Thursday, July 31, 2014

Things Are About to Get Real in the American Southwest

by Pa Rock
Former Desert Rat

There was a report on National Public Radio (NPR) this morning regarding the rapidly decreasing water levels in the Colorado River Basin, the drainage system that waters most of the American southwest - from the rich farming areas of California's Central Valley to the metropolitan centers of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix.  A long-term drought and constant overuse of water supplies has led to lower reservoir levels and a serious reduction in ground water sources.   The depleted levels of water below ground will not be easily remedied, even if and when the rains come again.  It will take years to replenish those aquifers.

The reporter on this story highlighted the fact that the rapidly decreasing availability of water for irrigation will impact farming - and thus affect national and international food supplies.    But, it is also going to eventually have a serious impact on the availability of water for home and personal use in those areas.  When that happens, she reasoned "All hell will break loose."

One of the many reasons that I left Phoenix, Arizona, was the area's flagrant misuse of water.  Water is still relatively inexpensive in the Valley of Hell, though how it remains so is beyond my ability to cipher and calculate.  It is, I suspect, a huge case of urban denial.  Phoenix is building houses to beat hell, and being honest about the future of water in the metropolitan complex would fly in the face of the  greedy effort to keep bulldozing, building, and populating the desert.   Anyone with a competent sixth grade education knows that disaster is just around the corner, but unfortunately the Arizona legislature has to add some significant intellectual height to their bench before they will be able to reach that sixth-grade bar.

One environmental outrage that I will predict with almost absolute certainty is this:   When the price of water does begin to rise in the Phoenix area (and it will be a dramatic rise), the golf courses of Scottsdale will be lush and green long after water has been shut off to the homes of the poor.

Sadly, I know that of which I speak.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Stars of West Plains

by Pa Rock
Country Gent

A friend added a comment to yesterday's post in which I was tussling back and forth over whether West Plains is a small town or not.  One thing he mentioned in his reply was that there is a major thoroughfare in West Plains that is named for country music legend, Porter Wagoner.  Wagoner was, in fact, a native of West Plains - something of which the community is very proud.

But he's not the only star to rise from West Plains.

Jan Howard, another country singer and native of West Plains has an "expressway" here named in her honor, and professional baseball players Preacher Roe and Bill Virdon also have their names on a pair of local boulevards.  Someday there will undoubtedly be an area traffic artery named after prominent author and West Plains resident, Daniel Woodrell.

There is one other celebrity of note from here.  Actor Dick Van Dyke was born in West Plains to a single mother who had been shipped off to relatives to hide the family shame during her pregnancy and delivery.  So far no local lanes have been named in his honor, and that is an oversight that begs correcting.

One thing that I neglected to mention in yesterday's posting is that West Plains is also home to a major branch of Missouri State University.   With that strong educational advantage, this community should continue to produce highly successful individuals for generations - as well as the occasional star.

It's a good place to live.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's a Small Town After All

by Pa Rock

When I told my friends in Phoenix last year that I had just purchased a farm in the Ozarks and would be putting in my retirement papers, a few (those who hailed from rural areas themselves) were happy for me, but others were a bit bewildered.  Would there be medical facilities, cable television, things to do on weekends and in the evenings?  Would I have to climb a pole to use the telephone?  Some had visions of Hooterville and Mayberry, while those a little older even referenced Dog Patch.

What the hell was Rocky thinking?

I chose this location carefully.  Not only did I have relatives close by, the small city of West Plains (population 12,000), has many amenities not common to smaller towns.  The community has a nice hospital and multiple medical clinics - and several cardiologists.   There are two very nice grocery stores - three if you count Walmart - which I never do.  The community has a first class senior center, a very spacious and modern library, and a nice civic center that doubles as a concert venue.   The variety of shops and stores is adequate for someone like me who never goes to Walmart.  West Plains even has an active little theatre troupe.

Mountain Home, Arkansas, forty-five miles from West Plains, is the only other community of any size between Springfield and Cape Girardeau.  There are also 12,000 souls in Mountain Home - as well as a Lowes and Home Depot which West Plains does not have.

Other than those two small cities, the communities in central southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand inhabitants - with most being so small that Walmart won't even go there.

I did choose carefully.  West Plains has the feel of a small town, but with the availability of nearly everything that I would need to live a retired life of contentment.

The smallness of the community was brought home to me the weekend before last when I drove into town to buy my daily iced tea at the local Casey's General Store - one of four Casey's in West Plains.  I looked up while paying the cashier and happened to notice a lady standing outside of the store having a cigarette.  And it wasn't just any lady, it was my good friend, Imogene!

Imogene Knaust and I shared more than a few adventures when we both worked for the Missouri Children's Division a decade ago.  But during the intervening years I had only seen her once - at her retirement dinner in Springfield a few months ago.  Imogene lives in Pierce City, Missouri, yet here she was in my town, standing in front of my Casey's - more than a hundred-and-fifty miles from her home.

(It turned out that she and some family members were traveling from Pierce City to Jonesboro, Arkansas, and has pulled into the Casey's for a bathroom break.)

I stepped outside, we hugged, and I said, "See, West Plains is a small town after all."

And it is.

It's a small, small town!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Let It Be"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Last Thursday evening while driving home from a family birthday dinner, I had an epiphany of sorts.  The night was tranquil, and I was driving through the countryside with the windows down listening to the crickets compete with our local oldies radio station.  I wasn't paying to much attention to the music - mostly just watching for deer or other surprises along the dark country lane,  and I had things on my mind.  Then, almost imperceptibly, the Beatles classic, Let It Be, began playing, and that old song took me someplace that I hadn't been in a very long time.

Let it be:  when life gets hard and troubles pile on, just let it be.  An answer will come along.  Maybe it was just the sylvan magic of the evening, or maybe I had never really listened to the words of that old song before - to the point where I absorbed their  meaning, but I was moved - transported well beyond myself and into a much more peaceful place.

The poetry of the late twentieth century is no less wondrous than that of earlier ages - and it is far more memorable because it was set to music.

Let It Be
by Paul McCartney

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Yeah, let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

When the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Yeah, let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Yeah, let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
You know there's gonna be an answer, let it be

And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, oh no, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be, let it be
You know there's gonna be an answer, let it be
Oh, let it be

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Life in Journals

by Pa Rock

When I began posting The Ramble nearly seven years ago, a part of my intent was to offer up a chronicle of what was going on in my life - along with lots and lots of personal opinion.   I've tried to keep it interesting and relevant to me, suspecting that someday my grandchildren or their grandchildren might have an interest in learning more about me, my loved ones, and the times in which we lived.

The Ramble, however, was not my first attempt at journaling - nor has it been the longest (yet!).  Our young family took a big vacation out west in 1986, and I have recently come up with a hand-written journal that I kept which covered most of that trip.  (It was the trip on which Boone and I modeled our very recent jaunt to the west coast.)

Less than two years after I set that unfinished account aside, I again took pen in hand and began to chronicle the daily events in my life.  On March 23, 1988 (my fortieth birthday) I started keeping a series of journals that wound up spanning over thirteen years and thirty individual notebooks.  I have recently unearthed all of those volumes while transferring "stuff" into and out of storage, and have gathered them into one plastic bin.  They are now organized and numbered, and safely secure in the event that any of my descendants ever want to dig through those years.

They were hard years, but the journals recount many happy times as well.   Everyone has a story, and more often than not, it's complicated.  Mine certainly has been.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Local Discoveries

by Pa Rock
Chicken Wrangler

I began this week with the goal of making myself get out of my comfort zone and learn a bit more about my new surroundings.  If this is to be my home for the next several years, as I hope it will be, then I felt an obligation to myself to begin a serious exploration of the local environs.

I began at home.  Since arriving at the farm on March 4th, I had rummaged through (and cleaned out) all of the outbuildings - save one.  I had only peeked into the barn loft a couple of times, and had never brought myself to the point where I had actually climbed into the storage space above the barn.

When my grandson, Sebastian, visited from Oregon a few weeks ago, he had been fascinated with the notion that there was an upstairs to the barn - and he wanted to explore it.  I couldn't allow that, however, because I knew if was overflowing with stored junk, much of which could be dangerous - boards with nails sticking out, large pieces of barbed wire, glass jars, rusted buckets and pieces of metal, etc.

On Monday I climbed into the loft and began sorting through crap that has accumulated there over decades.  I pitched out six old tires (expecting to find a snake in each and every one), lots of metal - buckets, downspouts, a disassembled, rusted child's swing set, and other large pieces of refuse.  Once everything was on the ground I sorted it into metal, non-metal, tires, and environmentally-challenging items such as a bucket of roofing asphalt,motor oil, and paint.

(Sebastian, when you are back here again, we will have a party in the loft!)

I telephoned my trash company which I knew would not take most of those items.  They referred me to the "transfer station" for the bigger part of my collection, and to the recycling center for the metal.   On Tuesday, not having a truck, I loaded my car with trash and set out to find the "transfer station," which proved to be uncomfortably close (within two miles) to my house.  The transfer station is the town dump - of a sort.  People bring their trash there - anything - and dump it for a fee.   Usually it arrives in a truck, and  and a charge is made based on volume.  There is also a "per tire" fee for used tires.  Because I had less than a truck load, the fellow just charged me for the tires.  The transfer station also accepted my asphalt, oil, and paint products.

Trash at the transfer station is thrown into a large warehouse type of building that smells to high hell.  From there a fellow with a tractor and bucket pushes it around and (I suspect, though I didn't observe this phase) loads it all into two large semi-truck trailers on the property that are then used to "transfer" it - though to where I have no idea!

After returning home and scouring off the stink, I decided to wait and discover the recycling center later in the week.

Wednesday evening I did something that I have wanted to do ever since moving to West Plains.  I showed up at the local Senior Center and joined in its weekly pinochle night.  There were ten people present, counting myself, which made for two tables of players with one extra team rotating in after each hand.  I had played a LOT of pinochle forty years ago as a college student and as a young army officer, but none since.  It all came back quickly - and I made several new friends.  I hope to remain a part of that local activity - and I appreciate being so warmly welcomed by the group.

Thursday I had appointment with a new medical provider - a cardiologist here in West Plains.  While waiting to see him, I visited with the lady who was updating my records and learned that there was a cardiac rehab unit (a small, well-monitored exercise facility) right in the clinic.  She gave me a tour of the facility and arranged to get me medically referred to the program.  I have to take some preliminary tests (including and EKG) next week, and should begin exercising the week after.  I feel very fortunate to have made this discovery.  It will be a good opportunity to get healthier and to meet a few new people.

Friday I loaded all of the metal into my poor old car and set out for the recycling center - which also proved to be embarrassingly close to my house - again less than two miles.  The recycling center surrounds a literal mountain of rusted metal.  I located the office and figured out the process for unloading my treasure.  I had two carloads by volume, but not much by actual weight, so I just donated it to the center.

My only other discovery this week was a pair of beautiful sassafras  trees that are in my backyard but had been completely hidden by a climbing vine that the previous owners had intentionally planted.  A young man who occasionally does yard work for me called on Tuesday to see if I had any work for him.  We put a ladder up next to the pile of vines and he got to work.  It was almost like an archaeology project as the vines were pulled away and the two tall and skinny sassafras trees emerged.   The vines had done some damage by making deep grooves in the tree trunks, but the trees look as though they will be able to survive and thrive.

This is beginning to feel like home!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Capital Punishment: Cruel and Ineffective

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I have known more than my share of heinous murderers.  I had a cousin who, as a young man with drug and alcohol issues, struck an elderly man over the head with a two-by-four in order to rob him of his social security money.  The old fellow died at the scene.

Shannon Agofsky was a student at an elementary and junior high school where I was the principal.  I knew him well and also had a passing acquaintance with his older brother, Joe.  As young men, the Agofsky brothers kidnapped the bank president from my home town, forced him to open the bank and its vault so they could rob the place, and then murdered the poor banker by chaining him to a chair, weighing it down, and dropping him into a deep lake to drown.  Dan Short, the victim, was a good friend of mine for many years - and so were his wife and kids.

I knew Levi King when he was a young adolescent, several years before he went on a killing spree and gunned down five innocent individuals in two states.  Levi was truly a soul who grew up with almost no chance in life whatsoever.  His circumstances were so tragic that I testified (along with many others who knew him as a child and teen) at his sentencing hearing asking the jury to spare him from the death penalty.   Remarkably, a Texas jury did just that and sentenced Levi to life in prison instead of death.

I also exchanged letters (one time) with Steven Dale Green, the soldier who raped and then murdered a young Iraqi girl - before he and his friends then murdered the rest of her family.

My cousin was killed in prison by other inmates, Joe Agofsky died in prison from natural causes, and Steven Dale Green died in prison by his own hand.   Clearly prisons, at least the ones where these young men were incarcerated, are hard and brutal places.

But there are certain elements in society who choose not to talk about prisons in those terms.  The same people who rail against "welfare queens" and vilify the poor, also like to talk about prisons in terms of easy living - vacation centers for the lazy and habitually unemployed.  When it gets down to the nitty gritty however, none of us would want to assume a life of poverty, dependence on welfare, or live in a cage.

All of the murderers whom I have known were sentenced to life in prison for their crimes.  Three ultimately died their way out of prison, but the remaining two, Shannon Agofsky and Levi King, are very likely to spend the rest of their lives incarcerated - years and years and years.

There is an alternative to this long-term incarceration of murderers, and that, of course, is capital punishment - an archaic, eye-for-an-eye system of retributive justice in which society murders the murderer.  Many states in our country have a system of capital punishment in place, and many of those use lethal injection, a medical procedure, to extinguish the murderer's life.

Recently there has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the practice of lethal injection - with some drug companies refusing to supply the drugs used in the procedure, and states having to scramble to find other providers or alternative drug compounds.   Trying alternative drug cocktails is literally medical experimentation, with states learning as they go.

Arizona learned quite a bit this past Wednesday evening, as did the rest of the world, when it executed Joseph Wood, a convicted double-murderer, with a "secret" drug compound, one whose source was also kept secret.    The convict lay strapped to a table gasping for breath nearly two hours until he managed to die.   It was a horrific, botched execution that should clearly meet anyone's standard for "cruel and unusual."

There is no credible research showing that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to murder, it is simply getting even with a vengeance.  Only a handful of countries even use capital punishment.  It is not practiced by any European country, and the per-capita murder rate there is lower than it is in the United States.

Capital punishment just compounds the horror of the original crime and makes society complicit in the brutality.  It is time that the United States catches up with the rest of the civilized world and ends this barbaric practice.

We  are not North Korea.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Phoenix: Not a Good Place to Convene Anything!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Democratic Party is narrowing the field of potential cities to host it's 2016 Hillary Coronation national convention.    The national committee initially sent out invitations to thirty-five cities to bid on hosting the convention.  Five of those cities either didn't show an interest or withdrew from the process (Las Vegas, Miami, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis).  Nineteen more were knocked out of the running during the first round of consideration (including my personal favorites of Kansas City, Portland, and San Diego), leaving a field of just eleven in the semi-final round - where five more were eliminated this week (Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Salt Lake City).

Today, the list of final contenders was announced.  The urban brawlers still left in consideration to host the first national political convention in the United States where a woman is likely to become the presidential nominee are:

(Drum roll, please!)

Birmingham, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Columbus (Ohio), Philadelphia, and Phoenix!

Five of the six would make adequate choices - though none would offer as much in the way of fine food and exceptional entertainment as Kansas City, Memphis, or the Big Easy.  But it's not just about having a good time.  The week of intense political activity will ultimately nominate the person who is likely to become the next President of the United States.

With all of that in mind, I must say a word or two against my former city of residence.  DNC, are you effing nuts!   Do you know how hot Phoenix is in the summer?  Have you seen an Arizona dust storm?  What message will you be sending the rest of the world if you take all of that money and limelight and squander it in a state that codifies hate, elects morons like Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer, and can't even figure out how to kill a man in under two hours?

Democrats, leave Phoenix to the rattlesnakes, scorpions, and Arizonans - and hold your convention  someplace that at least resembles civilization.  The world will be watching!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty (and Pa Rock) the Guineas Are Free at Last!

by Pa Rock
Poultry Provocateur

I farmered-up nine days ago (July 14th, Bastille Day) and released my penned-up young turkeys and chickens to roam free during the daylight hours.  In that short period there has been one serious incident with a neighborhood dog who wanted to score a turkey, but no fatalities or lasting trauma.  Those birds rush out onto my lush green yard every morning as soon as I throw open the gate to their pen, and they remain in the yard until just a moment or two before total darkness in the evening when they gather at the gate of their pen and wait for me to come shoo them in.  One evening when I was detained with another task, they grew tired of waiting and went in on their own, leaving the four turkeys to lay in the grass just outside of the pen until I finally arrived and ushered them in also.

The chickens and turkeys have roamed a little further each day, and have even come down to the front yard to see what is happening there.  They have also spread out, with individual birds often charting their own course as they pursue bugs or especially nice looking clover.

The antics of those freshly released birds have been entertaining, at least from my point of view.   However, my little guineas, now five weeks old, have not been so amused.  The guineas have been stuck in the nursery - a large, completely enclosed pen - and have had to endure the humiliation of the free birds circling the nursery and peering in at them as if they were some speckled zoo exhibit.   The guineas have been running and flying about their enclosure begging to be set free.

This morning I could take their pathetic pleas no longer.  I opened the gate wide to the nursery and stood back to see what would happen.  They rushed up to the opening, en masse, and stood on the edge of about two inches of wood shavings looking out across the yard.  They very much resembled a group of penguins standing on the edge of the ice trying to decide which one to push in to see if there are any sharks in the water.  Finally they began stepping off in small clumps, like little lemmings, and out into the green freedom

It has been several hours now since the guineas gained their freedom.  They have remained tightly bunched up and have explored the area immediately on the outside of their old home.  Like their big cousins, the little birds love the clover and have been practically clear-cutting it as they shuffle along in their compact little group.   After an hour or two of not much overall movement, I finally shooed them over to where a large water dish was located, and they all had a grand time standing on the edge of the wide dish and drinking.  When the break was over, they set off in a new direction, this time into the open chicken pen!

I have had guineas before, and I know from that past experience that they are herd birds.  They will continue to travel in a pack as they grow and mature, though not shoulder-to-shoulder as they are doing today.  My guineas at the farm in Noel had a set schedule and could generally be counted on to be at a particular place at a particular time - every day.  And they will quickly develop a taste for ticks!

The only other important farm news is that yesterday evening, right at dusk as I was heading out to usher the turkeys and chickens into their pen, there were three deer, two adult does and a fawn, standing beneath the pear tree enjoying their supper.

Try to imagine how little I miss the hot sands and brown dust of Arizona!  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The West Plains Summer Musical: "Oliver!"

by Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

This past Sunday afternoon I caught the final performance of "Oliver!," the summer musical brought to the stage by Arts on the Avenue, a surprisingly talented and versatile group of local little theatre performers and musicians.  It was an enjoyable outing into the area culture scene.

As those who have stopped by this blog on past occasions are likely to know, I am an unabashed fan and supporter of the theatrical arts.   I have been fortunate enough in my lifetime to have seen much in the way of professional theatre, as well as some awfully good school and community productions.   If a show is being staged anywhere in the area, I generally make a strong effort to see it.

The little theatre group here in West Plains has put on a summer musical for the past fifteen years.  I wish that I had been around to have seen them all, but being recently retired to the community - just me and my chickens - this summer's show, "Oliver!," was the first local effort that I have attended.  It was a treat!

I had been to a very good production of "Oliver!" put on by a little theatre group in Arizona a couple of years ago, but the West Plains version of the same show out-shined the one in Phoenix by every conceivable standard.  The West Plains venue, the old Avenue Theatre, a former movie house that sorely needs a face lift, is a wonderful setting for a live show - comfortable seats, and the acoustics are great!

The cast, carefully assembled by Director Jordan Hall, was able to master the cockney accent, and each member of the ensemble really belted out their songs.  Everyone had fun - the people on the stage as well as those of us in the audience.

I am already anxious to see next year's production of whatever Director Hall chooses to stage, and I will definitely get there before the final performance!

Thank you,  Arts on the Avenue, for bringing a rousing version of "Oliver!" to West Plains.  Great work, guys! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Murder of Maria Marten"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Most of my morning today was spent clearing out the loft of my old red barn.   One, two, and the trash flew!  That led me to thinking about barns as I searched for a suitable poem for today's post.  There must be thousands of great poems about barns, I thought, as I tore through the works of Robert Frost, James Whitcomb Riley, and a pile of cowboy poetry.  But, alas, most of the poems about old barns seemed fairly pedestrian.  I kept searching, looking for something memorable - or at least interesting.

Finally I came up with today's selection, an old English ballad about a young woman who was murdered in 1828 at a place called The Red Barn.  The ballad was put to paper by a fellow named James Catnach in 1908, and has undergone some modifications since its original publication.

Maria Marten, the daughter of a local mole catcher, was a young woman of twenty-six living in the British countryside of Sussex.   Her virtue had been besmirched.  Maria had a son out of wedlock a couple of years prior to her murder, then she left the baby with her father and step-mother as she went out into the big world.  Away from home and on her own, Maria encountered William Corder, the shiftless son of well-to-do parents - and she again wound up pregnant.    William, not surprisingly, grew tired of his easy conquest and left Maria so that he could marry someone more of his own social standing.

At that point, Maria disappeared.  Her step-mother, who may have also been one of William Corder's several mistresses, told her husband that she had a dream that Maria had been murdered and was buried in the Red Barn.  The husband didn't put much stock in his wife's tale, but eventually took his shovel to the Red Barn and began digging.  There he found the skeleton of a woman.

William Corder was brought back from his new home in London, charged with the murder of Maria Marten, convicted, and hung.

The following is James Catnach's ballad describing the murder of Maria Marten and the hanging of William Corder.   When you have finished this fine tale and are perchance looking for me, I will be out working in my old red barn!

Now, where did I put that shovel?

The Murder of Maria Marten
by James Catnach

Come all you thoughtless young men
A warning take by me
To think upon my unhappy fate
To be hanged upon a tree

My name is William Corder
To you I do declare
I courted Maria Marten
Both beautiful and fair

I promised I would marry her
Upon a certain day
Instead of that I was resolved
To take her life away

I went unto her father's house
The eighteenth day of May
And said my dear Maria
We will fix a wedding day

If you'll meet me at the Red Barn
As sure as I have life
I will take you to Ipswich Town
And there make you my wife

This lad went home and fetched his gun,
His pickaxe and his spade.
He went unto the Red Barn
And there he dug her grave.

With her heart so light she thought no harm
To meet me she did go
I murdered her all in the barn
And laid her body down

After the horrid deed was done
She laid there in her gore
Her bleeding mangled body lay
Beneath the Red Barn floor

Now all things being silent
Her spirit could not rest
She appeared unto her mother
Consult her at her breast

Her mother's mind being sore disturbed
She dreamed a dream and saw
Her daughter she lay murdered
Beneath the Red Barn floor

She sent the father to the Barn
Where he the ground did thrust
And there he found his daughter
Lay mingling with the dust

My trial was hard, I could not stand
Most horrorful was the sight
When her dear bones was brought to prove
Which pierced my heart wide

Her aged father standing by
Likewise his loving wife
And in her grief her hair she tore
She scarcely could be tied

Adieu adieu, my loving friends
My glass is almost run
On Monday next will be my last
When I am to be hung

So all young men who do pass by
With pity look on me
For murdering of that young girl
I was hung upon a tree

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Three Great Americans Dead at the Age of Eighty-Six

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

James Garner, veteran movie and television star, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles.  He was eighty-six.  Over the years James Garner starred in many very good movies, but he will be best (and forever) remembered for two characters that he played on television.

My first memory of James Garner comes from the late 1950's when he was starring as Bret Maverick, one of two card-playing, con-artist, skirt-chasing brothers trying to make an easy dollar in the Old West.  (The other brother was Bart Maverick, played by Jack Kelly.)  The early television show was called simply Maverick.  The character was reprised two decades later in the television show, Bret Maverick, and was again portrayed by James Garner.  Finally, in 1994, came the movie, Maverick, which featured Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick and James Garner in a co-starring role.

The other Garner show which formed a staple of my television diet was The Rockford Files, a 1970's show in which he played a fast-talking and hard-driving beach-bum-of-a private-investigator by the name of Jim Rockford.  Rockford lived in a rusty old trailer right on the beach, drove a Pontiac Firebird in a manner that would have made Steve McQueen sit up and take notice, and rarely carried a gun.  Jim Rockford was quick-witted and charming - much like Bret Maverick.

James Garner, a native of Norman, Oklahoma who dropped out of school to join the Merchant Marine,  eventually graduated from the University of Oklahoma.  He was awarded the Purple Heart for a wound he received while fighting in the Korean War.  Garner, like his two alter egos - Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford - was a larger than life character who knew no limitations.

All three will be missed.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wildlife Report

by Pa Rock
Rural Resident

I live on ten country acres less than two miles from the West Plains City Hall.  My property sits at the intersection of two paved roads.  Because of the proximity to town and the speeding traffic that tends  to roar past my house, I did not anticipate much in the way of wildlife sharing my country living.

I had been told to expect an abundance of deer, but until two days ago I had not seen any.   Then, this past Thursday, a doe came almost to the house where she snacked on pears from my backyard pear tree.  The doe remained calm as I left the house, closed the back door, and got into the car and drove off.   The pears were more important to her than the proximity of the farmer.

The only other wildlife that I had seen on the property (in addition to all of the birds and squirrels that I feed) were a rabbit who took a leisurely hop across the front yard a few weeks back, a wild turkey several months ago who roamed the backyard, and the ground hog who has a burrow under the barn.  I see him several times a week.

This week after the Good Neighbor finished bush-hogging, he told me that while mowing he had encountered a "big angry" armadillo, several ground hogs, and lots of rabbits - my wildlife neighbors.  Oddly, neither the Good Neighbor nor I have seen any snakes on the place.  Maybe that angry armadillo serves a purpose.

The domestic critters, turkeys and chickens, have been spending their days out of the pen since Monday.   Except for one ugly incident with a neighborhood dog, they have been doing well.  They now range over most of the yard during the day, eating insect pests and fresh clover.  The birds enter their confined area voluntarily every evening just as night arrives.  The young guineas are very jealous of their freed neighbors.  They are flying now, so I will probably release them next week.

The little farm is starting to feel like home - for a lot of us.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Truth is Out There

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) made news earlier this week with its somewhat cocky prediction that extra-terrestial life will be discovered within the next twenty years.  The space agency estimates that there are over 400 billion stars in our galaxy (the Milky Way) alone, and at least 100 million planets that could be capable of sustaining life.

Over 5,000 new planets have been identified in the past five years - more than in the entire preceding history of astronomy.  This surge in space exploration and discovery has been due primarily to the advent of telescopes (the Hubble and the Kepler) operating in space which can see much further than has been previously possible.   In 2017 NASA will launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) which will have four telescopes - and NASA will also launch the new James Webb Space Telescope.  Both of these ventures will have the mission of finding "another Earth," or planets that appear as though they could host life.

A lot of people have been on the internet commenting on this story, and basically the comments can be broken down into four groups:  those who appreciate the scientific merits of the story and look forward to the day when we will know our neighbors, skeptics and cynics who feel that the NASA announcement was made solely to stir interest in the agency and help to secure more government funding, the X-Files conspiracy diehards who believe that the aliens have been here for years and that NASA and other government agencies have been actively keeping that information from us, and the religious - some of whom are openly anti-science and think that if anything is discovered it will have been faked because homophobic white Christians are the be-all and end-all of God's grand plan - and others who are already poring through their Bibles looking for vague references to extra-terrestials so that when the discovery does happen they can proclaim righteously that it was all part of God's plan and foretold in the Bible.

Unfortunately with the world the way it is today and the focus on never-ending war, space exploration seems doomed to always take a backseat to the manufacture of arms and the equipping of armies.  But if the aliens decide to introduce themselves through an attack, then we'll spend some money - you betcha we will!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Good Neighbor and a Bad Dog

by Pa Rock
Turkey Wrangler

Yesterday while sitting in the house having lunch, I heard the sound of a tractor working steadily someplace nearby.  When I went outside to investigate, I saw an old fellow on an old tractor bush-hogging the low corner of my property where two roads meet.  He was, I assumed. from the highway department and was clearing the right-of-way.

But as I watched the man work, I noticed that his mowing path was veering off of the right-of-way and onto land which I should be clearing myself.  (Over half of the farm remains in tall grass and brambles. I say that it is for wildlife cover, but in point of fact I don't have the time or the energy to keep it chopped down.)  What the heck, I thought.  If the county wants to do my work for me, more power to them.

The guy soon saw me watching him mow, and we exchanged waves.  Then he drove his tractor up to where I was standing and turned it off.  We were going to have a visit.

Are you from the highway department, I asked.  No, he replied, I'm just a neighbor, and I have traditionally kept that corner bush-hogged so that drivers have a clear view.  The county is supposed to do it, but it's rare that they do.  I thanked him profusely.

I soon found out that the good Samaritan, Rex, was retired and just seemed to really enjoy sitting on his tractor and mowing.   After a brief discussion we came to an agreement for him to keep the entire farm bush-hogged.  Rex was happy with that arrangement - and so was I.

My birds have been roaming free during the daylight hours since Monday - and loving it.  There had been no problems with that practice until this afternoon.  This morning as I was heading into town for a few necessaries, I noticed my former part-time dog, Junior, sashaying down the roadway with a canine friend.   Junior hadn't been by since my trip to the coast, and I assumed he had forgotten about me.   The dogs trotted on past my place, so what the heck.

This afternoon I was again inside when I heard Rex outside bush-hogging.  I stepped outside to acknowledge him, and then decided to take a stroll and check on the poultry.  As I got to the open-air garage that sits next to the chicken coop, Junior came running out - looking guilty as hell.  He kept running, spurred on by a few choice words from me.

Two of the four turkeys were in the garage being very still in a dark corner - along with four little red hens.  All were scared.  I made a wide sweep of the area and didn't find anything that made me think there had been any bloodshed - but I was still two turkeys short.

Soon Rex shut off the tractor and walked to the brush pile where he pulled one very frightened turkey to freedom.  He said Junior had caught that one, but it had broken free and headed into the brush pile.  Bird number four was still gone.  It took about another half hour for me to find him, hiding the few tall weeds that were left behind the workshop - and gobbling nervously.  I carried him back to the coop where he and his friends had a joyous reunion.

Junior, as Howard Wolowitz with his high-powered master's degree would say, you're dead to me.   Stay home!  The traffic may not get you, but Pa Rock damn sure will!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Six Californias

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Back in the summer of 2010 while driving through northern California along Highway 5, I came across the semi-infamous "Jefferson Barn," a large structure used for hay storage with an enormous banner across the roof reading "State of Jefferson."  A bit of basic research that night at a motel led to information about a proposed state made up of eleven counties in northern California and seven in southern Oregon -  a pot grower's nirvana that has been dreamed about and enthusiastically promoted by residents of the area at least as far back as the early 1940's - with little more to show for it than big sign on a barn roof.

(These rugged individualist types idealize Jefferson because of his staunch defense of liberty - never mind that he owned slaves - and regard him as a symbol of the little man's fight against the tyranny of big government.)

Now a California "venture capitalist" has taken up the cause of dismantling the superstate of California - a project which will, if it can make its way through a maze of constitutional obstacles (both state and national), create six states out of California, including the much dreamed about and discussed State of Jefferson in northern California.  (Sorry, Oregon, but you would have to keep your malcontents.  The "Six Californias" plan stops at the border.)

Timothy Draper, the California businessman who began circulating petitions last February to get the proposal for splitting California into six individual states, yesterday submitted his petitions with more than 1.3 million signatures to the California Secretary of State's office.  The necessary number of valid signatures needed to get the initiative onto the state ballot is 808,000.  If enough of Draper's signatures prove to be valid, Californians will get a chance to vote on his plan in the 2016 general election.

Draper's argument for splitting the state into smaller entities is that California is so large and diverse as to almost be ungovernable.  He sees smaller states as being better able to focus on the needs of their residents and identify with the local issues.  Democrats seem to be in opposition to the plan, sensing that it is an effort to move more electoral votes into the Republican column - as well as more Republicans into the U.S. Senate.  Republicans are polling as indecisive, liking the idea of smaller government, while knowing that lots and lots of expensive services would have to be duplicated if the plan were to be enacted.

If Californians approve the measure, it would still have to pass a vote in the state legislature as well as a vote in Congress.  The procedure is outlined in Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution:

"New states may be admitted by the Congress into this Union;  but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State;  nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress."

There have been two precedents of existing states being split into multiple states:  Maine was spun off from Massachusetts in 1820, and West Virginia was created out of Virginia in 1863.

The proposed "Six Californias" would be:

  • Jefferson:  Fourteen counties immediately south of Oregon including the cities of Eureka, Redding, and Chico;
  • North California:  Thirteen counties south of Jefferson and stretching from the Pacific Ocean to Nevada, with the principal city being Sacramento;
  • Silicon Valley:  Eight counties along the Pacific coast from San Francisco to Monterrey;
  • Central California:  Fourteen counties between Silicon Valley and Nevada, including Bakersfield and Fresno;
  • West California:  Four counties in and around Los Angeles;  and
  • South California:  Five counties taking in San Diego, Riverside, and Irvine.
If this proposal were to become enacted, the emergent states would have a complex set of needs which had formerly been met by the single state government.  One major disparity would be in the area of individual wealth with Silicon Valley suddenly having the highest per-capita income of any state in the entire nation, and Central California having the lowest.   Critics have also noted that there are no branches of California's expansive state university system in the area that would become the state of Jefferson, and most of the current prisons are situated in rural areas. 

The needs would be many, the solutions complex, and the ultimate price tag astronomical.  

But it is a long journey from petition to statehood, and California is likely to be saved from itself - if not by it voters, then surely by our do-nothing Congress!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Judge Buford Goes Shopping

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last week I mentioned former Missouri Circuit Judge Winston V. Buford in a post regarding a really bad decision that he made back during the 1970's.  Judge Buford sentenced a college junior to twelve years in prison after the youth admitted trying to sell five dollars worth of marijuana (one-half ounce) to an undercover cop.  The case made national news and helped fan the flames of the movement to reform marijuana laws.  It was even profiled in Playboy Magazine.  (Don't ask how I know that!)

As I was writing that piece, I remembered a personal encounter that I had with Judge Buford.

Our family was having a yard sale in the spring of 1983 as we were preparing to leave Mountain View.    Yard sales were (and still are) a very popular cultural activity in this part of the state, and they usually draw big crowds.  I was working at getting fresh merchandise out for that particular sale when I looked up and noticed Judge Buford sorting through some of our family knickknacks.  (I recognized him from his picture in the press.)  Being pushy, I walked over and shook the jurist's hand and asked him how things were going.  We chatted for a few minutes before he left - empty-handed.

The fact that Judge Buford didn't buy anything at our yard sale might be an indication that our stuff wasn't up to his high standards, but I like to think that it more likely represented his continuing lack of good judgement!

Judge, if you are still around, I am thinking about having another yard sale over the Labor Day weekend.  It will be a reader's bonanza.  Books, books, and more books!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bastille Day: Let My Poultry Go!

by Pa Rock
Proud Hayseed

I knew something was afoot this morning when I went to the poultry coop to do chores and found the turkeys - wearing red headbands and carrying torches and clubs - leading an insurrection.  A quick check of the calendar revealed my worst fears:  it was Bastille Day!

Since I had been threatening to throw open the gate to their big outdoor cage anyway, I decided this would be as good a day as any - and better than some.  (It had rained early this morning, and their beloved clover was wet and shiny and looking luscious.

All of the birds were a little standoffish at first, eying the open gate  with a fair degree of skepticism and suspicion.  One of the turkeys looked at me cockeyed, mouth agape, and gobbled out the turkey equivalent of "Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?"  But as I went about the business of feeding and watering, a few brave souls began exploring their freedom.

A gobbler and hen were first out of the gate, earning them the appellations Jean Valjean and Cossette.  Next the other two turkeys, Spartacus and Harriett Tubman, followed into the fresh and plentiful clover patches.   Before I finished the chores, one rooster, El Che, and two hens, Gertie and Alice B., had also slipped the surly bonds of captivity.

An hour later several more chickens had made their way to freedom, but many remained in the safety and comfort of their known world.   Jean Valjean proved to be the most worrisome of the freed poultry.  He found the shed where I keep my new riding mower and was looking at it as a future roost. The first time I go out and find the Husqvarna covered in turkey poop, he and I will have a serious discussion about the Thanksgiving menu!

After completing several morning errands, I returned to the farm to find the turkeys and all but two little hens back in their pen and peacefully napping or scratching for bugs in the shade.  Being free does not appear to be an easy skill for poultry to master.

Soon I will free the guineas, and from experience I know that they will not be nearly as reticent as their larger cousins.  The guineas will take the yard like the Allies took Normandy, and they will lay claim to  all of the tallest trees.   They will teach the turkeys and chickens a thing or two about life beyond the cage!

(Happy 93rd, Mom.  I miss you!)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Mr. and Mrs. Nick Macy

by Pa Rock
Proud Father

My oldest son, Nick, and his beautiful bride, Christy, were united in marriage yesterday evening at their home in West Plains, Missouri.  The ceremony, which had originally been planned to occur at my farm, was changed at the last minute for logistical reasons - too much to cart between the houses.  The bride and groom took their vows on the front porch of their home in a nighttime setting that was witnessed by friends and family members.

Three of my grandchildren were at the nuptials - Boone (Nick's son), Sebastian (Molly and Scott's son), and Olive (Tim and Erin's daughter) along with Nick's siblings and their mother, Rita.   Christy's three teenage sons - Jake, Colton, and Ethan - were also in attendance.  My sister, Gail, drove in from Fayetteville, AR, (via Branson) for the wedding.

The wedding celebration preceded the ceremony.  One of the happy couple's friends fried fish and potatoes on the deck, and there was a big assortment of other food and refreshments as well.  John, the cook, did a wonderful job with the food, particularly the fish.  Boone brought one of his guitars which was ultimately passed around to several guitar pickers, and the result was lots of really good music.  Boone is quite a talented guitar player - watch out world!  The evening was capped off with fireworks when the bride and groom said their "I do's."

(One of the guests, the sister-in-law of John, the cook, told me that she was from Mountain View.  We lived there over three decades ago, so that started a conversation.  It turns out that I knew her father and his family when he was a high school student, and her grandmother was our first baby-sitter in that community.  The world just keeps getting smaller and smaller - especially since I moved back to Howl County!)

Beautiful evening, beautiful wedding, beautiful couple!  Congratulations, Nick and Christy!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Missouri Pot Tales

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Missouri has a long history of dropping the judicial hammer on marijuana offenders.  Murderers?  Not so much.

Back in the summer of 1976 there was a case here in West Plains, Missouri, that generated a lot of national interest.  A local circuit judge, Winston Buford, heard the case of a nineteen-year-old college student named Jerry Mitchell who had been caught selling five dollars worth of marijuana (a half-ounce).  That case might have brought a small fine or even just a warning in civilized parts of the country, but Judge Buford wanted to set an example to others who might consider selling drugs in his small community.  The judge sentenced the college junior to twelve years in prison for his first offense.

Judge Buford later reduced the sentence to a mere seven years in prison after the case began to draw national attention - and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) flew lawyers down to the Ozarks to make a personal appeal to the judge's sense of decency.

(It was noted in the press at the time that Judge Buford had previously sentenced a man to five years in prison for second degree murder.  Obviously, the judge had his own priorities.)

Jerry Mitchell was ultimately paroled from prison after serving fourteen months of his sentence.

That was then . . .

In the 1990's a Missourian by the name of Jeff Mizanskey was arrested in a sting-operation when a man he was with purchased some marijuana.  The man making the purchase received a ten-year prison sentence, but his ride-along buddy, Jeff, was sentenced to life without parole based on two earlier pot arrests.  All of Mizanskey's arrests were for low-level marijuana connections - with no weapons or violence involved in any of the crimes.

Jeff Mizanskey has now served twenty-one years of his life sentence - and he is sixty-one-years-old.  His thirty-three-year-old son, Chris, who was twelve at the time his father was sent to prison, is lobbying for his release.  A national push is underway to convince our semi-progressive governor, Jay Nixon, to commute Mizankey's sentence to time-served.

The times have changed - drastically - and it is well past time to release Jeff Mizankey from his draconian confinement.  It is now legal to buy marijuana in Washington and Colorado for recreational use - without any pretense of "medicinal purposes."  Pot has been decriminalized in seventeen states, and two dozen more are considering some types of reform.   Clearly, Governor Nixon could free Jeff Mizankey without suffering too much negative political blowback - even in Missouri.

Man-up, Governor Nixon. and let Jeff Mizankey spend his golden years with his family and loved ones.  He has definitely paid for his crimes - and then some!  A pardon could not hurt your image - or the state's.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Warren, Jerry, and Mrs. Phillips: Lust and Sex Under the Teapot Dome

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

On July 29th the Library of Congress is set to release some some exceedingly steamy reading matter, a collection of over a thousand lurid love letters and poems from Warren G. Harding to his mistress of many years, Mrs. Carrie Fulton Phillips.  In fact, The New York Times has already begun releasing the letters, and not surprisingly they are going viral on the internet.

Harding began the affair with Mrs. Phillips, his next door neighbor, in 1905 while he was an Ohio newspaper editor, and broke it off (ouch!) in 1920 while serving as a United States Senator and preparing to run for the presidency.   At the time of their breakup, Harding asked Mrs. Phillips to burn the letters - telling her that it would be okay to keep one as a souvenir of their relationship.  Mrs. Phillips kept them all, and later blackmailed the politician.  She requested $25,000 and a "small stipend"   to maintain her silence.  The Republican National Committee, being as noble and pious then as it is today, stepped in and provided cash to help meet the demands.

Warren G. Harding died a little over two years after becoming President, and at the time of his death his administration was mired in several scandals due to his cronyism and ineffectual leadership - the most notable of which was "Teapot Dome," a big bit of chicanery involving oil leases on government lands in Wyoming.   By historical standards, "Teapot Dome," ranks right up there with "Watergate," another shameful result of Republican governance.  Harding's administration is considered by many historians to be one of the very worst in U.S. history, ranking right down there with the presidencies of Ulysses S. Grant and George W. Bush.

President Harding had been dead for almost four full decades by the time that Mrs. Phillips went to her glory in 1960.  The dead woman's attorney, while rifling through her things, came across the box of love letters.   An attempt was made to get them published at that time, but in 1964 the Harding family was able to transfer the correspondence to the Library of Congress with the proviso that it not be released for public scrutiny and salivation for fifty years.

Time is up, and the dirty laundry is tumbling out of the hamper!

While Warren G. Harding may have been a failure as a President, he was one hot writer.  Consider, for instance, this bit of purple prose:

"I hurt with the insatiate longing, until I feel that there will never be any relief until I take a long, deep, wild draught on your lips and then bury my face on your pillowing breasts.   Wouldn't you like to make the suspected occupant of the next room jealous of the joys he could not know, as we did in the morning communion at Richmond?"

(If Bush could only paint that well!)

One peculiarity in the Harding love correspondence is that he refers to his male member in the third person as "Jerry,"  and boy did Warren and Jerry ever have the adventures!  (Mrs. Phillips was just one of several women who shared Harding's - and Jerry's - affections!)

Instead of scouring the internet searching for these raunchy relics from another era, I think I may just wait until Library of America comes out with its boxed set.   I'll have to read it because the movie version would probably kill me!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lives of Monster Birds

by Pa Rock
Herder of Poultry

The chickens at my little farm are have almost reached their adult size and should begin laying eggs in October.  They are getting used to the farmer coming in the lot a couple of times a day and bringing food and fresh water, and now they no longer run and hide in fear when I make my entrance.  And while the chickens have noticeably calmed down, the turkeys, never fearful of big humans, have become downright aggressive.

Several times I have had a turkey jump on my back as I bent to fill a food or water dish, and now they come up and eat from the cup as I work on filling the dishes.  They also drink water directly from the plastic bottles as I am pouring it into the waterers.  One brave soul even stuck his head underwater as I was pouring.

The turkeys like to peck me as I do the barnyard chores, and they seldom fuss about my actions - like even when I have to pick one of them up and set him or her out of the way.

The young turkeys are exactly the same age as the chickens, but they are at least twice as large - the monster birds of the poultry lot.  The four turkeys scoop up grain with their beaks while the chickens simply peck at it, and most of the grain that I put out each day seems to be going into feeding four turkeys.  I've also begun to throw out hen scratch (a grain mixture that is scattered onto the ground) for the chickens, and the turkeys, ever observant of their little buddies, have learned to scratch for that feed - just like the chickens.

My last act of farming each evening is to go out to the poultry lot and check on things.  When I do that I always stoop and pull up some clover which I throw to the birds.  The turkeys literally go nuts when they see me yanking up clover.  They crowd the fence and begin making a racket.   I throw the clover into the lot, scattering it far and wide to reach as many of the chickens as possible,  but the turkeys are formidable as they push and shove their way to the green treats   Fortunately, the chickens have begun to push back and are trying to get their fair share.

It is probably getting close to time to separate the turkeys from the chickens, but so far they seem to be learning skills from each other - so I have put off splitting them up.  Soon, very soon, I will give them all daily access to the entire backyard (where they can get their own damned clover), and I suspect that when I do the guineas will prove to be in charge!

And later this month I hope to acquire a few peacock chicks.

Life at the farm . . . it just gets curiouser and curiouser!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Glenn Beck's Freak Show Heads South

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

America's best known gold huckster, Glenn Beck, has announced that he will lead a humanitarian mission to McAllen, Texas, a hot point along the border with Mexico, on July 19th.  His aim is to provide food, water, and toys (teddy bears and soccer balls) to up to 3,000 refugee children.

Well, to be honest, Beck probably did not use the word "refugee."  Republican-speak for the thousands and thousands of undocumented children crossing into the United States from Mexico is "illegals."

Beck describes his upcoming pilgrimage to Texas in terms of bravery.  He feels that he runs a real risk of offending his old white viewers by behaving in a humanitarian manner toward the children running north from the poverty and crime of CentralAmerica and Mexico.

Perhaps he will make the conservatives angry, though hopefully not as angry as the crazy ones in Murrieta, but some of his more cynical fans may just see this journey as a political stunt and give Glenn kudos for his craftiness.

No, surely not.

Also joining Beck in the photo-op will be Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, proving once and for all that some Republicans do have hearts - or at least balls and bears.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Just Push the Red Button

by Pa Rock
Frustrated Consumer

Two of my important service providers constantly conspire to wind me up - Verizon with cell phone and internet, and Direct TV.  Somewhere they maintain a schedule alerting them that it is time to mess with me.  Usually I have to dedicate the better part of one day a week to get service fixed or straighten out a bill.

Sunday it was Direct TV's turn.   I came in and showered after a very tiring day of hand-hauling trash from the barn to the dumpster.  Then I plopped down in front of the television and kicked back in preparation to watch PBS's current stellar Sunday night line-up:  Last Tango in Halifax, Endeavour, and Vicious.  (PBS here is generally awful, but Sunday nights will be an exception to that rule for the next few weeks.)

I was very anxious to see those three programs.  I had worked exceedingly hard all week and I deserved to see those programs.  And, for the fifty-plus dollars that I pay Direct TV every month for a package that does not include any premium channels, I had paid handsomely for the privilege of seeing those programs.

So I turned on the television - and nothing happened.  I could see the schedule box, so I knew that the problem wasn't my television.    I had one hour to get the situation sorted out before I started missing my shows.

I telephoned Direct TV and answered questions from their answering machine for about ten minutes.   Finally my civil answers began to take on a tinge of anger, and I started answering all questions with "Speak to Human Being."  Eventually, Human Being came on the line.  A sweet lady told me how sorry she was that I was experiencing problems with my television service.  Then she began to carefully lead me through diagnostics.

 A few minutes later, after a dozen or so possibly maladies had been eliminated, she asked me about the small box on the cable behind the television.  As I was struggling to stand on my head so that I could get the information she required, the telephone line went dead.

So, fifteen minutes later I got another Human Being on the phone - and she, of course, could not connect me with the first one.   I regurgitated all that had already been done and finally got her up to speed.  Okay, she said, unplug the service and plug it back in.  As I teetered on the verge of having a stroke, I told her that I would have to sit the phone down because this action would require moving a very large piece of furniture.

Oh, she said, don't go to all that trouble.  Just push the red button on the satellite control box.  I did that, the television shut off and then rebooted, and then I had my television service back.  I tuned in to Last Tango in Halifax as the opening credits were running.

My question:  Why couldn't we have begun the process with  "Just push the red button?"

Direct TV, you suck - and so does Verizon!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "America"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

This past Friday was Independence Day, an occasion that I marked by pulling weeds and moving large quantities of trash from their various hiding places to the dumpster.    In the evening I watched television and listened to the fireworks.  I'm not complaining.  It was alright as holidays go.  When you are retired the days just seem to flow together into one constant weekend.

Murrieta, that city in California where patriotic protesters waved their flags and hurled insults at busloads of immigrant women and children, has been on my mind for several days.   We can be free and independent and puffed up with pride, but God help any of those little brown buggers who feel they have some inherent right to be as free and independent as we are.

We got ours, there is nothing here for you, and don't let the door at the border hit you on the ass on your way back to El Salvador.

One day we've got the Supreme Court telling us that the law must give way to the demands of religion - particularly the Christian religion - and the next day we see "good" Christians demonizing and threatening children.  And then we eat, drink, and light fireworks!

I'm not saying that America isn't worth celebrating, but it seems like the ideal of America, that land of liberty envisioned by the founding fathers - and mothers, tends to get bogged down and even lost in all of the noise and hate that passes as patriotism.  Are we about everyone being free and enjoying what this great country can offer, or are we about only certain ones of us being free to claim ownership of America and her destiny:  the whites, the males, the Christians, and the straights?  Sadly, it is beginning to feel like we live in a country club from the 1950's with only certain people being allowed membership and everyone else being relegated to working in the kitchen or on the grounds.

Claude McKay was a writer and poet in the period known as the Harlem Renaissance.  The young black man with the powerful pen was never an official communist, but he readily admitted to strong sympathies for that economic philosophy.  His poem from 1921, America, discusses the country that never completely opened her doors to him.   He had some respect for his adopted homeland, but also a bit of disdain.    I include it below to offer some balance to the America typified by the flag-waving and screaming denizens of Murrieta.

It's a big country, and there should be room for all of us - and opportunity for all of us.

by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Fine Line Between Trash and Treasure

by Pa Rock
Trash Master

There is going to be a wedding at my house this coming Saturday evening, out in the back yard, close to the barn.   (No, it's not me.  I'm a lot smarter than that - now!)  My oldest son, Nick, is marrying a very sweet woman named Christy, and for some reason they want to do it here.

Because the stroll to the scene of the nuptials will entail walking across most of the farm and past all of the outbuildings, I have spent the past three weeks pitching crap into a rented dumpster - and the previous owners left lots and lots of crap!  I have just finished filling the dumpster for a second time, and there are still some leftovers that I need to get rid of.

Yesterday I developed a new strategy that is cheaper than renting a dumpster.  I moved two cheap-o aluminum storm windows and an aluminum storm door (minus its window) from behind the barn and up into the front yard next to the road.  They looked so good leaning up against a big pine tree, that I carried out some guttering for accents.  The door and windows hosted several dirt dauber nests, and who knows what was living in the guttering!  All of it had obviously been sitting out behind the barn for years.

But it looked nice out under the tree, like some Warhol yard sculpture.

Then I went into the house, found a marker and some paper, and began making signs.  I taped the signs, each boasting America's favorite f-word, in strategic places on my art project, and then sat on the porch to watch the fun.

There is something about the word "free" that just seems to rob people of their good sense.

Very soon an old codger nearly took out my mailbox as he jerked around to get a look at the merchandize - but he didn't stop.

Before long an old man pulled in driving a pick-up truck with quite a bit of treasure already in the bed.  He barely was out of his vehicle when a second guy pulled in wanting to know if the free stuff was till available.  The first guy said "yup" he believed he would take it.  As I helped him load his treasure into the truck, I learned that he really didn't have a use for it - yet - but he did have forty acres where he could keep it until a need arose.

Some day he will sell that forty acres and leave all of the crap where it sits - and it will be someone else's problem.  That's how we do thing's here in the Ozarks.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sebastian Files Is Seven

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

My grandson, Sebastian, turned seven today.    So far I have been able to spend some time with him at his home in Oregon twice this year - definitely a record - and he and his mother will be visiting my little farm next week.  Suddenly it feels like we are getting to know each other.

Sebastian is a busy young man.  He enjoys watching movies, riding his bicycle, and playing with his two younger siblings:  Judah and Willow.  He is learning Spanish in school.

Happy birthday, Sebastian!  Pa Rock loves you and is very anxious for your visit to the farm!

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Little Black Hen

by Pa Rock
Chicken Rancher

When I brought my baby chickens and turkeys home this past April 22nd, they were cheeping little fuzz balls that easily all fit in a small cardboard box.  Twenty seven of the chickens were brown fuzz balls, but one was yellow and black.  I knew the brown ones were Rhode Island Reds - which is what I had ordered, but I had no idea what the other one would become.  (I was hopeful that the little stranger would prove to be a hen, and it would have been fine by me if he or she turned out to be a Plymouth Rock, another good egg layer.

Now, more than two months on, the young hens have nearly achieved their full adult size.  The brown ones are, as requested, Rhode Island Reds.  They will begin laying big brown eggs this September.   And the other baby, the black and yellow one, has matured into a beautiful all-black hen.

I began to notice a couple of weeks ago that the black hen was more standoffish than the brown ones.  When I went out twice a day to feed and water the poultry, she would remain in hiding while most of the others came up and tried to be the first ones at the feeders.   (Actually, the turkeys are always first.  There is nothing standoffish about them!)

I attend to the poultry early in the morning and around five in the afternoon.  Then, just before dark, I always walk out to the coop and pen and have some quality time by pulling up fistfuls of clover from the yard and throwing it into the pen.  They love clover, and pandemonium prevails until all of the sweet clover has been consumed.  The turkeys push their way to the front of the crowd, and most of the chickens join in the fray.

I began to notice, however, that the black hen never ventured into the commotion.  In fact, she stayed out in the tall weeds, basically invisible.  I had decided that for reasons unknown, at least to me, the young lady did not care for me.  Yesterday, however, I learned the truth - and I was very dismayed.

I was working on a chore out at the barn, a job that caused me to walk by the chicken coop and pen many times over the course of the afternoon.  Taking a break, I stood next to the pen and watched the chickens eating from one of the feeders.  A brown rooster and a couple of hens were having a mid-afternoon snack when the black hen suddenly ventured from the weeds and approached the feeder.  She was immediately put upon by the rooster who ran her away from the feeder.  The brown hens also threw up a fuss to keep her away.  Later the black hen tried again, and she was again routed.

Now, after some more serious observation, I have come to the sad conclusion that the little hen is being ostracized by the other chickens.  She appears to be a friendless loner.   Do animals discriminate against those who are different?  Do humans come to racial discrimination naturally?  Is it something in our genes and good people must recognize and work to overcome?

And what do I do about this victim of bullying?  Do I try to find her another home, or work to empower her among the brown majority?

Who knew there could be so much drama in the chicken coop?