Saturday, December 25, 2010


December 25, 2010

The law falls foul of Fred Wehner who’s hot on the trail of Jesse James. Blood is spilled and a lawman bites the dust
- - -
It was just one little paragraph flushed out of a local paper before I moved to Monroe. Just a couple of lines, really, but they tell that there’s a lawman aged 93 who’s still on active duty.
The World’s Oldest Serving Policeman. He would be a first class talk. The trooper/codger is in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a town that was wide open back in them bad ole days round the turn of the century, yes siree. So he’d be able to spin a good tale for sure.
Truth to tell, three years after that rip-snortin’ much-celebrated shindig at the OK Corral there’d been the same kind of gunplay in Hot Springs ‘ceptin’ more deadly... three killed, three wounded. That was when lawman faced lawman - The Garland County Sheriff’s Department versus the Hot Springs Police, each corrupt force working for a rival gambling concern.
Soon I’m in the Garland County Sheriff’s office, listening to Deadeye Deputy George Brown, a man who was alive back in them wild and wooly days of the Jesse James gang. Why, they even robbed the stage just outside the city limits.
Jumpin’ Jehosophat! I’ve hit paydirt, sure as shootin’!
No I haven’t, for it turns out Jesse himself warn’t with them goldurned James boys at the time. His no-good backshootin’ sidekick Robert Ford had already treated him to a funeral some years afore.
And George cannot quite recall exactly which gunfight he hisself wuz in and which one he only heer’d tell about. But he’s sure some folks got theyselves filled fulla lead. Killed, even. And after a coupla cold beers and a shot of red-eye across the street he finds he can describe the shootout real well fer yuh. That’s if you understand Mumble, the only language in which this old fossil is fluent.
Yet dadblame it if he still cain’t remember if’n the gunplay left him jes’ winged or plugged real bad an’ if’n it wuz a renegade lawman or one of them bushwhackin’ James pistoleros whut shot him, mumble mumble. All this way for that? Great!
However the thang he’s danged certain about, by cracky, is that Jesse lies cold in his grave some sixteen-mile outta town.
“Really? Why, I’d love to find that gravesite. Is it marked?”
Reckon so, opines two-gun George, who’s recently been forbidden to carry any firearm at all by the sheriff, his nephew. It might jes’ discharge in his tremblin’ hand...
“Halt!” BANG! “Dadgum, feller, now Ah shore dint mean fer thet tuh go off the way it did. Ah’m right sorry. Yuh’re still under arrest, mind, an’ Ah’d be mighty obliged if’n yuh kin jes’ stay alive till we gitcha tuh th’ jailhouse...”
George says he felt far more ‘official’ back when he was packin’ iron.
But no matter - we saddle up my rental car and mosey off along Highway 7 into the badlands.
Jessieville Cemetery (yes, Jessie ville, and right there was an omen I failed to heed) is all it had promised to be and less. It’s tiny, overgrown and yet eerily beautiful under a canopy of large shade trees. And there’s nary a headstone. The graves are almost all marked with simple jagged slates, the names and data scratched so lovingly onto them well faded now, difficult to read.
In fact bloody impossible to read, you crazy old galoot, why in tarnation didn’t you tell me before we set out! There absolutely no way in the world we’re going to find Jesse James here.
I’m only thinking the preceding paragraph, not actually saying it because Pecos George is nowhere to be seen now and I’m on a frantic search for him, hoping he hasn’t fallen into an open grave or something.
It’s becoming a real worry when suddenly I spot him: he’s on his knees before a small, blurry gravestone and he’s sobbing. Through his tears he’s mumbling that here lies his first wife restin’ thar.
I hunch down beside him, help him to his feet and say: “C’mon Old Timer, let’s go home. I should never have brought you here.” And so we start to leave.
We’re vamoose-ing slowly, picking our way along the narrow pathway and I’ve got my arm around the old boy, straining to hold him up, for he’s a wobbly old cuss and a plumb awkward one.
And then suddenly I see this snake right in front of us. Dangerous-looking and moving very fast indeed where I always believed these critters just sauntered casually through life.
Which is when I do my notorious Snake Dance.
It’s a variation of St. Vitus’, knees almost reaching the chin. One of my best friends, Dave ‘Scoop’ Horton, dubbed it so when he witnessed the nimble footwork as I chanced upon a family of deadly copperheads. Not exactly ballroom.
Anyway, I’m not waiting for this lowdown sidewinder to strike, so I jump to the right. And, being a good sidekick to Old George I push him sharply out of harm’s way to the left.
Now, it isn’t a very steep hill, but it is indeed a considerable incline. Deadeye, frail and feeble, loses his balance, staggers, topples and then rolls down the swale. Rolls and rolls at a frightening rate of knots. I’m transfixed.
The pesky varmint that drygulched us has skedaddled but I haven’t even noticed. All I see is my new pardner literally biting the dust – involuntarily and physically.
He’s going to bash his head against one of those jagged slates on this Boot Hill. Fatally.
The oldest living lawman is now the EX-oldest living lawman who survived those bloody gunfights if they ever existed and if ever he was in them but met his match in an unarmed British reporter. I’ve killed the geezer.
I’ve killed my story.
Will he come to rest right next to his first wife? Now that would be a story - for the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record.
I’m chasing downhill after the rolling man faster’n a jackrabbit on a souped-up Harley-Davidson but too late to stop him indeed hitting a headslate the name on which is totally illegible and therefore entirely immaterial to this tale of woe.
There’s blood. Quite a bit of it. But not on his head, it’s his hand.
“Whut yuh do thet fer?” He’s alive. Heavens be praised.
“There was this snake...”
“I never seen no snake.”
“There was one, honest. Red and green stripes...”
“They’re harmless!”
Well I don’t know, do I? I’m just this greenhorn from England who thinks the antidote to snakes is ladders.
We’re on the ride back in to Hot Springs. Silence all the way; the cantankerous old git won’t even mumble a response when I try to parley with him. At a country store where we stop for bandages George knows the owner. He displays a badly gashed hand and announces: “This feller pushed me over.” The storekeeper glares at me, orn’ry like: “Whut y’do thet fer?”
Immediately we hit town Sheriff Clay White orders me arrested and thrown in the pokey. The charge: ‘damaging police property’ i.e. his uncle.
Cooling my heels in the Crowbar Hotel, I’m feeling a mite lonesome, to put it mildly. These folks seem like they mean business...
Ten minutes later the sheriff and his deputies return to my cell, fair weeing themselves with laughter, all the more gleeful since I’d slowly come to think this really could be serious. I note that his doddering relative is not among them.
What fun, huh? Are they going to ride me out of town on a rail? Hell no, this Limey tenderfoot could provide them with even more jollity..
“Hey, there’s a hoedown tonight over at the VFW Hall. Why don’t yuh stay over and fly back tuh New York tomorrow?”
But my concern is Deputy George. The old polecat might likely git the rest of them doggone townsfolk all riled up and next thing I know after this joke spell in the hoosegow I’m the main attraction at a joke lynching.
Best to hightail it outta town afore sundown.


© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas everybody. Yes, Every One. Not just Christians alone but Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, all. This is a time of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind. Even unto folks who don’t honor the birth of Christ or who worship no god whatsoever.
As a festival, Christmas surely isn’t exclusive: I’m certain Santa doesn’t withhold goodies from good children anywhere. He was, after all, Saint Nicholas, a big-hearted bishop in the Greek Orthodox church who lived in what is now Turkey and only later, ahem, emigrated to the North Pole.
Not to trivialize the devotional aspect of Christmas. The Nativity is what this holy-day is really all about – a blessed time for Christians. Yet I do believe that one religion’s season of giving and joy can, and should, be shared with those of other doctrines. Why not? In fact why does religion have to be so alarmingly clannish!
First off, let me say this: I’m not of any fixed persuasion. To those who refuse to read any further I’ll mention my disappointment, because being a free thinker allows me to step back and look at faith as a whole
Plainly said, I don’t believe it’s necessary to sing along with other people if you want to look up and communicate with the Big Gentleman. What’s wrong with having your own private chat with Him? Moreover, I think I’m a pretty laid-back chap, a giver not a taker, law-abiding, love children, animals, my fellow man...
But apparently none of that’s any good.
A neighbor said this altruism doesn’t matter and that unless I’m a member of his congregation I’m hell-bound. His church has 50 worshippers. If he’s right, it means 87,261 other Walton County residents are doomed along with me to an all-too-toasty eternity - and most all are good churchgoing Christians.
Not now, but when it began, Kwanzaa was a substitute religion for African-Americans, skin color alone being the defining factor. Must our good will divide us, each group telling the rest: we’re right, y’all are wrong!
We saw faith fragmented to ghastly effect with Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, with David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and the Heaven’s Gate suicide crowd who thought a spaceship was coming to collect their souls. Hundreds of needless deaths.
And why do some of the most fervent believers despise and destroy those who don’t think the way they do? Millions were killed through religious conflicts over the centuries and we’re seeing death again with the anti-abortion people.
You’re so devoted to preserving life that you commit murder - how much sense does that make? Science and theology may debate the exact point between conception and birth that constitutes a human being, but the doctor’s life that Scott Roeder took – during a Sunday morning church service, no less - was definitely a real one.
Sure, the Right To Life is a noble idea. But what about the right to live one’s life? And yet we have politicians vowing to bulldoze, I should say bully, victims into giving birth to the progeny of their rapists. Incest victims, children themselves, forced to deliver a relative’s baby and raise it.
Raising a child to age 18 costs a quarter million dollars plus school fees. A staunch pro-life friend-of-a-friend says she contributes ten bucks regularly through her church. Not good enough, Kathy: if your conviction is so strong you should bring up that unwanted child-of-rape yourself instead of victimizing the victim all over again.
Blind piety tramples on humanity. We scorn people who express their belief in a different way. So-and-so’s a Muslim, a Hindu. So what? Couldn’t those folks be just as pure of thought as any of us? Does anyone doubt the Dalai Lama is a decent fellow?
No question, violence in the name of Allah or Buddha or Krishna or Jesus goes against anything that I would call religion. Same goes for hatred in general, and yes, like everyone, I do have trouble suppressing my loathing for the bastards who attacked us and would do so again. Yet theirs is a political jihad, nothing to do with faith, even though they say it is. They’re not Islam. Roeder isn’t Christianity.
I guess I’m advocating mutual respect of all creeds. I don’t normally quote from songs or movies but I recall the Austin Lounge Lizards’ great parody “Jesus Loves Me But He Can’t Stand You”. I thought Jesus loved everyone.
And I salute Charles Bronson as Blue Buffalo, welcoming Rod Steiger’s aimless Confederate soldier O’Meara into the Sioux tribe - Run Of The Arrow: 1957 - with the astute observation: “Same god, different name.”
And that’s the key.
Whether we whisper or sing or shout it, in English, Spanish or Urdu, in Yiddish or Arabic, whether we’re in a group or alone, handling holy books or venomous snakes, in the end we’re all praying, in our own way, to Almighty God. Merry, peaceful Christmas, one and all!


© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


December 12, 2010

On the carton it says drinking the stuff helps support a healthy brain.
My own grey matter definitely needs to be buttressed after overloading itself all these years with wild and wacky thoughts. Or - gulp! - do they mean it does not support a brain that might be sick or lame?

In any case, Horizon Organic Milk only “helps” - and there’s the catch. How much? My own guess is that there’s almost no help. Because if it were significant they’d be hollering from the rooftops: Become Einstein. Drink Our Wonder Milk!

Therein lies the duplicity. Marketing is meant to confuse and mislead and manipulate. Even when you read the blurb carefully you’re still left in doubt.

Helps stop bad breath? We-he-he-he-hell now, there’s the question. It only has to help a teensy-weensy bit for the company to make that claim. Meantime your putrid mouth is still gassing half of Loganville.

Manufacturers avoid clear assertions that can be challenged. “They claimed it killed all the germs, Your Honor, but I found a muscular one squatting defiantly beside the sink, taunting me.” False advertising. Oh dear. Heavy fine.

So Lysol kills 99.9 percent of them. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s that cunning little 0.1 percent germ that’ll gitcha. Yes, and the deceased are all those fat and feeble germs, relatively harmless and easy to bump off, while the spartan wee bad guys survive and thrive.

But legally the Lysol folks are covered. And here’s where we consumers must be careful, especially with foods and medicines. It’s all in the wording. We have to learn the language of the advertisers, a tricky talk somewhere between truth and lies.

Listerine fights bad breath! Does it win that battle? ‘Course not, or they would say so loudly and proudly and erect a statue to it. Therefore it’s safe to assume that Listerine, though valiant, is actually defeated by its enemy halitosis. Nestle cocoa is the best! Yet that makes it no better than other cocoas in the supermarket. And anyway, whose opinion is Nestle pushing? Could it perchance be Nestle’s own?

Mucinex relieves chest congestion. Sure, relief can be an absolute, the Relief Of Mafeking 110 years ago being the decisive battle in which Britain finally bested South Africa’s besieging Boers. But relieving can also mean just reducing: pain for instance. How much of a reduction? Aha.

At the opposite end of the torso, Beano “works naturally to help prevent gas before it starts”. If it never even started, how could you possibly know whether Beano was working or not?

And again, it only “helps”. This, along with the phrase “up to”, provides full legal protection. Works for up to 48 hours? Yeah, but usually for only five minutes before the agony returns. You could win up to a gazillion dollars – in some other lottery maybe, but not in this one.

The food guys tell us trans fatty acids are murder but they list among their ingredients partially hydrogenated oils which are the same if you take note of the serving size. Foods and drinks need be only a smidgeon less fattening to be labeled “diet”. Sugar-free products contain other suspect sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup.
There is far too much of this marketing ballyhoo to cover in a short article, so here is my own take on a couple more of these dubious claims:

Nutritious (just like all foods are). Made with real cocoa (but only a tiny pinch of it). With the taste of real cheese (only it’s some plastic goo with that chemical Flavor #117 added). Studies have shown (the studies the makers paid some hack or other to glorify). Hurry hurry, offer won’t last long (just until the next offer, which will be a better bargain). And so on.

Nine out of ten doctors surveyed prefer this or that snake oil over Brand X. So where, I want to know, are these ten doctors who were clearly hand-picked to be surveyed? And who, I also want to know, was the dirty treacherous holdout who took the company’s money, promising to prefer its brand and then picked Brand X anyway. Are these the same ten doctors every time and is it that same solitary medical Benedict Arnold?

How many times have we bought something that didn’t work the way we anticipated? It’s because we were induced to believe something that wasn’t really true. We thought “virtually spotless” meant spotless whereas we should have concentrated on “virtually”, which means it isn’t really.

They work on our subconscious. The trick in all marketing is to make us think we’re getting something of far better quality or quantity than it actually is, and so we have to stay alert.

It’s a battle of wits: us versus the manufacturers, and they’re winning. Moreover, these mindbenders have all the time in the world to play with our psyche while we have to unravel their mischief between working and shopping and raising a family. We’ve got to become more cynical.

Some studies I just invented in my milky brain suggest the above paragraphs may help reduce the reader’s spending on all those products that are not at all what they seem.

I really hope so.


© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


December 1, 2010

It’s the snakes that seek to stop them coming back. See, here in Walton County we know about sidewinders and their partners-in-crime the venomous spiders but our visitors abhor the idea of encountering a deadly serpent. Back in Britain these killers are animalia non grata. Not outlawed, just totally absent.

The mere mention of such creatures makes my former countrymen shudder. Guy, a big enough guy, refused to even look at one curled up in an arborvitae, even after my trusty Mossberg had converted that copperhead into a no-head. One year earlier we’d almost stepped on a six-footer just a few feet from the house.

Last week our neighbor JD Shumpert sent us a picture of a diamondback enjoying a lazy day amidst the autumn leaves. Without heat-seeking optics the blighter was impossible to spot.

So when our London city slickers arrive in Monroe and marvel at the pastoral setting in which we live we’re always sure to warn them about Nature’s local villains.

It’s not something they like to hear at the end of a grueling flight. You spend nine hours in the fetal position, and when you’re finally disgorged from the airplane the only difference between that and actually being born is that the pilot doesn’t smack your bottom. Unless he’s Italian and you’re female, but that’s another story.

But then you have face the Walton County predators.

Sheila set foot on our doorstep after her cramped journey in zoo class. It was all coo-ee and hugs and squeals of delight. And then this dear 75-year-old lady broke into an impromptu dance – one with the wildest steps and much too fast for a demure Englishwoman of advanced years. She’d been standing on a mound of fire ants.

These fiendish insects have killed human beings as well as animals; they’re included in our axis of evil, along with the Black Widows, Brown Recluses, Coral Snakes and Cottonmouths. And you don’t see any of them in Britain either. Or the poison plants.

What you do find Over There are the same kind of cheerful folks you get here, eager to please. Most of our guests have already done New York and Los Angeles and until they actually get to Monroe they expect to experience the same levels of rudeness and craziness.

A quick aside here about British friends doing New York. One entered a Fifth Avenue electronics shop, the kind with no labels on any of the merchandise, and inquired the price of a camera. The answer: “How much is it? You tell me how much it is. You go to Macys. You get a price. You come back. You tell me.”

Another, who had the temerity to ask for a receipt for his purchase, was told: “Receipt’s in the bag, blind man.”

It’s different here. Stuart drove out to Jersey and seated himself at Buckeye’s. No, he didn’t order baked possum, barbecued ‘coon or fried squirlies – probably because these country delicacies were not on the menu. But he did keep going back to continue his most agreeable discourse with staff and regular customers.

From Buckeye’s to Buckles, where our pal Annette was charmed by the antics of Craig and his cutup cohorts. The same for Cally, who, with her husband Pat, loved the leisurely quaintness of the downtown area. Their daughter Josephine spent a fun day at George Walton Academy, care of our good neighbor Peggy Jordan.

Ray and Dawn were astounded when the gentlemen at Napa Auto Parts took half an hour patiently tutoring me on the art of welding. Dave traded jokes with our mailman, Randy Malcom, and our dentist, Kenneth Grubbs.

And so it went. And so it still goes. The British are coming, the British are coming... still.

Nine-year-old Rose drove her dad Nigel around the neighborhood in our golf cart to watch the abundant wildlife. And also, after viewing the multitude of fauna virtually ambling up to be hand-fed, guests Tim and Wendy labeled this here “Disney County”.

Like all our transatlantic chums, they have an affinity for Dixie. But they’re bemused by the local dress code: they see half the population clad in camouflage. Why? I tell them that at first it baffled me too. I thought our enemy was Al Qaeda. Turns out it’s the deer.

Yes, the bambis. And arrivals from the Mother Country have a hard time understanding that there are those who need to zap Disney characters to feed their families. It’s part of the frontier way of life that’s still a romantic notion, and therein lies the dilemma.

However they all want to come back despite this and the nine hours as a flying embryo. Some have already returned more than once. They forget about the venomous nasties lurking in the undergrowth and instead remember the friendly folk in this neck of the woods who ask them: “Where y’all from?”

So if you happen upon anyone prowling around the county with a “funny” accent it’s one of our British visitors. Or it’s me.

© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


November 24, 2010

This time around we heard it all again, that bizarre bunch of catchphrases that come tumbling out of every politician’s mouth – at least one side of it – whenever he or she speaks.
I’m not talking about the baby babble that appears to have taken over our cherished language, the Valley Girl kayokay stuff that some of us find grody to the max. Nor about the incessant use of infantese such as “diddent” and “wouldent” or, as I heard NBC’s Brian Williams say, “monsterous”.
Nor about the “if you will” crowd who flogged that corny phrase to death. Or Caroline, you know, Kennedy who never stood a, you know, chance in the Democratic, you know, primary because she made Sarah Palin look like a, you know, brain surgeon.
No, this is about politicos who parrot incessantly those pet slogans that seem to mean so much to them but so very little to the rest of us. Especially after the umpteenth recital.
Election time brought in a resurgence, if you will, of all those political done-to-death-ers like “street cred” and “big tent” and the, you know, king of ‘em all, “The American People” for whom every politician and his dog claims to speak.
Do they really speak for us with the jarring cliches they repeat ad nauseam or do we all prefer just plain talk.
Exactly how many individuals have been thrown under the bus? Which bus are they talking about? They do say THE bus. Surely that driver would have wiped the blood off his radiator and learned to look out for folks being hurled to the pavement. But no, the victims keep coming.
And notice how many lines have been drawn in the sand by our politicos? By now the Arabian Desert must resemble a great big sandy college-ruled composition book, with the Sahara already looking like Spaghetti Junction.
John McCain was still using the banal “my friends” in addressing his listeners even though his friends were giving him an increasingly wide berth in droves. And all that stuff from the lot of them about flip-flops and hidden agendas and slippery slopes and wingnuts baying for red meat while eating the low-hanging fruit. And about smoking guns and moving on and connecting with the voters...
It is what it is: simple repetitious twaddle and we were forced to endure it. Again.
All politics is local. We discovered this repeatedly as the late Speaker Tip O’Neill’s original words were hijacked and re-hijacked. And maybe this political localization is because “Washington is broken” - how often did we hear THAT one from candidates who, by the way, never offered any ideas on how to mend it.
At this stage I will gloss over all the Tea Partygoers who proudly displayed aloft their mis-spelled placards “refudiating” Obama and proclaiming him a Communist AND a Nazi (impossible: these were fiercely contradictory ideologies). Except I will point out that this trite, seemingly endless stream of embarrassingly illiterate signs, has kept the whole world sniggering at us.
Oops! Caught myself in ‘elite’ mode just now. Shouldn’t have mentioned the rotten spelling. Because there are some who insist that reasoned argument is the enemy of the people.
For quite a while we kept hearing poet James Whitcomb Riley’s duck test. You know the one: “if it walks like a duck... blah blah...”
Ducks and dog whistles. An entire political menagerie was paraded before us like some crazy prancing Warner Bros. cartoon procession. We had the pigs with lipstick, a barracuda, the pit bull hockey moms, mama grizzlies and also people jumping sharks as though this were now an established Olympic event.
And all this in place of real plans to solve our national problems. No, I don’t have the remedies up my sleeve, but I do recognize those few administrative suggestions that have a fair chance of working and I’d like to see them implemented.
Galling to note that politicians are interested in us - We The People - only at election time. Their prime goal is to get into office by corralling our vote with promises and slogans, and their secondary one is to stay there by means of attracting large donations from industry and elsewhere. As we know, there’s always a quid pro quo so that whenever a special interest group buys itself a good break we all lose out. The pie is only so big: carve out a hefty chunk for one diner and the rest of us see our thin slice dwindle even more.
So we shake our heads as the babykissers nimbly sidestep the important issues once again and instead offer up more of this time-worn jargon to make sure we remain distracted and - you’ve guessed it – keep drinking the Kool-Aid.
I’ll admit to a measure of, you know, disappointment, if you will, for I’d been hoping to hear a lot of the hackneyed political doubletalk squashed into one sentence. Something like: “The American People in this great country of ours need to reload, keep their powder dry 24/7and draw a line in the sand, then stay inside the big tent like a mama hockey grizzly with lipstick or they could jump the shark, be thrown under the bus and end up a trainwreck .”


© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


October 27, 2010

It was a 256-lb table saw. I lifted it, on my own, the wrong way, winding up in agony, full of oxycontin and bedridden. The insurance was paying out, but once a $400 spinal injection was required all of a sudden my injury became a “pre-existing condition”.

It wasn’t. It had only just happened. Switching the goalposts like that struck me as a Blue Cross doublecross. And in the many months it took to overcome that injustice I wondered how many folks would have given up the fight. People don’t have the time. And some, stricken with cancer, say, are simply too weak to battle Big Insurance as well.

That was the old system. It included the right of health insurers to drop you the moment you started costing them money, no matter how much and how long you’d paid in. They could also refuse to insure sick children. Not fair. Not christian. Not American.

I hear folks talk of ‘Obamacare’ as though it’s some kind of pestilence inflicted on the nation, a dirty Washington trick, and I hear politicians vowing to repeal this dastardly ‘Obamacare’.

Let’s first call it by its real name: Health Insurance Reform. And most of what you hear isn’t true. It’s not a “government takeover”, it’s applying the brakes to a runaway insurance industry. Nor is it a financial burden. In the long run it cuts the deficit by $1.2 trillion (that’s $1,200,000,000,000) says the impartial Congressional Budget Office. And in the short term it’s paid for with a tax increase on those making more than a quarter million dollars a year. How many here in Walton County get that kind of money?

But the insurance companies are still grabbing. Anyone notice how premiums have been skyrocketing? My friend, a former lawman, saw a huge jump in his this year just as the company CEO pocketed a reported $73 million himself and announced he’d be cutting 1,100 jobs. They jacked up my wife’s payments, too, by over 20 percent and would have increased it by double that amount again had she not had the good sense to turn 65.

By reining in such company avarice, as the health bill does, fewer of us will be uninsured and forced to seek medical attention in the emergency room for minor ailments treatable by a local G.P. And it thereby eases the burden on our hospitals.

Under the way it used to be, I lay face down on the floor of the overcrowded waiting room for two hours – not able to sit, stand or even lie on my back or side – tortured and praying for morphine, while the hospital doctors treated children with sniffles and scuffed knees.

Why would anyone want to go back to a system like that? One that takes your money and then tosses you into the ditch once you get sick. In my case the government didn’t stand between me and my doctor - Blue Cross Blue Shield did.

Some people claim this ‘Obamacare’ is leading us to ‘Socialism’, which they wrongly equate with Communism; I would ask them to explain what they think these catchwords mean. West European nations – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Iberian, Benelux and Scandinavian countries - are all socialist to a greater or lesser degree: the term covers a society that cares for its people. Non-socialist countries abandon their citizens to the wiles of evil dictators and greedy corporations.

They seek to drive down working folks’ wages or just terminate them. It’s the global market. What happened to the 280 jobs at Crane Universal Rundle? The bathroom fixtures that were once made here in Monroe now come in from China and Mexico. Our cotton mill died leaving foreign countries to provide all our clothes: more Walton jobs lost.

Tea Partiers and Republicans, some who blocked unemployment benefits this summer, are promising to abolish the minimum wage. So forget the claptrap about the United Nations taking over our country; the danger is from foreign and multinational corporations and those who would enable them.

Walton is a county of middle class residents, a significant percentage of whom earn that paltry $7.25 an hour. We also have a senior population relying on a Social Security check to survive; with bread at nearly $2.00 and milk costing more than $3.00 it’s a struggle.

There are no “death panels”, there’s no “granny-killing” as the Tea and Republican politicos keep claiming, but Social Security, too, is on the Grand Old Republican Tea Party’s well-publicized hit list. So is public education.

Are we a caring, neighborly country? Why would we not want our youngsters to learn and grant oldsters the means at least to stave off starvation? Or reach out a to those thrown out of work by companies who closed down here and gave their jobs to the Chinese.

Why shouldn’t we force the big banks to make loans to mom and pop businesses here instead of letting them gamble our money on the Great International Roulette Wheel and then take our tax dollars to cover what losses they incur.

Why are our fellow Americans the enemy? We’ve allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered by the special interests who’ve diverted our attention away from what they’re up to. Is it really every American for himself now and if you falter, then tough luck?

My neighbor says he’s interested only in God, guns and country. He’s waiting for “the welfare recipients” to attack his compound. Life, my friend, is far more complicated than that and we have to stay vigilant, but not against our fellow Americans – they’re the victims we may be tomorrow.

The real question is: How christian are we?

Thy neighbor lost his job when the company moved the factory to India. Thy neighbor just saw his house foreclosed because the banks hoodwinked him. Thou watched thy neighbor’s house burn down because he forgot to pay a $75 surcharge. Thy neighbor is homeless, jobless, was dropped by his insurer because he got sick. Do we kick him now he’s down? If we return to the previous system thy neighbor could be thee.

© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


October 13, 2010

Friday was a poignant day.
For some of our older and smaller hens – we have nine – that morning saw the rebirth of Let The Good Times Roll. But the happiness my wife Linda and I felt for these ladies was mixed with a profound sadness for their companion.

We had to take Little Red Rooster to Neal’s feed store, where, hopefully, he will attract a new owner who prizes him, as we did, for his strength and beauty.
And not for his meat.

I say “Little” Red Rooster even though he had grown into a surprisingly robust fellow. A Rhode Island Red, handsome and proud with a strikingly brilliant scarlet comb and an array of tailfeathers of the silkiest shimmering green. The poultry Brad Pitt. George Clooney. Shia Labeouf. Take your pick. Just not Justin Bieber – Little Red’s far too macho to be him

The problem with this guy was that he was, in the words of blues singer Lazy Lester, a lover not a fighter. A lover in the wham-bam way, mind, with not even a thank-you afterwards, although he always provided so gallantly for all the ma’ams in his charge. He never ate a scrap in their presence – always pointing out choice morsels and inviting the ladies over to dine.

But Little Red was basically a big stud.

And here lay the problem that caused him to be banished from the realm. Our oldest hen Rosie, now nearly seven years of age and arthritic, was never able to escape his brutally amorous advances. In a voice so cracked she could have been a lifelong three-pack-a-day Marlboro smoker, she would croak out a feeble protest: cock-a-doodle-DON’T!

But there was no stopping Little Red.

Our other granny, Poulette, would be similarly swept off her feet against her will, although this one could till manage to dodge him on occasion.
She is one of two Araucanas – the breed with the 19th-Century-style side whiskers that lays those green and blue “Easter Eggs”. They are small chickens. Red was plainly too much for them and so they would hide in the trees all day to avoid an intimate encounter.

Maybe it wasn’t so much his size as his unromantic manner.

Because I remember his predecessor, Eggbert – also known as Bertie Rooster, after the P.G. Wodehouse character – was bigger, a Brahma, but the little dames all loved him for his sweetness. Just like his literary namesake, Bertie was a real toff. A gentleman,.
Unlike Red, who was somewhat reticent, he’d rush up to me whenever I came out of the house. He’d demand some of my ice cream, which was never refused. Strawberry was his favorite.

The big guy met his demise when we introduced another male, a young Langshan in need of a home, who promptly beat him so badly he could no longer stand. For another month we nursed Eggbert back to health, had him leading the flock again... only to see him keel over one day.
He was a cock with character and we miss him.

Yes, chickens, just like all animals, have different attributes and tastes and personalities – not just their color or their size or shape. (Some folks might find that true statement too mushy).

We’ve had Little Red since he was one day old, bought, along with nine others six months ago, from Neal’s Family Farm And Garden on Route 11 to whence he’s now been returned. They lived in our house for six weeks, hand-fed and cooed-at, before we transferred them to their new abode, an extremely well-appointed coop we call Cluckingham Palace.

After a week there – tragedy again. Five of the newbies were killed overnight by a predator. Detective work showed it to be highly unlikely the creature could have entered the compound, but a smallish hole showed how these five might have wiggled their way out, only to become a beast’s late-night feast.

We’d seen a gorgeous red fox lope through our backyard a year earlier; not the scraggy in-town type that look like they could be on methamphetamines but one with a shiny coat and a full, fluffy, flowing tail.

Monroe’s coyotes gather fairly close to our home for a night howl, which makes me wonder what would happen if these two species ever came face to face. Would they be amigos or adversaries? Would they even know they are related? That they both like chicken?

But it wasn’t them. The night after the carnage an opossum came a-sniffin’ round: we saw it on an old closed-circuit TV surveillance system that’d been hastily dug out of the barn, dusted off and re-assembled. That’s our chief suspect, Brer Possum.

You become over-protective of your animals if you’re us. So while we repair the first coop our nine hens stay in the new one that I built with the help of my neighbor’s lad, J.D. Shumpert Jr. And because it’s every bit as sumptuous as the original, it, too, deserved a royal name: Wingsor Castle.

But it’s a castle without a king. We’re hoping Little Red Rooster will find a new home that’s just as regal.


© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.