Friday, February 28, 2014

Getting My Kicks on Route 66!

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

I drove away from Luke Air Force Base at 11:00 a.m. this morning shortly after finishing the clearing process and receiving my new "Retired Civilian" Federal I.D.  After lunch with a good friend, I hit the road out of town.

Three hundred-plus miles later finds me at a Red Roof Inn at Gallup, New Mexico, on historic Route 66.  The room is surprisingly nice considering that it is less than fifty dollars a night.  I did two brief stops along the way:  one at the McDonald's in Camp Verde, Arizona - the turn off for the old mining town of Jerome, and the other in Winslow, Arizona - where I stood on a corner and was such a fine sight to see.

I drove by some wonderful scenery today - the saguaro cacti on the drive out of Phoenix, and majestic rock formations near Window Rock.  There were also several roadside genuine Indian trading posts along the highway.   One odd thing, however, was that I only saw one Wal-Mart truck the entire day.  I'm not sure what that means, but the last time I took a long road trip, before the two years on Okinawa, the roads were littered with Wal-Mart trucks.

Nick, my oldest, just called and said the West Plains is under a winter storm warning for this weekend, so they are preparing for an ice storm.  I may get to see some winter after all!

Albuquerque and beyond tomorrow.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ol' Roy Blunt's Push Poll

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Ol' Roy Blunt, a United States Senator from Missouri - and a Republican, has sent out a questionnaire of sorts regarding Obamacare.  It isn't actually a survey, because Ol' Roy prefaces it with his opinion - a type of polling device that is commonly referred to as a "push poll."   He wants my opinion on Obamacare, just as long as that opinion is negative.

Here is the complete text of the email:

Higher costs. Lost coverage. Lower wages. Fewer options. 
As we kick off the New Year, I’ve heard from so many families and job creators across Missouri who are concerned about the real impact of ObamaCare. 
I am committed to fighting for you by repealing this flawed law and replacing it with common-sense health care solutions that put patients and their doctors in charge of coverage – not Washington bureaucrats. 
Share your story of how ObamaCare is impacting you by using the form below, or by visiting me on Facebook or sending me a tweet at @RoyBlunt. 
- Senator Roy Blunt

I responded with the story of my son and his family who have recently signed up for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Not only are they saving significant money, they have a lower deductible and now have dental insurance as well as basic health insurance - and they were able to keep their regular doctors.  Obamacare is a godsend for them.

But I doubt that story will make it into Ol' Roy's final tally.  He's not really after success stories.

Roy, if you want to keep your eye on Washington bureaucrats, invest in a good mirror.  You and your party need to quit trying to deny affordable health care to ordinary Americans and focus on things that are truly critical - like our nation's infrastructure.  We have bridges that are falling down, roads that need paved (Missouri is famous for its potholes!), airports that need to be modernized - and wouldn't a national high-speed rail system be sweet!

What we don't need are forty more bills trying to kill a health system that works - or another GOP government shutdown.

You have my opinion, Roy.  Now how about getting to work and doing something productive. Obamacare is the law of the land - it is here to stay - and it is benefiting Missourians.


Rocky Macy
West Plains, MO

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Springfield's Tower Theatre

by Pa Rock

One of my goals when I began this blog back in the waning days of 2007 was to occasionally use it as a repository of bits of my personal history so that one day if my grandkids, or their grandkids, wanted to know more about me they could dig through the Ramble and come up with the occasional odd historical nugget.

The major problem with that plan, now that I have posted nearly 2,400 entries in the interim, is that I tend to lose track of what I have already discussed.    For instance, I wrote a nice remembrance of my good friend, the late Fred Blue, early on, and then basically repeated it a couple of years later.  Old people tend to regurgitate themselves.

Today I am going to write about the time I spent working at the Tower Theatre in Springfield, Missouri, while I was in college back during the sixties.  I have written at length in this blog about working at the Ozark Theatre in my hometown of Noel, Missouri, during my high school years, and I have probably mentioned the Tower, because the two film houses were related, but I hope most of what I submit today is new to the Ramble.

The recollection of life at the Tower was accidentally inspired by a friend from college days who sent me an email yesterday containing an anecdote about the Plaza Theatre at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.   He didn't mention Kansas City in the email, and when I hurriedly read it, at O-dark-thirty, one of the rusty wires in my old brain got crossed with another and I thought he was referring to the Tower Theater on the Plaza in Springfield.  That set me to thinking about my days there and making a few notes.  An unfenced mind tends to wander.

Back in the day, the fall of 1966 when I first attended Southwest Missouri State College (now known as Missouri State University) in Springfield, the growing cow town only had four movie theaters.  (Four, if one did not count the Studio, a place that showed X-rated movies to old men in trench coats!)  Three of the four respectable theaters were owned by the Fox Company.  They were the Fox, which was located on the city square, and the Landers and Gilloiz, both situated downtown a couple of blocks from the square.

(One needed to get to shows at the Landers early because late-comers invariably had to sit behind the poles that were used to hold up the balcony - a circumstance that caused for aggravating split-screen viewing.)

The fourth respectable theatre was the Tower, which was a property of the Dickinson theatre chain - as was the Ozark Theatre in Noel.  Dickinson had been my employer for several years preceding my move to Springfield.  The Tower was (and is) located on the Plaza shopping center at the major intersection of Sunshine and Glenstone which - at that time - was on the edge of the city.

As a new arrival in Springfield with a background in working in movie theaters, that seemed to be the best option for a part-time job search.  My first stop was at the Fox Company because all of their theaters were within a walkable distance of campus.  The general manager was in charge of all three theaters, and he informed me that he didn't need any help.   He encouraged me to hop on a city bus and go visit with Mr. McDonald at the Tower.

A.C. "Mac" McDonald hired me on the spot to sell concessions.  The position started as part-time, but quickly morphed into most nights and every weekend.  It was a pleasant, though often hectic, work environment, and the other employees soon adopted me as part of their family.  Mac was a windbag who somehow managed to keep the whole place running without ever exerting too much physical strain himself.  His main squeeze, Ethel, was a severe sort who worked the box office.  Webster's used a likeness of Ethel to illustrate both "dour" and "sour."

David, a very professional type, was the doorman and ticket-taker.  He was a nice guy who would occasionally step in and help sell concessions when we were slammed.

Jim,  a young wild hair, ran the projectors.  Jim was a womanizer who could always be counted on to purchase alcohol for thirsty minors.  Jim was killed in a car wreck while I was employed at the Tower, and I was promoted upstairs to the projection booth to take his place, where, if I'm not mistaken, my pay jumped from sixty to ninety cents an hour.

Life in the projection booth had its moments, but it was overlaid with serious monotony.  The Ozark Theatre ran films for one weekend each - five showings.  The Tower, on the other hand, ran movies until people quit coming to see them.   I acquired an assistant when my best friend from Noel, James Carroll (who had also worked at the Ozark Theatre), came to Springfield for college a couple of years later.  He and I have joked over the intervening years about watching certain movies ad infinitum - and ad nauseam!.   Again, I may be mistaken, but I believe James and I together saw The Sterile Cuckoo with Liza Minnelli a total of thirty-seven times!  (Thanks, Mike Box, for reminding me of that!)

One of my clearest memories of working at the Tower occurred one Sunday afternoon while I was selling concessions.  The alarm in the jewelry store next door went off, and we were suddenly swarmed with police.  The store had been robbed, and the burglars accidentally set off the alarm on their way out - and we didn't hear a thing until it started ringing.

Another memorable moment occurred when Mac flirted with the trench coat crowd by running a Swedish movie, Dear John, which was essentially a ninety-minute bedroom scene.  That same week the Gillioz scheduled Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (and the wonderful Sandy Dennis).  Virginia Woolfe contained lots of raunchy language, but was nowhere near as risqué as Dear John.  Some local church groups, led by former congressman O.K. Armstrong,  set up a protest line outside of the Gilloiz.   After the protest was covered by all of the local news outlets, people flocked to the Gilloiz to see what all of the fuss was about - and hardly anyone came to the Tower.  Mac was furious, ranting and raving about how he was showing a much dirtier movie than the Gilloiz!

Sometimes life just isn't fair.

Today there are multiplexes across the sprawling city of Springfield.  The last time I was at the Landers, it was home to the acting troupe from the Springfield Little Theatre, and I have no idea what eventually became of the Fox and Gilloiz.   The city square was eventually redesigned into a park with no automobile traffic, so the Fox more than likely disappeared or was reborn as something else.  The Tower, with its distinctive tower structure, still stands on the Plaza.  I don't know if it ever shows movies, but I heard that is home to a radio station and possibly even hosts church services.  A sad end indeed for that once venerable, and fun, institution.

Today Palm Valley Cinema in Goodyear, Arizona, is the place where I normally go to watch movies.  It is a multiplex that has seen better days.  Palm Valley Cinema happens to be owned by Dickinson Theatres, and I occasionally mention to the teens selling popcorn there that I got my professional start doing the same work for the same employer.  They are seldom impressed!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

No More Blue Mondays

by Pa Rock
Old Fart

Yesterday at 7:30 a.m. I had the most amazing thought as I climbed out of my car and headed in to work.  I was experiencing the last Monday morning - hopefully ever - that I would have to crawl out of bed and go to work!  Oh, by living on a farm, I will certainly be getting up early every day and feeding chickens - or mowing - or pulling weeds in the garden - or whatever, but I would no longer be operating on someone else's clock!

I haven't figured out how many Mondays I have worked over the last forty-three years, but if I ever felt the urge to know, I now have time to sit down and begin figuring it out.  Why, I could even do it at the breakfast table  on a Monday morning.  It's not like I have to be anyplace else!

I may even get rid of my alarm clock and invest  in a rooster - a better and more reliable alarm clock that doesn't have a snooze button or require batteries.

Just three more days of work!  I have a really good feeling about this retirement thing!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Only a Pawn in Their Game"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today's selection was written by Bob Dylan just over half a century ago following the assassination of black civil rights activist, Medgar Evers.  Dylan, who espoused the belief that everybody has to have somebody to look down on, captured that sentiment in this piece as he toils to explain to the poor southern whites that they are tools of politicians who constantly lambaste them with the notion that, although they may be poor, they are still white and therefore better than those who are not.

 You may not have much, but don't complain because you are still better than those people over there.  You aren't the bottom of the heap - you still have somebody to look down on.

Dylan's words sound eerily like the unspoken philosophy of today's tea-bag wing of the Republican Party.

Only a Pawn in Their Game
by Bob Dylan

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
"You got more than blacks, don't complain
You're better than them, you been born with white skin" they explain
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

From the powerty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoof beats pound in his brain
And he's taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide 'neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain't got no name
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He'll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Other Desert Cities: More than an "Angry Mother" Play

by Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

Last night I had the pleasure of watching Other Desert Cities at the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix.  The tight and very powerful drama was written by Jon Robin Baitz and performed by the Arizona Theatre Company.

The play revolves around the Wyeth family who are centered in the desert community of Palm Springs, California, in the years following the Reagan presidency, a family which resembles the Reagan's in several respects.   The father, Lyman Wyeth, is a retired B-movie actor who was later appointed to an ambassadorship by Reagan.  The mother, Polly Wyeth, is a former writer of B-movies who quickly assimilated into the political life of her husband.  Lyman and Polly are the ideal conservative couple, very waspish (even though Polly is Jewish) and very country club.

Also in the family are Aunt Silda, Polly's sister and former writing partner, and the Wyeth's two grown children - Trip and Brooke.   Silda is a recovering alcoholic who provides the rare but very necessary moments of comic relief.  Trip is the producer of a reality television show that is either scorned or ignored by the other family members, and Brooke has gotten away from her domineering parents and lives on Long Island in New York where her life is "measured by seasons."

Brooke Wyeth is a successful writer who has just finished a family "tell-all" that focuses on her older brother, a radical from the protest movement of the 1960's who committed suicide as his life was unravelling.  It is Christmas, and Brooke has brought loose-leaf copies of her book home for the family to read.

And thus is set an emotional drama where the intensity never lets up.

(Several years ago when my youngest, Tim, was in grad school he wrote a one-act play for a national competition that made its way to the finals in Washington, DC.   Pa Rock, a puffed-up toad of a parent, followed along to watch the competitive plays performed at the Kennedy Center.   Tim and I and his writing professor went to a play that received a special recognition.  After it was over, the professor gave me his unvarnished opinion.  The play was, he noted, an "angry mother" play, and he went on to complain "I am so tired of 'angry mother' plays.")

Other Desert Cities is every inch an "angry mother" play.   Anne Allgood snaps, seethes, and explodes as Polly Lyman.   She is so mad for so long that it could have become tedious if she ever allowed her fire to simmer.  But Polly's fire stays hot as the flames are constantly fanned by family members and even Polly herself.

This play, however, goes well beyond an angry mother.  Lyman Wyeth, ably played by Lawrence Pressman, has to navigate a complex set of pressures as he struggles to live with Polly, deal with his growing insignificance as an actor and a politician, understand his grown and annoyingly liberal children, and age gracefully.  Polly and Lyman also have the self-imposed duty of maintaining the family secrets. the most clandestine of which is not even known by Silda, Brooke, or Trip.

Aunt Silda (Robin Moseley), struggling with sobriety, is angry with her life and her domineering sister.   Trip (Will Mobley), who lives down the road in Los Angeles, is angry with Brooke for stirring the family passions with her memoir - knowing that she will eventually fly off back to New York and leave him to deal with the mess.   And Brooke (Paige Lindsey White) is angry with her parents for what she sees as their creating a life of rigid class and bias that eventually led to her brother's suicide.

It is an angry, angry household - and it is Christmas - and the intensity never lets up.

Kudos to the Arizona Theatre Company for an outstanding performance of Other Desert Cities.  It is a hard ride, but a damned good one.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Traveling Tim

by Pa Rock
Proud Parent

Son Tim hit the road yesterday morning at fifteen-minutes-past-six driving a solidly-packed twenty-six-foot UHaul truck.  His trip began just as the morning rush hour was gathering steam in Phoenix.   Last night he stayed in Dalhart, Texas, (north of Amarillo and just south of the Oklahoma Panhandle), and he called at 6:30 (Phoenix time) this morning saying that he was in Liberal, Kansas.  Phoenix to Liberal in just over twenty-four hours - including a night at a motel!

My days of being able to drive that hard have long since passed.

Tim plans to spend tonight with his family in Kansas City and then head on to West Plains tomorrow where his brother and nephew will help unload the truck.   By the time Pa Rock leisurely putts into town a week and a few days from now, all of the heavy lifting should be finished.  How's that for planning a move?

(For anyone who collects oxymorons, feel free to add "Liberal, Kansas" to your list!)

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Quick and the Dumb

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Members of the Arizona Legislature passed legislation today which allows businesses to discriminate if requests for goods or services run counter to a business owner's religious beliefs.  The discrimination measure was thought to be aimed primarily at the LBGT community, but could conceivably be invoked in cases where other issues run counter to a particular religion.  The legislation, SB 1062, was passed by both houses of the legislature and forwarded to Governor Jan Brewer for her signature.

In twenty-first century America there are still a few churches which promote the belief that people of color are a distinct and inferior species.  Are our esteemed legislators attempting to roll that clock back as well?  (Arizona made headlines several years ago when it withdrew recognition of the Martin Luther King national holiday - leaving a distinct impression that the state might not be a model for racial tolerance.)

Similar bills to Arizona's SB 1062 have been proposed in several states, and Kansas has a version that passed its House but stalled in the State Senate.   Arizona lawmakers will undoubtedly take pride in being the first to get their codified hate through the legislative process, before all of those other state governing bodies.  Our legislators are quicker than theirs - and, at a minimum, just as dumb.

Anytime a wacky bill is introduced anywhere in America, Arizona either has a similar one in the sausage grinder, or soon will have.  Nobody, and I mean no-body, will out stupid our representatives and senators who draw paychecks at the capitol in Phoenix.

But the gay rights bus has left the station and is moving on down the road.  The Supreme Court gutted the Defense of Marriage Act, and the concept of marriage equality gains ground daily.  This little burst of states' rights bravado will dissipate faster than a fart in a dust storm.  It is a pure exercise in futility and a waste of the state's scant resources.

Gnash those teeth and wring those hands, Arizona.  Modern times are upon us - whether you are smart enough to realize it or not.  There is a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King  - and gay rights are protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.  Quit posing and deal with it!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Packing It In

by Pa Rock

My youngest, Tim, arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor shortly before 8:00 a.m. today and we had picked up our moving van less than an hour later.  By 4:30 p.m, we had the van, all 26-feet of it, completely loaded.  Miraculously, Tim and his two able assistants managed to cram all of the collected artifacts of my life onto one truck.  Well, there are a few doodads that will accompany me back to Missouri next week in my car.

Our helpers were great.  One young man was the 21-year-old grandson of a friend who had helped me move once before - and the other, aged twenty, was the neighbor of a co-worker who immigrated from Cuba less than four months ago.  They were a hard-working team, hauling stuff to the truck while Tim managed to fit it all together like a 3-D puzzle on steroids.

Tonight Tim and I are camping out in my empty house, and he will hit the road in the morning - one week ahead of my planned departure.

My working career is drawing to a close - very, very quickly!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Death and Words of Steven Dale Green

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Steven Dale Green, a former army private who committed one of the most heinous acts of the Iraq War, died by hanging in his prison cell at the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson over the weekend.  His death appears to have been a suicide.  He was twenty-eight-years-old.

I have written about Green in this space before.  In March of 2006 he and three other soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division gang-raped a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl before killing her, her six-year-old sister, and their parents.   They later burned the body of the rape victim.

By the time the soldiers' involvement in the crimes came to light later that year, Steven Green had left the military.  He was subsequently arrested, tried, and found guilty in a federal court in Paducah, Kentucky, while his three accomplices were found guilty in military courts-martials.  Green was sentenced to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole.   The other three were sentenced to confinement in a military prison (Ft. Leavenworth) for terms of 90, 100, and 110 years - with an ultimate possibility of parole in all three cases.

By all accounts, Steven Green was the gunman who killed each of the four family members.  As late as last year, Green complained in an interview that he had been treated differently than the other three because he would have no opportunity for parole.

There was no possibility of light at the end of his tunnel.

Steven Green was a product of Texas, a state that is often accused of valuing guns over education.  His parents divorced when he was four, and he spent the next several years being shuffled between different relatives and living circumstances.  As an adolescent he moved to Midland, Texas, an oil-boom community that has a stark class divide.  (George W. Bush grew up in Midland:  Green and his family were at the other end of the social order.)  He dropped out of high school in tenth grade, a fact that posed some difficulties when Green set out to join the military a few years later.  He eventually found an army recruiter who bent a few rules to get him in.

Green, an infantry soldier, was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and he eventually deployed from that base to Iraq.  I was at Ft. Campbell in 2005, the same year that Steven Green was stationed there, but our paths never crossed.  Everyone who lived and worked in that environment, however, had some sense of the impact that those massive and long deployments were having on the morale and mental health of the troops.

In March of 2006, Steven Green and his three accomplices were serving in an area of Iraq called the "Triangle of Death."  One of the group had apparently spotted the 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was destined to become their target victim while working at a roadside checkpoint.  On March 14th, the four soldiers sat around drinking and talking about sex.  They formed a plan to go to the girl's home where they would commit rape and murder.

Steven Green was arrested later that year as a civilian, and he was tried in Federal Court in 2009.  He had essentially been behind bars since 2006.

There were strong similarities between Steven Green and Levi King (also mentioned previously in this space).  Both young men committed horrible, unspeakable acts - and both also grew up in bleak circumstances that undoubtedly had strong influences on the men they became.  I knew Levi as a child and adolescent and had a clear idea of the forces that had shaped his life.  I didn't know Steven Green, but being enmeshed in the 101st Airborne Division at the height of the Iraq War, I also felt some familiarity with the life he was leading.

This past holiday season I sent a Christmas card to Steven Green who, at the time, was a fellow Arizonan.  I told him in the card that I had been at Ft. Campbell while he was there, and I wished him peace.  I didn't ask for a reply or expect one.  But a few weeks later he did respond.  His hand-written reply gave a a brief insight into the life he was living behind bars, and he invited me to write to him.  I did not intend to publish his communication, but since he is deceased, I will include it in this forum for the historical record.  (Green's letter was postmarked January 15, 2014 - exactly one month to the day before he died.   I did send a reply a day or two later, but he never answered.)

Here is the text Steven Dale Green's letter:

Thank you for your Christmas card.  It means a lot to me that you would take the time to send me a card when you don't have to and I want you to know that I really appreciate it.  I hope you had a good Christmas yourself and that you have a new year filled with peace, grace, and blessings. 
My circumstances are rough sometimes (right now I am in the hole and they are talking about transferring me, which would not be good), but in the end I have to do this time myself one way or the other and I have no choice in the matter.  I have to be thankful for those blessings I do have, such as your card.  So, thank you again.  
If you ever want to write, feel free.  I will write you back.  If not, that's okay too.  Either way I appreciate it. 
Steven Green 
P.S.  Sorry I took so long to respond.

May you be resting in peace, Steven. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Gangs of Maryvale

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I was reading London's UK Daily Mail this morning to see what was happening in the rest of the world.  It was the last place where I expected to encounter news about a small town just a few miles from where I live in the Arizona outback.   But there it was - a story about packs of feral Chihuahuas running wild through the streets of Maryvale!

These little fellows appear to be a real nuisance, if not an outright threat to peace and safety.  They have not been spayed and neutered, and are breeding like bunnies.  Residents report that the little dogs chase kids on their way to school, destroy property, sometimes bite, and litter the sidewalks and streets with their calling cards.  

The wily critters have also been recruiting bigger dogs into their gangs.

The agency responsible for bringing this plague of Chihuahuas-gone-wild under control is Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, but it readily admits to being too swamped with calls to do its job.  The unit received over 6,000 calls last year.  A spokesman said that sometimes as many as a dozen calls come in at once.  By the time the animal control officers respond, the pack has usually moved on or scattered.

The Animal Care and Control people said that they will spay and neuter all of the little dogs that they manage to catch - free of charge.

One story on the same subject in a different newspaper asked, "Who let the dogs out??"  Another maligned the little city by saying that it had "gone to the dogs."  That's just tacky journalism!

Here are my unsolicited suggestions:

1.  Old Joe Arpaio has an blue-hair "posse" that would probably enjoy the publicity police work.  Maybe they could roam the sidewalks of Maryvale with soup bones tied to their walkers and lure those illegal Mexican canine immigrants into cages.  Steven Seagal, who was in Maricopa County just last week posing with Arpaio, could probably run the operation - especially if Joe gave him the keys to his army tank.

2.  Bring in a few dozen coyotes.

In spite of the international coverage, the rampaging Chihuahuas of Maryvale are a local problem that will eventually be resolved locally.  Of course, if the yappy little demons had stormed the golf courses of Scottsdale, Jan Brewer would have called in the National Guard and nipped the problem in the bud!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Suicide Is Painless"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I have spent the past three days packing, box after box, pile after pile.  It is a monotonous and tiring exercise that must be completed before this Thursday.  The house has stuff stacked everywhere, and I am sick of looking at it.

The television has served as background noise during this latest burst of packing.  Yesterday I happened to notice that the old movie, MASH, was playing.   I sat down for a brief breather, and while I was anchored to the couch, the suicide-attempt scene came up - along with the mournful song on the dark topic - the song that later became the theme song of the MASH television show:  Suicide Is Painless.  I knew the refrain, but had forgotten how beautiful the lyrics were.

Here are the fine words of Johnny Mandel.  Feel free to hum along as you read!

Suicide Is Painless
by Johnny Mandel

Through early morning fog I see 
Visions of the things to be 
The pains that are withheld for me 
I realize and I can see 

That suicide is painless 
It brings on many changes 
And I can take or leave it if I please 

I try to find a way to make 
All our little joys relate 
Without that ever-present hate 
But now I know that it's too late, and 

That suicide is painless 
It brings on many changes 
And I can take or leave it if I please 

The game of life is hard to play 
I'm gonna lose it anyway 
The losing card I'll someday lay 
So this is all I have to say 

That suicide is painless 
It brings on many changes 
And I can take or leave it if I please 

The only way to win is cheat 
And lay it down before I'm beat 
And to another give my seat 
For that's the only painless feat 

That suicide is painless 
It brings on many changes 
And I can take or leave it if I please 

The sword of time will pierce our skins 
It doesn't hurt when it begins 
But as it works its way on in 
The pain grows stronger watch it grin, but 

That suicide is painless 
It brings on many changes 
And I can take or leave it if I please 

A brave man once requested me 
To answer questions that are key 
Is it to be or not to be 
And I replied 'Oh, why ask me?' 

That suicide is painless 
It brings on many changes 
And I can take or leave it if I please 

'Cause suicide is painless 
It brings on many changes 
And I can take or leave it if I please 

And you can do the same thing if you please

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Television Service Game

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

After years of dealing with cable and satellite companies, I am beginning to figure out how things work.

This past week I opened my satellite bill only to discover that it had a rather substantial charge added that I felt shouldn't be there.  My automatic response was to pick up the phone and call my provider.  As anyone who has ever dealt with these people know, it takes some patience and perseverance  to get an actual human on the line, but ten minutes later I was hooked up with a very pleasant lady who didn't have the authority to resolve anything.  She connected me to a lady in billing who began to make things happen.

There have been times when I entered into these situations in a hostile mode.  Seldom was anything accomplished through that approach other than the release of some personal steam.  This time I put on my calm-but-extremely-persistent suit of battle armor.

The charge in question dealt with a fee for transferring my service when I move.  The fellow who set that up did not mention a fee, so I wanted an explanation.    The billing lady did some research and was finally able to explain the charge.

Then I upped the ante and asked about the fee for just dropping the service altogether.  I told her that I was a single man who did not watch that much television, that I had a limited income (all incomes are limited to some extent), and that the price of the service was too expensive.  I had ten months left on my contract and the fee to disconnect would be two hundred dollars.

I mulled it over and then calmly told her to cancel the service.  That's when the discounts started.  By the time we ended our conversation I had a "good customer" discount (something that had never been mentioned in any of my previous communications with the provider), two other discounts, the charge in question had been cancelled, and she threw in all of the movie channels for three months.  It was a very productive telephone call that will save me a good deal of money over the next year.

Here's what happened - I think.  I stayed calm and polite.  I suspect that a majority of their callers use the angry approach.  When I told her that I was canceling the service, it wasn't a bluff - and the billing lady had enough experience at her job to know that I meant it.  Her objective was to maintain the contract - to do what she had to in order to keep the customer connected to her company.

We ended the call in a mutual satisfaction mode - I would have television service at my new home - at a reduced cost with more channels - and the provider has a continuing income stream from my pocket theirs.

Take-away advice:  1.)  Stay nice.  If it is obvious that the provider's phone person is looking for a fight, end the call and do it again later with a different representative.  2. ) Be committed to canceling the service, and stay firm in your resolve.  No wavering until the company starts reaching into its goody bag.  3.)  Know that there is a good customer discount.  I strongly suspect that every television provider has one.   4.)  Know that the service is too expensive, regardless of the discounts and extra channels - and maintain that perspective.

Television service providers and their representatives are very much like used car dealers.   Their ultimate goal is to sell you something, and they're going to keep talking and wheedling until they do.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Great Uncles or Grand Uncles?

by Pa Rock
Family Researcher

I read a piece in today's UK Daily Mail about the grandfather of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall (Prince Charles' wife), and his three brothers.   Harry, Alick, and Hugh Cubitt were all killed in the trenches of the Western Front in World War I, leaving only the youngest, Rolle, who was "raring to go."  But, a' la Saving Private Ryan, an order came down at the last minute blocking the boy's entry into war.  Later Rolle and his wife had a daughter who went on to become Camilla's mother.

Apparently Rolle, a Sandhurst cadet and graduate, held a lifetime resentment over being denied the opportunity to fight in the war - and he never found out who issued to order to keep him at home.

The thing that particularly caught my interest in this story was a term used to describe the three young men who were brothers of Camilla's maternal grandfather.  The person who wrote the article referred to them as "great uncles" of the Duchess of Cornwall.    Though that usage is by far the most common, the correct descriptor would have been "grand uncles."   A grand uncle is a brother to a person's grandfather.   Also, it logically follows that the brother of a person's great-grandfather is a great-grand uncle - and so forth on up the line.  (And it works the same way for aunts!)

Okay, it's a fairly useless bit of information , but, as an amateur family researcher of many years standing, I have developed an idiosyncrasy for properly labeling every nut that dangles from the family tree.  I can also identify third cousins four times removed - and I can clearly show my children how they are first cousins of Benjamin Franklin - eleven times removed.

But - it's all relative!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gone to Live with Jesus - or Somebody

by Pa Rock
Former Kentuckian

Years ago I read an account by humorist Erma Bombeck in which she recalled the moment when she realized she was funny.  She had just finished a load of laundry when her young son asked about one of his socks that had gone into the washer and not come out.  The quick-thinking mother replied that it had "gone to live with Jesus."

For some odd reason that comment came back to me this week when I read about the sinkhole opening up under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky - and swallowing eight classic Corvettes.  Had they gone to live with Jesus?

Or,with the floor of the earth literally opening up and the vehicles being sucked down into the pit, had they gone to a more sinister entity?

There may be, however, more to this story than first meets the eye.  Last August lightening struck the Creation Museum, a mecca for the most rigid of Christian fundamentalists, which is just two hundred miles up the road near the small Kentucky town of Petersburg.  Acts of nature - or the opening salvos in the war that will end all wars?

Are the End Times upon us?   Is God a deity of infinite jest who has chosen to start her big show in Kentucky?    Will Jesus and the Apostles ride down from the heavens on dinosaurs and confront an army of red devils in Corvettes?

Will Jesus be wearing mismatched socks at the final judgement?

Uncork the corn squeezin's - this could be more fun than a Rand Paul filibuster!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Let the Spanking Begin!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

If the United States Senate was a village, Ted Cruz would almost certainly be its resident idiot.

Yesterday Senator Cruz, a man who loves both controversy and the spotlight, pulled a political stunt that he is likely to regret.  In a move designed to keep the goobers back home in Texas stirred up, Cruz announced that he would filibuster the bill proceeding through the Senate that would raise the nation's debt limit.

Before Senator Cruz acted, a simple majority could have moved the bill forward - and those votes could have been provided entirely by Democrats - leaving the Republicans free to act outraged and point fingers at those reckless Democratic big-spenders.  Cruz's action, however, meant that sixty votes would be needed - and the Democrats only had fifty-five.  (After the Republican-led government shutdown of last November, GOP senators did not want to be blamed for a government default.)  Some Republican votes were needed, but voting for the bill would not sit well back in the red states.

The Senate Republicans got together and decided who best could take the Tea Party heat and vote for the bill.  Several came on board with the Democrats and the bill to raise the debt ceiling moved forward on a vote of 67-31.  (The final bill eventually passed 55-43 when all of the Republicans went back to their own team bench.)

Among those who sided with Democrats to keep the government afloat were my state's two senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, John Cornyn - the other Senator from Texas, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  McConnell is in a tough race for re-election against a tea-bagger in the primary and a very strong Democratic candidate in the general election.  He definitely did not benefit from the forced alignment with the Democrats - and he knows he will see that vote mentioned in the campaign - particularly in the Republican primary.

(McConnell should be commended for stepping forward and leading his party out of the mess that Ted Cruz created.  John Boehner could learn from him!)

But McConnell is unlikely to be the only one who suffers from the Cruz ploy.  The Kentucky Turtle wields considerable power on Capitol Hill, and he is not a man with whom one should trifle.   Sooner or later Senator Cruz will have some issue of importance to the folks back home, and when he begins to count votes, Mitch is likely to take a powder.  And then there are those all-important committee assignments and all expense paid vacations junkets to exotic ports-of-call.

Ted Cruz is overdue for a good spanking, and Mitch McConnell is just the guy who can deliver it.

Pass the popcorn - and let the spanking begin!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ALEC Pushes to Protect Livestock Abusers in Arizona

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A bill that would make it harder to document and report abuse to livestock passed an Arizona House committee yesterday and is headed for a vote of the full State House of Representatives where it faces an uncertain fate.  The proposed law, House Bill 2587,  makes a distinction between general animal cruelty and cruelty to livestock,  and it no longer recognizes livestock cruelty as a felony.

The legislation was drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects large corporations with state legislators and then assists those corporations in getting their agendas transformed into legislation.

The bill is being supported by the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation.

The bill, if it became law,  it would remove the power to investigate cruelty to livestock from local law enforcement and turn it over to the Arizona Department of Agriculture - an entity with funding issues and limited investigative abilities.  It would also prohibit local communities from passing more restrictive legislation than the state law.

The law would require persons having any proof of livestock cruelty (such as photos or videos) to turn those over to the Arizona Department of Agriculture within five days or face penalties.  That  would stymie attempts of whistle-blowers or outside parties to conduct protracted investigations of suspected abuse.  Several states have these "quick reporting" laws, including Missouri which demands that evidence be surrendered within twenty-four hours.  Opponents of the measure argue that it makes it impossible to document "persistent" animal maltreatment or conduct more substantive investigations.

Kansas, North Dakota, and Montana have laws on their books that prohibit individuals from taking photographs or videos of agricultural operations without permission.  Similar proposals have been introduced in other states and are commonly referred to as "ag-gag" bills.

Those opposing this proposed legislation say that it's primary purpose is to stop undercover video investigations that in the past have been used to show animal cruelty in large factory-farming operations.  They also argue that these types of provisions place  the criminal onus on those trying to document the abuse rather than on the abusers themselves.

The Arizona Humane Society is opposed to this legislation for obvious reasons.  They released the following statement regarding the bill:

"It is designed to make Arizona a safe haven for massive, industrial, and internationally owned corporate livestock factories that may destroy our long, rich tradition of responsible and sustainable farming."
In addition to the Humane Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County have stepped forward in support of the humane treatment of animals.   Arpaio is understandably miffed at the threat of losing any investigative powers - and has even created a special unit within his department to investigate animal abuse.

It's gearing up to be a good fight.  ALEC may find that it's hard to push around dumb animals if Sheriff Joe is sitting astride the bell cow!

(Note:  Being in agreement with Joe Arpaio on anything is a sure sign that I've been in Arizona too damned long!)  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ol' Roy Worries About Other People Being Lazy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican - of course, made news this week while pontificating on one of the Sunday television talk shows.  Blunt said, in effect, that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will make people lazy.

Blunt's bewildering comment had its roots in a report released by the Congressional Budget Office which predicted as many as 2.5 million people may choose to leave the workforce once they have a means of securing affordable health care.  Republicans initially pounced on that estimate and said that the CBO was predicting a loss of over two million jobs.  That wasn't the case, and when presented with the facts - again - the GOP talking points shifted to their old standard "people in need are lazy."

It was never a question of being lazy.  Having access to affordable health insurance meant that some people who worked only so they could get insurance no longer had to work.  It meant some people could give up one or two of their multiple jobs and maybe spend some time being human - perhaps with their children.

If Republicans have a serious interest in jobs, perhaps they should get together and pass a jobs' bill.

The House of Representatives was in session a total of 155 days in 2013, and the Senate met less than 180 days.  Neither chamber was in session for a majority of the year.   Yet it's the mother of three pre-schoolers who quits her second job at the McDonald's drive-thru who is lazy?   Congress passed just 57 bills in 2013 (the lowest number in history - but they did vote to repeal Obamacare thirty-seven times).   So who's lazy?

Senator Blunt, if you want to get a good look at lazy, stand in front of a mirror!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Woodchucks"

by Pa Rock
Poetry  Appreciator

Former U.S. Poet Laureate (and Pulitzer Prize recipient) Maxine Kumin died this past week.   Ms. Kunim, a renowned college professor and lecturer, had spent most of the past forty years living on a farm in rural New Hampshire, a setting that impacts much of her work.

Today's poetry selection, "Woodchucks," tells of the poet's efforts in trying to eliminate a colony of woodchucks.  Perhaps one of the woodchucks that she killed became the groundhog corpse that was featured in Richard Eberhart's "The Groundhog" - which was Monday's poem in this space two weeks ago.

Death certainly seems to be a recurring theme with these large rodents!

by Maxine Kumin

Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.

Ten minutes later I dropped the mother. She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next. O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.

There's one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form. I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Tennessee GOP Congressman Exhibits Breathtaking Hypocrisy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Tennessee Congressman Stephen Fincher has made news recently for quoting the Bible to justify his support for legislation to drastically reduce food stamps for America's neediest citizens - many of whom are children and the elderly.  The sanctimonious Congressman Fincher is, of course, a Republican and a member of the Tea Party Caucus.

But no sooner had Fincher's biblical justification for allowing people to go hungry made it into the public record than it was revealed that he was the second largest recipient of farm subsidies currently serving in Congress.  The legislator, along with his brother and father, had received 8.9 million dollars in government subsidies over the past decade related to their 2,500 acre cotton farming operation that stretches into five Tennessee counties.

(Princess Michele Bachmann, a tea-bagger Congress-critter from Minnesota, had some well-earned similar notoriety a couple of years ago when it was revealed in the national press that she had benefitted handsomely from the farm subsidy program.)

Congressman Fincher has also been investigated by the Federal Election Commission over a questionable campaign loan from a bank at which his father was a director - and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has named him "One of the Most Corrupt Members of Congress."

The hungry may always be with us, but the greedy will be here, too - pushing their way to the front of the line and taking far more than their fair share.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Ain't Misbehavin'" Gets the Joint a-Jumpin'!

by Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

Of all of the theatrical performances that I have seen during my few years in Phoenix, "Ain't Misehavin'," currently playing on the main stage of the Phoenix Theatre, was far and away the best!  A small cast of five individuals and a rocking house band presented the songs Fats Waller and brought Harlem of the early twentieth  century to life on the stage.

The cast, incomparable all, included Brittney Mack, Andre Jordan, Katherine Todd, Walter Belcher, and Fredena J. Williams.  Each was strong of voice and fleet of foot.   They were decked out in beautiful costumes with lots of vivid colors, and danced and sang their way across a set that was truly a work of art.   And the band was amazing - featuring a piano player who should have his own holiday!  It was obvious that everyone on the stage was having a great time, and the fun swept off of the stage and across the audience!  The joint was jumpin'!

"Ain't Misbehavin'" runs through February 16th.  It makes for a great evening out in downtown Phoenix!

(Note:  My first experience with the Phoenix Theatre was when my daughter and I went to see "Altar Boyz" in the winter of 2007 - another really good show.  Sadly, "Ain't Misbehavin'" will be my last as I prepare to head into retirement in the Ozarks.  In between those two, I have seen some truly fine shows in Phoenix.  I won't miss Phoenix, but I will definitely have regrets about no longer having access to all of the Valley's wonderful theatrical venues.)

Friday, February 7, 2014

The British Were Coming! The British Were Coming!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Historian

America has suffered few invasions during its proud history, and most of those that it did endure were of British origin.  There was that famous ride of the silversmith, Paul Revere, back in 1775 when he rode through the countryside warning settlers that the Brits were headed their way - but that was more than a full year prior to us declaring our independence, so the Redcoats probably saw their trek into the colonies more as domestic housekeeping rather than an invasion.

The British were back fighting us during the War of 1812 when the evil buggers drove Dolly Madison from the White House and then burned it down.  A Mexican army under the command of General Pancho Villa crossed our southern border and attacked Columbus, New Mexico, in the early 20th century - before quickly scurrying back home.

But it was fifty years ago today when one of the most significant invasions in our national history began, and it was also British in origin.  On February 7, 1964, the British band, the Beatles, four skinny young men from Liverpool, England, wearing collarless jackets and mop-top haircuts, landed at the newly named John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City - and the British Invasion was on!

Two days after getting off the plane at JFK, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, sang a few songs, and redefined the country's youth culture.  Dozens and dozens of British singers and groups washed up on America's shores in the wake of the Beatles.

Besides the highly prolific Beatles, the invasion included groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Zombies, the Animals, the Spencer Davis Group, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, the Hollies, the Kinks, the Troggs, Manfred Mann, the Tremeloes, and the Who.  There were duos like Chad and Jeremy and Peter and Gordon - and individual artists including such greats as Donovan, Petula Clark, Lulu, and Dusty Springfield.  All of those, and many, many more!

The only one of those groups that I personally saw was Herman's Hermits who put on a great show at the Officer's Club at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, in the early 1970's as their fame was ebbing.  Of course, the Rolling Stones are still kicking, so I might get to see them one day when they are playing the casino circuit!

The Beatles opened America to great music and interesting times.  The songs of the invaders formed the soundtrack of my youth, and their melodic messages inspired massive social change.  It truly was an invasion - and it began fifty years ago today!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Another Reason Not to Fly

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

We are all impacted by terrorism, and if you doubt that simply think back to your last adventure in air travel.   Getting on a plane in most major airports involves multiple checks of identification and boarding passes, damn near undressing before sending personal items down a conveyor belt and through X-ray, and a full-body scan that leaves nothing to the imagination.  Overhead speakers repeatedly and annoyingly stress the need to be on the lookout for anything suspicious - and to definitely not carry anything onto the plane for someone else.

My biggest resentment in the pig-push to board a plane is having to take my shoes off, put them on the conveyor belt, and then walk around on the filthy airport carpet in my stocking feet.  (Phoenix Skyharbor Airport is trying to brand itself as the friendliest airport in America -it isn't - but it does hold the honor of having some of the nastiest carpeting in the country!)

All of this aggravation is primarily due to two events - the 9/11 attacks of 2001 in which four large passenger airplanes were turned into flying bombs, and another incident three months later where a British national on a flight from Paris to Miami tried to detonate a shoe bomb.   The would-be shoe-bomber, Richard Reid, failed in his attempt to set off the bomb and blow up an airplane full of innocent people, but he was wildly successful at making air travel much more harried and stressful.  Richard Reid, once a relative nobody, became personally responsible for tens of thousands of people having to bend over and shuck their shoes every day in American airports.

Now news sources are reporting that the American intelligence community has warned the Russians that terrorists may be planning to smuggle explosives into the Sochi Olympics in toothpaste tubes.  More indignities, I fear, are on the horizon.

Homeland Security will undoubtedly develop a Toothpaste Division, and TSA agents will be sporting brighter, whiter smiles.  Toothpaste kiosks will pop-up like toadstools in airport arrival areas - perhaps next to the luggage carousels.

And once these changes begin to be implemented, they will never, ever go away.

My next career may be training toothpaste-sniffing dogs out at the farm.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

CVS Steps Boldly into the Future

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

America's second largest pharmacy chain, CVS Caremark Corp, announced today that it will quit selling tobacco products in its 7,600 stores this year.  CVS shelves should be clear of the noxious weed by this October.   The company said that pulling this product will result in around $2 billion a year in lost sales - some of which may be made up through smoking cessation classes being offered in its pharmacies.

There has been a prolonged drop in tobacco use in the United States since the mid-1960's.   At that time, 43% of Americans smoked.  The usage is now down to just 18% of the population.  Cigarette sales in the United States fell 31.3% between 2003 and 2013.  Clearly CVS sees which way the winds of public tolerance are blowing and has elected to go with the flow rather than cling to the fading and unhealthy past.

Walgreen's - America's largest pharmacy chain - needs to follow suit, and both chains need to quit selling liquor.   Wal-Mart - America's third largest pharmacy chain - needs to quit selling tobacco, liquor, and guns and ammo.   Companies who are allegedly focused on promoting health should get these killers off of the shelves!

Good work, CVS - lead the way!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Salvation and Smarts

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Gallup polling organization has recently released its State of the States poll, one area of which looks at religiosity in America.  In that section Gallup was able to rank the states according to their level of participation in religion.  The top ten states were:  Mississippi (where a whopping 58% of the respondents claimed to be "very religious"), Utah (56%), Alabama (56%), Louisiana (53%), Arkansas (52%), South Carolina (52%), Tennessee (50%), North Carolina (50%), Georgia (48%), and Oklahoma (48%).

The heathen states, those at the bottom of the list, were: Washington, Connecticut, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada (each at 31%), the District of Columbia (30%), Oregon (29%), Rhode Island (29%), Massachusetts (29%) Maine (27%) New Hampshire (24%), and the least religious state in America:  Vermont (19%).

I thought it might be fun to overlay those findings with state-by-state educational rankings.  However, as I began to explore that topic, I quickly learned that states are ranked on education by a wide divergence of sources - with results that are wildly different - depending upon the sources.  Those awful folks at ALEC rank states on education, as do Education Week (magazine) and the National Education Association.   (Most of the sources rank Vermont in the top ten, and all rank Mississippi near the bottom.)

I chose to go with the rankings put out by Kids Count, an annual report of the welfare of children in America that is put together by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  I have often referred to Kids Count over the years when conducting social work research.  Of the ten most religious states, four were in the bottom eleven on eduction rankings:  Mississippi (48), Louisiana (45), Alabama (44) and Oklahoma (40).  None were in the top ten on educational rankings, and only three were even in the top thirty.

Of the least religious states, four were in the top ten when ranked on education:  Massachusetts (1), Vermont (3), New Hampshire (4), and Connecticut (6).

One state was a clear anomaly:  Nevada was in the least religious pile - and it was also at the very bottom (50) of the education rankings.  Perhaps gambling and prostitution do not lend themselves to religion or education.

And while I have long since forgotten my statistics classes, (and while I clearly remember that a strong correlation does not prove cause-and-effect), I would be willing to bet that the relationship between religion and education is statistically significant at the .05 level.

There are some things that seem apparent:  All of the most religious states with the exception of Utah are in the American South.  The least religious states are grouped in New England and the Far West.  Four of the top ten states for education are in New England.

Again, a strong correlation does not equate to cause-and-effect, but it does provide some nourishing food for thought!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Winter Fancies"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Several friends and relatives in the Midwest have told me that they have snow and are expecting more snow - and it is damned cold!  Will winter ever end?  There comes a point when those picture-perfect Christmas card scenes of Currier and Ives begin to lose their quaint charm.  Snow drifts and busy snow plows are not beautiful forever.

It's all a matter of stamina and attitude.  Hang in there, Heartland!

This week's poem is by a very famous Midwestern poet, one whose verses were often memorized by school children just a few generations ago.   Indiana native, James Whitcomb Riley, wrote literally hundreds of poems - along with the occasional short story and book.  His prolific pen helped to describe America at the turn of the twentieth century - a land of strength and character that was imbued with golden promise by the Hoosier poet.

"Winter Fancies" looks at winter from a warm house - staring out through a frosty window.

Winter Fancies
by James Whitcomb Riley

Winter without
And warmth within;
The winds may shout
And the storm begin;
The snows may pack
At the window pane,
And the skies grow black,
And the sun remain
Hidden away
The livelong day--
But here--in here is the warmth of May!


Swoop your spitefullest
Up the flue,
Wild Winds--do!
What in the world do I care for you?
O delightfullest
Weather of all,
Howl and squall,
And shake the trees till the last leaves fall!


The joy one feels,
In an easy chair,
Cocking his heels
In the dancing air
That wreathes the rim of a roaring stove
Whose heat loves better than hearts can love,
Will not permit
The coldest day
To drive away
The fire in his blood, and the bliss of it!


Then blow, Winds, blow!
And rave and shriek,
And snarl and snow
Till your breath grows weak--
While here in my room
I'm as snugly shut
As a glad little worm
In the heart of a nut! 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Several Shades of Sunday

by Pa Rock
Cultural Observer

On a typical Sunday I go to the gym, do two or three loads of laundry, catch up on the dishes, water the yard and the outdoor plants, and, time permitting, slip a nap into my schedule.  But now my life is centered on packing, so naps just don't happen.  I have also pushed the lawn-watering back to every two weeks and am eating almost entirely off of paper and plastic.  The next time I do dishes, I will pack them away.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, and one of my young neighbors is having a party.  The street is full of very nice cars - which tells me that those attending his event are relatively young.  I don't know how it is in the real world, but young people connected to the military like their nice cars.

It is also Groundhog Day, and in Pennsylvania America's official groundhog, Punxtawney Phil, has seen his shadow, indicating that there will be six more weeks of winter.   I read a "tweet" today that noted many Americans will not accept information on climate change from reputable scientists, but will readily believe a weather forecast from a rodent.

It looks like ol' Phil may be right.  My grandson in West Plains, Missouri, told me that they had three inches of snow last night - and it is expected to snow every day this week.  (I hope the ground is dry by the time I get back there - in less than a month - of course, that is less than six weeks so we may be unpacking in the snow and ice!

My Sunday will hit its high point later tonight when PBS broadcasts another episode of Sherlock, a wonderful new adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes saga.   It is a great way to cap off the weekend!

And the boxes just keep piling up!