Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Because Ottawa is not a Fortress

Mack Hall, HSG

                                        Because Ottawa is not a Fortress

On a perfect summer morning several years ago, two delightful children took me on a walk through downtown Ottawa and then all over one of their favorite (or, rather, favourite) green spaces, Parliament Hill.

Long ago, Queen Victoria chose the little community of Bytown as the capital of Canada.  The site was then given back its original First Nations name of Ottawa, and a great city developed there at the confluence of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.

Canada wisely made its Parliament a park instead of a fortress, and what stands out about Parliament Hill is not its many noble buildings but rather the expanses of grassy lawns, the banks of flowers, and the children at play.  Any grim-visaged Member of Parliament who means to bring a bill must first work her way through children playing hide-and-seek, eating ice cream, blowing soap bubbles, pushing baby brother or baby sister about in a pram, chasing soccer balls, and maybe suddenly crying in need of a nappie-change.  All this childhood merriment reminds the MP whom she serves, and why she should take a brief recess from thinking Very Important Thoughts in order to hear a still more important thought – the name a little child has given her new doll.

Abbie and Alexander (for these of the names of the children in charge of me that happy morning) took me to their favorite places on Parliament Hill: the Summer Gazebo, for instance, and the Peace Tower, and some other places I don’t remember because of the children’s haste to their favoritest place of all, an ice cream kiosk attended by a cheerful man in a striped vest and a straw boater.

Here I must confess that although I was reminded by Abbie and ‘Zander’s parents to provide the children with a healthy, nutritious mid-morning snack during our ramble, well, nah, it was all a prolonged sugar-shock.  If the kids had asked for tofu sandwiches made from ranch-grown fungi, or cholesterol-free salads made of acorns and leaves, I would have given them that.  They didn’t. Now they are grown up and in university, and one assumes they eat only fashionable bacteria and mould, and are never tempted by ice cream.

We looked across the bluff to Quebec and the city of Gatineau (“Our house is about there…”) and down on the Ottawa River, the Rideau River, and the Rideau Canal, which flows to Lake Ontario.

The First Nations lived on what is now Parliament Hill, and then the French built a fort there, which the English took from them, and now there is ice cream and play outside great buildings, and, inside those great buildings, the making of laws and the administration of a great nation.  And the making of laws and the administration of a great nation is for this: that children may play in safety, even if they make a bit too much noise outside the windows of the Prime Minister’s office.

Alas that law and happy children are not universal.

Last week, Parliament Hill became better known for a bad reason.

Last week, two young, unarmed soldiers died for Canada and for civilization.  They were murdered because their uniforms offended some little mansies who never accomplished anything in their meaningless lives and who now never will.

The two brave young men were guardians of a nation where children are meant to play safely, in St. Jean sur Richelieu and on Parliament Hill and in Nunavut (except when the polar bears are being tiresome).  Those two young men, barely out of childhood themselves, will be remembered.  Their families, their comrades, their friends, their schools, their communities, their nation – all will remember them with pride.  Of each of them Canada can say

Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt:
         He only lived but till he was a man.

  • Macbeth V.vii.39-40

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nurses, Ebola, and Manly-Men in Government

Mack Hall, HSG


Nurses: ThenSpeak / NowSpeak


ThenSpeak: Nurses are honored for risking their lives to heal the sick and wounded.

NowSpeak: She got sick? Must have been her own fault. Punish her.  If she survives.


ThenSpeak: When a man sees a nurse, he tips his hat respectfully.

NowSpeak:  When a man sees a nurse, he demands that she not take a trip, shop for groceries, take public transportation, or go anywhere except to work without asking his permission.


ThenSpeak: The wise physician always listens to the nurse.

NowSpeak: The wise physician still does.


ThenSpeak: Nurses are women.

NowSpeak: Men, many of them combat medics, are nurses too.


ThenSpeak: Three-year hospital schools produce generations of professional, well educated registered nurses.

NowSpeak: two-year colleges and four-year universities produce generations of professional and even better educated registered nurses.  In addition, many nurses accomplish master’s degrees and doctorates.


ThenSpeak: Nurses are on duty every hour of the day and night.

NowSpeak:  Nurses are still on duty every hour of the day and night.  So what are the staff of the Center for Disease Control doing at 0230 when the sleet is hitting the landing pad, the lights have failed, and the dust-off is yawing in against the wind with wounded aboard?


ThenSpeak: Nurses keep up with medical developments through in-service and professional journals; we should listen to them.

NowSpeak: Hey, forget them; we can cure diseases by throwing buckets of water over our heads and wearing little ceramic pins made in China.


ThenSpeak:  Nurses often make do with inadequate supplies.

NowSpeak: The CDC budget for 2012 was $7.16 billion (Huffington Post), and nurses still must make do with inadequate supplies.


ThenSpeak: Long hours, many demands, low pay.

NowSpeak: Long hours, many demands, low pay, and now under the rule of an Ebola Czar who kinda looks like a frat-boy version of Kim Jong Un and whose only medical qualification is being a pal to the vice-president.  One wonders what his hours, work, and pay are like.


ThenSpeak: Nurses are angels in white.

NowSpeak: Nurses are angels in white, in scrubs, in helicopter jumpsuits, and in combat body armor.  They are angels aboard warships, in field units in far-off WhoseDumbIdeaWasThisIstan, on long-distance evacuation aircraft, in foreign and domestic missions, and in great hospitals and in tiny rural clinics.  Nurses have suffered and died in POW camps and have been murdered by their captors.  Nurses are the immediate responders when some poor soul who is hemorrhaging, crying, puking, coughing, screaming, and gasping, possibly drunk or stoned or armed, is pushed through the emergency room door,.


So maybe the manly men in Washington and Austin are blaming nurses because the manly men aren’t doing their own jobs.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Yom Kippur

Lawrence Hall

Yom Kippur

When the last synagogue is looted and burned
When the last Torah is desecrated
When the last Sabbath prayers fade into silence
When the last blessing ends in blood-choked death
When the last rabbi is beheaded in the street
When the last Shema is whispered in the dark
When there is no one left to say Kaddish
When the last dim sun flickers and dies away
And the gates of Heaven are closed at last:

Who will be left to blow the Shofar for us?

ThenSpeak / NowSpeak

Mack Hall, HSG

ThenSpeak / NowSpeak

ThenSpeak: Call of duty.
NowSpeak: Call of Duty™©.

ThenSpeak: “I helped build the Alaskan pipeline.”
NowSpeak: “I topped my personal best on the rock-climbing wall today.”

ThenSpeak: “When I was in advanced infantry school…”
NowSpeak: “When I was in graduate school…”

ThenSpeak: “I worked two jobs to get through college.”
NowSpeak: “Why doesn’t MY Pell Grant cover more of MY expenses?”

ThenSpeak: “In Viet-Nam I knew some great guys who…
NowSpeak: “I have 563 Friends™ on MyFaceMeSpaceBook™!”

ThenSpeak: “I remember this old sergeant who used to bellow at us.”
NowSpeak: “My therapist says I need to embrace my inner child.”

ThenSpeak: Thinking and voting.
NowSpeaking: Passively listening to the fat boys on the radio.

ThenSpeak: “At the beginning of my senior year my dad took me to be fitted for my first adult suit.”
NowSpeak: “Do you like my new knee-pants and cartoon tee?”

ThenSpeak: “When I got out of the Army I found a good job with the railroad.”
NowSpeak: “People just don’t understand how hard it is to find a creative position in fashion design that speaks to my special vision.”

ThenSpeak: Douglas Edwards, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, William F. Buckley.
NowSpeak: Legs.

ThenSpeak: Stetson.
NowSpeak: Gimme cap.

ThenSpeak: “Ah, wilderness!”
NowSpeak: “I don’t have a signal!”

ThenSpeak: On-the-job training.
NowSpeak: Sensitivity training.

ThenSpeak: Steak and potatoes.
NowSpeak: Leaf mold.

ThenSpeak: Squirrel season.
NowSpeak: YBox.

ThenSpeak: Louis L’Amour.
NowSpeak: Zombies.

ThenSpeak: Wedgwood.
NowSpeak: Plastic foam.

ThenSpeak: “I’m early so I can get the deep-fryer going before opening time.”
NowSpeak: “I’m an inspirational singer-songwriter and I’m only working here with you little people until I get my big break.”

ThenSpeak: “Thank you.”
NowSpeak: (Grunt).

ThenSpeak: “You’re welcome.”
NowSpeak: “No problem.”

ThenSpeak: “Fill ‘er up? You bet. And let me wash that windshield.”
NowSpeak: “Insert card now. Card not accepted. Insert Card now. Card not accepted. Insert card now. Enter your zip code. Select product. Begin fueling.”

ThenSpeak: “My boss is a cranky old coot, but I kinda like him. He’s paid his dues and he knows his job.”
NowSpeak: “My boss doesn’t understand my special needs.”

ThenSpeak: “I didn’t pay much attention in high school but I re-read Macbeth while I was recovering from shrapnel wounds. This guy in the next bed said it’s all about psychology and determinism, but I see it as a narrative of what happens when a good man allows sin to creep into him. We had some fine old arguments about it.”
NowSpeak: “I read Captain Underpants in graduate school because, like, you know, they said it was a banned book, and, like, stuff, you know? So I read a banned book and stuck it to The Man.”

ThenSpeak: “You always take off your hat when greeting a lady, or at least touch the brim. And a man never wears a hat in the house, in an office, or when sitting down to eat.”
NowSpeak: “This made-in-China hipster hat is who I am!”

ThenSpeak: “Always speak to a lady as you would expect any man to speak to your mother, your wife, or your daughter.”
NowSpeak: “**** that ****. We’re in the 21st century now.”

And, yes, we are.


ThenSpeak / NowSpeak II

Mack Hall, HSG

ThenSpeak / NowSpeak II

ThenSpeak: “The Secret Service is the finest police agency in the world.”
NowSpeak: “They could be a movie: Fratboyz ‘n’ Chicks Go Wild.”

ThenSpeak: “Dad, may I borrow your new car? My old heap won’t start and I’ve got a date.”
NowSpeak: “Son, may I borrow your new car? My old heap won’t start and I’ve got to get to work.”

ThenSpeak: “Let’s work on our penmanship.”
NowSpeak: “The PowerlessPointless won’t work; somebody call IT.”

ThenSpeak: “I want to be a policeman when I grow up.”
NowSpeak: “I want to be a fashion designer.”

ThenSpeak: “When the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on…”
NowSpeak: “There’s an app for that.”

ThenSpeak: “I enjoy reading about my favorite team in the sports section.”
NowSpeak: “I enjoy reading about my favorite team in the arrest reports.”

ThenSpeak: The Bible in Grandmama’s hands.
NowSpeak: The Bible on the dashboard.

ThenSpeak: Recruit training.
NowSpeak: Sensitivity training.

ThenSpeak: Pay phones.
NowSpeak: Pay and pay and pay and pay and pay for MePhones.

ThenSpeak: Ford vs. Chevy.
NowSpeak: Fiat vs. Toyota.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Lawrence Hall, HSG


Like farmers at the end of a working day
The trees are tired, the sky, the world, all tired
Exhausted from the heat, so very tired;
Creation seems itself to lie in stasis
There panting on the ground, but with great hope
For soon – today, next week perhaps – the leaves
Will stir with news from the royal-blue north,
Permission for the woods to sing again,
To dress in red and gold, to dance before
The silver autumn frosts that crown their year

The Revolution

Lawrence Hall, HSG

The Revolution

Little men arguing in shabby rooms
Meetings, manifestos, revolvers, bombs
Informers, spies, social organization,
Speeches, minutes, dues, What is to be Done?
The great cause of the Proletariat
Greetings from our good comrades in Smolensk
Nihilism, committees, secrecy
The thirst for culture is aristocratic
Nihilism is the only art of the people
Rumors, whispers, clandestine magazines
The unification of workers and peasants
Resolutions passed in the factory soviet
Clenched fists to reject the personal life
Electrification and equality
Cigarettes, vodka, the people’s justice
Against the parasitical bourgeoisie
Solidarity to destroy the kulaks
His poetry reeks of sentimentality
Self-centered intellectual decadence
The people’s will for the people’s party
Education for the twentieth century
Lift high the red banner, fill full the graves


Lawrence Hall, HSG


We’re mired once more within a quag
Or quagged, perhaps, within a mire
Evil laughs at the same old gag:
Nero golfs while the world’s on fire

Elegy for Brave Little Cottonpip

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Elegy for Brave Little Cottonpip

For Deedra

In Egypt cats were set as palace guards
To watch the desert from stone-linteled gates
With wide-set eyes, proud lions of the Nile
And in their diminutive dignity
Bless with their furry, purry, royal presence
The households of the ancient kings and queens

And cats have never forgotten their ancient warrant:
To pose, to pace, to pause, to pounce, to please
Their noble queen always, faithful even unto death -
O do not mourn the passing of brave Pip
For now he tumbles and plays among the stars
And purrs to you still, your brave palace guard

Rain With Punctuation

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Rain with Punctuation

A house when empty is not always peaceful
But today it is. September rain to heal
The hurt, summer-dry earth floats so softly
And so quietly
That thunder is a loud punctuation
An exclamation mark BANG! In the middle
Of a quiet, meditative line.

Not on my Watch

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Not on My Watch

A fellow whose timepiece was off just a notch
Said of a jeweler who was drunk on Scotch,
“He can work on his hangover, but not on my watch.”

How Lucky God is to Have Him

Lawrence Hall

How Lucky God is to Have Him

Perhaps he is a seer
Gifted with visions of glory
Still, I don’t want to hear
His me, me, me conversion story

Data Not Available at This time

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Data Not Available at This Time

“Data not available at this time”
Scrolls slowly across the tiny screen
But Verizon carefully counts every dime:
Their monthly pound of flesh is never lean

Banned Books Week

A note to The Paris Review:

Banned Books Week is as scripted and as precious as a Hallmark Christmas movie. One hopes the admirable Paris Review will not become as predictable and as uncritical as the sort of people who pour buckets of water over their heads because all the cool kids are doing it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Matins and Lauds Without Cats

Lawrence Hall

Matins and Lauds Without Cats

If your sunrise view is of garbage cans
And utility poles leaning over an alley
Or if you have no window, or even a kitchen
If morning dew condenses on barbed wire
Or dripping concrete walls echoing-echoing,
If your only view is of a cinder-block wall
And the only sound is the medicine trolley
Squeaking through its early hospital rounds
Without any coffee or even much hope
Then please feel free to borrow for today
Any of the many, barely-used mornings
From those of us who in our ingratitude
Tend to begin our days of open windows
Not with a joyful litany of praise
But with a tiresome catalogue of complaints

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Matins and Lauds and Cats

Lawrence Hall

Matins and Lauds and Cats

Now stir your morning hopes into a cup
Of coffee sweetly censed with optimism
Along with milk or cream and chemicals;
Switch off the strident, nattering radio
And through the kitchen window note with joy
The dramatic stretchings of indolent cats
Yawning the beginning of their new day,
A tree frog working late, reposing still
Upon the screen as if it were a throne
From which he rules all insect destinies,
And a sudden fluttering in the grass
As an early bird gets his worm indeed
While a vapor of diaphanous mist
Slow-curls among the oaks, perhaps to seek
Some comfortable solitude for the day;
Old Sol, fresh from his adventures in the East
Serves sunlight filtered softly through the damp,
Fresh light for your breakfast, a Matins
Psalm sung to you all the way from a star.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Burn Theory

Mack Hall, HSG


Book Burn Theory


In a recent Orwellian telescreen episode of Big Bang Theory one of the lead characters arrives at a crisis of scientific faith.  Having long worked at an obscure theory of something-ness, the character concludes that all his years of research have been for naught.  In a sort of intellectual purge the young scientist decides to give away all the books he has accumulated on the failed theory.


When someone asks him why he doesn’t simply throw away the books, the young man replies with (the quotation is from memory, and might not be exact) “I don’t like the smell of burning books; they remind me of church picnics in East Texas.”


Yes, how sad to live in intellectual darkness in East Texas when we could all emigrate to enlightened New Jersey where Snooky and Governor Christie play bridge tag among the abandoned casinos.


This is not to say that the telescreen character might not have a small point, despite his bigotry.  Visits to several colleges in East Texas suggest to the observer that the amount of tax revenue flung at rock-climbing walls, swimming pools, foosball parlors, handball courts, and indoor jogging tracks might be higher than the investment in the science program.


How curious that on election day this November there might be people sweating on fake rocks who (the people, not the rocks) later won’t have the energy to vote.  Energetic play might be (one doesn’t want to stereotype) easier for some than voting for the legislators who through appointed boards are the controlling authority for public colleges and universities.


In The Sand Pebbles Petty Officer Holman has difficulty explaining the theory of steam power to a young Chinese sailor.  Holman develops as an instructional aid the imagery of little dragons running up and down the steam pipes in the engine room, and that works fine.  In our time a petty officer in the Chinese navy might have to explain nuclear power to an American non-voter as little rock stars, fashion designers, and cooking show hosts colliding against each other in the reactor. 


In East Texas we have all attended church picnics and other after-the-liturgy social occasions hosted by many religious groups, and there are no reports of either books or heretics being burned as part of the merriment.  Truth, however, is no obstacle to a cheap and easy laugh on the Orwellian telescreen.


Recently I read a fifty-year-old book of essays by a Christian writer. The stamps inside the cover reveal that the book had been owned, in turn, by the library of a Catholic seminary, the library of a Catholic church, and the library of a Protestant grade school, all in East Texas, before being remaindered via Goodwill (my book store of choice). 


The book was written by a Catholic writer, and so the librarian of the Protestant grade school had affixed to the title page a memo to the students that while there was much in the book not in agreement with that denomination’s teachings and usages, there was much good in it, and that in a spirit of intellectual inquiry and the freedom to disagree the book was available to all. 


In sum, three religious institutions in East Texas offered to their faithful the free circulation of this sometimes controversial (and often tiresome) volume for fifty years.  Underlinings, penciled markings, and much wear indicate that many people read this book, both in agreement and disagreement.  St. Vincent’s Seminary did not burn it.  St. Leo’s Church did not burn it.  Cathedral Christian School did not burn it.


Further, one can validly assume that the three institutions taught that stereotyping of others is wrong.  The producers and writers of Big Bang Theory might want to think – think, not feel – about that.  That a current stereotype is fashionable doesn’t make it any less a stereotype.


Still, no one should ever feel obligated to think well of New Jersey.