note is a stratagem that is being referred to as “Affleunza.”  The case that has given birth to this new term involves a sixteen-year-old Texas boy who was drunk at the wheel of a pickup truck when he struck and killed four innocent bystanders.  The lad’s legal team and a psychologist argued that he was not responsible for his actions because his rich parents had always bought his way out of bad situations and he had never had to take personal responsibility for any of the messes he created. 

(One mess occurred when he was fifteen and ticketed by police for alcohol possession and having a passed-out, naked, fourteen-year-old girl in the truck with him.  His lawyers told the court that the parents had never punished their son over that incident.  Mother just paid the fine and life went on.)

In addition to the four deaths, nine other individuals were also injured including two teen males who were thrown from the back of his truck.  One of those boys suffered brain damage and was in a prolonged coma.   He is now paralyzed and has to use eye-blinks in order to communicate.

The fatality incident occurred in June of this year.  A group of seven young men, including the driver, stole two cases of beer from a local Wal-Mart and had been partying.  (The driver also had Valium in his system.)  They were on a run to procure more beer, doing 70 m.p.h down a stretch of country road that was meant to accommodate speeds not in excess of 40 m.p.h.    The young driver’s blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit – the legal limit for an adult.

A few minutes before the truckload of boys came barreling down that country road, a young woman’s car had broken down on the same road.  A good Samaritan stopped to help the young lady who was having the car trouble, and a mother and her grown daughter from a nearby house also stepped out to the road to assist.

It was a gathering of kind people helping a stranded motorist on a quiet Texas evening – quiet that is, until a truck carrying seven drunken teens roared onto the scene and plowed into the group.   At that moment families were destroyed, hearts were broken, and lives and futures were lost forever.

The young driver of the pickup truck, a boy who was still on probation from the other alcohol incident four months earlier, was arrested and then sent home with an ankle bracelet so that law enforcement could monitor his movements – in case he suddenly decided to move to Uruguay!    This week he appeared before a juvenile court judge.  The prosecutors asked for a twenty-year prison sentence.  The boy’s lawyers painted him as a victim of poor parenting, and suggested probation and placing him in an exclusive California rehab program for which the parents were willing to pay nearly half-a-million dollars.

The judge, fearing that the juvenile perpetrator would not get adequate therapy in jail, is considering the California treatment program where he would serve a minimum of two years and be denied contact with his parents.

The judge also sentenced the boy to ten years of probation – no jail time, but ten years of probation.

That decision, or lack thereof, has stirred up a storm of controversy with some folks being so brazen as to suggest that America has two justice systems, one of the rich and one for the rest of us.. 

Clearly, the judge failed at rendering a decision that truly served the best interest of this young man.  The judge accepted the argument that he was the victim of poor parenting and had never had to suffer consequences for his actions – and then she reinforced that bad parenting by again allowing him to essentially walk away from the havoc that he had wrought.

One is left to suspect that, like the case of George Zimmerman, this kid will be in the news again at some point.

The lesson has not been learned, and there is little chance that things will change substantively during the two-year vacation that the boy and his parents will have away from each other.

Parents have a great deal of responsibility for the actions of their children, whether they ultimately feel that is fair or not.  No one is born evil.   But blaming the parents is a somewhat circular defense because every parent had parents.

The judge had a difficult decision to make – one for which there was no easy answer.  A crime was committed, people suffered harm – and four people died, affluent parents reached for a checkbook every time their child misbehaved and protected him from ever having to face unpleasant consequences, and the whole world was watching.  There was no way to make a decision that would please everyone.  The judge opted to try and salvage the child.

Texas is usually known for it tough posturing.  It leads the nation in executions.  This decision almost appears to be at odds with the state psyche – but if the young drunken driver had been black or Hispanic or just plain poor, a different type of justice would have likely prevailed – one that would have been decisively more austere.

(One news report told of a case adjudicated by the same judge.  In that case a fourteen-year-old black youth had hit a man in the stomach and he fell down and died.  She sentenced that kid to ten years in prison.)

Poor kids don’t get sent to posh rehabs – by any state.  Perhaps that is the crime.