Thursday, March 31, 2016

Jonesboro Revisited: The Popular Media

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This series began with a news story that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has begun a program designed to lure young children into an appreciation of the destructive power of firearms.  That venerable "gun rights" organization has recently begun sponsoring a program to update classic children's literature, such as the stories of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.  The updated versions feature the child characters - and Grandma - carrying guns and supposedly showing children that they don't have to fear wolves and witches if they have the foresight to bear arms when they wander through the woods.

The NRA is grooming children to become paranoid adults who will spend large portions of their incomes buying guns - and gun sales are the lifeblood of the NRA.

At almost the exact same time that I came across the piece on the NRA and its fairy tales, I also stumbled upon some old materials that I had collected and papers that I had written while at the University of Missouri in the late 1990's pursuing a graduate degree in social work.  When I began this blog in 2007, one of the purposes had been to collect and preserve various things that I had already written in a place where they could be easily located and accessed by any of my descendants or future researchers who had use for them.

The materials that I came across while rooting through the garage included a collection of articles on the Jonesboro school shooting which occurred in March of 1998 toward the end of my first year in the two-year masters program, as well as three small papers that I had written on the topic:  a compilation of what the local and national media had to say on the topic, an interview with a juvenile officer on the topic of violent juveniles, and a paper summarizing my findings.  After carefully rereading that collection of writing, I decided to re-explore Jonesboro and present that material here.  It will run over the next three days, beginning with look at how the popular media covered the horrific crime back when it occurred.

(Note:  At the time this paper was written, the Internet was just beginning to come into full-flower as a quick link to numerous media outlets.  The professor for whom this paper was compiled, an older gentleman, had visions of his students spending long hours digging in the dark recesses of the rows and rows of card catalogue cabinetry at the university library, and to some extent that was necessary, but large amounts of news and opinion were also readily available on the Internet.  This experience marked a turning point with my familiarity with the new medium.)

Violent Children:
A Brief Analysis of the Popular Media
and the Internet

Rocky G. Macy
4 May 1998

       Jonesboro.  A sleepy mid-sized Arkansas city one minute, a metaphor for violent youth the next.  Who could have imagined on the morning of March 24th, 1998, that before the children of Jonesboro boarded the buses to return home that evening that their lives would have been interrupted by gunfire, death, and a media onslaught?

       While violence in American schools is becoming so common that its occurrence tends to get lost somewhere behind page one, Jonesboro was shocking and bloody to such a degree that it forced the topic back into the headlines.  The coverage of the massacre was told in color photos, words of anguish, indignant editorials, comparisons with similar crimes, views of experts, and voluminous amounts of public opinion.  The popular media became a fount of information on the topic of violent children.

       The newspapers that I checked regularly in preparing this assignment were The Columbia Missourian, The Columbia Tribune, The Maneater (the MU student newspaper), The Kansas City Star, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and USA Today.  All of those publications except for The Maneater offered similar news stories regarding the event.  Most also provided information on the ten other school shootings that had occurred in the United States in the five years preceding Jonesboro.

       The Columbia newspapers devoted some space to addressing the issue of violence in schools and provided information on what local schools were doing to address the problem.  All of the Missouri newspapers carried stories about the bill in the state legislature to allow citizens of the state to carry concealed weapons.  The papers from Kansas City, St. Louis, and USA Today carried pieces on the psychological aspects of violent youth.   The Maneater had a column about youth violence that focused on Jonesboro and a 1994 Chicago incident in which two young boys dropped a friend out of a seventh story window.

       All of the newspapers had editorial opinion dealing with violent youth as well as responses from the readers in the form of "Letters to the Editor."  USA Today complimented a couple of its stories with charts and graphs.

       The tabloids had a couple of articles focusing on troubled youth.  National Examiner told its readers in two separate issues that child beauty JonBenet Ramsey was murdered by her eleven-year-old brother, Burke.  The same publication also had a story entitled Daughter of Satan that focused on a young lady who supposedly recruited other teens to join her on a cross-country killing spree after watching the movie Natural Born Killers.

       The news magazines, much like the larger newspapers, used Jonesboro as a springboard for a wide-ranging examination of violence in society.  Time and Newsweek each had a cover featuring a photo of an armed Drew Golden (the younger of the Jonesboro shooters), and while Drew failed to make the cover of U.S. News and World Report, that magazine did carry a full page color photo of the youth, again armed, inside of its covers.   (The sheer number of armed family photos of Drew that found their way into the press was actually reminiscent of the endless deluge of JonBenet photographs that saturated the media for so long.)

       The electronic media also had a lot to say about kids and violence.  National Public Radio featured news and editorials about violent children for a couple of weeks following Jonesboro.  Several of the talk shows have focused on violent children over the past couple of years.  Geraldo Rivera has had Baby Face Killers, Teen Thrill Killers:  Why?, and What Do You Do with Kids Who Kill?, and a week after Jonesobro Oprah Winfrey aired a program entitled When Children Commit Crimes.

       The popular media focused on several areas:  the killings at Jonesboro and related news stories, safety issues for children and schools, the psychological make-up of violent youth, legal issues related to the crimes of kids, and the causes of violence.  News stories provide information and opinion.  As a rule they don't solve problems, but the news and views expressed by the media do focus the public's attention on problems and provide the grist for dialogue - and dialogue can eventually lead to the resolution of any social ill.

The Internet

       All of the major news organizations have homes on the Internet.  I was able to read Time's complete coverage of Jonesboro on-line several days before the magazine appeared on newsstands.  The two that I used most, however, were CNN and MSNBC.  Both not only had complete news coverage, but they also featured numerous links to related stories.  It was quite easy to jump to stories about other school shootings or more generic stories about crime and punishment, causes of violence, or articles on the psychological make-up of homicidal youth.

       CNN and MSNBC also employ message boards to collect and distribute public opinion on many contemporary issues.  CNN posted a message board immediately after Jonesboro that quickly gathered over 8,000 messages on things related to the tragedy - condolences, expressions of grief, rants for and against gun control, anger, and many, many questions.  But there were answers also - straightforward, homegrown solutions to the myriad of questions that swirl around the subject of kids who kill.  CNN had another message board on the subject of violence on television and in the movies.  Again, the responses were a insightful as they were unique, forthright, and honest.  Message boards on the Internet are quickly becoming America's Main Street - a place where news and opinion can race from person to person gaining passion and insight as they go.

       The Internet is an interactive encyclopedia that never goes out of date.  I used it for this assignment to locate information on juvenile justice, legislation, violence in the media, school shootings, and guns.  I also used the Internet to access professional articles through the University of Missouri libraries.

       E-mail and listservs add to the value of the Internet as an opinion gathering and generating tool.  Graduate students in the University of Missouri's MSW program used their listserv to comment on Jonesboro and related topics for several weeks after the shooting.  Their comments were heterogeneous and as interesting as those expressed by the general populace on the message boards.

       The Internet is a marvelous repository of information and news - some accurate, some less so - and an uncommonly well stocked marketplace of opinion.  It is the history, and knowledge, and culture of all humanity reduced to binary code and carried on electrical impulses to the edges of the planet and depths of our minds.  The Internet is our umbilical cord to cyberspace, a lifeline to the future and a tether to the past.  Its value as a tool for research cannot be overestimated, or for that matter, even calculated.

(Tomorrow:  Notes from an interview with a juvenile officer on the subject of violent juveniles.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Jonesboro Revisited: An Overview

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It is commonly referred to as the Jonesboro school shooting, but the actual incident took place at Westside Middle School in rural Craighead County, Arkansas - near the community of Jonesboro.  It wasn't the first school shooting in America, nor was it destined to be the last, but this particular shooting at a school was especially memorable due to the ages of the shooters.

On March 24, 1998, 11-year-old Andrew Golden, a kid described by one of his teachers as "sneaky," and his friend, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson, got in a car owned by Johnson's mother and drove to a secluded wooded acreage near their school.  They had packed the car with camping equipment and several weapons that they had stolen from the home of Golden's grandfather, a conservation agent.  The also had over 2,000 rounds of stolen ammunition.

They parked the car in a wooded area next to the school, and Golden ran into the school and pulled the fire alarm - and then hurried back to join Johnson in the woods.  As the teachers and students marched outside and gathered next to the school, the two heavily armed boys opened fire on the crowd.  It was a real life shooting gallery.  When the carnage ended, five were dead - four students and a teacher - and nearly a dozen others were wounded.

It was an appalling act of barbarism that had been carefully thought out and executed by children.  At the time of the shooting, "Jonesboro" was the second deadliest school rampage in American history.  Now, sadly, less that twenty years later, it is in a five-way tie for ninth place.

Much was written about the backgrounds and family lives of these two cold-blooded killers.  Both boys lived in households in which guns were commonplace fixtures.  Mitchell Johnson and his brother had moved to Arkansas from Minnesota with their mother a couple of years before the shooting when his parents divorced.  Johnson's mother, a prison guard, later married one of the ex-convicts who had been serving time at her prison.

Andrew Golden, the younger of the two shooters, lived with both of his natural parents, a pair of postal workers, and his grandfather, the conservation agent, lived nearby.  He had what appeared to be a loving and stable home life.  But then photos of young Andrew began making their way into national publications - pictures of a little boy holding and aiming guns.  One iconic picture of little Andrew - at around the age of two - clad in cammo and holding a rifle - even made its way onto a cover of Time.  It was becoming apparent that Andrew had grown up steeped in a gun culture.

The boys, who had seemed to be planning to live somewhere in the woods after they atrocity, were instead quickly captured and jailed.  They were adjudicated as juveniles and sentenced to incarceration in Arkansas reformatories until the age of eighteen.  The federal government added weapons charges to the legal mix, and the lads' time inside was lengthened until their twenty-first birthdays.

Both young men were released at the ages of twenty-one.  Mitchell had served over seven years of juvenile incarceration, and Golden had served more than nine by the time they were allowed to re-enter society.  Both adopted assumed identities and continued living in Arkansas.  Mitchell worked for awhile at convenience stores in northwest Arkansas before again running afoul of the law with charges of theft and the illegal possession of controlled substances and guns.  He was sent to prison for a term of eighteen years, but has recently been released.

Golden attended a community college for a period of time.  His new identity and location became known after he tried unsuccessfully to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Both young men still face civil lawsuits filed by the relatives of their victims.

Of all of the school shooters in American history, and sadly there are many, only two, Golden and Mitchell, are today free citizens.

(More on "Jonesboro" tomorrow from popular media of the times.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The NRA Is Grooming Children

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Lots of people buy lots of guns in the United States every day - that's a fact.   Even people who should not have guns, such as those who are mentally incompetent or have a history of criminal actions, buy guns.    Spouse abusers buy guns, chronic drunks buy guns, psychopaths buy guns.  The U.S. is, in fact, the easiest industrialized nation on earth in which to acquire a gun.  The gun industry, much like its big brother, the arms industry, makes money by arming both sides - the bad guys and the good guys - them and us.  It is a never-ending spiral of stupidity guaranteed to eventually end in disaster.

Surprisingly however, it looks as though the gun market in America is finally beginning to get saturated.  Sales are slowly dropping off, and that has those good patriots who constantly whip up paranoia to sell more guns to the country's boobs and rubes worried.  To sell more guns requires the expansion of markets, and the gun companies have begun doing what the cigarette companies did to combat similar dips in sales:  they are beginning to target children.  (Pun intended.)

The gun industry's propaganda arm, the National Rifle Association, has, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times, begun rewriting classic fairy tales to show how much safer children would be from witches and wolves and such if they (the kids) were armed.   They have apparently published new versions of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood in which the kids and even Grandma are packing heat.   The new versions don't address the fact that in loosely regulated societies like ours the villainous witches and wolves could also get their hands and paws on guns without any difficulty at all.

Of course, both sides being fully armed is the gun industry's wet dream.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a group supporting sensible controls on the easy availability of firearms, reports that last year there were 278 unintentional shootings by children in the United States. Filling the heads of kids with firearm fantasies such as those being cranked out by the NRA can only serve to increase the number of unintentional, and often fatal, child shootings.  Much like the original stories by the Brothers Grimm, these stories will necessarily end badly.

Tomorrow in this space I will look back at one of the many horrible school shootings which have plagued our country over the past couple of decades - a shooting where one of the young shooters in particular had been tragically immersed in a local and family culture which glamorized the use of firearms.

Wayne LaPierre, how do you sleep at night?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday's Poetry: "Labor Pains"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Farms can be about many things, but two of the constant forces to offer definition to farm life are these:  birth and death.  Birth on a farm usually happens in the spring, but death can come at any time.  This past week I had to deal with the corpses of two banty roosters, two playful young birds who grew up together at Rock's Roost.  They were playmates as well as fierce protectors of the hens.  It was their devotion to the girls that led to their deaths at the talons of a predator hawk.

Nothing has been born at the farm yet, but I expect that to change this spring when the hens start becoming broody.  The peacocks appear to also be preparing to mate.  At my last farm several years ago I watched baby goats being born on a few occasions, and even had to get personally involved in pulling one baby out of his mother during an especially rough delivery.  Both survived - as did I!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I did witness something close to a birth.  I was working in the hen house in the afternoon, placing fresh wood shavings in the nesting boxes, when I cam across a lone hen sitting quietly in a box.  As I was working on the box next to hers, I suddenly heard the hen giving a low growl.  I stepped back to observe.  The little hen stood up in her box, she had to do so in a stooped position, and quit growling.  She began staring quietly into my eyes.  She appeared to be suffering in silent agony.  Suddenly a wave of relief seemed to cross her feathered face as ker-plop, an egg dropped into the box.  I have collected thousands of eggs over the years, but that was the first time I have ever seen one actually being delivered.

The hen took a moment or two to get her bearings before climbing out of the box and beginning to cluck her egg song.  Meanwhile, the farmer snatched the egg.

It was an Easter Egg!

To honor that significant farm event, I searched for a poem about chickens laying eggs - to no avail.  Instead I have chosen the poem, "Labor Pains," by twentieth century Japanese poet Yosano Akiko.  My little red hen certainly looked as though she would have been very sympathetic to the sentiments of this poet.

(I played the role of the prattling doctor in this little barnyard drama.)

Labor Pains
by Yosano Akiko

I am sick today,
sick in my body,
eyes wide open, silent,
I lie on the bed of childbirth.

Why do I, so used to the nearness of death,                         
to pain and blood and screaming,
now uncontrollably tremble with dread?

A nice young doctor tried to comfort me,
and talked about the joy of giving birth.
Since I know better than he about this matter,                 
what good purpose can his prattle serve?

Knowledge is not reality.
Experience belongs to the past.
Let those who lack immediacy be silent.
Let observers be content to observe.                                   

I am all alone,
totally, utterly, entirely on my own,
gnawing my lips, holding my body rigid,
waiting on inexorable fate.

There is only one truth.                                                             
I shall give birth to a child,
truth driving outward from my inwardness.
Neither good nor bad; real, no shame about it.

With the first labor pains,
suddenly the sun goes pale.                                                     
The indifferent world goes strangely calm.
I am alone.
It is alone I am.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Grandchildren Speak

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

It is a beautiful Easter Sunday morning in the Ozarks. 

This week, mainly because of my birthday, I was able to speak to each of my five grandchildren.   That was a rare treat.

Olive called first.  She told me she had been sick with the flu and had gone to the doctor.  She also, when prompted by me, told me that her kitty, "Rerun," was fine.  Olive asked me how old I was and I told her sixty-eight.  I turned the tables and asked her how old she was, and she piped up proudly, "I'm four!"  And she is.  Olive is going to have a baby brother this June, and we are all excited about that!

Judah and Willow phoned next from their home in Oregon.  Both children wished me a happy birthday, and Judah, who has had some speech challenges, said very clearly, "Happy birthday, Pa Rock."  He laughed as he said it.  Judah is such a happy child.  He has recently learned how to ride horses.  He likes animals - and I know that he would really enjoy getting to visit at the farm.

Sebastian phoned from Oregon that evening.  He called while I was at my Wednesday night card game, so we were able to chat for only a minute and I promised I would call back when I got home.  An hour or so later we were talking again.  Sebastian made a joke by wishing me a happy "first" birthday.  Sebastian takes karate lessons and is doing very well.

Willow got back on the phone after Sebastian got off.  She told me that she was eating a butterfly cookie.  I asked her if her mother had made it and she said "no," and that they had bought the cookies at the store.  I told her that I had bought cupcakes at the store for my birthday, and Willow replied in the cutest voice possible, "I love cupcakes!"  (So guess what Pa Rock will be bringing Willow when he goes to visit this summer!)

Boone was the last to phone in.  He has recently gotten his driver's license and a car, but the car is in the shop for some necessary maintenance.  Boone, a budding young singer and guitarist, told me that he has a "paying gig" in Neosho this Friday night - where he would perform a forty-five minute set of music.  He will also be taking his ACT this week as well as a test for placement in an Advanced English class.

All of the conversations were delightful, and they made my sixty-eighth birthday very special!  I have such wonderful children and grandchildren!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hey Maricopa, Let People Vote!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Maricopa County, Arizona - where I resided for the last several years of my working career - is home to some wonderful people - a couple of dozen, at least.  But it is also a haven for some of the most paranoid racists in America, legions of gin-soaked, redneck retirees, and countless people who conflate guns and religion with patriotism.

Maricopa County is a strange and severe place that regularly sends its citizens to the polls where they vote in the likes of Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, and Jan Brewer.

One of the few things that I liked about Maricopa County was the ease with which one could vote.  Registration was simple - easily accomplished at the Division of Motor Vehicles.  Somewhere, probably at the DMV, I checked a box on a form asking to have my ballots mailed to me, and the county clerk, a Republican by the name of Helen Purcell, sent ballots several weeks before any upcoming election.  There was no return stamp required, so all I had to do was mark the ballot and drop it back in the mail.  If I missed the mail deadline, I could take it to my polling place on election day and leave it there.

It was so, so easy.  Never any hassle or problem.  But, of course, I was an old white guy, not someone who should expect difficulty in casting a vote.

Now, according to the press, Republican officials in Maricopa County have taken advantage of the Supreme Court's essential gutting of the Voting Rights Act and eliminated 70 percent of the county's voting locations - a situation which caused waits in line of over five hours - with many people just giving up and leaving without voting.   Democracy advocates allege this was intentional voter suppression aimed at curtailing the voting of non-whites, but there were also reports of some white citizens of Maricopa County being trapped in the insufferable long lines and getting to experience first-hand what voter suppression really feels like.  (One report stated that there was only one voting location for every 108,000 people in the Phoenix area.)

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has written to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking for a federal investigation into the matter.

I hope that Maricopa County and Phoenix are still using the mail ballots, but for those unable or unwilling to trust the mail, there should still be a basic right to go to a local polling place and cast a ballot - without waiting hours to vote - regardless of who you are or how dignified your family tree happens to be.  America has voted that way for over two centuries, and it works - when there is an adequate number of polling stations and plenty of ballots.

Hey Maricopa County - this is America!  Let people vote!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Blackburn's Committee Will Put Lives at Risk

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Marsha Blackburn, a cranky old congresswoman from Tennessee who opposes green initiatives and any form of gun control, favors giving the military more than it needs or wants, and strives to protect the rich from paying their fair share of taxes, is best known for her vigorous opposition to other women's rights to reproductive freedoms.  Blackburn, like fellow congressman, Trent Franks, of Arizona, sets all her flags to flying whenever the topic of abortion arises on the House floor.  She presents as opposed to abortion under all circumstances and loudly decries it as the taking of human life.

Blackburn, like so many of the anti-abortion crusaders, seems to quickly lose interest in maintaining human life once the infant is born.  Her constant opposition to Obamacare is indicative of her lack of interest in providing medical care that would prolong human life.   Marsha will protect you up until the rude spanking in the delivery room, but after that you are on your own.

Ms. Blackburn has recently been given the reins of a House subcommittee with the misleading name "Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives."   The title is misleading because what Ms. Blackburn and her GOP co-conspirators are out protecting is not infant lives at all, but rather they messing around in women's health care and attempting to force other females into carrying unwanted pregnancies.

Blackburn's subcommittee was formed in response to the Republican knee-jerk reaction to last year's (now discredited) secret videos that purportedly showed officials at Planned Parenthood negotiating the sale of "baby parts" (fetal tissue) to medical researchers.  And while the ultimate goal of Ms. Blackburn and others of her ilk is the complete shut-down of Planned Parenthood, the important women's health care provider has thus far survived.

The goal of the "Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives" appears to be intimidation of the people who actually perform the medical research which uses fetal tissue.  The committee, which had already issued thirty-some subpoenas for information, has now issued seventeen more - and the new subpoenas are requesting the names of individuals doing the research.  As one Democrat on the committee pointed out, the group has no safeguards in place to protect the names of those people once they are provided.  They will, in effect, be wearing targets.

And people wearing targets, particularly in our gun-crazy country, are in grave danger.  Just ask Dr. George Tiller, a man who was identified as an abortion provider by anti-abortion activists.  Ask Dr. Tiller about the target that the right-wing crazies placed on him.  Oh wait, you can't ask him.  He was gunned down in church by someone claiming to be "pro-life."

Ms. Blackburn if you want to truly be pro-life, then start by being a little more tolerant of the poor and the infirm in our society.  When poverty begins to disappear, when people have ready access to contraception and affordable health care, I predict that the demand for abortions will miraculously begin to lessen.  You are in a position to do more than just intimidate and incite, you could actually be making a difference.

All you need is a heart.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

It's Not Name-Calling If They Really Are Fascists

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Most of the old farts in my Wednesday night card group are giddy with anticipation that Hillary will be arrested sometime during the fall campaign and made to account for being treasonous, or frumpy, or some other high crime or misdemeanor that Fox News assures them she must have committed.  The other side of that bright penny for them is that would then clear a path for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz to be elected President of the United States and save the Republic from itself.

And what a country it could become.  Trump has been promising since day one that he not only would strong-arm Mexico into building the world's biggest wall along our southern border, but that he would also stop all Muslims from entering our "Christian" nation - even those who already live here, own property here, have kids in school here, attend PTA, and who just happened to be traveling outside of the country on business or vacation.   They will be BARRED from returning to their homes, their children, their lives! 

(Construction companies will grow fat building walls during a Trump administration!)

Now Ted Cruz is joining the Muslim-bashers.  The man Trump has affectionately dubbed "Lying Ted" says that as President he will increase police patrols and surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods.

God bless America, y'all.  The founding fathers would be so proud - the establishment of a full-blown police state to promote one religion over another.

I saw a report on the Internet this morning in which a person identified as a top foreign policy expert in the Cruz camp praised Senator Joe McCarthy from the 1950's communist witch-hunt fame as being "spot-on" with his ideas for ferreting out communists in all levels of government.  This particular "expert" believes that over the past administration members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been secreting themselves away in various government positions.

It can't get much scarier that the rebirth of Joe McCarthy with a Texas drawl.

If Hillary does manage to get herself arrested, it will most assuredly be America that suffers the consequences.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

As Old as Hillary

by Pa Rock
Birthday Boy

They say it's my birthday, and I guess that's right.  I have it on reliable authority that I was born sixty-eight years ago today to Garland and Florine (Sreaves) Macy at Sale Memorial Hospital in Neosho, Missouri.   I was delivered by Dr. Melvin Bowman, who I believe was one of the hospital's owners.

On the day of my birth, Hillary Diane Rodham, who would one day marry and enable a prolific and indiscriminate sperm-dispenser by the name of Bill Clinton, was already nearly six-months old and and cooing happily in her playpen as she plotted the conquest of the free world.  Baby Donald Trump was a couple of months shy of his second birthday, and busy seeing how high he could stack his blocks before they all inevitably came tumbling down - and little Bernie Sanders and most, if not all, of the future Rolling Stones were already in school.

Every single one of those people, myself included, is too old to be running for President, much less serving, and too damned old to be hobbling out on stage to perform a rock concert.

Hey you gnarly old relics, let's all go fishing and give the youngsters their turn at running the world.  True, they will make some mistakes along the way, but didn't we all?  It's their turn - and it's their future.

Geriatrics unite - and wet a hook or two - or go play pinochle!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Que Bola, Cuba?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

President Barack Obama, his lovely wife Michelle, and their two beautiful daughters, Sasha and Malia, disembarked Air Force One in Havana, Cuba, this past Saturday as the family began an historic three-day trip to the island nation that has been closed off to much of the citizenry of the United States since before the President was even born.  Though they left the big plane in a rainstorm, the family was all smiles and elegance as they stepped onto the tarmac and into history.

More than a thousand hangers-on came with or followed the Obama's from the United States to Cuba.  The entourage filling up Havana hotel rooms included, American businessmen, congressmen, political aids and government functionaries, baseball players, and many others who hoped to profit one way or another through increased normalization of relations between the former cold war adversaries.

During the brief visit which ends today, the President met with President Raul Castro of Cuba (the fourth time that they had the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting since both men became the leaders of their respective countries), toured old Havana, and placed a wreath at the memorial to Jose Marti, the Cuban patriot and poet.

At some point during Monday's activities, a photographer managed to snap a picture of Obama at the Plaza de la Revolucion standing in front of the huge metal portrait of Che Guevara - and, right on cue, Fox and other dark forces of American journalism (sic) tried to make something sinister of it.  No sooner had this conspiracy been hatched than responsible news sources countered with pictures of most other U.S. Presidents since Nixon standing in front of images of iconic revolutionaries.  Obama continues to be held to different standards than all of his predecessors.

The Obama's will leave Cuba today after watching a professional baseball game between teams representing the two nations.   They and their daughters will fly to Argentina for a brief vacation before the girls have to return to school from spring break next week.

(Historical Note:  Calvin Coolidge is widely reported to have been the last sitting President to visit Cuba when he traveled there in 1928 - but he wasn't.  Harry Truman stopped by the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1948 while he was serving as President.  Jimmy Carter visited as an ex-President in March of 2011, and future President John F. Kennedy was familiar with the island during his recreational visits to Havana in the 1950's.  And, of course, there was that Teddy Roosevelt fellow, also a pre-president, who went charging up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish American War.  When it comes to American chief executives with a personal knowledge of Cuba, Barack Obama is just one of several.)

(Pa Rock's goal for this week is to learn to take a "selfie" so I can snap a photo of myself in front of the giant portrait of El Che.  If I get a good one, it will be on my holiday card next winter!)

Que bola, Cuba?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday's Poetry: "Hawk Roosting"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Part of my daily routine here at Rock's Roost is an afternoon feeding which I refer to as "tea."  During this daily ritual, I scatter a few sunflower seeds up by the garage, where they are stored in a squirrel-proof metal garbage can, for the chickens - if they see me head to the garage and gather there waiting.  Then I take some sunflower seeds and dry dog food down to the penned-up peacocks who anxiously await their late-in-the day treat.  On the way back to the house I stop by the chicken coop and gather the day's final few eggs.

This past Saturday things went pretty much as usual until I entered the hen house to look for eggs,  There, just inside the door, sat a young hawk on the floor looking quite startled by my sudden arrival.  The hawk had just ripped the head off of one of my pair of little banty roosters.  Many of the other birds and the turkey were hiding at the far end of the coop trying not to draw the hawk's deadly attention.

I had a plastic cup in my hand, the vessel that had been used to carry the sunflower seeds to the peacocks.  I threw the cup at the small hawk and she rose into the air trying desperately to find her way out of the small building.  Finally she hit the open door and was free.  I gathered up the broken cup, tried my best to calm the excited poultry, and removed the dead bird from the premises. 

(There was no doubt in my mind that the little rooster had flung itself at the invader in an attempt to protect the hens.  Last year when the neighbor's dog came over to kill hens, the tally wound up being one hen and two roosters.  The male chickens may be a nuisance at times, but they are valiant unto death.)

Thirty minutes later I went back into the hen house to make sure that the girls had settled down, and when I entered I again found the young hawk sitting on the cement floor.  Fortunately I arrived before she had time to kill anything.  I gave chase, but again she managed to flee.  Since that incident I have made numerous surprise visits to the chickens' quarters, but the hawk has not reappeared.  I suspect she has a nest somewhere nearby and is just biding her time.

This isn't my first up-close-and-personal encounter with a hawk.  Back in 2005 I was living in an upstairs apartment in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, when I worked at Ft. Campbell.  I had a bird feeder out on my balcony that attracted large numbers of birds and squirrels - and was always a riot of activity.  One day I happened to notice that the activity around the bird feeder was much quieter than usual, and a quick glance outside enlightened me as to why.  A very large hawk had taken up a position on the balcony railing and was daring any other feathered creature - or squirrel - to venture close to the birdseed buffet.  My friend, Sandy Price, who was into all sorts of new age stuff, told me that a hawk was a sign of good luck, and she gave me a hawk card to commemorate the occasion.

Somehow I don't think my young rooster felt any luck at all as this small hawk ripped his head off.  And somehow I suspect that I have not seen the last of her.

Despite being savage killers, hawks are also quite elegant birds whose "lazy circles in the sky" and watchful eyes have inspired many poets to put pen to parchment.  Ted Hughes, a one-time British Poet Laureate and the husband of Sylvia Plath, had this to say about the graceful predator:

Hawk Roosting
by Ted Hughes

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

(Special note to Bill Gates and the other culture overlords at Microsoft:  "Banty" is a word.  Buy a dictionary!)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Wayward Sons of Supernatural

by Pa Rock
TV Junkie

Sometime last year I began streaming the television series, Supernatural, the story of the Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean, whose mission in life is to hunt down and kill monsters.  I had seen bits of the series while living on Okinawa, but never enough episodes in a row to connect with the story line.  When I acquired the Roku, it became possible to go back to the beginning and watch the series in its entirety - on Netflix - beginning with season one which aired in 2005.  Last night I completed season ten - or episode two-hundred-and-eighteen.   Season eleven is currently running nationally and won't be available on Netflix until sometime this summer.

Now I know the story line.  The two boys, Dean, a pre-schooler, and Sam, a baby, were living with their parents in Lawrence, Kansas, when an evil force entered the house one evening and killed their mother.   The boys' father became a hunter of monsters in an effort to avenge mother's death, and the little lads often had to follow him around the country, taking care of themselves in motel rooms, while dad went on his monster quests.

Dean became a hunter, like dad, but Sam escaped the family obsession, at least temporarily, when he fled to Stanford and became a college student.  At some point during his college career Sam's girlfriend was killed by a demonic force in exactly the same manner that his mother had been killed - and, at that same time Dean showed up and told Sam that Dad was missing.  The young men took off on their own quest to find Dad, kill monsters, and avenge the death of Sam's girlfriend.

Ten years later they are still at it.

During the decade that this show has been running, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) have dealt with angels (both good and bad), Satan, Cain, vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, witches, warlocks, ghosts, and all manner of demonic creatures.  They have visited Hell, Purgatory, and the business offices of Heaven.  At one point they even gazed into the enchanted land of Oz.  They have partnered with their faithful friend, Castiel, an angel - and their sometimes necessary friend, Crowley, the king of Hell. 

Sam and Dean have splashed enough holy water around to have washed Dean's 1967 Chevy Impala ("Baby") hundreds of times, and they have severed more heads than a dozen migrant workers could chop in a field of cabbage during an entire growing season.  And the bodies they have dug up and burned could heat Grand Central Station during a couple of New York winters.  They are busy, busy young men as adept at doing internet research and posing as FBI agents as they are at painting devil's traps and entertaining the ladies.

Life with the Winchesters is a never-ending road trip with a great soundtrack.  The writing is remarkably good with plenty of action and surprises - and lots to ponder.  One of my favorite episodes involved the brothers getting pulled into an alternate universe - one where they were able to visit the set where the television show, Supernatural, was being filmed.  The imagination rules - and rocks - with Supernatural!

I anxiously await the arrival of season eleven at Netflix.

Carry on, wayward sons!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pope Francis Fires a Troublesome Nuncio

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last September Pope Francis made his first official visit to the United States, a trip that thrilled and enraptured most of those with whom he came in contact.  The trip was a rip-roaring success, and even the Republican right-wing troglodytes in Congress sat and listened politely as the Pontiff addressed a Joint Session of both Houses.  The Pope's visit to American was almost blemish-free.

It wasn't until the Pope had returned to Vatican City that word leaked out that he had "met with" Kim Davis, the bigoted Kentucky county clerk who was actively pursuing her fifteen minutes of fame by refusing to provide marriage licenses to gay couples.  This news seems not only to have surprised and disgusted many Americans, but it was apparently news to the Pope himself.

As more became known of the incident, it soon took on the trappings of an "ambush" rather than a meeting.   The four-times married Mrs. Davis had been invited to come to a reception at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC, to meet Pope Francis.  The anonymous invitation was sent at the behest of the Vatican Nuncio (ambassador) to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, an ultra-conservative cleric with a strong opposition to gay marriage.  And Mrs. Davis instead of "meeting with" the Pontiff, was instead one of many hands that he shook in a long line at the reception.

But the damage was done as soon as Nuncio Vigano let the word slip that Mrs. Davis had met the Pope.  Joe Cool was suddenly and maliciously tainted - and Joe Cool was not pleased.  He reportedly recalled Vigano to Vatican City where he read the riot act to the sneaky diplomat.

This week it was announced by the Vatican that Archbishop Vigano was being replaced as the Nuncio to the United States.   The incoming ambassador will be Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the current Vatican Ambassador to Mexico.  Nuncio Pierre is pro-immigration and is expected to be decidedly more liberal on social issues than his predecessor.    One of the duties of the nuncio is to vet candidates for various hierarchical positions within the U.S. church and make recommendations to the Vatican regarding appointments.   With that authority,  Archbishop Pierre could have an immense role in shaping the role of the Catholic Church in the United States for years to come - well beyond the papacy of Francis.

And as the American Catholic Church becomes more liberal in its outlook, Ambassador Vigano and Kim Davis will have themselves to thank for it.

God save the Pope!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Frank, Jr.

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I guess news was happening in the late 1950's and early 1960's, but as a young teen growing up in a very rural area of Missouri, I was not very tuned in to what was going on in the world.  I remember two national stories from the time I was in grade school.  One was the election of 1956 where Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson for a second time.  Our teacher told the class about the election and said to not go around the gym during recess because that's where people were voting.  I headed straight to the gym when recess began to see what all of the fuss was about.  Politics weren't a topic of open discussion in our home, but I instinctively knew that my parents were backing Eisenhower.

The other clear memory of national import that I have was when our third grade teacher, Melva Foley, told the class that we would have a man in space within twenty-five years.  That was in 1956 or 1957.  The Russians put Yuri Gargarin into space in 1961, and a few months later he was followed out into the last frontier by American astronaut Alan Shepard.

(Another educational memory from grade school - though hardly of the news variety - occurred when our bus driver pulled a group of us aside after we arrived at school.  He had overheard us discussing what our teacher has said about the sun actually being a star.  The driver was visibly angry as he corrected what the teacher had said.  The sun, he informed us, was a sun, and definitely NOT a star!  Today that bus driver's descendants, of which there are probably plenty, are members of the tea party who deny climate change and the intellectual abilities of women and minorities, hoard guns, and support Donald Trump for President.  Another generation or two from now they will have devolved into H.P. Lovecraft characters who spend their lives burrowing blindly beneath the earth.)

But, back to my developing nose for news.

The news story that literally woke me up to life beyond Noel, Missouri, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.  I was fascinated watching the story unfold on the relatively new medium of television, and I kept all of the newspapers I could find so that I could read and re-read stories about the awful murder and the grieving family and nation.  As I followed that monster of a news story, other stories from the national scene began resonating as well.

The early sixties predated tabloid publications like People and Us, so if there was a celebrity news story of importance, it was covered in the national press.  John Kennedy had been dead less than three weeks when a celebrity news story grabbed the nation's headlines. That was the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Frank, Jr. was a nineteen-year-old fledgling entertainer performing in Reno, Nevada, when three men kidnapped him from his hotel room.  The trio extorted $240,000 from Frank, Sr. for the safe return of his namesake and only son.  The criminals were soon captured, found guilty, and sent to prison.  One was later deemed to have been insane, and none of the three served very substantive prison terms.

Negotiations over the return of Frank, Jr., were conducted over pay phones, and Papa Sinatra was always fearful that he would run out of change at some critical point in the deliberations.  As a result of the kidnapping and his worry about being caught without enough change for the phones, the elder Sinatra took to always carrying a roll of dimes on his person.  He was also reported to have been buried with a roll of dimes in his pocket.

When Frank calls, it won't be collect.

Frank Sinatra, Jr. passed away two days ago in Daytona Beach, Florida, from cardiac arrest.  The singer, songwriter, and music conductor was performing in the Daytona area at the time of his death.  He is survived by his mother, Nancy,  a grown son, Michael Sinatra of Japan, by his older sister, Nancy (once Mrs. Tommy Sands), and his younger sister, Tina.

May the boy who grew up under a long shadow of a famous father finally find his own place in the sun. Or, as his sister Nancy said, "Sleep warm, Frankie."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Obama Nominates, McConnell Babbles

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday President Barack Obama fulfilled one of his Constitutional duties by nominating a person to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia.  The President nominated 63-year-old Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Judge Garland is a well respected member of the judiciary who only last week was praised by Senator Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as being a "fine man."

The United States Senate must vote to confirm or deny the President's selection.  The Senate, which is currently under the control of the Republican Party, appears hellbent on doing neither and instead ignoring the nominee altogether.

Most Republican members of the United States Senate have sworn, since before the funeral of Scalia, that they would not consider any nominee put forth by President Obama, saying that since he has less than a year to serve (barely), they will wait and let the next President nominate someone to fill the vacancy.  Senator Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has vowed that his committee will not even hold hearings on an Obama nominee to the high court.

Yesterday Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, grabbed a handy microphone and proceeded to chastise President Obama for doing his Constitutional duty.  McConnell laboriously lamented:

"It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize for purposes of the election."

I'm not even sure what all of that twaddle means.  First of all, and given the Republican pledge to not act on the nomination, what is the path forward for the President in order to make a nomination that he does intend to see confirmed?  And second, is Mitch really accusing the President of trying to politicize an election?  What a dastardly move that would be - to inject politics into an election!

President Obama, who is easily the smartest person to occupy the White House during my lifetime, has simply built another box for the Republicans in Congress to barricade themselves into.  He has nominated someone so comfortably in the center of the American political spectrum that the Republican Party will look foolish trying to justify keeping Merrick Garland off of the Supreme Court.

Indeed, Judge Garland is so well to the center that the good folks over at Daily Kos have tied themselves into pretzels wailing about Obama's "wasted opportunity" because he did not nominate a young liberal to the high court.  But wail as they might, Barack Obama knows exactly what he is doing, and this very cagey nomination will go a long way toward showing the American public just how intolerant and close-minded the entire Republican establishment has become.

Daily Kos seemed to be concerned that if and when Hillary is elected, the Senate will suddenly do its job and approve Judge Garland during the lame duck session after the election - so that Hillary does not get the opportunity to nominate someone from the far left reaches of the Democratic Party.  But that notion assumes that President Obama will sit passively by for more than half a year while the Senate twiddles its collective thumbs.

Another option, one that would likely force a quicker response from the Senate, would be for the President to set a deadline.  Say, for instance, to tell the Senate that if Judge Garland was not seated on the Supreme Court by the time the next session starts on the first Monday in October, that he (the President) would withdraw the nomination and send up a new one - one much more to the liking of the partisans in his party.

Mitch and the good old goobers in the Senate could either rush to do the President's bidding - with their angry tea-bagger base looking on, or they could lose an opportunity to place a moderate on the Court and instead have to deal with a contentious liberal at a time when Trump or Cruz or some other redneck peckerwood is destroying the Republican dream of re-taking the White House.

Hey Mitch, there are no good options for you.  No wonder you're babbling.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hillary Wins Missouri by Less than a Cemetery

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Mrs. Bill Clinton defeated political insurgent and generally all-around nice guy Bernie Sanders in Missouri's Democratic presidential primary yesterday by about 1,500 votes in a contest where more than 600,000 individuals voted - or by significantly less than one percent of the total vote.  In another era of Missouri politics such a squeaker would have likely been the result of which cemeteries from St. Louis and Kansas City did or did not make it to the polls on time.

Sadly for Missouri's once proud and mighty Democratic Party, the state's Republicans sent about a third more voters to the polls yesterday than what the Democrats managed to corral.  At the end of the evening's tallying, Herr Trump was barely leading Ted the Liar by 382,000 to 380,000, or two-tenths of one percent.

It was a squeaker for both parties, with large numbers of voters expressing their dissatisfaction with the national front-runners.

However, things were a little better defined out here in the woods.  Howell County, where I live and vote, sent 8,455 Republicans to the polls versus just 2,071 Democrats - or right at a four-to-one ratio.  Trump took fifty percent of the Republican vote with 4,239.  Cruz came in second with 37% or 3,146 actual votes.  Kasich was third with 491 (6%) and Rubio was fourth with 351 (4%).  The remainder of the clown car included Carson with 105, Huckabee with 49, Bush at 19, and nine votes each for Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and Little Ricky Santorum.

And, if there was one bright spot to the whole ludicrous day, it was this:  Bernie won Howell County - handily!  The progressive senator from Vermont took 1,209 votes to Hillary's 833.  Everyone else on the ballot scored a whopping combined total of 29 votes.  Bernie 58%, Hillary 40%!  Howl County, you rock!

If Hillary wants to win Missouri in the fall, she had better start improving her ground game - because she's going to need all of the voters she can dig up!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Missouri Presidential Primary Update

by Pa Rock

I cast my ballot at around 10:00 a.m. at Howell County Precinct 5.  Turnout was surprisingly heavy - and gray.  In fact, of the thirty or so people standing around waiting to vote, most appeared to be older than my sixty-seven years.  I suspect that is a very good sign for Herr Trump and his Army of the Intolerant.

The sweet little lady handing out ballots whispered to me, "Do you want a Republican ballot or a Democrat?"  "Democratic," I responded - rather proudly.

There were either seven or eight names on the ballot.  Mrs. Bill Clinton was listed first, and Bernie was third.  I had not heard of any of the others.

Bernie got my vote, of course, and my car was the only one in the church parking lot with a bumper sticker related to today's events.

The size of the crowd left me feeling optimistic.  People caring enough to go vote is a good sign for the survival of our democracy.

Presidential Primary Day in Missouri

by Pa Rock

Today is the much anticipated Presidential Primary day in Missouri - much anticipated by me at least - and within the hour I will drive to the polling place, a church, and cast my ballot for Bernie Sanders.  Missouri has an "open" primary system.  We don't registeer by parties, so I could walk in and ask for a Republican ballot and vote against Trump - or, worse yet, vote for Trump to really screw with the Grand OLD Party!   But I won't.  Voting to deny the Clintons their third term in the White House is much more important to me.

I really dislike having to vote in a church.  Would the community be as accepting of a religious polling place if it was a mosque?

So far this morning I have had emails from Bernie, Bill Clinton, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz reminding me to go vote.  Yeterday I had emails from all three of the Clintons - Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea - telling me where my polling place was located and encouraging me to cast my vote for Hillary.  I guess the old saying is true, the family that preys together really does stay together.

I also had to two text messages from local Bernie volunteers reminding me to vote.

Hillary was in the St. Louis area over the weekend, and Bernie was in Springfield on Saturday afternoon.  I was a little miffed about that because I didn't hear of his visit until Saturday morning, or I might have made plans to attend.  A Bernie volunteer from Poplar Bluff telephoned Saturday around noon asking me to commit to going to the polls on Tuesday and voting for Bernie.  I fussed at her a bit about the short notice on the Springfield visit, and she said that she hadn't learned about the visit until that morning also.  I hope it was a roaring success for the candidate and those supporters who were able to attend.

And, as an omen for a great turnout, it's a beautiful day here, warm with bright blue, cloudless skies!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday's Poetry: "The Tyger" and "The Lamb"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

The month of March reaches its midpoint, the Ides of March, tomorrow, and spring will be here in another week.  March is the month the roars in like an angry lion and departs like a lamb frolicking in the warm sunshine.

William Blake, the 18th century English poet, explored both extremes of a natural spectrum of predator and prey with his classic poems, "The Tyger" and "The Lamb."  Enjoy them as a new season quietly buds out.

Lions, and tygers, and lambs, oh my!
     The Tyger
     by William Blake

     Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
     In the forests of the night; 
     What immortal hand or eye, 
     Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

     In what distant deeps or skies. 
     Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
     On what wings dare he aspire?
     What the hand, dare seize the fire?

     And what shoulder, & what art,
     Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
     And when thy heart began to beat,
     What dread hand? & what dread feet?

     What the hammer? what the chain, 
     In what furnace was thy brain?
     What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
     Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

     When the stars threw down their spears 
     And water'd heaven with their tears: 
     Did he smile his work to see?
     Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

     Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
     In the forests of the night: 
     What immortal hand or eye,
     Dare frame thy fearful symmetry.

     The Lamb
     by William Blake

     Little Lamb who made thee 
         Dost thou know who made thee 
     Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
     By the stream & o'er the mead;
     Gave thee clothing of delight,
     Softest clothing wooly bright;
     Gave thee such a tender voice,
     Making all the vales rejoice! 
         Little Lamb who made thee 
         Dost thou know who made thee 

         Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
         Little Lamb I'll tell thee!
     He is called by thy name,
     For he calls himself a Lamb: 
     He is meek & he is mild, 
     He became a little child: 
     I a child & thou a lamb, 
     We are called by his name.
         Little Lamb God bless thee. 
         Little Lamb God bless thee.