Friday, December 15, 2017

Some thoughts about Roy Moore's riding style

By Tom Walker
I don't have much to say about Doug Jones' stunning upset of Roy Moore in the Alabama’s race for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. There's a lot to say about the Democrat’s defeat of the Republican in the solid-red state, of course, but other people are saying it much better than I can.  
Certainly, Moore’s judicial record and beliefs, and the allegations that he pursued sexual relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, should have disqualified him in most places where people were voting.
But there’s one thing I can add to that: Roy Moore doesn't know how to ride a horse.
He showed up at his polling place on Tuesday riding a pretty little painted pony named Sassy. That was a dramatic entrance, to be sure. But what I noticed was the way he was riding, holding the loose reins in both hands. I grew up on a real cattle ranch, and I know that's not the way the cowboys I knew handled the reins on their horses.
Moore was using a “plough” form of reining usually seen in English style riding. But he was decked out like someone on a cattle drive, with a black hat and jacket, and he was sitting like a sack of potatoes on a western style saddle. He was a mixed message on horseback.
The cowboys I grew up with rode western style, with the reins held in one hand. “Rommel” reins are attached at the ends. “Gaming” or “rodeo” reins are shorter than rommel or split reins and are one piece, from one side of the bridle’s bit to the other. The reins are shorter so there’s less chance of hands or legs getting tangled in the reins. Gaming reins are the ones we used.
Traditionally, western-style reins are held in the left hand, because that leaves the cowboy’s dominant hand (usually the right) free to rope, shoot rattlesnakes, or fetch a bite of jerky out of a chaps pocket.
But doing stuff like jerking the reins from one side to the other the way Moore was doing makes your horse act the way his ride was doing -- like it's going crazy. I'm sure Moore wanted to make us believe he was controlling a half-wild mount, but what it really told me was he was a perfect example of a dude: "all hat and no cattle."
I just wish sweet little Sassy had bucked him off the way Alabama voters did that day.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Something else that belongs in a museum

Wire Report, via the Arizona Daily Star

London fatberg to go on museum display

LONDON – Part of a monster fatberg that clogged one of London’s sewers is destined for fame in a museum. The Museum of London says it will put the only remaining chunk of the 143-ton mass of oil, fat, diapers and baby wipes on display early next year.
In a related story -- in the sense that Andy Borowitz satires
are related to the news -- Washington, D.C. gastroenterologists reported that they had cleared a massive fatberg that was clogging the intestines of a 71-year-old unnamed patient.
The intestinal blockage, a mass of some 25 pounds, was caused by the patient’s steady diet of Wendy’s double cheeseburgers, McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish and Big Macs, topped off by a dessert of Oreos and washed down with Diet Cokes.
“You down a day’s worth of calories in a single meal, and you’re liable to end up with a monster fatberg in your guts,” said Dr. Colin Entwistle, one of the physicians who performed the procedure. Asked if he had perhaps seen the story about the “monster fatberg” in London, Entwistle said, “No, that’s just a common term used by gastroenterologists.”
The patient, he said, is doing well now. “He’s back home now, and I just got a tweet from him saying he might celebrate his recovery with a couple Big Macs and Diet Cokes.”
“He’s cutting back now," the doctor said.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

It's Just A Touch Of The Epazootee

Raising a child is frequently a heart stopping endeavor. Lacking a sufficiently developed prefrontal cortex the child or adolescent, risking life and limb, rushes headlong into all sorts of dangerous situations. Come on! We’ve all done things that quickly aged those charged with our safety and well being. I suspect my mother’s heart frequently stopped as my brother and I played our own game of ‘chicken’ by determining which one could move closest to the spinning blades of the windmill without getting beheaded. Since to this day both of us appear to have our heads on our shoulders clearly we were either losers or winners in our game of ‘chicken’. Her heart doubtless also stopped when we jumped off the roof of the house to see who would not break a leg or when we fell off of ladders or when scorpions stung us or when we ran from rattlesnakes or when we threw rocks into abandoned mine shafts or even when we were just plain old sick. These would be terrifying experiences for any parent. For our mother, though, these experiences doubtless became even more terrifying because of where we lived. Alice Bernice (Bunny) Latham Walker fell in love with and married a cowboy. In their ranching years they never lived in a town. They never lived near a doctor or a hospital. The first ranch of my youth was a mere forty-five minute drive from the little town of Wickenburg provided Calamity Creek wasn’t running or the Hassayampa River hadn’t flooded. If either of those events occurred the doctor or the hospital or even a place to buy gauze or mercurochrome became impossibilities. The second ranch of my childhood and adolescence was even more remote. To get to that ranch we had to first get to Globe, then a town of about ten thousand people where there were doctors and hospitals and telephones and electricity. Globe had all sorts of stuff. Then from Globe we drove about three and a half hours if the weather was good on a mostly dirt road to get to a little town of two hundred called Young or Pleasant Valley. If the weather was bad the drive could take a lot longer. Young had a post office, two grocery stores, two places to buy gas, two bars, and one school with four classrooms. What Young did not have was a doctor. It also did not have community electricity or telephones. And finally to get to our ranch house we then drove about an hour and a half more on a rutted dirt road. An hour and a half if the weather was good and millions of sheep were not being driven along the mile wide path from northern Arizona to Southern Arizona. I can’t imagine raising children in such isolation. I would have been terrified most of the time. I suspect my mother may have also been terrified most of the time. However, she understood that her job was to not inflict her fear on her children. So it was that when my brother and I were sick or injured our mother would calmly inform us that what we had was “Just a touch of the epazootee.” Our ailment had a name and therefore couldn’t possibly have been as bad as we imagined. Our fears calmed. The epazootee was completely manageable. It not only had a name it had a cure. Its cure was generally to get rest, to drink plenty of water, and to, of course, eat some made at home soup or maybe even a baked at home cookie. I raised my daughter in the comfort of the epazootee of which she sometimes had a touch. Even when I felt terrified for her safety my job was to soothe her. “It’s okay. You just have a touch of the epazootee.” I notice that now her two children also sometimes have touches of the epazootee. It is the responsibility of a parent or of anyone charged with the well being of others to not provoke fear but to, instead, instill calm and courage and hope. My mother understood and accepted that responsibility. I understand and accept that responsibility. My daughter understands and accepts that responsibility. It unfortunately appears that our current national leadership is either unaware of or rejects its responsibility to not fill us with fear and dread. We have become, it appears, a suspicious and angry and fearful people currently suffering from a touch of the epazootee. With leadership apparently determined to instill fear in us all, let us then become the comfort and the inspiration for each other. May we all understand and assume that responsibility.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Where have you gone, John McCain?

With your drums and guns and guns and drums
The enemy nearly slew ye;
Oh darling dear, ye look so queer,
Johnny I hardly knew ye
                      -- The Irish Rovers

By Tom Walker

Indeed, we hardly knew him – this John McCain who with his “thumbs down” destroyed an attempt by his fellow-Senate Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. That dramatic vote took place in September 2017.
But late Friday night, another John McCain showed up when it came time to cast his vote on the Senate bill that would slash taxes on corporations and billionaires, while crushing many poorer Americans with the largest tax increase in history.
Johnny, what happened? What made you decide to join this $1.5 trillion theft of the U.S. treasury?
In his September “no” vote on the Obamacare Repeal, McCain said bills like that should be worked out through the “regular order” – including committee hearings, bipartisan participation, and plenty of the sausage-making worthy of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.
On Thursday, McCain claimed that the Senate had done just that in its massive tax cut measure. Well, if producing a nearly 500-page mess of  half-cooked pork, scratch-outs and scribbles is the “regular order,” the Senate proved to be Top Chef.
For his part, McCain was satisfied. There were no regular committee hearings, or attempts to include Democrats in the process. Nevertheless, he explained, “I have called for a return to regular order, and I am pleased that this important bill was considered through the normal legislative processes, with several hearings and a thorough mark-up in the Senate Finance Committee during which more than 350 amendments were filed and 69 received a vote.”
Big whoop, says Jon Schwarz in The Intercept. “For anyone who understands Senate procedure, this is meaningless.”
Schwarz quotes someone who does understand that procedure, Adam Jentleson, who was chief of staff for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
“Citing filed amendments is deeply cynical and shows that he doesn’t really care about regular order,” Jentleson said. “He just used it because it’s a big number and he thinks no one will call him on it…. It could be a million amendments filed but that doesn’t mean any of them received real consideration.”
But why did McCain change from the “maverick” who killed the Obamacare repeal to the meek follower who joined 50 other Republicans in passing a bill that also will leave 13 million Americans without health insurance, will scrap the college student loan write-off, and will do away with many personal deductions.
Some other deductions, such as the one for large medical expenses (important to me) are up in the air, since  the Senate version keeps them but the House doesn’t, which must be worked out in conference committee. The bill is still a long way from becoming a law with Trump’s signature, but I’m sure he’s twitching with excitement, thinking about what the tax “reform” will mean to him and his heirs.
And most likely, that’s what brought about McCain’s conversion. In September, voting against the health care repeal, he was the statesman McCain. Last night, voting for the huge tax cut, he was a man with brain cancer, voting for his heirs.
As Tim Steller wrote in his Arizona Daily Star column, “we should not be surprised that McCain violated the principal that he established only two months ago when it came to this help-the-rich bill. That’s because McCain is rich and so are his important campaign donors.”
His wife, Cindy McCain, has a fortune estimated at $100 million through her ownership of liquor distributor Hensley Beverage. The Senate bill’s cut in alcohol taxes would help her out. The bill also would help comfort McCain’s children after he dies, letting them inherit $22 million tax free, compared with an $11 million exemption under the current law. Of course, they’d do even better under the House version, which eliminates the estate tax (or “death tax” as House members call it) completely.
As for Jeff Flake, the other Republican Senator from my state, I don’t know what to make of him. He seems to have secured some kind of agreement from GOP leaders to support amnesty for immigrants brought without authorization to the United States as children (also known as Dreamers.) However, It’s hard to imagine what the House will do with it.
Flake isn’t seeking reelection, and this all seems like a Hail Mary attempt. I hope he succeeds, but I’m not counting on a score.
If I were our tweeting president, I’d say it all sounds a bit “flakey” – his nickname for Flake. But thankfully, I’m not like that. I’m just waiting in fear for the final version of the tax bill that makes it to the Oval Office.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Who's that tapping at your window?

By Tom Walker 

In our neighborhood we have heard many strange sounds over the years – profanity laden monologues, leaf blowers running full tilt at midnight, moon-howling wackoids of various kinds. But one of the strangest sounds is one that started a few days ago: a quiet tapping at our living room windows as though someone were politely asking to come in.
What on earth could it be? A lizard begging to come in from an unseasonably warm November day? Another of our frequent packrat visitors who’d forgotten his usual way of sneaking into our house? No answers out there – just the persistent tap, tap, tap at our living room windows.
Finally, peeking through the window drapes, I caught a glimpse of the culprit. A bird, hopping about on the window sill, pecking at the triple-pane glass. I have no idea what kind; just a small grey character with a perky black tail. And a fascination with our living room windows, which are in themselves completely lacking in fascination as far as I can tell.
But not to this bird. A picture of misguided determination, he would look this way and that with quick motions like some real-bird version of Jeff Sessions, then take a quick peck at the window. At first, I thought he might be hunting for bugs on the windows. But of course, that was ridiculous; there are no bugs on our windows
Then it came to me. He was pecking at his reflection. Our west-facing living room windows have a mirror tinting to protect us from the hot Arizona afternoon sun. The windows aren’t big picture-window things, just standard 36- by 48-inch sizes. But apparently, they were anything but standard to our bird friend. They were the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen.
Because of the tinting, I was able to watch the bird in secret, as through a two-way mirror. It was fun, seeing him hop from one leg to another, tail and wings twitching in excitement, as he contemplated the creature before him. He studies it with first one beady eye and then the other, and then he tops it off with a peck as if to say “Gotcha!”
“Gotcha, Little Rocket Man! Gotcha, Little Marco! Gotcha, Crooked Hillary!”
You may have noticed that our bird in the window has suddenly morphed into someone resembling a president we know. In fact, I’ve given the bird a name: “Little Donnie.”
Little Donnie has had a rousing good time lately with a barrage of insults, tweets and off-the-wall comments. Earlier this week he used a racial slur to entertain some Native American war heroes – Navajo Code Talkers. It seemed like a perfect time for Little Donnie to bring up his own code for Sen. Elizabeth Warren – or Pocahontas, as he likes to call her.
And then Little Donnie kept pecking away, retweeting graphic (and completely debunked) anti-Muslim videos by an extreme far right British hate group. This caused outrage and fears of violent reprisals against Americans overseas, and a rebuke from British Prime Minister Theresa May. Too bad, Little Donnie; you probably won’t be pecking at the windows of Parliament anytime soon.
Now he’s suggesting that an “Access Hollywood” video where he boasted about sexually assaulting women – something he apologized for last year – was doctored.
Of course, we’re onto his game now. Little Donnie is pecking away, trying to distract us from the HUGE thing he has going on: a Senate tax cut bill that will steal from the poor and give to the rich on a scale unmatched in U.S. history. If this monster passes later this week, Little Donnie’s Republican Party will steal itemized deductions such as medical expenses, mortgage interests and property taxes from middle-income Americans. There are also losses in personal exemptions for parents and children, college students, and just about anybody else with pockets worth picking.
They’ll also leave an estimated 13 million Americans without health insurance coverage because of cuts to Obamacare, and they'll take a big chunk out of Medicaid.
Meanwhile, Little Donnie and his GOP chums are holding out a tasty carrot to the middle class – a doubling of the standard income tax exemption to $12,000 for single persons, and to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.  But there’s a time limit on those gifts. See, they run out after ten years, unless some other Congress votes to renew them.
According to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, many families making less than $30,000 a year would face tax increases starting in 2021 under the Senate bill. And by 2027, families earning less than $75,000 would see their tax bills rise.
At the same time, the ultra-wealthy – especially those with dynastic businesses like Little Donnie and his family – will do very well under the bill. Slashing the inheritance tax, cutting corporate taxes and eliminating the alternative minimum tax are all major windfalls for the wealthy. And most of all to big-ticket GOP donors who’ve been waiting for years for their payback.
There's no time limit on those gifts to the wealthy -- they just keep giving and giving.
“‘This is it! This is it!” Little Donnie sings as he pecks away at the windows of our democracy. He isn't pecking at his reflection; he's pecking at us.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Meet Mama Walker

Cassandra Theora Farmer Walker was no stranger to sorrow. Her father, Ira Alexander Farmer, was ambushed and killed when Cassandra was the approximate age of five years. Back in the waning years of the nineteenth century and especially in the baby state of Texas, vigilante justice often superseded the more appropriate and official law and order norms. A make shift posse quickly caught Ira’s killer and, hopefully with the best of intentions, brought him back to Cassandra’s front yard where a large oak tree grew. The posse hung the alleged killer from that tree and young Cassandra Theora Farmer watched him die. While it is not known if Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lewis Farmer, witnessed the hanging, she nevertheless died the next year when Cassandra was age six years. When she was eighteen years old, Cassandra married Thomas Randolph Walker and gave birth to two sons and a daughter. When he was forty-five years old, Thomas Randolph Walker died. For the next forty-three years my great grandmother, Mama Walker, wore only black. Mirroring his grandmother’s loss, my father’s mother died when he was six years old. Mama Walker made the arduous trip from Texas to Arizona to help her son care for his five motherless children all under the age of nine years. My father remembers Mama Walker as a stern, unsmiling person who never gave him enough to eat. Indeed, my father felt hungry for the rest of his life. I blamed Mama Walker for his hunger until I finally broached the subject with Mama Walker’s namesake, my Aunt Cassie. Cassie looked at me with alarm and disbelief. “Mama Walker was a wonderful woman,” remembered Cassie. “She sang and laughed with us all the time. And she was a wonderful cook. We always had plenty to eat.”
Family stories are essential and must be told. Without their telling we are left with mysteries of who we are and from where we came. Without the stories our understandings of how and why remain limited. However, when we hear our stories we are given keys to greater understanding. For example, my father’s life long hunger resulted not from an unfeeling, uncaring grandmother but from the death of his own mother. Perhaps Mama Walker shared a similar hunger which might also explain why she cooked and fed and sang and comforted. She also knew the hunger of young loss.
On the cattle ranch of my youth winter darkness often came early. Watching television wasn’t possible. Neither was any other type of electronic screen viewing. After the evening card games ended and after Daddy tired of playing his harmonica the family stories began. Because of them I know who I am. I know all about the braveries, the passions, and all too often the unthinking stupidities of those who came before me. I stand on their shoulders and learn from them.

I grew up hearing family stories. Now I tell my own. You have stories also. Now is the time to tell them.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

How I learned to Bear Down with the best of them

Arizona mascot, Wilbur Wildcat
By Tom Walker
For much too long, I have been bedeviled by a secret. Now, I just have to come clean.
Although we live in the city of Tucson, home of the (Bear Down) University of Arizona Wildcats, my wife Linda and I are graduates of that hated school 100 miles to the north in Tempe, Arizona State University.
In our defense, we’ve called Tucson home more than forty years, far longer than the time it took to get our ASU degrees and get out of that place. We’ve seldom been back since then, and I’m certain I’d be as lost now as I was all those years ago when I first wandered down its citrus-smelling streets.
I grew up in Wickenburg, so ASU was my school of choice, much closer than that other university hiding way down in the southern part of the state. Linda was from faraway North Carolina, but her mother and step-father lived in Mesa; so ASU was the only sensible option.
Those are our excuses, feeble as they might be.
I went to a few ASU football games, back in the days when Frank Kush was beating up on the hapless UA Wildcats regularly. But I never was much of a fan. There were far more interesting things at ASU than big guys with Sparky on their helmets. Girls, for one thing. Girls, for another.
Anyway, Linda and I got married during our senior year, and soon after that, we left ASU for good. After a time in the U.S. Air Force, we landed in Tucson  and have been there ever since. Our children went to school there and Linda and I both spent our careers in Tucson.
We are Tucsonans, through and through. I’m a big fan of the UA basketball team, and I grieve every time the Wildcats flame out all too soon in March Madness. I still own an official National Championship jersey from 1997, and I think Coach Sean Miller is destined to guide his team to another one soon.
And yet, there’s that nagging little thing that surfaces anytime we mention where we went to college. “Oh, well – we went to that other school. You know, the one up the road a piece?”
I want to take this occasion once and for all to divorce myself from any loyalty that I might still have to the Sun Devils. Friday’s football game, which ASU won 42-30, did it for me. There were no dirty plays, no bad calls that changed the game, just bad luck. Khalil Tate, the Wildcats’ brilliant sophomore quarterback, got banged up near the end of the first half, and that changed the game. Oh, that and an injury depleted defense, and special teams that weren't all that special.
Two things happened in the second half: without Tate, the Wildcats lost the momentum and the game, and I stopped being, even peripherally, an ASU fan. I felt the same kind of sadness for Coach Rich Rodriguez and his team that I’ve felt for the UA basketball teams through the years.
I always looked forward to the start of basketball season as a form of rescue from the usually dismal football year. Now I’m anxious to continue with basketball, anxious to see the Wildcats correct whatever went wrong in Battle 4 Atlantis. And I’m excited about the upcoming softball and baseball seasons, too.
And now at last, here’s something that I’ve wanted to say for a long time, without reservation: Bear down, Arizona, bear down!