Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Of Creepy Old Men and Bad Girlfriends

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Reality television star and right-wing mouthpiece Donald Trump has decided to weigh in on the Donald Sterling affair.  Trump called Sterling's racist remarks "terrible and despicable," but he also issued a righteous condemnation of Sterling's girlfriend, the woman who recorded his rant and then released the recording to the press.

In playing blame-the-girlfriend, The Donald noted that Sterling "got set up by a very, very bad girlfriend."  He added, "She's called the girlfriend from hell, but what he said was terrible and despicable and very strong action is going to be taken."

Trump did not say "Strong action should be taken," something that could have been interpreted as one billionaire turning on another - but rather he parroted what most Americans who read or listen to news already knew - that strong action was going to happen.

And it did happen.  Sterling has been banned by the NBA and fined two million dollars.  He also may be forced to sell his team, the LA Clippers, if three-quarters of the other owners make that collective demand.

Sterling's life was good, very good indeed - but that darned girlfriend went and ruined it.

Trump kept trumpeting:   "She's a terrible human being and he gave horrible answers and disgusting answers."  Trump said all of this on Fox, the only network that really cares what he thinks.

The Donald also did a bit of pot-kettle diagnosing of his fellow rich, white man:  "I think he could be out of it, frankly, based on his actions.  He could be pretty much out of it in terms of his whole mentality."

The same week that the "girlfriend from hell" released Donald Sterling's racist tirade, another Republican icon also got into trouble for saying what he really believed.  The rancher in Nevada who has been illegally letting his cattle graze on public lands for nearly two decades gave his ignorant rendition of life-on-the-plantation-was-pretty-darned-good.

The problem with Sterling and the rancher was that they used the King's English and said exactly what they meant.   They didn't obfuscate like so many pundits and politicians do today.   They just opened their mouths and let it flow.

Don't these yahoos know about code words?  Fox undoubtedly keeps a list - check it out.   Get with the 21st century, guys!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Hunger Game

by Pa Rock
Food Appreciator

Breakfast this morning was a double adult dose (two capfuls) of Miralax stirred into a glass of cold water.  Um-um-good!  After tending to a few chores, I drove to town and picked up a mid-morning snack - a 52-ounce iced tea from Casey's General Store.  That was followed by a trip to the local grocery where I bought an assortment of popsicles and clear liquid drinks.  Lunch was a mug of warm chicken broth.

Guess who's having a colonoscopy tomorrow?

Although it has only been a couple of hours - and I carry around enough body fat to support a season of hibernation - I am hungry, and the hunger is bringing out strange behaviors.  I caught myself staring wistfully at the Marie Callendar frozen foods display in the grocery this morning, and when my son stopped by the house a little while ago, I busied myself trying to give him food.  If I couldn't eat, surely I could satisfy someone else's hunger!

Now I'm involved in some television therapy as I listen to my stomach growl and contemplate supper.  Will it be a little more chicken broth - or perhaps Jello?  One thing is certain, dessert will be a popsicle.

But tomorrow night, supper will be some of Marie's finest fare!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lady Sings the Blues, the Wiz, and the Supremes' Songbook

by Pa Rock
Child of the Sixties

She came out singing "I'm Coming Out," and the place exploded!

Diana Ross had them rocking in the aisles, between the rows, and across multiple balconies with her high-energy show at the Midland Theatre in Kansas City last night.  Miss Ross, best known as the lead vocalist in the 1960's Motown girls' group, The Supremes, did an hour and eighteen minutes of songs that everybody knew.

No one in the audience sat for the first fifteen minutes of the show, opting instead to to clap, wave, dance, and sing along with the star.  A good portion of the audience appeared to stay on their feet throughout most of the show, a fact that forced others to stand if they wanted a view of the entertainment.  The seats were almost in the way!

The singer and film star who turned seventy last month looked and sounded great.  During the relatively brief time on stage, she managed to effect four different costume changes,  displaying four sequined gowns of different bright colors (some with feather boas), and one pants suit.  It was impossible for the spotlights to avoid her.

I sat next to a couple who had seen Diana Ross at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City thirty-seven years ago.  They probably had a good time at the first show, and they definitely had a great time last night.  I also overheard one young man who was near the center of the first row (I was in a great seat in the third row!) saying to another person that he follows the show from city to city - a groupie!

(There is a wonderful line in the book, Baja Oklahoma by Dan Jenkins, which tells the difference between a "groupie" and a "roadie."  It's an hilarious book, so read it and learn something useful!)

But back to Diana Ross:  The concert was super, bringing back memories and feelings from my youth - and it was well worth the more than two dollars a minute I paid for the seat that I hardly sat in!

Next month, Cher!  Then if I can ever catch Tina Turner in concert, I will have hit the diva trifecta!  My bucket list is ambitious!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Keeping Up Appearances

by Pa Rock
Fan of Brit Coms

I had the good fortune to run into some old friends last night in Kansas City, Richard and Hyacinth Bucket, whom I hadn't seen since leaving Arizona a couple of months ago.   (Hyacinth, a bit of a snob, pronounces their last name as "Bouquet.")

Nothing much seems to have changed since I last saw the Buckets.  Richard, a recently retired civil servant, busies himself in the garden and trying to stay out of Hyacinth's way, and Hyacinth, ever the social climber, has been planning another one of her formal candlelight suppers.   She has apparently convinced her neighbor, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's divorced brother, Emmett, to attend.  Emmett, who directs a local musical theatre group, always tries to avoid contact with Hyacinth because she invariably "sings at" him as she tries to wrangle a part in one of his amateur productions.

Most mornings Hyacinth invites Elizabeth over for coffee, a rather traumatic affair for Elizabeth because Hyacinth makes her so nervous that she nearly always spills her coffee or drops her biscuits on Hyacinth's highly polished floor.  She also broke a few cups  from Hyacinth's collection of Royal Doulton china with hand-painted periwinkles until Hyacinth wised up and began serving Elizabeth's coffee in beakers (mugs).  Poor, Liz - she just doesn't have the backbone to ever say no to Hyacinth.

Sheridan Bucket, whom I have never met, is still at university where he has been a student for several years.  He and his roommate, Tarquin, study embroidery and other domestic arts.  Hyacinth constantly cautions her son - usually when he phones home for money - to avoid women, something that does not appear to be a problem for "Mummy's Sheridan."

Hyacinth caught me up on the trials and tribulations of her three sisters:  Daisy, Rose, and Violet.  Daisy is still married to Onslow, a lazy lout who spends his days watching the horse races on the telly and drinking beer.   While Onslow might not be every woman's idea of an Adonis, he definitely still rings Daisy's bells.

Rose lives with Onslow and Daisy.   She has a penchant for under-dressing and chasing men.  Rose's exploits are a constant irritation to Hyacinth, particularly when she sets her sights on Hyacinth's "dishy" (and married) vicar.  Onslow, Daisy, and Rose share their dilapidated dwelling with the women's father,  a World War I veteran who sometimes thinks he is still fighting Germans.   Daddy is also a bit of a ladies man.  Hyacinth is always ready with a quick excuse for Daddy's bizarre behavior and worries about the care that he receives from her sisters - but she can't have him move into her house because he drools.

The other sister, Violet, married money - and Hyacinth is more than a little envious.  Whenever Violet telephones, Hyacinth is quick to let everyone within earshot know that "It's my sister, Violet.  The one with the Mercedes, sauna, and room for a pony."  Violet and her rich husband, Bruce, tend to argue often and loudly, primarily due to Bruce's penchant for cross-dressing.  Hyacinth cautions Violet to be understanding and to "think of the Mercedes."

There are always interesting things going on in the Bucket household.  I used to visit with them weekly, and I really miss those get-togethers.  But until Ozarks Public Television lightens up and develops a sense of humor, I guess I am destined to encounter Richard and Hyacinth and their friends only when I am away from home.

How sad for me - and for the rest of us in the Ozarks.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Soldier Comes Home

by Pa Rock

William "Teetum" Carneal was born in Paducah, Kentucky, ninety-four years ago yesterday.  He left home as a young man in 1941 when he entered the U.S. Army to fight in World War II.  Sadly, he never returned after the war.

Friends with whom he served reported that Private First Class Carneal was killed in action on the Pacific island of Saipan on July 7th, 1944, when a Japanese soldier jumped into Carneal's foxhole and pulled the pin on a hand grenade - killing both men.  His body was not recovered at the time, leaving young Carneal to be numbered among the 80,000 service men and women reported missing after the war ended.

Last year a Japanese non-profit group that tries to recover the bodies of Japanese soldiers from World War II discovered the remains of Carneal and three other Americans while digging in several feet of clay on Saipan.  His body was identified through artifacts - his 1939 senior ring from Heath High School in Paducah and his dog tags - and later by DNA testing.  Those items, along with his poncho, were returned to family members.

William Carneal was buried yesterday in his hometown next to the elder sister who raised him after their parents died.  The family passed up the opportunity to bury their loved one at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, opting instead to bring him back to Paducah.

Welcome home, soldier.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Corporations Eating Corporations

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There have been predictions for many years and from many quarters that capitalism would eventually do itself in, and while reports of the economic system's demise have been premature, there are times when the "free market's" excesses seem almost certain to bring the economy crashing down on itself.

Now is one of those times.  Corporations are getting bigger and bigger, unions are being driven from the marketplace, wages are stagnant, benefits are disappearing (and so is the middle class), jobs are being "outsourced" overseas, the environment is being raped, and corporations and the ultra-rich are rapidly buying politicians and the entire political process.

If it weren't for Obamacare, there would be no good news at all!

One interesting aspect of capitalism is that it tends to feed on itself.  Big businesses eat littler ones, and in so doing eliminate jobs, stymie creativity, and exert more control over what consumers will ultimately have to pay for their products.  (Or there is the Romneyesque version where corporate raiders come in and purchase a company, sell its assets, steal the pension funds, and send jobs - if any are left - overseas or to non-union states.)  Either way, workers and consumers get screwed.

But it's business and therefore holy.

Two stories about businesses expanding into other areas have been in the news this week.  First, those wonderful folks at Walmart have announced a plan to let customers transfer cash to other stores - up to $900 - for a handsome fee.  The fee will be less than what Western Union charges - the company which has been helping people get money from one person to another quickly for generations.  Goodbye Western Union.  And for Walmart it will be just one more task that their overworked and underpaid "associates" can add to their daily "to-do" lists.  Many jobs will be lost - and darned few created.  PayPal may not be too happy with Walmart either.

Amazon is also moving into another area.  The one-time bookseller has expanded into sales of an enormous variety of things over the past few years - and in many ways has become Walmart's chief competitor.   Amazon prides itself on good customer service, and the company has been ticked off the past couple of holiday seasons when the standard carriers that it uses couldn't get the holiday goodies delivered in a prompt manner.  The solution?  Amazon is setting up its own delivery service in several markets.  Fed Ex, UPS, and the US Postal Service can all expect to see their revenue streams run a little drier this Christmas.  Ho, ho, ho!

But give it another year and things will begin to sort themselves out.   Walmart will own Amazon (or the other way around), Sheldon Adelson will own Las Vegas, and the Koch brothers will own our government.  Then we can really start cutting jobs!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

In Defense of Not Naming Names

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

One of the victims of last year's terrible Boston Marathon bombing recently walked off of a Sunday news show because the moderator mentioned the bomber's name.  Her logic was that publicizing the name of the felon imparts a degree of recognition or even fame on the murderous individual.

There is a movement afoot in this country, one that I personally like, to disempower criminals by not using their names in news coverage.  America has a tendency to glamorize its thugs and gangsters, and eventually turn them into folk heroes.  Just ask the James brothers - or Bonnie and Clyde.

A couple of weeks ago a neo-Nazi from southwest Missouri went on a shooting rampage in the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City.  He targeted two Jewish centers and killed three individuals - all Christians.   (Nobody ever said that a person had to be smart in order to carry a gun!)  The shooter, a man in his seventies, had been involved in scrapes with the law in the past and was known to the watchdogs at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  News reports suggested that he was looking to cap a rather mediocre career as a hater with something so outrageous that it would insure his place in history.

He is locked up.  He will never get out of jail.   The old man wanted to make a name for himself.  Let's not give him that.

There is an old rancher (or sorts) out in Nevada who has been inflating his ego by having a "stand-off" with the feds over grazing fees - fees that he legitimately owes and are years in arrears.  Several other bozos showed up on horseback and armed to help with his desert theatre.  The Bureau of Land Management backed down, at least for the time-being, and Fox News has wet itself nightly ever since trumpeting the little guy's right to stand up to the big ol' mean government.

I don't like paying taxes or fees to the government, but it is legitimate debt and the money lets government function and provide many services that I want and need.  I pay my bills, and that rancher should do the same.  Fox has made sure that the guy got his fifteen minutes of fame, now he needs to quit spewing racism, put down the rifle, and get back to the business of being a functioning American.   And, Goober, if you're not going to pay grazing fees, get your cows off of our public lands!

There are two brothers in Wichita who have amassed enough personal fortune to see themselves, their children, and their grandchildren through pampered lifetimes.  But money isn't enough.  They want political power and influence over state and national governments.  They promote policies that are in their personal interests, but often run contrary to the public interest.  Money motivates them, but they seem even more focused on fame.  They want to be power brokers, and they want everyone - EVERYONE - to know who they are.

It's high time that American journalists began to deny the Wichita brothers the nourishment of attention.

Disempower the criminals and greed heads - then we can move on to the politicians!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kansas East

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Some daft members of the Missouri Legislature (Republicans, of course) have set their sights on impeaching our Democratic governor - Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon - primarily (as suggested by The Daily Kos) for being a Democrat.  This is the same party, in the same legislature, that saw fit a couple of years ago to desecrate the state capitol building with a bronze bust of Rush Limbaugh's fat head.  (Talk about your impeachable offenses!)

Three Republican state legislators (lets call them Larry, Moe, and Curly - or Larry, Darryl, and Darryl - reader's choice) are drafting complaints outlining the governor's treacheries.  All are laughable.

Larry is upset that that Governor Nixon issued an executive order last year bringing Missouri tax collection procedures in line with federal standards.  The governor decreed that state tax officials were to allow same-sex couples who were married in other states to file joint returns.  That would be all same-sex couples because Missouri has yet to sanction any gay or lesbian unions.  (Hey Larry, read a newspaper or check the Google.  When it comes to gay marriage, it's all over but the shouting - and your side lost.  You're just pissing up a rope, bud.)

Moe (or Darryl) is whining because the governor has not moved fast enough in calling special elections to fill four legislative vacancies.  The law reportedly says the governor should move "without delay" (whatever the hell that means) in calling those elections.  Moe (or Darryl) apparently got a new stopwatch in his Easter basket.

And then there's Curly (or Darryl).  He's off on a gun tangent.   Curly (or Darryl) is furious with the governor because he did not sufficiently punish officials at the state's Department of Public Safety after they provided the Social Security Administration with a list of Missourians who are licensed to carry concealed weapons - 163,000 individuals.  Social Security requested the information from the Highway Patrol in an effort to investigate fraudulent disability claims.

No word on whether Curly (or Darryl) wants the offending officials beheaded or simply caned.

As every gun-toting, disabled hillbilly knows, the gummint its coming to get our guns!  Here's a suggestion in the event the revenuers come for our bullets, too:  melt down that bronze effigy of Rush and turn him into ammo.  That drug-addled pork chop ought to be good for something!

I thought I would miss absurd legislative antics and stunts when I left Arizona.  Obviously, I was wrong!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chick Day at the Feed Store

by Pa Rock
Chicken Rancher

My chicks are here - and what a day it has been!  They are just a day or so old, so the little ones are currently at home in a dry kiddie pool under a heat lamp in the garage.  They have two feeders and two waterers, a carpet of pine shavings, and are quite happy.  Peep, peep, peep!

The local feed store, which is one of those big affairs that sell practically everything, takes orders for  baby poultry throughout the winter and early spring.  They consolidate the orders into two delivery dates - one in March and a later one in April.  Today was the April delivery, and the place was hopping!

Selling chicks is a good business.  Most people who show up to collect their babies also wind up shopping for feeders (and chick starter feed), waterers, bedding such as pine shavings, a heat lamp, and wallpaper for the chicken coop.  (Just kidding about the wallpaper!)  The place sells so many chicken extras that they could easily turn a good profit just giving the chicks away!

My order was for twenty-four Rhode Island Red hens - twenty-five arrived, three little roosters - all of whom reported for duty, and four bronze-breasted turkeys - again, all present and accounted for.  There was also a mystery bird, a little black and yellow chick that is definitely none of the above.  He, or she, will probably become my pet - especially if the Reds discriminate against him, or her.

Six hours later and no casualties to report.   The chicken coop and pen are beginning to resemble Ft. Knox, so I may just make a success of this chicken rancher phase of my life!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Tree Trimming"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

American poet and man of many classy words, John Ciardi, passed away on Easter Sunday twenty-eight years ago.  He had prepared his own epitaph to mark the occasion of his passing.  It reads simply:

"Here, time concurring (and it does)
Lies Ciardi.  If no kingdom come
A kingdom was.  Such as it was
This one beside it is a slum."
The past few days in the Ozarks have been beautiful, allowing me to work outside and ready the farm for summer.  One of my primary chores has been to get the old chicken coop and chicken pen cleaned up and ready for the new baby chicks - which will arrive either later this evening or tomorrow.  The chicken pen encircles a sprawling tree whose many branches reached over the fence and grabbed the ground beyond the pen, allowing some predators easy access to the anticipated new arrivals - so I spent quite awhile trimming it back.

One of the basic implements that I use as I work about the yard and on the chicken pen / coop project is my father's old wheelbarrow, vintage 1950's.  Pushing that heavy thing around forms a secure bond with my dad, even though he has been gone nearly five years.

John Ciardi's poem, "Tree Trimming," talks about the bond that is formed between generations through the sweat of hard work.  Ciardi was a master wordsmith, and I particularly like the images that he creates with this piece.

Tree Trimming
by John Ciardi

There's this to a good day's sweat

high in the branches trimming and down
into the ground rooting - I'm not used to it
any more but it reminds me when I'm done
and sprawl shaky with tiredness, wet
in the sun's wringer.  Sweat tells me again 
who my people were.  And yes, there's more
to it.  But without sweat I wouldn't want
it.  It takes the whole body to be sure
of what you're remembering.  I can't
say my father's or my grandfather's name
a better way than this dog-tired numb
joy of having touched green growing
and the dirt under it and the day going.

Even then I can't really touch them.  Not ever
again.  They had first things and the power
and the ignorance that go to the receiver
of first things only;  that and no more.

I've lost it.  I'm my own first.  There never was
a man of my blood before
who spoke more than one tongue, or that
in a way courts wouldn't laugh at.
My father did read some, but it was
his mountain he came from, not the mind
of man.  He had ritual, not ideas.  His
world I cannot find
except as my body aches and sweats hewing,
was holy and dim.  But doing 
his work, I rest.  I remember this:
it is good to be able.  To hold axe and saw
and do first things again.  I miss
this the desked days I go.  I see
him here.  I know him.  But he is
more than I can teach my children.  They
have for first life.  That is their loss.
I wish we were Jews and could say 
the names of what made us.
I could weep by slow waters for my son
who has no history, no name
he knows long, no ritual from which he came,
and no fathers but the forgotten.

He who could sweat down, tree by tree,
a whole wood and touch no memory.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Pope Continues His Outlaw Ways

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Today marks the second Easter Sunday with Pope Francis sitting firmly atop the throne of St. Peter.  But this Pope does more than just sit and pontificate - or shoot the papal bull.   He exudes humanity, much like the Christ whom he ceaselessly promotes.  Pope Francis is not a totalitarian autocrat or a soulless bureaucrat - he is a real live human being who is in tune with the world around him.  He is a much needed fresh breeze blowing joyously out of the Vatican!

Pope Francis, who has been in office just over a year, rattled the teacups of conservative Catholics this week when he washed the feet of twelve disabled individuals on Holy Thursday instead of the traditional papal practice of washing the feet of twelve priests - representing the twelve apostles.  Last year on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, Francis scandalized Christendom by washing the feet of women and Muslims.

Back in earlier days while still a bishop in Argentina, the man who would become Pope Francis even washed and kissed the feet of AIDS patients on Holy Thursday.

Wouldn't it be great if all of the world's political and religious leaders could prove to be so useful!

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Travis McGee Takes the Helm

by Pa Rock

I just finished re-reading John D. MacDonald's 1964 novel, The Deep Blue Good-by, the book which introduces one of the most colorful and best known figures in the genre of crime fiction.  MacDonald's rough-and-tumble protagonist, Travis McGee, went on to become the central character in twenty-one novels before the author's death in 1986.

Travis McGee lives on a houseboat, "The Busted Flush," at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar at Ft. Laudercdale. He drives a classic Rolls Royce named "Miss Agnes" which was inexplicably hacked up by a previous owner and turned into a pick-up truck.  He has an interesting assortment of friends who drift on and off the pages of the entire set of books.

McGee, although apparently not licensed, works independently as sort of a private eye - helping people resolve and reclaim things - but only when he is low on money and only when the case interests him.  He is a ready brawler, and if there are any women involved in his cases, and there always are, they invariably end up in the sack with McGee.

John D. MacDonald was a philosopher as well as a darned good storyteller.  His works are known for their digressions into his thoughts on life or why the world works as it does.  He is best read with a highlighter so that the reader can mark those lines and ideas that may need to be referenced at some future point.

Years ago, on my first visit to Jimmy Buffett's original Margaritaville in Key West, I noticed an assortment of the Travis McGee books in the souvenir shop.  When I asked about them, a clerk told me that the series was the favorite of Buffett.  I always thought Buffett would have been a natural to play Travis McGee on film - but that never happened.

McGee ages along with the author.   He is a young man in his twenties in The Deep Blue Good-by, with the physicality of an angry bear.   However, by the last of the series, The Lonely Silver Rain, he is an older man with aches and pains as he discovers an adult daughter by one of his many youthful conquests.

All of the Travis McGee books have a color in the title.  I have read several in the series, and reading the entire set, in order, is an item on my literary bucket list.  Next up, number two:  Nightmare in Pink.

If you like your crime fighters to be tough and thoughtful, check out Travis McGee.  He is the heart and guts of some really engaging fiction.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Christians Making Bad Laws

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Poor Alabama has really been wallowing in the news as of late.  National Public Radio has just run a multi-part piece on the city of Tuscaloosa's re-segregation of its public schools, a sad commentary on the Supreme Court's abandonment of the notion that separate schools are not equal schools - and that government will no longer insure that schools are integrated.  Places like Alabama and Tuscaloosa are now free to return to the fine educational standards of the George Wallace era - a time when everybody knew their place.

But it is a story out of the town of Oneonta, Alabama, that really frosts the cake.  There, in Oneonta, a Christian minister by the name of Rick Wood (of The Lord's House of Prayer) has been behaving in a Christ-like manner, and the good citizens who run the town are sick and tired of it.  Pastor Wood has been driving around in his pick-up truck and giving hotdogs and bottled water to the homeless.

The city recently passed an ordinance requiring food trucks to buy a license - which could be as much as $500 - and they informed Pastor Wood that he would be required to purchase one of those licenses.  That ordinance has shut down the pastor's effort to feed the homeless - at least for the time being.  (This cause is just too good for some person or group not to step forward write a check.)

The article where I saw this story referenced a town in Florida which has recently passed an ordinance that banned the use of blankets by homeless residents.

Other communities are also getting very creative in coming up with ways to get rid of the homeless.  Hawaii, for instance, was buying them one-way cruise ship tickets to the mainland.  New York City used to bus theirs away from the city when big conventions came to town.  By the time the ill-used street dwellers found their way back into the city, the conventioneers would be long gone.

(Maybe that's why the Second Coming hasn't happened yet.  Jesus got here early, but then froze - or starved - to death while sleeping on a park bench.

Somebody's gonna have a lot of explaining to do come Judgement Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Korean Ferry Disaster

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Nine people have been confirmed dead and nearly three hundred others are still missing following the sudden and unexplained capsizing and sinking of a South Korean ferry boat yesterday.  Many of those aboard were students on a school field trip.  Some reports indicated that passengers were told not to abandon the ship, although the vessel's captain apparently made it off quickly.  Today air was being pumped into the ship in the event that any passengers were still alive and trapped below decks.

I traveled on inter-island ferries multiple times while I was living in the Orient.  The vessels are huge, the size of small ships.  One large ferry that visited Okinawa regularly had four decks, with cars and livestock of the bottom level.  Two of the decks had areas set aside where the ferry company had rolled out mats - a hundred or more in each location - for passengers to sleep on during their voyage.  There were also shops and vending machines, as well as a couple of nice lounges with television.

In some respects the ferries were almost like economy cruise ships.  One of the ferries that I rode originated someplace south of Okinawa (Taiwan, Vietnam, or perhaps the Philippines),  made two stops on the Okinawan coast, then traveled north through the Ryukus and on to South Korea and Japan.  The final destination was Vladivostock in Russia.  I rode it with friends to Yoron, the first island north of Okinawa.

The disaster in the waters off of South Korea is almost unimaginable.   May the news get better, and may all governments learn from this tragedy and work swiftly to improve maritime safety.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

People I Met Today

Pa Rock

The sun is preparing to set on what has been an unusually busy day.  It took three trips to town to complete all of my chores, but fortunately the town is close!

My initial stop was at the barber shop for my first Missouri haircut in nearly a decade.  The barber cuts my grandson's hair as well as the hair of all of Boone's maternal relatives.   He is nearly my age and quite an interesting guy.  He raises, among other things, peacocks and Boer goats.  Boer goats are large animals which are used primarily for meat production.  He told me that is possible to pay $10,000 to $15,000 for  an exceptional Boer for breeding stock!  (I may have a few goats at some point, but they obviously won't be Boers!)   I have had peacocks (and peahens) before, and would like to have a few at my new location - for their colorful presence and jungle screaming.  Peacocks make the place seem more exciting and exotic.

I met a plumber who managed to talk me out of installing a garbage disposal - and out of giving him a job.  I think I will go strictly with composting.  I also met a mechanic who serviced my car - and while he worked on that I had an interesting conversation with his wife.  Locals will talk about almost anything, and they are an excellent source of information on the history and culture of the community.

I  met a glass cutter who replaced the glass on an art print that got broken during the move.  He gave me a discount when I told him that I did not need a ticket.  Tomorrow I will take him another one.  He is very quick and reasonable.   Later I talked to a couple of store clerks about lawnmowers.  Unfortunately, they had sold the one that I had had my eye on.  Tomorrow I will start the search again.

A lady at another store sold me a couple of lamp shades.  She will never know how close she came to selling me a coffee table that had a foosball game under its glass top.  (My reduced retirement pay has curbed the urge to splurge.)

I also met a very patient fellow who sold me two sets of the doodads that screw down on top of lamp harps and hold the shades in place.  The first set was plastic and probably cost three cents each to produce.  Ace Hardware sells them for $5.00 per pair.  Those didn't work, so I drove back across town, returned the originals and bought two brass ones that did work.  Those were a mere $3.79 each!  Those of us who refuse to shop at Walmart pay dearly for our pride!

Between all of that running around I managed to re-frame a print, get two lamps operational, hang some art and family photos, feed the birds and the squirrels, argue with Direct TV for thirty minutes over a five dollar charge (next time I'll send them two plastic doodads from Ace Hardware), and consume most of a box of chicken livers while cruising the highways and country lanes of West Plains.

Life remains good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

State Legislatures Flex Their Muscle

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The boneheads populating America's state legislatures, insurance and car salesmen who are increasingly coming under the dollar domination of right-wing corporatists, are beginning to flex their legislative muscle in ways that are not necessarily beneficial to the voters who put them in office.  In many cases the legislatures are overriding local autonomy by passing laws which forbid communities from taking certain actions that fly in the face of the interests of lawmakers' corporate masters.

The National Rifle Association has drafted model legislation that multiple states are using to forbid counties and cities from passing any gun ordinances that are more restrictive than what is on the states' books.  The Missouri House passed a bill that takes a swing at state judges and the federal government.    The legislation would prohibit state judges from enforcing federal gun laws.  Idaho, which probably has no difficulty with its lesser political entities, took aim at the feds when its state senate voted out a bill that would nullify any new federal gun laws.

Lawmakers in Arizona, a state known for quirky and bad legislation, have been trying to draft a law that would prohibit its counties and cities from stopping people from raising poultry in their backyards.  Arizona also receives lots of pressure from the corporate prison industry to stand firm on immigration and drug laws, two areas of the law which do much to populate the state's for-profit prisons.

Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma made news this week when she signed a draconian measure passed by her legislature.  The new Oklahoma law prohibits cities from raising the minimum wage.  Cities in the Sooner State are also now forbidden by law from increasing sick leave or vacation time.

Our state legislators are quickly shedding all pretense of working for the people.  They are, in fact, beginning to hurt real people in very serious ways.  A cynic might argue that this phenomena is connected to the Supreme Court opening the campaign cash floodgates, and that certainly makes it easier for those with unlimited money to be heard.  e

Somehow, though, the rest of us have to figure out how to be heard as well.  Voting would help.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "A Psalm of Life"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

This week's poem, "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,  examines the meaning of life and concludes that it is far more than just being - life is movement, life is doing.   Being newly retired, I felt that the poet was speaking directly to me, telling me not to just sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze, but to be up working and continuing to place my mark on the world.  Anything less deprives me and the world of the benefit of my potential.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a chicken coop that needs repair and cleaning.  This fall I will sit in the shade, enjoy the breeze, and sell a few eggs.

A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Let the GOP Brawl Begin!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It used to be the Democratic Party that was known for its fractiousness, with the old joke "I don't belong to an organized political party - I'm a Democrat!" being as true as it was funny.   And while any political group that tries to raise a tent big enough to accommodate a majority of voting Americans is going to encounter a fair share of difficulties, Democrats have begun to settle down and concentrate on accepting more points-of-view and winning elections.

Meanwhile the Republicans have gone from the party that freed the slaves to a crazy-quilt of crazy, and keeping all of their factions together will take more crazy glue than China can produce or Walmart can stock.  They have their God squad, corporate money-bags, pro-choice militants, women-haters, anti-immigrant people, racists, homophobes, the old plutocracy, the gun crowd, militias, anti-Obamacare zealots (while being careful to not be anti-Medicare), libertarians, Birchers, National Socialists, know-nothings, flat-earthers, and garden-variety bat-shit crazies.

The Republican agenda seems to be to recapture the spirit and essence of America in the 1950's, an idyllic time of prosperity and whiteness - a time that never really existed, at least not for much of America.  But the Republican party is not concerned with the masses.  Their solution doesn't involve addressing everyone's needs, but rather to win elections by disenfranchising voters who don't live in the right neighborhoods or drink the right kool-aid.

The news has been reporting on an interesting skirmish between two of the GOP's most vocal factions: the religious goobers and the corporate greed-heads.  It involves the choice of cities for the 2016 Republican national convention.  Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a man who poured millions of his own money (from his gambling enterprises) into the 2012 elections, is encouraging the party to convene in Las Vegas, a move that would benefit Adelson's Sands Corporation.

And the potential Republican presidential candidates really, really want to please Mr. Adelson.

But the religious fundamentalists have issues with Las Vegas (a.k.a. "Sin City"), a place with more licensed hookers on the streets than policemen.  Phyllis Schlafly and James Dobson, among others, are holding out for Dallas - a city where mega-churches are as common as fast-food joints.

(My guess is that drunken delegates will be able to get in just as much trouble in Dallas as they can in Vegas, but who knows?  It is comforting to see Republican Party in-fighting more than two full years before the convention.)

The other reassuring aspect of the coming general election is that the Republicans have such a wide array of candidates from which to choose, many of whom are mean-spirited and will not take kindly to not being the candidate.

Democrats, on the other hand, appear ready to offer the country its first female nominee of a major party.  The Republicans will brawl, the Democrats will genuflect to Hillary.

My how times have changed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Peter Pan Soars in West Plains!

by Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

A fair amount of robust young talent and stagecraft wizardry was on display last night as the West Plains high school theatre department presented Peter Pan by playwright Amanda Dehnert.  The difficult piece, which was billed with the caution "may not be suitable for small children, " was performed flawlessly by the Zizzer acting troupe.

The high school drama teacher who directed the play and did not deem it necessary to give her name either in her opening remarks or on the written program, is clearly an expert in her field.  She had the large cast comfortable with the complicated set.   The actors moved seamlessly up, down, across, and beneath the central set piece (which even harbored a hidden trampoline), and always managed to hit their marks.  Dialogue not only flowed accurately and smoothly, it was performed in big voices that could be heard well throughout the Avenue Theatre, an old movie house.

Those who follow this blog know that I have seen lots and lots of really good theatre, from Broadway, to London's West End, to all of the bigger venues in Phoenix.  It is a performance medium that I truly love.  My only trepidation regarding the recent move from Arizona to West Plains was giving up the professional productions that were constantly playing around the city of Phoenix.  But now, after a good introduction to some of the local talent and the quaint Avenue Theatre, my confidence is high that I will get to see some very good shows locally.

The director said that this was the very first time Ms. Dehnert's Peter Pan has ever been performed by a high school group.  She and her young actors did the work proud.  It was truly and impressive performance.

Go Zizzers!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mr. Turkey Takes a Trot - and Other Farm Tales

by Pa Rock
Digger of Holes

The skies have darkened and thunder is beginning to rumble across southern Missouri - and I hope that rain will follow.

I have been scratching holes and trenches in the earth the past few days in an attempt to get several dozen flower bulbs into the ground.  I built a new flower bed last week, and this week I planted it with elephant ear bulbs.  I have also put in three new peonies - along with three old ones that are now about three inches tall, three patches of caladium bulbs, a long row of cannas, and a string of gladiolas.  In addition to all of that, I have planted two packets of four-o-clock seeds, a flower with which I have had much success over the years.   Once four-o-clocks take hold, they keep reseeding and coming back year after year.

The groundhog is still in residence in the barn.  He comes out a few times a day to scamper about and then always rushes back inside as soon as he sees me.  The squirrels and birds are everywhere, with grackles, robins, and cardinals being especially thick.  My first chore every morning is to move about the yard filling the bird feeders.

I still haven't seen any deer, but a wild turkey took a leisurely stroll across the yard two days ago.  He seemed to be right at home, and I am certain that from his perspective, he was.

Two dogs visit on occasion - a black-and-white mongrel who has learned to sit on the back porch and beg, and a yellow lab resembling Ol' Yeller.  Both appear to be young males, just at that playful stage and always looking for a scratch behind the ear or a handout - or both.  Ol' Yeller took a walk across my new flower bed and got a good butt-chewing from me as he sashayed on down the road.

Two nights ago I was in bed reading with only one light on in the entire house, when someone began banging on my door.  I live in a semi-remote area and was not too anxious to get up and open the door to strangers.  I ignored the knocking.  It stopped and then started again, very insistent.  When the knocking started a third time, I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, and went to the door.  The lady at the door introduced herself by her first name, said she was looking for her dog, a large yellow female, and said that somebody told her that a yellow dog had been playing in my yard that day.  The lady was nice, but came across as somewhat accusatory.  I think she thought I had her dog captive in my house.  It took some talking, but I finally got her to go away.

Unexpected visitors late at night worry me.  I guess I should have never read In Cold Blood.

Well, it has rained enough to wet the ground and set the bulbs.   This afternoon I am picking my grandson up when he gets out of school, and we will go find something to do in the big town of West Plains.  Life is good!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

El Rey Network

by Pa Rock
Television Junkie

Although it shames me to admit it, I watch television most evenings. Much of the time I don't have a plan and rely on channel surfing to help map out my time in front of the boob tube.  Channel surfing has led to occasional gems, one of which surfaced this week when I discovered El Rey Network.

El Rey is new, founded last year by movie director Robert Rodriguez (The Mexico Trilogy:  El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.)   According to what I was able to find on the Internet, Rodriguez created the new network in an effort of appeal to Hispanic Americans - ones who have been in the country for a generation or two and are fluent in English.

The new network has several old syndicated television shows.  The X Files was playing the other night as I surfed up to El Rey.  The next day I checked back in and found Starsky and Hutch on the little screen.  Another television staple of El Rey is an old program called Dark Angel.

But Rodriguez has also reached into the film vault and is showing some rather campy old B-movies.  Tonight there is a marshal arts double feature - Dragon Missile and Flying Guillotine, and tomorrow night on the network's Grindhouse Fridays the feature film will be the black-focused Detroit 9000.

El Rey is also presenting some original programing.  This week I saw the first two episodes of From Dusk til Dawn, the Series.  It is, of course, based on the 1996 movie of the same name, a movie that was directed by Robert Rodriguez.  The film and the series center on a pair of criminals who are on the lam and trying to get to Mexico.  They kidnap a family with a large motor home and use the vehicle and the hostages to cross the border.  All the while they are being pursued by a relentless (and short) Texas Ranger (Fez from That Seventies Show).  It is awash with sex, violence, and vampires - who could ask for more?

El Rey Network feels a little like a pulp magazine that has come to life.  It's a bit of a guilty pleasure, and like those sweet enticers, I keep getting pulled back in for just a little more - and a little more

Nice job, Mr. Rodriguez.  Thanks for making television a bit more interesting.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Thoughts of Shrub

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

My father was a child of the Great Depression and a veteran of World War II, not to mention a student of life.  Across his eighty-five years he managed to become somewhat of a philosopher and had a small but ready cache of sayings for certain situations.  Tim, my son, remembers his Granddad harping about tailgaters, and usually offering this observation when someone was on his bumper:  "If you were driving on the highway to hell, somebody would be trying to get around!"    My favorite Granddadism was his response that often came up when the name of someone he didn't care for was interjected into a conversation.   Dad would sarcastically respond, "I would have even thought of him for a ten dollar bill."

Today I would have probably forked over ten dollars not to have thought about our former hapless leader, George W. Bush - but think about him I did.  It began this morning when I was perusing The Huffington Post on the Internet and came across a story about  Bush's art exhibition that is currently on display at his lie-berry.  The paintings being shown are his renditions of world leaders with whom he worked while in office.  One news organization brought in an art critic to evaluate Shrub's work.  That critic said that they appeared to have been taken from photographs that were projected onto some sort of panel - and then traced.


Yup, our simplest President, the one who basically abdicated and let his evil Vice President run the nation into an insurmountable ditch, the one whose highest intellectual feat while in office was learning to use "the google," the one who can't visit several world countries today for fear of being arrested and shipped off to The Hague - George W. Bush - even cheated when it came to painting, and then had the brass to put his tracings on display for the amusement of all the world.

That was this morning.  The thought of Bush was in my head when I went outside this afternoon and began a project of trimming a few trees and clearing some brush.  Remember when Dubya would go to Texas every August and spend the entire month clearing brush at his ranch near Waco?

The horror!  The horror!  I've been retired just over a month and suddenly I'm following in the footsteps of George W. Bush.

I feel that I may be on the slippery slope to becoming a portrait artist!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Give Us a Kiss

by Pa Rock

I've just finished packing up and moving across the country, a task markedly less appealing than going to an oral surgeon for extensive work that is well past due.  And while packing and moving can be pure hell, unpacking can provide the occasional smile as misplaced or forgotten treasures begin to surface.

One item that I came across unpacking from this move was something that I didn't even realize that I owned.  Well hidden in my boxes and boxes of books and books was an old paperback copy of Give Us a Kiss by West Plains novelist Daniel Woodrell.   The thin, yellowing book, which appears to have been printed in 1997, had a cover price of $5.99.

The setting for Give Us a Kiss is Woodrell's standard "West Table" in "Howl County."  It is the story of rural criminal activity overlaid with a multi-generational hillbilly feud, and while not an autobiography, it seems likely that strains of the story come from the author's own life.

(Like the author, the central character left school early and joined the Marine Corps.  He also, like the author,  went on to attend the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop.)

The story revolves around Doyle Redmond, an educated son of the Ozarks who has gotten out into the world and begun to make a name for  himself by writing a couple of country noir novels that reverberate strongly with his Ozark background.   His family, the Redmond's, had once owned thousands of acres around West Table, but by the time of this story they had fallen on hard times and were living near the junction of crime and despair.  The Redmond's were involved in a long-standing blood feud with another family of desperadoes, the Dolly's.  (The Dolly's were the focus family in Woodrell's later and more famous novel, Winter's Bone.)

Doyle Redmond has returned to West Table on an errand for his parents.  They want him to connect with his older brother, Smoke Redmond, and try to get Smoke to resolve his problems with the law in Kansas City, where the parents live.  But instead of instigating a rehabilitation of his older sibling, Doyle is drawn into a large-scale pot-growing operation with Smoke and his girlfriend - and the girlfriend's voluptuous daughter.

The plan to become rich off of marijuana farming is predictably complicated when the Dolly's get wind of the scheme - and hillbilly blood begins fertilizing the crop.

Give Us a Kiss is a charming little tale of crime and punishment in backwoods America.  It isn't the author's finest work, but it does shine an unflinching light on our local culture.  There's more to life in the Ozarks than just the scenic drives, Old Matt's Cabin, and the music shows of Branson.  Daniel Woodrell dares to show us some of what the tourists miss.   He is quite a storyteller.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Toto Would Be Appalled!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday I penned a piece in this space about former Massachusetts senator (and underwear model) Scott Brown jumping the border so that he could run for a seat in the Senate from New Hampshire.  Anything to keep his snout in the public trough.

In that piece I also referenced the residential issues of Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas.  His primary problem is that he actually has no residence in the state that keeps sending him to Congress.  (That same issue cost Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana his cushy job two years ago.)  Senator Roberts, who has a "voting" residence in Dodge City, finally has admitted that it is the home of some friends and donors, and that he rents a "timeshare" recliner at the home for $300 a month.

If not even maintaining a home in the state that has sent him to the Senate for three terms doesn't make Pat Roberts the dumbest member of the Senate, then paying $300 a month for the occasional use of a chair surely must!

Pat Roberts, a Republican (of course), is now facing an a stiff primary challenge from an angry tea-bagger, a situation which has sent him veering somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan, and even Sam Brownback.  He is likely to be in Kansas many, many times this spring and summer, and will no doubt give that La-Z-Boy a really good workout!

These Washington, D.C. residents are really a hoot!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Scott Brown's Plan B

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Former underwear model and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, is making a bold move to get himself back onto the government payroll.  Brown, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 in a fluke victory over Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy's old seat, served two years and then got his butt kicked bad by Elizabeth Warren.

This week Mr. Brown quit his job with a Boston law firm and promptly announced that he is again running for the Senate - this time from New Hampshire.   Brown will face off in the fall against Jeanne Shaheen,  New Hampshire's incumbent Democratic senator.  He is able to run in New Hampshire by virtue of a "second home" which he and his wife own there.    (They also have three residential properties in Massachusetts and a timeshare in Aruba.)

(While a second home might seem to be a stretch for declaring residency, it certainly beats the claim of Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas who only has a La-Z-Boy recliner in Dodge City to prove his state residency.  If John McCain ever gets driven from office by the Arizonans who are even crankier than he is, he could, by Brown's logic, run in any one of the several other states where he and Cindy have homes.)

Running for office may be more lucrative than working for a paycheck at a law firm - especially with the recent Supreme Court ruling that made it easier than ever for America's billionaires to buy politicians and elections.  If Plan B (New Hampshire) doesn't work out for Brown, he can always move on up the road to Maine and buy a house there - or at least rent a La-Z-Boy.  Angus King, an Independent, will be up for re-election in 2018.

Bouncing senators may not be the best plan for America, but it can't hurt the housing market or the recliner industry!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Game Is Afoot!

by Pa Rock
Seeker of Numbers

One of the enticements of moving back to Missouri was access to the Missouri Lottery, and, in particular, Missouri Lotto.

While the odds in all lottery games highly favor the state, of the big lotteries, Missouri Lotto is better than most.  Consider this:    Powerball always has prizes in the millions with tonight's jackpot being $70 million.  Powerball is able to create enormous jackpots (a couple have reach beyond half-a-billion dollars!) because the odds of winning are so long.  One Powerball ticket costs two dollars and the odds of hitting it big are one in 175 million.

Mega Millions, the nation's other super lottery, has a grand prize of $15 million tonight.  (That's it's base level because someone apparently won on Wednesday night.)   Mega Millions tickets are just one dollar, but the odds of winning the jackpot are an astounding one in 259 million!

Missouri Lotto, on the other hand, has tiny jackpots by comparison.  Tonight's super prize is $2.3 million.  Tickets are just one dollar, and for that dollar a player receives two sets of numbers   The odds of winning are one in 3.5 million.

Over the years I had hit the Missouri Lotto with four of six numbers a total of three times - with prizes always somewhere around the $30 level.  When I came back to the Ozarks this time, I decided to forgo Powerball and Mega Millions (at least until the prizes start getting close to a billion dollars - then I will buy one ticket.  Instead, I am throwing my money at the Missouri Lotto.

Here is my scheme for winning - and it is starting to pay off:

I buy five dollars worth of tickets each Wednesday and Saturday night.  (That's ten numbers per drawing.)  Five dollars - no more, no less - consistency is important.  The first few drawings were sad lessons about a fool and his money, but then I began hitting two of six numbers on some of my lines.  Two of six doesn't win any money - it takes three for that - but those near misses did serve to fan the flames of my lottery addiction.

Then things suddenly started to get better.  Last Saturday night I hit four of six - hello, thirty-one dollars!  The following Wednesday (this week) I hit four numbers again - only twenty-five dollars this time, but still a nice profit of twenty bucks!   Tonight with the big prize of $2.3 million (and the knowledge that twenty-three is still my lucky number), the stars are obviously aligning.

If I hit the big one, there is a really nice riding mower in my future - and my kids will each get a big stack of Wendys's gift certificates!   Nothing is too good for me and my relatives!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Finding a Doctor

by Pa Rock
Health Care Consumer

The first part of this week revolved around trying to get my medical insurance figured out.  By Wednesday I had a fairly clear picture of my coverage and premiums - damned near $400 a month, and that's with Medicare!   Every base appears to be covered - even dental and vision.  The focus then shifted to finding a physician.  It didn't take long for me to realize that I wasn't in Arizona anymore!

Doctors in Arizona are greedy and hungry.  They want us old fogies with all of our ailments and impairments, and while none have yet to put their nurses to flipping signs on street corners to drag in business, it's coming. West Plains, Missouri, is quite different.

I did some basic Internet research and selected a clinic with good reviews that is conveniently located next to the community hospital.  I walked up to the desk and told the receptionist that I was new in town and needed to register with a doctor.  Not so fast, Pardner, she cautioned.  She would first need a list of my medications, diagnoses, and conditions.  That information would be reviewed by the nurses of the doctors who had openings, and they would then decide if they would accept me or not.

An audition tape would apparently not be necessary.

Today I learned that one of the local doctors had graciously deigned to accept me as a patient.   I will meet him at an initial appointment next week.  I will do my best to make a good first impression because I would hate for him to change his mind!

My next task will be finding a lawnmower - which I hope is not as complicated as finding a doctor.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More Military Tragedy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Another day, another mass shooting in America.  Sadly, it was the second deadly shooting to occur at Ft. Hood, Texas, in less than five years.

On November 5, 2009, Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire in an area where troops were processing for deployment to the Middle East.  Hasan, a psychiatrist, killed thirteen and wounded thirty-two.  He is currently confined at the military stockade at Ft. Leavenworth awaiting execution.

Yesterday, Army Specialist Ivan Lopez brought a .45 caliber handgun onto base and went on a killing spree in two administrative buildings as well as shooting from his automobile.  Lopez managed to kill three and wound sixteen before taking his own life with a bullet to the head.

Both men, Hasan and Lopez, purchased their weapons at the same gun store in Killeen, Texas.

War causes mental health issues, always has and always will.  America has been at war in the Middle East for over a dozen years - with no end in sight.  News reports last summer stated that active duty members of the U.S. military were taking their own lives at a rate of one per day.   The suicide rate for veterans has been running over twenty a day.

Those are astounding figures.   Young people, often people without means or of limited opportunities, join the military to get away from home, earn money to go to college, learn a skill, see the world, or out of a sense of patriotism - only to find that the experience is far more brutal or terrifying or lonely than the rosy picture presented by their recruiter.  When the real world crushes the dream, not everyone has the inner-strength, or resilience, to handle it.

To its credit, the military has thrown a lot of money into mental health programs over the past few years.   Mental health counselors, and here I am speaking from personal experience, help young people work through the emotional stuff and stresses that they brought home from combat zones.   They address substance abuse and alcohol issues that affect families on multiple levels.   Counselors explain to spouses why their once docile mates are now quick to anger, or reclusive, or emotionally withdrawn, or continually tearful - or wake up in the middle of the night yelling and striking out with their fists.  They work with the children of veterans to help them understand why daddy, or mommy, is different, and to develop ways of coping with their parents' behaviors.

Military mental health counselors address the issues that war generates, and they also dedicate a great deal of time in helping young men and women with the other things that go beyond the military and affect most young people - things like relationship and financial issues.  All twenty-somethings have a broad range of things to learn and overcome as they become established as adults, but add military life and the stresses of combat to that mixture, and the result is an emotional load that some cannot lift or bear.

The military services are beginning to come to terms with the fact that their troops are more than just cogs in the military machine.  They have lives, and loves, and concerns that reach beyond the military and out into families and communities.   As the stresses pile on, sometimes extra help is needed.

One service, however, has shown less eagerness to promote mental health programs than its sister services.  That laggard is the U.S. Army.   The Army addresses the issue at its highest levels, but at the battalion and company levels, where the rubber hits the road, taking advantage of mental health services is often translated as shirking duty, feigning illness, or being weak.

A report commissioned by the Army and released late last year looked at the Army's suicide problem from a different perspective than had been used in the past.  Traditionally, when reviewing suicides, the investigators had focused on the victim and tried to determine his deficiencies and problems.  With the new report, they studied the victim's work environment and talked to co-workers about issues at the job site.  What they found was surprising to the Army, but not to some of us who have worked directly with soldiers seeking mental health treatment.

The findings of the new report identified a fairly prevalent factor in many of the suicides - something the report referred to as "toxic leadership."  One of the researchers, an anthropologist named Dave Matsuda, used this example when discussing the report's findings with the press:

"Oftentimes platoon leaders will take turns seeing who can smoke this guy the worst.  Seeing who can dream up the worst torture, seeing who can dream up the worst duties, seeing who can make this guy's life the most miserable."

Layer on top of that company commanders and battalion commanders who have a twisted view of leadership and feel the stick is far more productive than the carrot, and a the result is entire units controlled and "motivated" through coercion and fear.  Then look at the twenty-year-old suffering from PTSD, loneliness, a cheating spouse, insurmountable bills, and . . . well you get the idea.

Sometimes it becomes easier to check out than it is to check in - and there even times when the broken troop will decide to take others out as well.

Good mental health services can make a world of difference - but there are also going to have to be some drastic changes in military culture.  Until that happens, these awful headlines will continue to haunt us.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finally, Some Quality Television!

by Pa Rock
Shamelessly Proud Parent

Last night while surfing through the upcoming attractions on my television, I was pleased and very surprised to see that The Brass Teapot, a movie written by my son, Tim, and based on a short story of his, was going to be featured on the Movie Channel later in the evening.   I quickly made the popcorn, emailed all of the relatives and even phoned a few, and settled in to watch it.

(The last time I had seen the movie was at its world premier at the Toronto Film Festival in the fall of 2012.  The film had been sold to a distributor, Magnolia Pictures, after its premier in Toronto.)

It was cool seeing Tim's name in the credits - twice - and Erin (Mrs. Tim) listed in the special "thank you's" at the end of the movie - and on national television!

I checked my email afterward and found that two or three relatives had sent back comments saying that the movie had been playing on Showtime the last few weeks, so why was I getting so wound up over this showing?

Nobody ever tells me anything!  Everyone should be more like me.  I tell everything I know - and then some!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pa Rock's Retirement Guide

by Pa Rock
Old Codger

For those of you contemplating retirement (and who isn't?), here are a few helpful pointers that I have learned through trial and error - some of them today.

1.  The social security office will process your social security application.  They will also set you up for Medicare Parts A (hospital) and B (medical).  The on-line application is so simple that I was able to do my own, unassisted.  However, if you live in a smaller community (like West Plains) it is possible to get human assistance with a short wait time.  (If you are in Phoenix, forget about personal service.)

2.  The social security office (at least the one here) will not assist in enrolling you in Medicare Part D (prescription drugs).   My local office referred me to the senior center or to my prescription provider.  (Remember when we were all accusing the Shrub Bush administration of using the drug companies to draft the Part D legislation.  Obviously it is a manufacturer/retailer-driven operation, or just another privatized government service.)

(Check out the local senior center quickly upon retirement.  I found the address for the one in West Plains on the Internet this morning.  I drove over there just hoping to get information on Medicare Part D and to learn more about their Wednesday "pinochle night."  As soon as I located the building and stepped into the office - and introduced myself as "being new in town and newly retired," a very kind lady asked, "Do you have Medicare Part D?"  After my reply in the negative, she whipped  out a form and said, "Well then, let's get you enrolled."  Nothing could have been simpler!)

3.  Take a list of your medications when you go to enroll in Part D.   (I had to run home and get mine.)

4.  The senior center will not have information on Medicare supplements.  They will refer you to an insurance agent.   All of the insurance companies are supposed to offer the same assortment of supplement plans at the same prices.  After a nice hot lunch at the senior center ($3.50), I headed over to see the insurer who has the policy on my house.

5.  I have an existing insurance policy from my last job.  My question to the insurer was should I keep that as the Medicare backup or use her product.  I had no information about my existing policy other than the enrollment card.  The sweet lady at the agency went way above-and-beyond in answering my questions.  She called my health insurance company, explained what I wanted to know, and found out my current policy at the current rate would serve as the supplement if I made a couple of administrative changes - which I was able to do over the phone.  The price for keeping that policy was one dollar and a few pennies a month over what a new supplement policy would cost.  Long and short, the lady spent over half-an-hour working for me and didn't even get to make a sale.  They will definitely get my auto business when that policy comes due!

(Marge Slayton of West Plains, your State Farm Insurance Office rocks!)

6.  All of this should be followed by an evening of pinochle at the local senior center!

Respectfully submitted,

Pa Rock.