Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another Shooting Tragedy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is a column that runs in Daily Kos ( on a weekly basis which recounts the week's accidental shootings that result in injury or death.   Sadly, there are plenty - guns going off when they are dropped, when Bubba stuffs one down his pants to look cool, and when unsupervised children come across unsupervised guns.

This week there was an accidental shooting by a toddler at the Walmart in the small Idaho panhandle town of Hayden.  A busy mother was out spending her Christmas gift cards when she was accidentally shot to death by her two-year-old when he reached into mama's purse and discharged her small-caliber handgun.  Three other minor children were with the woman as she lay dying on the floor of the Walmart.

There is so much that is "wrong" with that sad tale, that one hardly knows where to begin.   Yes, she had an out-of-state permit to be carrying the weapon, and yes, Walmart does apparently allow concealed carry in its stores.  But why would anyone ever do that - especially someone dragging along four little kids?  Don't we all know how distracting those little tykes can be?  And don't we all know how distracting a Walmart can be.

An in-law of the victim felt compelled to quickly come before the press and talk about how "responsible" the victim normally was - and I don't doubt that he was right.  But with every state in the Union now allowing some form of "concealed carry," and with the United States being the most heavily armed (per person) country on earth, one has to wonder if perhaps it is society which is the irresponsible party:  a paranoid citizenry who fear crime - and their government, spineless legislators who quiver and quake before the National Rifle Association and rush to pass every idiotic suggestion uttered by people like Wayne LaPierre or Ted Nugent, and store owners who fear their businesses will suffer if they use commonsense and prohibit the carrying of guns in their establishments.

It's all nuts.

My condolences to the family in Idaho.  What an unspeakable tragedy they have endured.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wild in the Streets: A Drive-In Classic

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan

I know what a "drive-in" movie is, though I can't expressly define it - perhaps because drive-ins are basically a thing of the past and have been essentially lost as a reference point in what passes for modern culture.  Back in the day major movies, those with big stars an broad appeal, generally ran  in movie houses first and then they may or may not have made it onto the drive-in circuit.  Cheaper flicks and those with narrower appeal might have had their debut on the drive-in screens.  Some movies went straight to the drive-ins in much the same way as some movies go straight to DVD today.    Surprisingly, many of those that went straight to the drive-ins were edgier or more fun than the fare running in regular, sit-down movie theaters.

I had a friend in college in the 1960's by the name of Larry.  He was just around for a semester or two, and all that I remember about him was that he was from the town I was born in - Neosho, MO.   Larry was a popular guy, in large part because h had a car.  He also enjoyed films which were outside of the mainstream.  One of those movies was 1968's Wild in the Streets, a cinematic nod to flower power and the youth movement of the 1960's.   I was a member of Larry's entourage on two or three occasions when he loaded his car with misfit wannabes and headed to the drive-in to see that special movie.

Twenty years or so later I happened to come across Wild in the Streets in a video store.   (Remember video stores?)  I watched it then and was surprised by how well I remembered the movie and how well it had held up over the years.  Now, another twenty or more years have passed, and I came across another copy of the "far out" film, this time from  I watched it last Saturday night and was transported back to another time - one that I wish my children could have witnessed.   (My kids remember Reagan, barely.  When I was in college - and at the time Wild in the Streets was released - the cultural backdrop was the Vietnam War and chants like, "Hey, hey LBJ:  How many kids die you kill today?" drifted like fine smoke across America's college campuses.

Wild in the Streets had a central focus on young people demonstrating to lower the voting age - ostensibly to eighteen (something that would actually happen just a few years later during the Nixon administration).  A Kennedy-esque politician running for the U.S. Senate (a very young Hal Holbrook), got a wealthy young pop star (Christopher Jones) to sing at his rallies and promote the idea of lowering the voting age.  Unfortunately for the politician, the pop star, when he was on-stage in front of the cameras, pushed to lower the voting age even further - to fourteen - and created an anthem for his movement called "Fourteen or Fight."

And from there on it just got silly.  The voting age was lowered, and when Congress wouldn't go along with a proposed amendment to the Constitution to lower the age of eligibility for election to the House, Senate, and Presidency to fourteen, the singer, Max Frost, and his "troops" managed to dump large quantities of LSD into Washington, D.C.'s water supply - and thus created a more compliant, and much groovier, Congress.

(Would John Boehner get more done if he were on acid?  Something to ponder . . . :)

One hit song, The Shape of Things to Come, by Max Frost and the Troopers, originated within the soundtrack of this movie.

Other stars of note in this fun fringe film included Shelly Winters who did a superb job of playing Max's crazy mother, Ed Begley (senior, not "junior") as a Senator who is ultimately retired to an LSD camp for people over thirty, and an awfully young Richard Pryor in what was only his second role in a movie.  Pryor played the saxophonist, Stanley X, in Max Frost's band.

Wild in the Streets is a terrific drive-in movie, and it ain't a bad selection for Couch Potato Playhouse either!

Fourteen or fight, troops.   Fourteen or fight!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Ring Out, Wild Bells"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

The year 2014 will come to a close later this week, though some would argue that it actually ended last week with the advent of the winter solstice.  The earth has once again circled the sun, a journey which it has completed at least six or seven billion times before - despite what America's tea-baggers or the Texas Board of Education might blather to the contrary.

For those of us living north of the equator, the year ends in winter - to varying degrees - depending just how far north of the equator we happen to reside.  West Plains, Missouri, being just north of 36 degrees above the equator does not suffer too much brutal winter, but it feels damned cold for someone who has been used to wintering in Phoenix!

But be that as it may, the trip around the sun that much of mankind arbitrarily referred to as 2014 is almost at an end.  The days are already getting longer, though sadly not warmer.  The end of one year and the beginning of another represents a time of renewal, and it has historically been met with joyous celebration.

This week a ball will drop in Times Square in New York City.  Horns will blare, champagne corks will pop, and fireworks will light the night sky.   People will hug, and kiss, and party in a much anticipated frenzy of excess - and the liquor will flow.

New Year's is always a grand excuse to party!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the following poem, "Ring Out, Wild Bells,"  in 1850, the same year in which he became the Poet Laureate of England.  It resonates with the peal of church bells, an historically common way of ringing in the New Year.   I like the cadence of this poem, the way it sing-songs between "ringing out" the ills of society, and "ringing in" things that would uplift us.   The last two lines made me think of the overt honesty and courageous good works of Pope Francis.

If you spend your New Year's Eve in quiet solitude, as a few of us do, listen for Tennyson's church bells.  They are still ringing across the land and around the earth - as it spins ever onward.

Ring Out, Wild Bells
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Farming in Winter

by Pa Rock
Rural Kibitzer

There is always plenty to do on a farm, but less of it seems to get done in the winter than in any other season.   Farmers, at least the ones I know, tend to spend most of their time in coffee shops complaining about the weather, the price of feed, and politics.  Because I am new to the community and haven't earned my seat at the gossip table in the local coffee shop yet, I spend my down time at the computer, reading, or watching the idiot box.

My satellite provider, Direct TV, is overpriced and offers squat in its basic package.  I will be dropping its service when my contract matures in March - and sooner if they piss me off.  When that happens, I will get routed to one of their high pressure hoses sales people who will offer me all kinds of "customer loyalty" specials to renew my relationship with the greedy corporation - but I won't buy into their specials.  (If Direct TV gave a damn about keeping me, they would be coughing up those specials now - in the dead of winter - when programming is the pits.

My new goal will be to get a decent internet provider with unlimited service and start using that medium to get movies and television programs.  I have, over the past couple of years, also established a good collection of DVDs that will see me through the rough patches.  (My collection includes everything from The Muppet Shows and the complete Rocky and Bullwinkle to every episode of Northern Exposure and Deadwood.   Direct TV can go suck an onion - because I will survive without their "service."

I am weaning myself off of television by trying to watch something on DVD every evening.  (And besides, there is only so much NCIS and Criminal Minds that a body can stand!)  My current project is the first two seasons of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.   They are only producing three episodes a year, but those shows are some of the smartest and best to ever come across the public airwaves.  When I finish with Sherlock, there is a stack of old black and white Charlie Chan movies on deck.

It is early afternoon here in the Ozarks and Pa Rock is headed outside to feed and water his chickens and peacocks.  While he works he will also complain to himself about the weather (cold and cloudy - for days now!), the price of feed, the right-wing nut jobs who think they speak for America, and the crappy offerings of satellite and cable television providers.

Farming is complicated, but somebody has to do it!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rosie Chases the Land Speed Record

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

Winter can be hard on everyone, and particularly so for our animal friends who have very little way of controlling their environments.  If it's cold, it's cold - unless some compassionate human steps in to do something about it.

The peacocks here at Rock's Roost have it better than the chickens.  The peacocks have both an enclosed building as well as an enclosed open-air pen, which they are able to roam between at will.  I have put in a heat lamp in their building which remains on twenty-four hours a day - everyday - and offers respite from the dark nights and occasional bouts of bitter cold.  The chickens are shut up at night in an old garage which protects them from the winter winds (and predators), but their building is not heated - so they have learned through necessity to snuggle.

Rosie is the undisputed Queen of the farm.  She gets to live in the house, a privilege which she abuses dozens of times a day.  Rosie does charge outside whenever the door is open, primarily to chase the chickens and to see what they are eating.  My little dog has developed a fondness for hen scratch and tries to get her share before the hens hog it all.

Rosie shivers while outside, like a normal Chihuahua, but does not like wearing little doggie clothes.  On days when it is cold, like today, we try to spend much of our day indoors - but Rosie still has enormous amounts of energy that need to be burned off.  Recently she has established a race track around the living room sofa and coffee table.  She will speed by doing six or eight laps in one direction, and then change it up and run six or eight laps in the other direction.  When that gets old, she jumps onto the couch and races from end to end, across my lap, until she tires of that activity.

Then the Queen sleeps, often punctuating her slumber with little yips, as she endlessly chases chickens across her personal field of dreams, a place that is sunny and warm - and knee-deep in hen scratch!

Dream on, Your Highness.    Enjoy your day!

Friday, December 26, 2014

"The Interview" Opens in West Plains on Christmas Day

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan

Sony Pictures made news several times during the past few days as it succumbed to cyber threats and pulled its new movie, "The Interview," just days before its intended release on Christmas Day - and then changing its corporate mind in response to a bit of public outrage and some domestic political posturing - and ultimately offering the film for viewing in theaters.  Apparently the national theatre chains still declined to show it due to the threats against their facilities and customers, but some of the independent theatres accepted the challenge and told those commie North Koreans to bring it on!

So "The Interview" did open on Christmas Day - but instead of thousands of screens, it was only seen on a few hundred screens.  Unbelievably, one of those was a local movie house here in West Plains, Missouri!

I decided early on Christmas Day to take in an afternoon movie.  When I checked the internet to see what was playing locally, I saw the advertisement for "The Interview."  Knowing chances were an absolute zero that our tiny six-plex would score such a talked-about movie, I figured that the ad must have run before Sony pulled the plug on showing the film, and that the ad was obviously out of date.  Then, while I was in town for my morning iced tea, I saw a copy of our local newspaper, The Daily Quill, and noted a front page story declaring that "The Interview" was indeed opening in West Plains that very afternoon.

And so, off to the show I go.

An older gentleman tore my ticket as I prepared to enter the theatre, and he gave me a mini-souvenir movie poster to commemorate the event.  As I accepted the poster, he said proudly, "They ain't gonna push us around!"  It was a very red, white, and blue moment as a little local theatre shook its fist at North Korea - and made a tidy profit in the process.

There were about forty people at the afternoon showing - not bad for these parts.  I expected to see a good many tattooed and overweight white men belching their anger about Kenyan and Korean commies, but instead the crowd was mostly young people who would have probably come to see the Seth Rogen - James Franco comedy whether it had been mired in controversy or not.  Indeed, some of the young people in attendance may have not been aware of the international politics swirling around the film's release.

"The Interview" is about an American entertainment television journalist (Franco) and his producer (Rogen) who score an invitation to go to North Korea to interview its leader, Kim Jung-un.  The CIA elbows it way in on the invitation with a request that the pair help our government kill the North Korean leader.   The pair inexplicably agrees to the CIA request, but it true Franco-Rogen style, they manage to screw up the assassination six ways from Sunday.

It is a very funny film, but one that is unlikely to tickle the funny bone of conservative audiences.  Those who rush to see it in theaters just as a way of sticking their thumb in North Korea's eye, may be too embarrassed to sit through the whole thing.  The films contains druggie humor, a constant stream of bad language, and a thick overlay of gay innuendo.   The Fox News crew probably would not enjoy it - no matter how much they hate North Korea, and by the second time James Franco kisses a man in this movie, Ted Nugent would be reaching for his howitzer.

As in other Franco-Rogen films, there are some very funny cameos in this movie including Eminem coming out as being gay, Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing with a bunch of puppies, and Rob Lowe revealing and discussing his baldness.

It's easy to see why the government of North Korea is not happy with "The Interview."  The film portrays their Supreme Leader, King Jong-un as a temperamental and weepy young man who has daddy issues, likes to drink margaritas with little umbrellas, and is a closeted fan of Katy Perry.  Sadly for the North Koreans, though, they have a very limited understanding of unfettered capitalism.    Their rage and bluster toward this movie is going to wind up making money for a lot of people -  and people who normally would not have given a rip about seeing it are now lined up and waiting to enter the theaters.

American audiences won't let those danged commies tell them what we can and cannot see!  We'll throw our money away however we damned well please!  They ain't gonna push us around!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Aunt Mary's Christmas Poem

by Pa Rock
Proud Nephew

I have mentioned my sweet Aunt Mary in this space on several occasions - including yesterday!  Mary Olive Day (Macy) King was married to my father's older brother, Wayne Hearcel Macy, until his death from leukemia in 1956.  Wayne's death left Aunt Mary to raise my two cousins, Linda and Janet, on her own - and she did a wonderful job with both girls!

Aunt Mary will be ninety-years-young this summer.  She was born in Kansas City, Missouri, attended high school in Neosho, Missouri, and has lived in San Diego, California, since before World War II.  In addition to having been a homemaker, she has worked as a model and writes fine poetry.   The following was included in this year's annual Christmas letter from my aunt, and she has given me special permission to include it in this blog.

One Precious Gift
by Mary Day King

Just one gift each the wise me brought
For that dear little child they'd so painfully sought.
Each gift held their reverence and love,
For this was the Son of the Father above.

It's not the number of gifts we receive
That causes our hearts and souls to believe.
But the light of His star that shows the way,
We should celebrate our Lord on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Twas the Day Before Christmas

by Pa Rock
Man with a Dog

Christmas Eve, 2014 - my first here at my little farm in West Plains.  It's just Rosie and me taking a break from tending to the chickens and peacocks, and sitting inside where it is warm and quiet.  My little dog seems to understand that this is a good time to just curl up and relax and not be a nuisance.

Rosie has a new game that she plays outside.   Well, actually I think she gets played.  She has graduated from chasing chickens to chasing squirrels, and though she is lightening fast, she is still no match for the squirrels.  There is one particular large gray squirrel who especially enjoys the chase.  He runs past several tall trees without heading up the trunks and into the safety of the limbs.  His objective seems to be to run poor Rosie until she is ready to drop.  They both act as though they love their daily run.

A hungry hawk circled over the farm yesterday afternoon, and the roosters promptly ushered their concubines into the safety of a large bush.  It's amazing what animals know simply by instinct.

Sadly, pinochle at the senior center has been cancelled tonight and next Wednesday evening due to the holidays.  The good news is that one of my kids supplied me with a few new movies which will make a nice replacement for the weekly card games.

I spoke with Aunt Mary in San Diego yesterday, and during that telephone call she reminisced about how she and my Uncle Wayne used to play pinochle with his uncle and aunt, Bob and Gladys Nutt of El Monte, California.   Mary said that those games were fun and that Uncle  Bob had an uncanny knack for figuring out what cards were in each player's hands.  (I wonder if they were playing with his deck!)

It's not actually the pinochle itself that's fun, it's the socialization.  You can really get to know people by the things they say and do around a card table.

The morning break is over and Rosie and I are heading back outside.   I am going to gather sticks to throw onto one of my three brush piles, and Rosie will undoubtedly find something to chase.  A farmer and his dog are never still for long!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Arne and the Christmas Star

by Pa Rock

Occasionally I make my way into a flea market or junk shop, and when I do one of the things I seek out is old books.  My particular interest is boy's adventure stories from the 1920's and 1930's.  A couple of weeks ago while my friend Valerie was still in the States, she and I spent most of a day in Branson.  After driving the famous strip, which was fairly deserted, we headed into the old town. While there I found a flea market that had just the right amount of clutter and bargains.

It was in that flea market where I came across a book for older children that was published in 1952 and had been on the shelves of the Mesa County, Colorado, Public Library from 1953 through 1973.   And while Arne and the Christmas Star by Alta Halverson Seymour is a very good book, with a smart story and quite a bit of information on Norwegian culture and traditions, it did not seem to have circulated well at the library in Colorado.  The book was checked out only twenty-nine times in twenty years.

This book, subtitled A Story of Norway, focuses on a young boy, Arne, who appears to be about twelve.  He is growing up in a fishing village on a fiord in Norway in the years just after World War II.  All of Arne's adult female relatives are homemakers who putter about cleaning house and baking delicious Scandinavian treats, and the girls, when they are out of school in the summers, go up into the mountains and live in cabins on small farms (called "saeters") where they tend to the animals that summer in the mountains to feast on the tall grass.  The girls also practice traditional crafts while they are in the mountains - like making cheese from the milk of the goats that they are tending.

The men hold traditional jobs.  Arne's father runs a plant that processes and ships fish, and his older brother, Gustav, is first mate on a ship that carries mail up and down the coast during the summers, and he works on another ship in the fall and winter that travels to South America to deliver and pick-up merchandise.  Gustav's winter ship is known as the "Christmas Star" because it brings all of the gifts which people have ordered to port just before Christmas.

Young Arne relishes his life between the mountains and the sea, and he always has much to do.  During the winter of this tale, however, h is thrown into a dangerous situation.  He is lost in the mountains at night for awhile, but manages to reach safety thanks in large measure to understanding the night sky and being able to follow the celestial Christmas Star.  Then he is instrumental in lighting a signal fire to keep his brother's distressed ship, the Christmas Star, from crashing on the rocks along the coast.

And Christmas is saved - along with Gustav and the rest of the ship's crew.

Those with Norwegian or Viking heritage might find Arne and the Christmas Star fun to share with family over the holidays.  It provides a nice glimpse into Christmas in a foreign land.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Shortest Day"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Yesterday marked the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day in the northern hemisphere (and the longest day in the southern hemisphere).  This morning, several hours ago in England, a large group of pagans, druids, and tourists snapping pictures gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the rebirth of the sun - the morning when the amount of daily sunlight begins increasing.  This event has been celebrated by peoples in different parts of the world well back into ancient times when monuments - like Stonehenge - were erected to show the people exactly when their new year was beginning.

It is a time that has been noted and celebrated long before the birth of the Christ.  Modern religious scholars and others believe, in fact, that there is no basis for Christ's birthday being celebrated on December 25th - for a couple of reasons.  First, it is doubtful that any shepherds were tending their flocks in the fields in December, and second, taxes were normally not collected in the winter because of the poor conditions of the roads and the rigors of traveling in the cold.  Most believe that the birth of Jesus probably occurred in the spring or in the fall.

The early Christians and Romans settled on a December birthday about four centuries after the holy event in an effort to bring the pagans, who already had celebrations going in December, more easily into the fold of Christianity.

Susan Cooper is a renowned British author and poet.  One of her minor claims to fame is that her first job was working for Ian Fleming, the novelist who created James Bond.  Ms. Cooper penned the following poem, The Shortest Day, as an ode to the Winter Solstice.  It's a beautiful work, one that captures the history and essence of this unique celebration of nature.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

“So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
…They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Three Favorite Holiday Movies

Pa Rock
Movie Fan

Yes, yes, they are all over the television channels now - even the cheap channels that I receive - those tales of reindeer, and snowmen, and Santas, and elves, religious epics, and the standard tear-jerkers like Miracle on 34th Street (yeah, Macy's!) and It's a Wonderful Life - and  Clark W. Griswold is still out there stringing lights and creating an eyesore that can be seen from space.  It's Christmas-time and the holiday movies are as thick and deep as the snow in North Pole, Alaska.

While I am jaded enough to not particularly enjoy these seasonal film regurgitations, there are three which I watch whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Each, in its own way, delivers a message of hope and happiness and Christmas cheer.

My third favorite holiday movie is Home Alone, the 1990 classic in which an eight-year-old Macaulay Culkin accidentally gets left at home in Chicago as his parents and other family members rush to catch a plane to France for the holidays.  The accidentally-abandoned boy  makes his own Christmas, terrorizes a pair of burglars, and helps and old man reunite with his estranged family.  My son, Tim, who was around eleven at the time, asked me to take him to see this movie, and we both had a great time laughing and snarfing down popcorn.

My second favorite holiday movie is 2004's quasi-animated Polar Express starring Tom Hanks in what I consider to be one of his best roles.  The story of a special train taking children on a nighttime journey to the North Pole is from a beautiful children's book by Chris Van Allsburg.   I babysat for my grandson, Sebastian, when he was just a few months old and we watched that movie.  Several years later when I was visiting Sebastian and his family in Oregon, the kids had their regular Saturday movie night.  The movie they watched was Polar Express - and their mother, my daughter - Molly - told me that was the movie they wanted to see every week.

(When my children were young the movie they got "stuck" on was Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

And my all-time favorite holiday movie is . . . (drum roll, please!) . . . The Ref, an enormously funny 1994 tale of a professional house burglar (Denis Leary) who is forced to take a couple of hostages as he flees the police.  Unfortunately for the burglar, he kidnaps the couple from hell (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey).  This movie, like Danny Devito's and Bette Midler's Ruthless People, is one more take on O. Henry's classic, The Ransom of Red Chief, the tale of kidnappers who snatch a kid and instead of collecting a ransom from the kid's grandfather, wind up having to pay the old man to take the ornery child back.  The Ref is hysterical - and I never tire of it!

So those are my big three.   Unbelievably I haven't come across any of them playing this holiday season, but I remain ever hopeful.  Until then I guess I am stuck with angels trying to earn their wings, a red-nosed reindeer, and annoying little elves.   Ho, ho, ho!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Roadkill at the Roost

by Pa Rock
Struggling Farmer

I get up each morning a little before daybreak to take Rosie outside to do her business and to let the chickens out of their nighttime confinement.  After those pre-dawn chores are finished, I will sometimes go back to bed for awhile - depending on how I feel and what else needs to be accomplished on that particular day.

This morning I went back to bed.

However, before I could slip back into slumber, I heard a truck pulling into my driveway and then someone tapping at my front door.  Company is such a rarity at my place, that I quickly threw on some clothes and rushed to the door.  A young man was standing there, hat in hand - literally.  He asked if I had some brown chickens, and when I told him that I did, he pointed down the road and said that he had just run over one.  He said that they were in the road as he came upon them, and he was able to avoid all but one.  The fellow apologized for killing my little red hen, and he even offered to pay for her.  I declined, saying that anyone who lets his chickens walk around unsupervised has to expect things to happen.

(My new roosters are from across the road - right where the accident happened - so I figure they led the girls astray while looking to see what was happening at their former home.)

People drive too fast on these old country lanes.  I am hopeful that the guy who hit my chicken will be just a bit more cautious in the future.  The next thing that he, or any of us, encounters in the road might just be a child - or some old fart looking for his chickens!

I guess not every chicken is able to cross the road!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Kim Does Sony

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A couple of days ago when I first heard that Sony Pictures had decided not to release their new film, The Interview, on Christmas Day - as planned - due to a cyber attack and threats believed to be from North Korea, I thought:  "Wow!  When Sony finally does release this James Franco - Seth Rogen comedy, it will make a fortune!  Everyone is going to rush to see it!  What a lucky break for Sony!"

Just hearing the initial headlines, my assumption was that Sony was taking advantage of the situation by delaying the release and stirring publicity, and would be sitting on a gold mine.  It now looks like that wasn't the case at all.

Hackers, presumably the North Koreans, published private information on-line about thousands of Sony employees - names, social security numbers, email and home addresses, and texts of emails - which undoubtedly scared the bejeezus out of the people at Sony.  The hackers also spread the word to theatre chains that some of their theaters would be blown up if they showed The Interview, a satirical comedy that poked fun at North Korean President Kim Jong-un.  Those big theatre chains then told Sony that they would not show the movie, and Sony had little choicer but to cancel its planned release.  The bullies had won based solely on a threat.

Conjecture is that the lawyers for the theatre chains told their clients that if they showed the movie after having received the threats, they would be liable in the event of a bombing.

Actor George Clooney and his agent circulated a petition of support for Sony Pictures around Hollywood that could not get any traction, or signatures, because no one wanted to put themselves in North Korea's gunsights.

So North Korea hacked a Japanese company and delayed (or, more likely, stopped) the release of an American movie.  That whole scenario would itself make a fine movie - but one that is unlikely to get made any time soon.  That's very scary and very sad.   If a little terrorist state can bring Sony Pictures to its knees, attacks on other world commercial enterprises are sure to follow.

This week it was a movie company.  What will it be tomorrow:  a major banking chain, a national retailer, a university system, a sports team, a public utility?  The internet has become a necessary and vital part of our communication's infrastructure - one that must be secured and protected, not by telecom companies or other corporate overlords whose focus is on profit - but by our government itself.  It's that important!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Cold War Is Over!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Unite States placed an embargo on Cuba in the early 1960's, shortly after the island's revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, declared his regime to be socialist in nature and began nationalizing the mainstays of the country's economy.   President Kennedy let the CIA and a couple of power-addled generals convince him to launch an attack on Cuba in 1962 which failed miserably, and ever since that time most of the communications between the two countries (which are only ninety miles apart) has been hostile in nature.

Many wealthy Cubans fled the island during the early years of Castro's leadership, unwilling to share their wealth and privilege with the masses.  Most came to the United States.  Today several generations of these Cuban-Americans live in the U.S., primarily in Florida, where they have accumulated considerable political power.

But time changes things, and five decades can change quite a bit.  Older Cuban-Americans, those past the age of seventy, are still opposed to "normalizing" relations with Cuba, many, no doubt, harboring hopes of one day reclaiming their homeland and their lost property.  But those over the age of seventy (the Fox News cohort) represent the only age demographic which still opposes normalization - young Cuban Americans do not.

So this week, with a wonderful assist from Pope Francis, President Obama and Raul Castro swapped a few prisoners and announced that things are changing.  It isn't clear what "normalization" will mean, but I for one am hopeful that Americans will finally be permitted to make direct visits to the island nation without having to sneak in through Montreal or Toronto or Mexico City.  (Cuba has always been part of my bucket list.)

The two governments have been meeting secretly for some time in order to pull off this accord.  Predictably, some Republican politicians, those dependent on the votes of elderly Cuban-Americans, are opposed to any form of reconciliation - but all of their bluster and rage will not hold back the inevitable.

President Obama is to be commended for his successful efforts at finally bringing this last vestige of the Cold War to a close.  He is slowly, but very courageously, leading us into a better future - one that makes sense and provides hope of lasting peace.

And Pope Francis is simply amazing!  Thank you, Your Holiness, for making religion a relevant and positive force in the course of history.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Birthday to Molly Files, a Very Busy Lady

by Pa Rock
Proud Parent

My middle child (and only daughter), Molly Macy Files, was born thirty-eight years ago today at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, MIssouri.  There were thirty-some babies born at Freeman that day, and when my parents showed up to see her for the first time that evening, the nursing staff had Molly on the front row.  She had been born with little red ringlets of hair.   As my mother looked over the sea of babies in the nursery window, she pointed at Molly and said, "That's our baby!"  She said she knew by the red hair.

I'm sure that life had its challenges for Molly, being sandwiched between two brothers and having her father as principal of a couple of different schools that she attended, but she seems to have survived all of that and is doing well.  She now has a husband, Scott Files, and three beautiful children.  They live in Oregon which means that I don't get to see Molly and Scott and my grandkids as often as I would like.

From what I can tell, Molly and Scott are the textbook examples of involved parents.  Sebastian is seven now and in first grade.  I understand that he has a karate lesson this evening after school and Molly will be with him for that.  Judah is five and in pre-school.  Molly will be volunteering in his classroom all day today.  Little Willow has just turned three and has yet to start school.  I am certain that she will not be far from her mother at any time today.  In addition to all of that activity, my daughter also has a couple of appointments to shuffle into her day.

(That's why young people have children - and not us old foggies.  We could never handle the pace!)

Happy birthday, Molly.  I am very proud of you and all that you do to keep your family functioning so well and staying so happy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

NRA Gets Shot Down for Christmas

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's rare that the National Rifle Association loses a political battle, but thanks to an inadvertent assist from Texas whack-job Senator Ted Cruz, the NRA got its ass kicked by Congress over the weekend - and kicked good!

The NRA, a shill for America's gun manufacturers, uses its money and influence to terrorize politicians at every level of government.  The organization is unrelenting in its opposition to all legislation which  seeks to put any limitations at all on America's gun craziness.

Last January President Obama irked the NRA bullies by nominating Dr. Vivek Murthy to be Surgeon General of the United States.  Apparently at some point in his very illustrious career Dr. Murthy had the temerity to state the obvious - that guns are a public health issue in America.  The NRA immediately sent out marching orders of "do not confirm" to Congress.  The nomination has been stalled, primarily by Republicans, for the entire year and would have undoubtedly been withdrawn when the new Congress convenes next month.

But then Senator Cruz stepped in it.

As Congress was in the process of adjourning last Friday, Cruz wanted a vote on whether the President's executive order on immigration was legal or not.  Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, used Cruz's request to stay in session over the weekend.  Some Republicans had already left, and the remaining Democrats were able to push through several judicial and executive branch appointments - including the nomination of Dr. Murthy who was approved on a vote of 51-43 Monday evening.

Good one, Ted.  I'm sure Dr. Murthy and those new federal judges really appreciate you.  I know I do!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Circling a Big Chunk of the Ozarks

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

I saw a television show once, possibly an early episode of Bonanza, where an immigrant had won a bet or somehow come to an agreement with a rich land owner where he would be permitted to own all of the land that he could walk around in a day.  The fellow kept rushing forward and going for more and more land until he finally died of exhaustion near sundown.   He breathed his last and then fell down at the top of the final hill.  The greedy guy who kept wanting more was pronounced dead just after he rolled up against the stake that marked where he had begun – and so his heirs acquired the land, and he, presumably, got a nice burial plot.

I thought of that today as I drove the wheels  off of my little Saturn Vue.   My house guest and I left the Roost early and headed south to Mountain Home, Arkansas, and then west through Yellville and on to Harrison.  We turned north at Harrison and soon crossed back into Missouri.  At Branson we did a side tour to see the famous strip where all of the big stars used to have their theatres – and on to Old Matt’s Cabin.  It was then on to Springfield where I dropped my friend at the airport.  After that I did a bit of Christmas shopping and attended a medical appointment in Springfield.  My trip back to West Plains was due east along Highway 60.

All in all I drove over three hundred miles today in one enormous circle.    If I could claim title to everything I encircled, I would be one rich individual -  with a helluva lot to mow!

(In addition to today's tour, my friend Murphy also got to visit Alley Spring State Park and mill in Shannon County, Missouri,  and the spring and fish hatchery at Mammoth Spring, Arkansas.  He saw quite a bit of the Ozarks in two-and-a-half days!)