Saturday, February 28, 2015

Feeding the Masses Down on the Farm

by Pa Rock

It's snowing again in the beautiful southern Missouri Ozarks, and once again the view from my front room window looks like it was carefully penned by Currier and Ives.   The dormant maple tree just outside of the window, the one from which the bird feeder hangs, has cardinals perched on almost every limb - still giving the impression of some sort of red apple tree in winter.  Right now there is a squirrel who has them all upset because he is hanging over the edge of the feeder and gorging himself.  Fortunately for the birds, Mr. Squirrel is sloppy and manages to accidentally scatter as much as he eats.

It all works itself out - and everybody manages to score a meal at Pa Rock's Roost.

Quite a bit of the last snow was still on the ground as this latest batch began falling early this morning.  Yesterday evening I took my son out to the hen house to show him some very large bird tracks that I had found around the barn and hen house.  Nick, an avid naturalist, studied the prints in the snow and informed me that they were from wild turkeys - at least one of which was a big tom.  The turkeys were more than likely coming close to the outbuildings so that they could enjoy some of the grain that I scatter on the ground for the little brown hens.

We all eat well at Pa Rock's Roost.

The most difficult part of getting all of the critter's nutritional needs met is the watering ordeal.  During these very cold days, I have to carry water from the house at least twice a day, dump the ice out of the chicken's and peacock's water bowls, and refill them with fresh water.  Scattering feed is easy, carting water is not.

Probably the only one with complaints about the farm menu is little Rosie.  I determined when she first came to The Roost that she would not bloat into one of those fat little Chihuahua that seem to be all too common.  To help her maintain her girlish figure, I feed her only commercial dog food - both wet and dry.  She has a continual supply, so the girl doesn't miss any meals - but, of course, she would rather share my meals.

Rosie and I have an on-going battle each evening when I bring my own supper into the living room and park my old butt on the couch.  She feels strongly that she should share in the bounty - and I, of course, feel just as strongly that she should not.  It's always a tussle where I wind up shoveling food down my throat instead of savoring it, and Rosie ends up pissed off.  Try as I might, I still haven't figured out how to translate "No means  no!" into Chihuahua yet.

I've just counted eleven male cardinals flitting about in the maple tree - which reminds me, it's time for lunch!

No one goes hungry at Pa Rock's Roost!

Friday, February 27, 2015

America Stumbles Toward Four More Years of Clinton or Bush

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

With a multitude of routes to the White House -   50 governorships, 100 Senate seats, 435 House seats, former political office holders, ambassadors, judges, religious charlatans, reality television stars, B-movie actors, celebrity chefs, and who knows what else - how sad is it for America that our choices seem to be rapidly dwindling to a Clinton and a Bush.  Haven't we been there and done that?

Yes, it is well past time for America to elect a woman as our President - but why is Hillary the only available and qualified woman in America capable of winning a national election and governing the most powerful country on earth?  I submit that she is not.   Senator Elizabeth Warren has an army of supporters who believe fervently that their candidate is just swell versed on international matters as Hillary, and that she is much more formidable when it comes to reining in the abuses of banks and corporate America.  There are also several women in Congress who would likely have more finely honed legislative skills than Secretary Clinton - and legislative skills can be the crucial component of a successful presidency.

And while the Republicans boast of a deep field of potential candidates, many of whom can barely contain their zeal to get into the race, the old-line party power brokers seem to have already quietly made their selection.  The establishment Republicans, a group who have been shunted to the side for the past few years, are back - and they appear to be leaning toward the safety and security (and sanity) of Jeb Bush.   Jeb, the son of one former President and younger brother to another, would provide us with a situation where three of forty-five United States Presidents at one time lived in the same household.  Is that really necessary - or wise -in a country of over 240 million people?  Is that the best we can do?

The other thing that I find concerning is that if we must resort to political dynasties - why these two?  The Clinton presidency was awash in personal scandals almost from the day Bill was sworn into office, and when he did have time to focus on governing, he was often trying to get to the right of his loyal Republican opposition.  Remember NAFTA?

The Bushes, of course, had their own stink as well - one that still lingers above our nation's capital - and much of the Middle East.  The first President Bush saddled America with a young Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, and Bush the Younger started unnecessary and misguided wars in the Middle East that may never end.  Yes, Jeb may be the brightest of the three, but surely something as grand as the Grand Old Party can do better!

America has a wealth of diversity and that should be honored and called upon to serve - not pushed aside for the sake of political in-breeding.  We are so much better than that.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Todd Akin Rides Again!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Remember Todd "legitimate rape" Akin, the hapless congressman from the St. Louis area who thought he could unseat Missouri's occasionally Democratic and always politically lethal senator, Claire McCaskill?  McCaskill essentially chose her own opponent by prattling on about how she feared running against Akin the most, and then when those obliging Republicans stood him up as their Senate candidate, she quickly wrapped him up like an unwanted Christmas gift, and drop-kicked him through the Arch and over into Illinois somewhere.

Apparently Todd did not take his total annihilation and humiliation lightly - because he's back!

Much to the delight of Democrats everywhere, Todd Akin is once again making political noises and coughing up threats of running for office.  This time his target would be the other Missouri United States Senator - Roy Blunt - a long-time resident of our nation's capital.  Akin is letting it be known that he might just challenge 'Ol Roy in the Republican primary - a red, white, and true blue tea-bagger versus one of the more establishment Republicans in the Senate.

But Blunt, who has been careful to always pay attention to his party's loonier elements, has been stowing away cash for just such a crisis.  Not too long after moving to Washington, DC, as a congressman from Missouri's seventh district (Springfield and Joplin), Blunt divorced his wife of thirty-five years - and the mother of his three adult children - and married a lobbyist for Kraft Foods.  He has been greedily bankrolling corporate "campaign donations" ever since.  

'Ol Roy would undoubtedly rather save his cash to fight his Democratic opponent, Jason Kander, in November of 2016, but if Todd Akin persists in his quixotic quest, Blunt will have the cash on hand to fight that battle as well.  America does, after all, boast the finest democracy money can buy.

Todd, even though it's well nigh impossible to pry a career politician out of office and away from the public trough, you hang in there dammit and keep trying!  We're all pulling for you, buddy - you bet we are!

And Jason Kander, you keep trying as well.  We really are pulling for you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hutchinson Stands Aside to Let Hillbilly Legislature Lead Arkansas

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Tea-baggers abhor the notion of being under the control of big-brother – some far-off government entity that generates rules for them to live by – that is unless they themselves are the ones creating those rules.  If it is the tea-baggers wacky views on morality, or life in general, that are being legislated, then big government and big brother are just fine – thank you very much! 

When it comes to pulling books off of library shelves, telling women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies, dictating whom we may or may not share our beds with, and protecting the rights of the mentally ill and criminals to own as many guns as they damned well please, well, that’s just government functioning the way God and the Founding Fathers intended!

The Arkansas legislature recently passed a bill that outlaws lesser communities within Arkansas from enacting any special measures to protect the rights of gay, lesbian, and trans-gendered individuals.  The bill advanced to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s desk where the governor chose to take no action.  After five days of sitting on the governor’s desk, the bill became law without his signature and will take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns.

The Arkansas legislation is patently unconstitutional and will eventually be thrown out by the courts – but before the inevitable happens, Arkansas taxpayers will have to cough up cash for some high-toned Little Rock lawyers who will dutifully march into court – perhaps multiple courts – and fight in vain for the law’s survival.   It will be an exercise in futility that originated to stoke the vanity and political ambitions of a few hillbilly politicians.

Governor Hutchinson could have vetoed the bill and saved the state the embarrassment and expense of a court battle to enshrine prejudice – or he could have stood up for his under-educated, Bible-thumping constituents and signed it.  But the governor, a graduate of Bob Jones University, chose the third option - to do nothing.  He ignored the bill and let it become law.  It was a spineless attempt to please everyone that will wind up pleasing no one.

Tennessee is the only other state that currently has a similar law on the books.   The Arizona legislature passed its own version of the bill last year, dubbed the “right to discriminate” act, but  Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the measure.

(Say what you will about Jan Brewer, and I have said my share - almost all of it negative - one thing she did not do as governor was to equivocate.   She fought the federal government tooth-and-nail over immigration, and she signed the racist SB 1070 into law.  But Governor Brewer also brought Medicaid expansion to Arizona over strong opposition within her own Republican Party, and she blocked the silly and useless “right to discriminate” bill with her veto pen.  Not everyone liked her, and she didn’t seem to care if they did or not.)

Asa Hutchinson, on the other hand, wants to keep his hands out of the messy process of making sausage for as long as possible and wait for fate to lift him out of Little Rock and deliver him back to the civilized life of Washington, DC.

Good luck with that, Asa, but my guess is that at some pint you're going to have to dance with them what brung you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rudy Strikes a Match

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

These days when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks, one is quickly reminded of another fading Republican politician:  Pat Robertson.   Both men would like to be relevant and appreciated, but neither has managed to keep up with America's rapid social progress, and neither is as mentally sharp as he once was.

Pat Robertson is upset with the gays, and he is desperate in his belief that tolerance and acceptance of a gay lifestyle will somehow bring about the downfall of our country.  He preaches about it, in his senior gibberish, and remains ever ready to sit atop some mountain at the right hand of a straight, white, male god yelling, "I told you so!  I told you so!"

Giuliani, on the other hand, appears to have some unresolved issues with regard to race.  The once fairly liberal Democrat with ties to the Kennedy family transitioned into a law and order Republican in the 1980's as he began mapping out his own path to the White House.  I had a friend who taught in a Catholic school in New York City when Giuliani first ran for Mayor of New York (and lost) in 1989.  Giuliani's kids were in my friend's school, and she was most impressed with the young politician - because of his strong anti-crime stance.  When Rudy was finally elected mayor four years later, he did move aggressively to clean up the area around Times Square, making it safer for big-spending tourists.

Of course, a lot of the crime that he cleaned up had a distinct racial base to it.

Poor Rudy termed out of office just months after the World Trade Center was brought down by young Saudi radicals - a time that could have easily been his glory days.  He ran for President in 2008, but somehow managed to flub up a lead there and became one of the first casualties of that Republican primary race.  Since then he has been in a couple of high visibility security and banking ventures, but now seems to be trying get back in the national political limelight.

This past November Giuliani made headlines when he took over a conversation about Ferguson on Meet the Press and said that "black violence" was the reason for all of the white cops in Ferguson.  Rudy was darned mad that the police were getting the blame for dead black youth - when really more blacks were killed by blacks than by police.  One of the other guests on Meet the Press that day quickly told the babbling ex-mayor that when blacks killed blacks - they went to jail, but when white cops killed blacks - nothing happened.

This past week, however, poor Rudy jumped well beyond his previous high-water mark for racist stupidity.   At a private fund-raising speech at a restaurant in New York City, the former mayor started discussing his view of President Obama.  Somehow, he felt compelled to say the following:

"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the President loves America.  He doesn't love you - and he doesn't love me.  He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up - and I was brought up - through love of this country."

That gibberish is certainly comparable to the stuff that Pat Robertson routinely spits up.  It's not true, and it doesn't make sense, but it doesn't have to.   Both of these clowns are out whipping up their base, people who aren't anchored all that firmly in rational waters.  The President is not like them - he's black, dammit!  And the President was not brought up like they were - he grew up black, dammit!  And he has lived in foreign countries as a child, went to Harvard, and was a community organizer.  Dammit!  Dammit!  Dammit!

President Obama is different - he's not like Rudy, a tough guy with a talent for scaring people into doing his bidding.  President Obama's grandfather served the United States in uniform in World War II.  Rudy's father and uncles found ways to avoid the draft in World War II.  President Obama is a good family man who has had only one wife and has two beautiful daughters.  Rudy has had multiple spouses and partners and was a party to one of the most notable and public break-ups in the history of New York City.

And both men undoubtedly love their country, though only one of the two would sit in judgment on the other.

But, that said, David Axelrod, one of President Obama's long-time advisers, did offer this snarky rejoinder when he described Rudy Giuliani as "a fading politician lighting himself on fire."

Children and old people should never play with matches!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "The Village Blacksmith"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

19th century American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, had a knack for capturing bits of real life in our newly-forming nation, and sometimes the legends and stories of America as well.  Longfellow's Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, and Paul Revere's Ride form not only key segments of America's literary record, but they also serve to preserve and maintain our country's history.

Today's selection, The Village Blacksmith, does not record a significant historical personage or event as some of the poet's other works tended to do, but this poem does offer a clear insight into a couple of features of life in small New England towns in the 1800's.   As the poet describes a village blacksmith and his devotion to work and his family, he also brandishes the American ideals of strength and determination.  Not only does this blacksmith work long grueling hours at his forge every day, when he goes home, it is as a single parent who must then summon the strength to care for his children.

The Village Blacksmith is a beautiful poem and a true slice of Americana - one which I hope you will enjoy.

The Village Blacksmith
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands. 

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man. 

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low. 

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor. 

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice. 

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes. 

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose. 

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

That Damned Walton Trash

by Pa Rock
Gatherer of Trash

It seems that the older and more retired I get, the more time I have to pay attention to things that once escaped my notice.  My current area of concentration is trash - not to be confused with garbage or food waste that can be composted and put back to productive use - but plain, ordinary trash.

I pay a company twenty-two dollars a month to stop by my house at the break of dawn every Monday morning and haul away my trash.  Last week they didn't make it because of the freshly fallen snow, which means last week's trash is now sitting in my garage awaiting (hopefully) its liberation tomorrow.

It amazes me that one old fart, living as frugally as I do, can generate so much trash, so I have been studying what goes into my kitchen trash can.  What I have learned is this:  it is almost all packaging - cans, boxes, wrappers, cartons, bags, etc.  If I didn't drag home so many groceries and other consumer goods, I would have darned little trash.

I saw an advertisement on television - back when I had television - about a new concept in toilet paper. It is rolled tightly and does not come on a cardboard roll.  When the last sheet is gone, there is nothing left to throw away - nada!  What a grand idea that is.  Wouldn't it be great if more companies could figure out ways to eliminate packaging!  It would save money for them, and money for us - and it would have to be better for the environment.

About twice a month I walk the perimeter of my property picking up trash along the road.  I don't do it to get my name on one of those state signs advertising me as an ecological-minded community volunteer - I do it to keep my property from looking like the annex to the city dump.  Each time I walk the roadway I manage to gather at least a feed sack full of refuse - other people's beer bottles, drink cups, pizza boxes, condoms, panty hose, and assorted treasures.   (I also come across the odd beer can, but I am saving those to recycle - for my special vacation fund.)

I don't enjoy picking up other people's trash, and it really pisses me off that they consider my yard to be prime dumping ground.  But what really and truly pisses me off even more than that are the damned Walmart bags.  Those light, airy, completely non-biodegradable plastic bags blow across the landscape and land in some of the most difficult places to reach.  They also have a penchant for getting stuck high up in the tree tops where they wave like flags representing cheap commercialism all winter long.   I refer to these eyesores as "that damned Walton trash," and I am ever mindful that while I struggle to rein in all of those Walmart bags, none of those Waltons probably ever stoop to pick much up of anything - unless it is to keep someone else from getting it.

I think there ought to be a law regarding trash:  if you generate it, you pick it up.  Violators will be shot - or sentenced to do volunteer work at the local landfill.

And it won't matter who you are.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jason Kander, Missouri's Future

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Sadly, my home state of Missouri has been trending increasingly red over the past couple of decades, but even with that right-wing tilt, we still manage to elect the occasional good guy.  Currently we have a Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, who votes with her party about half of the time, and a full-time  Democrat in the governor's office by the name of Jay Nixon.   The Democratic Party in Missouri also has possession of the office of Secretary of State, a position held by Jason Kander - a young man who at the tender age of thirty-three is the youngest statewide office holder in the entire nation.

Kander, a former Army captain who served in Afghanistan, was sworn in as our Secretary of State in January of 2013.  This past week he announced plans to try to move up in the political world.  Jason Kander will take on incumbent U.S. Senator Roy Blunt in 2016.

Blunt, at 65, is a mere one year shy of being twice Kander's age.  'Ol Roy has served two decades in Congress and before that two decades in other Missouri political offices - including his own stint as our Secretary of State.  He knows from personal experience that young people can and do get elected to public office - sometimes even by bringing down old lions - so one must suspect that he will take this young whippersnapper very seriously.  Besides, Blunt has a huge stockpile of corporate cash just waiting to smother out any brushfires of political discontent.

One thing I like about Mr. Kander is that he is truly a new face - and a new name.  He is not a member of one of the tired old political families who tend to feel entitled to hold our offices.  Interestingly though, no sooner had he made his announcement about running for the Senate than a member of a Missouri political dynasty did jump in to run for the office Kander will be vacating.  Jay Ashcroft, the son of our former governor and U.S. Attorney General, John Ashcroft, thinks that a statewide office might be an appropriate place for him to launch his career as a politician.

Jason Kander will have a tough row to hoe if he is successful in bringing down an entrenched politician like Roy Blunt, but Kander appears to be aggressive enough to possibly get the job done.

We Missourians can only hope - and work hard to make it happen.

Jason, you have my vote and my enthusiasm!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dear Direct TV

by Pa Rock

Dear Direct TV,

My in-box overfloweth with your kind enticements to get me to return to the Direct TV "family."  To tell you the truth, I felt that we both endured such obvious pain during our recent breakup, that I was quite astounded when only a few days later you sent me a cheerful note and an offer of a $200 prepaid Visa card if I would only relent and come back to the family.  And while your surprising generosity was most appreciated, $200 was a bit short of the amount that it would take to lure me back into your mediocre programming, lousy service, and unanswered telephone calls.

Been there, done that.

But when your next offer came, you had shifted gears and were trying a more novel approach.  Now, instead of a cash incentive, you were going to give me a lower rate - something closer to the actual worth of the service being offered.  You said that you would connect me to the basic package for just $19.95 a month for a year (with no mention of what the second year would cost) - and the inclusion of some premium movie channels for three months.  That was essentially (or exactly) the same service I had when we broke up (without the movie channels, of course), and my bill had just risen to over $70 a month.

Where were those bargains then?

Yesterday, I got your third offer:  the $19.95 service a month for a year - and the $200 gift card!  Wow, it's starting to get tempting, but my actual history and experience with your company holds me back.

Have you ever thought about eliminating all of the specials and just having an ordinary rate that would accurately reflect the value of the service being offered and received?  Then fools like me would not have to pay over $70 a month to supplement all of the bargain hunters who enjoy negotiating with cable and satellite companies.  Or, if you just paid half as much attention to the needs of your active customers as you do to the ones you have already lost, your prospectus might start smelling as good as a spring bouquet!  But, I digress.  You should run your corporation however you damned well please, and live with the consequences.

Direct TV, if you are going to continue this courtship, might I suggest that you move toward personalizing your offers.   The money and cheaper rate would be much appreciated (although I do wish it was for a better line of programming), but there are other things that would be of more immediate benefit to this cranky old farmer.  There is a big patch of ice behind my car that needs to be broken up and shoveled away, and right now I am staring out the window at a snowbound bird feeder which is in immediate need of filling.  And mowing during the spring and summer months borders on the horrendous!  Surely one of your little trucks that constantly race up and down the road, could pull in occasionally and help a guy out.

Thank you for your continued interest in bringing me back into your income-stream, Direct TV, but I'm just not there yet.  I won't be calling in to negotiate a return, but if a couple of your people were to stop by - perhaps with snow shovels - I guess we could chat, or spread a little chat.  But in the meantime I will be sitting in front of my computer with a mug of steaming hot chocolate and watching Hulu!

Hasta la vista, baby!

Pa Rock

Thursday, February 19, 2015

GOP Old Boys Club Still Not Comfortable with Women

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

While neither of the two major political parties has a long history of courting women within their ranks, the Democrats did realize earlier than Republicans the importance of women as voters and as candidates.  The Republicans, it would seem, still have yet to get the message.

Republicans have trouble understanding females.  John McCain sat back and observed Hillary losing the 2008 Democratic nomination and figured that he could capitalize on that by placing a woman on his ticket - any woman.  McCain saw the gender issue in much the same way that his party sees the race issue - any black person represents all black people - a Clarence Thomas is as good as a Thurgood Marshall and essentially represents the same constituency.  Sarah Palin was just another way of saying Hillary Clinton - and she was younger and more photogenic.  That should seal up the women's vote, shouldn't it?

But even if McCain's logic was valid, which it wasn't, the Republican Party also suffers from a host of whack-a-doodles, some of whom are firmly rooted in the 1950's.  I mentioned one earlier this week - a white, male state senator from South Carolina who had referred to women as being "a lesser cut of meat," and reportedly had a history of suggesting the women should be at home baking cookies and "barefoot and pregnant."

Unfortunately, some of the Republican media-mouthpieces are even worse - individuals who don't have to stand for election and therefore feel free to say almost anything that crosses their rancid little minds.  Rush Limbaugh has referred to women on-air as "sluts," "whores," and "semen receptacles."

Republicans do elect women, occasionally - but Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Joni Ernst, and even Mia Love aren't anywhere near being representative of hard-working American women who are worried about the health and welfare of their families - having necessities like food, clothing, safe housing, affordable medical care, educational opportunities, and pay comparable to men.  Indeed many Republican female office holders seem to be focused on making those life-necessities harder to obtain.

(I did notice today that the National Republican Campaign Committee has released a list of nineteen Democrats in Congress that the organization is targeting for defeat.  Not surprisingly, eight of those nineteen are women.)

So as 2016 approaches, a year in which the Democrats are likely to nominate and elect the nation's first female President, the Grand Old Party is still focused on maintaining wealth and privilege and electing only those women who represent the values of their wealthy husbands and fathers.  2016 should be a watershed year for the country - and for the Republican Party.  Perhaps it will be the year in which the GOP finally begins to figure out what women are really all about.  If they don't do it soon, they may lose the opportunity forever.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Banned Book #7: "The Chocolate War"

by Pa Rock

If there is one setting that seems to lend itself to banned books, particularly those banned books that are primarily "teen" novels, it appears to be life in a private school.  A Separate Peace dealt with life in a private all-boys school in New England just as World War II was starting.  Looking for Alaska explored life among teens, of both genders, at a contemporary private school in rural Alabama.  The Chocolate War, my current encounter with a banned book, talks about life in a Catholic private school in Massachusetts in the 1950's.   All three of these novels deal with the lives and concerns of teens as they learn to separate themselves from their families and function collectively with others who are going through the same growth and development processes.

The Chocolate War was written by acclaimed author Robert Cormier in 1974.  The novel was quickly touted as one of the best teen novels of all time, and it was often compared to A Separate Peace and Lord of the Flies due in no small part to the cruelty that pervades the work.

The central focus of this book is a fictional Catholic school called "Trinity" which served as a private high school for boys who lived out in the local community.  Trinity is an appropriate name for the school, because life there basically existed in three segments:  the "normal" students who attended the school hoping to become ready for college through the school's rigorous curriculum, the Catholic priests who resided on campus and ran the school, and the "Vigils,"a gang of sorts who tended to make things miserable for the other students as well as for the faculty and administration.

The action centered on the school's annual chocolate sale, an activity that the school counted on to bring much needed funds to the campus.  Brother Leo was the acting headmaster and a bit of a sociopath.  He was also in charge of the chocolate sale.  This particular year he doubled the size of the sale and the price of the chocolates in the hopes of setting some type of record and earning enough glory for himself to help him become the next permanent headmaster.  Brother Leo enlisted the aid of Archie, a student who was the "assigner" for the Vigils and the group's de facto leader, in running the chocolate sale.  Archie himself was also a bit of a sociopath.    The students, the third part of the trinity, were ultimately responsible for walking door to door in their community and selling the chocolates.  Each student had to sell fifty boxes in order for the sale to be successful.

Jerry Renault was just an average kid at Trinity.  He wanted three things:  to get a good education, to play football, and to get a certain young lady to notice him.  Early on in the story he became a pawn between Brother Leo and Archie - and ultimately a symbol of defiance for all of the other boys at the school when he refused to sell the chocolates - thus putting both Leo's and Archie's tenuous claims of power in positions of vulnerability.

Before the chocolate sale was over, most of the students and the school itself were swept along in tides of emotional and physical cruelty that were almost unimaginable.

The Chocolate War is a tightly written tale of man's inhumanity to man.  It is disturbing, yet also engrossing - much as a bloody car wreck along the side of the road trends to be engrossing.  This book is a road map to our dark places, and it should be read at least as a warning of where we are capable of wandering when we are part of a crowd.

The Chocolate War is a clash between strength of character and blind allegiance.   It is a powerful, powerful book - one that will not leave readers with feelings of comfort.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A White Blight

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

The forecast this past Sunday was for snow in the afternoon.  That didn't happen, but not long after dark sleet began showering down at The Roost and by the time I got up - before daylight - on Monday morning, the ground was covered with several inches of the white stuff.  And it was beautiful, the first decent snowfall that I have experienced in several years.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten that there is more to snow than just the serene whiteness.

The first thing I do every Monday morning, before daylight, is to drag my trash out to the road for the garbageman who comes banging and clanging down my lane usually by 7:00 or 7:15 a.m. at the latest. I managed to stomp a path from my backdoor to the road and get the trash out to where it was supposed to be.  Yes, I knew the trash wagon would probably be late, but I needed to purge my refuse and was taking no chances.  When the truck still hadn't arrived by early afternoon, I called the trash company and asked if I should bring it back in and take it out again the next day.  "Oh, honey," the lady who answered the phone replied, "We won't get there this week, but if the good Lord cooperates maybe we can get it next Monday."

Two observations:  the older I get, the more women tend to call me "honey," and the farther back in the woods a person resides, the more apt "the Lord" will be responsible for more and more things.  I'm adapting!

The next thing of note to occur yesterday was that the county came down my country lane with the road grader, pushing the snow aside so that all manner of vehicles could resume flying by - even the trash truck if the driver so chose.  As always happens when the grader comes along though, he managed to push big banks of snow across the entrances to most of the driveways - mine included.  So I had a choice of going out and shoveling open an access point to the road, or doing the dozens of other things that need doing on a farm.  I had plenty of groceries, so I chose to spend the day taking care of my peacocks and chickens - and Rosie.  The chickens don't care for snow, so they spent the day in the coop laying eggs and scratching for bugs along the hard concrete floor.

The birds had a wonderful time socializing at the front yard feeder, with, at times, as many as eight male cardinals flitting about the leafless maple tree where the feeder hangs.  There were so many redbirds in the branches that, at times, it resembled some sort of bizarre apple tree with delicious red apples swaying on the winter limbs.  There was also one large red-headed woodpecker enjoying the feeder.  I dubbed him "the Pope," as he seemed to be the only bird out there who garnered any respect at all from the cardinals.

This morning I was again up before dawn, this time carrying fresh water from the house to the chickens and peacocks.    Everything seemed to be in order out in and around the coop, so I returned to the house and crawled back into bed.  I got up an hour or so later and headed to the shower - only to discover that in the interim since my first trip out this morning, the water had frozen up.  I quickly got dressed and headed out to the well house, where I discovered that the heat lamp had gone out.  I got that going again, and then headed out to find my shovel.

I needed the shovel because I had no bottled water in the house - other than one extra gallon that I had run earlier in the morning - and I was going to have to dig my way out and get to town.  Before I could locate my shovel, however, the neighbor lad showed up with his snow shovel and wanted to know if he could shovel the walks.  As soon as he had shoveled the short walks clear, I ushered him down to the end of the driveway with the instruction, "Dig me out."

He did, I made it to town, and now I have plenty of water.   The cashier at the grocery grinned at me as she was ringing up my purchase of several gallons of water, and said:  "Honey, I hope this doesn't mean your pipes have busted."  "No," I told her.  "Not yet.  Right now they are just frozen solid."

(Soon after I got home with the water, the pipes miraculously thawed.  Now I am doing a load of washing, dishes, and getting ready for that morning shower that I missed!)

Rosie, by the way, is a true snow dog!  She loves the white stuff and races through it with wild abandon.  I'm glad that one of us is enjoying it!

The forecast for this afternoon is for more snow.   Bring it on!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "From Your Bright Sparkling Eyes, I Was Undone"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Here it is again, President's Day, the time Americans set aside to pay homage to the forty-three (I'm sorry, but I only count Grover Cleveland once) men who have served as our country's chief executive - just before rushing off down the road to buy furniture.  Yes, it's a terribly important holiday for furniture stores and warehouses as they hold their annual President's Day Furniture Sales in a vainglorious attempt to grab every dollar they can of our tax refunds.

Missouri, the state where I reside, is especially proud of our nation's presidential heritage, offering no less than three paid holiday's to state employees in honor of the Presidents.   Missouri state offices close their doors for Lincoln's birthday on February 12th and Truman's birthday on May 8th.  They also close on President's Day, the national holiday, but refer to that day here in Missouri as "Washington's Birthday - observed."

Several of our President's fancied themselves as struggling poets.  Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama took pen in hand at one time or another in their lifetimes and inked their emotions into poetry.  For today's selection I have chosen a poem by our first President, George Washington, a poem which he wrote into his diary as a young man in 1749-50.   It was dedicated to Frances Alexander, a young woman of his acquaintance.  The poem began as an acrostic, an effort where the first letter of each line spells out a message - in this case the woman's name, but Washington quit the effort a few letters short.

Here then are young George Washington's words of love regarding Frances Alexander - words which could also be used to acknowledge February's other important holiday - Valentine's Day.

From Your Bright and Sparkling Eyes, I Was Undone
by George Washington

From your bright sprakling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you’l Find
Ah!  Woe’s me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish’d, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was’t free from from Cupids Dart
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Lesser Cut of Meat

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's been nearly two years since Reince Priebus, the current clown in charge of the Republican National Committee, began talking about the need to re-brand the party.  He wanted to pitch a bigger tent and include others besides just the extreme right-wingers.  It hadn't been that long since Mitt Romney had had his ass handed to him in his hat by President Obama, and Priebus was bemoaning the fact that the party was too ideologically pure and had frozen other elements out of it membership.  His disgust was clearly with the tea-baggers who routinely got out and controlled the low-voter-turnout presidential primaries.

Priebus wanted two things:  a shorter primary season and for Republicans to stop saying "stupid" and "idiotic" things - things that invariably made headlines.

Well, Priebus got his shorter primary season - less chance for the fringe candidates to pull the establishment candidates down to their level, but the Chairman of the Republican National Committee is quickly learning the futility of trying to fix stupid.

This past week there was an excellent case in point out of South Carolina.  Members of the state legislature and lobbyists were gathered at a Columbia, South Carolina, steakhouse when a male GOP state senator, between bites of lobbyist-purchased steak, commented that it had only taken him two years to get a female colleague to wearing shoes.  State Senator Thomas Corbin, had also reportedly made previous statements indicating that women did not belong in state legislatures and should be home baking cookies - and "barefoot and pregnant."

The object of Senator Corbin's witticism, State Senator Katrina Shealey, also a Republican and the only woman in the South Carolina State Senate, was not amused.  She asked Corbin where he got off attacking women.  The jovial Corbin replied:

"Well, you know God created man first.  Then he took the rib out of man to make woman.   And you know, a rib is a lesser cut of meat."

If God had created Senator Corbin first instead of Adam, She would have probably capped the day off with a barbecue and started a whole different project in the morning.

How's that re-branding going for you, Reince?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hurrah for Hulu!

by Pa Rock
Man with Choices

The last installment of our satellite television drama left us on the edge of a cliff where Pa Rock was bravely wrestling the Direct TV forces of darkness.   It was a terrible situation that was destined to end badly for somebody.   Fortunately the forces of good prevailed and Direct TV relented - allowing Pa Rock to end his contract with them - for a fee, of course - without having to go through the abject humiliation of dealing with one of their patronizing, high-pressure, brow-beating retention specialists.

Oh, there was the one last bitchy email telling me that I was going to pay a twenty-dollar fee for breaking the contract early, and that I had just ten days to get their equipment back to them, but the good news was that I was free!  I am totally aware of, and completely at ease with, the fact that I will never have to pay another satellite or cable bill again.  My days of doling out obscene amounts of money to be made stupid are over!

And I didn't even waver a few days later when I got an email from Direct TV offering me a $200 pre-paid Visa card if I would change my mind and hook my life support system back up to their billing department.  The bastards won't get me back at any price!

Since the big disconnect I am reading more, writing more, and watching programs that I really enjoy on my computer via Hulu, a free service.  Let's see:  Direct TV's mediocre programming for $72 a month, or watching what I want to see on Hulu for nothing?  Even an old retired hillbilly living on the edge of nowhere is smart enough to figure that one out - eventually!

Hulu has such wonderful choices - complete seasons of older programs at no cost whatsoever, but with commercials.  (With Direct TV a viewer also gets tons of old shows - for a steep fee and also with commercials.)  Hulu Plus is available for just $7.99 a month, and a subscription to that will provide complete seasons of the newer shows.  But for me, right now, there are plenty of really good old shows that I have either never seen or want to see again.

For example, the two I am currently watching, usually one episode of each per evening, are Blackpool and Murdoch Mysteries.   Blackpool is a campy British drama/musical from about a decade ago.  I saw it when it first came out and am enjoying it again.  Blackpool is about an arcade owner in the British seaside resort of Blackpool who has dreams of turning his business into a plush resort/hotel and making the small resort town into another Las Vegas.  His ambitions hit a wall when a young murder victim is found dead in the arcade.   What makes this very intense family and police drama so unique is that the entire cast often breaks into song - which is as entertaining as it is funny!  The complete series consists of only six episodes.  I will be watching number five this evening.

Murdoch Mysteries centers on a young police detective, William Murdoch, in the city of Toronto at the turn of the twentieth century.  The show imparts a lot of history, and it is smartly written.  The very first episode dealt with the business competition between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison as they tried to electrify southern Canada and the United States with their competing models of electric current - Edison with direct current, and Tesla with alternating current.   Another episode focused on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's interest in spiritualism.  Murdoch Mysteries is produced entirely in Canada.   Seventy-two episodes have been produced prior to the current season, and they are all available free on Hului!

Why anyone would want to pay for television programming is beyond me!

Hurrah for Hulu!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Alabama's Chief Showboat

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore is no stranger to controversy, almost all of which he intentionally and single-handedly inspires.   The former personal injury lawyer first gained national notoriety more than a decade ago when he was serving his initial term as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.  During that very brief tenure at the helm of the court, Moore grabbed the national spotlight when he commissioned a massive 5,300 pound granite sculpture honoring the Ten Commandments - and then had his stone monstrosity installed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judiciary Building.  Several groups sued, and a federal judge eventually ruled that the religious edifice had to be removed.  Moore refused to do so, a defiance that led to his own removal from office - along with his sculpture.

(Roy Moore also had a history of having prayer as a part of the court process when he was a circuit judge, and he once gave custody of minor children to an abusive father because the children's mother was a lesbian - and therefore, in the judge's fundamentalist mind, not fit to be a parent.)

In the years that followed Roy Moore twice ran for governor of Alabama - as a Republican, of course - but was soundly defeated in each attempt.  He also publicly toyed with the idea of running for President, possibly on the Constitution Party ticket, but never followed through in that endeavor.  Then, in 2012, he again ran for his old post of Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and somehow narrowly managed to win that election.

As the new Chief Justice, it didn't take Roy Moore too long to figure out how to again finagle his way into the national news.  In January a federal judge ruled that Alabama's ban on gay marriages was unconstitutional and said the state should begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.  Before that could happen, the attorney general of Alabama appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the federal judge's ruling.  Shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court acted on the matter, Chief Justice Moore of Alabama issued a "directive" to all state probate judges that forbid them to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.  This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to interfere with the federal judge's order - thus clearing the way for gay marriages in Alabama - but - a spokesman for the Chief Justice of Alabama said that his directive still stands.

As of the most recent count, 23 Alabama counties are now issuing marriage licenses to all couples who apply, 18 counties are issuing marriage licenses to straight couples only, and 26 counties are not issuing any marriage licenses at all.

Roy Moore has been elected twice to be Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and each time he has created a standoff with the federal government.   The first time he was removed from office for his religious intolerance and arrogance.  That needs to happen again.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Clarence Thomas, Supreme Hypocrite

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

On Monday the Supreme Court of the United States refused to block gay marriage in Alabama, thus providing a signal to rest of the country that when the Court takes up the subject of gay marriage in June (a great month for marriages!), it will kick down the last remaining barriers to marriage equality.

But Monday's opinion on the Alabama case was not unanimous.  Justices Thomas and Scalia, the two most conservative justices on the Court, dissented - and Justice Thomas, known for keeping quiet and seldom asking questions or offering his opinion other than to vote, was almost bitter in his written dissent.   Justice Thomas doesn't cotton to the idea of those homosexuals being free to marry who they love, and if the danged fool idea has to be acted upon, it should be done so by the individual states.

Clarence Thomas feels that the Supreme Court should stay out of the marriage business.

And Clarence Thomas is a hypocrite almost without equal.

Clarence Thomas is a black man who is married to a white woman and resides in the state of Virginia.  Without a famous decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, Clarence and Ginny Thomas could both be residents of the Virginia penal system for defying the state's old anti-miscegenation statutes.

Way back in 1967 Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other.   The Lovings brought suit against the state of Virginia, and their case eventually reached the nation's Supreme Court where justices wisely ruled that the state could not bar mixed-race marriages.

The United States Supreme Court did, in the matter of Richard and Mildred Loving, impose its will over the "right" of the states to define and control marriage - and Clarence and Ginny Thomas are direct beneficiaries of that ruling.  But now Clarence wants to deny that same right - the right to marry the person they love - to others.

What a sad little man he is, and what a stinking hypocrite!