Friday, January 31, 2014

Lefty McCain

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

Members of the Arizona Republican State Committee have voted to censure our senior U.S. senator, John McCain, for not being conservative enough.  McCain, upon being informed of this gross indignity that was flung upon his reputation, promptly shot back that the censure was proof that his state party has been taken over by extremists.

Well, duh!

The squawky little rooster also said that the action makes him more likely to run for re-election in 2016 - the same year that he will turn eighty.   Of course, old age is not a political disability in Arizona.  Geriatric Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be eighty-two in June.

What a fun position to be in.  McCain will run for re-election, and he will blame the tea-baggers for making him do it!

In McCain's defense, it is undoubtedly hard to be noticed for right-wing positions - or anything else for that matter - in a state with elected officials the caliber of Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, Tom Horne, and Trent Franks.  Compared to that tribe, Johnny Mac is a flaming liberal!

It's gotta be the heat!

Maybe it is time that you considered retirement, John.   That ranch is Sedona would be a perfect place to spend your golden years - and Cindy's money.    And the cool mountain air would probably do Lindsey a world of good!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Comes a Horse

by Pa Rock
Big Ol' Rat

Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year, a date which marks the beginning of the Chinese lunar year 4712.

As anyone who has ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant and studied the place mat knows, the lunar zodiac used by the Chinese (and many other peoples around the world) is divided into twelve signs, each represented by an animal.  The year of the snake is now coming to an end, and the year of the horse is upon us.

The twelve signs of the lunar zodiac are:  rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

I am a rat which undoubtedly explains a lot of things.

The rat is the first sign in the lunar zodiac,  In the solar zodiac I am an Aries.  Aries also happens to be the first sign in that zodiac as well.   Taken together, those signs are undoubtedly responsible for my immense wealth, unmatched intellect, and amazing good looks.  The signs never lie.

I have five grandchildren:  a pig, an ox, and three rabbits.  Each of my three children, in fact, produced a rabbit.   Should all of those little bunnies wind up breeding like rabbits - at some point I will probably be known as Adam.

Each animal sign on the lunar zodiac possesses certain characteristics.   Those children born during the year of the horse are likely to have good communication skills, be cheerful and stubborn, crave success, and be popular and talented.

A couple of years ago I was on a tour of Vietnam with a friend.  At one point our guide arranged a quick meeting with his pregnant wife.  Later he told us that her pregnancy had been planned so that the baby would be born in the year of the dragon.  Dragon children are likely to be energetic, powerful, difficult to oppose, super positive, and full of vitality and strength.  He said that parents considered themselves fortunate if they had a child born during the year of the dragon.

Tonight there will be fireworks and bells ringing around the world as an old snake slithers away and an eager young colt comes charging forward.  It would be a wonderful evening to celebrate the immense and rich diversity of humankind.

And whatever your sign, have a great 4712!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Super Bowl Bound?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As if the residents of New Jersey didn't have enough to deal with already - what with the never-ending Chris Christie Circus - now there's this:

The Explorer of the Seas, a ship belonging to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, appears to be the latest of several cruise ship disasters over the past few years.  The ship sailed on January 21st from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, on what was to have been a 10-day cruise, but an outbreak of illness aboard the vessel has forced its early return to port.  When the ship docked at Bayonne, New Jersey, 630 passengers and 54 members of the ship's crew were reportedly very ill with symptoms of tiredness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The ship sailed with 3,071 passengers and 1,165 crew members, and passengers reported that signs of illness began to be manifest soon after leaving port.   Officials with the cruise line company have reportedly said that the symptoms are consistent with norovirus.

Passengers who became ill on the cruise were quarantined in their rooms.  One passenger said that there were ill people on board who did not report their illness because they did not want to be restricted to their rooms.

Another passenger said that she felt like the ship had been a floating petri dish.

One of those disembarking the vessel questioned whether passengers were bringing the virus ashore with them - just in time for the Super Bowl which is being held in New Jersey on Sunday.

Calling Mr. Spielberg!

Calling Mr. Scorsese!

Calling Mr. Coppola!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger - Gone to Flowers

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

America lost a national treasure last night with the passing of folksinger/songwriter Pete Seeger.  The ninety-four year old entertainer and political activist died peacefully in his sleep at a hospital in New York.  His wife, Toshi, to whom he had been married seventy years, passed away last year at the age of ninety-three.

Pete Seeger wrote some of the most memorable songs that comprise the soundtrack of America.  He and collaborator Lee Hays penned the iconic "If I Had a Hammer" in 1949, a song that did much to give voice to the anti-war movement in the 1960's.  Another Seeger song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" was also an anti-war classic that was recorded by many artists.  Other hits written by Pete Seeger include "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Kisses Sweeter than Wine."

The legendary musician was active in social and political causes for nine decades.  At one time he toured union halls and small town venues with Woody Guthrie, and he later took his music and activism to college campuses around the nation.

Seeger was a member of the Communist Party in the 1930's but dropped his official membership after becoming disillusioned with Stalin.  He was held in contempt of Congress in 1955 for refusing to testify before the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee, and for years was blacklisted and kept off of the American airwaves.    The Smothers Brothers broke that blacklist in the 1960's when they brought him onto their television show to perform.

The unstoppable Mr. Seeger marched in an "Occupy Wall Street" protest in 2011 - with the aid of two canes and a guitar strapped across his back!

Seeger once famously said that he had sung for hobo jungles and Rockefellers - and that he had never refused to sing for anyone.

President Bill Clinton described Pete Seeger as being "an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them."

Today President Obama paid this tribute to Pete Seeger:

"Once called 'America's tuning fork,' Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community -- to stand up for what's right, speak out against what's wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice -- and his hammer -- to strike blows for worker's rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along.  For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayer to Pete's family and all those who loved him."

Beautiful words for a beautiful person.  We are all a little richer for the years Pete Seeger spent among us.

Rest in peace, old timer.  You defined it and you earned it!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Groundhog"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today's poem, The Groundhog, by the late American poet, Richard Eberhart, has far more to do with death and decay than it does with the large rodents commonly referred to as groundhogs or woodchucks.  And though the groundhog at the center of this tale is dead on arrival, it does serve as a macabre reminder that Groundhog's Day is next Sunday, a day on which we will all learn how much winter is left for us to endure.

(According to folklore, if it is sunny when the groundhog exits his burrow on February 2nd, he will see his shadow, become frightened, and run back into his hole - and there will be six more weeks of winter.  I don't think my friends in the Midwest can tolerate six more weeks of winter!)

Richard Eberhart was the Poet Laureate of the United States at one time, and he was also a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He published a dozen volumes of poetry during his lifetime.

Dust to dust . . .

The Groundhog
by Richard Eberhart

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot  our naked frailty.

There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.

Inspecting close maggots' might
And seething cauldron of his being,   
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.

The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,                   
And through my frame a sunless trembling.

My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge         

Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.

And so I left; and I returned                     
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained

But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains                                                 
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.

Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot             
There was only a little hair left,

And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.

It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,

And thought of China and of Greece,         
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mountains of Plastic and Mysterious Lottery Tickets

by Pa Rock
Mover and Shaker

I have been busy the past couple of weeks packing plastic boxes and bins in anticipation of my looming move back to civilization.   There are mountains of boxes in the living room with a valley leading to a view of the television.  There are also growing stacks of filled boxes in my bedroom, and another bedroom has been singled out for storage of empty containers.

While other people are busy expelling trash from their lives, I never pass a dumpster without looking to see if it has any discarded containers that could be used for packing.  Today I found a couple of great boxes that had originally contained a pair on new porch lights - along with some good packing material.

This evening I made a strange discovery when I emptied a box of small plastic bins that I purchased at COSTCO.  There, in the bottom of the box beneath the last bin, were two lottery tickets.    One was a Power Ball ticket for March 28, 2009, and the other was an Arizona Pick for the same date.  Both tickets are, of course, well beyond the date of their expiration - and probably losers anyway - but I think I may play those numbers just in case.  You never know . . . my retirement plan could come together at the last minute!

Five weeks of work left!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Take Me Out

Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

In its never-ending quest to show far more skin than clothing, Phoenix's Nearly Naked Theatre outdid itself in the current production of Take Me Out.  The controversial play which won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Play and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize is in its second run at the Nearly Naked, a theatre that prides itself on censorship-free productions.  Last night's performance was sold out, as are the remaining performances for this weekend.

Take Me Out is the fictional account of a major league baseball player who comes out publicly as gay.  The play explores the effect that the announcement of his sexual orientation has on the team.  As that begins to clarify, the team brings a pitcher up from the minor leagues, and that player soon proves to be a racist, homophobic, hillbilly idiot - or a goober who would be right at home in the West Valley of Phoenix.  Again, the values of the team members are questioned and challenged.

With the rampant nudity aside, Take Me Out is a great play that confronts prejudices and stereotypes which are still present in society, though hopefully not as pronounced at they were a decade ago when the play was first performed.  It's one of those plays that makes you think - and will leave you thinking long after the curtain has dropped.

I highly recommend the Nearly Naked Theatre's production of Take Me Out.  It is a superb interpretation of a ferociously good play.

Friday, January 24, 2014

One, Two, Three - TKE!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I never participated in the Greek system (fraternities and sororities) when I was in college, nor did I feel that my education suffered by not joining in that experience.  It always seemed to me, an outsider, that the frats and sororities were populated with children of excess who liked to display their privileged status and drink till they puked.  And at Southwest Missouri State University in the 1960's those organizations weren't predominantly white - they were totally white.

Fifty years later it doesn't seem like all that much has changed.

The University of Arizona closed down four campus fraternity chapters in 2012.  One of those was Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) which was alleged to have condoned a practice of hazing pledges.  Now, a scant two years later, that same proud brotherhood which once claimed Ronald Reagan as a member has again landed on the front pages of Arizona newspapers.

Members of the Arizona State University TKE chapter held a party this week to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Local news reports claim that the event was extremely distasteful, if not downright racist.  Partiers came in ethnic dress and participated in activities which seemed to make fun of black people.  ASU reacted swiftly and banned the organization from campus.   Some members of the local community are also calling for the kids who were at the party to be expelled.

Expulsion from the university for dumb and insensitive behavior seems a bit extreme, but removing the fraternity from campus does make sense.  If these organizations have failed to evolve over the past fifty years, perhaps it is time that they were all barred from campus.

Young people can get drunk and be stupid without being saddled with fraternity and sorority dues.  (That was even true fifty years ago!)   And there is always a chance that without the group-think/drink of the fraternities and sororities- those same young people would be free to make better decisions and quit perpetuating prejudices.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Arizona Bill Would Deny Equal Rights to Roosters

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The subject of homeowners in Maricopa County, Arizona, raising chickens in their backyards has a long and contentious history.  At various times smaller communities within the country have enacted local codes both allowing and banning small scale poultry and egg production, and the county itself has played on both sides of the feathered fence with regard to the unincorporated areas within the county.

The raising of chickens is a tough call for local elected officials.  On the one hand they want to protect the property rights of the little guy, the people who want to use their God-given property rights to stockpile guns and raise whatever they damn well please.  On the other hand is, of course, the local plutocrats and rich snowbirds (and ferocious home-owners associations) with piles of campaign cash who want to protect their own property rights - and property values.  Those people definitely don't want the odor and noise of chickens wafting through their rarefied air.

Arizona's legendary two-bit political animals are damned if they do - and damned if they don't.   What's a pandering politician to do?

State Senator David Farnsworth has decided to tackle the issue with some statewide legislation.  He has put forth a bill that would override existing local laws and allow the raising of backyard poultry anywhere in the state.  Cities could still impose some limits, but homeowners would be free to build a chicken coop anywhere on their property - including right up next to the property line so the neighbors could enjoy it also.

Senator Farnsworth proclaimed:

"The proper role of government according to the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Constitution is to protect the liberty of the people, and liberty of the people is being eroded - particularly property rights."

Ken Strobeck of the League of Cities and Towns sees the issue a bit differently.  Strobeck noted that people who purchase homes in areas where strange noises and smells are not in evidence or anticipated at the time of purchase have their property rights infringed upon with the introduction of poultry into the neighborhood.

What a whiner!

The Farnsworth bill does address the noise concern by denying backyard poultry producers the right to raise roosters - an obvious gender discrimination issue that will never stand up in court - particularly if it gets as far as the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals!

Roosters have rights, too - you know.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The House Without a Key

by Pa Rock

Earl Derr Biggers was a Harvard graduate who became a journalist in the early years of the twentieth century.   His interest in writing eventually led him to a modest career as a novelist and playwright.   Biggers’ reputation as a writer, along with his body of work, would have eventually disappeared into the dusts of time if it was not for one of his character creations who caught the imagination of both the American reading public and Hollywood.  That character was the inscrutable Chinese detective, Charlie Chan.

The original Charlie Chan as created by Earl Derr Biggers was a very rotund Chinese gentleman who was employed as a detective with the Honolulu Police Department.  He spoke pigeon English, always had a pithy little quote ready to clarify a situation or emphasize some human foible, and he had a unique ability to sort through clues and determine which were germane to an investigation and which were not.  Mr. Chan was a highly skilled detective who was well respected by those he encountered on the job, and nothing at all like the sinister stereotypes of Chinese which were prevalent at that time.

In my never-ending quest to become conversant in low-brow literature of the twenties and thirties, I recently encountered the first Charlie Chan novel, The House Without a Key, which was written in 1925.  Earl Derr Biggers went on to write five more books featuring his famous detective before dying at the early age of forty-eight.   By the time of Mr. Biggers’ death, Charlie Chan had been showcased in several movies and had proven to be just as popular in Shanghai, China, as he was in America.  Charlie Chan was also on the radio and had appeared in American comic books.

Many critics felt that Charlie Chan was the most memorable fictional detective since Sherlock Holmes.

The House Without a Key surprised me with its clever plotting and beautiful writing.  Most of the story takes place in Honolulu of the 1920’s, and the lush descriptions of the city, and in particular the old hotels and mansions on Waikiki Beach, truly make the reader pine for a time that has long sense passed.  The Americanization of Hawaii was one of the themes of novel, with several of the characters reminiscing about the islands as they knew them in their youth – in the 1880’s – a time when the monarchy still ruled.  However, for those of us bound in present times, Hawaii in the 1920’s sounds like Heaven on Earth.

Biggers was very subtle in his introduction of Charlie Chan – in fact, the detective didn’t even appear until the seventh chapter.  The first six chapters were dedicated to describing Honolulu in the twenties, setting the stage with a murder, and carefully introducing each of the family members and other suspects.  Biggers’ character descriptions were so thorough that I was put in mind of the works of Dame Agatha Christie. 

The novel went well beyond the storyline of a murder and subsequent investigation.  It also talked of opium smuggling, blackbirding (essentially trading in slaves), and the struggles of a young Bostonian as he was torn between the rigidity of his New England background and the free and easy lifestyle of Hawaii.  And there was a luau, fights along the waterfront, and romantic moonlight swims in the warm Pacific Ocean.

The House Without a Key captured Hawaii as it was nearly ninety years ago, a beautiful place - and one that Earl Derr Biggers obviously knew well.  The cleverness of Charlie Chan was well complemented by the serene beauty of the city and the island that he called home.  

This was a wonderful read!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Rush Hours

by Pa Rock
Traveling Fool

The trip to Oregon is now consigned to the family history books, and I am safely back at my little house on Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona.  I am already busy packing more boxes in anticipation of my move back to the Ozarks at the end of next month.

Today I had the unenviable chore of participating in rush hour traffic binges in two large cities.  I got into Portland this morning just in time to join the thousands of Portlandians who were trying to get to work, and I left the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport this evening just as everyone was trying to get out of Phoenix and go home.  Fortunately for me, there were no fender-benders and traffic ran fairly smoothly - but there was just so damned much of it!

The Portland Airport has a feature that I wish more major airports would adopt.  It has electrical outlets everywhere!    I have been in some airports where the distance between outlets was measured in miles, but not Portland.  In this day and age when everyone is connected to some electronic gizmo, it is very satisfying to know that power is available in abundance.

Security was interesting at the Portland Airport.  I knew the plane was only going to be two-thirds full, so I decided not to check my little suitcase and save the twenty-five dollars.  Sadly, it has been so long since I lugged my suitcase onto a plane that I had forgotten one of the main rules.  As I stepped up to the X-ray machines preparing to shove my stuff through, a haggard TSA official asked if I had any toiletries in the suitcase.  "Yes, I do," I told her.  "Several."  She looked at me like she was having the worst day ever - and then sent it through.  I also sent a banana through in my jacket pocket, and forgot to take my belt off.  Behavior like that at Sky Harbor would have resulted in a scene - and probably a body-cavity search!

There was a hard frost on the car when I left my hotel room this morning, and when our plane touched down in Phoenix is was a pleasant seventy-nine degrees Fahrenheit.  I will certainly miss Phoenix's two or three months of pleasant weather!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pixie and the Gluten-Free Kids

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

Just finished my three-day visit with the Oregon grand kids.  It was great seeing how they have grown and changed in the many months since I last saw them.  It took little Willow until today to warm up to me, but now we are buddies.

Molly took Sebastian to a movie this afternoon while Scott was at work - which gave me an opportunity to babysit for Judah and Willow.  I think that the challenge was well met.   We played, read books, and watched Cars 2.   (Yesterday I saw the original Cars for the first time, and was very impressed.  I grew up in a town not too different from Radiator Springs!)

My grand dog, Pixie, is one amazing pooch.  They got her from a shelter several months ago.  She is completely house-broken, and when the family leaves, she goes and gets into a cage with a nice cushion where she remains until they return home.  The cage has the door open.  Today, with Scott at work, when Molly and Sebastian left for the movie (Frozen), Pixie went and got in her cage where she remained all afternoon until Molly and Sebastian got home - even though Judah, Willow, and I were all at home and within view of her cage.

One member of the Files' family has to be on a gluten-free diet, and, consequently, the whole family decided to go gluten-free.   Tonight Scott and I went grocery shopping, and I was surprised at how difficult it is to shop gluten-free.  There is a growing market that grocery merchandisers and food processors need to tap into.  Molly baked gluten-free cookies (chocolate chip) last night - and they were very good.

Tomorrow I'm leaving on a jet plane - for Phoenix!  Thirty-eight more days in the desert, but who's counting?

Sunday, January 19, 2014


by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

Day two of my visit to Salem, Oregon:

Molly, Judah, and I made a trip to Portland today for an appointment.  Judah is a wonderful traveler - he sits in his car seat watching the world slide by and occasionally chatters - no fussing, whining, or crying.  We stopped at a Wendy's after the appointment - to feed me - and Judah had an order of fries - which he calls chips.  That makes me suspect he was probably British in a recent past life.  This afternoon the entire Files' family took me to the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Center which consists of several buildings full of hands-on experiences for children and an amazing playground.  Mr. Gilbert was an olympic athlete and inventor from the early 20th century.  He was a native of Salem.  One of his best known inventions was the Erector Set - an early construction kit "for boys."

Here are a few Oregonisms that I have collected over the past couple of days:

Oregon is an unusually progressive state - especially compared to the last four states in which I have lived:  Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, and Arizona.  While there is an abundance of homeless people in Portland and Salem, they have shelters and soup kitchens to try and care for these folks.

Bike paths and bike lanes are common, and those driving cars know to show careful deference to the health-nuts and nature-lovers on bicycles.  Tonight I also noticed a fellow cruising down a bike lane on a busy street - using in-line skates and wearing a miner's helmet with a headlight.

There is no sales tax in Oregon.  Sales taxes are extremely regressive, putting the burden of paying for necessary services on those least able to pay.  In Oregon the onus of paying for public services rests more with those who have the ability to pay - through income and property taxes.

People are not allowed to pump their own gas in Oregon.  The state passed a law saying that attendants have to pump gas - the way it used to be everywhere.  The intent of the law was to increase employment.  More attendants at gas stations equals more paychecks flowing into the economy.  And it's sort of nice on a cold day like today to be able to sit in the warm car without feeling guilty while someone else does the work.

Several years ago the state decided that no one should own the beautiful and rugged Pacific coast.  The legislature passed a law stating that people could either sell their coast property to the state, or keep it until the current owners died and then it would go to the state.   Now tourists can essentially access the beaches at any place along the coast, and the views are unencumbered by high rise developments catering to the wealthy.

Oregon has a law against using a cell phone while driving - statewide.  The fine is two-hundred-and-fifty dollars - and it will soon double to five hundred dollars.

All of that positive legislation doesn't mean that the state is free of reactionaries.   I heard that the dark forces of fundamentalist Christianity held a big rally today (after church) at Pioneer Square in Portland where they were protesting a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.  Those protestors love fetuses and ignore children - especially those children who are poor and hungry.   Fortunately the reactionary goobers appear to be a distinct minority in Oregon.

Overall, it looks like many of the forty-nine other states could learn a lot from Oregon - that is if they had any desire to learn.  Some states choose to take care of the privileged few, while other states, like Oregon, focus on the needs of the many.  That's how I would like my tax dollars to be spent.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday in Oregon

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

I made it out of Phoenix and into Portland this morning without incident.  The flight was about half-full which made for a very pleasant flying experience.  I arrived in Salem shortly after noon and spent the remainder of the afternoon with my grandchildren - all of whom are well, active, and happy.

Sebastian is six and in a kindergarten that has an emphasis on Spanish.  He seems to be picking it up well.    Fluency in more than one language will serve anyone well in this day and age.  Judah is four.  He is in preschool.  Judah has an interest in trains and is a very loving child.  Little Willow just turned two this at the end of this past November.  It took her a while to warm up to me, but by the time we went out for supper this evening she was doing just fine.

I also met my new grand dog, Pixie, who is some sort of cross between a Chihuahua and a terrier.  She had a major fit when I showed up - probably not wanting a stranger around her family.  But by the end of the day Pixie and I had become good friends.  She liked rubbing her cold nose on my hands to warm it up.

My plans are to spend three days with Scott and Molly's family and the fly back to Phoenix on Tuesday.  When I get back to work on Wednesday I will have just thirty-eight days until retirement - including weekends!  But who's counting?

Some of my co-workers refer to me as a two-digit midget!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Look for the Union Buttons at PDX!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Almost every day I get email invitations to sign on-line petitions, and while I realize they essentially do no good whatsoever, if it is an issue with which I agree - I add my name to the list of outraged citizens.

Today I received one that particularly caught my attention.  A security officer at the Portland, Oregon, airport (PDX) said that he and some coworkers were given "written discipline" for wearing "small buttons" supporting their union - the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  The man's email contained a sample letter and talking points for a letter of support that would be forwarded to the company director of the security contractor which employees him.

Being a good union supporter like my very good friend - City Councilman Chad Manspeaker of Topeka - I put my e-signature on the petition / letter.  I will be in the Portland Airport tomorrow morning on a trip to visit my Oregon grandchildren, and I would like to think that the security officers I encounter there will not be feeling stressed due to an obvious denial of their First Amendment right to free speech.

Also, the Portland Airport used to be a beacon of tolerance.  Three years ago as I traversed their terminal I encountered a security officer wearing a turban.  Seriously!  And now some petty bureaucrat is getting all twisted and dictatorial over a union button?  My, how the mighty have fallen!

Lighten up, Portlandia!  Live up to your reputation!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

21st Century America: Hungrier and More Desperate

by Pa Rock

My mother worked when my sister and I were little.  She and my dad had grown up in the Great Depression, and though they could have gotten along on just my dad's salary, they knew that two salaries would make it much easier to get ahead.

Fifty years later it takes at least two salaries just to break even.

Today the Republican party routinely exacerbates America's fragile economic situation by subsidizing big corporations who then turn around and ship their jobs overseas.  And when American workers find the jobs have disappeared, the Republicans demonize them as lazy and defund unemployment insurance - all the while sabotaging any Democratic attempts to pass a jobs bill.  It is a vicious cycle - one that the little guy cannot win.

Yesterday I encountered a man who was probably just trying to get by.   I had just left the grocery store and instead of pushing the cart to my car, I removed the several bags of groceries and carried them to the car on my own.  As I got to my car I noticed this guy parked in the traffic lane behind me talking to another shopper.  I assumed he was asking directions.

I had several bags of groceries in one hand, one bag in my teeth (really!), and the car key in my "free" hand.  I was trying to get the car unlocked when I noticed the guy in the car was trying to get my attention.  I looked up, and he said, "Put your groceries away and then I need to talk to you."  I couldn't help noticing that another car was stuck behind him waiting on the driver to move his vehicle.

After getting the groceries situated, I walked over to the guy in the car.  I went to the driver's side, giving the stuck driver room enough (barely) to get around.  Because he had traffic blocked, I suspected that it might be more that just a directions request.  When I got to the driver, he pointed at my car and commented on the faded look of my bumper - saying "I have something that could fix that."

I didn't react in a hostile manner - which might have been justified.  Rather, I just turned and walked away with a brisk "No, thank you" without waiting to hear about whatever product the guy was pitching.   I felt ashamed of that rude response later when I thought about ti and realized that the fellow was just another desperate American trying to get by.

As the middle class continues to disappear and the gap between rich and poor widens, there will be more and more desperate Americans fighting for survival in plain sight.  The 1930's are cycling back, and at some point the government will have to quit dumping on the poor - or face the consequences.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Feeding a Few Close Friends

by Pa Rock
Nature Lover

I have written about Bob the Grackle in this space before, at least I think that I have.  Bob and I became friends when I was working at Luke Air Force Base between 2007 and 2010.  Each morning I would drive through the McDonald’s located next door to the base and purchase my breakfast – a sausage-egg McMuffin and a large, unsweetened iced-tea.  I would take the sandwich to base where I would sit in the car eating and reading until time to go in for work.  There were always a few nosey grackles close by taking note of any activity and looking for a handout.  Gradually I began pulling off pinches of the sandwich and throwing it to them.  I became very popular among the desert birds.

Grackles, which closely resemble crows and blackbirds, are extremely smart.  One grackle, whom I named “Bob,” soon figured out my routine and was always quick to drop by whenever I would pull into the parking lot.  Eventually he would keep an eye on the base gate until he spotted my car, and the fly along and accompany me to the parking lot.  We became great friends.

Bob and I never reconnected after I returned from Okinawa in the summer of 2012.  I had a different car by that time, one that Bob would not have known, and he had probably moved on to greener pastures – or browner desert.  But I kept buying those sausage-egg McMuffins and sharing with whatever birds showed up.  This time there was more variety.  In addition to the ubiquitous grackles, the breakfast gang included little desert wrens, Gambles quail, and even the occasional woodpecker.

A few months after I returned, I was diagnosed with clogged arteries and had to quit eating those wonderful McMuffins.  My new breakfast meal consisted of unsweetened oatmeal and unsweetened iced tea.   The birds showed up for a few days before giving up on me and disappearing to track down breakfast elsewhere.

I began to eat an apple every day as a nutritional snack – anything to keep those greedy doctors away!

There is a large cactus outside of the building where I work.  It is one of those ground-cover varieties that takes in about 400 square feet and is six feet tall at its center.  That cactus is full of small desert cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus Audubonii).  I quickly figured out that if I threw my apple core up close to the big cactus, a group of hungry little bunnies would soon descend on it. 

Now I feed the rabbits every day that I am work.  It is good for them, and it is certainly good for me – nutritionally and psychologically.  The rabbits aren’t as bright as Bob, but they enjoy being fed and they are fun to watch.

I am going to have such a great time on the farm!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

That's Just Nuts!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As of the first of this year, it is now legal to carry a concealed weapon in every state in the nation as long as those packing heat have their state's necessary level of training on how to use the firearm and a concealed-carry permit.  Some yammer on about guns making us safer, but I am more inclined to the view of my late father, a rather conservative individual, who, when asked about people carrying concealed weapons, replied, "That's just nuts!"

Several years ago when the Missouri State Legislature was preparing to carry the NRA's water by passing a concealed-carry bill, a small group of thoughtful legislators managed to get the question taken away from the NRA's stooges in the legislature and placed directly before the voters.  It was a close vote, but Missouri voters turned down the proposition that would have made it legal to carry a concealed weapon.  The NRA rushed forth with cash and threats, and the legislature soon corrected the voters' mistake and made the nutty idea into law.

(For those who doubt the absurdly low levels to which the Missouri Legislature will crawl, this is the same group who put a bronze bust of Rush Limbaugh's head on permanent display in the state capitol.)

In Arizona it is now legal to carry a concealed weapon into a bar - really!

Every week runs a special column that lists dozens and dozens of accidental deaths that occurred during the week as a result of stupid or careless people handling guns.  Many of these sad vignettes feature a loss of life - and quite often the dead are children.

Some states have reached beyond the lunacy of concealed-carry laws and come up with homicide-enabling legalization commonly called "stand your ground" laws.  George Zimmerman, a young cop-wannabe from Florida brought these perversions of justice into the public view last year when he shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, and then got off without punishment by saying that he "felt threatened."  Zimmerman stood his ground - and a young man died.

This week there was another shooting, also in Florida, that already smacks of the stand-your-ground nonsense.  A retired police captain was trying to enjoy the previews at the Cobb Theatre in Wesley Chapel, Florida, but was distracted by a theatre patron in front of him who was texting on his cell phone.  Apparently they had words, and then the former policeman walked to the lobby - presumably to complain to the management.  Witnesses said that when he returned, without theatre staff, the argument resumed and the fellow with the phone threw his popcorn on the complainer.  The retired policeman then drew his concealed pistol and fired a round into the guy's chest.  The fellow died later at a local hospital.  His wife was wounded in the incident.

The Cobb Theatre has a policy prohibiting the use of cell phones or texting during the show.  The same theatre also prohibits carrying concealed weapons onto its premises.

The shooter was arrested without resistance.  He has been booked at the local jail and is being held without bail on a charge of second-degree murder.  The man's stated defense so far is that he reacted (with deadly force) after being struck in the face with an unknown object (popcorn).  It smells like a stand-your-ground defense in the offing, but this shooter may not be as lucky as George Zimmerman because the aggressive texter was white.

For those who believe the law is color-blind,  well . . . that's just nuts!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Kubla Khan"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Having just seen the stage musical, Xanadu, I was put in mind of the poem, Kubla Khan, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The first two lines of that piece are quoted early on in the play.

Kubla Khan is Coleridge's famous unfinished poem.  He reportedly composed most of it in his head during an opium-induced sleep and was busy the following day putting it to paper when someone knocked at his door.   That fateful knock at the door broke his concentration and he was never able to recapture his train-of-thought.

What Coleridge did manage to get onto paper is one of the most enduring and beautiful images in English literature - a far cry from the roller skates and balloons of Hollywood's vision!

Kubla Khan
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

X Minus Forty-Seven and Counting

by Pa Rock

I now have less than seven weeks of time left in the Arizona desert - and less than seven weeks of employment.  Retirement has been decades in coming, but now that it is almost here, the time is rushing by.

The packing is getting tedious, with piles of boxes springing up in the rooms of my little house like mushrooms sprouting on the forest floor.  For the most part I am using stackable, plastic cartons that can be easily stored after the more is complete.  I have used them before and know that some will inevitably break during the drive back to Missouri - but even with the propensity for breakage, they are still much handier and easier to use than their cardboard cousins.

I saw a commercial the other day that said the average person moves a dozen times during his lifetime.  I haven't counted my moves, though a dozen does sound about right - but it is such a great feeling knowing that this will more than likely be my last move.  The next time my stuff gets transported will be when my kids put it out on the yard and the auctioneer sends it all away to new homes.

The older I get, the less fond I am of "stuff!"