PHILLIPS

Starkville Daily News - - FO­RUM -

flower bed. As opos­sums do, it was more scared of me than I was of it.

By this time, both of my cats - Delia and Bub­bles - were trans­fixed by the odd-look­ing fur ball that trem­bled in the cold night air on the high­est limb of the tree, ter­ri­fied to come down. With the ruckus I caused, I can't say I blame it.

Be­ing from the coun­try, and know­ing opos­sums live to eat, I fig­ured I would do the right thing and dump out a cup­ful of dry cat food for my new friend to snack on be­fore go­ing on its way. I re­mem­ber around the time my Grand­daddy Joe died, my grand­mother had a plas­tic cat food bowl on her back porch that served as a mag­net for opos­sums and other crit­ters.

Opos­sums are the most grate­ful an­i­mals in the wild and there is lit­tle they will turn their pointy noses up at.

While I knew it wouldn't come down to eat while I was within view, I looked at it and said, “If you're gonna hang around, you need a name.”

If my neigh­bors heard me, they prob­a­bly thought I needed to be in a straight jacket, but I felt it nec­es­sary to give the an­i­mal a chance to speak be­fore I la­beled it.

Af­ter a cou­ple min­utes of scratch­ing my head, only one name stuck: George.

For those of you who aren't fa­mil­iar, the moniker given to my wood­land friend orig­i­nated with George Jones, who was one of the great­est voices in coun­try mu­sic. The hard-liv­ing crooner earned a rep­u­ta­tion for not show­ing up to gigs and that, cou­pled with the fact that the drunk SOB looked like a opos­sum, earned him his fa­mous nick­name.

While I can't say with cer­tainty if George the Opos­sum was a male or fe­male, be­cause I'm not an ex­pert on opos­sum anatomy, let's sus­pend our dis­be­lief and as­sume for the sake of the story that George was a male.

And wouldn't you know it? Af­ter some top­shelf Pu­rina, George be­came a reg­u­lar visi­tor. Few things gave me more sat­is­fac­tion than sip­ping a beer and watch­ing George bury his face in a pile of cat food. Once, I even lis­tened to Jones' clas­sic “The Grand Tour,” while he snacked.

I get home well af­ter dark dur­ing the work week, so I made a reg­u­lar habit of check­ing the tree out back for the same fa­mil­iar pair of beady lit­tle eyes and a toothy grin wait­ing for a hand­out. Af­ter a few weeks, he was less timid to come down from the tree and I kicked my­self for not nam­ing him Zac­cha­eus (read your Bi­ble).

I think I grew par­tial to opos­sums be­cause they are mis­un­der­stood, like me. Just be­cause I look like a neo-Nazi skin­head who talks slow, doesn't mean I'm not com­pas­sion­ate or ed­u­cated. And just be­cause opos­sums look like Ch­er­nobyl rats, it doesn't mean they will give you ra­bies or cause you any harm.

In fact, there are many il­lu­mi­nat­ing tid­bits about opos­sums you should know be­fore you take a broom to one out of frus­tra­tion for what it's do­ing to your trash can.

(an­i­mals with a pouch).

ticks, mice, road­kill, snakes and other pests (but will eat your chick­ens, too, if you aren't care­ful)

the U.S. is the Vir­ginia opos­sum, also known as the North Amer­i­can opos­sum.

up to six hours to avoid preda­tors, ac­cord­ing to some stud­ies.

stings and other tox­ins, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion.

which carry Lyme disease. The Cary In­sti­tute of Ecosys­tem Stud­ies es­ti­mates that a sin­gle opos­sum can kill about 5,000 ticks in a sin­gle sea­son.

Years ago, it was also com­mon­place to make a meal out of opos­sums. My grand­mother just this past week­end told me about eat­ing them grow­ing up.

My Paw Paw Jones (her daddy and a WWII vet) would trap a opos­sum, then feed it greens for two or three weeks to clean it out. They would then salt and pep­per it, wrap it in alu­minum foil and bake it to be served with pota­toes and onions.

“Back in those days, you ate what­ever you could get,” Grand­mother said with a laugh.

While I don't plan on giv­ing it a try any­time soon, it's worth men­tion­ing, be­cause I will go out of my way to give that woman a shout-out in some­thing I'm writ­ing.

Af­ter a cou­ple months of see­ing and feed­ing George ev­ery three or four nights, he even­tu­ally stopped com­ing around.

I would be ly­ing if I said it wasn't like los­ing a cher­ished pet and I get green at the thought of an­other fam­ily feed­ing him more ex­pen­sive cat food.

I'm not sure if I will ever see George again, but my hope is that he is sim­ply liv­ing up to his name­sake as a “No-Show.”

Ryan Phillips is the ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor of the Starkville Daily News and the Daily Times Leader. The views ex­pressed in this col­umn are his and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of ei­ther pa­per, or their staffs.

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — Rus­sia is seek­ing to counter U.S. diplo­matic in­flu­ence by stok­ing con­flict in Syria even as it por­trays it­self as an ar­biter in the civil war, the top Amer­i­can gen­eral in the Mid­dle East said Tues­day in no­tably pointed crit­i­cism of Mos­cow.

"I'm be­ing very se­ri­ous when I say they play the role of both ar­son­ist and fire­man — fu­el­ing ten­sions and then try­ing to re­solve them in their fa­vor," Army Gen. Joseph Vo­tel told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. He said Mos­cow is push­ing al­ter­na­tives to West­ern-led po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions in both Syria and Afghanistan in or­der to limit U.S. in­flu­ence.

Rus­sia "has to ad­mit" that it is in­ca­pable of, or not in­ter­ested in, play­ing a con­struc­tive role in end­ing the multi-di­men­sional war in Syria, he said.

"I think their role is in­cred­i­bly desta­bi­liz­ing at this point," he said.

For its part, the Rus­sian mil­i­tary has con­sis­tently ac­cused the U.S. of spar­ing the Is­lamic State group and other mil­i­tants in Syria in the hope of us­ing them to top­ple Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. Rus­sian of­fi­cials have strongly de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity for any civil­ian ca­su­al­ties in Syria and in­sisted that they have only struck mil­i­tant tar­gets af­ter ver­i­fy­ing their lo­ca­tion through mul­ti­ple in­tel­li­gence sources and avoided tar­get­ing pop­u­lated ar­eas. Rus­sian mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and diplo­mats also have scolded the U.S.-led coali­tion for re­duc­ing the one-time IS cap­i­tal, Raqqa, to rub­ble and caus­ing se­vere suf­fer­ing for its res­i­dents.

On the mil­i­tary front in Syria, Vo­tel said Rus­sia is us­ing the con­flict to test and ex­er­cise new weapons and tac­tics, "of­ten with lit­tle re­gard for col­lat­eral dam­age or civil­ian ca­su­al­ties." He as­serted that an in­crease in Rus­sian sur­face-to-air mis­sile sys­tems in the Mid­dle East "threat­ens our ac­cess and abil­ity to dom­i­nate the airspace" of the re­gion.

He said that along with Iran, Rus­sia is try­ing to bol­ster the As­sad gov­ern­ment and frac­ture the long­stand­ing strate­gic part­ner­ship be­tween the United States and Turkey. Wash­ing­ton and Ankara are in­creas­ingly at odds over the pres­ence of U.S.-backed Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers re­garded by the Turks as aligned with Kur­dish ter­ror­ists.

Al­lud­ing to these fight­ers, who op­er­ate un­der the ban­ner of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, Vo­tel said, "our part­ners on the ground in Syria have ad­vanced us a long way to­ward our ob­jec­tives, and we will stick with them through the com­ple­tion of this fight," re­fer­ring to the goal of elim­i­nat­ing the Is­lamic State's shrink­ing hold on Syr­ian ter­ri­tory.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials say they seek the de­struc­tion of IS even as they sup­port As­sad's ef­fort to stamp out op­po­si­tion forces. Vo­tel said Mos­cow should get no credit for what he called the im­mi­nent de­feat of the Is­lamic State's "phys­i­cal caliphate."

"Rus­sia has placed this progress at risk with their ac­tiv­i­ties, which are not fo­cused on de­feat­ing ISIS, but rather on pre­serv­ing their own in­flu­ence and con­trol over the out­come of the sit­u­a­tion," he said, us­ing an al­ter­nate name for the ex­trem­ist group. "It is clear that Rus­sia's in­ter­ests in Syria are ... not those of the wider in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity."

Vo­tel said Mos­cow also is ex­ag­ger­at­ing the pres­ence of Is­lamic State fight­ers in Afghanistan and por­tray­ing it as a U.S. and NATO fail­ure.

"While the (U.S.-led) coali­tion and the Afghans are the only forces ac­tively fight­ing ISIS there, Rus­sia has used fa­mil­iar pro­pa­ganda tech­niques to brand ISIS's pres­ence as a U.S.-NATO fail­ure," Vo­tel said.

As IS loses its grip in Syria and Iraq, U.S. forces are turn­ing in­creas­ingly to the battle in Afghanistan, where Amer­i­can com­man­ders are try­ing to en­er­gize Afghan com­bat forces and break a stale­mate in the long fight against a Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

"Mil­i­tary suc­cess in the cam­paign up to this point presents us an op­por­tu­nity to re­po­si­tion some of our re­sources from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan in a man­ner that keeps the pres­sure on ISIS, but also sets us up to break the stale­mate in Afghanistan," Vo­tel said.

U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since Oc­to­ber 2001, when they in­vaded in re­sponse to the 9/11 at­tacks by al-Qaida.

Vo­tel also ex­pressed con­cern about Ira­nian in­flu­ence in Syria and Iraq, while not­ing that Ira­nian ha­rass­ment of U.S. Navy ves­sels in the Per­sian Gulf has de­clined. Vo­tel said he nonethe­less is con­cerned by Iran's in­creas­ing used of drone air­craft, which he said pose a po­ten­tial threat in the Gulf.

AP, File) (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta,

In a Aug. 30, 2016 file photo, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand Com­mand Com­man­der, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Vo­tel, speaks to re­porters at the Pen­tagon. Vo­tel, the top Amer­i­can gen­eral in the Mid­dle East, said Tues­day, Feb. 27, 2018 that Rus­sia is seek­ing to counter U.S. diplo­matic in­flu­ence by stok­ing con­flict in Syria even as it por­trays it­self as an ar­biter in the civil war.

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