Saturday, January 31, 2015

Direct TV, Set Me Free!

by Pa Rock
Fed-Up Consumer

There was a story on the Internets yesterday that struck a chord with me.  A lady whose last name was Brown called Comcast and tried to cancel the cable portion of her service.  The telecom giant shunted her off to one of those irksome "retention specialists" whose job it is to browbeat customers and promise whatever is necessary to keep them sending in those monthly checks.  But Mrs. Brown wasn't having any of it.  She had already made up her mind to cut the cable service - and she stood firm.  When the family's next bill from Comcast arrived it was addressed to "Asshole Brown."

Comcast has reportedly admitted that the incident is true and said that they will fire the person who changed the first name of Mrs. Brown's husband on the bill.  The company also plans to refund the Brown's cable bill for the past two years and give them two more years on-the-house.

Comcast, by the way, is playing extra nice because it is trying to merge with Time-Warner Cable so it can significantly increase the number of assholes with whom it must deal.

Today I have undergone some personal trauma with my satellite television provider, Direct TV.  For the past year I have been stuck viewing the garbage on their "Basic" package (NCIS and Law and Order ad infinitum) for the solid gold price of over sixty dollars a month.  I didn't call the company and whine for freebies to keep me happy, but I did determine that when my contract expires - this March, I think - that I would drop their crappy and over-priced service.

This afternoon I received my monthly on-line receipt thanking me for my payment - which they had automatically charged to my credit card.  The amount I had paid was up ten dollars over the most recent bill - and I was suddenly paying in excess of seventy dollars a month to watch reruns of The Big Bang Theory from now until hell freezes over.

I tried to call Direct TV to find out why they were sticking their corporate hand even deeper into my poor pocket, but, as we all know, getting a human being on the line of a corporate beast the size of Direct TV is almost impossible.  I finally hung up and went to the company's web page.  There, in the shadowy world of cyberspace, I was able to register as a new user (with a user name and another effing password) - and on the first page I found a link that guaranteed to let me exchange messages with a human.  The web page first asked me some general questions trying to figure out what I wanted, and then it gave me a space to type in my question - "Why is my bill higher this month?"

My human, whose nom de plume was Donna L., knew what I was paying and asked how much I felt that I should be paying.  My response was "less."  From there it just went downhill.  It turns out my bill had hit some scheduled increase on January 1st, and the company let me just keep wandering through their "basic" wasteland without knowing that I was paying significantly more for the privilege.  After Donna L. got a sense of my level of displeasure, she began talking about lowering my bill.  But I wasn't after a lower bill by that point.   Like Mrs. Brown, I just wanted out!

When I asked about ending my contract, Donna L. said (typed) that would incur a cost of twenty dollars for each month of the contract that was still in force.  I asked about when the contract would end (early March, I think), and she replied that she did not have that information (though it was undoubtedly on the screen right in front of her), and that she would connect met with an account specialist for an answer.  Having no desire to get hooked up with a pushy retention specialist (again, like poor Mrs. Brown), I told her to just go ahead and cancel my contract and email the details to me.

Then I went to the gym.

Upon returning home imagine my total non-surprise to find that my satellite television service was still working.  Donna L. did send me a transcript of our messages, one which I will print word-for-word in this space unless Direct TV quickly relents and sets me free - without the humiliation of spending half-an-hour listening to some patronizing, nineteen-year-old retention specialist try to whine and cajole me into paying top dollar to watch never-ending reruns  of The Andy Griffith Show and dump-cake info-mercials for the rest of my natural life!

Dear Direct TV, 
I am a fairly competent adult human being capable of making purchasing decisions without the aid of one of your high-pressure wage slaves.  Please cancel my satellite television service immediately and charge me whatever retaliation fees you feel are necessary.  Paying to be rid of your inferior and over-priced programming will be worth the ransom. 
Most Sincerely, 
Asshole Macy

Friday, January 30, 2015

President Boehner? The Horror! The Horror!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday while writing in this space about John Boehner, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives and a bought-and-paid-for political hack, I noted that he was not, nor would he ever be, President of the United States.  Later in the day, however, after my keyboard had cooled a bit, I got to realizing that as hideous as the prospect might be, Orange John Boehner does have a pathway to the presidency.

Weepy John, by virtue of his position as Speaker of the House, is the third in line for the presidency. If, God forbid, anything were to happen to President Obama and Vice President Biden that was to remove them from office (death, incapacitation, impeachment, or resignation), John Boehner could conceivably find himself sitting behind the big desk in the Oval Office.

Way back in 1900 the party bosses in New York were upset with the reform-minded governor, a young man by the name of Teddy Roosevelt.  They designed a plan to get him out of the governor's office by securing his nomination to be the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket headed by President William McKinley.  When McKinley's campaign manager, Mark Hanna, heard that news, he was aghast.  Hanna sputtered,  "Don't any of you realize there's only one life between that madman and the presidency?"

Mark Hanna's worst fears were realized in September of 1901 when William McKinley was assassinated just six months into his second term, and Teddy Roosevelt suddenly became President of the United States.

So, the point is this:  never say never - even with a clown like Boehner.

Be safe Barack . . . and Joe!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

John Boehner Continues to be a Waste of Space

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Speaker of the House John Boehner, a political hack whose tear-stained orange face is as familiar around the gin joints and golf courses of our nation's capital as it is in the Halls of Congress, has wasted his entire speakership trying to impede or embarrass the President.  The last session of Congress did little else than pass House bills to block or kill the Affordable Care Act, a piece of legislation that has given millions of good Americans access to health care.  The House has done nothing under Boehner's leadership to create jobs or repair our nation's crumbling and deplorable infrastructure - or to better the lives of average Americans.  And Boehner's House, while always ready to dole out welfare to billionaires and corporations, has never and would never consider passing any bill that would even remotely benefit any of the 45 million Americans who live in poverty.

In other words, John Boehner, as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has been a total and complete waste of space.

Sadly, however, he hasn't bottomed out yet.

Last week it was announced that the House of Representatives under Boehner's leadership is branching out and will no longer be completely focused on killing affordable health care or passing bills to control women's bodies.  Now the House plans to try its hand at directing U.S. foreign policy.  Boehner and his cronies, without seeking the advice or consent of the State Department or White House, have invited the head of a foreign government to address Congress - an act without precedent in modern American politics.

The leader who received - and accepted - the invitation is Benjamin Netanyahu, the President of Israel.  Netanyahu, who appeared to be openly interfering in the 2012 U.S. presidential election in support of his close personal friend, Mitt Romney, will himself be up for re-election in Israel two weeks after his speech to Congress in March.

John Boehner invited this foreign leader - amid absolute secrecy - to address Congress and whip up support for strong sanctions against Iran, something our elected leader, President Obama, sees as counter-productive and a likely prelude to more years of war and strife in the Middle East.

We've had more than a decade of useless wars in the Middle East, wars that were initiated by a Republican administration and based on fear-mongering and lies.  Now,  just as we are beginning to extricate ourselves from that mess and regain our footing as a respected world power, do we really want to put Boehner's Congress in a position of significantly influencing U.S. foreign policy - and do we really want to dance to the tune of Israel's hard-line, right-wing leadership?

President Obama, undoubtedly offended by yet another attempt by Congress to curtail the powers of the presidency, has announced that he will not meet with Netanyahu when he comes to speak to Congress - and the President was right to do so.  Now Bibi Netanyahu should man-up and show a basic courtesy to the President of the United States and decline Boehner's invitation.

And John Boehner should sit down and shut the hell up.  He is not the President of the United States, and he never will be.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rosie's Big Vacation

by Pa Rock
Dog Person

Little Rosie spent the night away from home last night and this morning she is under the veterarian's knife - being spayed.  I will pick her up later this afternoon and bring her home - where I know she will spend the evening being drowsy and grumpy - and probably more than just a little angry at me.

I explained to Rosie before we left the house yesterday afternoon that she was going on vacation.  She's been on vacation before, to northwest Arkansas once and Kansas City on several occasions, but I've always been with her.   Her tail was wagging briskly as we left the house, undoubtedly expecting some fun in the bun - but that all ceased when we pulled into the vet's office parking lot.  She had been there before!

Rosie got the "little dog shakes" while we were getting her in-processed, and a large dog kept howling in the back room which added to her terror.  She didn't know what was happening, but she was pretty sure that whatever it was, it wasn't good - and it definitely was not going to be a vacation!

Finally the receptionist grabbed her up and took her through the swinging doors and into the back room - where that big dog was still howling!

So my house was quiet and lonely last night.  I didn't realize how much companionship that pesky little dog provided until she wasn't here.  I'm sure that Rosie will be glad to come home this afternoon - and I certainly will be glad to have her here.

And the next time I tell Rosie that she is going on vacation, I'd best be seen packing some beach toys!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Republican Parade Is Forming Up

by Pa Rock
Political Observer

While Hillary Clinton and her loyal lemmings in the Democratic Party may not officially have much going on as she quietly prepares for her second presidential slugfest - with an official announcement not expected until this April - the same cannot be said of the Republicans.  Though none of Righteous Right have officially declared their candidacy, several bold political moves are already being made as party stalwarts and extremists prepare to slaughter each other in wee hours of the presidential election season.

Jeb Bush started making noises about running early, even going so far as the silence his mother after she began prattling on about the country not needing another Bush as President.  Mama's prescience aside, Jeb wants the honor and responsibility of leading our nation - and he wants it bad.   It's sad that he is the third Bush to actively seek the office, because from the abysmal records of his father and brother, he could have most likely been the one to experience some success as President.

But the country does not need or deserve another President from the Bush family - and it certainly does not need to struggle through another Bush-Clinton national election.

Mitt Romney had been playing it coy about running again, although he has clearly felt for some time that he has a sort of divine right to be President of the United States.   Up until recently, in fact, Romney was openly denying any remaining presidential aspirations.  He saw the crazies lining up for a grab at the Republican nomination, and undoubtedly felt that when the shit storm subsided, he would be the sole-remaining rich, white, paternalistic symbol of all that is holy within the GOP.

But then Jeb, another old, rich, white guy from a strong political family started making real noises about running and Romney had to slip off his Italian loafers, don some good old American track shoes, and get into the race.  So far he is just saying he may run - which is candidate-speak for "get the hell out of my way because I'm coming through!"

So those are the two guys on the royalty float, Jeb and Mitt, but one royalty float does not a whole parade make.  Those two coddled creatures of pampered privilege will have to share the event with a whole succession of second and third-tier wannabes.

The second tier will include those who were born with less financial preparation to be President, but who still harbor a flaming desire to control the lives of others.    Rick Perry is marching in the second tier.  Perry, the former governor of Texas is a Bible-spewing Christian who is staunchly pro-life while holding the record for overseeing more executions than any other governor in the history of the United States.  Another Texan (of sorts), Senator Ted Cruz also has a strong intention to run for President.   The Canadian-born Cruz whose mother was from Ireland and father was from Cuba, is rabidly anti-immigrant.

At least two other United States senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, can also be counted on to be marching in the second tier of the Republican presidential parade.  Another candidate whom some would consider second-tier material is former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee.  Reverend Huckabee, who has for the past few years been a Fox News instigator, got off to a good start in the 2008 race, but sat out 2012 opting instead for the steady paycheck and on-air time from Fox.

The third tier is the out-and-out clowns, those who have no serious path to winning and probably don't want to anyway.  They are in it for the notoriety and the ready cash.   Sarah Palin has already announced that she may run this year, and her early entry into the race could conceivably put her at the wheel of the clown car.  Riding shotgun will likely be billionaire loudmouth Donald Trump, a man who suffers daily from bad hair.  Trump has also issued his pre-announcement warning that he is about to throw his toupee into the ring.

And there are, of course, a host of others.  New Jersey governor Chris Christie will be trying desperately to climb onto the royalty float, but the political bully is weighed down by a scandal that just won't die.   John Kasich, the current Republican governor of Ohio, is being touted by some as a respectable alternative to all of the others that the party is stuck with, but Republicans never seem to put much value on respectability.

Be that as it may, while the ultimate election may be Hillary's to lose - regardless of whom she is paired up against - the Republicans will put on a heck of a show as their parade slowly and painfully winds its way toward the national convention.  And that is something we all can enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "The Monkey's Disgrace"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Last night Turner Classic Movies ran one of my favorite films, 1960's Inherit the Wind, and I was able to find the time to sit down and enjoy it.  The film, starring Spencer Tracy and Frederic March, is a thinly fictionalized account of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925 - a real life event in which a young high school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was put on trial for breaking a new state law which forbid the teaching of evolution.  In the actual trial, Mr. Scopes was defended by one of America's most famous lawyers, Clarence Darrow, and the state of Tennessee was represented by William Jennings Bryan, a highly skilled orator who had been the Democratic candidate for President on three separate occasions.

A circus-like atmosphere descended on Dayton that summer with the arrival of national press, food vendors, and thousands of people who wanted to be part of the commotion.

During the trial Darrow was rebuffed in his attempts to bring actual scientists to the witness stand to testify on Darwin's theory of evolution.  Finally, after coming to the realization that science itself would not be a player in this drama, Darrow decided to make the trial about the Bible instead.  He called his opposing counsel, Mr. Bryan, to the stand and got the old orator to declare himself an expert on the Bible.  William Jennings Bryan posited that the entire Bible was the word of God, and, as such, was literally true - every line.   Darrow began peppering him with a series of questions designed to bring the literalness of the Bible into question:  Did God really make the world in just seven days?  Were the days exactly twenty-four hours long?  How do you explain the fossil record?  Was Jonah really swallowed by a big fish?  Who did Cain marry?

The verbal interchange was intense, both in the real life courtroom drama as well as in the movie - with much of the movie dialogue being taken almost word-for-word from the trial transcript.  During the long exchange, Bryan began to lose the backing of the spectators.  The jury found Scopes guilty because he had intentionally broken a Tennessee law, whether that law was just or not.  The judge gave him a minimal fine, a result that enraged Bryan - and the old politician died of a stroke shortly after the completion of the trial.

So, having just seen the movie (for the third or fourth time), I sought out a poem for this space that would somehow reflect how I was feeling.  What follows, The Monkey's Disgrace, is a whimsical look at the theory of evolution as taken from the monkey's perspective.  The poet is unknown.

I respectfully dedicate this retelling of The Monkey's Disgrace to Sarah Palin, Little Ricky Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and all of the other intransigent Americans who are firmly rooted in the Dark Ages and constantly strive to keep everyone else as steeped in ignorance as they are.

The Monkey's Disgrace
by Anonymous

Three monkeys sat in a coconut tree
Discussing things as were said to be
Said one to the others, now listen you two
There’s a certain rumor that can’t be true
That man descended from our noble race
Why, the very idea is a disgrace!

No monkey ever deserted his wife
Starved her babies and ruined her life
And you’ve never known a mother monk
To leave her babies with others to bunk
Or pass them on from one to another
‘Til they scarcely know who is their mother.

Another thing you’ll never see
A monkey build a fence around a coconut tree
Forbidding other monkeys to taste
And letting the coconuts go to waste.
Why, if I built a fence around a coconut tree
Starvation would force you to steal from me.

And another thing a monk won’t do
Go out at night and get on a stew
Or use a gun, club, or knife
To take some other monkey’s life.
Yes, man descended, the ornery cuss

But brother he didn’t descend from us!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Washing the Dog

by Pa Rock
Dog Person

I just read an article on the Internet that would have one believe that there is an art to bathing a dog.   The author of the piece spoke of using several different types of  dog-washing products including a flea soap, shampoo, and conditioner.    He also mentioned using a leash to prevent the canine from running off during the ordeal, and having a dog toy handy for the pup’s pleasure -  as well as cotton balls to keep water out of the doggie’s ears.   Properly drying the dog involved a big fluffy towel and the optional use of a hair dryer placed on a cool setting.  The author did not make a recommendation either way on the use of crème rinses, hair gels, or mood music.

Poor Rosie is obviously deprived.

My little Chihuahua gets bathed once or twice a week, depending on how ripe she has  become since her last washing.   Her bathing consists of me chasing her around the house, grabbing her up, and taking her in the shower with me.   She is scrubbed unmercifully with the same cheap shampoo that I use on myself, thoroughly rinsed under the shower head, towel dried with a dirty towel, and then set free to run about the house drying off and wreaking havoc while Daddy finishes his shower.

By the time I have completed my morning shower, Rosie is usually sitting in front of the kitchen door, tail wagging furiously, begging to be set free onto the lawn where she will chase chickens and squirrels, eat whatever she finds on the ground that smells good  – and roll in the dirt.

It’s a dog’s life – and one that I have to envy – just a little!

(I'm sure glad that the chickens are satisfied with dust baths!)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Three States Continue to Mock King Holiday

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I mentioned in this space a few days ago that a former governor of Arizona had messed with the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, by moving it to Sunday in Arizona so employers would not have to let their employees off for the holiday.  That governor, Evan Mecham, who also got into hot water for referring to African--American children as "pickaninnies," was eventually impeached.

The holiday for Dr. King forms an easy target for racists and other assorted yokels to focus on as they continue to minimize, marginalize, disparage, and threaten the country's slow but steady march toward real and complete integration.  Perhaps the only thing that raises their hackles more is the realization that a black family is living in the White House.

I didn't know until yesterday that three states recognize the King holiday in conjunction with recognition of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  The three states, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi, are all part of the old Confederacy.  Arkansas, in fact, has been celebrating General Lee's January birthday as a state holiday since the 1940's.  When the new King holiday came along, the state legislature eventually attached their Lee holiday to it - a bit of state pride, and a bit of sticking their thumb in the eye of the federal government.

Now two Arkansas legislators, one black and one white, have filed separate bills that would remove General Lee from the national King holiday - and the Arkansas Secretary of State has indicated that he supports the effort to align his state with the nation.  What's not so clear, however, is where the state's new governor, Asa Hutchinson, stands on the matter.  So far the former Bush Drug Czar and graduate of Bob Jones University is being non-committal.

Northwestern Arkansas is home to the University of Arkansas, Walmart, Tyson Foods, Jones Truck Lines, and a healthy and vibrant economy.  Many of the people who live and work in that part of the state are undoubtedly embarrassed by the bigotry and political blundering of the folks residing in some of the more rural and remote areas of the state.  The Natural State can be a minefield even for master politicians.

Governor Hutchinson, like Clinton and Huckabee before him, will surely develop and hone a fine set of prevarication skills as he bounces between the bumpkins and business executives, trying to keep everybody happy.  He has his work cut out for him.

But hey, Asa, that's why you get the big bucks!

Friday, January 23, 2015

"True Detective" Strengthens the Genre of Crime Fiction

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

I recently finished watching the entire eight-episode season of HBO's hit from last year, True Detective.   Set in the backwaters of Louisiana's Cajun country, this is the story of two policemen struggling to solve a bizarre murder, a strange trip that brings them into conflict with each other, the officers in their department, and a raft of local characters.  This bayou noir spans a period of seventeen years.

The two detectives are Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, a troubled soul from Texas who arrives in Louisiana just in time to take part in this odd case, and Marty Hart, a Louisiana good-old-boy cop played by Woody Harrelson.  Rust Cohle is metaphysical in nature with a propensity to talk in circles, while Marty Hart is more direct.  Hart, for example, has no problem asking a jailer to leave a cell door unlocked so that he can beat the hell out of two young men who were found misbehaving with his daughter in a parked car.  ("You play a man's game, you pay a man's price,"  Hart told the two young men as he commenced pounding.)

The case that brings the two disparate detectives together deals with child torture and murder, and it is steeped in Cajun religious lore.  Most of it is told from an over-the-shoulder perspective as the detectives are interviewed by state investigators who are trying to determine if the two local police officers broke laws during their protracted investigation.   In addition to the horrendous crime that is the focus of the series, the private lives of the detectives are also explored.

McConaughey's performance in particular is stellar.  His hospital scene in the eighth episode surpasses anything he did in Dallas Buyer's Club, the film which garnered him an Oscar for Best Actor.

The key element that makes True Detective  so strong is the writing.  Nic Pizzolatto did an amazing job creating and scripting this crime drama.  Pizzolatto, who at one time attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, apparently pushed for this series to be filmed in the Missouri Ozarks, but it was relocated to Louisiana because that state's legislature created tax incentives to attract film projects there, while Missouri had not.  (The Missouri Legislature is awfully good about protecting its citizens from outside groups who might bring money, jobs, or respectability to the "Show Me" state.)

True Detective will be back in 2015, but with a new cast that will include Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell as the detectives.  As long as HBO has the good sense to keep the same writer, it ought to be a hit!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mitt Shakes the Hell Out of his Etch-a-Sketch

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Perennial presidential candidate Mitt Romney has announced that he is considering another run for the White House, a move that effectively makes the Republican this century's reincarnation of Harold Stassen.

Romney, who has actively been trying to foist his service onto the country since 2008, believes deeply that he is the man for the job, and he has been more than willing to say anything or align himself with any position in order to close in on his ultimate goal.  During the 2012 campaign one of Romney's top aides made news when he told members of the press how easy it would be for the former Massachusetts governor to redefine himself and move to the center once he had acquired the Republican nomination.  The aide said that the campaign would simply "shake the Etch-a-Sketch" and come up with new, more centrist positions.

But that proved to be too little, too late.

This election cycle the Romney organization is already shaking the Etch-a Sketch - and the convention is still a year-and--a-half away!

Romney was speaking pure Republican hate gibberish four years ago at this time, trying to elbow his way in among the certifiables in order to snatch the nomination.  Now, however, he is differentiating himself early - perhaps a sign that the crazies are no longer seen as being in absolute control of the machinery of the Republican Party.

A few days ago the Mittster surprised the political world by speaking in sympathetic tones about the country's poor, implying that the nation has some moral responsibility to look out for the less fortunate who live among us.   Oh, he undoubtedly is still focused on his base, America's millionaires and billionaires, but throwing some larger crumbs toward the poor might squeeze another percentage point or two into his vote total in November of 2016.  But saying anything about the poor, other than they are welfare-sucking thugs, has been heresy in the modern Republican Party since the time of Reagan.

So what gives?  Does Mitt think that he can break with the goobers who run his party this early in the process and get away with it?

Apparently he does.

Now Mitt is speaking again, and from the perspective of the morons who shared the stage with him in the primary debates of 2008 and 2012, he's getting crazier than they are.  Mitt has decided to talk about climate change, something most members of his party deny is even occurring.  Mitt says that earth is getting warmer, and - get this - it is getting warmer due to the activities of man!

Holey, moley!  Climate change is happening - and man is causing it!

With this kind of a start, poor Mitt's Etch-a-Sketch is in for one hell of a long campaign season!

Shake it baby, shake it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Banned Book #5: "Bless Me, Ultima"

by Pa Rock

Those who take comfort from a highly organized and very disciplined religion would not likely find much pleasure in reading Rudolfo Anaya's breakthrough novel, Bless Me, Ultima.     It is the story of a young boy growing up dirt poor on the outskirts of a small New Mexico town just at the close of World War II.  The book was first published in 1972 and has gone on to become a classic of Chicano literature.

The central character, Antonio "Tony" Marez Luna, is the youngest of six children.  He has three grown brothers who are off fighting in World War II in the Pacific, and two sisters who are a few years older than him.  His father is a Marez (of the sea) and hopes that Tony will grow into an independent man and enjoy the freedom of life on the open plain, the llano, a lifestyle that is quickly fading, and one which has eluded the father.   The mother, a Luna (of the moon), is from a long line of farmers, sensible people rooted in the earth.    She hopes her youngest will get a good education and eventually become a priest.

Tony, a few months shy of beginning first grade when the story opens, has his life set in motion one night when he witnesses the people of the town, including his father, kill a murderer in a little creek close to where he lives.  At about the same time Tony's mother invites an old healing woman, Ultima, into their home to live with them.  Ultima has had a long history with the Marez family and assisted Tony's mother in the delivery of all of her children.

Tony's mother is a devout Catholic, and Ultima is steeped in natural lore, heals with herbs, and believes in spirits.  Together they each have a strong impact on Tony, a child who desperately wants to understand God.

Bless Me, Ultima wanders through formal religion, customs, traditions, and superstitions to show the impact that all of these beliefs can have on people, particularly on the absorbent mind of a young child who seeking to learn the ways of life and to be a good person.  To achieve that end, and to understand all of the various facets of God and of life, Tony gradually forms a deep emotional bond to Ultima.

While this book does contain a lot of detail on the Catholic religion, and particularly the training that goes into the acceptance of young people into the family of the Church, it also shows how religion can be expanded, or corrupted, by forces beyond the walls of the Church.  It gives the definite impression that religion and nature are intertwined, and together form something well beyond the understanding of most of us - and certainly beyond the teachings of one particular text.

Ultima understood, and Tony was slowly allowing his mind to open.

But some of those who sat in the same pews of the same homogenized churches every week did not understand, so they pulled this book from the shelves to protect their children from dangerous ideas.

Bless Me, Ultima, is a powerful book, one that leaves the reader thinking - whether the reader is comfortable with that outcome or not.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Spring Break Is Ending

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

The past few days in the Ozarks have been gorgeous, warm and sunny and breezy - a phenomenon that the local weather-guessers have been referring to as "spring break."  But, alas, spring break is ending.  The outside temperatures have been dropping for the past couple of hours and now the air again has a dreadful tinge of winter.  

A couple of things happened at The Roost during the all-too-brief reprieve in the weather.  Rosie, of course, went crazy in the warm weather and spent long periods of time out-of-doors where she raced about the yard in ever expanding circles.  She has the look and racing style of a greyhound, just not the size.

The neighbor lad gave me his entire contingent of chickens a month or so ago - two Araucana roosters and a small banty hen.   The roosters had gotten along fairly well and seemed to be sharing protection and stud duties over the flock of hens until the nice weather set in - then the boys started acting like boys.  I had to sit in my car and wait to leave the house two days ago while the two roosters blocked the driveway with one heck of a fight.  Feathers were flying, and vocal insults were being hurled!  The boys fought off and on the rest of the day until one finally proved to be dominant.  The other now walks around by himself, dejected, and probably plotting his revenge.  A stray hen or two will occasionally drop around and provide him with pity sex, but his self-esteem is still damaged.  Therapy may be in order.

The little banty hen has taken to staying in the hen house all day and sort of supervising the place.  She is a very sweet bird, and I set out little piles of feed just for her.  When I place my chick order in the spring, I will order a few just for her to raise.  Banty's make wonderful mothers.

The little banty also provides her farmer with a couple of tiny eggs each week  I have eleven Rhode Island Red hens in addition to the banty.  During the worst of the cold weather egg production was down to five or six a day, but that number has climbed steadily as the weather has warmed - with daily totals anywhere from nine to eleven.  Today I gathered fifteen eggs - which isn't even supposed to be possible with only twelve hens.   Perhaps the girls are having the neighborhood hens in for brunch - or canasta - while the farmer is busy hitting the snooze alarm!

My eight peacocks are developing into big, healthy birds.  A friend who raises peacocks told me that it might be as much as a year before I would be able to tell the males from the females.  (One reason I bought eight - four each from two breeders - was to insure that I would have some of both genders.)  The sudden warm spell seems to have brought out a few very telling distinctions in my small flock of peacocks.  I am now fairly certain that I have two males and six hens.  The two boys are slightly bigger and their feathers are beginning to show a distinctive pattern.  The ladies are developing greenish feathers around their necks and craws, and the other two are showing bluish feathers around their throats and craws.  The name of the breed is "India Blue," the most common, and in my mind the prettiest, of the peafowl family.

Now, by the time spring really does arrive, I will learn if peacocks (the males of the species) are as possessive and territorial as roosters.  It could be a real feathered brawl as the weather heats up at Rock's Roost!

And now it is raining - a cold, cold rain.   Spring break is officially over!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "Down the Years"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day set aside by the federal government to honor the man who did so much to bring integration and racial peace to a land that was still shackled to old prejudices and hatreds.   Dr. King's philosophy, like that of Mahatma Gandhi before him, was to motivate people and governments to change through peaceful, non-violent means.

To honor Dr. King's work and his memory, today's poetry selection is on the subject of non-violence.  It was written by Philip Britts as the Second World War was still raging.  Here are Mr. Britt's thoughts on the subject of change through non-violent activities as opposed to change as the result of war.

Down the Years
by Philip Britts

Down the years a murmur runneth,
Bleeding hearts that wince in pain,
While the boasting politicians
Vaunt the claims of man in vain.

Building cities, stone on stubble,
Seeking safety in their might,
Till the ground the men to rubble
With their brothers of the night.

Through the earth their runs a challenge
Clearer than the trumpet call:
"Oh forsake your ancient folly,
Build the Brotherhood of all

"Seek the city that God buildeth,
City of heart and hand, 
Not beyond the grave of shadow,
Here on earth, in your own land."

Sunday, January 18, 2015


by Pa Rock
Film Fan

The Academy Award nominations are out, and of the ten Best Picture nominees, I have now seen three - The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Boyhood - and any of those three would be deserving of the honor of being named the best motion picture of 2014.  They are all exceptional movies.  However, Boyhood, is the film that is currently garnering all of the Oscar buzz.

Boyhood depicts the life of a modern American boy from the age of five to eighteen, but it tells the story on film using the same young man throughout as the central character, Mason.  The director and writer, Richard Linklater, accomplished this feat by assembling the same cast year-after-year until the complete story made its way onto film.

As the story opens Mason and his older sister, Samantha, are living with their divorced mom as she struggles to make ends meet.  Dad has gone off to Alaska to finish his work on his own maturation issues.   During the opening scenes the mother is preparing to move the family to Houston where her mother can help watch the kids while she gets a job and goes back to school.  Dad returns from Alaska and the two parents remain in relative proximity of one another throughout the rest of the movie - until the kids have left home and gone to college.

The kids follow the mother through two more failed marriages and several moves, but they still manage to grow up relatively normal.  Mom (Patricia Arquette) struggles to get her bachelors and masters degrees and become a successful college instructor.  Dad (Ethan Hawke), who at one point describes the process of being pulled into a formalized father role as "castration," eventually grows up, moves from music to insurance sales, and starts another family.  Throughout all of their life crises, both parents remain focused on Mason and Samantha and manage to raise two fairly stable and likable young people.

The lives of the family members in this play are stubbornly realistic.  The language is that used by real families and young people, and it's not always pretty.  Mother is a victim of domestic violence, and the kids, once they reach high school age, smoke a little weed and drink with their friends.  The young people go to school, have relationship issues, hold down jobs, develop interests outside of school and family, and discover sex in a gradual and natural manner.

Ellar Coltrane, the young man who portrays Mason, is a skilled actor who ages almost seamlessly through this movie, physically and emotionally.  His performance stuns and amazes.

Director Richard Linklater took a big chance as he developed this concept and created a movie over more than a dozen years.  So much could have gone wrong during that long of a period of time.  Who could possibly know what a charming five-year-old would be like when he was eighteen - not to mention the other cast members as they aged?  But the director (and writer) created his story as his artists were growing and changing.   Together Linklater and the cast weaved a tale over time that became a very realistic depiction of a family as it ages in a changing world.

The film also conveys a real sense of what it feels like for a little boy to slowly evolve into a man.

Boyhood is likely to become fodder for classroom viewing and discussion for years to come.  It is a film that will give young adults a long view of the realities of raising a family.

And as a Best Picture nominee, Boyhood will be damned hard to beat!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Arizona Peeks Beyond Its Border

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

While I would not be surprised to learn that high school students in Arizona might have to know the books of the Bible or the parts of a rifle before being allowed to graduate from high school, I was almost shocked yesterday when I heard over the radio that the Arizona legislature had just passed a law saying that seniors would have to pass a test over the U.S. Constitution in order to graduate.   True, lots of states have had a requirement like that for decades, but for the legislature of Arizona to even recognize that there is a federal government is about as unlikely as the entire group of "legislators" suddenly tripping and falling into the Grand Canyon at the same time.

Arizona has never been much on going with the national flow.  It is the only state in the union that declines to participate in Daylight Savings Time, and several years ago then Governor Evan Mecham ruled by executive fiat that the state would no longer recognize Martin Luther King day as a paid holiday.   Mecham changed in holiday in Arizona to a Sunday when workers would no longer have to be paid for observing the holiday.  (Mecham also became infamous for defending his use of the word "pickaninny" to describe African American children.)

(Mecham was later impeached, and the holiday was moved back to its original Monday status.)

Arizona became known over the last several years for its tough and racist stance on immigration as the state rushed to pass legislation that would give police almost unlimited powers to stop and harass people with brown skin.  Such efforts led to a continuing state of conflict between some state and county police agencies and the efforts of the U.S. Immigration Service.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County summoned reporters on numerous occasions to piss and moan about what he saw as the over-reach of the federal government, as well as the feds' monitoring of his police state operation.  Governor Jan Brewer also maintained a ready snarl for the government of the United States of America and postured against efforts of the central government for her own political ends.   One of her biggest stunts was to manage to get herself photographed on the tarmac at Sky Harbor (the Phoenix airport) sticking her finger at President Obama's nose.

There are also the legislators themselves who are usually too damned lazy, or preoccupied with immigration and abortion, to actually sit down and do any legislating.  Most of the laws in Arizona that aren't written by ALEC (a very pro-business lobbying group) are written by lobbyists for the state's private prison industry - who also happen to be big contributors to political campaigns.

Yes, it is a grand idea for high school students in Arizona, or anywhere else for that matter, to learn the basics of the United States Constitution, but in Arizona, in particular, it would be wonderful if the politicians could also meet the standard of passing a test on our nation's Constitution.   There is so much in that document that would probably come as a surprise to them.

But, first things first.  Get today's students familiar with the principal document that governs our nation, and hopefully the next generation of Arizona politicians will be better at the job of governing because they were exposed to the Constitution in high school.

One can only hope.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dukakis and the ACLU

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As the American political landscape begins to morph into something resembling the crowd at a John Birch revival, or a hanging, it is reassuring to be able to draw upon the recent past to realize that hope remains that our ship can be righted and we may once again thrive in a spirit and environment of human decency.

Michael Dukakis is one of this harbingers of that misplaced decency - a man who has survived this awfulness of national ignorance before and is holding high his torch to again lead us out of this wasteland of hate, and bigotry, and unprecedented government intrusion into our private lives.

Dukakis is a former governor of Massachusetts and the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate.  He lost the election in 1988 after his opponent, George W. Bush, unleashed an overtly racist "Willie Horton"attack ad.  Bush won that race, and he would now like to be remembered as a statesman.

But it was Dukakis who was the real statesman, and it was Dukakis, a man who had lived a life that was as foreign to the Bushes as the notion of working for a living, who best understood the principles upon which America was based.

Michael Dukakis has a featured article in the current issue of STAND, the quarterly publication of the American Civil Liberties Union.   In that piece entitled "Why I'm a Card-Carrying Member," the former governor recalls his early days working as a volunteer for the ACLU.  That experience came during his college days while America was undergoing the "Red Scare" and the machinations of Senator Joe McCarthy, a time not wholly unlike what we are currently experiencing.  He stresses why the ACLU was an important bulwark for freedom during that time of political and social darkness, and obviously why it is equally important today.

He summed up his article with these words:

"And true to its mission, the ACLU once again is on the firing line, ensuring that Americans of all colors and beliefs have the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States, speaking out and speaking up for the values and ideals that are America at its best."

Unlike Michael Dukakis, I am not a lifetime card-carrying member of the ACLU, but over the years I have often been a member - and I am today.  I am proud to stand with the membership of the ACLU in their constant and unswerving effort to uphold the safeguards and guarantees of the Constitution, and to remind myself and others of the values that it enshrines.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Proton Flipping

by Pa Rock
Medical Patient

My grandfather rode into Missouri in a covered wagon.  During his lifetime he owned several vehicles, had a color television set, and flew to California on an airplane - where he was able to fulfill a lifetime dream of wading in the Pacific Ocean.  Granddad saw a lot of change in his lifetime, and, as I am beginning to realize, so have I.

I remember sitting around the family radio listening to shows when I was just a little tyke.  Our family got its first television, a large black and white, when I was just starting to school, and by the time I was in junior high we had a color set and were the envy of the neighborhood.  (We got ours early because my dad sold appliances and televisions for a living.)  By the time I was twenty-five or so I had a college degree and had been on three continents.  And then came the dawning of the computer age.

I thought of all that last Tuesday morning as I climbed onto a narrow plank and was slid into a long narrow tube that resembled a very small version of a modern airliner cabin.  I was about to undergo my first Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

My shoulder has been aching for a long time now, but a couple of months ago it began to get increasingly worse - hurting so much that some nights it was difficult, or even impossible, to get to sleep.  I had a series of X-rays  while I was living in Arizona, and the doctors who read them reported that there was nothing wrong with my neck or shoulder.  (Of course, those particular doctors were so single-minded in their desire to undercut Obamacare with their patients, that they probably couldn't spare much time for the actual practice of medicine.)

My physician in West Plains referred me to physical therapy for eight weeks, and that seemed to help, but then a bit of over-exertion on my part reignited the pain.   This time the doctor again placed me in physical therapy and also ordered a thorough set of X-rays.  The X-rays revealed what the doctor termed "significant" arthritis in my neck.   He then ordered a follow-up MRI to get a better picture of what was going on.

Hence, me being slid into a long tube.

When I heard about the pending MRI, I had visions of lying on a comfortable platform (it wasn't) and snoozing while the machine quietly hummed along and did its work.  I knew that was probably not going to be the case when the attendant handed me a set of ear plugs and told me that the experience would be very noisy.

And was it ever noisy!  The procedure lasted twenty-five long and fairly grueling minutes (grueling because the narrow plank caught me in the back right on the shoulder pain).  During that time I was treated to what sounded like a spasmodic concert by a kitchen band that was pumped through amplifiers big enough to carry sound through Yankee Stadium.  The kitchen band banged, and screeched, and whistled, and gonged, and made sounds of such variety and intensity as to defy description.  It only took a moment or two before I knew for sure that there would be no napping in the tube.

When I was finally pulled out of the auditory torture chamber, and after I got the plugs out of my ears, I asked the attendant about the process.  It was, I assumed, the sound bouncing off of my bones that created the image.  Not exactly, she replied.  The sound had been used to flip my protons, and from that process images were captured.

Granddad would have been astounded!  Heck, I was astounded!

Twenty-five minutes of having my protons flipped - and I didn't even get a kiss!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feeling Like the Man Who Invented Dump Cake

by Pa Rock
Dump Cook

I have a small stove top cooking utensil that I dearly love.  It is actually a little skillet that is hinged to another identical skillet -  a contraption which closes and allows food to be cooked on the stove and then flipped at the appropriate time by turning the skillet over instead of messing with the actual food.  It is so simple to use and is particularly well suited to eggs-over-easy and grilled cheese sandwiches.  I found this gadget at Walgreen's, and was so pleased with its performance that I bought one for each of my kids.

I can make a wicked grilled cheese sandwich - or several - in just minutes!  And I'm getting better and better at coming up with ideas for the little two-sided skillet.

This week I had a hankering for salmon patties, and I also had a convenient can of salmon just sitting in the cabinet waiting to be put to good use.  My mom made wonderful salmon patties while I was growing up, but I have never been able to make them anywhere as tasty or firm as hers.  So I decided to try the little skillet.

Instead of almost floating the patties in hot oil, I simply sprayed the ceramic surface with a non-stick spray, and placed the prepared mixture (one can of salmon, two farm-fresh eggs, and a handful of cracker crumbs) into the form of one big patty.   It cooked great, looked great, and even smelled great, but most importantly, the big patty was delicious - and it only took a few minutes to prepare.  I dumped a can of cream-style corn over it, and enjoyed a wonderful warm meal that was washed down with a cold glass of milk.  The scraps, which weren't many, went to some mighty grateful chickens.

A few days later my son brought over a container of fried potatoes and onions.  The potatoes weren't as brown as I preferred - again harking back to my mom's wonderful fried potatoes which were on the Macy family menu almost every evening.  After letting Nick's potato leftovers sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days, I got them out and discovered that they were just the right amount to fit nicely into my little double skillet.  The potatoes and onions browned nicely in just minutes - and they tasted so delicious under a good dumping of store-bought chili.  My leftovers again went to the chickens who were delighted to get them!

I am so proud of myself and my flippin' skillet that I almost feel like the man who invented dump cake.

No offense to the lady cooks, but it was obviously a man who first stumbled on the idea of "dump cakes" and "dump dinners."  The notion of pouring two or three ingredients together and then putting it on a fire to cook corresponds to the way men think.  Women plan, and measure, and sauté, and simmer, and pre-heat, and pre-boil, and pre-bake, and garnish, and do a whole host of things to ensure that a perfect meal presents like something out of a doctor's office magazine, while men just want to get in there and get to cooking.  Kill it, skin it, burn it, and eat it!

And yes, I know that the "dump cake" and "dump meal" pitch-person is a woman.   Her creations, particularly the meals, seem to be getting more and more complicated - and looking more and more like main dishes prepared in a nice restaurant.  Some men may be concerned with praise and applause - a few notable chefs, for instance - but I would argue that most are more focused on producing a quick, hot meal - comfort food in a dutch oven, skillet, pan, or bucket.

The old chuck wagon cook, let's call him "Cookie," made stew by throwing whatever was available into a big pot and then letting it simmer over a campfire..  The word "soufflé" never passed his parched lips.  A good evening around the campfire would also include black coffee and sour dough biscuits - all cooked over the same flame.  The fire had no thermostat, no range hood to suck away the smells, and it was adjusted through stirring and spitting - or worse.   Cookie could have made a hell of an info-mercial!

One of the first "recipes" I ever learned was essentially a dump creation.  It was during my time in the Boy Scouts, and the desired outcome was peach cobbler.  The only equipment needed was a campfire with plenty of red-hot coals and a well-seasoned, cast-iron dutch oven.  The ingredients were a couple of cups of dry biscuit mix and a can or two of peaches in syrup.  The directions were to dump the ingredients into the dutch oven, stir, and bank hot coals all around the cooker.  The end product was wonderful!

(Another Boy Scout favorite was potatoes baked in mud.  Yup, mud.  The simple directions called for covering each large potato in a thick coating of mud, placing them on the ground like a nest of eggs, and then building the campfire on top of the muddy potatoes.   After the rest of the meal had been prepared on the campfire, the potatoes were removed and their earthen crusts were cracked and taken off.  Those potatoes were almost as good as the peach cobbler - or my mother's salmon patties and fried potatoes!)

Be forewarned, however, for every miracle meal that is dumped together at random, there are two or three failures.  That's why it is always good to have a flock of hungry chickens foraging in the back yard!