Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy 3rd Birthday, Willow Files

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

My youngest grandchild, Willow Midnight Searphina Files, turned three-years-old today.  She lives way out in Oregon with her parents and two older brothers, so poor Pa Rock does not get to see her often.  That said, I have been to Oregon twice this year to see Willow and her family, and I hope to go again before too long.

Willow is a very quiet and sweet child.  My favorite personal story about her occurred during one of my visits this year.  Molly (my daughter) and her oldest son, Sebastian, went to a movie - leaving Scott (my son-in-law) and I to take Willow and Judah to the nice park by the river in Salem.  There is a beautiful carousel in one of the pavilions at the park - and it was the carousel's birthday - so we all went for a ride.  Later Willow and I were strolling around the park on our own when we spotted Scott and Judah walking toward us about twenty-five feet away.  Willow and Judah both took off running toward each other.    They met in the middle in a big hug!  It was definitely a Kodak moment!

(For those youngsters who have no idea what a Kodak is, ask your parents - or grandparents!)

Happy birthday, Willow!  Pa Rock loves you and thinks about you often!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cheap Gas in a Time of Touring

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

Today has been beautiful, a perfect fall day with the temperature reaching into the sixties and a pleasant breeze gently carrying fall leaves to the ground.  Valerie and I (and little Rosie) went on a drive-about which took us to some clear Ozark streams and two historic old mills:  Hodgson and Dawt. Rosie does really well on these little excursions. She likes to run along beside the streams and make us think that she is preparing to jump in.  I could give a rip, but it concerns Valerie.

Hodgson Mill is still operational, though it wasn't operating either time that I have been there.  I can remember Hodgson's Mill Flour on the grocery shelves in Noel when I was growing up.  Dawt Mill on the White River is now a tourist camp with a hotel, small cabins, and a couple of restaurants.  None of it was open today, but Valerie did talk a maintenance worker into opening the gift shop so we could look around.   (I bought a jar of Concord grape jam - you just can't beat Ozark Concord grapes!)

The other interesting thing that we did today was to tour the West Plains Civic Center.  A couple of very nice people showed us most of the facility and told us lots about upcoming events.  I was looking for an exercise facility and believe that theirs - which is manned by Missouri State University - will do nicely.  (A couple of weeks ago I had a snit fit and quit the cardiac rehab program at the hospital - and my blood sugar has been climbing ever since.  At the time I left, I was walking 3.15 miles three times a week.  Got to get back into it!)

(Why I quit cardiac rehab is a blog post in its own right.  Look for it here soon!)

We saw gas advertised several places today for less than two-and-a-half dollars a gallon.  I credit the President for the falling prices.  I don't really know if he had anything to do with it or not, but if gas were five dollars a gallon, the conservative bobble-heads would be going into full-steam-scream mode in blaming him!  So thanks, Big O.  The cheap gas is much appreciated!

Tomorrow we are talking about going to Branson - another beautiful drive.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Banned Book #2: "The Things They Carried"

by Pa Rock

This year I drew up a list of ten “banned” books that I intend to read before Banned Books Week rolls around again next October.   The first book that I was able to check off the list was Joseph Heller’s masterpiece, Catch-22, which looks at the business and horror of the Second World War from a farcical perspective.  I finished the second book yesterday.  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien examines the Vietnam War from a much more serious, personal, and darker point of view.

O’Brien’s book is a collection of stories from his time and experiences as a foot-soldier in Vietnam in the late 1960’s, and they are peopled with the those who suffered that hell alongside of him.  The tales are focused loosely on some of the things that soldiers carried with them during their long forays into the mountains, jungles, and swamps of Vietnam.    He talks of things like guns, ammunition, and other necessities such as food, medical supplies, and field radios.  But the author also focuses pictures of girlfriends, letters from home, Christmas cookies, a New Testament, and even one guy’s penchant for wearing his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck as a good-luck talisman.  The things they carried were integral parts of their stories.

Tim O’Brien was a fresh college graduate in the summer of 1968, home for a few months before heading off to Harvard where he had a full-ride scholarship for graduate school.  Things were looking good for the kid from a small Minnesota prairie town – right up until that fateful day in June when he got his draft notice.  Some of this book describes O’Brien’s personal struggles as he had to decide between disappointing himself and going off to the war in Asia – or disappointing family and friends by fleeing to Canada.  At one point he made it to within a short swim of the Canadian border before opting to return home and meet society’s expectations.

All of O’Brien’s tales have a focus on death, from the slow death of innocence to the sudden impact of a bullet to the head.     One of the more grotesque stories tells of the night his platoon camped in a low field near a river.  The locals told them it was a “bad” place, but the young lieutenant in charge of the platoon followed orders and set his platoon up there for the night.  And it rained that night, and rained and rained.  Soon the river overflowed and it suddenly became evident that the field had served for generations as the village's outdoor bathroom.  The young soldiers were quickly being covered with water, mud, and human excrement.  A sudden artillery onslaught capped off their horrible night.  One young soldier, an American Indian and devout Baptist (the one who carried a New Testament) was wounded in the incident, and several of his comrades watched in helpless horror as he slipped beneath the surface of the lake of shit and disappeared.

O’Brien also revisits (multiple times) his killing of a young Vietnamese man with a hand grenade..  He imagines the life the young man had endured, and the future that he was to be denied.  O’Brien’s version of the young Vietnamese soldier bore a stark resemblance to the author himself.  He also remembers in vivid detail receiving his own wounds and the shock that set in as the platoon's new medic couldn't summon the courage to crawl over through the gunfire and assist him.

Another story that I particularly liked was about a young man who figured out a way to bring his seventeen-year-old girlfriend over from the states.  The couple lived together in the field on what was to have been a conjugal visit of two or three weeks.  But the girl became consumed with the war, learning how to take care of weapons and interact with the locals.  She gradually moved in with an independent squad of Green Berets and began going on extended operations and ambushes with them – eventually disappearing into the countryside and the war.  The story is a very poignant retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – or Apocalypse Now for you non-readers.

The Things They Carried is an excellent war narrative, one that leaves the reader with a profound sense of what it actually felt like to have trudged through the damp and dangerous awfulness that was Vietnam during the war.  It tells lots of very hard truth, and for that reason some regard it as dangerous, a book they feel obligated to keep others from reading.

Tim O’Brien is one of the very best American writers., living or deceased – and he certainly proves his skills with The Things They Carried.    Instead of being banned, his works should be required reading – at least for those aspiring to learn the craft of writing.  O’Brien is a master writer, and this book is nothing less than a masterpiece.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ozark Springs and Things

by Pa Rock
Tour Leader

Thanksgiving Day is a big deal to the Macy family, but I must admit to missing our parade this morning.  Hope all went well in the Big Apple and Bullwinkle didn't decide to float off to Frostbite Falls and inadvertently reroute airline traffic all along the eastern seaboard!   Too much Upsidaisium will do that to you, buddy.

Valerie cooked a wonderful Thanksgiving meal today.  Now she and Rosie are busy playing it off.  (Poor Rosie had to settle for commercial dog food.  I told her that it was a shame she didn't like turkey - as I feasted on the succulent bird.  Rosie growled in response!)

Our week has been busy.  Monday I showed the town of West Plains to Valerie.  That night we went to see the new movie, Interstellar, which was good - though not as great as I had hoped.  The best part of the whole movie is when an evil character played by Matt Damon suddenly gets killed - whoops, I just gave away a minor plot point!  Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway were the primary stars.  This was the only McConaughey movie that I have ever seen where he manages to keep his shirt on throughout the entire film.

Tuesday we went to the old mill at Alley Spring near Eminence, Missouri.   We were the only two humans and a dog in the entire park for almost the time we were there.  The blue and green water and the big red mill were beautiful on that pristine fall day.  Wednesday (yesterday) it snowed, heavy for awhile, and Valerie enjoyed that.  She had not seen snow in years - not even during her recent tour in Germany from February through early November.   Rosie also enjoyed her first snowfall and had fun running in wide circles in the cold white stuff.  The snow melted in the afternoon, and the three of us hit the road to Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, for lunch and a quiet stroll through the park.  We saw the enormous spring and enjoyed a walk around the park where we observed domestic ducks and geese on the lake - and Rosie had a great time playing with the tourists.

There are a couple of other old springs and mills that I hope we can get to while Valerie is here, and I know that she would enjoy going to Branson and Eureka Springs.  But that won't be today - today we are stuffed!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ozark Snow!

by Pa Rock
Country Gent

Here it is, the day before Thanksgiving, and we just had our first snowfall.  It snowed hard for about two hours and the ground turned white, but there was not a lot of accumulation.  Valerie enjoyed it, saying that she has not been in snow in years - and it was little Rosie's first snow ever - and she had a blast!

Most snow in the Ozarks happens in January and February, with a snowfall this early being rare.  I remember two years in a row when I was in elementary school when we got our first snowfall each year on Thanksgiving Day.  That must have been around 1958 and 1959.

Could it be possible that Fox News is right and all of this early snow proves that global warming is a Commie-Kenyan hoax?  I mean, the odds would indicate that eventually Fox will be right about something - but probably not in my lifetime!

But, in the meantime, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson: Disappointment, but No Surprise

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Missouri grand jury investigating the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a Ferguson city policeman has concluded its business and chosen not to indict the police officer, Darren Wilson, in the death of Michael Brown.  As the news of the grand jury proceeding slowly leaks out into the cold light of day, it becomes apparent that stories changed with the frequency of a cat or an inebriated house guest playing with the remote control.  But regardless of what standards the grand jury employed in gathering and evaluating information, the reality is that it has finished its business and the shooter-cop will face no consequences - at least at the state level.

At one point in his testimony, Officer Wilson apparently described his victim as a "demon."  I would hate to think that there are police in my little community carrying firearms and military hardware who are fixated with "demons."  That particular terminology might have been helpful to Wilson's case if there were any fundamentalist Christians sitting on the grand jury - and in Missouri that is a likelihood.

But - it's over.  The decision was not a surprise, and indeed some news reports two days ago suggested that police in Ferguson and areas around St. Louis were warning gun shop owners to take measures to protect their merchandise because they had advance word that Officer Wilson was not going to be indicted.  The decision was not a surprise, but it was disappointing.  Police shootings of black children, and black teens, and even black adults has become the twentieth-first century version of lynchings.  The shootings are street justice with no appeal - and no consequences.

America should be a much better place than that.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Scarborough Fair"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Mike Nichols passed away this week at the age of eighty-three.  Nichols was the first film director whose work so amazed me that I paid to see one of his movies twice - and that was while I was a very poor college student.  The movie was "The Graduate" starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross - the story of a young man graduating from college who, while in the process of falling in love with the neighbor's daughter, is seduced by the girl's mother.  The movie pushed some envelopes in film that had never before been pushed, and the story was set to the backdrop of a complete original soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel.   Their "Mrs. Robinson" focused on, and was titled after,  Anne Bancroft's character, the seductress.

But my favorite song from the movie was a traditional English ballad that the duo performed, "Scarborough Fair," named for the town of Scarborough in Yorkshire, England.  Many earlier versions of the ballad exist, but the one recorded by Simon and Garfunkel for the movie has become the standard.

Rest in peace, Mike Nichols.  You, yourself, set many standards in your long and lofty career, and "The Graduate" was certainly one of them.  Thanks for picking my pocket twice at the Fox Theatre in Springfield, Missouri.  It was certainly money well spent!

"Scarborough Fair"
    as recorded by Simon and Garfunkel

Are you going to Scarborough Fair:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

On the side of a hill in the deep forest green.
Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown.
Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Without no seams nor needle work,
Then she'll be a true love of mine.

On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves.
Washes the grave with silvery tears.
A soldier cleans and polishes a gun.
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

Tell her to find me an acre of land:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Between the salt water and the sea strand,
Then she'll be a true love of mine.

War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions.
General order their soldiers to kill.
And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
And gather it all in a bunch of heather,
Then she'll be a true love of mine.    

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Valerie in the Ozarks!

by Pa Rock
Former World Traveler

I have been at the Springfield-Branson National Airport this evening picking up my close friend, Valerie Seitz, who will be spending two weeks with me at the farm.  Valerie flew in from Germany and when she leaves she will be heading to a new job on Okinawa.  She and I worked together at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.  She has been in Germany for most of the past year.

This is Valerie's first trip to the Ozarks.  I will make a good effort to show her as much of this beautiful region as possible.  Tomorrow we will begin by seeing West Plains, and then over the next few days move on to some old mills, Ozark streams, Branson, and probably Eureka Springs.

Rosie is having a wonderful time with our guest!

It is so nice to reconnect with old friends!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

It's a Wonder Arpaio Even Bothers to Wear Pants

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Undoubtedly one of the great disappointments in life for megalomaniac Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, is that he is not the head of law enforcement in one of the four Arizona counties that actually do border Mexico.  If he had a jurisdiction that abutted Mexico, the possibilities for stirring up things along an international border and soaking up the subsequent publicity would be almost endless.  Instead Old Joe has to jump about trying to see Nogales from his backyard - and convince people that when the subject is immigration, he really is relevant.

And on that topic, as well as many others, Old Joe's opinions are about as relevant as those of his good buddy, Steven Seagal.  When those guys speak, Fox News and geriatric America listen.

Arpaio, who lives for seeing himself on the evening news, hasn't made much national news lately, but that changed this week after President Obama's speech on immigration.  Before the ink was dry on the President's executive order, Arpaio held a press conference and then filed suit to protest Obama's trying to do anything to relieve the plight of undocumented immigrants in America.   While it is unclear what legal standing, if any, Sheriff Joe has in the matter, the important thing is that he is once again in the national news.

With Joe Arpaio's penchant for showing his class, it's a wonder he even bothers to wear pants!

Fear not, Arizona.   Jan Brewer may be leaving office, but America is still laughing at you. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bird Tales

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

It's turned cold again in the Ozarks.  Rosie and I are hunkered down in the house where I am typing in front of the living room picture window and watching some of the chickens peck at the birdseed that is scattered below the feeder.  The bird feeder is full, and so is the birdbath, though I doubt my feathered friends will do much in the way of bathing today.  Rosie is asleep at my feet, but she is so small that she can only manage to warm one foot at a time.  I need a bigger dog!

I did find a dead sparrow in the backyard earlier today.  It's little corpse was still warm and there were no signs of an attack by a predator.  I guess it was just the little bird's time to go.  There are several birds spending the winter in the big brush pile that I have created over the past year - and no telling what else lives there with them.   I picked up some sticks out of the yard earlier today, and when I tossed them on the brush pile, birds flew in every direction.

I have a fence row that needs cleaning, a process that will create the start of another good brush pile.  Next year I may raise a few baby quail.  My little place would be an ideal refuge for a covey for two.

The birds have also discovered the new chicken coop with an abundance of corn chops strewn about the concrete floor.  When I walk in there during the day, several always rise in flight to get away from me.

My other bird encounter today was at the Thanksgiving dinner at the Senior Center.  The cooks had prepared a lovely big turkey - and it was delicious!

Years ago when I was junior high and high school principal up the road in Mountain View, Missouri, I stepped into my assistant's office just as a junior high student (I'll call him "Josh") was leaving.  The kid looked mildly amused.  When I stepped on in to talk to the assistant principal - the building disciplinarian - he was doubled over in laughter.  One of our more sarcastic teachers had sent the boy to the office for something he had said.  Apparently the teacher had referred to Josh as a "turkey" for some response he had given in class.  Josh, not missing a beat, turned to the teacher after being called a turkey - and replied, "Eat me, Pilgrim!"  She didn't see the humor in it, but the assistant principal certainly did!

'Twas the season!

Rosie has begun to bite my feet.  It must be time for our walk!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Life in Christian America

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Here are three tales of contemporary life in America that would all make Jesus weep:

The first took place in rural Bullitt County, Kentucky, where the fire chief, Julius Hatfield, was responding to a vehicular accident between a white family and a black family.  Hatfield was caught on video from a deputy's body camera speaking informally to someone else.   The fire chief said, "Well, I've got a family of four from Cincinnati I got to do something with.  We ain't taking no n-----s here."  Then he laughed.

Good one, Chief!  Now, why don't you do the honorable thing and resign - and let someone from the twentieth century take your place?  A fellow with your sprawling intellect could probably get a job with Fox News.

The second is an on-going issue in Kansas City, Missouri, a place where things are generally up-to-date, but not always.  The City Union Mission gives shelter and sustenance to the area's homeless.  Unfortunately, the Christian organization is a bit choosy about which homeless people they let in.  They won't allow same-sex families to stay together, and transgendered people seeking shelter have to dress according to the sex they were assigned at birth.   The Mission says it all has to do with "Biblical standards."

Studies indicate that about thirty percent of homeless people are LBGT.  Fortunately for those living on the very cold streets of Kansas City, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities are more welcoming toward same-sex families.  The pious folks at City Union Mission will hopefully have some explaining to do come Judgement Day.

The third tale has received quite a bit of national attention, but it deserves another mention.

Three people, two ministers and a ninety-year-old man, were arrested for feeding the homeless of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on one of the public beaches.  Ft. Lauderdale has recently enacted what many are calling a "homeless hate law" that greatly restricts where the homeless can be fed.  The law also requires that those providing the food put up port-a-potties next to the feeding sites - an expensive proposition for already-struggling charities.

The ninety-year-old activist who has been feeding the homeless for over twenty years said that he had only gotten food to four people in his last outing when a police officer yelled, "Drop that plate immediately!"   He and his two minister friends were arrested and could face up to two months in jail and a $500 fine for their overt criminal behavior.

(It could have been worse, I suppose.  The cop could have "stood his ground" and shot the terrorist geriatric holding the plate. It happened in Florida, after all!)

If Jesus does come back folks, he will probably land his spacecraft someplace a little more tolerant and a little less "Christian," like Canada, for instance - or perhaps Mexico.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wildlife Beware!

by Pa Rock
Country Gent

We are in the middle of firearms deer hunting season here in Missouri, and the sound of sporadic but persistent gunfire pierces and splinters the rural tranquility morning and evening.  The hunters are dressed in their uniforms of camouflage jackets and blue jeans, have fortified themselves with discount beer or other intoxicants, and are roaming through the woods peeing on the trees to mark their territory and firing at anything that moves.  Testosterone abounds!

My neighbor has a gutted buck hanging by its heels from a tree in his front yard.  What a man!  What a great American!

This morning the flow of traffic on Porter Wagoner Boulevard was interrupted as a disoriented wild turkey hen was wandering back and forth over four lanes.   Some of the slowing and stopped cars were undoubtedly driven by soft-hearted individuals with genuine concerns for the welfare of the bird, but others, I fear, had individuals at the wheel who were itching to get off a shot or two at the potential Thanksgiving meal - in the middle of town.

Several days ago one of my neighbor's irksome and noisy beagles was run over out in the road in front of their house.  The poor thing stayed there, bloating, for most of the day before the neighbor - or the county - saw fit to remove it.  A day or two later a large possum was lying dead in nearly the same spot.  I took the situation by the tail and hauled the deceased creature to a remote spot on my property where his remains could nourish some of the other wildlife struggling to survive until spring.

I mourn the possum, the dog, the turkey hen, and the gutted deer.   Life is hard, and the two-legged fools with their cars and guns make it almost impossible to live in peace and exist with nature.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cash or Check, Please

by Pa Rock

Last year after I purchased my little Ozarks farm but was still living in Arizona, I received a bill from West Plains City Utilities that had been sent originally to the farm address and then forwarded by the Postal Service.    After the routing delays and God knows what else, I was now informed that I had two days to pay the bill or the utilities at my farm would be cut off - in mid-winter!  I immediately picked up the phone and called WPCU, hoping to quickly set the matter right.

But that plan was way too simple.

The nice lady who answered the phone back in West Plains informed me that they did not take credit card payments - and she seemed surprised that I would even ask.   And, yes, if payment was not received within forty-eight hours, they would send a warmly-wrapped employee out to shut off my power.  Happy holidays to you and yours!

My next move was to call my son and ask if he could help old dad out.  Nick paid the bill and I reimbursed him.  If I hadn't had a relative living in West Plains, I would have been up Stuff Creek.

(I have since learned from my pinochle group that there are quite a few people around town who resent not being able to pay their utility bills with plastic.  We may just have to organize!)

I was over that indignity until this week when I tried to pay my property taxes - again with a credit card, and again to no avail.  The McDonald County (Missouri) Collector told me that she would take a credit card, but would extract a three percent fee for doing so.  I own two properties in that county, and the penalty for using a perfectly legal credit card would have been exorbitant!  My next call was to the Howell (Howl) County Collector to pay the taxes on the farm.  He would not take a plastic payment under any circumstances.

I've spent a lifetime creating a good credit rating, a fact that obviously carries no weight with the local petty government functionaries.  Maybe they're all working toward the day when we pay our bills with gold that we buy off of the Fox News commercials!

Get with the 21st century, folks - or at least with the 20th.   Making the consumer's life easier might just make your lives easier also!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The First Snowfall"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

It snowed here yesterday afternoon - all afternoon, and while there was not much accumulation, the ground did turn white and the birds all flocked to the feeder as if it would be there last opportunity to snarf down the life-sustaining birdseed before winter overtook them.

The snow brings hardships, but it also ushers in a great deal of beauty.  My little farm looked like something straight out of Currier and Ives.

Today's poem, "The First Snowfall" by 19th century American poet James Russell Lowell, depicts a father discussing snow with his daughter while another daughter, one who has seemingly been dead for some time, lies buried in a little grave that is disappearing under the falling snow.   Even though the verse is a bit morose, Lowell offers a beautiful image of the accumulating snow.

The First Snowfall
by James Russell Lowell

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
   And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
   With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
   Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
   Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
   Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
   And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
   The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
   Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
   Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
   As did robins the babes in the wood.
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
   Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
   Who cares for us here below.
Again I looked at the snow-fall,
   And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
   When that mound was heaped so high.
I remembered the gradual patience
   That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
   The scar of our deep-plunged woe.
And again to the child I whispered,
   “The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
   Alone can make it fall!”
Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
   And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,

   Folded close under deepening snow.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Strange Case of the Two Sherlocks

by Pa Rock
TV Head

I don't watch a lot of television and when I do it is primarily PBS on the weekends.  But there are some shows scattered throughout the week that I try to follow.

Currently there are two programs about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, on television.  Both are set in the current time period.

Elementary is a 60-minute weekly program that airs on CBS and stars Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as his female sidekick and co-investigator, Jane Watson.  The show is set in modern day New York City.  Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, also makes regular appearances as a New York City restaurateur who has an occasional thing with Watson - a liaison that is very much resented by Sherlock.   The sexual tension focused around a female Watson serves to make the show and the detective a bit more interesting.  Elementary first aired in 2012 and has produced over fifty episodes.

The other version is Sherlock, a very smart British series that is set in modern London.  The series originally aired on PBS in 2010 and is now also playing on BBC America.  Each program is two-hours long, and far fewer episodes have been recorded than is the case with Elementary.  

Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the detective and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson, a war veteran who recently served in Afghanistan.    In the first episode a mutual friend introduces the two because each is in need of a roommate  - and a working partnership quickly ensues.   There is a lot of gay innuendo in the early episodes as other people assume Holmes and Watson are a couple.  The occasional remarks don't faze Sherlock, but Dr. Watson quickly gets ruffled and fires back angry lines like:  "Of course we will need two bedrooms!"  and  "No, this is not a date!"

There has been some recent litigation over whether the characters and stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are now in the public domain, with at least one US District Court ruling that they are.  But regardless of their legal standing, Holmes and Watson are two literary characters who have survived and thrived for more than a century - through books, stories, movies, and even television.   The growing body of work has taken the pair further than Conan Doyle could have ever imagined.

Elementary and Sherlock both maintain the complex art of detection that Conan Doyle invented, and each add to the cleverness and quirkiness of Sherlock Holmes.  Watson also seems to grow more complex and interesting with each retelling and expansion of their cases.

For those with a bent toward mysteries and detective fiction, both Elementary and Sherlock will not disappoint.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cold Weather Clobbers Rock's Roost

by Pa Rock

It has been so cold this week that my major focus has been on seeing that the poultry have water to drink - and the water freezes fairly damned fast!  But so far all of the feathered fowl seem to be making it just fine.  This morning I found nine eggs in the nesting boxes - not a bad effort on the part of eleven (or possibly twelve) hens.

I'm proud of you girls!

The adolescent peacocks have decided that they are really geese - and have begun honking!  They now have a completely sealed enclosure with a flood light for heat - in which they spend the evenings.  (Probably playing cards and smoking little cigars!)  During the day they step outside into a completely enclosed pen.  It is colder, but they prefer to be outside where they can see what is going on.   Yesterday Jake, my occasional farmhand, and I were out by the peacock pen making some modifications to the chicken coop.  Our work involved the occasional use of noisy electric saws - an activity which irritated some of the peacocks.  A few threw up their fans and honked in protest!

I have company coming.

Valerie, a good friend with whom I worked both in Arizona and on Okinawa, will be here a week from Sunday and stay for two weeks.   She will fly here from her old job in Germany, and when she leaves the Ozarks she will be flying out to her new job on Okinawa.  Valerie, like myself, is a social worker.  She works as a civilian for the military.  While we were both employed on Okinawa, we toured Taiwan together and made two trips to Guam.

For those who have never been to the U.S. Territory of Guam, I recommend it highly.  You can rent a car and circumvent the entire beautiful island in two hours.  There is lots of history and breathtaking  scenery on Guam, as well as American stores.

My other company will be Daniel, a psychologist with whom I worked on Okinawa.  He will be here for a couple of days in mid-December.  Daniel, too, will be home on leave while changing jobs.  He will be going from Okinawa, where he has worked for the past five or six years, to mainland Japan.  Daniel is also a civilian who works for the military.  He and I visited South Korea and Taiwan together, and we were in Vietnam from Christmas Eve 2011 until New Year's Day 2012.

Daniel visited me in Arizona in June of 2013 for a couple of days in which the temperature hit 118 degrees Fahrenheit each day that he was there.  Now I fear he is likely to experience the opposite temperature extreme!

I miss my travels and my friends!

Time to head back out into the cold where I will pull some winter weeds and insulate an outdoor faucet.    (I have already spent an hour walking the property line and picking up trash kindly left by passing motorists.)   A farmer's work is never done - and seldom convenient!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Holiday Radio and Capitalism Run Amok

by Pa Rock
Radio Dial Spinner

There is a radio station in Phoenix that plays continuous holiday music every year beginning on Thanksgiving Day and running through New Year's Day.  Last year I kept my car radio on that station the entire time and heard many great holiday songs - some of them a few too many times!  That's five weeks, give or take, and a decent amount of time to work at ginning up Christmas sales.

This past Tuesday while driving from West Plains to Kansas City, I came across a radio station that was already playing holiday tunes - more than two weeks prior to Thanksgiving.  That, I thought, might be pushing the season just a tad too much.

The station, KGBX - 105.9 out of Nixa, seemed to be the only one on the radio dial that had jumped the gun on the holiday season.  The station had a nice variety of songs, all of which were familiar and easy to sing along with.  My favorite, John Lennon's "So This Is Christmas" was actually the third song to play after I discovered the station.  Somehow though, I doubt that Lennon had early November in mind when he was composing the song.

True, Walmart and the other sellers of cheap Chinese Christmas crap have had their holiday wares out on display for weeks already, so I guess it is inevitable that some radio stations would begin scooting up their holiday programs as well.  But where will it all end?

Black Friday has, over the past several years, crept from Friday morning, to Friday daybreak, to midnight on Thursday - and now Thanksgiving Day itself.  Minimum wage employees who once could expect to enjoy the holiday at home with their families now have to report to work in large stores on Thanksgiving Day so that they can sell flat-screen televisions to morons who should also be home enjoying the holiday with their loved ones.

But this is America, and retail sales are far more important than giving thanks for our many blessings.

And every year it seems to get worse.

Enjoy the holidays - and spend, spend, spend for the glory God and country and our nation's billionaires!   And if you can do it while humming a few Christmas carols, so much the better!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

John Cleese in Kansas City

by Pa Rock
Comedy Fan

John Cleese, one of the funniest individuals working in the entertainment industry today, was in Kansas City last night at the historic Midland Theatre where he entertained an audience of several hundred with stories from his life.  Cleese was in Kansas City promoting his new biography, So, Anyway . . ., and an autographed copy came with the price of the ticket for each member of the audience.  The comedian, actor, and author said that ninety percent of autobiographies are penned by ghost writers, but he noted that he personally had written every word of his.

Cleese shared the stage with a lady from the sponsor of the event, Rainy Day Books of Kansas City, who interviewed him as the primary engine of his monologue on his life and times.

Several times during the performance as he was telling stories, the author would say, "Well, let me read that part from the book."  His recitations were funny, and they bordered on being hysterical when he started laughing at his own words - once to the point that he had to quit reading because he was laughing so hard.

The show in Kansas City was Cleese's third of the day, but in spite of that rigorous schedule, John Cleese seemed to really enjoy interacting with the Midwestern audience.  My son, Tim, and I were sitting in the front row of the balcony, which gave us an unobstructed view of the stage as well as much of the audience on the ground floor.  At one point a lady in the second or third row got up and clumsily made her way to the aisle, presumably to go to the bathroom.  Cleese stopped his monologue and slowly turned his head to watch the lady exit.  As she walked up the aisle toward the doors, he quipped, "That's alright.  I've been watching her.  She was bored anyway."

But I doubt that she was.  I certainly wasn't.

John Cleese is sixty-nine-years-old.  He commented at some length about his multiple ex-wives, but said that he has now found the right one - the "girl" of his dreams.  They have three cats, at least two of whom are Maine Coons - and he said that one thing he would wish for is that the cats could talk.  He would enjoy hearing what his cats thought about things.

The comedian talked about his family history, noting that he was the only child of older parents.  His father was forty-six and his mother forty when John was born.  I had heard him a few weeks ago talking about his mother when he was a guest on the Graham Norton Show.  The lady died just a few years ago over the age of one hundred.  She apparently had quite a sense of humor - perhaps out of necessity.

His family name, according to the comedian, was "Cheese" when his father was born.  The dad changed it to "Cleese" when he enlisted for World War I, but apparently his comrades in arms converted it back to "Cheese" and made fun of him anyway.  Cleese said that if it had been up to him, he would have kept the name "Cheese," and would have liked to have been given the first name of "Jack."

The world might be a bit more fanciful and entertaining if we all selected our own names.

Cleese, a founding member of the British comedy troupe, Monty Python's Flying Circus,  discussed that long-running series as well as some of the movies that cast members appeared in.  Religion was one of the themes that he touched on during the evening performance, noting that most religions, as they were founded, were good things - beneficial to mankind, but as they grew and aged the religions eventually became corrupted by their leaders.  He said that the Python film, Life of Brian, was written to point out how religions become misinterpreted over time.

He also talked about A Fish Called Wanda, one of my favorite all-time movies.  He was apparently instrumental in getting Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis involved in that film masterpiece.

My favorite John Cleese movie, 1971's The Statue, was never mentioned.

One other thing that John Cleese railed about, both in a film clip before the show and in his actual talk at the theatre, was football.  He went on about how European football (soccer) really does involve using a ball and one's feet - whereas American football does not use a round ball - but something else entirely, and that the game involves very limited use of the feet.   As we were leaving the theatre, two young men in front of us were talking about that, and one explained to the other that the American game is called football because the pigskin object used in the game, called a football, is exactly one foot in length.

That was news to Tim and me.

The show lasted about an hour-and-a-half, and then we all spilled out onto the cold and torn-up streets of downtown Kansas City - with smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts.  It had been a great evening - and I am anxious to read the book!