Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Castro Brothers: A Pair to Watch in 2016

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's highly unusual to be at the brink of a presidential election year and not know, with almost absolute certainty, who each major party will nominate as their standard bearer.   Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to be the likely Democratic nominee, although that is not as yet set in cement.   Some unforeseen event, such as Bill momentarily escaping his handlers, could quickly derail the whole Clinton juggernaut.  And the Republican contest is so discombobulated that the Grand Old Party might find itself saddled with an honest-to-God brokered convention - one where the eventual nominee is not known until the delegate votes are cast.

With all of the uncertainty remaining at the top of the tickets, there has been little discourse regarding eventual running mates.  The conventional wisdom used to be that the vice-presidential nominee would be someone who could bring some "balance" to the ticket - the elite Kennedy image toughened up with a political brawler like Lyndon Johnson, or a political sleaze like Nixon balanced out with a more dignified and refined Henry Cabot Lodge.

Now, however, the reverse seems to be more in fashion, and candidates choose running mates who double-down on their own strengths - Obama and Biden, for instance, are both highly intelligent and of the liberal end of the Democratic Party, while McCain and Palin were a pair of loudmouthed showboats known for shooting from the lip - and Romney and Ryan were pretty-boy conservatives who, if they had been born in the same generation, could have easily been frat brothers.

And while the veep talk has been necessarily kept to a minimum during this election cycle as candidates in both parties are still slugging it out for their party crowns, Hillary, at least, has been tossing about a few hints.  She seems to be leaning toward Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro - the former three-term mayor of San Antonio.  Castro, age 41, did his undergraduate work at Stanford before going on to Harvard Law.  He has a beautiful wife and two young children.

And in the event Julian Castro, with his Hispanic-vote-getting appeal, does not work out, there is his equally handsome twin brother,  Congressman Joaquin Castro.  Joaquin, also Stanford and Harvard educated, is a former Texas legislator who arrived in Washington DC in 2013, a year before his brother.  He, too, has a beautiful wife and a young son.

The Castro brothers have great life stories.  Dad was a school teacher, but he and mom never got married - leaving the boys from the age of eight or so to be raised by a single mother who was also a well-respected political and social activist.    The Castros were not rich, but they worked hard to achieve success in their personal and political lives.  Today both are well known and highly respected - and either would make a great running mate.

Julian and Joaquin Castro are very much on the political ascendancy.  Expect to hear their names a bunch in 2016.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Affluenza Kid's Mexican Holiday

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Police in the Mexican state of Jalisco have some 'splainin' to do - you betcha they do!  Earlier this week cops in the resort city of Puerto Vallerta snatched American tourist Ethan Couch and his mother right off of the street - just like they were nothing more than common criminals or cruise ship passengers - when, in fact, the Couches, mother and son, are certifiably wealthy.

Just who the hell do those jack-booted thugs think they are?  Now Mexican authorities have even floated a rumor that they plan to return the pair (whom they are calling "fugitives from justice") to the United States where young Ethan could face up to three months in jail!  The horror, the horror!

Doesn't anyone realize just how unattractive a fair-skinned, white boy like Ethan would look in prison orange?

Ethan Couch has had one helluva tough life, and people ought to cut him some slack.   Two years ago he and a few buddies borrowed a couple of cases of beer from a Walmart and went for a joyride in Ethan's dad's pickup truck - with Ethan at the wheel.  Several beers and a few pills later Ethan drove that truck into a group of pedestrians, killing four.  When his truck flipped, one of his friends was thrown from the vehicle and suffered paralysis and brain damage.

Ethan, whose blood-alcohol level was three times over the legal limit several hours after the wreck, was charged with manslaughter in juvenile court, where a judge proved sympathetic to the attorney's pleas that the kid had grown up rich and irresponsible with parents who never held him accountable for his actions.  He was clearly suffering from "affluenza."  The judge sentenced the kid to treatment and ten years of probation.

Ten years of probation just for a joyride that didn't end so well!  Why it wasn't as if the boy had wiped his butt with the Second Amendment or done something truly heinous!

Ethan reportedly completed his treatment, but he had seemed to have had some difficulty staying away from alcohol - a reqirement the judge had inflicted upon him.  A video was posted to the web in early December which supposedly showed Ethan playing beer-pong at a party.   Not long after that, mother and son had one more party with some of the boy's friends - a 'going away' party of sorts - and then the pair hit the road.  This week they were discovered in Puerto Vallerta.

The good news for Ethan is that he has dyed his hair and beard dark, so that orange jumpsuit may work after all!

Ethan, just be thankful that you've been tried and adjudicated in America and particularly in Texas.  Twenty years ago a young man, one year older than you are now, was caned in Singapore just for scratching a couple of cars.  You are eighteen now - old enough to take responsibility for your own actions.   You can no longer hide behind piss poor parenting.

A real man would being the long, hard process of atoning for his crimes, regardless of what the judge did or failed to do.  Your holiday has ended.  It's time to start making amends.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Abbie Heads Home

by Pa Rock
Dog Hotelier

Earlier I mentioned the beautiful Golden Retriever who showed up pawing for entry at the garage door during a cold rain a couple of nights ago.  The old girl was large in the belly and we (wrongly) assumed she was pregnant, a diagnosis given strength by the quick way she took to bed once inside the warm garage.  My optimistic son figured that she was lost, while my more cynical self was equally certain that some soulless reprobate had dumped her.

The poor lady quickly adapted to life in the garage and proved to be completely housebroken.  When she left the garage to do her business, she made no threats toward any of the farm critters, and she was even bullied by the guineas.  She was an ideal guest in every sense of the word.

Nick, the optimist, advertised her whereabouts in several free sites on the internet, while I sat back with the smug assurance that he was wasting his time.  Soon we would be knee-deep in yapping puppies and vet bills while the dog's former owner vacationed on the Mexican Riviera.

So this morning when the dog's owner phoned in response to one of Nick's ad's, no one was more surprised than me.  The nice young man in his pickup truck quickly arrived to claim Abbie.  It turns out that she was not pregnant at all - just old (age 11) and fat - like so many of us!  The young man said that they had a new baby at home, and that he had moved Abbie to a place under the house - and apparently she did not like it.  (Or the water from our almost constant rains got under the house and drove her off.)

Regardless of what brought her here, Abbie hopped right in the truck with her much relieved owner and headed home.

We will miss you, Girl.  You were a very sweet garage guest!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Goodbye Meadowlark, and Thanks for All the Fun!

by Pa Rock
Fan of Fun

Meadowlark Lemon, at one time the heart, soul, and funny bone of the Harlem Globetrotters, has died at his home in Arizona.  He was eighty-three.

Lemon, who was called the "clown prince" of the famous exhibition basketball team, played for the Globetrotters for a quarter of a century, from 1954 until 1978.  His name was synonymous with that of the team, and he was a face and a character that the crowds loved.

One of my earliest movie memories was going with my parents to see a film about the Harlem Globetrotters at the Orpheum Theater in Neosho, Missouri.  Then, after we became a television household, I was able to see them perform every year or so on the Saturday afternoon sports programs.  And those were the Meadowlark years.  What a treat it was to see him effortlessly sink a half-court hook shot, and how hysterical it was when he or one of his teammates would sling a bucket of confetti ono a startled audience member - or a referee.  The shocked victim always expected the bucket to be filled with water, and sometimes it was!

I had the good fortune of being able to see the Globetrotters play in person at the University of Missouri in 1999.  By that time Meadowlark had been retired for more than two decades, but the Globetrotter spirit and talent and outrageous humor that Lemon had done so much to foster lived on.

Lemon, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, went on to play with some other comic teams after his retirement from the Globetrotters, and he even had his own team, Meadowlark Lemon's Harlem All-Stars.  He also appeared in numerous movies and television programs.

Not many will pass this way with the talent and grace of Meadowlark Lemon.  He was an American icon and will truly be missed.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Dog in the Rain

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

It has rained off and on for the past couple of days, and beginning yesterday evening the rain has been constant.  My front yard is a soaked sponge with large puddles of cold water scattered profusely among wide expanses of fallen leaves, and the lower yard down by where the roads intersect is a large lake with some of the trees standing in nearly two feet of brown, murky water.

I took poor Rosie out to do her business this morning just as the sun would have liked to have come up.   Rosie hates the rain, so I had to walk way out onto the soggy yard before putting her down.  Moments later after she swore she was done, I picked her up and walked back to the house.  It was then that I noticed we had a visitor.
On the front porch, huddled behind my wooden glider, was a large brown dog trying to stay warm.  Rosie saw her and began yapping, not exactly a welcoming yap.  I put Rosie back in the house and then proceeded to introduce myself to the visitor.

It turns out that the sweet (and very  pregnant) mongrel had arrived last night and pawed at the garage door where my son was inside working by the fire - so she and Nick had already met.  Nick let her get warm and then put her back outside, naively hoping that she would go home.  Today he said that he will put up a posting in a local on-line advertiser and see if anyone claims her.

I, being a bit more worldly than my son, know that someone dumped this poor dog on a cold, wet, miserable night, and the chances of that soulless bastard rushing to claim her are nil.   So we have a vet bill for spaying in our future, and another for shots for the puppies - and then a complicated process of finding homes for a bunch of wriggly little mutts who done have nothing to deserve the dog's life that is about to be thrust upon them.

And still it rains.

And still we persevere.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The First of My Winter Projects

by Pa Rock
Appendage to a Computer

I've set aside three projects to work on this winter, each an indoor chore that will require long hours at the computer.  Winter is less than a week old at this point, but I am pleased to report that the first of the projects is already well underway.

Years ago, almost thirty years ago, in fact, I wrote a weekly newspaper genealogy column.  It initially ran in a paper of which I was part owner, but eventually spread to fifteen or so area papers in three states.  Most of those newspapers were small weeklies, but my efforts also managed to make it into three daily newspapers -  The Neosho Daily News in Neosho, Missouri, The Benton County Daily Record in Bentonville, Arkansas, and The Grove Sun in Grove, Oklahoma.  Publishing that column was quite a ride - one that lasted for 242 issues or nearly five years.

Seven years ago I took all of those old columns and painstakingly typed each into a blog (  Unfortunately the columns, which contained thousands of surnames, were never indexed, so they were of limited value to genealogists and family researchers.  Now, I am busy correcting that oversight.

I am slowly going through each of those old columns and creating an index of all of the surnames which appeared in queries submitted by my readers.   I am now through number 148 of 242 - and have an alphabetical listing of almost 1,800 unique names - some of which appear numerous times.  The surname "Smith," for example, is used a total of 42 times in the first 148 columns.  Needless to say, extracting all of those names and then entering them correctly onto a spreadsheet is a laborious process.

After the surnames are finished, I will go back through a second time indexing for historical events and specific locations mentioned in the columns.

When the project is finished I hope to have produced a lengthy document (400 or more pages) that will be of use and value to people researching their Ozark roots.   I plan to give printed copies to the genealogy centers in several of the libraries in the area where the column was originally published, and make the entire thing available for free research online.

And that's just one of the things that I am doggedly pursuing this winter!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Whole Seed Catalogue

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

In the winter, while a young man man may longingly dream of cool parties on warm beaches, an old man's thoughts invariably turn to seed catalogs . . . and this year I have a dandy!

I stopped to peruse the magazine display on a recent trip to the grocery store, and during that brief interlude I happened upon a gem of a read.  It was a seed catalog, and not just any seed catalog, but an enormous one that specialized in heirloom seeds.  It was such a quality and colorful publication that instead of being sent to my home free-of-charge like most of its competitors, The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds was instead offered for sale for the rather proud price of $9.95.

After a couple of minutes of blocking the aisle while I thumbed through the publication, I knew that I had to have it.  And now, a couple of weeks later, I continue to be amazed at what a smart buy it was.

Baker Creek Seeds is a large family concern located near the town of Mansfield, Missouri - roughly halfway between West Plains and Springfield on Highway 60.  Mansfield was also the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the place where she wrote her famous "Little House" books.  It is on the edge of Amish country, and a good portion of the staff pictured in the catalog look as though they might share in that Amish heritage.

The catalog, a 355-page affair, offers a wide assortment of seeds, including many with which I was totally unfamiliar.   Who knew, for instance, that there was such a thing as blue potatoes - or edible gourds - or more than a dozen different and very distinctive types of eggplants?  On one level the catalog is an encyclopedia of vegetables and flowers, with a heavy concentration of the older varieties - the types that did so well in Grandma's garden of yesteryear.  But it is also a delicious picture book with dazzling color photographs on almost every page - as well as a family album of the people, many of them family members, who work at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

The publication is also a cookbook with an assortment of wonderful-sounding recipes along with color photos of the finished products.  I've never grown an eggplant, but if I decide to try it, the catalog will guide me in the creation of eggplant cutlets - and they look mouth-wateringly good!

Colorful photographs abound throughout, and they are not just of produce, but of people as well, often posed in interesting situations.  There is even one two-page spread of a gourd artist along with some gourd people and a gourd carousel horse that she created.

The best part, of course is, planning the small container garden that I will have next spring and deciding just what types of tomatoes and peppers and beans will be sprouting up out of the soil and making my little garden unique.   That planning is of paramount importance right now because it's almost time to order the seeds - and this year I will have such a nice selection from which to choose!

Happy garden planning . . . and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Rusty Pails #55: Little Buddy

by Rocky Macy

by Rocky Macy

My friends and I try to get together one evening over the holidays to laugh and eat and exchange gifts.  This year it was my turn to be the host of the holly-bedraggled affair, so I strung up a few lights and baked a ham.

Raquel Rainwater was in charge of the drawing for gifts.  She came knocking at my door a couple of Saturday's back - while on her mail route - with an envelope containing the names of Sprung Hinge's finest.   Raquel told me to close my eyes and draw a name.  Being a bit on the cantankerous side, I tried to keep one eye open hoping that I would get somebody easy to shop for, but she held the envelope so high that it didn't do me any good to try and cheat.  I wound up with Truman Treetopper's name.  What in the heck could I get for a man who has nothing and wants even less?

With Sprung Hinge being Sprung Hinge, it took me all of twenty minutes or so to find out that Esther Pearl had drawn my name - and I knew exactly what I wanted her to get me.  Esther, a businesswoman of uncommon good sense, runs a junk shop called Esther's Pearls and Swine where she acquired an Airwave cabinet radio, vintage 1946, in pristine condition.  Not only did it have a complete AM band, the high-toned piece of nostalgia also had a shortwave band - and they both worked.  And, to frost that cake, it also had a turntable that would play my collection of old 78 rpm records.

Esther knew I wanted that radio, but she was refusing to sell - at any price.  And since she wouldn't sell, I figured I would just have to convince her to give it to me at the party.  So I set about on a campaign to convince her that the radio would make for Ol' Rusty's best Christmas ever.

I knew it would be tough to get Esther to part with her treasure, but I was determined to give it my best effort.   For two weeks I brought her hot mugs of coco from the cafe, little trinkets that I kept in a box in the barn for just such emergencies, and dollops of humor from my priceless personal stories collection.  I was the best and most attentive friend that anyone could ever hope to have.

A day or two before the party Ester pulled me aside and told me not to get too excited, but that she had heard that Santy Clause was bringing me something extra special for Christmas.  And I walked home with a smile on my face.  Rusty was getting his radio!

But life in Sprung Hinge is more complicated than that.

I had been to see Doctor Proctor about my gout not long after Thanksgiving, and he had attached his own string of Christmas lights to me and came up with a diagnosis that I needed to be eating less pie and drinking less root beer.   His receptionist was on the phone to her Aunt Esther before I could even get my shirt back on.

So last night we had the big party, and I was beside myself with anticipation over the gift that I just knew Esther would be bringing me.  She walked in the front door, however, not with a dolly transporting a big, wrapped cabinet radio, but with the littlest gift that I had ever seen.  It's a wonder I didn't cry in my root beer, but then I got to figuring that she was just being clever and that my radio would show up before the evening was over.

We had pies, and my ham, and a turkey with stuffing that Ermine brought, piles of potatoes, two green bean casseroles, and did I mention pies?  It all got washed down with punch, eggnog, and a case or two of vintage root beer.  And then more pie - have mercy!

And after the dishes were washed, it was time to open the gifts.

One of the highlights of the evening was when Truman, who had overindulged in the punch, eggnog, and root beer, opened the fifth of bubble bath that I had given him and commenced to chug it.   The ladies barred him from using the indoor facilities, and he spent most of the rest of the evening in my outdoor privy - a convenience that I have held onto for just such occasions!

There were some very nice gifts being unwrapped - clothing, jewelry, dog clippers, a car-waxing kit, a nail gun - but as my turn to open drew nearer, I still had not spotted any package big enough to hold my heart's desire.  Then my name was called and Esther stepped forward and handed me the little box.

"Why, Esther,"  I stammered, "It's not . . ."

"It's not a radio, is it?"  She laughed at my obvious distress.   "The radio comes next year, Rusty - if you wear this every day until then.  That's a promise!"

"Oh, Lord,"  I thought.  "She must have gone and bought me an engagement ring.  Now what the heck am I gonna do?"

I slowly tore off the pretty wrapping paper and revealed a box that said "Little Buddy."  When I opened the box I found a plastic wristband that looked like a very modernistic wristwatch.

"What in tarnation is this?  Some fancy watch?"

"Oh, it's a watch, all right," she told me.  "And more.  Press this button and it tells you the time.  Press it again and it shows how many steps you've walked that day.  One more press and you can see your heart rate.  And it gives you lots of other health advice."

"Sounds more like a 'busy buddy' than a 'little buddy."  I replied, clearly disappointed.

"One year, Mr. Pails."  She snapped.  "And then you get your radio!"

So now it's the morning after the holiday party, and I had just settled down in my recliner for a big piece of leftover pie and a mug of hot coffee - when the danged phone rang.  "Good morning," says I with as much cheer as my nature would allow.  "How can I help you this fine day?"

"Rusty, " Esther boomed into my good ear, "Do you realize it's almost noon and you've only taken seventeen steps since you got out of bed?  And do you really think you need to be eating pie for breakfast?  I've half a mind to call Doctor Proctor."

"Esther," I boomed back, "Just how in Sam Hill do you know what I'm up to?  Did you plant a camera in my house last night?"

"No need for that.  Little Buddy just sent me a text message!"

I'll have that radio next year.  Esther promised, and she always keeps her word.  But until then, it's going to be a mighty long year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Texas Boys Just Wanna Have Fun

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last week a young man in Texas (age 36) got good and drunk then grabbed his gun, climbed into his pickup truck, and drove over into Oklahoma for a little sport shooting where he opened fire on passing vehicles along Interstate 40.  The drunken shooter managed to kill two motorists and wound up to six cars.

The sad part of this story is that it was not the most egregious drunk-in-a-pickup tale to come out of Texas in the past few days.  Ethan Couch, the "affluenza" teen who killed four innocent bystanders with his pickup truck while he was drunk and on valium two years ago - at the age of sixteen, was back in the news.  Mr. Couch, who was sentenced to ten years of probation after his fatal drunk driving escapade - and supposed to be staying away from booze, drugs, and driving - was filmed playing 'beer-pong' at a party at the beginning of this month, and the film made it's way onto Twitter.

A violation of his probation could have sent the young scamp (now an eighteen-year-old "adult") to prison for up to ten years.

One, two, and the kid flew.

When Ethan failed to show up for his regular appointment with his probation officer, people started getting curious.  It turns out that both Ethan and his mother, Tonya Couch, appear to be on the lam.  Federal authorities are now looking for the pair.

Ethan Couch was spared lockup time last year when his rich parents invested in good attorneys who found a psychologist willing to testify that the lad was not responsible for his actions because his parents had always bought his way out of trouble and he had never had to face any real consequences.  It was called the "affluenza" defense, and it worked.  And the affluenza defense begat an affleunza verdict.  Once again the young miscreant did not have to do anything that would even remotely begin to balance the scales of justice for the carnage and death that he had caused.  Affluenza won the day.

And, according to some reports, while Ethan was at home relaxing his way through the long probation, the judge had not seen fit to encumber him with an ankle monitoring device - or to relieve him of his passport.  Good-bye Ft. Worth, hello Rio!

Happy holidays, Ethan.  Enjoy the beer pong in Brazil - and don't forget to thank your lucky stars that you weren't born black - or poor!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

No, Hillary, You Can't Have My Dollar

by Pa Rock
Targeted Voter

I guess the Christmas season must officially be here because my email-box seems to be stuffed with everybody's wish list. And now that the Wasserman-Schultz Christmas Week Democratic Debate is officially history, I guess this would be a good time to get busy and write a few checks.  But, then again, it would undoubtedly be of greater service to humanity to direct my giving to real charitable causes - in spite of how much politicians assure me that gifts to them will feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and bring about true peace in the world.

This morning I received an email from actress Jamie Lee Curtis asking me to send a few dollars to "HRC" to help fight for gay and lesbian rights.  Interesting, I thought, that the incredible star of A Fish Called Wanda would think that a donation to Hillary would go further in the quest for LGBT rights than a check to Bernie. It turns out, after a careful re-reading of the email, that Jamie Lee was not begging for Hillary Rodham Clinton at all - the HRC that she was shilling for was the Human Rights Campaign. . . a natural enough error for readers of a certain age.   I wonder if having those initials has made or lost money for that erstwhile human rights organization?

Usually when I get an email from Hillary's people, it is from one of three individuals:  the candidate, Chelsea, or Bill.  Bill wrote about a month ago asking for one dollar.  One simple dollar.  Just enough for me to show some commitment to his plan to retake the White House.  I didn't send the dollar - because it would have shown that commitment.  And it's not my money the Clinton's are after because God knows they have plenty.  They are after my political soul, an affirmation that I will lock arms with millions of others and march to hell and back with Hillary.

Both candidates wrote this week after the Wasserman-Schultz Christmas Debate.  Bernie, who already has my commitment, asked for three dollars - while Hillary again begged for only one.  (Poor Bernie has to be a bit more aggressive in his appeals because he has no cushy super-pac to fall back on.)  It turns out that Bernie's beg-fest set a record, so despite Wasserman-Schultz's best efforts to make the DNC look like a fan club for Hillary, the race to the nomination continues.

I've quit giving to the Democratic National Committee and won't cough up any more cash for that organization as long as the extremely manipulative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz remains at the helm.  And Hillary, you can't have my dollar either.  This month it is going to Jamie Lee Curtis!

Feel the Bern!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "The Conscript"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

If you stopped by here expecting some decorous or festive verse for the holidays, or perhaps something appropriately spiritual, move along - there's nothing to see here that would ring those particular Christmas bells.  This week's selection is a somber reminder that there is more to life than just gaiety, party lights, and religious pageants.

Sometimes life is defined by what rots at the other end of the spectrum.

The selection of this week's poem came about after I was struck by two very formidable influences over the past few days.  First, as I noted here recently, I had the opportunity to see the new movie, Trumbo.   It is a biopic detailing the life and times of legendary Hollywood screenwriter and novelist, Dalton Trumbo, a man who went to prison during the Red Scare of the 1950's in order to protect his Constitutional rights - as well as our own.   In addition to some Academy Award-winning movies, Trumbo also wrote one of the best known and most gripping anti-war novels of all time - Johnny Got His Gun.

Johnny Got His Gun is the story of a young man who suffers grievous wounds in World War I.  He wakes up (if you can call it "waking up") in a field hospital where he slowly comes to realize that he has lost his face, his vision, and all four limbs.  The only stimulus he has are his thoughts and memories, and the occasional feel of rats nibbling at the dressing on his wounds.  The book, like the author, was blacklisted for many years, but it began being circulated to wide acclaim during the Vietnam War.   Now when people talk in terms of being against war, Trumbo and Johnny are often in the forefront of the conversation.

I tried reading Johnny Got His Gun back in the sixties as it was being revived, but I was only able to make it about two-thirds of the way through the novel when I had to set it aside.   It was more horror than I could handle.  This week, after seeing the movie Trumbo, I knew that I had to make an effort to read the book again - and this time finish it.  Tim drove me to a bookstore in Kansas City where I was able to find a clean, used copy.  It is at the top of my reading pile.

Then last night another thing happened that drew me toward this week's poetry selection.  One of the series that I watch on the Roku is Supernatural, the fictional story of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester who spend their lives hunting and killing demons.  Sam and Dean also rub elbows with angels, and sometimes get tossed about in time.   The episode that I saw last night, number 125 of 218, featured a bit about one of my favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft, a horror writer of the early twentieth century.  After viewing that,  I decided to hit the internet and try to find a poem by Lovecraft to use in today's posting.

And then I found it, the perfect poem.  Lovecraft's The Conscript is the thoughts of a young man who is being drafted into World War I.  He sees the war as an unfair imposition on his young life - in much the same way as Trumbo's Johnny must have felt after the same war had ruined his.  In the end, what was it all really about?

Wars are never fought by the men who create them - and they are seldom fought by their children.  Wars are fought by the poor for the benefit of the rich - while God remains at the arcade playing skeeball.

The Conscript
by H.P. Lovecraft

I am a peaceful working man—
     I am not wise or strong—
But I can follow Nature’s plan
     In labour, rest, and song.

One day the men that rule us all
     Decided we must die,
Else pride and freedom surely fall
     In the dim bye and bye.

They told me I must write my name
     Upon a scroll of death;
That some day I should rise to fame
     By giving up my breath.

I do not know what I have done
     That I should thus be bound
To wait for tortures one by one,
     And then an unmark’d mound.

I hate no man, and yet they say
     That I must fight and kill;
That I must suffer day by day
     To please a master’s will.

I used to have a conscience free,
     But now they bid it rest;
They’ve made a number out of me,
     And I must ne’er protest.

They tell of trenches, long and deep,
     Fill’d with the mangled slain;
They talk till I can scarcely sleep,
     So reeling is my brain.

They tell of filth, and blood, and woe;
     Of things beyond belief;
Of things that make me tremble so
     With mingled fright and grief.

I do not know what I shall do—
     Is not the law unjust?
I can’t do what they want me to,
     And yet they say I must!

Each day my doom doth nearer bring;
     Each day the State prepares;
Sometimes I feel a watching thing
     That stares, and stares, and stares.

I never seem to sleep—my head
     Whirls in the queerest way.
Why am I chosen to be dead
     Upon some fateful day?

Yet hark—some fibre is o’erwrought—
     A giddying wine I quaff—
Things seem so odd, I can do naught
     But laugh, and laugh, and laugh!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

More Turkey Tribulations

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

It didn't take long after my arrival home yesterday to get swept back up in the drama of the farm.  I blogged in this space several days ago about the two turkey hens that a neighbor had given me.  One had already died by the time I wrote the piece, attacked at night by a predator because the hen had insisted on spending the night outside.  Since that posting, the other turkey hen has also been killed by predators - for the same reason.

That leaves me with the three old toms.  Well, they aren't really old - having been born last April - but they are huge and look like they could have been ambling and shambling around when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  They have wattles, beards, spurs, prehistoric-looking, scaly three-toed feet, and large, beautiful fans.  The toms are magnificent birds, but they are also getting meaner than hell.

My son had told me recently that they have taken to chasing and bullying him, but so far they had left me alone.  Two eat out of my hand daily , and the third had gotten as far as biting my fingers and then refusing to let go. 

Yesterday, shortly after I got back from Kansas City, the old gobblers began showing me their more hostile natures.  I was doing a walk-about checking on things when I came upon the turkeys.  One has been lame for a few weeks and often stays by himself while the others hunt bug snacks.  I discovered the three big birds together, with one of the healthy ones severely pecking the head and neck of the lame one - while the third bird seemed to be standing guard.  The bully appeared intent on killing his lame brother.  I yelled at the villainous creature and tried to pull him off of his victim, but he stood his ground and kept trying to kill the weakened turkey which was now prostrate on the ground.  I even grabbed the bully around the throat in an effort to end the assault, but he was tenacious.  Finally I got my son involved and we were able to separate the lame one into a pen by itself - where he remains today.

You know, if I were a turkey, I suspect that I could think of a better time than the beginning of Christmas week to start flaunting my mean streak.   Just saying . . .

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Signs of the Times

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

Rosie and I just returned home from a quick two-day visit to Kansas City where I had a doctor's appointment and got to spend some time with Little Olive.  Olive's pre-school had a Christmas program while I was there, but unfortunately it was at exactly the same time as my doctor's appointment.  Timing is everything!

I stopped at a Pilot Truck Stop near Collins, MO, on the way to KC where I bought Olive an enormous rag doll which she has named "Flower."  Flower is a bit taller than Olive, and they look very cute together as they cuddle on the couch and whisper back and forth.

At Tim's insistence I bought something called a "Fit Bit" yesterday at Costco - a wrist device that looks like a slim, futuristic watch - and it does tell time.  But, the thing also provides health and medical information including the number of steps taken in a 24-hour day, total miles walked per day, current heart rate, stairs climbed, sleep patterns for the previous evening, and notice when the cake needs to come out of the oven.  (Okay, I lied about the cake - I think.)  Anyway, it has me feeling all high-tech and concentrating on staying active.

My biggest regret with regard to being mortal is realizing all of the amazing things that will come after I am gone - things I will never get to experience.  The world is changing with lightening speed, and by the year 2042 or thereabouts computers will supposedly have the power of independent thought.  Just think about the possibilities that could come with that!

I saw three political bumper stickers as I putted to and from Kansas City.  One was a "Bernie" sticker on a parked car in Tim's neighborhood - and the other two were out-of-date Republican eyesores - one for Ron Paul and the other for Romney.  This morning as I was pulling into Wendy's in Roeland Park for breakfast, I saw another type of car sign - one that could have easily been from West Plains.  A dirty hillbilly in a dirty station wagon had a Confederate flag flying from his front, driver's side window.

Yeah, buddy!

It's comforting to know that as we rush into the future, not everyone will be on the bus!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Trumbo: When the Fascists Stampeded America

by Pa Rock
Drama Fan

I've just had an opportunity to see the new movie, Trumbo, the true story of the near total demise of the Hollywood film industry in the 1950's as Congress and some right-wing zealots (John Wayne, Hedda Hopper, and Ronald Reagan - to name three) tried to rid the movie business of communist influences.

Dalton Trumbo, the title character, was a successful novelist and one of the most productive screenwriters in Hollywood.  Trumbo, a member of the Communist Party of America, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and asked about his involvement with the group.  He was also asked to name others who were sympathetic to the communists and the labor issues of the time.  He declined - and was sent to prison for contempt of Congress.

Trumbo was also blacklisted by the major studios and not permitted to pen any movies.  He wrote under a friend's name or assumed names for several years in order to feed his family.  During that period he wrote two movies which won Academy Awards for their scripts, but was not able to collect his Oscars because officially he hadn't written them.

For those of us of a certain age who grew up first hating Nixon and then Reagan, this movie offers much with which to identify.  It brings back memories of bad times and stirs emotions.   Bryan Cranston as the chain-smoking Trumbo is amazing as he navigates a steady stream of hopelessness and always manages to maintain his self-respect and keep pushing forward.  One of Cranston's best scenes in the movie is when he is confronted by John Wayne at a meeting and proceeds to nail the Duke's hide to the wall by pointing out that not only did the super patriot not serve in World War II, he spent the war years on movie sets "shooting blanks and wearing make-up."

Dame Helen Mirren, as the sinister celebrity columnist, Hedda Hopper, brings a level of malevolence to the screen that is startling - even for her.  Mirren's Hopper is deliciously easy to hate.  Her best line occurred when she confronted studio head Louis B. Mayer in his office and told him that if he did not fire Trumbo and the others in the "Hollywood Ten," she would bring the matter to the attention of her 35 millions readers.   Mayer promptly caved.   Mirren's exact lines cannot be printed here due to this blogger's excessive modesty!

For every villain depicted in this movie, there is also a hero.  Lucille Ball, whose radio voice is heard in the film, is one who supported the writers and the the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.  Actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger are also viewed under a strong light of reason.  But as the news reels showed mobs of Americans marching against the communists and communist sympathizers, one cannot help but be reminded of today's mindless fascists who protest and rail in indignation against Muslims.  Times change, but sometimes it seems like they don't change all that much.

Trumbo is a helluva good movie, a reminder of how easy it is to get swept up into the darkness - and how hard it is to fight the tides of ignorance.   This is a movie that needs to be seen and discussed, a gripping lesson in American history with highlights of some of our worst and best moments.

There will be Oscars!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Molly Catches Up with Jack Benny

by Pa Rock
Proud Papa

My middle child and only daughter, Molly Miranda, turned thirty-nine-years-old today - officially making her the same age as comedian Jack Benny was for most of his life.  Jack was a smart guy and probably figured that thirty-nine was just about the perfect age.  I hope it turns out to be Molly's best age and year ever!

Molly was born in what was at the time the "new" Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Missouri.  Joplin is the city in southwest Missouri which gained way too much public recognition when a killer tornado swept through in 2011 and took a wide swath of the community away with it.   In addition to Molly, two other celebrities were from there also - the late Bob Cummings and the late Dennis Weaver, both staples from the early days of television.

Molly was born late in the morning and I was present at the birth - just barely.  The labor was quick and I was rushing in putting on hospital gear just as she was rushing out!  That evening her grandparents drove up from Noel to meet their newest grandchild.  Molly was in the observation room along with more than thirty other new arrivals.  She was on the front row.  While most of the babies were bald, Molly head was capped with little red ringlets of hair.  My mother immediately pointed to her and said, "That's our baby!"

The following day her other grandmother, Aggie, and her great-grandmother, Sophia "Nana" Wiederkehr Doerpinghaus, came to visit from Strafford, MO, and Aggie carried in the largest poinsettia that I had ever seen.

And then thirty-nine years raced by.

Happy birthday, Molly.  You are a great mom and a wonderful daughter!  I wish you the very best today and always!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Phony Baloneyness of Government Shutdowns

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As of this morning it looks as though the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has figured out a way to keep the government funded and running, at least for a short while.   Apparently Ryan managed to craft a deal that will keep things chugging along without de-funding Planned Parenthood, screwing up the Internet, or killing Obamacare - all things lusted after by Republicans in the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.  Or, in clearer terms, he prevailed without capitulating to right-wing zealots who are so intent in destroying Obama's presidency that they would gleefully bring down the government in order to get it done.

It all sounds so daunting, so critical to keeping our democracy functional, perhaps the very lynch pin that holds humanity together!   Life in these United States without a budget deal?  Heavens to mergatroid!

And it's all as phony as a tarot reading.

As someone who has ridden out a couple of government shutdowns from the inside, I can attest with relative certainty that that the chances of dire results coming out of a shutdown are relatively nil.  Yes, some payments will get held up, and some delays in services may occur, but Congress, and this Congress in particular, does not have the stomach to delay social security payments, stop the U.S. mail, pull TSA workers and air-traffic controllers out of airports, and send the military home.

It's all bluff and bluster -  a big game of chicken as each party maneuvers to make the other look responsible for threatening grandmother's peace of mind.

Apparently today's short-term fix was brought about so as not to interfere with the holidays.  If government were to "shutdown," average voters back home might expect their lawmakers to stay in Washington and work on fixing the problem.  But Congressmen, first and foremost, take care of themselves.   If there is a holiday to be had, by golly they're having it!

The "shutdown" will come later, after the holidays - and it will be a big lot of nothing!

The last time this particular circus came to town was back in October of 2013.  At that time I was a civilian working for the military on a military base.  We went through a series of meetings prior to the shutdown in which we were assured that the worst would not happen.  Troops would still report to work every day, as would "essential" civilians.  Being a lowly social worker, I was deemed "non-essential" and told that when the shutdown occurred I was to stay at home until notified otherwise, and that my pay for those days off would be delayed - but not to panic because Congress always came back after the crisis was over and paid the bills.

So the shutdown came, I stayed home four days while my "essential" friends went to work, and in the end we all got paid.  Government planning at its finest!

It's a political game, and that's all that it is.  A lot of people will be scared, many will get red-faced and angry, and a few will be inconvenienced.   In the end both sides will declare victory, the bills will get paid, and life will go on.

And the budget will never be balanced as long as we remain at war and continue to fund outlandish amounts of corporate welfare.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Teahouse of the August Moon

by Pa Rock
Okinawan at Heart

The late novelist Vern Sneider was among the initial occupation troops on Okinawa after the bloody battle for the island in April of 1945.  Sneider was assigned to the village of Tobaru (population 5,000) to assist with the transition to a peace-time government and economy.

Six years later Sneider penned a fictional account of a young army captain assigned to a similar duty on Okinawa just after the war.   Captain Jeff Fisby was a former pharmacist from a small town in Ohio who was given command of the village of Tobiki with orders to intensify sweet potato farming, build a school, and start a Women's League.  Before Fisby could begin getting those priorities attended to, he received a gift of two Geisha girls who wound up taking his village administration in a whole different direction.

What followed was as much a procedural on how to nation-build as it was a novel.  The Geishas wanted Captain Fisby to construct a teahouse where they could practice their art forms.  That led to a cascade of other necessary activities to support the teahouse, and the reconstruction of Tobiki soon developed into something far more complex and far-reaching than what the military had envisioned.  Captain Fisby, who had an office and living quarters in the teahouse, created and took over control of an import-export business.  The psychiatrist, Doc Maclean, who had been sent to Tobiki by Colonel Purdy, the area commander, to spy on the Captain, wound up heading the village's farming and agricultural projects, and even the colonel himself was eventually swept into the enterprise.

The novel, as a reconstruction or nation-building procedural, shows the importance of integrating local customs and culture into the overall rebuilding plan.  It is something that would have benefited the "planners" who rushed into Iraq after the initial phase of the Bush War ended.  It presented a very thorough and detailed plan for rebuilding an economy and a social life from the ground up through a unique blend of custom and capitalism.

But, as someone who has lived on Okinawa for a total of nearly four years, I had misgivings about the way the author characterized the people.  Sneider portrayed the island's natives as somewhat comical and almost childlike - and the whole thing had a scent of MASH or McHale's Navy to it.  In actuality, Okinawa, once a proud and independent nation, had suffered two invading armies back-to-back.  First they dealt long years under the autocratic rule of the Japanese, and then the Americans showed up.  By the end of the Battle of Okinawa, much of the native population was homeless and living off of the land - in some cases reduced to eating grass.  They were far from the happy-go-lucky conniving natives that Sneider portrayed.

My personal misgivings aside, however, there is a lot of good information about the Okinawan and Japanese cultures in this novel.  Sneider expended great effort in discussing and describing Oriental cuisine, dress, manners, and attitudes - and his book is a very basic cultural digest.  And, I did get a few pangs of homesickness at various points during the telling of the tale!

Though the novel may have been a bit on the dry side, the material was later adapted by dramatist John Patrick in 1953 for an extraordinarily good play - one that won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  It was also made into a movie in 1956 starring Glenn Ford and a very young Marlon Brando.

President Nixon and the U.S. Congress returned Okinawa to Japanese control on May 15, 1972 - at a time when I happened to be living on the island.  There were many Okinawans who would have preferred that the island be granted its independence, and some today who are still unhappy at living in a Japanese prefecture (state).  But the island has modernized over the intervening decades - and now even has a monorail where ox carts once slogged through the mud.  The island has a growing and vibrant economy and is home to an industrious people.

Captain Fisby would be pleased.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday's Poetry: Immigration Verse Revisited

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

As America struggles with itself over whether to allow others to take up residency in our land - and as Donald Trump brays his religious bigotry across the landscape - I thought it might be a good time to revisit three poetry selections that filled this space on April 26th, 2010.  In fact, one of the poems, the wonderful "Running to America" by Luis Rodriguez, has appeared in this blog on two previous occasions.

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus is the verse inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, the emblem of America that greeted new arrivals to our shores as they sailed into New York Harbor.  The simple lines of this poem were then, and should be now, what America is all about.

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

"Push and Pull" by John Myer is a bit more contemporary and talks about the slow process of assimilation.  It, too, is relevant to our times.

Push and Pull
by John Myers

Like many who came before
From distant corners of the globe
Pushed from home
Fleeing calamity
Hunger, Poverty, War

The United States
Land of Dreams
Pulling those seeking a better life
Offering hope and optimism
To the downtrodden, the desperate

They've come to this New World
For several hundred years now
In crashing waves from different places at different times
Only to face new struggles
In a new land

"They're taking our jobs."
"They're stealing our money."
"They don't want to speak English."
"Send them all back to where they came from."
They've all taken turns bearing the brunt

Eventually each group melds into the giant pot
Becoming a part of a new America
Time and time again
And the wave we have crashing over our shores now
Will, too.

 The third poem, "Running to America" by Luis Rodriguez, paints a very touching picture of immigrants trying to enter the United States on foot by racing across the arid southwest.  The Mexicans trying to make it into this land of freedom are also being demonized by Mr. Trump and people like him.

Running to America
by Luis Rodriguez

They are night shadows violating borders,
fingers curled through chain-link fences,
hiding from infra-red eyes, dodging 30-30 bullets.
They leave familiar smells, warmth and sounds
as ancient as the trampled stones.

Running to America.

There is a woman in her finest border-crossing wear:
A purple blouse from an older sister,
a pair of worn shoes from a church bazaar,
a tattered coat from a former lover.

There is a child dressed in black,
fear sparkling from dark Indian eyes,
clinging to a headless Barbie doll.

And the men, some hardened, quiet,
others young and loud - you see something
like this in prisons. Soon they will cross
on their bellies, kissing the black earth,

then run to America.

Strange Voices whisper behind garbage cans,
beneath freeway passes, next to broken bottles.
The spatter of words, textured and multi-colored,
invoke demons.

They must run to America.

Their skin, color of earth, is a brand
for all the great ranchers, for the killing floors
on Soto Street and as slaughter
for the garment row. Still they come:
A hungry people have no country.

Their tears are the grease of the bobbing machines
that rip into cloth
that make clothes
that keep you warm.

They have endured the sun's stranglehold,
el cortito, foundry heats and dark caves
of mines swallowing men.

Still they come, wandering bravely
through the thickness of this strange land's
maddening ambivalence.

Their cries are singed with the fires of hope.
Their babies are born with a lion
in their hearts.

Who can confine them?
Who can tell them
which lines never to cross?

For the green rivers, for their looted gold,
escaping the blood of a land
that threatens to drown them,
they have come,

running to America.

America remains a great nation despite the wave of bigotry and inflamed rhetoric currently raging across the land.   We are, with limited exceptions, a people descended of immigrants, made strong by the cross-pollination of many cultures, and made exceptional by our acceptance of others - regardless of their backgrounds, creeds, or faiths.  We would do well not to forget that.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ninety Years Ago Today in West Plains

by Pa Rock
West Plains Peacock Rancher

For being just a relatively small town in south-central Missouri, West Plains (population 12,000) has been home to many famous Americans - most notably several country music stars and sports figures.  Many of these local icons have gone on to have streets in town (often referred to as "boulevards") named in their honor.  Three of the bigger town thoroughfares in fact are Porter Wagoner Boulevard, Preacher Roe Boulevard, and the Jan Howard Expressway.

However, one other very well known American originated in West Plains and inexplicably has no local markers.  Actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke was born here ninety years ago today.  One reason for the historical marker oversight might be related to the circumstances of his birth.  Mama Van Dyke, it seems, was unwed when she showed up here to live with relatives until her baby was born.  That's how it often was back in the day.

Baby Van Dyke was in town only briefly before moving on to Illinois where he grew up and flourished in the city of Danville.

West Plains is still a bit on the provincial side and perhaps some of today's city fathers remain so out-of-tune with the times that they fear naming a street after the world famous actor and comedian would somehow tarnish the town's wholesome image through his out-of-wedlock origins.

Most of our other "stars" actually grew up here, which also might give them a bit more purchase when it comes to road-naming rights - but I understand that Porter Wagoner, who used to play his guitar and sing at the Avenue Theatre as a young man, was disdainful of West Plains in his golden years.

But back to the celebrity of the day - Dick Van Dyke - the most famous individual ever produced in West Plains, Missouri.  Just for the record, I loved the old Dick Van Dyke Show on television with its amazing ensemble cast of very funny people.  And who couldn't help but love Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?  I also liked a movie that he did later called Cold Turkey where, as a small town minister, he lead his community in an effort to have the whole town quit smoking.   Undoubtedly tossing the smokes at that critical time in his life was, at least in part, responsible for the American icon reaching the age of ninety today!

Happy 90th birthday to you, Mr. Van Dyke!   May your day be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - and may you enjoy many, many more!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

"You Are Home!"

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

While the United States of America continues to wallow in hatred, bigotry, and guns, our neighbor to the north is presenting a much more enlightened image to the world as a beacon for hope and humanity - and bootstrap-level Christianity.

Pay attention world.  Canada is in a teaching mode!

Last night Canada's new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and a host of other government officials were at the airport in Toronto to greet the first of many planes crammed with refugees from Syria.  As passengers disembarked from a Canadian military aircraft that had just arrived on a sixteen-hour flight from Beirut, Lebanon, the young shirt-sleeved Prime Minister cheerfully greeted them with "You are home - you are safe at home now!" 

While the Prime Minister of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, handed out winter coats to the new arrivals, Trudeau mingled with his new countrymen offering personal greetings and posing for selfies.

Prime Minister Trudeau had this to say about the evening's events and the new arrivals:

"This is a wonderful night where we get to show, not just a plane load of new Canadians what Canada's all about, we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations.  They step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada.  with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with the opportunity to become full Canadians.  This is something we are able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by his skin color or language or religion or background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that, much like Canadians, people around the world share."

Canada plans to welcome 10,000 refugees this month and a total of at least 25,000 before next March.

(There is no word yet on how quickly U.S. Republican leaders will start demanding that a wall be built between the United States and Canada.)

Thank you citizens of Canada, both old and new, for being such great Americans.  May your light of hope forever shine brightly!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Turkey Tribulations

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

A year ago last spring when I placed my initial chick order here at the farm, I decided to include four turkey chicks.  Turkeys have to be ordered "straight run" through my local provider, meaning that you can't select by gender.  After those four began to age I learned that I had three hens and a tom.  Not having an outside dog at the time, they gradually began disappearing to the ravages of the area predators, with the tom being the last to go when he was about six-months-old.

This spring, anticipating that I would soon have an outside dog to protect the poultry, I ordered five turkey chicks.  Two were killed by predators at a very young age, but three survived - all toms.  I got a dog, the mighty Thor, who managed to keep everything safe, but Thor developed a taste for the occasional bird himself, and he liked the odd egg - and he had a bad habit of snarling at joggers and passers-by.  A few weeks ago Thor went to live at another home.

But the three tom turkeys proved to be resilient - and lonely.   Many people slowed up to look at them, particularly during turkey hunting season.  My birds, a breed called "bronze-breasted," look very much like wild turkeys.  One sad soul even came to the door asking for permission to hunt my three toms!

Then last Tuesday a stranger pulled into the drive.  I met the man at the door, curious to learn his business at The Roost.   He said that he had seen the toms and asked if I had any hens.  No, I replied, just the three big boys.  He said that he had two hens - also very lonely - and would I be interested in letting them come live at Rock's Roost.

Free turkey hens!

A couple of hours later the man returned with his two grown turkey hens (a white one and a bronze one) in a cage.  By the time we got them on the yard and freed, the toms had gathered around and were doing their happy dance!  It looked as though a smooth transition was in the offing.

The first day the girls wandered around exploring the farm and learning where to find the feed and water.  That night I managed to shoo the turkey hens into the chicken coop (a poultry clubhouse, of sorts) where they spent their first night in safety with all of the other farm birds.  Day two was uneventful, but then that night the new turkey hens balked at going into the crowded safety of the chicken coop - along with he other turkeys, guineas, and chickens.  The white one sought refuge on the ground in an enclosed pen (they had been raised in a pen), and the other flew up to roost on the roof of the coop.

The pen that the white hen chose to spend the night in is about four feet in height with no protective top.  Sometime during the night a predator entered and killed her.  But the one on the roof made it safely through the night.

Last night the bronze hen again flew up to the roof of the coop to spend the night, and this morning I learned that she had made it through another night safely.  She is potentially a survivor - if I can just teach her to go in at night.

Teaching a turkey is very similar to teaching a teenager.

What's a farmer to do?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Colorado Terrorist Proclaims His Guilt

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The terrorist who stormed into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs two weeks ago has admitted his guilt in a loud public outburst.  Robert Lewis Dear, the lone gunman who is facing 179 charges in a Colorado courtroom, killed three people and wounded nine in the attack on the women's health provider.

The defendant, who also has a history as a peeping tom, began yelling in court that he was guilty and there would be no trial.  He is apparently refusing to meet with his attorney again and is adamant that he doesn't want a psychological examination.

Dear's defense:  He is a "warrior for the babies."

Clearly the simple-minded defendant has been influenced and inflamed by right-wing religious leaders and politicians who insidiously incite violence through their unrelenting hate speech and verbal attacks on Planned Parenthood.   Their stooge will do the time for the crime - or worse - while the true villains in this bloody drama will continue to fan the flames of intolerance while earning their Sunday School attendance pins.

Not every dangerous religious radical is rooted in the Middle East.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Happy Valley

by Pa Rock
TV Junkie

I recently discovered a mini-drama from the BBC that is as intense and engrossing as anything that I have ever watched on television.  The show is called Happy Valley, and the first season was filmed in 2014 in just six episodes.  It is available for streaming on Netflix.

The back story goes something like this:  A happily married couple - she is a cop and he is a reporter - have two nearly grown children, a boy and a girl.  The boy is average enough, but the daughter is a bit on the hard-to-control side.  The daughter gets pregnant and tells her parents soon after the baby is born that he is a product of rape.  She tells them who the father is, but never lets the father know about the baby.  The daughter then kills herself.

Gramma, the cop, decides to raise the infant, something that so upsets Grampa that he leaves the household, divorces Gramma, and finds a new wife.

The rapist father, meanwhile, gets sent to prison on another charge.

The series begins ten years later as the rapist is getting out of prison and falls in with a hapless gang who kidnap a rich girl, a crime which goes wrong in every bloody way possible.  The investigating officer is Gramma, of course!

The plotting and writing of Happy Valley is brilliant.  It is a riveting story that grabs the viewer early on in the first episode and never lets go.  The cast is solid across the board, but two of the featured actors are well beyond exceptional.  Sarah Lancashire (Last Tango in Halifax)  gives a stellar performance as the cop who is raising the son of her daughter's rapist, and James Norton (Grantchester) is mesmerizing as the evil young criminal.  Both actors turn in award-worthy performances.

While the name Happy Valley is a bit of a misnomer, it is a show that I can't recommend highly enough.  If you want your emotions exercised, Happy Valley will do it!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trump Erupts, Republicans Run for Cover

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

With only three exceptions, Republican presidential candidates are keeping unusually quiet regarding Donald Trump's latest blast of insanity.  Yesterday, after The Donald called for a temporary policy of barring all Muslims from entering the United States - even those who are U.S. citizens and currently traveling abroad - Jeb Bush manned up and referred to Mr. Trump as "unhinged," and Lindsey Graham called Trump "downright dangerous."  Marco Rubio issued a general statement condemning Trump's "offensive and outlandish" statements.

Non-candidates Paul Ryan (Speaker of the House) and Dick Cheney (former Vice-President) also rebuked the Trump remarks, but Ryan quickly followed his initial statement with a tweet declaring he would support the ultimate candidate - even if it was Trump.

But what of the other candidates?  Ted Cruz did say that his plan was different from Trump's, but he did not take the bait and respond directly to the xenophobic content of the latest Trump claptrap.

Reverend Mr. Huckabee, how does all of this strike you?  Should Muslims be barred from entering the United States?  Is that what Jesus would want?  Speak up, Mike!

And what about you, Chris Christie?  Should we ban Muslims at the border?  Maybe we could also deny the vote to those who are here and refuse to leave.  Chris, you usually have the subtlety of an exploding cigar - tell us what you really think about all of this.

Rand Paul, what do you think about the libertarian aspects of singling one religion out for harassment?  Does that "freedom of religion" thing in the Constitution bother you at all?  Sound off, man!

Reince Priebus, the National Republican Chair, has removed Trump from a Republican fundraising event, but as to the candidate's horrific suggestion that anyone subscribing to one of the world's major religions be banned from entering the country, Reince is as silent as the fellow decomposing in Grant's Tomb.

The sad truth is that Donald Trump is simply throwing red meat to his supporters - a group of gun-toting, government-hating, dentally challenged imbeciles who believe devoutly that Muslims are our enemies and that the only way to deal with enemies is to kill them.  Trump keeps his minions stirred up and frothing at the mouth.  It's not about foreign policy, its about misdirection and inciting the ignorant masses.

A third of the Republican Party is crazy - but the Republican patriarchs need their votes in general elections and are thus loathe to intervene while Donald Trump serves up his blood-soaked, bigoted lunacy.  At some point someone within the party is going to have to stand up and ask Donald Trump if he, at long last, has no decency.

It isn't our great nation that needs cleansing - it is the Republican Party.  There is room for a hero to emerge in today's Republican Party - if only someone had the guts and the honor to stand up to the monster that the party itself has created.

The GOP will never be able to govern our country effectively until it first learns how to govern itself.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "Am I Worth Dying For?"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today is the seventy-fourth anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on our Pacific naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii - a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would "live in infamy."  It was the event which drew us into World War II.

There is a memorial to the attack on the island of Oahu at the USS Arizona, a battleship which was struck on that day and lies mostly submerged in the harbor.   On a path leading to the memorial there is a small poem, a prayer actually, that was carried by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt throughout the war.  The piece has no actual title, but I have chosen to caption it with its last line, "Am I Worth Dying For."  The poet is anonymous.

One this day more than seven decades later when it appears as though certain political forces within the United States are trying to stampede us into yet another war, I thought the following lines to be well worth quiet consideration.

Am I Worth Dying For
by Anonymous

Dear Lord,

Lest I continue
My complacent way
Help me to remember
Somehow out there
A man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I then must 
Ask and answer
Am I worth dying for?

Will we march into the maw of death to save our people or our homeland, as we did in World War II, or will be gamble our national pride and treasure simply to sustain and profit our war industry?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Those 'Peaky Blinder' Devils

by Pa Rock
TV Fan

For the past couple of weeks I have been enjoying a new British series that is a product of both the BBC and Netflix.  The show, Peaky Blinders, is a historical drama set in the British industrial city of Birmingham immediately following World War I.  The focus of the story is on a criminal gang (or more accurately a crime family) called the "Peaky Blinders," a deadly crew who earned their name by wearing peaked caps with razor blades sewn into the brim.  When a gang member suffered an offense, he had simply to whip off his cap and swing it into the face of the offending party - often blinding that person.

("Peaky Blinders" was the name of an actual crime gang of the times, though the stories told in this series are by-and-large fiction.)

So far two seasons of this show have been produced, twelve episodes, all of which are available for streaming on Netflix.

Peaky Blinders is a very gritty and real.  Birmingham, as depicted in the show, is a darkened hive of steel-making, shady commerce, brawling, and drinking.  The fictional Shelby family have been controlling commerce and crime in the city since before the war.  Tommy Shelby, the emerging leader of the clan, is focused on bringing the organization into the future and gradually making it legal and respectable.  The show tends to put one in mind of the contemporary American crime family classic - Sons of Anarchy.

The sets are authentic and amazing, and the musical background is as dynamic as the action spilling across the screen.  The music has much of the Billy Joel "Allentown" beat to it with hammer striking steel, and a strong sense of Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons."  It all weaves together nicely to transport viewers seamlessly back to Birmingham a century ago.

But historical trappings aside, it is Irish actor Cillian Murphy playing gang leader Tommy Murphy who makes the show.  Murphy's Tommy Shelby, a decorated war hero, maims, and kills, and makes love with the greatest of ease, all the while keeping a laser focus on the needs and interests of his family enterprise.  Murphy is an exceptional actor who has landed a role which lets him demonstrate his broad range of talents.

To glob onto a bit of the British vernacular, Peaky Blinders is a bloody good show!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It's All Terrorism!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) referred to this week's shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed fourteen people as "just another day in the United States of America."  Indeed, mass shootings have become so commonplace in our land of guns and madness that they now have to be bloody horrific to even garner more than a passing glance of public interest.

Mass killings have become an accepted part of our cultural fabric.

After the shootings in San Bernardino, national politicians coughed up the same twaddle that they keep on the shelf for all such occasions.  The Democrats pleaded for sensible restrictions on the sale of guns and ammunition, such as laws that would make it more difficult for individuals who are insane, criminals, or terrorists to buy weapons and arm themselves, while Republicans yammered on about the need to pray for the dead and wounded.

Both sides knew that nothing would happen.  The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups would continue to pump money and fear into the halls of Congress and the state legislatures in a brazen bid to ensure that America remains the deadliest country on earth.

But yesterday the game changed a bit.  The FBI decided that since the shooters in San Bernardino had philosophical ties to ISIS, the venerable U.S. law enforcement agency would declare that particular shooting to be an act of "terrorism."  Suddenly, upon hearing that pronouncement, the Republican presidential hopefuls threw down their prayer beads and leaped for their gun cabinets.  We were at war  - and those political animals smelled blood in the air.  There was money to be made and votes to be had!   It was high time for Americans to come to their senses and elect a war-time President - hopefully someone just as fearless, ferocious, and tactically brilliant as George W. Bush.

The Republican wet dream had finally come true.  One of these acts of barbarism had been officially called terrorism.   Now, at long last, they were free to get angry and belligerent about a mass shooting - just like the Democrats had been doing all along.

This one was terrorism - so this one was bad.  It's not about guns anymore - it's about the flag, and apple pie, and motherhood - and guns.  Now is the time for every loyal, red-blooded American to hop in the truck and rush down to Walmart and buy more guns.  The Mooslims are coming, the Mooslims are coming!

Of course, skeptics might argue that its been about terrorism all along.  When a young man who has been raised on a steady died of bigotry and hate walks into an African American church and guns down worshipers as they kneel in prayer - and they moans in disgust about black men defiling white women - that's terrorism, whether the FBI has the cajones to call it that or not.  It's also terrorism when a tool of the religious right storms into a Planned Parenthood center and opens fire - while sputtering on about "baby parts."

According to the illustrious Federal Bureau of Investigation, mass shootings are terrorism when they are inspired by right-wing Muslim extremists - but when right-wing Christian extremists inspire mass shootings, its just another day in the United States of America.

What a crock.

It's all terrorism.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Trump: The Republican Ideal

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Ever since bombastic and antagonistic Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Presidency as a Republican last June, he has polled at a nearly constant and very respectable thirty percent - give-or-take a few boneheads.    His opponents caution that Trump is not a serious candidate and that his support will eventually collapse.  But so far it's held steady, and some are beginning to sense the possibility that The Donald may just wind up taking the nomination, whether he really wants it or not.

Part of the thinking regarding the "imminent" Trump collapse has been his propensity for making outrageous statements.  Surely, his opponents hopefully muttered, he would say something so contemptible as to offend large numbers of people and end his campaign.   And yes, Donald spits his bile with alarming regularity - and instead of taking offense, his supporters lap it up like a pack of hungry dogs suddenly coming upon a pool of warm vomit.  The candidate has no shame, and fortunately for him, neither do his supporters.

There is one school of thought which argues that Trump, a television reality star, just entered the race to enhance his name recognition and cash in on all of the free publicity that being a candidate brings.  Regardless of his motivation for running, Mr. Trump now seems poised to do what no one ever suspected he would or could accomplish - win the nomination.

In fact, I think he will win the nomination - and why not?  Donald Trump is the Republican ideal.  He is openly racist, cheering on his dog-whistle followers for beating down and kicking a black protester at a Trump event.  Misogynistic?  Ask Carly Fiorina.  She's undoubtedly still steamed over his remarks about her face - and they weren't pretty.  Xenophobic?  Yup, Trump hates 'em all - Mexicans, Muslims,  Syrians - just name a group and Trump starts yammering to build a wall or "take 'em out." Homophobic?  Trump probably has (or thinks he has) gay friends, people he tolerates for business or social reasons, but just don't let them start talking marriage.  That's where he draws the line.  

Add to all of the aforesaid sparkling credentials the fact that he is anti-choice, pro-unregulated guns, opposed to policies that assist the poor, focused on enhancing his own personal wealth, and a bully - and Donald Trump emerges as the best possible Republican nominee for President.

Donald Trump is not unlike the picture of Dorian Gray.   He is the absolute image of today’s Republican Party – one that the party leaders would no doubt like to keep hidden in the attic until after the election.

But The Donald doesn’t hide in attics.

The Republican Party has spent the last several election cycles pandering to the most ignorant and intolerant elements in our society.  They staked out that ground, claimed it as their own, and now they must reap the harvest of insanity – and that looks as though it will be Donald Trump.

He’s you’re creature, GOP.  Deal with it!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Judah Is Six!

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

My youngest grandson, Judah Files, turns six-years-old today.  He lives in Oregon with his brother and sister, Sebastian and Willow, and his parents, Scott and Molly.  Because he lives so far away, I seldom get to see Judah and his siblings - and that is definitely my loss.

Judah likes his toy cars and trains - and he is into things that are mechanical.  Judah likes to ponder things and figure out how they work.  He is warm and affectionate and an all-around good kid.

Happy birthday, Judah.  Pa Rock loves you and is very proud of you.  May your day be very special!