Sunday, May 31, 2015

John McCain, the Old Fraud Stumbles On

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This is Sunday, the day of the week when Americans typically stop what they are doing and turn on their televisions to pay homage to Senator John McCain - a Sunday morning talk show institution.  Nearly every Sunday Johnny Mac finds some national news outlet that will give him a platform to blather on and on about things of which he has strong opinions and limited knowledge.  The fact that all of these news organizations see fit to continually showcase this angry political gnome says far more about them and their lack of interest in varying viewpoints than it does about him.

This looks as though it could be a very tough year for the Arizona windbag.  He faces at least token teabag opposition in the Republican primary as he struggles to win his sixth term in the Senate, and popular Democratic congresswoman Ann Kirpatrick has already announced that she will run against McCain in the general election.  Any sort of national Democratic tide in 2016 could serve to drag the former Navy captain out to sea in a leaky dinghy - undoubtedly kicking and screaming as he usually does.

McCain first entered the U.S. Senate in January of 1987 and within two years he was immersed in a national scandal known as the Keating Five.  McCain and four other esteemed senators were accused of corruption due to their direct intercession on behalf of a savings-and-loan mogul whose empire was collapsing.  McCain was found to have used "bad judgment" in accepting cash from Charles Keating on behalf of his Lincoln Savings and Loan, but he managed to retain his career at the public trough.   It was a wake-up call for the terrified freshman who then vowed to clean up government - and himself.

Nearly thirty years later, neither appears to have been accomplished.

This week I received a newsletter from Johnny Mac - I guess due to to my status as a former resident of Arizona.  The first article in that newsletter was a piece where McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, patted himself on the back for getting the Pentagon's fiscal 2016 budget (the National Defense Authorization Act) out of committee and headed onto the Senate floor.  McCain's newsletter talked about all of the great things that the new budget will do for Arizona and particularly Luke and Davis-Monthan air force bases.  He even bragged about preserving a type of plane for Davis-Monthan that the President - and presumably the Pentagon - does not want.  But Johnny Mac will get to keep his unnecessary and expensive planes because the bill is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.  When it eventually reaches President Obama's desk, the President will be forced to accept all of the graft and gravy that has been stuffed into it, or reject (veto) the entire thing.

And we wonder why our taxes are so high!

One thing Johnny Mac did not mention in his newsletter was a particular item that he and his fellow Arizona senator, Jeff Flake, stuffed into the bill at the last minute.  That item will give control of several hundred acres of an Apache holy ground called Oak Flat to a British-Australian mining company whose parent company has donated campaign cash to John McCain.  The other senator involved, Jeff Flake, once served as a lobbyist for the same company.

President Eisenhower's administration decreed in 1955 that Oak Flat was to remain free of mining.  Ike was a whole different breed of Republican from those who claim the appellation today.

Apparently John McCain remembers little or nothing of his near disaster with the Keating Five affair.  Here's hoping that other Arizonans do remember!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Home Where the Deer Play

by Pa Rock
Country Gent

The deer are thick in the Ozark woodlands, so thick that they become pests as they munch on gardens, eat green fruit from trees before it has a chance to ripen, and cause traffic accidents when they suddenly jump across our country lanes and busy highways.   But they remain large, brown-eyed, beautiful creatures who add a sense of excitement and charm to the local landscape.

Many people in these parts pay the state for a permit in order to hunt deer.  This area has its fair share of unemployment and poverty, so bagging a deer is no doubt very helpful to some families in meeting their nutritional and survival needs.  Deer hunting occurs in the fall, and about that time deer begin to become scarce, going into hiding until the guns quit firing and arrows stop flying.

The young females that make it through the winter are often pregnant and have their babies in the spring.  That is what is occurring now.  I haven't seen any little fawns yet, but several young mama deer have been scampering around my place.  Although I am not a hunter, I do have a salt lick out close to the pond to attract deer because I enjoy watching them eat and dart about.  There is heavy, tall grass beyond the part of the yard that I keep mowed, and I suspect that is where the fawns hide while their mothers come out for a drink and a lick or two of salt.

Last year I watched in awe for nearly an hour as two young deer played tag in the back yard, often running within just a few feet of the house.

Watching the deer is a very relaxing activity for me.   But for poor Rosie, alas, it is a different matter.  Rosie is still a pup (her first birthday will be July 7th), and these young does are the first deer she has ever seen. She doesn't know what they are, but she is absolute in her certainty that they do not belong on her farm!  Several times over the past couple of weeks I have been surprised and then annoyed when Rosie began barking like crazy from her observation post on the back porch.   The object of her ire was always a deer - usually one standing calmly at the salt lick and not giving any notice to the yappy little dog barking like crazy a hundred yards away.

Thor, my new guard dog, seldom bothers to wake from his numerous and lengthy naps to see what has Rosie so upset.

(Sadly, yesterday two of my young turkeys were killed by predators during the day, and neither dog alerted me to that.   I did see a chicken hawk at one point who may have been the culprit.  As I learned last year, the woods are full of dangerous adversaries for farm birds.  Some will survive and others will not.  Turkeys are not fast thinkers and tend to become sacrifices while the lighter, more sprightly chickens are better able to scamper away to safety.)

But nothing here at Rock's Roost bothers the deer - not even Rosie!

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Tale of Two Schools

by Pa Rock
Former Educator

It is no secret that public education in America is never free and seldom adequately funded, particularly in rural or impoverished areas.  (In fact, one of our two major political parties seems hellbent on un-funding public schools and shipping that tax money over to private and parochial institutions.)  Public schools are often forced to supplement their limited incomes by having teachers buy many of their classroom materials out of their own personal funds, charging students and parents to attend school functions like ballgames and carnivals, and having sales campaigns where students hit the streets hawking candy or magazines - or selling baked goods and washing cars.

There were two stories in the news this week about the personal costs involved in school activities.  One was very sad, but with a better-than-expected ending - and the other was totally uplifting.  The sad story involved one hundred students at a public elementary school in the Queens borough of New York City who were forced to spend an afternoon in a dark auditorium while their classmates attended a school carnival.    The only "crime" those students were guilty of was poverty.  None had the ten dollar entry fee for the carnival.   The carnival promoter reportedly became so angry when he learned of the school's intentional slight, that he vowed to return to the school and put on a free carnival for those students who had been kept from attending the first one.  The school cleared a $2,000 to $3,000 profit on the original carnival.

The principal of that school in Queens apparently lacks the basic humanity needed to work with children.

One principal who does not lack humanity, however, is Courtney Vashaw of the Profile Junior-Senior High School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.  Ms. Vashaw, a well-respected school administrator, was recently diagnosed with a fast-moving and very deadly form of cancer.  The senior class at her school had been saving for their senior trip for four years, but upon hearing of Ms. Vashaw's illness the class voted unanimously to forgo the trip to a New York dude ranch and instead give their entire $8,000 to her.  Ms. Vashaw, needless to say, was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of her students.

Yes, schools are forced to struggle in order to survive, but there is a lot of teaching and learning that can occur within those struggles.  My educated guess is that students at the elementary in Queens and at the junior-senior high school in Bethlehem all learned a great deal from their school's struggles to make money.  One group learned the about the power and brutality of cold, hard cash - while the other learned about the warmth and fulfillment that can come from being generous and looking after others.

Support public education with your tax dollars and your baked goods.   Every child should have the opportunity to experience as much as possible during their limited time at school.  Our children really are our future.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bring on the Clown Buses!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Wikipedia quotes another web source, one calling itself "Green Papers," as reporting that over one hundred individuals have already declared themselves to be candidates for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination.  Fortunately (I suppose) almost all of them will never qualify to get their names onto any official state ballots.

However, that does not mean that there still won't be plenty of crazies for Fox News Nation to choose from.

As of today the Republican Party has eight announced candidates for President who have the potential to be quasi-serious contenders.  Ted Cruz announced on my birthday (March 23), and he was quickly followed into the ring by Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Little Ricky Santorum, and today - former governor George Pataki of New York.

Announcements are expected from Lindsey Graham on June 1st and former Texas governor Rick Perry on June 4th.

Six additional Republican candidates are "formally exploring" a run for the White House.  They are Jeb Bush, Chris Christy, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker.  In addition to those, three other notable politicians have also said that they are thinking about entering the race.  Those three are Bob Ehrlich, a former governor of Maryland, Jim Gilmore, a former governor of Virginia, and Congressman Peter King of New York.

So, let's see:  eight - plus two - plus six - plus three?  We are looking at nineteen semi-serious GOP candidates with several more whack-a-doodles still in the bleachers who are undoubtedly still thinking about rushing out into the fray.  If everyone is strictly limited to one overnight bag, one pair of floppy shoes, and one bottle of seltzer, we could probably still get them onto a single 55-passenger school bus.

But if I were Reince Priebus, I would have a second one standing by just in case!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Let People Vote!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last week the small country of Ireland rocked the rest of the world when its voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly approved gay marriage.  That's right.  Instead of tying a subject of that importance up in some legislative or judicial process, the people themselves decided.  What a concept!

The idea of people voting directly on laws is known as direct democracy.  We have that in the United States, sometimes and in sporadic locations - such as the famous New England town hall meetings and when a legislative body punts a question to the public because it is too controversial for elected officials to deal with - but usually laws in our country are drafted by legislatures or clarified by courts.  We elect people directly who then draft our laws - something called an indirect democracy.

The idea with an indirect democracy is that there is too much legislation required and people simply do not have the time or the knowledge to address every issue personally - so we elect people to represent us in the drafting of laws.  The problem is that those representatives are often hijacked by special interests who give them cold, hard cash and other favors in return for their votes - and the representatives wind up representing those special interests rather than the people who elected them.

I love to tell the story about an election that occurred in Missouri twenty years or so ago where the people actually got to vote on an important issue.  It was at the time when the National Rifle Association was pushing "concealed carry" bills through many state legislatures.  The NRA does not believe in democracy, nor do they practice it.  They wanted those bills to be a part of the legislative process - something they could purchase and control.

But some maverick Democrats in the Missouri Legislature managed a maneuver which took the bill out of the legislature and placed it before the public - and the public voted it down!  During the next legislative session the new legislature brought the measure back up again and passed it, thus correcting the public's error and fulfilling the paid-for wishes of their lords and masters - the National Rifle Association.

It is much, much easier to buy off (or coerce) a few dozen legislators than it is to buy off a majority of citizens of an entire state.  But, sadly even that is changing.   With the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United, money is now deemed "speech" and corporations, special interests, and fascist billionaires are free to spend to their hearts' content to get their "speech" onto our airwaves and into our faces.  Whole populations can, in effect, be bought.

In spite of all this political skulduggery, I remain optimistic that things eventually will change for the better. Sooner or later the Koch family or the Waltons will produce a prodigal outlier who has the conscience of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett, and some tiny measure of good will begin to seep into the family money bins.  Eventually things change despite the barriers that we erect to prevent change.  Just ask those good folks in staunchly Catholic Ireland.

Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.  Just yesterday Greenland's parliament voted to incorporate Denmark's liberal laws on gay marriage and gay adoption into its own legal code.  In the United States a Supreme Court decision will be handed down in June that could conceivably make gay marriage the law of our land.

And, of course, if Americans could vote on gay marriage, directly, in a national referendum, it likely would already be the law of the land.

But things like gay rights, abortion rights, and gun rights are too important to be left to the whimsy of the voting public.  Those are critical issues that must be debated and decided by our big-brained politicians as they wallow in the green, green cash speech of billionaires and people known as corporations.

They will take care of us - until the day comes when we are finally able to take care of them.

Congratulations, Ireland!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

BS in the In-Box

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

My two United States senators, neither of whom served their country in uniform, sent out mass emails yesterday in praise of veterans.  Ol’ Roy Blunt yammered on about his respect for veterans, though you couldn’t tell it by his voting record.  But, in fairness to Ol’ Roy, I’m sure he does appreciate the almost religious dependability of the old white veterans who go to the polls and support the senator and the way of life to which he has grown accustomed.

Claire McKaskill, my other senator, is a bit brighter than Ol’ Roy and has a staff who can draft superlative emails.  The message from McKaskill’s office also slathered on appreciation for veterans, but McKaskill’s people had the good sense to personalize it by mentioning that her father served in World War II.  The McKaskill email also cited two very dramatic examples of how the senator had stepped in personally to assist veterans.  She helped a pilot from the Vietnam era get official recognition for his war exploits, and she also helped reunite a veteran of Bush’s Middle East wars with his canine co-worker from those awful war days.

Both of McKaskill’s examples were heart-rending – as they were intended to be.  Say what you will about Claire, but her political instincts are second to none.  The woman is slicker than the Santa Barbara coast!

Sadly, my congressman, Jason Smith, did not write to tell me how much he appreciates our veterans.  Mr. Smith, a member of the Republican caucus, probably doesn’t have much of a record in helping veterans, but, like Ol’ Roy Blunt, one would think that he would try to at least make it seem like he did.  

I have written to Congressman Smith regarding several issues, always taking care to check the box stating that I would like a reply – but he never writes back!  Claire always responds with a form email telling me why she does or does not support my position.  Ol’ Roy also writes back – promptly – telling me in terse terms why I am wrong and he is right.

However, there was one surprise in the political mailbag this weekend.  Mrs. Bill Clinton sent a very nice email thanking me for my support and for being on “her team.”  Then she asked if I couldn’t manage to send her a few dollars – she is, after all, a Clinton!  Her thoughtful epistle reminded me that it was probably time to send a few more bucks to Bernie – a politician who actually does share my views on most things.

And Bernie did not litter my in-box with a meaningless missive.  That is worth something!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "Memorial Day"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Last year on this holiday I wrote a bit about the history of Memorial Day which was officially known as "Decoration Day," the day for decorating graves, up until 1967.  I remember that my parents referred to the holiday as "Decoration Day" their entire lives.  Last year in this space I printed Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Decoration Day," as a homage to the history of the event.  Today I am updating with Michael Anania's "Memorial Day," a poem which the American poet penned in 1994.

I particularly like the first three lines of this poem which so accurately describe a situation that my Aunt Mary and I found ourselves in a few years ago.   We were at the veteran's cemetery in San Diego, the one on the beautiful hilltop overlooking San Diego and Coronado Island, and Aunt Mary wanted to show me the grave of my uncle and her husband, Wayne Hearcel Macy, a World War II veteran who had died in 1956.  Veteran's cemeteries tend to have thousands of stones and they all look alike, so it is easy to get disoriented while looking for a particular grave, no matter how many times one has been to that grave.  Aunt Mary, who had been to the cemetery and to Uncle Wayne's grave on times too numerous to count, quickly seemed to become upset that she could not walk directly to his grave.  Eventually we found it, but the experience was quite disconcerting, especially for her.

Michael Anania's verse brought back memories of that search.

Memorial Day
by Michael Anania

It is easily forgotten, year to
year, exactly where the plot is,
though the place is entirely familiar—
a willow tree by a curving roadway   
sweeping black asphalt with tender leaves;

damp grass strewn with flower boxes,
canvas chairs, darkskinned old ladies
circling in draped black crepe family stones,   
fingers cramped red at the knuckles, discolored   
nails, fresh soil for new plants, old rosaries;

such fingers kneading the damp earth gently down   
on new roots, black humus caught in grey hair   
brushed back, and the single waterfaucet,
birdlike upon its grey pipe stem,
a stream opening at its foot.

We know the stories that are told,
by starts and stops, by bent men at strange joy   
regarding the precise enactments of their own   
gesturing. And among the women there will be   
a naming of families, a counting off, an ordering.

The morning may be brilliant; the season
is one of brilliances—sunlight through
the fountained willow behind us, its splayed   
shadow spreading westward, our shadows westward,   
irregular across damp grass, the close-set stones.

It may be that since our walk there is faltering,
moving in careful steps around snow-on-the-mountain,   
bluebells and zebragrass toward that place
between the willow and the waterfaucet, the way   
is lost, that we have no practiced step there,
and walking, our own sway and balance, fails us.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ado Annie Comes to the Roost

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Springtime

Rock's Roost, my little patch of deep Ozark green, is home to a symphony of sound.  Every time I step outside the back door I am greeted with a cacophony of yapping, clucking, crowing, honking, peeping, barking, and even the occasional "moo" drifting over from a neighbor's pasture.  Now, however, there is a new sound in the tapestry of noise, and it is loud, and insistent, and comes from one of the tiniest residents of The Roost.  Now the other sounds are stitched together with mewing.

That's right.  There is a cat at Rock's Roost - a kitten actually, a tiny, tiny kitten with a big, big voice.  Little Ado Annie, a calico mewer of the first water, came to the farm from the Kansas City area where she was part of a litter born to a barn cat in Kansas.  She arrived yesterday morning and seems bound and determined to stay, regardless of what the dogs think on the matter.  Ado Annie can expect to be a barn cat at The Roost.

Rosie is particularly aggrieved at the new arrival ever since she noticed that I was feeding the kitten some canned dog food that Rosie felt should be hers alone.  And Thor is so excited by the kitten that he has finally begun barking.  Both dogs are endeavoring to prove their superiority to the little cat through angry dancing and noises of frustration, but neither seems set to pose any real threat to her.  And Annie doesn't pay much attention to her canine brother and sister - she just arches her little back and hisses when they are putting on their shows.

(For those not old enough to recognize the name, Ado Annie was the young lady in the musical Oklahoma! who lacked the ability to say "no.")

Another day, another baby at The Roost!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Politicians Versus Farm Animals

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Springtime

It hasn't escaped my notice that this blogging effort seems to be morphing into a farm journal, an anecdotal accounting of my adventures in agriculture.  But for the time being, at least, I can't seem to help it.  Not only are today's politics lame, boring, and sadly predictable, little of the other "news" seems to set my interests afire either.  The little farm is where my heart is, and the daily exploits of my feathered and furry extended family members are what captures my attention.  So, for today at least, hunker down for some more news from Rock's Roost.

Yesterday I had a lot of company in and out of the house, and during one of the rare and brief interludes when everybody was gone, I needed to rush to town to do an errand.  I hopped in my car, but was only able to get to the end of the driveway when I had to stop and tend to farming.   There, in a patch of grass right next to the busy country lane, sat ten of my baby guinea chicks who had somehow escaped from their nursery pen.  As I got out of the car and began attempting to shoo them toward their wired enclosure several hundred feet away, a complete stranger stopped in the street and offered to help.

No thanks, I told him.  I've got it under control - and he drove on.

Herding baby guinea chicks is not quite as bad as herding cats, but it's not that simple either.  The process involves a lot of jumping from side to side trying to keep the little fuzz balls in a tight formation. Surprisingly, I made it about halfway back to the pen before the group cohesiveness began to dissipate. As we attempted to pass through a large open space that was bordered by bushes on two sides, a few chicks headed left and some others went right - when straight was the direction which I preferred.  By the time I got back to the pen, only four remained in the parade - and I did manage to get those back inside.

Then I had to chase down the others one-by-one.  Eventually, thirty or so minutes later, I had nine safely returned to the flock and one remaining AWOL.  As of this morning, he is still on the lam.

Now, isn't that honestly more interesting than Hillary's emails?  Yes, I guess I could be writing about Mike Huckabee's rabid defense of a child molester, Donald Trump's hair, or Jeb Bush's propensity to stick his foot in his mouth every time he opens it, but what's the point?  They are just political animals selling their souls for  fame and profit, whereas my guineas and other farm creatures are actually serving a purpose and benefiting mankind.

When it comes down to which are more relevant in today's world, politicians or farm animals, it's really a no-brainer!

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Visit to Edinburgh with Detective Inspector Rebus

by Pa Rock
Mystery Fan

Several years ago while I was still getting opportunities to travel internationally, I had a habit of preparing for my trips by reading fiction set in the country I was planning to visit.  When I went to Russia in 1999, for instance, I read several of Martin Cruz Smith's "Arkady Renko" novels beforehand - including his classic Gorky Park.   By the time I got to Moscow and St. Petersburg, I was able to identify several points of interest which Smith had referenced in his works, and it gave me a sense of recognition.

That same trip our group (social work students) also visited Stockholm, Sweden, and I did not find any appealing fiction to read ahead of time.  Now, of course, I have encountered and read Stieg Larsson's wonderful trilogy beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and many places that Larsson mentioned in his books are places close to the waterfront in Stockholm - streets that I walked and remember well.

In 2003 I was able to visit the United Kingdom for the first time.  In preparation for the London portion of the trip, I read Edward Rutherfold's epic novel, London, which covers the rise of the great city from its earliest inhabitants.  So much history has occurred in London, and Rutherford's book essentially made me a part of it.  It was a great prelude to a brief visit.

That same trip my traveling companions and I decided to take the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a couple of days.  Before leaving London, I purchased a detective novel by Edinburgh author Ian Rankin which had as its focus a fictional police detective named Rebus.   Rebus was a non-conformist who continually served as a pain-in-the-ass to his superiors - much like another fictional policeman, Inspector Morse of the Thames Valley (Oxford) CID.  It was a fascinating book, although I don't remember the title because I have since read several in the series.

We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in Edinburgh that was run by a very pretentious lady who wanted payment in cash - to cheat the government out of their share.  Her home was in a very nice part of the city.  When she saw what I was reading, old snobby informed me that the author, Rankin, lived just up the street and around the corner.   At another point in our visit, the home owner dropped a bigger name.  J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, lived just up another street and around another corner.

(The other thing I remember about our hostess was that she nearly had a coronary when we ordered a take-out pizza for dinner.  She refused to let us eat in our rooms - where we might mess up her spotless accommodations, and instead set a formal table at which we had to dine on our pizza.)

But, back to Rebus.  He is an interesting character as fictional detectives go, and I was not surprised when I recently learned that a series (fourteen episodes in all) of his cases had been filmed in Edinburgh  a decade or so ago.   I found the shows on Hulu and last night completed watching the set.  They were as well written and tightly plotted as the novels on which they were based - and, as the weather-worn detective traipsed about on the streets of Edinburgh, I saw many places that were familiar.

It was almost like making a second trip to Scotland - but much cheaper.  And I didn't have to put up the money-grubbing name-dropper and her over-priced and sterile accommodations!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

So Long, Dave - and Thanks for All the Laughter!

by Pa Rock
Entertainment Junkie

David Letterman signed off as America's most revered late-night television host last night and officially entered the world of retirement.  I hope that he enjoys his retirement as much as I have mine - and with Dave's money, that should be no problem!

I haven't had television service in months, so I was not part of the "at home" audience that saw David Letterman off into retirement, and, in fact, even when I had television connectivity, I seldom stayed up late enough to enjoy his program.

But I did enjoy it back on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, when I was a member of the audience at a live broadcast of his show.  I was in New York with my friend, Carla Turnbough Brown, helping to sponsor group of college students from the Kansas City area who were touring the Big Apple.  That day was perhaps the busiest of our short, but fun-filled, adventure in the city.

We began the morning in bitter cold weather at 30 Rockefeller Center (30 Rock) where we watched some of the Today Show being presented live.  There we saw the actor, Daniel Craig, as well as some of the regular members of the show.  One highlight was watching Meredith Vieria kick her heel above her head to show her shoe to one of ladies on the street who had asked about her footwear.  Later that morning we were on a ferry boat to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  We also walked into Grand Central Station that day, road the subway, and went to an evening performance of Jersey Boys on Broadway.

But it was what happened in the afternoon that I remember best.  Carla and I had tickets to the Letterman Show which she had acquired by applying for them online and then answering a trivia question correctly.  Dave's guests that afternoon (taped early for broadcast that night) were Salma Hayak and J.J. Walker.  Both were in rare form.  I was amazed at how tiny Hayak was, and surprised at Walker's expanding midsection.   The show was in the historic Ed Sullivan Theatre, the same place where the Beatles had performed on their first American tour.

One of the things I remember best about Letterman was his consideration for the audience.  We had been shunted to a remote corner of the theatre by ushers who didn't want old people being seen front-and-center, but when Dave came out on stage, he headed straight to our section first.  He was funny, and personable, and formed a strong connection with the people who had dutifully stood in line to see the show.

And he had a strong connection with the people watching from home, too.

Dave, enjoy your retirement.  You will definitely be missed, but you've earned the right to leave it all behind and enjoy some life on your own terms.  Thanks for all the laughter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Thor, Bring Down Your Thunder!

by Pa Rock
Country Gent

When I began my quest to find a farm dog, I had several requirements.  First and foremost, the new dog had to be comfortable around poultry.  His primary function, after all, was to protect the domestic fowl at Rock's Roost from predators:  hawks, owls, raccoons, opossums, snakes, and that bloody nuisance of a beagle who lives across the street.  I was looking for a big dog, one who would scare the bejeezus out of hungry nighttime visitors without actually having to engage in mortal combat.  But more important than just being big, I wanted a dog that was loud - one whose bark would shake the trees and rattle the windows.

I knew from my experience of having raised two Great Pyrenees before, the much loved Paladin and Paloma, that the massive breed would meet my requirements, and for the past several months I have scoured the local papers and the internet looking for the perfect enforcer for the farm.  This past Saturday I found that dog - a 10-week-old Great Pyrenees male pup who was ready for a permanent home.

The new dog is adjusting well to the farm.  He is comfortable in the chicken coop and the areas where the birds tend to congregate during the day, and he has explored the property.  He still is relatively small - just twenty or twenty-five pounds at present, but I know that by the end of the summer he will be enormous - probably somewhere north of a hundred pounds.  He eats well!

The new dog still has not found his bark, however.  Rosie, who has begun to warm up to him, is trying to teach him to yap like she does, but his main communication skill is his lingering puppy whimper.

The bark will come, of that I have no doubt, and when it does it will shatter the peace and tranquility of my little sylvan dell.  That is why I have decided to name my new farm pup "Thor," after the Norse god of thunder.   When the mighty Thor brings down his thunder, predators will scatter to the four winds and the neighbors will all rush outside to roll up their car windows!

We are getting ready to rumble at The Roost!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Whole Damned Yard!

by Pa Rock
Yard Care Specialist

Yesterday I gave my big, expansive yard its third mow of the season, and although it had only been seventeen days since the most previous mowing, the height and thickness of the grass was much the same as hay waiting to be cut.  The hay grass should have been mowed several days earlier, but the constant rain downpours of late had held me at bay.

It was supposed to have rained again yesterday, but when the sun peeked through early in the morning, I slathered on the sun screen, grabbed my old-man floppy hat, and headed to the yard.  I mowed the front yard in the morning because it is less dense - giving the back yard an extra couple of hours to dry out.   It wound up taking the whole damned day to mow the whole damned yard - and I still have some places to trim with the push mower this morning.   And weed-eating?  Well, forget about that!

My neighbor grew up on the property where I now live.  He told me that his "personal best" mowing time was five hours.  I have pushed back the snake line and mow a bit more than he did, but I also have a big rider with a forty-eight inch swath.   Jake, a young man who mowed for me a few times last year, could do the whole thing in four-and-a-half hours and not even break a sweat.

So why does it take me an entire day to do what those fellows are capable of accomplishing in half the time?  The answer is that I painstakingly circle every tree so that I won't have to come back with the weed eater - and there is a veritable forest scattered across my lawn.

Today the yard looks nice, calendar perfect, but the grass is already busy growing back.  I can sense it.  Hell, I can almost see it!   Within just a few days it will start looking ragged, and by the time I have accumulated enough strength to tackle it again, it will almost be too late.

Land is not owned by people as much as it owns them!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "I'll Never Forget a Dog Named Beau"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

With the arrival this week of a very large and lovable Great Pyrenees pup at The Roost, I decided to focus on our canine friends while searching for a poem for this post.  Not surprisingly, there have been lots and lots of poems penned about man's best friend.  I finally settled on one that was written by the late (and very great) actor, Jimmy Stewart, that pays homage to a dog who was once an important part of his life.  Stewart originally read this piece on the Tonight Show in 1981 where it reportedly made the host, Johnny Carson, cry.

The poem is entitled "I'll Never Forget a Dog Named Beau," and, as you will see, it pretty much surmises the relationship between the man and his beloved pet.  (A short note on the fate of Beau follows the poem.)

I'll Never Forget a Dog Named Beau
by Jimmy Stewart

He never came to me when I would call
Unless I had a tennis ball,
Or he felt like it,
But mostly he didn't come at all.

When he was young
He never learned to heel
Or sit or stay,
He did things his way.

Discipline was not his bag
But when you were with him things sure didn't drag.
He'd dig up a rosebush just to spite me,
And when I'd grab him, he'd turn and bite me.

He bit lots of folks from day to day,
The delivery boy was his favorite prey.
The gas man wouldn't read our meter,
He said we owned a real man-eater.

He set the house on fire
But the story's long to tell.
Suffice it to say that he survived
And the house survived as well.

On the evening walks, and Gloria took him,
He was always first out the door.
The Old One and I brought up the rear
Because our bones were sore.

He would charge up the street with Mom hanging on,
What a beautiful pair they were!
And if it was still light and the tourists were out,
They created a bit of a stir.

But every once in a while, he would stop in his tracks
And with a frown on his face look around.
It was just to make sure that the Old One was there
And would follow him where he was bound.

We are early-to-bedders at our house -- I guess I'm the first to retire.
And as I'd leave the room he'd look at me
And get up from his place by the fire.
He knew where the tennis balls were upstairs,
And I'd give him one for a while.
He would push it under the bed with his nose
And I'd fish it out with a smile.

And before very long He'd tire of the ball
And be asleep in his corner In no time at all.
And there were nights when I'd feel him Climb upon our bed
And lie between us,
And I'd pat his head.

And there were nights when I'd feel this stare
And I'd wake up and he'd be sitting there
And I reach out my hand and stroke his hair.
And sometimes I'd feel him sigh and I think I know the reason why.

He would wake up at night
And he would have this fear
Of the dark, of life, of lots of things,
And he'd be glad to have me near.

And now he's dead.
And there are nights when I think I feel him
Climb upon our bed and lie between us,
And I pat his head.
And there are nights when I think I feel that stare
And I reach out my hand to stroke his hair,
But he's not there.

Oh, how I wish that wasn't so,
I'll always love a dog named Beau.

The story of of the actor and his dog  is mentioned in the book "Why We Love the Dogs We Do:  How to Find the Dog that Matches your Personality," and those remarks are summarized by Wikipedia as follows:

“While shooting a movie in Arizona, Stewart received a phone call from Dr. Keagy, his veterinarian, who informed him that Beau was terminally ill, and that Gloria sought his permission to perform euthanasia. Stewart declined to give a reply over the phone, and told Keagy to ‘keep him alive and I'll be there.’ Stewart requested several days' leave, which allowed him to spend some time with Beau before granting the doctor permission to euthanize the sick dog. Following the procedure, Stewart sat in his car for ten minutes to clear his eyes of tears. Stewart later remembered: ‘After [Beau] died there were a lot of nights when I was certain that I could feel him get into bed beside me and I would reach out and pat his head. The feeling was so real that I wrote a poem about it and how much it hurt to realize that he wasn’t going to be there any more.’”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Farm Pup

by Pa Rock
Chicken Rancher

Rock's Roost has grown considerably during the past week - not in area, for it remains a compact ten acres, but in density of souls.

On Thursday I drove thirty-five miles or so to a very remote area near Alton, Missouri, where I acquired baby guinea chicks.  I ordered twenty-five, but the sweet little old lady who ran the eighty-acre farm by herself threw in three extra because she liked me.  Her farm was at the end of a very narrow dirt lane, and it was teeming with various forms of feathered fowl:  several varieties of guineas, turkeys, geese, and chickens of all breeds and sizes - the place was a peeping, gobbling, honking, clucking enclave of cacophonous pandemonium!  She also had cats, dairy goats, and several big, brown cows.

I brought the little guineas home and they are all doing well under a heat lamp in the garage - which is a fortunate set-up because the weather is miserable and rainy.

But the big farm news of the week happened yesterday when my son and I drove out past the nearly abandoned community of Moody, Missouri, to look at some Great Pyrenees pups.  The lady who had them also lived on a very remote farm.  She keeps Great Pyrenees to protect her extensive flock of chickens, so the five young pups that she had were already socialized to be around poultry.  The pups, four females and one male, were born March 6th and had just turned ten-weeks-old.  They weighed roughly twenty-five pounds each.   Nick and I chose the male and brought him home to live at the Roost.

There was some sunshine yesterday (intermittent), giving the young dog time to explore his new yard and pen.  The pen is about twelve feet by thirty feet with a covered area and an old coop for protection from the elements.  The pup, as yet unnamed, curled up in the shade of the maple tree that is also in the pen and slept a good part of the afternoon.  Last night he cried a little when everything else was put up and Pa Rock headed to the house, and today with all of this dreary rain, he has been whimpering some more.

Rosie was not amused to find that another dog had moved into her territory - even if he is an outdoor dog.  The poor pup tried to make friends with Rosie, but she ran from him - at first in mortal fear, and later just to show her displeasure with the new boarder at the Roost.

So the little farm is growing.  Soon the guineas will be out clearing the yard of chiggers and ticks, and they will be relatively safe because an enormous white dog will be woofing at every varmint that tries to destroy the tranquility of life at Rock's Roost.

Life is good - and getting better!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

An Unquiet Pope

by Pa Rock 
Citizen Journalist

The more I learn of Pope Francis, the more impressed I am with him.  And it's not just me, of course.  God's man at the Vatican is having a profound impact on people worldwide.  Just this past week after Cuba's leader, Raul Castro, met privately with the Pope, he declared that he is considering returning to the Church.  It's not the stodgy old Catholic Church pulling the errant revolutionary back into the fold, its the warmth and compassion of the fellow wearing the white robe and the big ring.

This Pope is one cool dude.   He gets on his knees and washes the feet of the poor.  He personally calls on the ill and the infirm.   He recently made a phone call to a man in Rome who was reportedly ill.  The fellow hung up on Pope Francis twice before he became convinced that he actually was speaking to the leader of the Catholic Church.  The Pope reportedly took being hung up on in good humor.

The thing I like best about this Pope, however, is his willingness (almost an eagerness) to take stands on controversial issues - issues other than abortion or gay rights.   He is, to some extent at least, a man of science who speaks knowledgeably of climate change and global warming, and doesn't hesitate to upbraid those who deny the problem or engage in activities which worsen its impact.

Pope Francis has also waded into the waters of international politics.   The Vatican, under his guidance, has now officially joined the majority of the world's nations in officially recognizing the state of Palestine.    A few days ago, the Pope called Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestine, an "angel of peace."  Mr. Abbas was undoubtedly honored to be called an angel of peace by a true angel of peace.

It just doesn't get much better than that.

The Pope will be in America this fall and one of his stops will be in Washington, DC, where he will address a joint session of Congress.  He may find the Republican majority, with their hearts of cold stone, a bit harder to deal with than Raul Castro and Mahmoud Abbas.   However, if anyone can infuse  those bitter politicians with a bit of humanity, it will be this Pope.

Thank you, Pope Francis, for bringing the sunshine and warmth back into the Catholic Church.  May your legacy embrace eternity.