Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mystery "Christian" Minister Seeks to Enshrine Hate in Constitution

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Most "professional" occupations, at least in the United States, require some sort of formalized training that is acknowledged with the awarding of a diploma, certificate, or license of some sort.   As an example, during my decades in the work force I have been educated and licensed as a school teacher, principal, and superintendent, a real-estate sales person and broker, and a clinical social worker.  Each of those licenses to practice were based on extensive classroom training, supervised internships, and rigorous examinations.  Some also required continuing education classes and periodic license renewal fees.   All told, becoming a "professional" at anything is a mentally-challenging, time-consuming, and expensive process.

There is one professional title in America, however, that is not so difficult to acquire - and that is the title of "pastor" or "reverend."  Many American ministers, to be sure, are highly educated and very knowledgeable in their field.  Others, however, are not.  I am old enough to remember when some matchbooks contained a form on their inside cover that one could fill out for information on how to become a minister quickly.   Recently, in fact, I was asked if I would mind becoming a minister so that I could officiate at a wedding.  (I passed on that opportunity to fluff-up my resume.)

At one time in my illustrious past I worked as a substitute mailman, delivering mail on a rural route whenever the regular carrier decided to spend the day fishing.  (That was a job that did not require a license - except for a driver's license - but did require a rigorous test.)  Several people on my route who did not appear to be employed at anything, received mail with the appellation "Reverend," something that one of my co-workers reasoned had to do with trying to cheat the government at tax time.

With all of that as background, it behooves one to be a bit skeptical when one of those showboat "reverends" does something outrageous to grab a cheesy internet headline or get his fifteen minutes of fame on Fox News.   Chances are the fundamentalist blowhard who publicly burns a Koran or gives away automatic weapons in a church service did not attend four years at a respected seminary.  In fact, chances are that the goober did not even finish high school.

But yet he is a minister, leading a "flock" of sad souls who are just as ignorant of the actual teachings of Christ as he is.

There has been a buzz on the internet this week regarding a "minister" who is trying to gain some notoriety by proposing an asinine amendment to the United States Constitution.  Reverend Michael V. Wilson has drafted an amendment that would automatically send gays to prison - or a gay gulag.  His proposed addition to the document that is fundamental to the rights of all Americans reads as follows:

  • The United States of America is a Christian nation with Judeo-Christian ethics, morals, principles, and values.
  • The practice of homosexuality in the United States of America and in all its territories and possessions, and in all its states, counties, and cities shall be a felony punishable by ten years in prison at hard labor.
  • This amendment shall take effect the first Sunday after ratification.
Shades of Oscar Wilde!

After reading that, I wanted to know a bit more about this homophobic man of God.  Usually these types of individuals are absorbed with self-promotion, but that is apparently not so with Reverend Wilson.  He made one brief video in which he gives his name and his amendment spiel, but nothing else that would provide any personal insight.    Reverend Wilson's church is apparently called the "Church on the Rock," but specific information about the church (other than it may be in Texas) or its minister is not readily available on the internet.  

So, to summarize, there is an individual - a man calling himself Reverend Michael V. Wilson - who may or may not head a church called the Church on the Rock, which may or may not be in Texas  - and this supposed minister wishes to vilify gay individuals and send them to prison solely for having the audacity to be the people that God intended them to be.  

It doesn't sound very Christian to me - but what do I know.   I lost the matchbook cover before I could get it sent in!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

One Way to Get Arrested in Arizona!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Twenty-two-year-old Eric Minerault landed in a heap of trouble recently for burning a Bible and then urinating on it.   He committed this religious sacrilege on the front steps of a Christian homeless shelter in Prescott, Arizona.   Minerault, who calls himself the "Dark Lord," said that he was "cursing the Christians" with his symbolic act.  He was clad in a black and red robe and wearing a pentagram necklace when he defaced the Christian holy book.

The young man has been jailed on one misdemeanor count of unlawful symbol burning.  The American Civil Liberties Union is expressing concerns that Minerault's freedom of speech rights may have been violated by overzealous Arizona law enforcement officials.

What a dumb butt!  If Eric Minerault had only chosen to take a whiz on the Holy Koran instead of the Bible, he wouldn't be cooling his cloven hooves in an Arizona jail -  state Republicans would have him running for governor!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Don Sturdy on the Desert of Mystery

by Pa Rock

My current literary passion is finding and reading boys' adventure books of the 1920's.  To that end, I have put quite a dent in the early volumes of the Hardy Boys mysteries and have begun reading The Radio Boys series by Gerald Breckenridge.  One of my more recent finds is a series of books about a fourteen-year-old adventurer by the name of Don Sturdy, and I have just finished the first book of the fifteen-book series.  It is entitled Don Sturdy and the Desert of Mystery.

The Don Sturdy series was created and owned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the same folks who owned The Hardy Boys series.  In both cases a pseudonym was used for author credit:  Franklin W. Dixon for The Hardy Boys and Victor Appleton for Don Sturdy.  Fourteen of the eventual Don Sturdy titles were actually penned by John W Duffield, a fairly unknown writer who wrote on a salaried basis for Stratemeyer.

Don Sturdy, the fourteen-year-old hero of these tales, was depicted as being a likely orphan whose explorer father, mother, and little sister were lost in a shipwreck off of the southern coast of South America.  Don, of course, always held out hope for the ultimate survival of his family.  Meanwhile he was being raised by two uncles:  Captain Frank Sturdy, a big game hunter, who was Don's father's brother, and Professor Amos Bruce, a rare plant and antiquities collector, who was Don's mother's brother.

As  this story opened, Don and his uncles were in a hotel in Algeria preparing to go on a motorized expedition into the Sahara Desert in search of the fabled "Cemetery of Elephants," a place where old elephants reportedly went to die.  Before the trip could begin, however, Don came upon a young American teenager by the name of Teddy Allison who was being accosted by a couple a Arab muggers.   Don ran the muggers off and saved Teddy.  He soon learned that Teddy's father had been kidnapped weeks before in the desert and had either been killed or enslaved by his captors.

Don and Teddy became fast friends due to their shared concerns over missing parents, and Teddy joined in the expedition into the desert.

Teddy's father had been searching for the "Cave of Emeralds" at the time of his abduction, so that goal - and the rescue of Teddy's father - were added to the list of things that Don and his uncles were pursuing.  Not too much later they also heard stories from the "natives" of a "City of Brass," so that, too, became an objective of the expedition.  (Forgetting to add the "Ark of the Covenant" and the "Big Rock Candy Mountain" to their list of goals appears to be the only grievous oversights on the part of Mr. Appleton/Duffield!)

The story was good, with plenty of excitement to hold the reader's attention, but there were places where it felt like the author was "grinding it out" in a haphazard manner just to meet a deadline and get his check.   Teddy, for example, told Don early on that his nickname was "Brick" due to his red mop of hair.   For the remainder of the book Don generally referred to him as Brick, but sometimes as Teddy.  The other characters also seemed to experience trouble keeping poor Teddy's name straight - as did the author who once referred to him as "Teddie."

Bloodshed was minimal, and the good guys won every battle and achieved all of their goals - just like in real life.

And Don Sturdy came away looking every bit as bright, handsome, and dependably sturdy as Frank and Joe Hardy - just like in real life!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Training the Farmer

by Pa Rock
Chicken Taxi

My chickens are growing - and developing so much personality!

My son was by for awhile this morning, and I just happened to glance at his car while working outside. One of the girls was flapping her wings frantically in the backseat of his car.   This is not a good place to leave car windows down - or doors open.  Chickens are such nosey creatures!

A couple of the girls are beginning to lay eggs.  I get one or two small brown eggs every morning.  I've eaten three so far in a small omelet.  They were so good, much richer and more delicious than the eggs sold in grocery stores.   The difference is amazing.  In another six weeks or so they all should be laying, and the eggs will increase in size as the girls become more experienced producers.

A few weeks ago after I started letting the poultry out during the day, I went out in the evening to shut them up in their pen.   As I was preparing to close the gate, I heard a bit of clucking and fussing in the open garage that sits next to the pen and coop.  I checked it out and found a stray little hen and a turkey that had decided they would prefer roosting in the garage.  I carefully carried each one back to the pen.  The turkey didn't like being carried, and after that he was always where he belonged at lock-down time.  

The hen, however, enjoyed the personal attention.  She clucked contentedly as I carried her over to the pen.  The next night she was right back in the garage waiting for her ride to the coop.  That went on for about two weeks.  But word gets around in the coop, and one night last week there were two hens waiting for me in the garage.  The next night there were three - and last night there were six!  

I am reminded of little kids training their parents to pick up the food that they throw on the floor.  It hasn't taken the girls very long to train me to carry them to the coop each night!

( I hope the next person who gets into the backseat of my son's car checks for eggs before sitting down!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

McCaskill, One Tough Cookie

by Pa Rock
Missouri Democrat

Claire McCaskill is Missouri's senior senator and a Democrat.    McCaskill is also one sharp cookie who should never be underestimated - just ask bumbling Todd Akin.  McCaskill, through deft political maneuvering helped to select Akin to be her challenger in her last race by making Republicans think that she feared him the most.  Then, when he got the GOP nomination, the religiously intolerant Aiken quickly imploded.

McCaskill, a former prosecutor (and high school cheerleader) would be every bit as tough in a national campaign as Mrs. Bill Clinton - and probably tougher.

Claire McCaskill has not been afraid to speak out on the tragedy and turmoil that has consumed Ferguson, Missouri - while her fellow senator and NRA puppet, Republican 'Ol Roy Blunt, has been deadly silent on Ferguson.   (Blunt expects to be running for re-election in two years against Missouri's popular democratic governor, Jay Nixon - and he seems to be hoping that Nixon's mandatory involvement in Ferguson will cost him dearly at the polls.  'Ol Roy knows that the smartest course of action on Ferguson is to just keep his mouth shut, thank you very much!)

McCaskill has been in the news today with her support of a proposed bill that would deny federal funding to police departments that won't employ body cameras.  The cameras, like those already on the dashboards of many police vehicles, would be invaluable in court as they showed judges and juries exactly what happened during the confrontation between the cop and the suspect.

Police departments like the one in Ferguson will be highly resistant to this type of intimate oversight.  Police in Ferguson, who like to work behind a smokescreen, have reportedly even quit wearing name tags.  McCaskill's bill would shine the bright light of public scrutiny right into an incident as it was unfolding.  It would be reality television taken to a whole new level.

All of that said, I am not a big fan of Claire McCaskill.  (I have only sought assistance from a Member of Congress one time in my entire life.  That was an email to her  followed up by a letter - neither one of which generated a coherent response.  The senator obviously needs to put more effort into screening the interns who read her emails and letters - and who write to constituents in her name.)  But while I wouldn't drive two miles into town to attend a McCaskill rally, I think that her bill encouraging the use of police body cameras is damn good legislation - something that will benefit us all, even the men and women wearing the cameras.

Police body cameras are something good that can come from Ferguson.  The other extremely positive outcome would be the elimination of programs that transfer military equipment to police.  If the National Guard is needed to quell a situation, by all means call them in - but we don't need the cops on the local beat thinking of themselves as storm troopers.  This is America, not Iraq.

Good luck with your bill, Claire.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Morning Job

by Pa Rock
Busy Retiree

For those who picture retirement as sitting at home all day peacefully watching endless reruns of NCIS and Criminal Minds, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion.    It just doesn't work out that way.  Even without a regular work schedule, humans tend to devise ways to keep their lives complicated - and schedules persist.

My life accepted a certain amount of structure on the day that I brought the box of baby chicks home from the feed store.  Now I am up and outside early in the mornings to free the birds from their pen, feed and water my feathered dependents, and look for eggs.   I always make at least one pass through the pen during these hot August afternoons to make sure the waterers haven't been turned over by the thirsty and clumsy poultry and that things are relative calm in bird land.  In the early evening I make another pass to fill the feeders and waterers, and during daylight's last flicker I go out to the poultry pen one final time to shut and secure the gate and tell everyone goodnight.

During my spare time I work on projects around the house, haul trash, and mow.  This blog usually takes about an hour of my day, and, on good days, I slip in thirty minutes or so of reading during my lunch and at bedtime.

Wednesday evenings, of course, is reserved for pinochle at the senior center.

Now I have added another major item to my schedule.  Five days a week, Monday through Friday, I head into town immediately after finishing with the birds and report to the hospital.  I am in cardiac rehab on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - where my current routine is to walk briskily for forty minutes on the treadmill.  That should expand to fifty minutes later this week.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays I am in physical therapy working on issues with my arms.   I have a hard fifty minute routine that is done under the direction and watchful eye of a physical therapist.

The five-day-a-week medical experience feels like a job, and it leaves me with a sense of increasing well-being.  Not all of my past jobs have been like that.

So I am staying very busy in retirement, and seldom have the luxury of feeling retired - and occasionally, when the mood hits, I still manage to catch the odd rerun of NCIS or Criminal Minds!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Let America Be America Again"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today's poetry selection, Let America Be America Again, is by Joplin, Missouri, native Langston Hughes, one of the finest poets and chroniclers of the black experience in twentieth century America.  The poem has a lot to say about race and opportunity in our country.

This blog post is respectively dedicated to the memory and family of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man who was gunned down by an angry white policeman just over two weeks ago in Ferguson, Missouri.   His funeral is today.

Michael, may you now be experiencing the peace and justice of a civil society, something that eluded you during your brief time on earth.

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Death and Eggs

by Pa Rock
Poultry Farmer

I lost some birds to predators yesterday, and it has left me feeling a bit morose.  I have known all along that there would eventually be a decrease in the poultry population due to natural country mayhem - and that the really smart ones would be the most likely to survive.  But when three feathered innocents meet a violent demise on the same day, it weighs heavy on my tender heart.

Actually I had lost some guineas before yesterday.  I was down to fifteen of the original twenty when the sun rose yesterday.  During the morning I began to notice an assortment of fuzzy gray feathers blowing about the yard.   I came across the source of all of those feathers, an obvious slaughter site, in the poultry pen while I was scattering hen scratch that afternoon.  After taking a quick census, I discovered that the guinea population had decreased to fourteen in the time since I had let them out in the morning.  (Guineas stick together and are relatively easy to count.)

The turkey population began at four on April 22nd and remained at four until yesterday evening.  Now they are three.  I knew there was a problem when I brought the water hose to an area near the pen where I clean and fill waterers - and soak my four o'clocks - each afternoon.  The turkeys, which have become total pets - always rush up when they see the hose because, not surprisingly on these hot August days, they like to be sprayed.   Yesterday only three showed for their evening shower.  I found the fourth, a turkey hen, dead in the weeds inside of the pen.  Her breast feathers had been ripped off, but the predator had apparently been interrupted before he made a meal of his conquest.

Later, almost as the sun was beginning to set, I came across a clump of brown hen feathers out on the edge of the back yard.

One (or more) of God's creature's ate exceedingly well yesterday.

But life goes on, and in fact, it cycles.

This morning I discovered three little brown eggs in one of the hen's nesting boxes.  A few minutes later when I walked back into the coop to fill a waterer, I discovered a little brown hen sitting in a different nesting box.  Everything I read on the subject said not to expect eggs until the hens are at least twenty-two-weeks-old.  These ambitious girls are just over seventeen-weeks-old!

When chickens first developed from dinosaurs, they did not have chicken pens, coops, or nesting boxes.  Yet my poultry instinctively know to head to the pen in the evening - all except for one little hen who valiantly tries to roost in the garage.  I have to pick her up and carry her to the pen just before closing and latching the gate.   And now it appears that they instinctively know what the nesting boxes are for.

(The poultry literature says that sometimes hens have to be taught to use the nesting boxes - by placing artificial eggs in them.  The local feed store sells ceramic eggs for a dollar apiece, and I had planned to get a few when the time came.  Now, with the realization that my hens are gifted, I won't have to spend that money.)

I plan to have a small omelet later this morning to celebrate the girls' proud achievement.  I figure with the initial outlay for the purchase of the poultry, the equipment (feeders, waterers, etc), and bag-after-bag of feed, I have about two hundred dollars invested in each of those three eggs!

The next order of business is to find a good farm dog who will protect its feathered cousins.  Applications are now being accepted!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lone Star Justice

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Petitions on the internet are becoming as common as the daisies that bloom along our Midwestern roadways, and I sign many of the ones that make their way to my email in-box.  Doing so, I've discovered, helps to generate mountains of junk email - and I always have plenty to read.

I signed one this morning asking a Texas district attorney to behave humanely toward a nineteen-year-old accused of felony pot possession with intent to sell.  There are questions about a warrantless police raid on his apartment because they "thought" they smelled marijuana - and about how what they did find was quantified.  (The guy had baked marijuana and hash oil into brownies - and the police weighed the finished product and the container it was stored in  - coming up with a heavy result that justified a more serious charge.)

Currently the young man faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

I don't have a problem with people who break laws facing the consequences of their actions, as long as the laws are just, but the American justice system seldom seems to dish out punishments in a fair and even-handed manner.  If the young man in this case was baking to sell, then he put himself in a position where he could have caused harm to others.  But ten years to life when no actual harm was alleged does seem a tad severe.

It all put me in mind of another Texas case - the one where an extremely drunk sixteen-year-old plowed his vehicle into several people, killing four - and causing serious injury to others.  That boy, who had been routinely neglected by his rich parents, had a really good lawyer who got him off with just probation.  The lawyer argued an "affluenza" defense, and said that the kid never had to face any consequences in life because his parents always bailed him out of trouble.  He never learned that his actions had consequences.  Of course, that case reinforced the kid's perception that his actions had little or no consequences.

Based on what little I have read about the brownie baker, his actions had no impact on others - but the affluenza killer generated lifetimes of loss and heartache.  Unfortunately, certain Americans of a certain age seem to regard drunk driving (and rape) as "boys will be boys," and any involvement with marijuana as "crazed Charlie Manson druggies."

Here's hoping that the prosecutor and judge in this latest Texas case have both inhaled.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Christmas in August

by Pa Rock

I was at a local medical facility this morning for a routine reason when the head nurse began entertaining the captive audience in the waiting room with the story of her trip to Walmart this morning before work.  Walmart, she gushed, has already started getting ready for Christmas!

Oh Joyeux Noel!

Apparently the "back to school" shopping season has ended.

I didn't ask her why a seemingly well-educated person like herself would even shop at Walmart - let alone in the wee hours of the morning.  I didn't ask her if she had tried to keep our little community healthy and vibrant by first attempting to meet her needs in the dozens of local mom-and-pop shops around town that are struggling to survive.   Hell, I didn't even ask her if I could change the channel on the waiting room television away from Fox News.

I plan to do my Christmas shopping in December.  By then there ought to be some really good Easter merchandise out on the shelves - at least at Walmart!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hey Missouri GOP, Ferguson IS About Race!

by Pa Rock

In a burst of hypocrisy of almost epic proportions, Matt Wills, the director of the Republican Party in Missouri, has condemned voter registration drives in Ferguson, Missouri, because those efforts are injecting "race" into the on-going turmoil.

What exactly does Mr. Wills think all of protesting and police actions in Ferguson have been about?  Is he so intellectually shallow that he believes something other than race is at the root of all of the mayhem and bloodshed in Ferguson?   Or is he just a cynical blowhard pushing the national Republican agenda of voter suppression?

Hey, Matt, here's how it works.  When a gang of crazed Los Angeles cops beat the holy hell out of a black truck driver who posed no threat to them, it was about race.   When New York city cops blasted nineteen rounds into an unarmed black immigrant from Guinea, killing him in front of his apartment, it was about race.  When a white Detroit area homeowner shot and killed a black girl on his front porch, it was about race.  And when a whack-job (and white) Florida vigilante shot and killed an unarmed black teen who was walking home from a convenience store - and referred to the kid in a 911 call as a "f-----g coon," that, too, was about race!

Ferguson, a city that was almost completely white forty years ago, is now two-thirds black.  Yet even with a solid black majority, whites still run the city. The mayor and five of six city council members are white, and fifty of fifty-three police officers in the city are also white.  Blacks have the numbers, whites have the power.  The only way that will change is if people in Ferguson, especially black people, get registered and begin to vote.  Only then will they be in a political position to offer basic protections to all of the city's inhabitants.

Of course voter registration centers are springing up around Ferguson - as they should.  Voting is how democracy functions, Matt.  The Republican Party once championed the rights of black citizens.  It was a lofty organization steeped in the principles on which our nation was founded.  Sadly, it has now degenerated into little more than a sanctuary for haters, race-baiters, the greedy-wealthy, and those who hope to become greedy-wealthy.

Abe Lincoln would be mortified at how far his political party has fallen.  The GOP's proud inheritance has been totally squandered for the benefit of the few.  How sad for them, and how sad for America.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferguson Police Blame the Victim - Not the Shooter

by Pa Rock

This is day twelve of the raging racial strife that has beset the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.   The protesters continue to come out every night to show their disgust with the city's police department in a basically peaceful manner, and the police continue to overreact and reinforce the view that most of the civilized world has of their brutal and racist mindset.  Last night was the quietest so far, with no shots fired, but nevertheless forty-seven people were arrested.  Journalists continue to be targets of police rage.

The police in Ferguson have played a couple of sickening blame-the-victim cards.  First, they released a story and store videotape showing the victim, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, shoplifting Cigarillos out of  the convenience store that he had just left prior to the shooting.  The unspoken but well-indicated supposition was that the policeman who shot Brown did so in a response to the robbery report.  It didn't take long for the chief of police to be backed into a corner and admit that the shooter cop did not know about the shoplifting incident when he killed Brown.

An attorney for the convenience store issued a statement saying that the store never reported the shoplifting incident, and that the police came to the store and requested the tape of Brown's visit - obviously hoping to find something to use to make him look sinister and worthy of the six bullets that ended his life.

A day or two later police managed to get the word out that Michael Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of his death.  He was eighteen - of course he had marijuana in his system!  Marijuana, however, would be an unlikely drug to make Mr. Brown become so aggressive toward a police officer that it would require six rounds to put him down.  But that marijuana story did what it was intended to do - it got the old grey heads in front of the televisions bobbing in agreement with the opinionators on the Fox Noise channel.  Druggie equals dangerous equals kill the bastard!

The Ferguson Police Department's war on the character of a dead teenager is disgusting - but then again, so are their wars on the protesters, the First Amendment, and the image of America as a just and tolerant nation.   If the police want to bring this turmoil to an end, perhaps they should enforce the law and arrest someone who actually did commit a crime - their fellow officer who brutally murdered an unarmed eighteen-year-old young man without cause.

Maybe then we can have peace in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hanging Chickens for the Danforth Family

by Pa Rock

I have recently posted stories about two summer jobs that I had while in college:  brush boy and door-hanger.   Several years ago I also posted a remembrance in this blog about my time selling popcorn and running the projectors at the Tower Theatre in Springfield, Missouri, while I was a college student there.   Today’s post will focus on the last job of my college era, that of a chicken-hanger.

I graduated from what was then called Southwest Missouri State University in January of 1971 with a BA degree in history and a commission as a second l lieutenant in the Transportation Corps of the United States Army.  I was not scheduled to go on active duty until the middle of April, a situation that left me in need of employment for three months.

I moved back to my parents’ house in Noel, Missouri, and, by virtue of knowing a couple of supervisors at the local chicken plant, was able to get a temporary job there.  (It’s always ‘who’ you know over ‘what’ you know.)

The local plant was owned by the Ralston Purina Company, which, in turn, was owned by the Danforth family of St. Louis.    The plant had been lured into Noel a few years earlier by a group of city fathers who thought they were doing a good turn for the local economy.  What they actually accomplished was to bring a major polluter into the community, one that ruined the quality of the river, pumped noxious odors into the air, depleted the local water tables, and provided a near-mortal would to the local tourist industry.

But I was not concerned with the politics of chicken processoing at that point in my life.  My goal was to acquire a regular paycheck until I could pin on those gold bars and go to work for the government.

The processing of chickens went something like this - and probably still works in a similar manner:   Thousands of birds were raised in large, industrial chicken houses where they were fed with automatic feeders and waterers - and never allowed to touch the ground.  When it came time to process them, people were hired to go into the chicken houses at night, while the birds were sleeping or more docile, catch them by hand, and stuff them into large wooden crates that were piled onto trucks and driven to the chicken plants.

(My oldest son was a chicken-catcher for a couple of days when he was in high school.   He would come home in the mornings covered in cuts and scrapes, and infested with chicken lice.  A real glamour job!)

The birds were killed in a special area next to where the trucks parked and unloaded.  I never went outside to see that process, and have no idea how the mass executions were carried out.  They were also plucked and gutted outside before being thrown into long steel cylindrical tanks called “chillers” where they were spun about in cold water until their body temperatures were more corpse-like. 

My first job at the plant was to collect the birds as they came out of the chiller and hang them on the conveyor belt that continually traveled around the plant  where they birds could be processed by workers at the different stations.  The belt was a series of hooks that the chicken’s legs had to fit in-between.  There were two of us hangers.  We had to constantly grab two birds in each hand, swing them over our heads, and hook them to the moving belt.  It was very strenuous work.   The object was to not let any hooks get by without holding a bird.

As the dead birds circled the plant hanging from the conveyor belt, they constantly dripped cold, clammy water on everyone.  I didn’t mind the smells of the processing plant, but the chicken rain running off of my paper hat and down my back is something that I can never forget.

(My sister worked at the chicken plant sometime after I did, and she tells the story of getting her rubber glove caught on one of the hooks and having to run along with the belt as she struggled to free herself – a’la LaVerne and Shirley!)

Lots of funny things happened at the chicken plant, but even so, it was a very dangerous place to work.

Another job that I had was sorting giblets (hearts, livers, and gizzards) on a steel table and packing them into five pound bags.  That was actually an enjoyable experience and I got to be very good at it.  Much less strenuous than hanging chickens!

One day a week the plant had an “in-sale” where employees could order packaged chicken parts at a substantial discount over store prices.  I learned quickly that people who didn’t work at the chicken plant were always seeking friends on the inside who could order chicken for them.

My line supervisor was an little alcoholic (and big Republican) who liked to walk around the plant telling people that he had a “college boy” working on his line.    But most of the people didn’t give a hoot about my advanced education – nothing mattered except keeping the line moving! 

My time at Ralston-Purina was limited, but it was three months that I will never forget - and  I am sure that I learned more there than I ever did in any college class!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday's Poetical Prose: The View from Travis McGee's Head

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Mystery writer and itinerant philosopher, John D. MacDonald, created a fictional character in 1964  who went on to become a cornerstone of American crime and detective fiction.   Travis McGee, a Florida “boat bum” who worked as a detective primarily only when he needed the money, was featured in twenty-one novels over twenty-one years, and eventually became as essential to the American detective fiction genre as Hercule Poirot was to that of the British.

McGee was clearly John D. MacDonald’s alter ego, and all of the practical wisdom laid out by the detective was most obviously the expressed opinions of the author.  What interested or concerned the mind of John D. MacDonald was voiced by Travis McGee.

I have read many of the Travis McGee novels over the past three decades.    They always tell a good yarn, often with a fair amount of violence and mayhem, and they are always steeped in the author’s thoughts on life.    My current goal is to re-read the entire set.   Every McGee book has a color in the title.  I am currently reading book two:   Nightmare in Pink.

Today, while marching along on the treadmill in cardiac rehab, I was reading from Nightmare in Pink, a book that is set in New York City rather than McGee’s usual stomping grounds of south Florida.   As I marched and read, I came upon one of MacDonald’s / McGee’s philosophical nuggets – this one on how the world will begin to end.  I am regarding that piece, and one other, as poetry for today’s post.  They are, at the very least, very poetical shards of prose.   The following long paragraph has undoubtedly been an influence on a whole slew of movie scripts since it was first published fifty years ago in 1964:

“New York is where it is going to begin, I think.  You can see it coming.  The insect experts have learned how it works with locusts.  Until locust population reaches a certain density, they all act like any grasshoppers.   When the critical point is reached, they turn savage and swarm, and try to eat the world.   We’re nearing a critical point.  One day soon two strangers will bump into each other at high noon in the middle of New York.  But this time they won’t snarl and go on.  They will stop and stare and then leap at each others’ throats in a dreadful silence.  The infection will spread outward from that point.  Old ladies will crack skulls with their deadly handbags.  Cars will plunge down the crowded sidewalks.  Drivers will be torn out of their cars and stomped.  It will spread to all the huge cities of the world, and by dawn of the next day there will be a horrid silence of sprawled bodies and tumbled vehicles, gutted buildings and a few wisps of smoke.  And through that silence will prowl a few, a very few of the most powerful ones, ragged and bloody, slowly tracking each other down.”

Calling Mel Gibson.  Calling a young Mel Gibson!

I had barely begun processing that powerful image, when on the next page I encountered another MacDonald / McGee philosophical detour.  This time McGee was pondering his hotel room and picturing a dystopian guest accommodation of the future.  Elements of this description have also been seen in a fair number of movies.

I frowned at my sound-proofed ceiling and thought how they could improve the hotel service.  Make the rounds – manager, technician and chambermaid.  Are you happy enough, sir?  Not quite.  Gather around the bed, open the compartment in the headboard, pull out the joy tubes and slip them onto the veins, unreel the joy wires and needle them into the happy-making part of the brain.  Adjust the volume.  Is that better, sir?  Enormously.  When are you leaving us, sir?  Turn me off next Tuesday.  Thank you, sir.  Enjoy your stay in New York, sir.  Happy hallucinations.

Is the alarm set on your clockwork orange?

National Public Radio (NPR) ran a piece by Susan Stamburg last week in which she interviewed a few of the hundreds (thousands?) of young screenwriter hopefuls who take up table space in America’s coffee houses while plying their craft on laptop computers.    Maybe Starbucks should start scattering a few Travis McGee  novels about their shops just to help generate some ideas!

John D. MacDonald died in 1986, and with his passing Travis McGee grew silent.  I miss them both.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hanging Doors and Mopping Floors

by Pa Rock
Experienced Worker

Last week I wrote about a summer job that I had during my college years in which I was the “brush boy” for two guys who were contracted to trim trees and clear brush from telephone lines in our rural area.  I had a couple of other summer jobs that probably merit mentioning. 

A train loaded with fertilizer blew up in my hometown of Noel, Missouri, late one August night in 1969.  The blast caused massive damage and leveled many businesses and homes.  As a consequence, temporary housing was in critical demand, a condition that resulted in an influx of mobile homes into the once pristine tourist community.

Not too long after that – and I don’t know if it was related to the train blast or not – an entrepreneur came into town and set up a pair of factories to produce mobile homes.   The original plant was called “Diplomat, Homes” and the second one, located across the highway from the first, was  “Sundancer Homes.”  The fellow who started those plants must have liked Noel because he and his wife spent the rest of their lives in our little community – and they are buried just a few feet away from my parents at the Noel Cemetery.

I got a summer job at the Diplomat plant during a summer off from college.    At that time the plant was manufacturing six or seven complete 12 feet by 70 feet mobile homes a day.  It ran on the assembly line system developed by Henry Ford.  A bare trailer frame was pulled into one end of the plant, every worker had a specific job to do, and as the trailer came to their area, they got to work.  By the time it reached the far end of the building, the mobile home was complete.  Everyone stayed busy, and it was a happy crew.

I was assigned to work with two other men on sort of a “catch-all” crew.  When unexpected problems arose, it was our job to deal with them.  But most of the time we hung doors.  The doors (interior) were some of the last items to be installed in the homes, and as soon as they were pulled out to the lot, things would shift and we would often have to go out and readjust the doors.

A major learning from my time hanging doors was how to use a “yankee,” the forerunner of the electric screwdriver.  A nice "yankee" at that time was a pricey eight dollars, and the workers had to buy their own from the company store.   (Fortunately, I made it through the summer without having to sell my soul to the company store!)

But we had other chores in addition to hanging doors.

This weekend while I was in Noel, I had lunch and a long conversation with the son of the man who brought the mobile home industry to Noel – along with the son’s wife and their young adult son.    During our visit, the man mentioned the name of a woman in the community whom I haven’t seen in years.  He asked if I remembered her.

“Yes, “  I responded.  “She saved my life!”

Our little crew was working on something in the paint room that required a bit of welding.  I was probably in there just to hand things to the guy doing the welding.  The room was crusted in an accumulation dried paint and shellac.  It didn’t take long for a spark from the welder to set the dried paint and shellac to smoldering.    I don’t remember the specifics, but we couldn’t get the door to the main plant to open.  We were yelling for help, but the mobile home plant was a very noisy place, and no one was responding.  About the time I decided that we weren’t going to make it,  the woman we were discussing over lunch, an individual of some size and muscle, suddenly kicked the door in and we were free!

One of our next chores was to fix the paint room so that there would be no more fires.  As I remember it, removing the dried paint and shellac from the walls of the paint room was a difficult process, so someone up the food chain made a decision that we would paint over the walls with a special fireproof paint.  It may have been fireproof, but the paint was not foolproof.  I remember hanging onto the ladder from which I was painting – higher than a proverbial kite!    The fumes from that special paint had me completely discombobulated! 

Another favorite memory from that time involved a very out-going lady who always kept us laughing.  One day as she was laying carpet in the far bedroom of a mobile home, the lady began singing Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” quite loudly, and, of course, it caught on and everyone working on that particular trailer was soon singing along!

Sometime during that summer I picked up the extra duty of cleaning the restrooms at the end of the workday.     I had to pick up and dump the trash, clean the toilets, urinals, and sinks, and mop the floors.  My major learning from that experience was that the men were much neater in the restroom than the women were.  Men put trash where it belonged – and did their business, flushed, and got out.  The women dropped their trash on the floors, slung water everywhere, and weren’t overly concerned with flushing.    Of course, the ladies didn’t need to be too bothered by bathroom etiquette – they had a college man cleaning up after them!