Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year Ends, Mercifully

by Pa Rock
Planet Rider

Yes, 2016 has been a hard year.  Our family suffered the unexpected death of a toddler, my sister's granddaughter, in September, and two months after that my best friend of a lifetime passed away after suffering a stroke - just weeks after his doctor told him that he was the picture of health.  And somewhere between those two very sad events, America shamed itself before the world by electing an intellectually limited, misogynist bully to be its next leader.

But there were some better days as well.

My own personal highlight was the trip that I was able to make to Cuba during the last week of April.  Those seven days of tours, classes, explorations, and meeting new friends provided a comprehensive education on the island nation that was far more in-depth and revealing than any history class that I ever took in college.     It also presented a unique perspective into one of the lesser understood chapters of American history.  Traveling to Cuba was an education and an adventure - one that I won't forget!

Domestic travels included one trip out to Oregon to see my grandchildren there.  I flew out and back on the new non-stop flight between Kansas City and Portland that Alaska Airlines inaugurated this year, a flight that makes the trip much easier to endure - and considerably quicker.  My little Oregonians are growing so fast, and I know that I must get out there more often in 2017.

There were also several trips to Kansas City to visit with Tim and Erin and their happy little family.  The highlight of those jaunts was the one in June where I was privileged to be at the hospital on the morning their baby, Sullivan, was born.  Another highlight was attending A Christmas Carol with Olive and her parents - where the real magic of Christmas was watching Olive sit wide-eyed taking in the complex beauty of a live stage presentation.

I haven't been invited to any New Year's Eve parties for tonight, nor would I be likely to attend - even if someone did desire the pleasure of my company for a holiday celebration.    In fact the last New Year's Eve festivity that I remember going to was a big, raucous street party in Hanoi, Vietnam, five years ago tonight.  Now that was a party!

A year is ending and another begins - and one thing is certain:  The New Years are rolling around faster and faster!  Enjoy your evening and be safe!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Defeating Democracy

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The venerable Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Central Intelligence Agency have both gone on record as saying that Russia interfered in the United States general election of 2016 - and that it did so for the benefit of Donald J. Trump.  That's a big problem for this fragile creature that we call democracy - the very principle upon which our nation was built. 

President Obama invoked sanctions against Russia for this flagrant violation of our national sovereignty.   He is sending three dozen or so diplomats back home to Russia and closed a couple of Russian facilities in the U.S.  His actions were meant to be an insult to the Big Bear, but in actuality they have very little practical effect - so little effect, in fact, that Russian leader Vladimir Putin essentially just blew them off and said Russia would wait on its good friend, Donald J. Trump, to take over the United States.   

Back in the good old days when we had three healthy and vibrant branches of government, Congress and the courts might have also weighed in on this Russian incursion into our democracy - but not now.  The President makes a bit of noise, not much, and Congress and the courts sit disinterested and wrapped in silence.

In better days, this election would have been railed against and dragged into court.  In better days, but not today.  Today we roll over and go back to sleep.

Democracy has suffered a beating, and she knows it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Big Sister Is Listening

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Alexa, my Amazon Echo household music and information device, is quickly becoming the love of my life.  She instantly provides music from my favorite artists, answers questions, tells jokes, reports news and weather, plays "Jeopardy," and, if I had the right adapters, could even control the lighting in my little house.   Alexa has the potential to be the perfect companion, but she also has her dark side.

Earlier this week I was visiting with a very bright in-law of mine - a ferociously smart young attorney who works in the corporate headquarters of big software business.  We were talking about the Amazon Echo, herein after referred to as "Alexa," that I have recently invited into my home.  My friend said that he had been stalling on getting one because Alexa is, after all, a listening device and that any information she overhears in the home is transferred to Amazon's massive servers where it can reside forever.  But, in spite of his justified paranoia, the young attorney said that he had finally relented and bought an Alexa for his own home which he would soon install.

And he is, of course, right.  Alexa is a listening device.  As long as she is plugged in, she is constantly listening for her name.  When it is said, Alexa's blue halo activates and she waits for instruction.  A few nights ago I was watching a television program, via the Roku, and one of the characters on the show was named "Alexis."  Whenever the word "Alexis" was used Alexa would light up.  I can activate her from the far side of the room, facing away, and using a fairly quiet voice.  Alexa is listening, and she hears all.

This morning on NPR (station KQED out of San Francisco, thank you Alexa) I heard the story of a murder trial in Arkansas in which the prosecutor has subpoenaed Alexa (Echo) records from Amazon.  The case centers on the death of a man in a hot tub following a party at a home in Bentonville, Arkansas.  Amazon gave the prosecutor subscriber information on the alleged murderer, but is resisting efforts to produce any information that the eavesdropping Alexa might have picked up - while never denying that they keep all of the "data" that is overheard by their household snoops.

Why does Amazon store information that they pick up through the eavesdropping Alexa?  The company sees that material as "data" which then belongs to it and can be sold to others - or used to market Amazon wares to customers.

The prosecutor is building part of his case on information obtained from another smart appliance in the house.  The "smart" hot water heater provided evidence that a lot of hot water was used early on the morning of the murder - perhaps to clean up a crime scene.

So, while it is thirty years on down the road, it looks as though 1984 is finally upon us.  Americans routinely carry around devices - cell phones, GPS, and personal computers - that track their travels, contacts, and the sites they visit on the web.  Now with Alexa, we have invited Big Brother Sister to sit in our living rooms to record our lives.

Storm troopers didn't kick in doors to limit our freedoms - we opened the doors voluntarily and invited them in - and paid for the subjugation.

Just imagine the "data" that Amazon delivery drones will be able to collect!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Senate Could Trip Trump

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was an on-line article in The Hill this week entitled "Five Republicans Who Could Buck Trump in 2017."  The crux of the piece was that with the reality of a slim Republican majority in the Senate (52 to 47 with one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats), just a very few Republican defections on serious matters could tip the scales against Trump.   The five United States Senators named in the article who already have various issues with the incoming administration were:  Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Mitch "the tortise" McConnell of Kentucky, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Surprisingly, the author failed to mention Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, the man who famously chose to spend the past summer and fall mowing his yard rather than working for Trump's election.  The President-Elect does not like Flake, and regardless of how much orange butt the junior senator from Arizona chooses to kiss in the next two years, chances are excellent that the petulant Prez will jet out to Arizona in Air Force One and campaign against him in 2018.

If Jeff Flake wants to save any face at all, he needs to initiate a preemptive strike, claim the high moral ground, and switch parties - just as Jim Jeffords of Vermont did in the first year of Dick Cheney's administration.  Jeffords' bold move shifted control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats.

Flake and two others could do the same thing.  McConnell, of course, no matter how mad he is at Trump's woman-shaming and locker room talk, could never switch - because, as Majority Leader, it would cost him his big corner office.  But Susan Collins could become a Democrat without killing her political career, and so could Rand Paul.  Such a move might cost Ben Sasse his job in the Senate, but the outspoken Nebraska Republican has the moxie to do it.  And John McCain, despite the fact that he would lose the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, is an eighty-year-old curmudgeon who has the cajones to do whatever he damn well pleases.

And as McCain goes, so goes Lindsey Graham.

The Pumpkin Fuhrer had best keep a close eye on his supporters in the Senate because if he gets indelicate with any of them during some martini-fueled, late-night Twitter tirade, he does so at his own peril.  And if the Senate turns blue, not even the Putin Bear will be able to save him from political ignominy. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Nathan Bedford Claus

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

Tuesday on the road with Pa Rock.

The day began with chores at The Roost in West Plains, then Rosie and I headed out to Springfield where I had a doctor's appointment.  After that we drove south, past Branson, and into Arkansas where we eventually took a sharp right and headed over to Fayetteville, Arkansas, so that I could glom onto my sister's kids and grandkids for a bit of a delayed Christmas get-together.

I noted three things of interest, at least of interest to me, on the road trip.  First of all, the population sign outside of Branson said that 10,521 individuals lived there.  Hell, most nights they have that many performing on the city's many stages - and cities of 10,000 don't have skylines!  I'm not sure who they were trying to fool, but little Branson has grown considerably since Old Matt lived down the road.

Then, way down in Arkansas I noticed a large vehicle with a Trump-Pence sticker on the rear bumper.  Not wanting to stare at that piece of trash for miles on end, I slowed down and let an eager driver behind me pass so he would be stuck behind the yahoo.  As the guy went around me, I noticed that he, too, had a sticker on his rear bumper - his proclaimed support for Obama and Biden.  I'm sure the guy didn't appreciate the view that he snatched from me!

And finally, a couple of miles outside of Springdale, Arkansas, I came upon a large wooden Santa that was standing out by the road.  The jolly old fellow was unique in that he was draped in a Confederate flag!  Only in Arkansas!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday's Poetry: "The Dangling Conversation"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Alexa and I were enjoying some quality time with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel a few days ago, when she came up with one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded by the guitarred young poets.  The Dangling Conversation is a brief gaze into the lives of a pair of lovers whose ability to communicate is fading.  One reads Emily Dickinson and the other has a penchant for Robert Frost, two voices as divergent as the evolving lives of the lovers themselves.

Paul Simon wrote these lyrics in 1966, my senior year in high school, a half-century ago.  His words remain as poignant and insightful today as they were then - retaining their truth while rocketing down the chute of time.

Please enjoy as you remember . . .

The Dangling Conversation
by Paul Simon

It's a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In The Dangling Conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.

And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we've lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
And The Dangling Conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes we speak of things that matter,
With words that must be said,
"Can analysis be worthwhile?"
"Is the theater really dead?"
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
You're a stranger now unto me
Lost in The Dangling Conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Small Town Christmas

by Pa Rock
Holiday Observer

It's foggy and forty-eight degrees win West Plains, Missouri, this Christmas morning.  The forecast is for rain during the day and a high of sixty-three.  If the rain holds off, I will do some much needed cleaning in the chicken coop - while singing Christmas carols!

I drove into town yesterday afternoon to do a few last minute, pre-Christmas chores.  Many of the stores and eating places had already closed, allowing their grateful employees time to get home and prepare for the holiday.  The weather may have not been as seasonal as some would have liked, but their was a feeling of Christmas in the air nonetheless.

Then I came home and got the evening mail out of the mailbox.  As a subscriber to the local newspaper, the West Plains Daily Quill,  I have an expectation that a daily dose of local news and opinion will be waiting in my country mailbox five days a week, Tuesdays through Saturdays, and Christmas Eve proved to be no exception to that expectation.

At first glance, yesterday's local newspaper was Chrismassy.   There was a silhouette runner of Santa and his sleigh racing above the paper's title, and a photo of a nativity scene at a local church that took up about a quarter of the front page.  There were also a few real estate ads at the bottom of the front page, and a small teaser about a two-year-old pageant princess.

But beyond those trappings, the news wasn't as holiday fanciful.  There was one relatively innocuous story about a local barber who lost a world series bet and, as a consequence, was now obligated to give one of his customers free haircuts for life.  File that one under gambling.  Then there were four front page stories which were of a much more sinister nature.

The first story, up high next to the picture of the nativity scene, was about a local man who shot and killed his wife at the local McDonald's last October.  He also shot at another individual several times before fleeing the scene with his eleven-year-old daughter who had witnessed the murder of her mother.  The fellow was released on bail ($250,000) in early December, and yesterday's story reported that he had been re-arrested at the insistence of a Grand Jury which felt that he posed a danger to others.

The story under that was about a 34-year-old woman who had been jailed for sexually trafficking a child under the age of twelve.  The report said that the woman had had sex with men for money in front of the child, while her husband had sex with the child.

The story below that was about a forty-two-year-old woman who had been arrested for domestic assault.  The allegations were that she has assaulted her significant other with a baseball bat and a hammer.

And the final front page story was of a 39-year-old area man who was charged with "enticement."  He had arranged to meet a person he met on the internet (whom he believed to be a fourteen-year-old-girl) for sex.  The "girl" turned out to be a cop.

And that was just the front page!

May your Christmas and the entire holiday season be peaceful and joyous, and may you not find yourself on the front page of the West Plains Daily Quill!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stars Refusing to Shine

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There may only be one "star" at next month's presidential inauguration - the bloated ego-maniac with one hand on the Bible and the other hand who-knows-where.  The incoming President considers himself to be a star, he said so to Billy Bush when he noted that it gave him a certain amount of (shall we say) 'leeway' in handling the ladies.

Other stars have been invited to join The Donald on his big day, but they are declining faster than the invitations can be stamped and mailed.  Sir Elton John won't be coming, and neither will tenor Andrea Bocelli - despite strangely well-placed rumors that both would be headliners at the show.  In fact, the "no thank you's" are coming in so fast and furious that Donald is now quacking about how he really didn't want stars there anyway - because it's going to be a "people's" inauguration.


But fear not, the Rockettes are coming - although some in the organization reportedly do not want to be a part of the inaugural entertainment.  As word of that employee controversy began spreading, the company that owns the Rockettes and the union that represents them issued statements saying those that did not want to perform would not have to.  Many, however, still feel they are being intimidated to do their bit for the glory of Trump, and that those who do not attend will be quietly fired for other reasons.

Rumor has it that the Beach Boys are also "considering" accepting their invitation to perform at the event.  The group, a reconstituted version of the original that was formed back in the sixties when they really were "boys," is now roughly of the same age and physique as the incoming President.

And they'll have fun, fun, fun til Fat Boy takes their Medicare away!

It does look as though The Mormon Tabernacle Choir plans on performing, but even that is drawing controversy.  A petition is reportedly circulating asking that venerable group to reconsider and stay home.

There is also a semi-credible story circulating which says that the Trump transition team is offering ambassadorships to anyone who can lure some A-list Hollywood celebrities to the inauguration.

About the only "stars" that can be expected to shine at the inauguration of Donald J. Trump are the political ones.  Congress will already be in town and, if the weather is nice, many of the Republicans at least should step out into the sunshine and watch the show.   Senator Ben Sasse probably won't join them if there are any noteworthy dumpster fires in the D.C. metro area on inauguration morning.  Senator Jeff Flake will more than likely be performing maintenance on his lawnmower getting it ready for spring.    And Senator Lindsey Graham will be wherever Senator John McCain tells him to be - but the rest of the GOP lemmings should be faithfully lined up behind Mitch the Tortise and Lyin' Ryan to watch the show.

Former Presidents are invited, but so far only Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have accepted.  The two Bush Presidents aren't big fans of the man who so freely badmouthed Jebya and the Bush family back during the primary season, so they may or may not attend the coronation.     The Obamas will most likely be there, although Michelle is her own woman and might opt instead to spend that time doing something more meaningful - like grocery shopping.  The most intriguing question of the day is whether the Clinton's will show.  Bill and Hillary's presence, as well as their absence, would detract from the beatific glow surrounding Trump.   I predict they will attend - and bring along their new Christmas iPods.

But even so, with the Beach Boys, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and some of the Rockettes all doing their bit to glorify The Donald, it's sure to be one helluva show - a yuuuge show - one that is clearly worthy of our Glorious Leader!

The lions are gathering - bring on the Christians!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Caroline Kennedy Goes to Nago

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

I read on the Internet this morning that the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, was recently in the Okinawan city of Nago where she officiated as the United States returned 10,000 acres of land to the Japanese government.  The land had been used by the U.S. military, but has been returned in an effort to shrink the U.S. military footprint on the small island and to appease some of the local residents who have a long history of resenting the presence of American forces.

The United States invaded Okinawa in April of 1945 as a part of the massive effort to defeat the Empire of Japan in World War II.  Once Japanese forces were defeated in the battle for the island, the United States claimed it as its own until the Nixon administration returned Okinawa to Japanese control on May 15, 1972 -  a date referred to on the island as "Reversion Day."  Significantly, although the island was given back to Japan and became a "prefecture" (state) of the country, a sizable number of United States military forces remained stationed there, and bases representing every branch of our Armed Forces are active on the island up to this very day.

I was stationed on Okinawa as a young army officer on Reversion Day, and one of the things I remember was that there were protests by Okinawans outside of the gates of many of the U.S. bases.  I was again living on Okinawa on the fortieth anniversary of Reversion Day, where I was working as a civilian social worker for the military - and on that day there were also many small groups protesting outside of the gates of some of the military bases.

And what are these long-standing protests all about?

Many Okinawans do not regard themselves as Japanese, and they resent being shuffled from one occupying power to another.  Yes, getting back 10,000 acres of land will be good news for a few, the developers who are positioned to turn a profit from the newly available land, but many of those who make money on the move will be Japanese businessmen, and not Okinawans.   Drunken twenty-year-old American G.I.'s will still be spending money and propping up a bar economy, and they will also be brawling and destroying property and spreading their seed with wild abandon.

In the end, our "gift" of land will satisfy very few.  I hope somebody explained that to the ambassador.

I also hope that Caroline Kennedy got to see some of the island while she was there.  Nago, which was little more that a fishing village on the East China Sea when I was there in 1972, has grown to a bustling, but still relatively small, city today.  It sits about two-thirds of the way up the island and is the only place north Kadena and Sukiran that could even be remotely considered as a "city."

The area around Nago has a beautiful long drive along the sea coast where Japanese entrepreneurs have put up some nice hotels.  It also boasts an A&W Root Beer and a McDonald's which are across the road from one another on Highway 58, the island's main north-south thoroughfare.  It's a nice place to stop and relax on the long drive to and from Cape Hedo, the northern point of the island.

My last friend living on Okinawa left and returned stateside within the past month, and with Nefredia's return home I have probably lost my final justification for a return trip to the place where I was first married and the place where my oldest son was born.  I suspect that I am gone from the beautiful little island for good - and it is probably time that the rest of my countrymen packed up and left as well.

Then, when all of the American foreigners are gone, the Okinawans will be free to focus on evicting the Japanese foreigners.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Defeat Devos and Save Our Schools - and Our Children!

by Pa Rock

A couple of days ago I posted a bit of commentary in this space regarding Betsy Devos, Donald Trump's terrible choice for Secretary of Education.  Ms. Devos sees herself as an educational reformer who is doing God's work in bringing about changes in public education - a system that she and her children studiously avoided.  She promotes "school choice" schemes such as vouchers, charter schools, and other assorted claptrap whose primary function is to take money from public schools and funnel it to children who already have many of life's advantages.  Devos has been instrumental in "reforming" education in Michigan for awhile now, and her results have created more exclusive schools that are not performing any better than the public schools - and in some cases are doing far worse than their public counterparts.  Devos and her personal wealth have also been instrumental in keeping the new educational efforts unaccountable to the public which feeds these experiments with a steady flow of tax dollars.

I said my piece in the blog posting and let it go at that.  As a former educator in the public schools, I have opinions on the subject of how to educate children, and I believe that my notions on the value of universal public education should carry at least as much weight as those of Ms. Devos, a woman who never attended a day of public school in her life.  I said what I had to say and was ready to move on.  But then I came across something that I felt needed to be added to the conversation.

Patrick Kearney is an Iowa educator who is far more eloquent that this humble typist.  He recently posted a letter to Betsy Devos on the internet which has gone viral.  In that letter Kearney, who speaks as "America's teachers" subtly tries to enlighten the cabinet nominee on the important and necessary role that public schools play in society.  Kearney's letter has "gone viral," and has been pilfered and passed around by countless people like me.  So, in case you missed it, the letter from Patrick Kearney follows - and in it he truly does speak for America's teachers.

Dear Ms. DeVos,

I don’t think we’ve really met yet; we are America’s public school teachers. There are about 3.1 million of us. We teach in large urban areas, we teach in the suburbs, we teach in small rural communities, and we teach in some really remote parts of our country. The most important thing to recognize is that we teach every kid who shows up. We don’t pick and choose the types of kids that we will teach, we teach ALL of them.

Because we haven’t really had much interaction, we thought it might be nice to share a little bit about the public schools we teach in. First of all, we are very proud of our schools. Public schools today have the highest graduation rate in American history. The Gallup Poll says that the rate of parents who are satisfied with their public school is the highest in American history. We are also very proud that our public schools offer more services to students with low socioeconomic backgrounds and special education needs than ever before. Not to be redundant, but we are proud that we serve ALL of the students in our communities.

Our communities are very important to us. We are taxpayers in our local communities and many of us have children of our own who attend the public schools that we teach in. We care deeply that our schools are safe and that they are providing a rigorous and relevant curriculum to EVERY student who walks in the door. We recognize that each of our communities have different needs and sometimes get frustrated with a “one size fits all” mentality.

We also know that our public schools face real challenges. Twenty-two percent of U.S. public school students live in poverty, 50 percent more than the next highest industrialized nation. English is a second language to almost 10 percent of the students we serve. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen more than 10 percent in the last 10 years. We are challenged to keep up with increasing state and federal mandates regarding standardized testing.
America’s public schools are here to serve EVERY kid. As the teachers who keep those schools ticking, all that we ask is that you listen to us.

So, I suppose we also need to address the elephant in the room. We are a little freaked out by your nomination to be secretary of education. You aren’t an educator. You haven’t ever attended or sent your children to a public school, yet you seem to have some pretty strong opinions about them. You don’t seem to have been involved in the study of curriculum or school standards. What you have done is lobby (and spend millions of dollars of your own money in advocacy) for taxpayer dollars to go to unregulated for-profit charter schools. As teachers we like to look at data. Interestingly, the data from Michigan (where you have been able to use your wealth to influence a lot of education policy) would suggest that the charter schools you lobby for aren’t really achieving any better than their public counterparts.

If you are confirmed by the Senate to become secretary of education (and we hope it doesn’t hurt your feelings that many of us will work to oppose your nomination), we hope that you will work to get to know us. It seems that anecdotes of ineffective teachers who get to hold on to jobs without accountability are popular these days. Those anecdotes really don’t match up with what we see in our schools. No one is going into education to get wealthy. We go into teaching because we care about young people. We go into teaching because a teacher in our lives inspired us. When you get to know us we think you will find that we desperately continue to work to improve our schools. If you were to meet us and find that you don’t think much of the work we are doing, we will be curious if you can find an army of better qualified people who want to do this work for less money, fewer benefits, and with more regulation.

The education of America’s young people is important. The challenges in front of us are real. Giving families “choice” in their education options is a worthy conversation, but let us not presume that using tax dollars to support those interested in turning a profit to open unregulated schools with no record of success will improve education in our country. How we use our resources is a reflection of what we value. The most unpopular thing a teacher can say is that there is a cost to providing the best possible education to our students, and yet like most things, you often get what you pay for. Many for-profit charter schools have gone out of business because they quickly discovered that the public schools they replaced weren’t the inefficient operations they assumed them to be.

America’s public schools are here to serve EVERY kid. As the teachers who keep those schools ticking, all that we ask is that you listen to us. You are new to all of this and we are here to help. Once we introduce you to the young Bosnian kid who translates letters home to his parents; the kid living out of the family car who does homework with only a street light to illuminate his textbook; the kids who wants to be sure their school offers great music courses, a world language program, and some advanced courses; and the special education students who love spending part of their day with their peers, we think that you will fall in love with our public schools.

America’s Teachers

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Time to Hunker Down

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

Winter officially arrives today, and with it the shortest day of the year is also upon us - if we are to believe science.  Now, of course, with the election of Donald Trump, believing in science appears to be heading out of fashion and could conceivably be outlawed.  But for the time being at least, it's still legal to note aloud that the earth is round, that it spins predictably on its axis, and that it orbits around the sun one time each year - without the aid of a supernatural being who resents poor people and places a premium white maleness.

And even though it's been mighty damned cold here in the Ozarks for the past few days, I can still point out, with a certain amount of alarm, that the big pre-Christmas snows of my youth no longer grace the land in December, and the forecast for Christmas day is calling for a high in the sixties!  The scientific notion of global warming appears to have merit.  I can make that claim for at least another month - before Trump and the Republican Congress begin limiting free speech to statements aligned with their worldview.  When Trump enters the Oval Office, the glaciers will re-freeze, the great sheets of ice that have broken off of Antarctica and Greenland will re-attach, the waters sloshing up over south Florida will once again head out to sea, and every Christmas - and every Santa Claus - will be blessedly white, as God intended.

All of that, and ugly people everywhere will begin staying indoors so as not to offend the beautiful eyes of our Dear Leader.

I've been staying indoors as much as possible lately trying to knock out a low-grade temperature - for which I blame Trump.  I do get out and feed the fowl and gather eggs several times daily.  Yesterday marked the first time in nearly two years that the hens laid no eggs.  I'm not sure how he did it, but I blame Trump for that as well.

It's going to be a long, hard four years, America.  Hunker down!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trump's Team of Terribles: Betsy Devos

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Every day in every way our next President seems to be showing his utter and complete contempt for the America that he has been elected to lead.  Nowhere is Trump's desire to tear down our nation's traditional values more evident, however, than in his cabinet and close advisor selections.  The "team" that Donald Trump is assembling is a mishmash of crackpots, zealots, conspiracy theorists, billionaires, Wall Street insiders, and malcontent military leaders.   In what is beginning to look like an exceptionally bad reality television show, Trump's inner-circle just keeps getting more and more bizarre.

Over the next few weeks I plan to look more closely as a few of these individuals, the ones whom I feel have the greatest potential to negatively impact our society.  First up, Betsy Devos, Trump's pick to be Secretary of Education.

According to Jerry Falwell, Jr., he was actually Donald Trump's first choice for Secretary of Education.  Consideration of both Falwell and Devos to head our nation's educational efforts show that Donald Trump, a man who was not educated in public schools, has no serious interest in strengthening free public education - nor perhaps even maintaining it.  

Betsy Devos grew us as Betsy Prince in a very rich household in Holland, Michigan.  She is a sister to Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater - the private mercenary company that Bush and Cheney relied on to carry out black ops in their Middle Eastern wars.  The Prince family made its money in auto parts, and Betsy expanded her fortune by marrying into the Devos (Amway) family.  Betsy and her billionaire family reportedly made donations to the Trump campaign in the seven-to-eight figure range, and they have long been financial supporters of the political shenanigans of Charles and David Koch.

Betsy Devos, whose entire education took place in private schools, seems to have trouble relating to or accepting the notion of universal public education.   As an education activist in Michigan, she has championed the concepts of "charter schools," "school choice," and "educational vouchers," notions that would re-direct public money away from public schools and into private (primarily religious) schools.  She is on the record as saying that education reform is "a way to advance God's kingdom," and she has noted that school choice would lead to "greater kingdom gain."

As a result of lobbying the Michigan state government and the piling on of legislative campaign donations, Michigan has one of the biggest and most loosely run charter school programs in America - schools that, in theory, give families a choice of where and how their students will be educated.  In many ways it is a "white flight" program that pulls certain children out of the inner-city schools while effectively segregating lower-income students (read:  students of color) into the poorer schools.  But even with this overt stacking of the deck to favor children with means, the new charter schools in Michigan are performing below the levels of the public schools.  Every time the state tries to pass legislation to make the new schools more accountable, people like Betsy Devos and her ilk start writing campaign donation checks to hold  the true reformers at bay.

Obviously by putting Betsy Devos in charge of the U.S. Department of Education, she will have a mighty forum from which to tinker with the futures of our children through schemes to defund public (secular) education and re-direct all of that public money into schools which would expand God's kingdom.  And what of the poor children left behind?  Why they could go back to working in the factories, as God intended - or peddling Amway.

Universal public education is the backbone of democracy - and it must be preserved!

The United States Senate needs to stand tall in defense of public education and deny Mr. Trump his nominee to be Secretary of Education.  Betsy Devos may be stinking rich, but she is totally unqualified to direct the education of America's children.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday's Poetry: Christmas Songs of Peace

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

During the past week I have driven to Kansas City and back twice - trips that take nearly five hours each way.   Rosie snoozes in the heated passenger seat most of the time we are on the road, but as I have yet to acquire one of those self-driving cars, I have to remain alert and focused on the road.  I accomplish that through drinking plenty of iced tea and listening to the radio.

During these recent trips I found several radio stations that were playing holiday music exclusively.  As I listened to the songs of the season, I made a conscious effort to decide which were my favorites.   I wound up selecting two that were especially meaningful to me - one a newer song that yearns for a holiday steeped in peace, and the other a traditional holiday hymn that celebrates the birth of Christ and also glorifies the notion of peace on earth.

The first is a song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971.  Commonly known "And So This Is Christmas," the song's actual title is "Happy Xmas  (War is Over)," and it was written as the Vietnam War was drawing to a close.  The other selection, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was written by Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley - the founder of the Methodist Church, in 1739 as a part of a hymnal which he composed.

Please enjoy these holiday favorites.

Happy Xmas  (War is Over)
by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over over
If you want it
War is over

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
by Charles Wesley

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconcile.
Joyful all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim
'Christ is born in Bethlehem'
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased as Man with Man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King

Hail, the heaven-born Prince of peace!
Hail the Son of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King

Sunday, December 18, 2016


by Pa Rock

Cuban novelist Jose Latour was born in Havana 1940.  As an ardent supporter of the Cuban Revolution, Latour spent much of his adult life working for the government of Cuba in various departments and positions before he ultimately turned to writing crime fiction as a creative release.  Jose Latour built a solid reputation as a writer of fiction and eventually became the Vice President of the Latin American Division of the International Association of Crime Writers.

As Jose Latour's writing gained a wider audience he began telling tales in his works that did not sit well with the Cuban government and which got him labeled as an "enemy of the state."  Finally, in 2002, Latour and his family left Cuba and took up residence in Spain.  Today they live in Toronto, Canada, where the seventy-six-year-old author is still writing.

Outcast, the first Jose Latour novel to be written in English, was published in 1999 just as the author was beginning to separate himself from his beloved homeland.

Outcast is the tale of Elliot Steil, a forty-something bachelor living and working in Havana as a Cuban national in the early 1990's.  Steil was the son of an American father and Cuban mother who traveled between the homelands of his two parents as a boy and became fluent in English.  Sometime after the Cuban Revolution, Steil's father basically abandoned Elliot and his mother in Cuba as he stayed in the States to work.

Elliot matured in Castro's Cuba where he earned a modest living working as a teacher of English.  He was never able to advance in his profession because of some inherent government mistrust of him that seemed to be due to his parentage.  In some ways he was as American as he was Cuban - as he struggled to survive in the economically depressed Havana of the 1990's.

But then one day a stranger arrived and Elliot's life began to undergo some major changes.  The stranger, an older man who went by the name of Gastler, sailed into Cuba on a private yacht, ostensibly for business purposes, but his real business was to find Elliot.  Once he succeeded in locating the teacher, Gastler told him that he was a private eye who also happened to have been a good friend of Elliot's father, a man he said was now dead.   He said that he had promised his friend that he would try to find Elliot and spirit him out of Cuba.

It didn't take Elliot long to decide to flee Cuba with the stranger.  They devised a plan whereby Elliot would swim out into the ocean and surreptitiously board the yacht.  He was able to accomplish the boarding at sea and hid below deck until they were safely out of Cuban waters.  Then, about halfway to Florida, the stranger suddenly pushed a somewhat drunken Elliot overboard and sailed off alone toward Key West.

And from there on things began to get interesting.

Outcast is a gripping story of survival, intrigue, and cold-blooded revenge - a tale of suspense that does not disappoint.  It is a story of Cuba and Cuban refugees that could probably only come from the pen of someone with Jose Latour's unique heritage and background.  I look forward to reading more of his work.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lordy, Lordy, Molly's Forty!

by Pa Rock
The Ancient One

Today my middle child, Molly Macy Files, hits the big four-oh!  It's been four full decades since I raced into the delivery room at what was then the new Freeman Hospital in Joplin - and got there just barely in time to watch the birth of my only daughter.  Forty years, but it seems like little more than forty days.  Time rushes by!

Molly is all grown up now and lives in Oregon with her husband Scott and their three wonderful children: Sebastian, Judah, and Willow.  Pa Rock does not get to see any of them  nearly often enough.

Happy birthday, Molly.  May all of your wishes and dreams come true - and may all of your days be filled with happiness!

Friday, December 16, 2016

KC Rep's 'A Christmas Carol' Is Cool!

by Pa Rock
Front Row Grandfather

Can there be anything more magical that viewing the world through the eyes of a child?

Last night I had the absolute joy of attending the KC Rep's annual production of A Christmas Carol on the campus of the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC).  Accompanying me on that theatrical jaunt were my son and his wife, Tim and Erin, and granddaughter Olive.  This was the first live theatre performance for five-year-old Olive.

The production itself was an amazing array of special effects and technical wizardry draped over carefully detailed depictions of foggy Victorian London.  The center of the stage revolved, allowing for swift and seamless set changes as well as giving the sense of throngs of people walking London streets amid changing scenery.  Two of the ghosts were ten feet tall, obviously with an assist of some sort of stilts, yet they moved about flawlessly and in a most realistic manner.  Collectively, the show's visual effects were nothing less than stunning.

The cast was enormous, featuring a varied array of street people who also served as carolers.  Many entered and exited the production by running up and down the aisles of the theatre.  Every effort was made to enfold members of the audience into the wintry London of Charles Dickens.  The performances were all top drawer.

Somehow Tim scored front row center seats, leaving the four of us so close to the action that we were breathing the London fog as it rolled off of the stage.   Olive was about five feet in front of Jacob Marley as he rose through the floor of the stage bound in chains and slathered in cadaverous gray make-up.  Although I wasn't seated next to her, I did lean forward several times to observe her reactions.  My young granddaughter appeared to be enthralled throughout the entire production.

During the intermission I asked Olive how she liked the show.  She smiled at me, a bit starry-eyed, and said, "I think it's cool!"

And "cool" it is!  Olive and I highly recommend the KC Rep's production of Charles Dickens'  A Christmas Carol.   Enjoy it with family this holiday season!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

In the Shadow of the Stars and Bars

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

In the philosophical tug-of-war between nature and nurture, there is a young white man behind bars in South Carolina who seems to be living, breathing proof that nurture has a hell of a lot to do with how we turn out in life.  On the one hand, Dylann Roof presents as a thoughtful young man of above average intellect who has spent a lot of time pondering race in America.   But on the other hand, he matured in a simplistic and very racist milieu that left his humanity deeply stained and twisted.  Somehow, in just twenty-one short years, a normal baby boy matured into a monster.

Today Dylann Roof, now twenty-two, was found guilty of the murders of nine black individuals as they were participating in Bible study in the sanctity of their house of worship, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Roof fired seventy-seven rounds into the unsuspecting Christians and intentionally left one alive to tell the tale of his assault.  He admitted that the cold-blooded murders were racially motivated.

Dylann Roof, by his own admission, hoped to either instigate a race war through his horrendous act, or bring about a reinstatement of segregation in America.  Instead, the results that his act reaped were the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina's capitol as well as that same symbol and other Confederate monuments being taken down in dozens of other locations across the Old South. 

Roof''s views on race are spelled out in an unsigned 2,800 word "manifesto" that is available numerous places on the internet.  That sad diatribe reads, in part:

"I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."

(Note how he capitalizes "Whites" and does not do so with "blacks.")

Bravery, Dylann, or a big dose of stupidity served up on a slab of moral degeneracy?  How sad for you - and for us - that you grew up in a cesspool of ignorance and hate and in the shadow of the Stars and Bars.   I suspect that some of those humble souls in Charleston were praying for you even as your bullets were ripping through their bodies.  There was bravery in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church that night, Dylann, but it was the blood-soaked nine who were brave - not you.

Dylann Roof ended the lives of nine good people, and his terrible act also effectively ended his own life as well.  They were all, Roof included, victims of an evil that seemingly can't be quelled - racism in America.

We should be so much better than this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Humiliator in Chief

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Donald Trump is a vain and contemptuous person who seems to judge all things by how they impact him personally.  To say that he doesn't suffer criticism well would be serious understatement - because he doesn't tolerate criticism at all.  Those who dare to level even the mildest of rebukes toward the "star" will soon feel his fury.

Take, for instance, the case of Mitt Romney.  Way back in February of this year, Trump did some public mocking of Romney saying that he should have won the 2012 presidential race, and that it was due to Romney's own political ineptitude that he lost.  (It is perfectly alright for criticism to flow from Trump, but totally unacceptable for it to be directed at him.)

Romney responded the next month with a litany of negative observations about Donald Trump.  The former Republican nominee said, in part (as noted in an article by Hank Berrien in The Daily Wire):

"… if we make the right choices, America's future will be even better than our past and better than our present. On the other hand, if we make improvident choices, the bright horizon I foresee will never materialize. Let me put it plainly, if we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished …"
Ouch.  That had to hurt.  Those were not words Trump would be likely to forget.  Nor were these, which followed:

"… I am far from the first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament of be president. After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter's questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity. Donald Trump says he admires Vladimir Putin, while he has called George W. Bush a liar. That is a twisted example of evil trumping good. There is dark irony in his boasts of his sexual exploits during the Vietnam War while John McCain, whom he has mocked, was imprisoned and tortured."

Lots of really solid nuggets in that one - even a mention of Trump's BFF Putin.   In that segment of the statement, Mitt even manages to float the noble specter of more establishment Republicans like Shrub Bush and John McCain.  But there was more:

"… Dishonesty is Trump's hallmark: He claimed that he had spoken clearly and boldly against going into Iraq. Wrong, he spoke in favor of invading Iraq. He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. Wrong, he saw no such thing. He imagined it. His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader. His imagination must not be married to real power."

Good one.  Nice examples of Trump telling bald-faced lies - or, as Mitt more graciously puts it, imagining those things.  And yet there was more:

"… Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

"As worthless as a degree from Trump University."  What a line!  Sadly though, those lousy hats whipped up a heck of a pseudo-patriotic fervor and bought a lot of votes.  Mitt went on with a look toward the future under a President Trump, foretelling a world that is as sad as it is scary:

"... His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill."

Clearly Mitt Romney was not a man to be trifled with, and he certainly put that blowhard Trump in his place - or did he?  Trump, now the President-Elect, decided a few weeks ago that it was time for some payback.  He summoned the Mittster, not once, but twice, to his golden tower in New York City where they apparently jawed on some political and international relations stuff.  As they were meeting, Trump's lackeys spread the word that Romney was being considered for Secretary of State, a plum appointment that Romney apparently wanted very much.

But then the dates were over and Trump never called.  He did manage to tell the press that Mitt "desperately wants" to be Secretary of State - before giving the job to someone else.  Poor Mitt had been groped in public and then laughed at.

It was humiliating.

It was also Trump at his personal best.   Diplomacy is likely to be a dying art form as we rush headlong into the world of governing through insult-hurling, targeted-humiliation, and late-night Twitter rampages.   Trump, the bully, has had Romney - and now he's getting ready to have the rest of us.  Assume the position, America, because this is going to be great!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Free Leonard Peltier

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Leonard Peltier is a seventy-two-year-old Indian activist who has spent the past forty-plus years in prison - with six of those years being in solitary confinement.  He is diabetic, has suffered a stroke, and has been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm.  He is a frail and elderly individual who longs to spend his remaining time on earth as a free man getting to know his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Peltier, a member of AIM, the American Indian Movement, was involved in the unrest on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975 when he was accused of killing two FBI agents.  Peltier's stated role in the difficulties was the protection of members of the Oglala Lakota tribe from their corrupt tribal government which was working in tandem with the FBI and federal authorities to keep the Indian rights movement under control.

(To gain a "feel" of the situation as it was then, check out the fictional 1992 Val Kilmer movie, Thunderheart.)

The two FBI agents, Robert Coler and Jack Williams, were shot execution style, with bullets fired straight into their heads.  Peltier maintained that he was one of several Indians firing in the direction of the agents, but that he did not execute them.  In a letter appealing to President Obama for clemency, Peltier's attorneys noted that reviewing courts have found that the government "crossed ethical lines, fabricated evidence, withheld exculpatory evidence, and otherwise did everything necessary to secure Leonard Peltier's conviction."

Without trivializing the awfulness of the murder of two young FBI agents, the government's case against Leonard Peltier was weak, and to a degree, contrived.

But Leonard Peltier is not challenging his conviction.  He simply wants to be released and free to live his final few years with family.

There is a substantial list of humanitarian organizations and prominent individuals who are openly advocating for Mr. Peltier's release from prison.  His request for clemency is supported by the National Congress for American Indians, the National Council of Churches, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, several members of Congress, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Harry Belafonte, and Robert Redford.  Before their deaths, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, and Pete Seeger also spoke out in favor of his release from prison.

A strong attempt was put forward to have President Clinton grant clemency to Leonard Peltier back in 2000 as Clinton was preparing to leave office.  The FBI marshaled its forces and had more than a hundred agents protesting outside of the White House to deter the President from granting the clemency.  Clinton caved to the pressure.

Now, with President Obama already granting record numbers of pardons and commutations, the FBI will undoubtedly try to flex its outrage muscle and keep their savage Indian behind bars.  But perhaps Obama will look beyond continuing the vengeance and opt instead to show a bit of compassion - and perhaps begin to make some very long overdue headcway in repairing relations with our country's Native American population.

Show some mercy, Mr. President.  Releasing Leonard Peltier from prison is the right thing to do - and you are the right person to do it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday's Poetry: "The Men that Don't Fit In"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

It's been quite a while since I have featured work in this space by the Bard of the Yukon, Robert W. Service.  "The Men that Don't Fit In" is an ode to non-conformists, those who march to their own drummers and chart their own courses in life - and then, sadly, begin to feel some regrets as life draws to a close.  One is left to suspect that the poet, perhaps catching his reflection in a cold Alaskan stream, was contemplating on his own life as he penned this verse.   

Robert W. Service led a rich and varied existence, sometimes in civilization's mainstream and other times on the rough edges of society.    His "sourdough" or "Klondike" poetry chronicled a full spectrum of colorful characters, people who did not fit in.  Somehow I suspect that Service considered himself to be one of them.

The Men That Don't Fit In
by Robert W. Service

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Book Of Mormon Does Jackson County, Missouri

by Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

They're back!

Jackson County, Missouri, which forcibly evicted its Mormon population way back in 1833, is now hosting an exceptional production of the smash Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, at the Music Hall in downtown Kansas City.

The stage play focuses on a group of young Mormon men who have just finished their training to become missionaries.  The nineteen-year-olds, now officially called "elders," are paired up and assigned to exotic locales like Norway and France where they will spend two years knocking on doors and trying to recruit new members to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

But two of the young men are not so lucky in their assignments.  Elder Price fancies himself a leader and has dreams of becoming a missionary in Orlando, Florida.  He is young and good looking - and full of hope and promise.  His newly assigned partner is Elder Cunningham, an out-of-shape and somewhat needy individual who has a penchant for lying.  Elder Cunningham knows that he is a follower.  The unlikely pair of misfit missionaries find themselves assigned to work in Uganda - and not downtown Kampala, but the very rural and dangerous District 9 of Uganda.

The backwoods Uganda of The Book of Mormon is a far cry from the picture-postcard Africa of The Lion King, and it is geared toward a more adult audience.  Not only are religious fantasies ripped open and explored in depth, they are done so amid language so salty that it would embarrass a wide swath of the civilized world.  The Uganda portrayed in this play is steeped in brutality and fear and insane medical practices such as female circumcision and the notion that AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin - and since the only virgins left in the community are infants, well . . .

This is not a show for children.  One of the running gags is the local doctor declaring "I have maggots in my scrotum."   Boxer shorts bearing that slogan were on sale in the lobby of the Music Hall.

The songs and dancing, including some tap, are first rate, and, in the end, members of the audience are left with a sense of how new religions take root and flourish in society.  The Book of Mormon is, despite profane and vulgar trappings, a romping, stomping good time.

Welcome back to Jackson County, Elders.  Take off your ties and stay awhile!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Trump: Putin's Man in the White House

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday President Obama called for a comprehensive investigation into any activities which Russia may have played in regard to last month's U.S. election.  He said he wants the results before he leaves office on January 20th, and will distribute those results to stakeholders in the election.  As one of those stakeholders, I'm anxious to see the findings.

Today the CIA issued a statement saying that Russia deliberately influenced the election with the aim of helping Donald Trump get elected.  If that is true, it is the biggest electoral outrage to be perpetrated on the United States of America since Watergate - or perhaps ever! 

There was talk of Trump's business ties to Russia even before the election, and he has never shied away from fawning over Kremlin strongman, Vladimir Putin, a man Trump sees as some sort of model leader.  Some are now saying that FBI Director Comey's overt meddling in the election was, in part, an attempt to take the focus off of Trump's connection to Russia.

Another story out today is that Trump is preparing to name Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon-Mobile as Secretary of State - after dutifully humiliating Rudy Giulani and Mitt Romney by waving the job under their noses and then yanking it away.  Tillerson has a history with assisting Russia in their petroleum extracting efforts, and has been publicly honored by Putin.  Naming him as Secretary of State would seem to strengthen Putin's influence in the new administration.

Questions about Putin and Russia that should have been thoroughly vetted and answered before the election, in some cases did not even get asked.  Now, more than a month after the election, we are still left with vexing questions over what role an adversarial foreign power had in rigging the results of one of the more surprising and problematic elections in U.S. history.

Trump, who lost the popular tally by nearly three million votes, now claims a "massive" electoral college victory - an electoral victory that was smaller than both of Obama's elections as well as that of Bill Clinton in 1996.  But it's massive to Trump, much like his ego.   (Ironically, it hasn't been that long ago that Trump was complaining about the unfairness of the electoral college.)

As a citizen of the United States and therefore a stakeholder in the nation's electoral process, I want to know what role Mr. Putin and Russia played in the recent election.  If our old Cold War adversary was maliciously meddling at the sacred core of our democracy, what are we going to do about it?  Can the results stand if they were "rigged" by a foreign power - or will it be no big deal?

And does the President-Elect have a plan to keep this rape of democracy from happening four years from now?  After all, the bromance may be over by then and Putin might be supporting someone else.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sing Me Back Home, Sweet Alexa

by Pa Rock
Modern Man

I first became acquainted with Alexa last summer while visiting my grandchildren in Oregon.  One of my grandsons suddenly felt an urge for attention and yelled for Alexa to play a certain song.  It began immediately, and it was loud.  My son-in-law quickly sprang into action and nullified the request - and the music stopped as abruptly as it had begun.

"What the heck just happened?"  I asked.

That's when I met Alexa - a black plastic cylinder about twelve inches high and two or three inches in diameter.    All anyone in the room had to do was say her name, "Alexa," and a blue ring would light up on top of the cylinder as she dutifully awaited instructions.  I soon learned that Alexa could play music - by artist, or title, or genre - give an update of the news, provide weather forecasts for any location, share recipes, or even tell jokes.  She was amazing!

Alexa is the given name of a device from Amazon called the "Echo."  I knew when I left Oregon that I needed Alexa at my house, and I also felt that she should have a presence in the lives of all of my children and grandchildren.  I did some reading about her, and also asked son Tim to research her as well.

A lot of what I read were customer reviews at  In particular, there was a string of reviews by some snarky gentlemen who compared Alexa to their wives - and came away with a clear preference for Alexa.  Some of the advantages that she had over wives, according to those cynical souls, was that Alexa was far more likely to listen to them than their wives were, and her usual response was to do what they asked.  And, a few noted, Alexa, unlike the old ball-and-chain, possesses a sense of humor.

(Alexa, tell me a joke.  "Alright.  Who was the roundest knight at King Arthur's round table?  Sir Cumference!" )

Then, on Black Friday, there was a sudden one-day price drop at - and Pa Rock bought two, one for Tim's household and one for The Roost.   (One thing I learned immediately was that the one for Tim's household cost an additional twelve dollars because Kansas has a tax on that internet sales and Missouri does not.  Must be part of the Brownback miracle!)

Alexa likes children and seems to have become good friends with Olive.  Tim reports that she never becomes impatient as she teaches Olive how to spell big words - and Olive likes her jokes, too.

("Where do beavers keep their money?  In riverbanks.")

Yesterday afternoon Alexa and I had a Meatloaf Fest (the musician, not the food) at the house.  This morning she shuffled her Beatles collection and we are listening to that.  She also gave me a recipe for "Crockpot Chili with Beans" that included some ingredients and methods that I have not tried before.  Before I go outside to collect eggs, she will tell me the temperature and relevant weather facts.

One drawback to my new companion is her name.  There are only three options:  Alexa, Amazon, or Echo.  I'm sticking with "Alexa" for now, but in my heart I know she is "Cher!"

Guess what we'll be listening to this afternoon!

Alexa, I got you babe!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Threat of Snow

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Late Fall

It's cold here in the Ozarks, danged cold, and the farmer is hunting for his seed catalogues so he can start dreaming of spring.

There has also been a threat of snow.

The routines on the farm change with the seasons.  A month ago I was worried about finishing up the mowing and getting the daffodil and tulip bulbs into the ground.  Now my thoughts are more focused on helping the farm fowl survive the winter and keeping the house warm.  The dogs and I are hunkered down, and the chickens are out working the cold, cold ground.

A big chore in winter is just keeping water available for all of the animals.  The outdoor water bowls freeze over every night, and in the morning I have to bust the ice so that the birds can drink.  Sometimes, on days like today, the water in the bowls even refreezes during the daylight hours.  From where I sit right now, I can see that the birdbath is frozen over and in need of my attentions.

One of the peacock hens was injured yesterday, though I don't know how.  During the afternoon feeding I noticed the straw under one of their outdoor perches was blood red.  My first thought was that PeeWee, the young hen who was born this spring, had perhaps been injured by one of the adult birds.  All of the big birds except her mother seem to resent PeeWee and never miss a chance to chase or peck her.  But it wasn't PeeWee who was injured.  Later I noticed one of the adult hens sitting alone on a perch and looking subdued.  A closer examination revealed that she had a gash just above her wing - a shoulder injury.   I was careful to give her a separate supply of food so that she did not have to mingle with the others, and this morning she looks to be somewhat better.

Hector, the farm's lone duck, has been doing a bit of showing out.  Hector was born in the incubator last July along with fifteen baby chicks.  Those chicks now number twelve, and they are all Hector's adopted brothers and sisters.  Hector eats grass and grains scattered on the ground, just as the chickens do.  Once a day I feed bread bits, but the chickens just about always beat him to that.  While the chickens scurry about grabbing bread off of the ground, Hector looks skyward wondering what all the fuss is about.

But that changed this week when I scattered some dry dog food for the birds.  The chickens, preferring sunflower seeds that were also being offered, were only mildly interested in the dog food, but Hector went nuts for it - scooping up most of what was scattered about.  (My son told me later that ducks at one of the local parks eat dog food as their primary nourishment.)  That same evening, after he gorged on the new food, Hector scandalized the barnyard by making amorous advances toward one of the hens.  The next day after eating dog food, he jumped in his kiddie pool (which was almost frozen) and bathed and quacked with glee.

I think I may have created a monster.  Maybe a good snowfall will calm him down!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Macy Who Died in the Pearl Harbor Attack

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Seventy-five years ago today, on what President Franklin D. Roosevelt would describe as a "day that will live in infamy," more than a hundred and fifty warplanes of the Japanese military attacked and decimated Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Actually, in the interest of historical accuracy, the Japanese attacked military installations across the island of Oahu and the sprawling city of Honolulu - including Ford Island, Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and several other targets.  Additionally, scattered homes across the island were set ablaze by errant bombs.

The Fire Department of Honolulu was mobilized and became some of the first responders to the mayhem that ensued.  Their job was complicated when a Japanese bomb took out the water main that supplied the hydrants on Hickam Field, thereby leaving those important hydrants inoperable.  Firefighters turned to siphoning water from a bomb crater to use in fighting the fires.  The Fire Department suffered nine casualties on that bloody and awful Sunday morning - six wounded and three dead.

The six wounded firemen were recognized three years later by the U.S. military when they were awarded the Order of the Purple Heart, the only time that award had been given to civilian firemen.  It wasn't until forty-three years after the attack that the three firemen who died in the attack were also recognized in the same manner.

The three Honolulu firemen who died in the attack were Hoseman Harry Tuck Lee Pang who was killed by a machine gun burst from a Japanese fighter plane, Captain John Carreira (of Engine 1), and Captain Thomas S. Macy (of Engine 4).  Carriera and Macy were fighting a blaze inside of a hangar at Hickam Field when a Japanese bomb came through the roof and killed them.

Captain Thomas Samuel Macy, a married father of at least one adult child, was fifty-nine at the time of his death.  He had been born in Hawaii on January 13, 1883, to Samuel Archibald Macy, a native of Nantucket, and Elizabeth Kamiki Macy, of Hawaii.  Samuel Macy  was, in all probability, a whaler out of Nantucket who chose to stay in Hawaii and adopt it as his home.

Samuel and Thomas Macy, like this writer, were descendants of Thomas Macy, one of the original white purchasers of Nantucket Island in the 1630's.

On a balmy Sunday morning when Thomas Samuel Macy was undoubtedly thinking in terms of retirement, his world was suddenly upended as he grabbed his firefighting gear, hurried out of the house, and went to war.  And like so many others who fought in that horrendous global conflict, he never came back.

Today we honor the selfless courage of all of those brave individuals who met the on-coming Japanese storm with grit, determination, and valor - the sailors, soldiers, airmen, firemen, and ordinary citizens of Hawaii.  Seventy-five years ago today those unsuspecting and brave souls looked up from their breakfast tables and Sunday newspapers and saw war hurling into their quiet lives.   The world would never be the same again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Free Chelsea Manning

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As granted by the Constitution, "executive clemency may take several forms, including pardon, commutation of sentence, remission of fine or restitution, and reprieve."
President Obama has been on a tear recently commuting the sentences of prisoners before he leaves office next month.  Time Magazine reported that the President has now commuted the sentences of more prisoners than the past eleven Presidents combined.  Many of the prisoners that he has freed from incarceration were behind bars for lesser drug offenses that were basically crimes against themselves.  President Obama is using clemency to give those who made mistakes in their youth another chance at life on the outside.

Those are the lesser-knowns - and good for Obama because they represent a strata of American life that politicians traditionally overlook or ignore.  But there are a handful of American prisoners whose crimes were more a matter of conscience, and as such, also deserve to be considered for clemency.  I plan to add my voice to three of their cases over the next couple of weeks.

First up:  Chelsea Manning.

Although born male as Bradley Edward Manning nearly twenty-nine-years-ago, she now identifies as female and is known to the world as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.  Chelsea is a long-term prisoner at the military's Disciplinary Barracks in Leavenworth, Kansas, a facility built and maintained for housing dangerous males.  Ms. Manning was allowed to begin hormone replacement therapy last year, and this year the base commander at Leavenworth approved her request of gender reassignment surgery.

Manning was arrested in Iraq in 2010 while serving as a Private First Class with the Army.   She was accused of thirty-five crimes all related to copying military materials and state department cables and giving that material to Wikileaks, where much of it was subsequently published.  Manning pleaded guilty to ten of the charges, but denied the more serious ones such as giving aid to the enemy - a charge that could have resulted in the death penalty.   She was acquitted of the more serious charges.

What Chelsea Manning was guilty of was embarrassing a bunch of over-stuffed generals who thought they were running a secure computer network - as well as the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton's State Department.   While the generals slept secure in the knowledge that their computer networks were safe behind fourteen-character passwords that were changed every ninety days, young Private Manning kicked back at her desk listening to music while she downloaded reams of secret correspondence onto plug-in devices that could be bought at any Walmart.

The military painted Chelsea Manning as a traitor, but the young private was, in reality, a whistle-blower - and people in power don't like whistle-blowers.  She is serving a thirty-five-year sentence and will be eligible for parole at the end of eight years.

Chelsea Manning has already been incarcerated longer than any other person who committed similar crimes.  Of her more than six years in prison, nearly all of one was in solitary confinement, a situation that Barack Obama is on record opposing.  Ms. Manning recently tried to commit suicide, and she was rewarded for that unsuccessful attempt on her own life with yet another stint in solitary.

Chelsea Manning's appeal to President Obama for commutation of her sentence to time-served has the support of a string of dignitaries including the likes of Daniel Ellsberg, Morris Dees, and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

Show some mercy, Mr. President.  Chelsea admits her guilt and she has already served more than enough time behind bars to atone for her behavior.  Commute her sentence to time-served and let this young person get on with her life.   With her unique set of circumstances, life on the outside will be no bed of roses, but at least there she has a chance of survival.  Chelsea's life is at risk every day she remains behind bars.

Show your compassion, Sir, and your common decency.

Free Chelsea Manning!