Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Zimmerman Show Rolls On

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is an article in the current issue of GQ magazine (and on-line) focusing on the life and hard times of the notorious American vigilante, George Zimmerman.  Actually, the article more accurately focuses on Zimmerman’s family and what they have endured and plotted since their son and brother gunned his way into the national limelight. 

The GQ piece was written by Amanda Robb, and it was based primarily on an interview that she had with George’s older brother, Robert, at a hotel bar in New York City.  GQ had apparently wanted to interview George Zimmerman himself, but the magazine balked when he requested a week’s stay in a luxury hotel as his price for going on the record with the journalist.

Robert Zimmerman talked about the safety fears his family had after George was identified as the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager.  He said that his already well-armed family went out and purchased more guns in order to stave off possible attacks.  Even the men’s mother packs a .45 caliber pistol.

Another thing that Robert revealed focused on family discussions about a way to cash in on George’s sudden fame.  Gladys Zimmerman, the mother, suggested that they form some sort of home security company with several products for sale – all beginning with the letter “Z.”

Robert revealed another family idea to generate a few dollars off of the deadly encounter between George and Trayvon Martin - a scheme to try and get a reality television show centering on George.  To do that, they needed for George to spend some time with the press and begin polishing up his image.  George Zimmerman refused to go along with the plan to rehabilitate his image because he blamed the press for all of his problems.

The brother revealed that George Zimmerman does have a warm and fuzzy relationship with Fox noisemaker Sean Hannity, and even had (at one time) Hannity’s number in his phone.

The other interesting tidbit from this piece by Amanda Robb deals with George Zimmerman’s current dire financial straits.  He has apparently been doing quite a bit of couch-surfing with friends since the break-up with his wife last year – and laments that he would like to live someplace where he could have some privacy in the bathroom.  He claims to be destitute and owes a pile of money to his lawyers – the same lawyers who helped him beat the murder rap.

One has to wonder why a prospective NRA poster boy with more name recognition than Joe the Plumber couldn’t siphon off a living from some conservative cash cow.  Where  is SarahPAC in his time of need?  Or how about Karl Rove and his American Crossroads – or the Koch brothers?  Hell, he ought to be able to at least score an occasional pizza from Papa John’s!

And George,  you might want to start working on your image and go for that reality show idea – before Darren Wilson beats you to it!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Tokyo Harbor, First Impression"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I have been reading Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins over the past several days, a comical and very socially conscious novel from the early 1970's.  That experience has transported me back to a more carefree and entertaining time in my life - and it has gotten me thinking of the "way-out" writers that I enjoyed back in the day.  When it came to poetry, the one poet who seemed to strike the most harmonious chord with college students of the sixties was Rod McKuen.

Many of Rod McKuen's poems (or songs) focused on harmony with others and love - and cats, but he had several that recalled his years in the military.  The following, "Tokyo Harbor, First Impression," was published in the McKuen collection Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows in 1963.  It is a very valid description of the impression that Americans often make when they visit foreign lands.

I've been there - I know.

(McKuen's Second Impression is included at a poetry bonus.)

Tokyo Harbor, First Impression
by Rod McKuen

Riding through the cities on the train
I saw dirty people at dirty windows
and bare children walking railroad ties
chalking messages on sidewalks.
Sometimes there were bicycles waiting at crossings
and oxcarts carrying who knows what
and fat mamasans resting in the shade
eating rich lunches.

At the noon hour
we threw them candy bars
and cigarettes
and felt happy and foolish about it.

Chileren waved
Gave us the finger
and got candy bars in return.

I can't help thinking that we Americans
leave behind a universal sign language
in lands we occupy or conquer
a phallic finger raised to all
these people think it means hello
Good God
what are alphabets for?

Second Impression
by Rod McKuen

Way around the  lake
beyond the trees that crowd the moat
there is a warm place I remember
where all the high garret rooms have skylights.
Mamasan is in command
and for a fee
she'll forget anything.
You can get there in a 70 yen cab.

Listen if the night will let you
to songs I sing and things I say
tomorrow when the air is different
you'll forget and go away.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rep. Lamborn Flexes His Mouth

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a cesspool of right-wing extremists and loud-mouthed Christian fundamentalists who think they manage God's home office.  It is also a vortex of the military-industrial complex with several bases and the United States Air Force Academy (which has devolved into an over-rated Bible college) located nearby - as well as a host of hungry and greedy military contractors - companies whose lobbying budgets are in a position to nourish much of the extremism that pounds through the veins of the community and much of its local citizenry.  The presence of the military bases also makes for a sizable array of pawn shops, bars, gun emporiums, sex shops, bargain-priced loving, and other businesses that cater to the young men and women of the Armed Forces who are away from home for the first time and have cash to spend.

With all of that going against Colorado Springs, it stands to reason that the community probably would not be sending a raging intellectual to Congress - and it hasn't.  The current congressman, Doug Lamborn, made news this week when he told a small gathering (fifty people or so) in a "bar basement" that he and other congressmen have been talking to active duty U.S. generals and encouraging them to resign from the service if they disagree with President Obama's foreign policy.  And he does not want the generals to step down quietly.  Lamborn wants them to publicly state their reasons for resigning and go out in a "blaze of glory."

Glory to Doug, no doubt, in the highest.

Oddly enough, no generals have yet rushed forward to do the congressman's bidding.   They apparently like their paychecks and their jobs well enough to tolerate the leadership of a Commander-in-Chief who has been elected not once, but twice, by solid majorities of American voters.

If Congressman Lamborn is looking for a sacrificial lamb, someone to draw headlines by quitting a good job in a "blaze of glory" over an irrational dislike of the President, perhaps he should resign from Congress and then scamper on over to Fox News where he can whine ad nauseam about how awful President Obama is.  Fox might even pair him with former (defeated) congressman and forced military retiree, Allen West,  to disparage the President in tandem.

Maybe Joe "you lie" Wilson could also quit Congress in a "blaze of glory" and join them!

And if any current generals accept Lamborn's suggestion to resign, it shouldn't take Defense Secretary Hagel and the Obama administration too long to replace them.

Every house should be cleaned occasionally.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Banned Books Personal Challenge

by Pa Rock

As noted in this space earlier in the week, this is the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, a unique celebration of books that have offended the narrow-minded among us - offended them to the point that demands have been made to pull those books from school classrooms and library shelves.  The American Library Association has an office whose primary duty it is to track and tally those complaints, and it annually publishes lists of the books which received the most negative attention through demands that they be denied to others.

Every year during this annual event I make a vow to myself that I will concentrate on reading banned books during the upcoming year - but I usually wind up reading just one or two out of the dozens of books that I actually do read in a year.  This year I am going to challenge myself to read ten books that the American Library Association has honored among their "banned books" over the years.  Five will be books that are new to me - although I do have some familiarity of a couple of those - and five will be banned books that I have read in the past which were so good that I want to have an excuse to enjoy them again.

Here is my list.

First Reads:

  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.  That's right, I know quite a bit about this book but have never sat down and actually read it.  I have a son who is a bit of an expert on Salinger, so not only will I enjoy reading this work, but hopefully I will also gain insights by discussing it with Tim.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I've seen and enjoyed the movie a couple of times on cable - and since books are nearly always better than their films, I suspect that this will be a very good read.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  This is a classic that I missed throughout my many years as a reader.   Bradbury was an especially talented writer whose prose always bordered on the poetic.  One of my college professors described Bradbury's writing as "luscious."  And, I know the story is about book-burning, so it should be particularly appropriate for this challenge.
  • Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.  I am unfamiliar with the author and have a very limited knowledge of the book, although I have heard that it has a focus on satanism and the occult.  I may read it in the lounge down at the local senior center!
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I know nothing about the author or the book, but have heard that it is good.  We'll see!

Second (and Third) Reads:  (They were that good!)

  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.  I've read the book and seen the movie.  It's a gripping tale of a school's campaign to meet a high sales goal in its annual drive to sell chocolates, and the pressures and violence that occurs when one student rebels.  
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  This, of course, is Heller's classic dissection of the absurdities of war (World War II in Europe, in this case).  It is, at times, a tough book to wade through, but well worth the prolonged slog.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  Alexie is, in my very humble opinion, one of our very best contemporary writers of fiction, and he is also a gifted poet.  Much of his work, including this book, gives a stark and very real look at life on the contemporary reservation.
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.  The author puts forth a fictional, yet very real, tale of the war in Vietnam from the perspective of the fighting man.  This is a helluva fine novel which takes a lot of its shape and substance from the author's own service in Vietnam.
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles.   I first read this book, the story of a  tortured relationship between two young men at a private school just before the outbreak of World War II, when I was just starting college - not long after it was first published.  I did the second reading twenty or twenty-five years later and found it every bit as good as what I remembered.  It is time for my third, and probably final, reading of Knowles' amazing work.
I hope to finish this personal challenge by the start of Banned Books Week next year.  I will report on each of the ten in this space as I complete them.  

What would be on your list?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pa Rock's Pawpaws

by Pa Rock

I grow two types of nuts on my little farm - hickory nuts (from several trees) and walnuts (from a single tree).  I also manage to grow two types of fruit - pears (from a single tree) which mostly go toward feeding the foraging deer population, and pawpaws.

Not everyone is familiar with the pawpaw (sometimes spelled "paw paw"), but it is a not-too-uncommon fruit that grows on small trees, slender and up to forty feet in height, from America's Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.   They have been documented in American history back to the 1500's, and Lewis and Clark at times had to use them for subsistence during their long expedition to the northwest.  Thomas Jefferson grew pawpaws at Monticello, and both he and George Washington enjoyed chilled pawpaws as a dessert.

Five states even have local communities named "Paw Paw."

I have five pawpaw trees on my property, all growing in a cluster in a low area where the washing machine drains.  Pawpaws like ground that is often moist.  The trees are about eight-to-ten inches in diameter and approximately twenty feet high.  There are also a few small volunteers nearby that I have been mowing around, so the pawpaw plantation is expanding.

An ex-in-law of mine had a farm down in Arkansas many years ago that sported a pawpaw tree.  I was never there at the right time to enjoy eating one, but she told me that they were commonly referred to as "Arkansas bananas."  One of their many uses is to substitute pawpaws into recipes that call for bananas - especially breads and muffins.

I knew that there was a small pawpaw grove on this farm, and I even saw the fruit coming on - but ignored it as I rushed around meeting the other pressures of keeping things patched together and operational.  Then one evening about a month ago I was standing in the backyard talking to someone when suddenly I smelled the most intoxicating aroma.  It turned out to be the young pawpaw fruit that was maturing in the trees.

I managed to consume a couple of the pawpaws as they reached maturity and began falling from the trees.  They are about the size of pears, with mushy insides and thick skins that remind me of the skins on mangoes.  Pawpaws also have a half-dozen or so large seeds inside of each fruit.  I learned quickly that they rot quickly if left on the ground, and the best practice is to pick the fruit within reach as soon as some start falling.  According to what I have read, the best way to store the mushy middle of the pawpaw is to freeze it.

The pawpaw fruit as well as its seeds smell wonderful.  This year I let most of mine rot before I got to them, but next year I will sit and read in the shade of the pawpaw trees, while breathing in their magnificent aroma, and catch them as they fall!

I have harvested some seeds from this year's crop and would be happy to share them with anyone who would like to try raising pawpaws.   The smell alone is worth the effort of getting a couple started.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Of Crap Curriculums, Banned Books, and the Dumbing Down of America

by Pa Rock
Reader and Licensed History Teacher

This week students, and a few faculty members, have been walking out of high school classes in Jefferson County, Colorado, to protest the school board's attempt to curtail the curriculum currently being taught in the high school's advanced placement history classes.  The current standards meet the framework set forth by the College Board.  That framework has been challenged by conservative groups such as the Republican National Committee for emphasizing some of the negatives in American history and not stressing enough of the standard patriotic canards of our nation's past.

In particular the school board does not want any materials used in the classrooms that would "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law."  That would leave one to wonder whether those tea-baggers on the board have any notion of what the Boston Tea Party was really all about.

The Jefferson County School Board desires to realign it's high school history curriculum for college bound students to better fit the recommendations of that august body of soaring intellectualism:  the Republican National Committee.  The board wants their students to see history through some sort of carnival mirror which only highlights the flag-waving aspects of our nation's past and only interprets events to the board's way of thinking.

Jefferson County, Colorado, is not alone in its mistrust and condemnation of the College Board's framework for history curriculum.  Texas has a state created history curriculum that is uses instead of the national standards of the College Board, and Tennessee and South Carolina also appear to be following the lead of Texas.

But students in Jefferson County, at least, are not taking the assault on their learning opportunities lying down.  They are out in the school's parking lots and on its sidewalks protesting for their right to learn without censorship.   Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry would have all been proud!

Coincidentally, this also happens to be the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, a seven-day observance of books whose ideas were so out-of-sync with somebody's views on life, that they have been pulled from library shelves or the classrooms of America.

There are several good lists of books that have been frequently banned in America, including a couple that were put together by the American Library Association.  When I read through those titles, I am always so disappointed that I have personally read so few of them.  I threaten every year to post a list of regularly banned books and then commence reading my way down the list.  Perhaps this year I will get it done.

I did read one very good book this past year that is near the top of many banned book lists:  John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, the gripping story of a family of destitute Oklahomans traveling to California during the Great Depression.  It is a sobering look at the rot that was, and often still is, pervasive in American capitalism.  The Grapes of Wrath made America's moneyed classes uncomfortable, especially at a time in history when large scale revolutions were being successfully carried out in other parts of the world.

A couple of years ago I reread Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter-House Five which raises doubts about war based on his personal experiences in World War II.  It is often banned.  Another favorite banned book on my list is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried which examines war from the perspective of his military service in Vietnam.    Books that question the need for war and highlight its ugly underbelly are generally not popular with the people who own corporations and industries that make their money off of armaments and conflict - moneyed interests that control vocal gaggles of dumbasses - like the Republican National Committee.

So, it's the twenty-first century and people are still struggling to limit what their friends and neighbors and children may learn.    The war on ideas rages on.    It will be interesting to see what impact ever-expanding access to the internet will have on the future of education and the direction of our lives.  Banning Catcher in the Rye from cyberspace would be a challenge way beyond the capability of the average tea-bagger or the RNC.

Godspeed to those kids in Colorado who are demanding their right to an education free of censorship.  As one of their protest signs said, "Disobedience is the foundation of liberty!"  Henry David Thoreau would have liked that, in fact, he said it - and Thoreau added "Obedience makes us slaves."  (Of course, there is a countervailing viewpoint floating around out there in conservative America that slavery may have not been such a bad thing after all.   Look for it in a history book coming soon to a small-minded school near you!)

Rage on, young ones, rage on!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pa Rock's Flying Squirrels

by Pa Rock
Friend to Animals

One of the funniest and yet most sophisticated television shows of my youth was the weekly Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a very tongue-in-cheek story of a flying squirrel, Rocky, who played straight man to a goofball and philosophical moose by the name of Bullwinkle.  And yes, I heard a raft of jokes and comments about a flying squirrel sharing my name.

Up until I was in my early thirties, I was not sure that flying squirrels even existed in real life.  I had certainly never encountered on in the wild.  Then one evening in the early 1980's there was suddenly pandemonium at our house in Noel, a place we rented temporarily that was located on a wooded hillside.   A varmint had gotten into the house, probably through the unused fireplace, and was running amok.  Our neighbor, Larry Coffee, a school teacher and a bit of a naturalist, came when summoned and caught the berserk creature in a laundry basked.  Upon close examination, Larry told us that it was a flying squirrel - one that we soon released back into the wooded outdoors.

That was thirty years ago.  Yesterday I had my second encounter with a flying squirrel - or possibly two.

The back story is this:  A couple of weeks ago a huge, seemingly healthy, tree limb broke loose from one of the massive oaks that rule over my backyard.   The limb didn't completely fall at first, but was left dangling and weighing down a power line that crosses the yard taking electricity to the outbuildings.  I managed to get the lower branches on the limb trimmed off using an electric saw (wish I had a chainsaw - but that will come), and the power line was free - with the remainder of the big limb hanging above it.  The rest of the limb, of course, fell during the next storm, again dragging the line down.  After getting the big limb cut up (again with the electric saw) and carried off to the brush pile under which one independent-thinking chicken likes to lay her daily egg, the power line was still annoyingly close to the ground.  (I had to limbo beneath it as I mowed this week.)

I had two choices - either put up a pole to hold the line aloft (an expensive and time-consuming proposition), or cut another branch out of the same tree - a maneuver that would leave an ideal fork along the tree trunk that would cradle the line securely.  I chose option two.  My son and his stepson managed to get the limb cut out, and when it fell, not only did it drag the wire down even further, it also knocked down an old barn-board birdhouse that I had mounted on that tree trunk last spring.  We left the birdhouse sitting on the ground next to the tree, and when I drove off to town later for some supplies, I asked Jake, Nick's stepson, to re-attach it to the tree.

I returned a half-hour later and saw that Jake had the birdhouse up, but it wasn't positioned exactly like I wanted it.  Jake said that he had been interrupted in his efforts when a pair of angry flying squirrels had scampered out of the box and up the tree.  Later in the afternoon I set about repositioning the birdhouse - with the assumption that if the flying squirrels had run off, and it would be empty.  It wasn't!

As I was pulling the birdhouse from the tree, a furry little fellow rushed out the box and shot up the tree.    The top of the house had been knocked loose, so I took a quick peek inside.  The little home was about half-filled with a large ball of what appeared to be finely shredded wood - not much thicker than human hair.   It gave the place a cozy feel.  A few minutes later as I was trying to hammer the box back on the tree, one of the flying squirrels came down the tree trunk, nose first, and got right up to the box to watch what I was doing.  I could have easily reached out and picked it up.

I didn't see the little flying squirrel move back into its quarters, but with the amount of patience that it exhibited yesterday with the jostling about of its home, I am quite certain that the little fellow and its mate are settled back into their comfy digs ready to eat hickory nuts and snuggle through the long Ozark winter.

Hopefully they won't be bothered by Bullwinkle or any of his friends!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Few Musings on the Birthday of a Screenwriter

by Pa Rock
Proud Father

I can remember as a teenager watching my parents go about their busy lives in their thirties and early forties.  They were hard-working entrepreneurs who prided themselves on being both self-made and self-reliant.  You didn't get much more grown up than they were.  In fact, somewhere along the line I developed the notion that a person's thirty-fifth year was probably the pinnacle of that time in our lives generally referred to as "middle-aged."  Now, of course, I see thirty-five for what it actually is:  embarrassingly young - and I hope against hope that it is nowhere near the mid-point of life.

My mother was concerned with the age of forty.  She told me once, probably about the time that she turned forty and I was just barely thirteen, that as a youth she felt that forty was the age at which people died, and she remembered how afraid she was as her father neared that age.  (She would have been just seven-years-old when Granddad sailed past forty - on his way to eighty!)

Today there is a young screenwriter in the suburbs of Kansas City who is turning thirty-five.   When my youngest, Tim Macy, isn't writing, he's either teaching evening classes for a nearby college or enjoying his family - his lovely wife, Erin, and their feisty two-year-old daughter, Olive.   Mr. Furley, their cat who has been in the family since kittenhood and well before the birth of Olive, is also in residence at their home.

Tim works hard every day, yet he always has time for his family and the enjoyment of life.  He has already experienced commercial and personal success with his writing, and his future appears to be bright.    Tim has both a unique ability to generate clever ideas as well as an ear for hearing the way people actually speak.   If he were to never write another word, he would close his laptop secure in the knowledge that he has already seen more of his work make its way to film than that of ninety-five percent of other people who also work at the craft.

I'm proud of my son.

Happy 35th, Tim.   Enjoy our youth - there is still plenty of it ahead of you!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "September"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today is Monday, September 22, 2014, the first day of autumn - and it is an absolutely beautiful day!  I have a new potted chrysanthemum sitting in the front yard - bronze and gold - fall colors of welcome!

The paw paws are ripe and have mostly fallen to the ground.  I enjoyed my first one yesterday and found it to be quite delicious - so much better than that other notorious Ozark fruit - the persimmon.  I also managed to snag several pears off of my lone pear tree before the deer got to them.

There is just the barest hint of fall in the air here in the Ozarks, and a few of the trees, mostly maples, have begun dropping a smattering of leaves.  I am in a rush to finish one more mowing of my immense lawn so that the leaves will have short grass to fall on and make the handling of them later on much easier to deal with.  So far I have worked on the lawn two days, and have one more long session to go.

Saturday afternoon I mowed over an underground nest of yellow jackets, and the two who popped me afterward for my impertinence, once on the inside of the knee (that's what I get for mowing in shorts) and once on the wrist, repaid me in full measure for the mess I inadvertently made of their home and their busy preparations for winter.

It's a farm, and all of us creatures who live here are focused on surviving the winter.  One of my next chores this week will be work on the ever-expanding chicken coop to insure that the girls have a fairly warm place to lay their eggs and cackle among themselves this winter.  Also, the new windows for the recently re-painted garage have arrived - more winterization!

Summer ended this morning and autumn has begun, and even though winter is still lingers off in the distance, it, too, is coming.

Below is John Updike's poem entitled September, honoring the month that links the season of growth and maturity with the season preparing for the sleep of winter.   Enjoy the whiffs of apple peel!

by John Updike

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk and such.  
The bee, his hive
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Demilitarize the Police

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

If the streets of Small Town America or the streets of Big City America need to be under marshal law, then the federal government should step in with the military – the well trained, real military.  What American towns and cities do not need is the dangerous presence of uniformed former high school bullies, armed with assault rifles, tasers, and the latest in military-style hardware “keeping the peace.”

People are dying.  Hell, kids are dying!  And they are dying at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect. 

According to an article in USA Today, FBI reports show that local police in the United States are killing over four hundred people each year.   Not all of the victims are guilty of, or even suspected of, major crimes – some are instances of cops just getting angry and exercising their wrath with superior armaments. 

Missouri has had a couple of recent noteworthy incidents of out-of-control police wreaking vengeance of teens who were guilty of nothing – or nothing more than being ordinary teenagers.  In one instance a young man died, and in the other the kid appears to have suffered permanent brain damage.   That may not seem too important to the average Joe or Mavis – that is until it's their child or grandchild lying in the morgue after being shot or beaten to death by an angry policeman who was not psychologically equipped to handle his duties.

An article in an issue of The Economist reported that police in Great Britain fired their guns a total of three times in 2013.  Three times in an entire year - in an entire nation!  That’s only half as many shots as Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Missouri Police Department pumped into unarmed teenager Michael Brown .

If police departments have the money to waste on tasers, automatic weapons, and armored vehicles – they need to consider other priorities for that cash.    How about using it to fund initial and annual psychological screenings to weed out individuals who are unfit to serve?  Or pump that money into salaries to hopefully increase the caliber of individuals who seek entry into the force. 

If local and state entities won’t move aggressively to demilitarize their police agencies, then Congress needs to act.  This is America, and Americans should be able to go about their daily lives without having to worry about being attacked by deranged people in police uniforms who are armed to the teeth with military gear. 

We deserve better.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tom Robbins: Still Relevant Forty Years On

by Pa Rock

I’m currently reading Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, a somewhat wild and weird counter-culture novel that was published in 1971.  I heard a Robbins’ interview on National Public Radio recently in which he modestly said that he had gone back and reread some of his early works, like the book I am now reading, and found that his writing was awfully damned good. 

Well, I have to concur.  Not only did Robbins, at least in his youth, spin tales that were imaginative, funny, and sometimes bordered on being psychedelic, he also had a keen eye for spotting the forces that formed the political and economic underpinnings of America.

In 1971 Richard Nixon was President, we were still bogged down in a war in Vietnam that Nixon had vowed to end our involvement in, and strange people calling themselves “hippies” were beginning to speak truth to power and nonsense.  Americans were starting to feel a need to look a bit more closely at things they had once taken for granted.  They were questioning war, the draft, race discrimination, gender inequality, the voting age, and the perils of smoking pot.

Tom Robbins was one of several young novelists to use their power with words to hold a mirror up to society and let the reading public have a fresh view of itself and its circumstances.

The following is his analysis of the role business and the economy played in the general welfare of the public.    As I read it, I kept thinking how apt the description is of the role of big corporations in our lives today.

“'Look, sweetie, you got your own reality going,’ Purcell replied.  ‘But that isn’t the reality of the United States of America.  Huh-uh!  After the doctors and scientific experts testified in Congress that cigarettes cause or compound not only cancer but a number of other diseases and are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually, the senior senator from Kentucky stood up just shaking with anger and moaned, ‘You’re wrecking our economy.’  And what did Henry Ford II say when the government began insisting on safety devices in cars?  ‘The American people don’t want anything that’s going to upset the economy.’   And what’s more, Ford was right.  Fifty thousand a year dead on the highways, but don’t rock the economy.  Look America is no more a democracy than Russia is a Communist state.  The governments of the U.S. and Russia are practically the same.  There’s only a difference of degree.  We both have the same form of government:  economic totalitarianism.  In other words, the settlement to all questions, the solutions to all issues are determined not by what will make the people most healthy and happy in their bodies and their minds but by economics.  Dollars or rubles.  Economy uber alles.  Let nothing interfere with economic growth, even though that growth is castrating truth, poisoning beauty, turning a continent into a shit-heap and driving an entire civilization insane.  Don’t spill the Coca-Cola, boys, and keep those monthly payments coming.'”

Forty years later it’s the same game but with a few different players.   Corporate America whistles, and government sits up and barks.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scots Stick to UK

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday there was a vote in Scotland over whether to remove itself from the political conglomeration that is the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland), or not.  The vote for independence failed by ten percentage points (55% to 45%).

I managed to see and enjoy some of Scotland in 2003 when friends and I rode a train from London to Edinburgh.  Those two cities, at that time, existed in stark contrast to one another.  London was a mess of traffic congestion, unkempt public parks in need of mowing, and a quickly spreading sea of graffiti that was seeping across the urban landscape.  Edinburgh, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air with beautiful vistas at every turn, well kept public spaces,  and numerous small businesses staffed by friendly and out-going individuals.

Edinburgh, of course, is not representative of all of Scotland.  I had seen the movie “Trainspotting” a few years before that trip and had been told that the residual dregs of several decades of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, were sleeping on the streets of Glasgow.  But we didn’t go there.

The Scots have a beautiful old culture, one that is markedly distinct from that of the British.    While in Edinburgh, my friends and I went to a distillery where Scotch whiskey was manufactured, and to a weaving factory where beautiful Scotch plaid cloth was woven.  And, of course, there were golf courses (Scotland is where the game was invented.), bagpipes, and men wearing kilts – which were made of Scottish plaids.

Another vivid memory of my trip to Scotland was the view from the train.  At one point we closed in on the seacoast and had a breathtaking view of a little fishing village sitting at the foot of a cliff.  I remember the country as being very green.

We were only in Scotland a couple of days, but those two days were a big highlight of my first and only trip (so far) to the United Kingdom.

I didn’t have a horse in the race on whether the citizens of Scotland should have voted for independence or not, but I notice that my President did.    Mr. Obama tweeted his desire that Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom.  That, to me, was a bit high-handed – advice to “stay put” from the President of a country which went to war to break itself away from the same mother country.

Big O, next time you encounter a situation like that of the Scottish move toward independence, may I respectfully suggest that you keep your American nose out of it.    And if the urge, or need, to intervene is too great to resist, send in McCaskill.   When it comes to rigging an election, there is no dictatorial despot or Republican secretary of state who can hold a candle to our Claire!