Saturday, December 24, 2005

The 2005 Ozarks Angel

I started this blog back in May when I had a couple of days off from work due to a swollen nut. That healed up nicely, in case you were wondering, but I'm still paying the $800 bill. Gotta love our healthcare system - oh, and my wonderful school health insurance covered a whopping $82. Anyway, that was an unlikely topic to start a blog, but there it is. Now, some 3,400 clicks later, we're still plugging away. Here's a review of the year 2005 sifted through some of the Ozarks Angel posts.

Of course, the really huge story that christened this crazy year of 2005 was the slow discovery of the devastation incurred by the killer tsunami that swept away some quarter of a million lives in Asia. Here at home, president Bush was characteristically distant and, despite daily briefings, seemingly uninformed about the magnitude of this disaster - a foreshadowing of his lackadaisical response to the Katrina disaster seven months later. It seems Bush can only get himself worked up if there's evil afoot. These natural disasters just don't move him much, whether foreign or in the "homeland". There's no bad guy involved. It does seem odd, though, that a man who feels called of God to fight tyranny (at least in oil-rich parts of the world) can be so indifferent to cataclysmic acts of God that dwarf his man-made crusade in Iraq.

By March of 2005, the American public and media, which we now can confirm suffers from acute Attention Deficit Disorder, had turned its attention to the plight of Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was finally yanked after numerous judicial appeals and a great gnashing of teeth from the Christian right - but not before a special session of Congress was called by Republican leadership as they sought to keep her brain-dead body alive for still more court appeals. President Bush, at the urging of his handlers, leaped to action this time and cut his vacation short in order to get the federal courts to deter Ms. Schiavo's natural departure from this life. Talk about skewed priorities. The Ozarks Angel spoke briefly to this issue when we reviewed an article from an Assemblies of God. Strange, we don't get mail from A/G anymore.

Pope John Paul II died in April - like Schiavo, another case of a person living too long. Not to be disrespectful, but this once vital and energetic man, who will be regarded as one of the greatest popes of modern times for helping to bring down the Soviet empire, was reduced in his final days to muttering unintelligible homilies and waving at pigeons from his balcony. Some of my best friends are Catholic, but I've never understood the appeal of this religion. I see Catholicism, from my vantage point here in the hills, as a male-dominated, authoritarian, superstition-filled holdover from medieval times. I don't think the new pope is going to do much to alter that view, but we mentioned back in July how folks here in God's Country seem to like Pope Benedict, particularly for his stand against homosexuality.

In May, we wrote about how the Springfield police had busted Mayor Carlson's son and fast-tracked the lab work in order to beat the mayoral election. Chief Rowe brought in a buddy from Miami, Florida, of all places, to oversee the internal investigation. This intense search for the facts, of course, turned up no misdeeds whatsoever by SPD. Was anybody shocked? The story was basically buried, and Carlson's son pleaded guilty a few weeks ago.

In Middle School Mind, we see a teacher trying to explain the Iraq invasion to a class of inquisitive adolescents. Some seven months later, the concluding statement still stands true.
"So, based on the newspaper day discussion in Exploratory class, one could conclude that we are at war in Iraq more out of ignorance than duty and that our busy lives won't allow us the time nor the inclination to find the truth behind the spin."
Some of the Bush spin on Iraq has come unraveled a bit since then, but even the most obvious truths become a hard sell when lies and half-truths are so persuasively marketed by those in power. Here in God's Country, Bush still gets high marks for his handling of the war - but Vlad the Impaler would get high marks around here if he was a Republican.

Probably the most frequently downloaded image from Ozarks Angel is the Hammons Field photo from May 30. I still maintain the return of real minor league baseball was the most significant event in Springfield in the last fifty years.

Another very popular download (even though I stole it from another website) is the photo of Washington girl-about-town, Jessica Cutler, whose between-the-sheets blog, The Washingtonienne, revealed the secret sex lives of certain anonymous diplomats. My favorite line: "Oh my god, I'm fucking six different men, ew." Ms. Cutler has a new blog called Jessica Cutler Online.

In July, I found myself whining about the mainstream media and wondered if the Valerie Plame scandal might finally get some people looking at the unethical and unconstitutional activities of the Bush administration. I speculated that Cheney and Rove were behind the whole thing, and that has turned out to be accurate. It looks as though Rove lied to the grand jury, and Cheney's little toady, Scooter Libby, was chosen as the one to fall on his sword to protect our stealth president from indictment.

In mid-July, we featured a story criticizing Bush's war on terror, pointing out how he and his neocon pals ignored advice from nearly every quarter in pressing for war in Iraq. One of our dictator allies in the Middle East, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who "won" re-election in a fixed vote this fall, was one of many world leaders who tried to dissuade Bush & Co. from invading Iraq. He warned that such an invasion would create 100 Bin Ladens and turn even moderate Arabs against the U. S. His warning proved to be true - the invasion of Iraq has inspired tens of thousands of young Islamic men to join the jihad against the infidel invaders from America. Our own military, however, is having trouble meeting recruitment quotas.

In late July and August we started posting some cartoons from the springfieldian, a little underground newspaper that circulated around town during the early 90's. These turned out to be some of the most frequently downloaded images from Ozarks Angel, especially SPD Blues and cartoon parodies of Charlie Brown and Garfield that had a local twist.

Another frequently visited story was the strange and twisted tale of the "Self-Abduction of Tim Carpenter", the James River Assembly associate pastor who chose to fake his own abduction rather than face up to his wife, family and church that he was carrying on with a Jezebel in Memphis. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

In mid-August, right before the first day of school, our brilliant school board chose to roll back a much sought after tax levy, which sent all kinds of wrong signals to the community and to R-12 teachers. It was an awful start for new superintendent, Norm Ridder, but there will be much more on the education front in Ozarks Angel this year. Among other things, there's a new quality initiative being pushed by Dr. Ridder that could lead to some real changes at the administrative level and in the classroom. I'm hopeful but skeptical.

By September, we were talking about the Drowning of New Orleans and how warnings of impending disaster had been ignored for years. Of course, nothing was going to happen on that front during the Bush administration. Yer doin' a great job Bushie!

If hurricane Katrina exposed the administration's indifference to the poor, the nomination of Harriet Miers exposed Bush's blatant arrogance and ignorance when it came to high-stakes judicial appointments. Our Girl Harriet generated the most heated comments from readers - mainly because of my description of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas as an Uncle Tom. It's never helpful to bring race into the discussion, but I've always felt it was a very cynical appointment by daddy Bush. The Miers appointment surprised everybody - and the fact that conservatives were the most vocal critics sure surprised me. She would have done anything they wanted - but the nomination seemed so cavalier and disrespectful to the court, even the faithful stepped back from this one. The emperor's clothes were starting to unravel a bit.

In October we wrote about the Community Safety Initiative that would have funded a new crime lab and, more importantly, a program aimed at providing education services to poor children in a cooperative effort with the school system. The local citizenry were predictably wary of this "big government" approach to helping poor kids. "Let the parents take care of this," they wrote in letters to the editor. "It's big government taking over the family". The sad truth is, a growing number of parents aren't taking care of their children - it's a huge problem that nobody wants to talk about. Early childhood development is simply not a major concern here in God's country. We simply invest in bigger and better prisons to later house the large segment of under-educated poor folks who end up turning to drugs and criminal behavior to get by. Who will take up the slack and help the growing number of children born into poverty? Apparently nobody. Where do we look for help in dealing with poverty-related issues like this? Jefferson City? D. C.? Nothing there but cutbacks and vaccuous rhetoric. Maybe Jesus will come and save the children, you suppose? This local initiative was relatively small, but it had the potential to pay huge dividends in lowering crime and providing early basic education for poor children in our community. I was one of the minority of Springfieldians who were willing to invest an additional penny for every four dollars spent on this plan. The CSI initiative was, of course, summarily squashed by local voters in November.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas, Yada, Yada

I gave all my classes a test on the last day before Christmas break. Humbug! One kid asked why I was such a Scrooge, and my answer went something like this:

The original cause for celebration was suppose to be the birth of a spiritual being whose life and teachings changed the entire world and inspired countless millions of followers to love their neighbors as themselves, pursue peace over war and violence, protect the innocent, take care of the poor and sick and to spread love and understanding among all people, regardless of their social standing.

And what do we now do to celebrate this spiritual being's birth? We get out our credit cards and shop like madmen . . . we measure the season's success by keeping a close eye on consumer spending, credit card debt and whether or not massive department stores match their earnings estimates. We erect quaint little prop-up manger scenes outside fast food restaurants - I saw one manger scene in front of a Baptist church that had Santa Claus kneeling with the wise men. Aww, how precious.

It took generations to bastardize the Christmas season into this blind orgy of mass consumerism, but here we are, lining up like lemmings trying to get in the mall, deluding ourselves into thinking this is a spiritual holiday.

The best thing I can say about the holiday season is that, for better or worse, it brings families together. True, we dutifully buy gifts for people we don't care about much, but we also take time to give of ourselves to those we love immeasurably, and that is no small thing to remember. It helps get me through it all.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

No Surprise From Gov. Blunt

As if on cue, the morning after yesterday's Ozarks Angel post about how a Washington, D. C. political action group is supplying talking points for Republican politicians on education "reform", our esteemed boy-governor Blunt stepped right up and submits a News-Leader guest editorial that parrots virtually every point we wrote about last night. How wonderful it must be to have other people do your thinking for you.

As predicted, Blunt spoke of supplying 65% of funding "directly to the classrooms", and then went to bat for raising teacher salaries, which he called, presumably with a straight face, "the most important part of any school district's budget". Blunt then went on to describe how appalled he was that Missouri teacher salaries are ranked 44th in the U. S.. (If you can find a Republican governor or legislator who has called for teacher salary increases in the last 25 years, I'll buy you lunch.)

Last night I wrote that this 65% solution aims to pit teachers against administrators and teacher organizations. Blunt obligingly says "as pay for teachers lags, pay increases for administrators have been nothing short of massive . . . the average Missouri superintendent has received three times the additional compensation that has been found for teachers . . . I certainly value the work of superintendents," Blunt writes, "but I value teachers more."

You can see that the governor is going directly to the voter with these arguments and is likely to get little, if any, support from school boards and administrators.

Let me again excerpt a memo from the Washington, D. C. political action group (First Class Education) that is pushing this proposal:

"With the First Class Education issue on the ballot, Republicans will have a viable answer to 'in the classroom improvement of education' without the need to call for a tax increase, offsetting budget cuts in other popular programs or gimmick accounting and deficit spending." The memo also states that there are other "tangential political advantages," such as pitting teachers and administrators against each other and building support for school vouchers."

Blunt has chosen to call this push "Putting Our Students First". He estimates that cuts in administration, libraries, counseling, bus transportation, janitorial services, cooks and other jobs and services will net over $270 million for the classroom (books, technology, resources and teacher salaries).

And all this without one dollar of additional taxes . . . that's the part that will play well to the GOP faithful here in the 7th district.

There was an excellent editorial rebuttal to Blunt's piece by former Nixa superintendent Terry Reid.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

65% Solution Media Blitz Coming Soon

Be prepared for the next big thing in politically-motivated, GOP-backed bullshit regarding public education - the much-heralded and very controversial "65% Solution". It's coming to you via our esteemed boy-governor, Matt Blunt, in the form of a statewide referendum which is tentatively schedule for next November. I can almost hear the television commercials already.

This new educational shell game comes to us by way of a Washington, D. C. lobbying group called "First Class Education"(FCE) - an organization founded by millionaire entrepreneur Patrick M. Byrne, president of online shopping spot Byrne, who is into martial arts and is a former boxer, fashions himself as the Robin Hood of public education. The 65% plan would supposedly improve classroom instruction by guaranteeing that 65% of all education revenue be directly targeted to teachers and students in the classroom. Sounds simple enough. This should play well here in God's country.

The idea is that educational bureaucracy promotes the mispending of education revenue on needless administrative fluff that is not directly related to the classroom. This sounds great on the surface. I've been one of the many teachers who believe there is a great deal of waste at the administrative level - not to mention some ridiculously high salaries. (The raise given Springfield's own superintendent last year represented 150% of my annual salary.)

Columnist George Will describes Byrne and his plan in an April Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post:

"Patrick Byrne, a 42-year-old bear of a man who bristles with ideas that have made him rich and restless, has an idea that can provide a new desktop computer for every student in America without costing taxpayers a new nickel. Or it could provide 300,000 new $40,000-a-year teachers without any increase in taxes. His idea -- call it the 65 Percent Solution -- is politically delicious because it unites parents, taxpayers and teachers while, he hopes, sowing dissension in the ranks of the teachers unions, which he considers the principal institutional impediment to improving primary and secondary education."

Politically delicious - yes indeed. This is why so many Republican governors are salivating at the idea of presenting this highly-marketable idea to the voting public. But is a referendum even necessary? Why not just present a bill and get it passed? Robert Leger, editorial page editor for our own News-Leader, questions Boy Blunt's motivation in his November 27 editorial. Leger wonders:

"So why a statewide vote? The top race on the November ballot will be the hotly contested campaign between Sen. Jim Talent and his Democratic challenger, Auditor Claire McCaskill. The issue conceivably helps the Republican.
Blunt, who has his own challenge from Attorney General Jay Nixon looming in 2008, would likely be featured in television ads supporting classroom teachers. That could help boost the image of a governor saddled with some of the lowest approval ratings in the nation."

Leger also mentions a memo emanating from the D. C. headquarters of "First Class Education which states:

"With the First Class Education issue on the ballot, Republicans will have a viable answer to 'in the classroom improvement of education' without the need to call for a tax increase, offsetting budget cuts in other popular programs or gimmick accounting and deficit spending.

The memo also lists other "tangential political advantages," such as pitting teachers and administrators against each other and building support for school vouchers."

Aha! The Trojan Horse has been exposed! This big initiative begins to look and sound very much like a Republican marketing plan to undo public education. How clever - plus, as an added bonus, it could also place teachers at odds with their own professional organizations like the NEA. FCE founder Byrne does little to hide his disdain for the nation's largest teacher's union. He once said that if he had one silver bullet he would use it to eliminate the NEA, an organization he views as a haven for "educrats". My experience, however, has been that the NEA has fought administrative over-spending and fluff in order to put more money into the classroom and increase teacher salaries, which is precisely what the "65% Solution" purports to do.

It's all very interesting. And I have to admit, even as an active NEA member, that the idea of cutting our top-heavy administrative positions and salaries in order to increase teacher pay and reduce class size makes perfect sense.

You can see how this will be marketed, and you can be sure the debate over this 'solution' will be loud and rancorous. Missouri NEA president, Greg Jung, has already issued a pointed rebuttal to the proposal, calling it "the 65% deception." Most opponents point to what they believe will be huge cuts in school libraries and counseling services, just for starters.

Though there are aspects of this 'solution' that appeal to me, I don't trust the GOP to back anything regarding public education because I strongly suspect their underlying long-term effort aims to promote a voucher system that will further stratify our society. On the other hand, I've been calling for education reform, particularly in the form of administrative cuts, for as long as I can remember.

Governor Blunt's little trial balloon on this issue sailed into town a couple of weeks ago, and it was routinely punctured by local school board officials, who criticized it as a "one size fits all" measure that imposed statewide standards indiscriminantly on diverse school systems - and diminishes local control. We'll be hearing more on this, you can bet on it.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Busch Stadium Going Down

I was in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago for a conference. I hadn't been to any such event in a long while - not since library days. Now that's a whole 'nother story, partying librarians. More on that later.

I shared a room with another teacher from a school across town. We got along just fine except for the fact that I had trouble sleeping both nights - probably due to the fact that it was just a strange place, and I'm a light sleeper.

Anyway, I was wide awake both mornings at the crack of dawn, and proceeded to explore downtown St. Louis before the city was awake. It was surprising how few cars and pedestrians were out and about at 6:00 a.m. I swear I saw a coyote walking around down by the arch, and several rabbits hopping around the hotel grounds.

No matter what direction I walked, I was always drawn toward Busch Stadium. Crews were working around the clock wrecking the historic landmark. Though I have never been a big Cardinals fan, I have spent many an hour watching some great baseball at Busch. The arch was a glistening backdrop to perfect symmetry of stadium roof. The pictures don't do it justice.

Next door to old Busch is the new Busch - a stadium built on the model of Camden Yard, a brand new vintage-style baseball field that looks older than the one it replaces. I guess it's a sign of the times that the new stadium will actually seat fewer baseball fans, but stadium revenue is expected to increase due to the construction of larger corporate clubs and boxes. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Missouri taxpayers footed a good deal of the bill for this demolition/construction - but fewer of them will be able to buy tickets to watch a game.

So, here are the early morning pics of the old space-aged Busch coming down. The wrecking ball was banging away, crushing concrete into dust clouds.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

CIA Provided Bush Accurate Intel on 9/21/01

On September 21, 2001 - ten days after the 9/11 attacks - president Bush received a highly classified report from the CIA regarding possible links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. I read about this interesting bit of pre-war intelligence in a piece written by Murray Waas for the National Journal.

While the CIA and FBI took a lot of heat for not doing a better job of tracking the 9/11 terrorists before the attack, the CIA did provide what turned out to be very accurate information regarding the absence of a Saddam/Al Qaeda conspiracy leading up to the 9/11 attack.

It is becoming clear that the Bush administration was intent on cherry-picking their intelligence reports to back up their call for war. When the largest intelligence organization in the world didn't give them what they wanted, Cheney and Co. took their sources from wherever they could. Their groping around for threads from foreign spy networks led them to base some important pieces of their pro-war propaganda campaign on forged documents that somehow circumvented CIA inspection and were sent directly to the White House from some shady Italian spy-for-hire. The document was suppose to confirm that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase yellow-cake uranium from a contact in Niger. This was the basis from Bush's dramatic "mushroom cloud" warning in his state of the union address (and the beginnings of Plamegate).

Another source was an Iraqi citizen who was interviewed and given a lie detector test by the CIA (more on this in a interesting Rolling Stone piece). This individual, code-named Curveball, supposedly had worked in the Iraqi chemical industry and was desperately trying to obtain a German visa. In his efforts to ingratiate himself with American and German authorities, he gave them what turned out to be totally fabricated information about Saddam's mobile chemical labs and plans to stockpile chemical weapons. Some of this guy's tall tale found its way into Colin Powell's speech before the United Nations - a speech he now regretably describes as "a real low point".

Here's another interesting snippet from the National Journal piece:

"One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources."

According to the CIA, not only was Saddam not working with Al Qaeda, he was trying to figure out ways to keep militant religious fanaticism out of Iraq. The irony is thick when we now see how George Bush and Co. toppled Saddam's secular (albeit unfriendly) regime only to inspire the movement of thousands of Al Qaeda recruits onto Iraqi soil - and for his effort, Iraq is now the terrorist capital of the world.

(For more thoughts on selective intelligence - how the Bush Admin. sliced and diced intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq - take a look The Misleaders from Slate.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Words of Wisdom from Jimmy Carter

I remember when this guy was president. He was basically run out of town by his own party when he tried to buck party traditions - sort of backfired on the dems when Ronald Reagan swept to power in 1980. Carter came to Springfield on that election day, and I went to see him at the airport. Not many people showed up, of course. Everybody knew he was going to lose, including Carter himself.

I've always respected old Jimmy. He was a knowledgeable and thoughtful man - an honest man. He was ridiculed for his beliefs at a time when politicians didn't wear their religion on their sleeve. Now, he is starting to speak out about the mixing of religion and politics and the lack of moral and ethical leadership from the GOP and the Bush administration. Here's a link to his editorial in the L. A. Times entitled: This Isn't the Real America.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

State of the Union

A friend at work who happens to be a Republican said an odd thing to me the other day.
"I guess you're feeling pretty good about all the trouble Bush is in right now," he said. I felt a little insulted, since he was attributing what I consider a Republican character trait to me - petty political vindictiveness. It always seemed to me that the GOP was the party that would stop at nothing to destroy political opponents - ala Bill Clinton, whose own "scandals" (Whitewater - in which he was accused of losing several thousand dollars in a screwed up land deal; Travelgate, where Clinton appointed friends to White House travel office positions, gasp!); somehow evolved, through the office of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr via office gossip Linda Tripp, to a case that eventually had the leader of the free world lying about blow jobs in the Oval Office. The result: for only the second time in American history, a president was impeached. Over what? Tell me again how many lives were lost in all these terrible "scandals"?

I remember the frothing indignation that reigned supreme in the halls of Congress during Clinton's second term. The GOP literally put their own political agenda ahead of national security during those years. I blame them for distracting an entire nation over petty political vindictiveness - and all this while Osama bin Laden was building a terror network centered in Afghanistan.

Then, after the Supreme Court awarded the presidency to George Bush (even though he lost the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes), we see an opportunistic group of shadowy right-wing foreign policy wonks take control of an administration and set about to knowingly dupe Congress and the American public, utilizing trumped up fear-mongering and forged intelligence documents, into an unprecedented pre-emptive war against a third world dictatorship that posed no threat whatsoever to this country (but did possess huge oil reserves).

This could only happen under the weak and blissfully arrogant "leadership" of a man like George W. Bush - a man who, according to the chief of staff of his own State Department was "not well versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either".

Even before 9/11, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their little cadre of neoconmen were hard at work planning the Iraqi invasion. They sold the idea to our clueless leader with remarkable ease ("He tried to kill my dad"), and the die was cast. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who was later fired for not towing the party line, was astounded by how, just ten days after the inauguration, discussion of regime change in Iraq monopolized the first cabinet meeting. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap," O'Neill later told an interviewer.

As the Bush administration ignored urgent warnings from counter-terrorist expert Richard Clarke and Arab leaders like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Cheney and Rumsfeld and their neocon buddies remained steadfast in their push to invade Iraq. They were confident, given past marketing successes, that the case for war against Iraq would be easy enough to sell. The war machine that they helped assemble during the Reagan/Bush years would easily and swiftly crush the Iraqi army, no problem there (Shock and Awe/Mission Accomplished, right?) - and the Iraqi people will welcome us with open arms. The problem was, the CIA was not able to produce any definitive evidence of immediate threats posed by Iraq.

What to do . . .

And then came 9/11 - the day that changed everything. A shocked nation looked to their president for leadership, and he filled this role well in the first few months. The invasion of Afghanistan made sense - this was the center of the terrorist universe, and the U.S. was universally supported in this military action. The Taliban was quickly defeated, terrorist bases were destroyed and Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants were on the run - and somebody in the Bush "braintrust" realized the window of opportunity had flown open. Would there ever be a better time to launch the assault on Baghdad? Many Democrats and even a few Republicans in Congress (not to mention Bush's own Secretary of State, Colin Powell) were instinctively against such a potentially disastrous foray into the heart of the Middle East, but only a few had the balls to speak up - many, like John Kerrey, chose to back the war out of political expediency, fearing their objections would be seen as unpatriotic.

Now, years later, we see the truth beginning to filter out, as it always does in time. No, I don't gain any satisfaction whatsoever that Bush is in trouble. I wish he had never gained high political office. He's a weak man who has always been bailed out when things didn't work out for him. This time, however, the stakes are just a bit higher. It just saddens and scares me that the American public can be so malleable, so easily duped, so easily led astray by a bunch of political ideologues linked to a very effective GOP propaganda machine. The end justifies the means with these people. They now openly condone torture, operate secret prisons, arrest and hold suspects without charging them - and think nothing of slaughtering politically anyone gets in their way. This is precisely how police states are manufactured, how tyrants gain power. I now know, without a doubt, that it can happen here. No, I couldn't care less what happens to George Bush. I worry about the world my kids will inherit.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Exxon Profits At Unprecedented High

Still more evidence that it pays to have friends in high places . . . the Associated Press reported today that oil giant Exxon's third-quarter profits were a new record for any company ever. Third quarter profits were almost 75% higher than a year ago - up to $9.92 billion - and their $100 billion in total quarterly sales was also an all-time record for any company in history.

I really don't have much more to say about this . . . it's distressing but not surprising. I guess my conservative friends out there would argue that the free market is working its magic on the American public once again. So, the American public should just smile and get out the KY-Jelly, which is another fine petroleum derivative - while oil execs shop for more multi-million dollar homes and corporate tax shelters.

I'm wondering why such a huge, profitable industry couldn't invest some of their vast profits into some research and development toward creating more efficient ways to fuel our mobile society - or at the very least build a new refinery now and then so that gas prices wouldn't fluctuate wildly everytime a hurricane blows in or a middle eastern potentate gets pissed at us. There hasn't been a new refinery built in the U.S. since the early 1970's.

Seems to me that cutting corporate profits to give the American consumer a little break would almost be a patriotic act at this point. Wonder what's the likelihood of that happening? It's enough to make a person entertain thoughts of socialism - a government takeover of the energy industry. Things have a way of going full circle, you know.

Friday, October 21, 2005

County Commissioners and Nov. 8 Election

I attended a teacher meeting this week in which two of the three County Commissioners and the Springfield police chief spoke about an upcoming November 8 ballot issue called the Community Safety Initiative (CSI). County Commissioners Dave Coonrod and Harold Bengsch and SPD chief Lynn Rowe took turns talking about why they support the proposed 1/4 cent sales tax.

The proposed tax would ante up about a nickel on a $20 purchase and would raise about $10 million in year one for various crime prevention and law enforcement programs.

Did I hear a yawn? I know. This is usually the kind of thing that I have trouble supporting - yes, they want to build a new crime lab and provide funding for more police officers, blah, blah. But the part that caught my attention, and the primary reason they were pitching this to a group of school teachers, was the $3 million that was to be spent on a proactive early childhood program that was linked to 50 elementary schools in Springfield. It would also create a one-stop center for early childhood services such as WIC, Parents As Teachers and medical and behavioral health care.

Unlike the unfunded federal feel-good mandate known as No Child Left Behind, this program supports and funds an early childhood program that is aimed at breaking the cycle of illiteracy and under-education that breeds all kinds of social problems in the community. Yes, it's on a small scale, but it's a move in the right direction - and I don't think we'll be getting much help from the state or federal government anytime soon - not with the current leadership we have in Jeff City and D.C.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Coonrod and Bengsch speak to this issue with no small amount of conviction. Hit the link above to read more about it.

***Also, thanks to those readers who inquired about the most recent dispatch from the fields of education. It was deleted because I was worried that the teacher featured in that story would suffer some kind of retribution from a vengeful administrator or demented parent. Given the fact that she still works with those people on a daily basis, I felt it was wise to avoid any risk of making things worse. I did save the story and will re-post it after things cool down a bit.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Still More Evidence of Cronyism in Bushland

I was trying to find a link to one of my favorite news shows when I ran across this article posted on Media Matters for America. The New York Times article explores how Harriet Miers worked a dual role after being appointed by Bush to head the Texas Lottery Commission, which was supposedly suspected of shady dealings. It looks as though some of the questionable activity centered around an employee who had information about Bush's own shady National Guard experience. Here's a clip:

"Allegations about political favors playing a role in Bush's National Guard career first arose in the midst of a lawsuit filed by Lawrence Littwin, the former executive director of the lottery commission who was both hired and fired during Miers's tenure. Littwin had reportedly been investigating what he considered improper political contributions made by Gtech, a company which had a contract to run the Texas lottery. In his lawsuit, Littwin claimed that Gtech pressured the commission to fire him by threatening to reveal that the company had paid lobbyist Ben Barnes $23 million to keep Barnes from publicly claiming that he pulled strings in order to get Bush into the Guard.

In her capacity at the commission, Miers was directly involved with Littwin's dismissal in October 1997. Littwin's lawsuit claimed that after he began looking into financial ties between the company and Texas lawmakers, Gtech pushed Miers to fire him [Houston Chronicle, January 6, 2001]. After a federal judge in Texas ruled that Miers did not have to testify in Littwin's lawsuit to provide an explanation for why Littwin was fired, Gtech settled Littwin's lawsuit for $300,000.

Subsequently -- and while still serving on the commission -- Miers was paid $19,000 by Bush's re-election campaign to investigate his National Guard record in order to "identify potential vulnerabilities early on and deflect any charges that Bush got favorable treatment," according to a July 17, 2000, Newsweek article. Newsweek reported that Barnes's allegations were a key part of Miers's investigation. That would mean that the Miers investigation -- and therefore Bush himself -- potentially benefited from Miers's knowledge of and involvement in the lottery commission."

Everybody knows Bush had preferential treatment with his National Guard stint. First, to get in at all - and later to cover the fact that he was AWOL while out campaigning for his dad. Harriet Miers appears to be a Bush loyalist first and foremost. No wonder he trusts her so much.

Conservative pundits like Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative rag The Weekly Standard characterized Miers' nomination to the high court 'at best an error, at worst a disaster' which should be reconsidered. 'He (Bush) has put up an unknown and undistinguished figure for an opening that conservatives worked for a generation to see filled with a jurist of high distinction.'

George Will, with whom I hardly ever agree (except for our shared love of baseball and the Cubs) called for the Miers nomination to be turned down by the Senate. Here's a clip from his Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post:

It is important that Miers not be confirmed unless, in her 61st year, she suddenly and unexpectedly is found to have hitherto undisclosed interests and talents pertinent to the court's role. Otherwise the sound principle of substantial deference to a president's choice of judicial nominees will dissolve into a rationalization for senatorial abdication of the duty to hold presidents to some standards of seriousness that will prevent them from reducing the Supreme Court to a private plaything useful for fulfilling whims on behalf of friends.

Thank you, George, for your eloquence. But will GW listen? I doubt it - so we'll be subjected to an awful dissection of this poor woman at the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course, the evangelicals will say she will have been persecuted for her beliefs. But, to be sure, this nomination should go down in flames due solely to the fact that she is nothing more than a political crony who is clearly not qualified to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

Our Girl Harriet

President Bush managed to piss everybody off with this one. The Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination has been roundly panned by pundits from virtually the entire political spectrum. I can almost see GW smirking after he and his trusty advisors came up with this one. This ought to throw everybody for a loop, yuk, yuk. One thing I've got to hand GW, he has shown an uncanny ability to top his daddy when it comes to boneheaded presidential moves. The elder Bush at least had the good sense to avoid a protracted war in Iraq after Desert Storm, while Boy George boldly ventures forth on a misguided crusade to build a democratic state in the heart of the Middle East. Is that conservative? Seems like I remember W criticizing the Clinton/Gore administration for their "nation building" in Bosnia. You don't hear much about Bosnia these days. I guess it depends on your point of view about this nation building concept - if a Democrat is doing it, it's nation building, if a Republican does it, it's fighting tyranny and spreading democracy. Of course, it also helps if the proposed construction site has a fair amount of oil under the surface and your administration is tight with big oil.

Daddy Bush appointed legal lightweight Clarence Thomas to the bench in what many regarded as a cold, cynical move that would force Democrats to oppose a black nominee. I wonder, has Thomas ever voted independently of ideologue Scalia? Ever written an intelligent opinion? He did serve a huge role in casting one of the votes that put Bush's son in the White House. So, the appointment did pay a quick dividend politically. Do you recall how Thomas characterized his contentious nomination process as a high-tech lynching? After viewing his service on the court so far, I guess it could be fair to similarly characterize his ideological obedience as good old-fashioned Uncle Tomism.

In George Bush we have the same man who asked us to trust him as he spread fear and loathing about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq as a rationale for an unprovoked invasion. Turns out the intelligence was bad - wasn't his fault (never is). This is also the man who appointed a totally unqualified Michael "yer doin' a heckuva job" Brown to lead FEMA. (Brown had been commissioner of the Arabian Horse Association, which at least symbolically represents the abundance of horseshit GW has cast upon the American public.) And now . . . he gives us his girl Harriet, former White House secretary and personal legal council. She has virtually no record, no court experience, didn't appear on anybody's list of the top 100 (1,000?) candidates - but not to worry. Our fearless leader knows her heart. Trust him on this one. She'll never change, he assures us. Shew, what a relief. One thing we do know - she is a born again Christian, which, in political terms, is nothing more than a blatant signal to the GOP's conservative base that Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade when the opportunity presents itsself. She will, of course, refuse to talk about that during the hearings.

In the five years that have passed since the Supreme Court awarded Bush the presidency, could anybody, even his harshest political enemies, have calculated how poorly he would have performed? I wonder how many years it will take to undo the damage this administration has done to the country and our standing in the world. But back to our girl Harriet. I doubt seriously that Bush will withdraw this ridiculous nomination. I just hope the Senate has the guts to vote it down. It'll be interesting to see who stands tall and who bends over.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bad Boys, School Superintendents & Wal-Mart

Last night, I ran into two of my former students outside the movie store. Brandon and Ricky were always in trouble for one thing or another during their three years in middle school. Both of them flunked almost every class but were passed on year after year, as is the habit in most middle schools. Ricky had a violent streak and was finally placed in an alternative school for much of his 7th grade year. It was mostly 7th grade macho stuff that got him in trouble. Like so many other lost boys and girls we see in middle school halls every year, he had virtually zero parental supervision. Brandon's mom tried to become more involved, but her son was soft and lazy, a follower who seemed hell bent on being cool above all else. Brandon had a good sense of humor and was one of the few in my class who understood my jokes, but he hadn't learned much academically since the third or fourth grade.

They saw me first as I pulled into the parking lot. "Hey, Mr. Smith." It's always nice to see former students smiling when we meet. So often, my memories of scolding them and sending them to the office for some transgression are all I remember. Ironically, some of the worst discipline problems are the friendliest when we meet outside the confines of school. They seem to know that I really did like them - even the bad ones (sometimes especially the bad ones). The two bad boys sauntered up to the passenger side of the car as I pulled in, and we talked through the window. Ricky had his ball cap on crooked and wore an open baseball jersey, the uniform of adolescent rebellion.

"So how's high school going?" I asked.
"We're not in school," Brandon said, smiling.
"We're doing home school now," Ricky said with a straight face. Home schooling? I had to laugh.
"Are you kidding me?" Both of them smiled just a bit, not wanting to completely admit that they weren't doing anything remotely related to school work.
"So, who's teaching you?" I asked.
"My mom," says Brandon.
They knew I didn't buy it, but I didn't say anything more. We said our good-byes, and they drove away in Brandon's beat up Taurus with the bass vibrating a loose muffler. Poor lost boys.

I remembered one parent/teacher conference. Brandon's mom had broken down in tears, pleading for advice on how to persuade her academically-challenged son that doing well in school was important. "He's a good boy," she said over and over.

And now this poor woman was home schooling them? I wonder how she's holding up. Their situation seems hopeless now. I hate it that they have chosen to separate themselves from the one place where they might learn something outside their usual realm - where they could associate with adults who cared about them and had some insight into the real world. The sad thing is, Ricky and Brandon were both reasonably bright, funny kids - especially Ricky. There were times when I knew that I "had them" during particular lessons. There was definitely some hope there - they just weren't in class often enough for anything to stick. When he came to school for a stretch, Ricky actually contributed to class and truly enjoyed doing a little math now and then. He even passed a couple of tests. I can remember how he eagerly shot his hand up when he had the answer to a math problem. Now it seems their education is a lost cause, but I'll keep you posted if there are any future Brandon and Ricky sightings in the 'hood.


Speaking of education, I met the new superintendent of schools the other day at an NEA meeting. He's an affable fellow, much more articulate than the last suit that flew into town to lead R-12 . . . and much funnier. All the principals like him, but I still haven't heard him say much other than "we must foster a culture of improvement", which seems pretty uninspired to me. Let's all agree to try to do better, okay?

This was his first meeting with Springfield NEA, and a couple of polite teachers lobbed softball questions. He was obliged to mention how awesome (a favorite adjective) the system was and how capable the staff was . . . but then somebody asked him what he thought about class size. Having just struggled through a year when my classes were jammed with 35-36 students every hour, I was interested in how he'd handle this one. It seems amazing to me that a big system like R-12 refuses to hire enough teachers to have optimum class sizes.

Dr. Ridder smiled and apologetically explained that he always gets a little "political" when talking about class size . . . He rubbed his hands together and said, "I've seen teachers do a terrific job with classes of forty and a poor job with classes of fifteen." And then he smiled and nodded as if to acknowledge that what he had just uttered was total bullshit. Exactly the kind of bobbing and weaving we've come to expect from administrative types. I was disappointed but not surprised. He has a nice personality at least. He's coming back in a few months, and I have already promised myself to ask him about the tax rollback. Should inspire a good soft-shoe.

One last thing while on the topic of home schooling and public education. Did you know that the world's largest and richest corporation, besides busting unions and offering low-wage, low-benefit jobs to the working poor, has been funneling all kinds of money to political action committees that are opposed to public education? Here are a few facts from an NEA article:

The Walton family dedicates the bulk of its philanthropy to pushing vouchers, tuition tax credits and charter schools, giving at least $250 million to such efforts over the past six years. (USA Today, 3/11/04)
Since 1998, the Walton Family Foundation has given more than $100 million to private organizations that finance vouchers to private schools, undermine support for public education, and are intended to increase political pressure for publicly funded vouchers. (
The late John Walton was the biggest paycheck in the anti-public education movement, providing tens of millions of dollars of his own money to support anti-public education ballot initiatives and organizations and sitting on the boards of the major pro-voucher organizations.

What can you do? My little family is boycotting Wal-Mart in favor of companies like Target and Staples, who generously support public schools across the country. In spite of all the problems in schools today, I sincerely believe that public education is the glue that holds our society together, as tenuous as that hold may be. For every Ricky and Brandon that drop out, there are also kids that are rescued from terrible situations and benefit greatly from their time in public schools.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Where's the Love?

The following is in response to Kevin Elmer's commentary in the News-Leader.

Kevin Elmer's one-sided and utterly simplistic commentary in Sunday's paper left me wondering when so-called "conservative Christians" will ever cut the rhetoric, take off the blinders and view the world around them.

Elmer builds a flimsy argument that Islamic radicals love death over life, while we in the U.S. prefer the inverse - and then neatly concludes that this Islamic fatalism is the big difference between them and us. They love death; we love life.

I would argue that many Americans, even devout Christians like Rev. Pat Robbertson, are quite selective about their love of life. It depends on whose life it is - or the stage of development. From conception to birth, we're all about the sanctity of life - but for babies being born into abject poverty, like many of those left behind in New Orleans, well, they're on their own. We build bigger and better prisons to house those kinds of people. They aren't really part of the economy. They are expendable. Nixon advisor Henry Kissinger called them "eaters".

Mr. Elmer also states that 9/11 was the event that "ensured that (Al Qaida) would grow beyond a small group into an inspired movement." He might recall that the entire civilized world condemned the 9/11 attacks and rallied to support the U.S. No, it was the misguided U.S. invasion of Iraq that most certainly boosted the rolls of Islamic fanaticism - virtually every Mideast leader cautioned the Bush Administration on this.

I do agree that the victims of the 9/11 attacks "were not soldiers armed to protect . . . they were innocent." But are the 25,000 Iraqi civilians who have died since the U.S. invasion of their country any less innocent? When asked about civilian casualties, an American general said, "We don't do body counts." Where's the love?

It's always great to hear somebody cheerleading about how the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world. USA! USA ! But right now, after the veneer has been stripped away in New Orleans and with the continuing death and destruction in Iraq, I don't think we're gaining many converts worldwide.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Used Syringes

Today was a first. I've lived in this neighborhood for 14 years, and although there are a few shady characters renting houses a few blocks east of here, it's always been a quiet neighborhood of dog-walkers and kids on bikes. Sure we have our share of teenagers in their baggy pants and slightly askew ball caps trying to look tough, but they're just kids. Right?

I was cleaning up some stuff in the yard today, picking up what people typically throw out of their cars - a couple of fast food cups, a plastic grocery bag. But the grocery bag had something in it. I opened it up and looked down on somebody's discarded meth kit . . . three syringes, one still had a few cc's left in it, and a couple of spoons.

After thinking about all the little kids that live next door and across the street, I decided to call the police. I didn't really think they could do much, but I figured it might confirm what they already suspected about a certain house - maybe a red flag that might get them patrolling the neighborhood more often. I guess that's a good thing. The nice lady on the phone told me SPD didn't send officers to pick up syringes anymore - too many calls, I suppose.

She told me to very carefully place the syringes and spoons in a milk carton or some closed container and throw it in the trash. (This caused me to think of Mayor Carlson's son, whose arrest we talked about a few months ago. One method of investigation the police used in that case was sifting through the suspect's trash. In fact, they did find seeds and stems that served as a basis for his arrest. Now, the nice police lady is telling me to go ahead and throw the syringes in my trash. I guess the police can tell you to throw drug paraphernalia away, and it's all okay. I think there might be a dusty old bong in the attic - might as well toss it in for good measure.)

But seriously, the discovery of this stuff laying in my yard was a little unsettling. I haven't told the neighbors yet. Children ages 11, 6, 5 and 2 live in homes surrounding the dumping spot. Imagine one of them pulling dirty syringes out of bag - gives me chills.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Drowning of New Orleans

The following snip is from Scientific American, October 2001:

New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen. The city lies below sea level, in a bowl bordered by levees that fend off Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west. And because of a damning confluence of factors, the city is sinking further, putting it at increasing flood risk after even minor storms. The low-lying Mississippi Delta, which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing. A year from now another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh--an area the size of Manhattan--will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes. Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes. Scientists at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), who have modeled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die. (end of snip)

While many thousands were evacuated, it makes you wonder . . . scientists have warned of this calamity for years, and yet the Army Corps of Engineers and federal officials did nothing to prepare for or avert a disaster of monumental proportions. Monster hurricane Andrew missed the Big Easy by a mere 100 miles in 1992, and in 1998 hurricane Georges was making a beeline for the city before veering just a few miles east at the last moment. Katrina veered a little at the end, as well, but the water surge following the storm broke two levees, and now we see the dreadful images that back up what scientists predicted years ago. (Now, about global warming . . . )

The human suffering going on down there is just unimaginable from our comfortable vantage point here in the Ozarks. These are the kinds of things that only happen in third world countries, right? The truth is, we've always had a hidden third world subsisting within our borders, and events like this only make that truth more evident. Have you seen the faces of the people trapped in the Superdome?

You can expect the rolls of the poor to continue to grow as the struggle to maintain a middle class becomes more and more difficult. The Louisiana coast supplies 1/5 of the nation's oil and 1/4 of its natural gas. We've already seen gas spike to $3 a gallon. Everybody feels this calamity, even here in Springfield.

And we were worried about terrorists.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Blogging from Iraq

So much of the news about the war in Iraq is filtered through corporate-owned media that have their own political connections to protect, it's hard to know if you're getting a "fair and balanced" account of what's really going on in this hellish endeavor. In today's America, that's just the way it is, as Walter Cronkite would say.

Michael Yon: Online Magazine is definitely worth a read if you'd like to get a truly unbiased glimpse of what daily life is like for the soldiers risking their lives doing the dirty work in Iraq - helping the Iraqis gain freedom from tyranny, or whatever the Bush administration rationale is this week.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Jesus Addressing a Republican Fund Raiser

Now that the Republicans have co-opted Christianity in this country, they have re-created Jesus in their own image. Here's a funny excerpt from an article in Slate Magazine entitled "The Parable of Jesus and the Rubber Chicken". This is our Lord and Savior addressing a Repubican fundraiser:

"In My youth, I made certain ill-advised statements that I now regret. If I offended anyone, I apologize. I want to clarify that it is easy for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. (CHEERS, WILD APPLAUSE)
"I'd like to apologize specifically to the money-changers. It is My sincere hope that you will come back into the Temple free of charge as My guests." (WILD APPLAUSE, CHANT OF "U.S.A! U.S.A!")
Finally—and this is Me speaking for Myself now—I want to say to the meek: Once we finally get rid of the death tax, you're not inheriting anything. Not while you're meek, so buck up. (CHEERS) And that goes double for you peacemakers. (LAUGHTER) Good night and Dad bless America. (CHEERS, WILD APPLAUSE)

The whole article can be found at:

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Springfield School Board Rolls Back, Rolls Over

I'm not even going to justify this little speil with a link to the Gnews-Leader or quotations from proud school board members. After finally selling a tax levy increase to the voters of Springfield - with a great deal of help from teachers seeking smaller class sizes, I might add - the Springfield School Board has elected to rollback the levy in order to save voters $27 a year on property taxes.

It's a gesture of good will, I guess, aimed at placating those in the community who don't support public education. Seems like an odd stance for a school board, if you ask me. But it also is a complete rollover onto an already burdened teaching staff, and stiffs the kids as well. The board's action further creates the impression that the initial levy campaign, with its threats of program curtailments, was over-stating the problems in our schools. The critics and naysayers were right, they tacitly acknowledge. What an ingratiating and inauspicious start for the new superintendent.

There is a big myth floating around Springfield. The myth is that the citizenry here care about improving education and investing in a good future for the children. The school board's caving on the levy in order to create better PR with the community is disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst.

Who will end up enduring even longer delays on basic improvements to the system? The students and teachers - the people in the classrooms trying to get it done. Are there any teachers out there celebrating this decision? Find one. I remember the leadership meeting I attended last summer. The day the tax levy passed there was a room full of 500 celebrants, cheering, even dancing. But that was an abberation. Nothing has changed.

Last year, this math teacher had 138 middle school math students divided into four classes. You do the math, and it adds up to 34.5 students per class - and this is in a core subject that students are tested over and over and over. The school is ultimately rated over these test scores and then publicly labeled as successful or failing.

If the school board had any inkling or inclination to significantly help the system perform better, they would put as much money as they possibly could into hiring more good teachers and shrinking class sizes. It's interesting that the R-12 school board feels compelled to raise the superintendant's salary "to be competitive" but gets all squeamish when it comes to using that same rationale when hiring teachers. Makes you wonder about priorities.

Am I the only one who thinks this school board is just slightly out of touch with reality? And I'd still like to hear the reasoning behind moving all the R-12 administrative employees to a separate pay scale from other professional staff (teachers). It almost seems like a "class" thing. Surely not. No wonder so many third-year PE teachers opt for getting that administrative certificate, thus utilizing their wealth of teaching experience as building principals. Next step . . . superintendent at Sparta or Ava or Bumfuck . . . who cares? It's great money!

By the way, did you know that the new superintendent's salary schedule was given a sweet $45,000 boost this year? Now it's up to $190,000 for yet another migrant administrator to fly in and utter the same tired platitudes about "ownership", "leadership" and "community". Hell, he just moved here, and he's leading cheers about the community already. Have you ever wondered why they don't promote from within Springfield? If this is such a great community, why is it we can't find any leadership from within? Is it some kind of civic inferiority complex, or what?

But let's get back to the pay scale. The R-12 superintendent's pay raise alone - let me say that again - the superintendent's raise alone, makes up more than 150% of a starting teacher's full salary in Springfield. Just his raise. You want to talk about rollbacks?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

More Precious Mutants

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Parasitic Brother"

Precious Mutants (from The Springfieldian #5)

My Little Antichrist
From the Book of Revelations, it's "My Little Antichrist," archnemesis of all humankind. Exclusive Mark of the Beast-style eyes say "666", but his arms say, "Hold me!" With flames of retribution pedestal. Hurry, available only until the Apocalypse for just $39.99.

In 1977, artist Sam Butcher received a divine inspiration: Create a line of collectible figurines aimed at the lucrative Christian market; have them manufactured by unwitting non-Christians in Asia; slap on enormous price tags; build a (Sistine-inspired) chapel/retail outlet in the Ozarks to promote the figurines; and become very, very rich.

Inspiration paid off. Today, the world-famous Precious Moments line of products generates half a billion dollars in sales yearly. Key to the popularity of the winsome moppets are their unusual stylized features. Each character is blessed an impossibly oversized cranium - and never has encephalitis been so appealing. The trademark teardrop eyes are equally malformed - yet magnetic, pulling at your heart - and purse strings. It's all held up by freakish swollen ankles. Elephantiasis.

Adorable, yes, but not enough for the notoriously voracious Precious Moments devotees. Snapping up the collections as fast as they could be made, insatiable fans demanded more - bigger heads; more pathetic eyes.

And so, we proudly announce the arrival of Precious Mutants: an exciting new series of figurines incorporating these fan-inspired changes . . . and more! We're sure you'll find them the most irresistible additions to your collection yet. With Precious Mutants, genetic innovations are taken to new heights - and now, with the announcement that a toxic waste facility has moved in next door to the Precious Moments Chapel, the possibilities for further mutations appear to be unlimited.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Downtown Saturday Night

Downtown Saturday night in Springfield, Missouri is not what it used to be. Music from a dozen different venues fills the air. There are misplaced teens everywhere, riding skateboards, beating on worn out guitars. A local prophet of god stands at a street corner, tonight with his son along, warning people about the wages of sin and sex.

The crowd at Ernie Biggs is singing very loudly and another smaller crowd hovers at the door, trying to figure if there's actually enough room to enter the place. They were singing Neil Diamond songs. It was awful. A woman with huge propped up breasts and cleavage about the size of my ass, raised her arms and danced up by the stage. The crowd was way more interesting than the music, believe me.

On the corner of Walnut and South, we ran into what has become a downtown fixture - our own placard prophet. There were two tonight, father and son. When we passed the first time, they stood alone. Most passers by politely ignore them, but when I came back with my camera, there was a crowd of revelers milling around the placards - asking questions, pointing fingers. The prophets usually have four double-sided placards to aim at passing cars and pedestrians. There was one message that really had a group of young halter-topped girls in a tizzy - something about lustful dressing.

The elder prophet calmly tried to explain - the younger one was obviously intimidated by these loud females, who were, by the way, lustfully attired by anyone's standard.
I told my friend, "They're probably rubbing themselves through their pockets right now." It was an awful thing to say. I apologize. Anyway, things got very volatile a little later, as I tried to maneuver to get a good shot of the younger prophet's sign.

"I'm going to take your picture. I hope you don't mind," I said.
"I'd rather you wouldn't," he said, turning away so I couldn't get the shot.
"Well, you're out here on a public street corner, are you too shy to get your picture taken?" I asked. He turned sideways, so the sign was not visible to me. I walked around him. He turned. It was like a weird magnetic effect I had on this guy. We danced like that for a couple of rotations before I gave up and we crossed the street.

One sign, held by the elder man, warned that marrying after divorce was adultery, which I took to mean that you might as well live in sin and save the paper work. Another sign, held by the younger, caused a little ruckus. It read: "True Christians Do Not Go To War". (He's holding this sign in the picture above.) As we reached the other side of Walnut Street, a couple of young men, maybe a little drunk, accosted the two sign holders.

"What do you mean true Christians don't go to war," one of the men shouted, obviously a good Christian patriot. "My brother is over there fighting for your freedom, you fucking coward." He stopped and menacingly pointed a finger, while his friend tried to lure him away. "You don't know a goddamn thing about war, you fucking pussy."

And just like that, the elder prophet interrupted his proselytizing, and screamed back at the man. "YOU DO NOT TAKE THE LORD'S NAME IN VAIN!" (He didn't react at all as his son was being publicly berated as a coward and, worse, a pussy. Does this imply tacit agreement?)

At exactly this time, the police came roaring in. Two cars, and officers quickly calmed the drunk Christian patriot guy, as he earnestly tried to explain and justify his outburst. "My brother's over there," he said.
Things calmed down from that point, but it seemed like the younger prophet apprentice was a bit shaken. He might put the war sign away for a while and stick to safer topics - sex, lust, divorce and adultery. The standards.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Novak a Little Testy (or little testes?)

Conservative columnist Robert Novak must be feeling the heat of the CIA leak investigation. The normally cool and urbane man-about-Washington stormed off the set of CNN's "Inside Politics" on Friday after what seemed like a mild ribbing from Democratic consultant James Carville.

Novak sat next to Carville while host Ed Henry was asking them about the Florida senate primary coming up. Former Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, is one of the Republican candidates, and Carville was saying how this would be a great boon to late night comedy shows like Jay Leno. Harris, among other things, has recently asserted that the media purposely doctored photos to alter her makeup, which set Carville off. Novak, predictably, spoke in support of Harris's makeup claim and was commenting on her chances of winning the primary when Carville interrupted.

"I'll tell you this, you know, you've got to show these right-wingers that you've got backbone. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching. Show them you're tough." To which, Novak turned to Carville and said,
"I think that's bullshit, and I hate that." He then stood up, unhooked his mic and walked off the set while Henry and Carville continued talking without a hitch. (video clip)

Novak had already been informed by host Ed Henry that he would be asked about the CIA leak investigation, but the topic never came up. Did Novak purposely walk off to escape further questioning on the matter? We'll never know, but his little tantrum got him suspended by CNN. "Bob Novak's behavior today was inexcusable and unacceptable," a spokesperson for CNN said on Friday. "We've asked Mr. Novak to take some time off."

As far as air time goes, Novak may have finally shot himself in the foot. He was formerly a regular on Crossfire and The Capital Gang, but both shows have been cancelled. His next big media appearance, however, may be on all the networks, as the CIA leak investigation comes to an end. Novak, who started the whole thing, has been less than forthcoming on the subject to fellow reporters. But it now seems very possible that some indictments will be coming down - and the smug little bastard probably knows he'll be in the vortex when the shit finally hits the fan.

Here's a little background and commentary from a previous Ozarks Angel.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Psychogenically Fugued Up

Here's part of Carpenter's long-distance phone conversation with Detective Hamilton on Christmas Eve :

TC: How did you get this number?
SPD: Tim, we need to talk to you.
TC: How did you find me?
SPD: We spoke with Melisa.

At this point, Hamilton noted a crack in Carpenter's voice (farewell sweet Melisa), and he paused for several seconds.

TC: Oh.
SPD: Tim, where have you been?
SPD: Tim, are you okay?
TC: I, uh . . . I, uh, don't remember.
SPD: You don't remember?
TC: No.

One needn't ask Tim Carpenter for his definition of hell. It began when he finally opened his apartment door to allow wife Carol and pastor Lindell into his secret refuge. According to Lindell, he "cowered like a wounded dog" and refused to recognize anyone. And then there was that long, dark drive back home to Springfield from Memphis during the wee hours of Christmas morning. Could that have been anything but hell on earth?

When Carpenter found out he was being taken to Cox North, he became very upset. He became downright angry when he found out Pastor Lindell had already completed the necessary forms to have him admitted for mental evaluation, but at this point, he really didn't have much say in the matter. "We don't think Tim is in a situation where he is capable of making rational decisions," Lindell said.

Police were eager to interview Carpenter, but they had not been notified of his arrival. Nurses at Cox North were even told not to tell SPD that Carpenter had been admitted. A clever detective found out his location only by leaning over the nurses' station desk and viewing the computer monitor while the nurse was away asking superiors what to do.

On Christmas Day, Lindell issued a news release to the public that stayed with the line about the head injury and lost memory. Here's an excerpt:

"Thankfully, Tim has been found in Memphis, Tennessee. Unfortunately, Tim is not well. He has suffered a head injury apparently from one or more blows to the head. He has lost his memory, and he is disoriented. He does not know his wife, his children or his friends, including me . . .
There are so many unanswered questions concerning Tim's current condition, the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, and what has occurred since he's been gone. Tim is totally disoriented."

Lindell suggested that Carpenter may have to go out of state for treatment and then added:

"Those of us who have gone to Memphis to bring Tim home would be willing to hold a news conference to share the information that we have gathered, our personal observations, and to field questions . . . Requests for further information or a news conference should be faxed to . . . "

Springfield Police were notified by Carpenter's attorney, Larry Bratvold, that same morning. Bratvold asked that no interviews with Carpenter should occur except in his presence. But when police asked on several occasions for an interview, Bratvold repeatedly contended that Carpenter's doctors advised against any "police interrogation".

Exactly who Tim's doctors were was a mystery. There was some mention of a psychiatrist from Bolivar, but no doctor contributed anything publicly regarding Carpenter's mental condition. Lindell later notified the media that Carpenter had been diagnosed with Psychogenic Fugue, a dissociative disorder in which a person forgets who they are and leaves home to create a new life. During the fugue, there is no memory of the former life. After recovery, there is no memory for events during the dissociative state.

This almost sounds like the perfect description of Carpenter's behavior except for the fact that the "fugue" state didn't seem to begin until he realized, while talking on the phone to a Springfield detective, that his little relocation caper had come to an abrupt end. Our best guess is that he continued the ruse of failed memory to avoid talking during his second "abduction" back to Springfield.

Police never did get to question Tim Carpenter, and the story died a merciful death in the media. By the first week of January, he had been checked out of the hospital and, once again, his whereabouts were unknown. It's interesting that during questioning by police after Carpenter's hospital release, Rev. Lindell admitted that his tormented associate pastor had repeatedly asked to be allowed to contact Springfield police and submit to an interview and tell police the real story. One could assume that Lindell, who had invested a good amount of air time rallying media and prayer groups, didn't want the truth told so quickly. Carpenter also told Lindell that he had planned to contact his wife and explain the situation but had decided to wait a few days.

So where are they now? The last we heard, Tim Carpenter was living in Tulsa and working for a home security company. He laid out a $10,000 check to local authorities for his official transgression, filing a false police report. The Carpenters never worked it out and were divorced a couple of years after the incident. Oklahoma authorities tried to serve the divorce papers to Carpenter at home, but there was no such address in Tulsa. They finally located him at work.

Pastor Lindell is still working God's agenda down highway 65 at James River Assembly. Our attempt for an interview a few years ago ended abruptly, though it did reveal Lindell's off-the-record grasp of what truly happened. "What he did was reprehensible," Lindell said over the phone. And then he uttered the ultimate Christian blow-off, "We're praying for him." Click.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Self-Abduction of Tim Carpenter

It was right before Christmas back in 1998. If I remember correctly, the word character was being tossed around a lot by folks here in God's country. President Clinton was being skewered by a GOP-led special prosecutor about cum stains on a woman's dress, and Osama Bin Laden was establishing a nice foothold in Afghanistan. Locally, the George Revelle murder trial was going on, and police were working to find out who shot a local man five times and dumped his body in the downtown quarry.

That was the backdrop for a strange case of abduction on Springfield's south side. Tim Carpenter, associate pastor at James River Assembly, loving husband and father of two teenage girls, had come up missing. The founder of Christian Publishers Outlet and owner of Heir Press had failed to return home after a late night visit his Heir Press offices on south Campbell.

Police were sent to Heir Press the next morning only to find mysterious blood smatterings, a tan left shoe that belonged to Carpenter on the sidewalk and stacked up office equipment. Nothing was stolen. Carpenter's Geo Tracker was nowhere to be seen, and there were no witnesses.

Despite a groundswell of prayer groups, billboards, posters, aerial searches and news releases emanating from James River Assembly, police detectives stubbornly insisted that there was no evidence pointing to an abduction. This did not dissuade James River Assembly pastor, Rev. John Lindell, from quickly establishing himself as the point man for local media for the Carpenter story. From his Sunday pulpit, Lindell asked for a "miracle from God" while Carol Carpenter pointed out that Tim "would be really embarrassed. He doesn't like attention," adding that "whatever happens, Tim is glorifying God." In a sense, she was right.

What nobody knew at the time was that ole' TC was glorifying God with a cute little nurse living on the outskirts of Memphis, Tennessee. Carpenter didn't meet Melisa at church or at a Christian publishing convention. They first met during the previous summer at a local cowboy bar called "Diamonds & Denim", when Tim approached her at the bar. She told police he had been very polite at first, explaining that he was newly divorced and trying to start his life anew. Later in their visit, Tim apparently started making Melisa feel a little uncomfortable and finally suggested something inappropriate. Shocked, Melisa grabbed her stuff and stormed out of the bar with Carpenter in tow, apologizing profusely. Undaunted, Carpenter kept after her with calls and visits, and a few weeks later was sending flowers, love notes and lingerie from Victoria's Secret.

Meanwhile, the Carpenter investigation seemed stalled. Local police had virtually nothing to say to local media, but they were making progress behind the scenes. It wasn't until police turned up a bill in Carpenter's mail, a pager service, that they discovered a frequent caller from the Memphis area. Detectives contacted Melisa soon after and told her the bad news. She was, of course, devasted but was more than happy to give police Tim's new cell number. The Christmas Eve long distance call from Detective Hamilton was one of the first Carpenter would receive on his new cell phone. He was at his apartment.

"How did you find me?" were the first words a shaken Carpenter uttered to police. Hamilton told TC that he'd caused a lot of worry back home and that his wife and family were anxious to see him. Tim seemed stunned. At this point, Hamilton inexplicably asked him if he had hit his head, and Carpenter said yes. The call ended, and Hamilton had the Memphis police send a detective to the apartment, but Carpenter refused to answer the door. He was busy. First, he had to hide all his ID (but for some reason, was unable to part with his Social Security card). He then proceeded to, justifiably enough, beat the hell out of himself. Something along the lines of Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar - only Carrey played a man who was cursed with the inability to lie.

Police contacted Carol Carpenter to tell her the news, and within a few hours Mrs. Carpenter, pastor Lindell and a couple of the family's James River friends flew in a private plane straightway to Memphis where the Lord, with a little help from the UPS man, helped Lindell and company find Carpenter's apartment. After hours of negotiating, they coaxed him into his own car, drove him back to Springfield late Christmas Eve and, on the quiet, admitted Carpenter into Cox North Hospital downtown.

This is where the story gets really interesting, particularly the role pastor Lindell played as self-appointed press secretary/spin doctor for the Carpenter family during their time of need.

More on this later . . .

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Return of The Springfieldian

Back in 1992, a little underground newspaper called The Springfieldian started circulating around town. It had a small but loyal following that included some elected officials, city employees, media folks and interested ne'r-do-wells about town.

The Springfieldian was published somewhat irregularly for a few years before stopping with the infamous "Hammons Attacks" issue #9. A tenth issue was almost finished but never came to fruition.

Ozarks Angel has managed to come up with the entire collection of old Springfieldians and will publish some of our favorite pieces in upcoming weeks. The cartoons were some of the best ever published in this town. These cartoons are from issue #4.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Just Pretend It's All Okay

Just pretend the world is safer since this grand incursion. Just pretend this will all end soon. Just pretend 23,000 Iraqi civilians aren't dead. Just pretend this war hasn't aided the cause of Islamic fanaticism worldwide. Go buy a fucking ribbon. Maybe that'll help.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Frakes, Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks & Gin

It's Saturday morning - 10:49 - and I'm already feeling ready for a big gin and tonic, extra lime, please. It's going to be another hot one today. Yesterday was 102 they say. Dog days. Days that are so hot, a person could come down with a bad case of the frakes.

It was in Donald Harington's wonderful novel "Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks" where I first heard about the frakes. It's been years since I read the book, but I do recall that frakes almost always strike during the hottest days of summer. And they can strike a grown man down where he sits, rendering him nearly motionless for hours at a time. Some kind of nervous system shut down, I'm guessing. I've found gin and tonics helpful.

Back to the book. Architecture covers the growth of human habitation of the Ozarks region from the very first Indian dwellings to, well, rusted out mobile homes. The setting is near the town of Stay More, Arkansas.

Here's a snippet from the book. In this exchange, Fanshaw, a native Indian whose people have lived in the area for generations, meets up with settler Jacob Ingledew (an occasional victim of the frakes). I can't recall how Fanshaw came to speak perfect English, but it adds to the colorful dialogue.

From Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, The Toby Press

"It don't matter to me whether the earth is round or flat," Jacob said to Fanshaw one evening in the late winter. "I aint gonna git to the other side nohow."

"Where are you going to get to, old chap?"

"Huh? I've done got there."

"The time has come, now, when we must at last cultivate a topic of discussion which, hitherto, we have avoided: why did you come here and build upon this land?"

"Hit was gittin jist too durn crowded back in Tennessee," Jacob said. "I purt nigh couldn't lift my elbow 'thout hittin somebody and the preachers was so thick a feller couldn't say 'heck' without gittin a sermon fer it."

"But you have never even asked for permission to build here. Stay More is the land of my grandfathers."

" 'Stay More'?"

Fanshaw chuckled. "Yo. That is what I have come to call it."

Jacob Ingledew repeated the name a couple of times, and him-self chuckled. "I reckon that'll do as well as ary other name."

"But you cannot," Fanshaw said.

"Cannot what?"

"Stay more."

"Says who?" Jacob demanded. "You fixin to try to run me off?"

"My grandfathers are buried here."

"My grandchildren will be buried here."

"Ho. Where is their grandmother?"

"I'll find one, by and by."


Then Fanshaw told him the story of the origin of his people. Once upon a time a snail was washed far down the river by floods. He was a good snail but he was alone. Wahkontah, in appreciation of his goodness and in pity for his loneliness, caused the snail to sleep for a long, long time. During the sleep, the snail's entire body was changed. When he awoke he started back into his shell, but it was far too small. Then he looked at himself, and, seeing that he had long legs, he stood up and walked about. As he walked he kept growing. Hair grew on his head, and from his shoulders long, powerful arms grew.

This new creature remembered his former home, and walked far back up the river to the home of the snails, but he could not live with them, and he went in search of some place he could call home. When he grew hungry, Wahkontah gave him a bow and arrow and taught him how to get food. Day by day he went out in search of a home. At last the man, for such he had become, came to the hut of a beaver. The old beaver came out, and said, "Who are you and what do you want?" The man told his story and said he was seeking a home.

The young man and the beaver were about to fight, when the beaver's daughter came out and said she would teach the man to build a house, so that he would not have to trespass on others. To this arrangement the old beaver finally agreed. So the beaver's daughter and the young man went away together, and she taught him how to build a house of bent bois d'arc poles and to thatch it. Because of her kindness, Wahkontah changed the beaver's daughter into a maiden, and she became the squaw wife of the man. These two were the first of the people, and that is why they wear the beaver skin ornament.

"What is the origin of your people?" Fanshaw then asked him. Jacob, although an ungodly man, knew the story of Adam and Eve. He told this to Fanshaw, who listened attentively. When he had finished, Fanshaw said, "I now propose the topic for our next debate: Which is greater, the story of the snail and the beaver or the story of Adam and Eve?"

The two men debated this topic at length. Fanshaw pointed out that while there is a distinct reference to the paraboloid house of the man and woman who were snail and beaver, there is no reference to any sort of house for Adam and Eve, neither before nor after their Fall. What did they live in? Jacob went and fetched his brother Noah's Bible, and read second and third Genesis, but couldn't find any mention of a house, so he had to concede that point to Fanshaw.
His own chief point was that God created Adam in his own image, whereas snails are pretty slow and slimy, and beavers are fat and bucktoothed. They argued that point back and forth until Fanshaw conceded.

So went their debate, and both men realized that what they were actually debating was the beginning of their Great Debate: Who has the right to Stay More, the Indian or the white man? although they did not ever say so in other than metaphorical terms. When it came the usual time for Fanshaw to go back to his lady, and Jacob uttered his ritual "Stay more," Fanshaw replied, "Thank you, I believe I shall," and he stayed a long time.

Emergencies, Evangelicals & Saluting the Troops

A child was kidnapped in St. Charles, Missouri last week. St. Charles is 200 miles away, but my phone went off like a damn fire alarm. S...