Sunday, December 28, 2008

What if Governments Made New Year's Resolutions?

Mack Hall

India and Pakistan: Our two governments resolve to stand down all the border tension and work together in the new year so that we can get back to what we do best, persecuting Christians.

Congress: We’re going to stop bailing out rich people. CEOs who fly about in private jets should not be funded by firefighters and cops and store clerks. Further, the suits who rule the United Auto Workers need to find in their hearts the good will to sell their $33 million lake retreat and their $6 million golf course instead of demanding tax money from Americans who work for minimum wage.

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg: In the new year I’m going to, like, you know, vote, and stuff. And disapprove of land mines.

President Bush: Clearly Americans should no longer fund any projects for oil-glutted Iraq; the purportedly poor Iraqis are throwing away perfectly good shoes. Instead of paying American engineers and skilled workers good money to rebuild Iraq, let us pay American engineers and skilled workers good money to rebuild America.

Al Gore: May all humans come to understand that global warming is a hoax promoted by bullies for reasons best known to themselves, and I apologize for having deluded myself. In the end, what we’re talking about is weather. Not that it means anything, but I’m going to stop flying around in my private jet and driving around in convoys of SUVs and preaching to people for big bucks.

Governor Perry: I’ve found out that I’m the only man in Texas who cares diddly about spending millions of dollars rebuilding the governor’s mansion. That old building looked too much like a set from Gone With the Wind anyway. I propose we sell the property for development, thus putting it on the tax rolls.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: I’m going to have a lot fewer of my people’s heads cut off this year.

President Sarkozy of France: You know, my fellow monsieurs, if not for the Americans we’d all be native speakers of German. I think we should host a Thank-a-Yank day.

President Kohler of Germany: You know, mein Herren, if not for the Americans we’d have to rule the French! Ouch! I think we should host a Thank-a-Yank day.

China: Clearly the American government doesn’t care at all about the quality of the food and products we ship to the American people. As a matter of being good neighbors and in the absence of responsible American government we should build quality products and make sure the food we export isn’t poisoned.

Hamas: At some point someone’s going to ask why our Palestinian children are starving while we spend millions of donated dollars to buy rockets to fire into Israel. This year I propose we stop blaming Jews for everything and begin acting like a civilized state.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: I don’t need an expensive Air Force jet just to fly wherever I want to go; I’m going to be a positive role model in matters of thrift and fly commercial this year.

Governor Blagojevich of Illinois: I shouldn’t burden the people of Illinois with my confusion as to what planet I’m from. I’m also going to stop trying to sell public offices and be a responsible governor from now on – if that’s okay with my fraternity brothers and in accordance with Plan Nine From Outer Space.

President Putin of Russia: This year and forever, I am Plan Nine From Outer Space.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Night of Watching

Mack Hall


Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

-- Mohr and Gruber, 1818

“Christmas…in all his bluff and hearty honesty” (Dickens, 1836) is near, and most of us will be blessed in celebrating this ancient Feast at home with our families, warm and under cover. We can attend a Christmas Eve liturgy and wrap gifts and sleep in earthly (at least) peace because a great many others will be on duty keeping us safe in the long watches of the night.

In the cold beneath the wild and snowy Hindu Kush and along the banks of rivers that Abraham knew, young Americans will be on patrol on Christmas Eve, keeping Osama Bin Ladin and his merry-less men too busy to shoot at the rest of us.

And in our own country, too, men and women will stand to and stand up on Christmas Eve: police, firefighters, utility crews, and medical staffs will count themselves blessed if they can take a few minutes for a cup of acrid, staff-room coffee on the night of the Savior’s birth.

Somewhere under the cold stars of Christmas Eve a cop will give a crying child a teddy bear and try to comfort him when his little world is made cruel by a drunk adult.

On this sacred night fire crews will roll because of a badly-wired tree or a flaming car wreck.

If the ice falling in the silent night takes down the electricity, our rural electric co-op crews will forsake their warm beds and take the trucks out in the sleet to spend cold hours making the rest of us warm again. If the Star of Christmas were to wink out (it won’t, of course), we can be sure that a Jasper-Newton Electric Co-Op truck would soon be rolling up with a crew to mend it.

EMT crews, driving ambulances pulled by eight huge cylinders rather than by eight tiny reindeer, will carry the gift of life on Christmas Eve. In the hospitals and nursing homes dedicated caregivers will be as the shepherds of long ago who came to the Stable when called, serving Christ in the long, long night by serving His people.

We are all called to lives of duty, not of privilege, and thank God for those who respond to that call better than the rest of us do. The Christmas of those who watch and serve in the night is especially holy. I hope they know that.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

-- Longfellow, 1864

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Football -- More Interesting Than a Nap

Mack Hall

For those of us gnashing our decaff lattas in the non-athletic darkness, football is only slightly more interesting than a nap, and on Sunday afternoon the nap definitely takes the gold. The basic thrust of the game – carrying an oddly-shaped leather ball across a boundary in the face, facemasks, and sometimes fists of the opposition – is clear enough, but the arcana of rules is terribly confusing. As Andy Griffith asked fifty years ago in “What it Was, Was Football,” why do the convicts in the striped shirts throw yellow flags ever so often and make everyone stop what they are doing?

But our little town’s Wildcats are the exception, even for those who consider Keats more cunning than Knute, know Blake better than Bear, and think Tom Eliot tops Tom Landry.

This exception is because the only real football is high school football, the true inheritor of mediaeval English village sports in which, it is alleged, a live pig was employed at the beginning of the game (by the end, said pig was dead). When the sturdy young men of one’s own village thrash out their differences with the young men of the neighboring village, the competition is local and personal, and thus genuinely interesting.

Our town’s reputation for football has often been expressed in that charitable metaphor, “a rebuilding season.” Further, even in the shifting of districts because of demographics, the Wildcats invariably found themselves up against dynasties of state champions. Great big state champions. Great big state champions whose knuckles scraped the ground as they loped across the field bellowing a rather feral basso profundo like primeval swamp critters. But the games were played on the home fields and in the home mud, against the in-laws from up and down the two-lane, and sometimes the Wildcats won, and it was always fun anyway.

Even shy and retiring bookworms jump up and down with excitement when the Wildcats play.

And now, in the best Disney tradition, the Cinderella Wildcats have not only whupped two dynastic teams but are going to State in high hopes of achieving two almost impossible dreams, the championship and, even better, the championship without a single defeat from August to December.

The Wildcats will play the Muleshoe (um…surely Mules?) at Grand Prairie this Saturday at 6:00 P.M. Muleshoe is across the border from Clovis, New Mexico, named for the 6th century founder of the Merovingian dynasty, which has nothing to do with anything except perhaps to remind us that, like royal dynasties, football dynasties too are transitory.

But for now, just imagine the Wildcats with the state championship!

Yes, this game is going to be far more interesting than a nap.

-30-

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Encountering the Third World

Mack Hall


The week of Thanksgiving was one of horror, with televised images of terrorism, horror, panic, murder, and blood. And that was just the first few days of Christmas shopping in America.

Like The Religion of Peace-That-May-Not-be-Named, America is beginning to mark its holy days with body counts: one employee trampled to death (though not eaten) by shoppers in a big-box store in Long Island, New York, two dead by gunfire in a toy store in Palm Desert, California, and miscellaneous robberies in parking lots during the start of this festive season.

When the Long Island police closed the big-box store briefly to establish a crime scene for investigation, the murderers were angered that their shopping was interrupted. After a few hours the Arkansas-based chain, in their compassion for an employee murdered while on the job, reopened the store because, after all, this is The Christmas Season.

Perhaps a foreign newspaper will write something like this about us: The really frightening thing is that America, populated by such backward, irresponsible inhabitants, is a nuclear nation. Spain, France, England, Japan, and China have in turn tried to colonize America, but with little residual effect. Americans remain a simple people, easily amused by gifts of shiny but worthless trifles. They delight in adorning themselves as perpetual children; even among the elderly grown-up clothing is as little known as thrift and self-restraint. If such child-like primitives cannot be trusted not to kill each other over made-in-China baubles, how much danger might they be to civilized nations? One fears that the nuclear trigger is in reach of a text-messaging forty-something Yank wearing head-phones, sneakers, knee-pants, and a tee-shirt bearing the iconic message of America in the 21st century: “Whasssssssssssssssss-Upppppppppppppppp?”

President Bush has offered help to India because of the latest mass murders committed by what some are pleased to call youths, but perhaps India could help us first because of murders committed by Christmas shoppers. We point a patronizing finger at other dysfunctional cultures only at the risk of having an equally disapproving finger pointed back at our own.

Every year one reads how commercialized Christmas has become, but Christmas has not become commercialized at all: we have. And commercialization is fine in its place; the buying and selling of goods mean jobs and prosperity. Commerce is good, up until the point where shopping becomes not simply foolishness, like the silly woman who camps out in front of a store for days before a sale, but an act of terrorism.

We can do better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who Are You?

Mack Hall

The Duke of Norfolk: “What sort of foolery is this? Does the King visit you every day?”

Thomas More: “No, but I go to Vespers most days.”

-- A Man for All Seasons


What one really wants to see at Thanksgiving is the President whippin’ out a .22 and shooting the turkey (the strutting bird, not the strutting reporter) on the White House lawn instead of pardoning it.

Perhaps a new ritual could be initiated – a poor worker could be dragged out in front of the White House and forgiven this year’s confiscatory taxes.

Presidents seem to be required to waste their time on purely secular rituals that carry little relation to the ancient unities of faith and civilization: pardoning turkeys, doing something with Easter eggs, throwing out the first baseball, and worshipping the Superbowl.

The last thing we expect to see of a president in the 21st century is participation in a real ritual such as attending Vespers, making the Stations of the Cross, carrying the Gospels in a procession, standing as a happy witness at a baptism, or pardoning a human prisoner with a brotherly admonition to go and sin no more.

The religious rituals are thin enough now, and as a result the secular ones are increasingly bizarre. Make no mistake about it, humans will have rituals as surely as they will have stories, and if the genuine rituals and genuine stories are discarded they will be replaced with Hallmark ones or worse.

Recently several Texas cheerleaders were indicted for tying and blind-folding younger cheerleaders and then throwing them into a swimming pool, a situation that could well have led to deaths. This humiliation and endangerment were part of, yes, an initiation ritual.

Let us consider the facts. First, the older girls came ‘round in cars early in the morning – also known as the middle of the night – to take away the younger girls, purportedly to breakfast. Second, the older girls bound the girls with duct tape. Third, the older girls blind-folded the younger girls. Fourth, the older girls threw the younger girls into a swimming pool, bound and blindfolded.

And few people saw any harm in this. It’s a ritual; we’ve always done it; if you don’t let us lie to you and humiliate you and endanger you we won’t be your friends.

American soldiers are in federal prisons for doing far less to murderers who strap bombs to women and children.

In a few weeks the Chief Justice of the United States will in a ritual swear in a new President, demonstrating once again that America changes governments without coups or putsches or mass executions of the losing side. The President will take an oath, a public oath, perhaps with his hand resting on a copy of the Bible. And that’s it. He won’t be blindfolded, he won’t be stripped naked, he won’t be bullied into drinking alcohol, he won’t be endangered by torture, and he won’t have to refer to bullies as his brothers.

Humans have a need to be accepted by other humans, and certainly the village grouch is to be pitied. But a human should also possess and good sense of self and a certain autonomy in matters of dignity and self-preservation.

If a group of people come to get you in the middle of the night, like the Venezuelan or Cuban secret police, they do not have your best interests at heart. If you have a choice, why go with them?

If someone blindfolds you, he is taking away your ability to see. Why?

If someone binds you, he is taking away your ability to move freely and your ability to defend yourself. Why?

If someone humiliates you so that you will be permitted to be his friend, well, why? Do you really want to be accepted by people suffering weird psycho-sexual hangups? Far, far better for such unhappy and inadequate people to disapprove of you!

As your old daddy told you, always remember who you are.

-30-

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Poverty Professionals

Mack Hall

As the advertisers inflict The Christmas Season (formerly known as Advent) upon us with all the subtlety and elegance of a back-alley beating, let us pause in our mad mall struggles for made-in-China gimcrackery to reflect on Those Less Fortunate.

Sure, you want to give your kid a bicycle or a new coat for Christmas, but consider that instead you might give your child a life-long lesson in generosity by taking the money you would have spent on the bike or the coat and donating it to a destitute banker or community activist having to make do with a year-old Mercedes-Benz.

Even as you read this, perhaps an auto executive and a union boss are meditatively puffing on Havana cigars in a behind-two-layers-of-receptionists office, sadly wondering where their next skiing trip to Gstaad is going to come from.

Just look into their pained eyes (if you could get through security) and then try to tell yourself that your child’s Christmas is more important than theirs.

Of Christian charity you must also think of those men and women who mismanaged the pension fund you’ve paid into for the last thirty years. You would be selfish to think about your house note and how you will live in your old age when the fund is in such bad shape that you can afford to send pension managers to, oh, conferences in Las Vegas for only one week this year, instead of two.

How proud your child would be of you if you were to say, “Darling, we don’t need a turkey for Christmas. We can do without a tree and presents. Let us give our Christmas money to Those Less Fortunate who mislaid Mom and Dad’s pension so that those executives can hire better masseuses. We can celebrate more merrily on canned meat, knowing that our hard work all year is going to a good cause.”

And how happy we Americans are that our President has entered into the spirit of Enron-ish self-denial, hosting a meeting of world leaders to discuss the financial crisis over wine that cost only $300 a bottle. That’s the Battle of Britain spirit we need in hard times.

Carrying on in inspirational self denial, Bob Geldorf, famous for something-or-other, gave an anti-poverty speech in Melbourne, Australia last week, and modestly accepted only US$65,000 in fees and gifts for doing so. While we do not know exactly what Bob Mother Theresa Geldorf said about poverty, we are reasonably sure he is against it. And land mines. And stuff.

Auto executives, Fannie Mae Executives, Freddie Mac Executives, Amtrak executives, National Public Radio executives, community activists, Irish musicians, two wonderful political parties that truly care about The People – all will need our thoughts and prayers, and, yes, our love offerings this Christmas / Winter Fest / Jack Frostival.

“Federal bailouts bless us not-quite-every one!” cried Tiny Tim, MBA, as he hoisted a class of champagne on a government office balcony overlooking the poor trying to keep warm in the frozen streets below.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Benefits of Being a Boomer-Geezer

Mack Hall

The Benefits of Being a Boomer-Geezer

Boomers don’t make very good geezers. After all, growing old was not part of the plan. But, hey, fellow Boomer-Geezers, life at our age is not about the vitamins or the expando-waist slacks; it’s about the perqs! No, not the Social Security we paid in; that’s already been looted for the sake of Iraqis who hate us and the Doctor Phil leisure class who also hate us. The rewards for being silver- or no-haired are less tangible than mere food, clothing, and shelter; the rewards are, like, y’know, spiritual, and, like, existential.

Following is a modest list of benefits derived from being the sort of people we used to dismiss as uncool:

People don’t ask you to help with the heavy lifting. Indeed, if you are carrying something young people are likely to come over to you and offer to help. The exception to this is any big-box store in Beaumont where, if you look as if you might need help with something, the employees flee as if their lives are being threatened.

If on a road trip you suggest that you might need to visit the euphemism soon, the driver locks up the brakes at the next gas station. No one wants to trifle with a geezer’s digestive system or urinary tract.

Senior citizens’ breakfast specials at the truck stop.

Wearing a coat and tie to church is permissible as one of those cute Old People things. Given the dress code this decade, an under-forty wearing a tie would probably be denied Communion.

Middle-aged people with grey hair call you “sir.” This is a much better deal than when you were 19 and considered it a good day if your drill instructor called you nothing worse than “*&^%ing plant life.”

Bucket lists are fashionable now: “100 Books to Read Before You Die,” “100 More Diets at Which to Fail Before You Die,” 100 Shopping Malls Selling the Same Made-in-China Junk to Visit Before You Die,” and so on. Well, I have a reverse bucket list, things I never have to do again. At the top of my No, No, and Heck No list is A Christmas Carol. Never again. There was never a child more annoying than Tiny Tim. I hope his little crutch breaks. Really.

Registering for military conscription – checked that off long ago.

Handing the keys to your grown-up child and enjoying the ride. This is more fun than you thought.

The History Channel is often the home movies of events you lived through.

No one expects you to stop whatever it is you’re doing and help fix a computer.

Although you gave up smoking years ago, your pulse races during old movies when the hero lights the heroine’s cigarette. And your pulse races because of the cigarette.

Velcro sneakers rock, dudes!

Jack Palance was right when he said that growing old is not for sissies. The adventure continues, though, and it’s still a challenge and it's still great fun. As Ed said on Northern Exposure, “You want to wake up every morning to see what happens next.”

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Who's Up for 2012?

Mack Hall

Who’s Up for 2012?

After a honeymoon for the President-elect lasting a seemingly eternal ten minutes, the 2012 presidential campaign finally began this morning. Hopefuls of both parties donned their traditional plaid work shirts and convened at Ethel’s Coffee Shop in Cowflop, New Hampshire.

“The President-elect has been the President-elect for ten minutes, my fellow Americans, TEN (pause) LONG (pause) MINUTES! Are you happier now than you were ten minutes ago!?” cried Senator Heather Ok’eB’e McChang, who got her start in Helena, Montana’s rough north side, as she raised a clenched fist into the air, her Rolex glinting in the reflection of Ethel’s made-in-China fluorescent lights.

“Order up,” called Tony the cook as he lit another Lucky Strike cigarette. “I’d be happier if it didn’t take Loreen and her arthritic hip ten minutes to refill the customers’ coffee.”

Senator Manfred Pantsy of the east side of San Francisco asked four moose-hunters in Booth 4 “Are you tired of the failed policies of the last ten minutes!?" as he fondled his Ralph Lauren designer deer rifle.

“I need change! Change! I need change over here!” Loreen at the cash register called to Ethel as she cracked open a fresh roll of state quarters.

Senator Ibrahim Call-Me-Brian Abdullah from the 51st state, Iraq, gasped in exhaustion: “Our campaign has come so far in the last ten minutes. We’ve been on the road from one end of the great city of Cowflop to the other on the Talk-Talk-Talk Express with our (yawn) fresh new ideas.”

“I could use some fresh coffee ovah heah,” said Earl, who used to work at Home Deep Pot but got fired for actually helping customers.

Senator Cleophas Okra of Louisiana asked rhetorically if the fish-canning plant down the coast still offered good jobs for Americans. Did anyone in Cowflop still make a traditional American living canning fish?

“Yes, we can! Yes, we can!” replied a number of immigrant workers in Booth Five.

“I am not George Bush,” said Senator Okra.

“Who’s George Bush?” asked some university students who had spent the day before registering new voters three and four times each.

“The status quo in Washington wants to keep things the way they are!” exclaimed Senator McChang. “The President-Elect has almost been President for fifteen minutes now. He is only two months away from being sworn into office, and he hasn’t done anything for the working man yet! Can we afford fifteen more minutes of this almost-administration?”

“Ya wanna move along, honey?” asked Ethel. “Ya’s been in this booth for an hour and I can’t afford ya for fifteen more minutes when I got payin’ customers waitin’.”

And in a corner booth, wearing false beards while on their way to Canada for the fishing, George Bush and Dick Cheney enjoyed a good laugh.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cell 'Phones, Water Bottles, and the Ballot

Mack Hall

Cell ‘Phones, Water Bottles, and the Ballot

Uncountable kazillions of electrons have been blasted into the universe questioning where Barack Not-Allowed-to-Say-His-Middle-Name Obama was born and wondering if the possibility of a foreign birth compromises his eligibility to rule over us all as President of the United States.

Some of Senator Obama’s faithful appear to think he (or He) was born in Bethlehem. This is highly unlikely, but even so it would be irrelevant; his mother was an American citizen and never renounced her citizenship, so Senator Obama is as American as Chicago’s South Side.

If being born somewhere else were a disqualifier, millions of American citizens would not be citizens at all: the children of servicemen, diplomats, employees of multi-nationals, and the occasional ill-timed vacationer.

Although the Constitution says that, among other requirements, a President must be a natural-born citizen, one can only ask what that means. Pretty vague stuff there. Is there such a thing as an unnatural-born citizen?

Further, the first 20-30 American presidents were all foreign-born, subjects of Their Several Majesties of Great Britain and Ireland and Stuff.

The precise number of American presidents under the Articles of Confederation is difficult to calculate precisely; some served twice, and one didn’t serve at all due to illness, being informally and possibly illegally replaced by two substitutes. There could have been as many as nineteen presidents under the Confederation.

The first nine presidents under the Constitution, beginning with George Washington, were all born in the British Empire, and starting life as an imperialist is so not cool.

The first made-in-the-USA president was John Tyler, born in Virginia in 1790. In an aside we may note that he was the busy father of fifteen children by two wives, so perhaps he rather than George Washington should be regarded as the Father of his Country, or at least a great percentage of the population.

Whether or not Senator Obama would be an effective president is up to the voters -- or perhaps up to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or A.C.O.R.N. According to The Washington Times A.C.O.R.N. registered the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys to vote in Nevada.

This leads to the question of whether or not a football player must be natural-born in Irving, Texas in order to play football there. And, anyway, why aren’t they the Irving Cowboys? Could that too be a false registration thing? A nation waits with bated or baited breath for the answer.

The real issue in this election is not where Senator Obama was born. The real issue is how the typical modern American is going to be able to mark his ballot with his cell ‘phone in one hand, his plastic bottle of fashionable water in the other hand, a tin cricket stuck in one ear, and a bipod or tripod or something stuck in the other ear.

Is the Constitution available as a download?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Would Mrs. Jesus Do?

Mack Hall

What Would Mrs. Jesus Do?

An editor at Smith College, a college which you can’t afford, has written a piece in the stunningly misnamed Smithsophian (“sophia” is Greek for wisdom) proclaiming Barack You’re-Not-Allowed-to-Mention-His-Middle-Name Obama to be her personal Jesus. Her Jesus, and, yes, yours too.

Gentle Reader, you can read the Gospel According to Saint Maggie at:http://media.www.smithsophian.com/media/storage/paper587/news/2008/09/18/Opinions/i.Will.Follow.Him.Obama.As.My.Personal.Jesus-3440311.shtml?reffeature=recentlycommentedstoriestab.

Now that this specimen of America’s northeastern Leader Class has declared Obama to be Jesus, one wonders what role Mrs. Obama will share as co-Saviour, since by extending the definition she is Mrs. Jesus.

How will Mrs. Jesus order coffee from the White House staff in the mornings? Perhaps she will touch a little button at the bedside and say “This is Mrs. Jesus; Our Lord and Saviour Obama – and My husband, don’t forget – would like a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain now.”

Ordering the right wines for a White House state dinner for visiting kings and presidents and mahdis and muftis will be a snap, though: “My Lord and Saviour Obama, please turn this City of Washington tap water into a nice Chauteau Neuf du Pape for our guests.”

Imagine Mrs. Jesus at a parent-teacher conference: “You WILL give my child an ‘A.’ Don’t you know who I AM? Don’t make me get my husband Jesus in here to straighten you people out!”

Do Jesus and Mrs. Jesus tip the waiters at restaurants, or is a blessing adequate?

Will Mrs. Jesus complain to the manager if the salesgirl at the department store just can’t seem to fit Mrs. Jesus’ new Nike / Cartier / Dooney & Bourke halo just right?

Scripture refers to Jesus appearing and disappearing at will, so clearly Obama-Jesus won’t need Air Force One, but what about Mrs. Jesus?

Think about Billy Graham offering thanks to Jesus for His many blessings before a White House prayer breakfast, and Mrs. Jesus reminding him: “Hey! Hey! You forgot about ME! I’m MRS. Jesus, thank you very much. Don’t forget My Name in your next prayer, pal!”

And God – that is, Obama – alone knows what directives Mrs. Jesus will be issuing to the Bishop of Rome.

Of course Mrs. Jesus might not care too much about Maggie-the-editor and other undergraduate women swooning over her (or Her) husband. “Back off, honey; this Saviour’s mine.”

Sigh.

One infers that Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics are no longer read by Smith College undergraduates. But you, gentle reader, can find them in the book store or online. Perhaps you'd better hurry.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Only $25 Million, or, Larcenous Nerds in Chains

Mack Hall

Only $25 Million

Michael Cieply, an entertainment writer based in Los Angeles, reports that the State of Louisiana is looting its taxpayers for over $27 million dollars to help finance Brad Pitt’s next movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Oh, yeah, another Casablanca coming our way.

In 2006, the last year for which a precise amount is available, Louisiana’s film office gave away $121 million in “tax credits,” a euphemism which translates as, well, $121 million.

If a mugger holds you up at gunpoint, you see, he’s not stealing your paycheck; he’s offering you tax credits as an investment in your future.

Mr. Cieply also reports that Louisiana’s former film commissioner, Mark Smith, has been convicted of taking bribes to fake upward film budgets so that studios could enjoy more money wrung from Lousiana workers. He’s going to prison in January, but the studio that bribed him is not only not being indicted, it’s not even being named. Maybe the unnamed, unindicted studio will give Mr. Smith a bit part in a movie named Larcenous Nerds in Chains.

Michigan’s legislature may be stiffing its few remaining workers for as much as $200 million a year (the records are a little unclear, and for bad reason) to encourage movie-making. Presumably the studios will now hire lots and lots of Michiganders with the Michiganders’ own money to make movies. Sure.

Rhode Island paid $2.65 million in “tax credits” for one film, Hard Luck. Yeah, hard luck, Rhode Island workers.

Texas has a film commission too, and a perusal of its web site at www.governor.state.tx.us/film/ suggests that our commission may be more productive than others. The first page of the site lists dozens of jobs available with many film producers, television and radio stations, and electronic programmers. However, when I typed in “budget” on the film commission’s web site I got one of those vague, fuzzy, thank-you-we’ll-get-back-to-you-after-you-fill-out-this-form messages, so I can’t tell you how much you’re paying for the Texas Film Commission.

Some forty states now feature film commissions, and one wonders if there is any ethical reason for this. No theorist of government and finance – Aristotle, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, Paris Hilton – has ever codified the concept that working people must be taxed in order to finance state-approved entertainment which the workers can then enjoy only if they pay admission.

People should be free to pursue cultural interests as they think best. If Neville wishes to celebrate the music of Bob Wills, he may use his own money made at his own job to purchase a Bob Wills CD. If Bubba enjoys German opera, that too is his decision using his own money. But neither Neville nor Bubba can lawfully – lawfully -- be taxed in order to fund a private scheme of artistic endeavor which seems to be doing pretty well already.

Heck, we already have to pay up for National Public Radio (which can be received only by people who live near a city center) and Public Television (which most folks in the country can’t receive at all). That tea should have been dumped into the harbor long ago.

Let us of charity (ahem!) give the last word to Anthony Wenson of the Michigan Film Office, who says that this year his department has granted only $25 million in tax credits – meaning $25 million of Michiganders’ money – to film studios.

Only $25 million. Only.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bolivar and the Coast -- To Be Continued

Mack Hall
Mhall46184@aol.com

Bolivar and the Coast – To Be Continued

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn!

- Wordsworth

In a dark September, sadly unnoticed by many Americans outside the killing zone, the historic Bolivar peninsula, its houses and stores, its schools and roads and parks, its little set-‘em-up-Joe beach bars, its thousands of acres of wildlife refuge, were blown and blasted to sand and wreckage and death.

Along the rest of the coast, from Sabine Pass to Galveston’s West Isle, the stories are of a dreary and despairing sameness, disaster followed by federal indifference, indifference to the point of cruelty. When spring comes again to Sabine Pass and Bridge City and the empty spaces that were once little beach towns on Bolivar, the United States government will faithfully send tax notices to homeless people who worked and dutifully paid taxes all their lives, but who are given nothing back because the coastal people of Texas are not as dear to the hearts of the northeastern leader class as are the expensive puppets in Kabul and Bagdad.

Our uncounted coastal dead must be given over to the sea and the marshes, which in the end turn out to be no more cruel than the distant and unfeeling government which takes from displaced people money to build the infrastructures of this nation’s enemies but which will apparently never return some of the people’s money to the people so that they may rebuild something of their lives.

Some unfortunates without a sense or proportion or history have said that Bolivar, named for the liberator of South America, must be abandoned, and that people who choose to live there are selfish and stupid. Well, yeah, just as selfish and stupid as those of us who live in earthquake zones (which is all of us), tornado alleys, beneath snow-groaning mountains, and in the harsh, killing climate of the deserts.

Bolivar is more than just a really big sandbar where getting arrested on spring break is almost a rite of passage. Bolivar is geologically ancient, and history teaches us that people have occupied the peninsula and the islands almost as long as humans have occupied any part of North America. Indians, explorers, pirates, villains, fishermen, entrepreneurs, and holiday-makers have lived, worked, and sometimes died there. As with the First Nations and the Spanish missions and the Big Thicket, Bolivar is a core reality of the history of Texas. Bolivar is not simply a geographic foot-note to be deemed unworthy by someone in some office somewhere.

Bolivar will be back, and so will the people of the sea.

The peninsula’s newspaper, The Triton Beach Times, is in exile, as are most of the people of the seacoast. Times will be thin for the Times, as they will be for the exiles, and instead of ads for beach rentals and groceries stories there will for a time be casualty lists and pleas for knowledge of the missing. Like the Triton of Greek mythology, The Triton Beach Times is a messenger, a messenger who blows his horn calling the people of the sea back to the sea. Bolivar will be back, as will its newspaper; editor Jan Kent will not have it any other way.

For now you can reach The Triton Beach Times via email at beachtriton@att.net, or by mermaidmail at 1015 Hughmont Drive, Pflugerville, Texas 78660. Subscriptions are $18 a year. If you have ever built sand castles along Crystal Beach on a dreamy summer day, subscribing to The Triton Beach Times is a small way of helping make sure your children and grandchildren can someday build their own summer dreams there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Week Your Bank's Name is _____________

Mack Hall

Today I visited the drive-through window at a familiar building in order to cash a small check. I say building instead of bank because the building has changed owners many times lately, and I really don’t know who those people inside it are.

A nicely-printed sign said “A familiar face with a new name” and bore a demographically-correct picture of the faces of four nice-looking people whom I have never seen. Another part of the sign read “Now we’re X Bank. And you are still our favorite customer.”

Well, that “favorite customer” thing might carry some credibility if anyone at the bank actually knew me. At the drive-through I’ve seen a series of new faces lately, not familiar ones, and while that doesn’t bother me in any way I am becoming annoyed with being asked if I have an account with X Bank. And, honestly, I don’t know; I’ve never opened an account with X Bank or with any but one of its many predecessors. So I suppose my question to the next person I meet at the bank should be: who are you? Why are you handling my tiny little nest egg if you don’t know who I am? Do you have an account with me?

If Fill-in-the-Blank Bank and I do have an account with each other, I hope they will not waste money, as their predecessors did, on expensive advertising featuring some 30-something with a guitar, manure-free boots, and a cowboy hat assuring me how country I’ll be if I bank with Whatever-It’s-Called-This-Week Bank. I don’t want to be country, or urban, or anything else, and I have no emotional or ethnic investment in or loyalty to a bank, any more than I would with a parking meter. I just want ‘em to take care of my money, okay? And maybe expedite matters in the drive-through.

A friend suggests that banks might as well put up their signs in velcro since they keep changing names and owners, but I will go further and advise banks to put up a programmable sign in lights that reads: “Today your bank’s name is ____________________________.”

Sometimes I wonder if banks are run by that fellow in Nigeria who occasionally emails me to say I’ve inherited a fortune from a long-lost relative there, and if I’ll send him my bank account numbers he’ll see to it that the money is transferred right away.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Don't Worry; New Orleans is Safe

Mack Hall

This is my audition script for a job with National Public Radio:

After weeks of brewing at sea, mighty Hurricane Ike, bearing Mother Nature’s wrath and reflecting the global warming caused by greedy Americans driving cars and working at jobs, thundered ashore on a dark and stormy night, making landfall while wreaking havoc on women and minorities because of an evil CIA plot. Snapping trees like matchsticks, and matchsticks like trees, because people are always snapping matchsticks and saying “See, that sounds just like a pine tree!”, the hurricane, an iconic symbol of America’s loss of innocence, a storm that defined a generation, left devastation in its wake in places we in Washington never heard of and don’t care about, thankfully sparing our most European city and center of culture, New Orleans (cue the saxophones).

Evil, wicked oil companies cruelly pre-left oil production facilities in the path of Hurricane Ike in their pre-abysmal pre-failure to pre-plan the pre-needs of, like, y’know, harp seals ‘n’ stuff. A select congressional delegation will fly to Las Vegas in taxpayer-funded jets for a week-long investigation into corruption by Big Oil, and to participate in budgeting workshops to consider raising taxes in order to give more money to New Orleans, which was so ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Leave no child behind. Unless you’re Mayor Nagin (cue the sloshing water).

Images of devastation in Galveston, Texas can only suggest to imaginative people a little of what Hurricane Katrina must have been like in New Orleans when President Bush’s levees failed (cue the harmonicas).

Learning that every building in Bridge City, Texas, was flooded by the storm surge, with many of them completely destroyed and with whole families’ livelihoods destroyed, makes one want to take up a collection for the suffering of New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina (cue the zydeco).

Hearing that Bolivar Peninsula is no longer a peninsula but three islands and that the loss of life there is not yet determined makes one feel sorry for those in New Orleans who suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome from Hurricane Katrina (cue loud sniffles).

Pictures of the flooded homes in Beaumont and Orange, sleepy little towns in Texas, make one weep for the tragedies in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina (cue more loud sniffles).

Considering that the homes, businesses, and families of Winnie, High Island, Rollover Pass, Crystal Beach, and other quaint little places occupied by the sort of people who cling to guns and religion will never be the same, with some people having lost everything they ever worked for, leads this reporter to take the front in leading a national day of our-thoughts-and-hearts-go-out-to-you for the people of New Orleans who lost so much more during Hurricane Katrina (cue some vaguely church-like sounds).

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Favorite After-the-Hurricane Things

Mack Hall

My Favorite After-the-Hurricane Things
(apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)
Dedicated to Jasper-Newton Electric Co-Operative

Sweet smelling armpits and hot-water showers
Plugged-in electric clocks that tell us the hours
No more MREs in pink plastic wrappings
These are a few of my favorite things

Co-Op bucket trucks working on my street
Clean socks and clean shorts and non-smelly feet
Linemen who make electricity sing –
Definitely some of my favorite things!

The generator stored once more in the shed
Children asleep in their own little beds
Thankful for cold winds that autumn will bring
These are a few of my favorite things

In the gas line
In the ice line
When I’m FEMA sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jill, Will, Sophie, and the Hurricane

Mack Hall

As Wodehouse might have said, young men and women often ask me about my successful career in fleeing hurricanes and how they might begin building a future in that noble endeavor.

First, of course, you need a hurricane. I acquire hurricanes by living in East Texas, which saves transportation costs. If you live along the Gulf coast you needn’t order any hurricanes and don’t have to pay for shipping; the hurricanes simply come to you.

Second, when a hurricane presents itself you must then run away from it. Running away from a hurricane means it will almost surely go somewhere else, and you will make the stay-behinds happy in their bragging rights down at The Old Geezers’ CafĂ©’ when you return home with dramatic tales about the hotel or guest-room television carrying only fifty or so channels. High (yawn) adventure indeed.

Third, you should find as your refuge a household with three generations, including small children, under one roof. Three of my fellow refugees in this most recent Runaway Scrape were Jill and her pal Sophie, both fourth-graders, and Jill’s four-year-old brother Will.

Will, being the only boy, got the worst of it, but pity him not, for he usually began the it. Whenever Jill felt that Will’s behavior was growing presumptuous, her remedy was to hold him upside down and bash his head against the floor. When Jill forgot that her mother was in earshot on one such occasion the spectators learned that Jill’s you-are-in-such-big-trouble-young-lady name is Gillian.

Sophie, possessing both a somewhat gentler nature and the wisdom reflected in her name, did not participate in the upending of young Will, but smiled benignly upon the operation, rather like the nicer sort of dentist who says “This might sting a little, but you’ll be all the better for it.”

Will, though, is forty or so pounds of Churchillian determination, blended with a touch of the primeval, and not easily suppressed. Will took revenge on Jill and Sophie by discharging projectiles, foam balls propelled by an apparatus of wood and rubber bands won at the Cushing, Texas Labor Day jollifications. I regret to report that there was collateral civilian damage, and Grandpa confiscated the perfidious engine of destruction and placed it atop a bookshelf, far above the grasp of small guerrillas.

Which then led to an event involving a toy bow and arrows. Will’s dad seized those away from him, and in a stunning betrayal of the bonds of blood and manly comradeship turned the arrows on Will, who shrieked and giggled in horror and fear: “Shoot at me again, Dad!”

In the meantime, Jill and Sophie somehow formed a commando group in order to retrieve the wood-and-rubber-band perfidious engine of destruction, which in a suitably Eastern European volte-face they gave back to Will.

And I think this was all in the half-hour before church, but I could be wrong.

Following church the three children got out paints and brushes and sheets of paper, but after generating several two-dimensional images Jill and Sophie decided that Will would be a much better canvas for their creative endeavors, and so they painted him. As in, they painted him. With paint. The objective was to render Will as a butterfly, but in the end he resembled a rather loud snake. I am told by his mother that scrubbing him was an energetic experience, but even so Will was still rather green in the morning.

But perhaps I have in this narrative concentrated too much on Will. Let us not neglect Jill, who not only chastises unruly small boys with the efficiency of an Alaskan governor but who is also quite capable of walking around a table laden with fried chicken, biscuits, green beans, cole slaw, and macaroni-and-cheese, and then through Grandma’s kitchen featuring festive baskets of fruit bars, crackers, and cookies, and a refrigerator stocked with comestibles from all over the world, and then back around the table and summing up her inspection tour with “There’s nothing to eat!”

And then there is sweet Sophie, who in the midst of mighty battles sits serenely with her coloring book, ducking whenever the missiles fly, constructing colors and images that make the world a better place.

Jill, Will, and Sophie; these three abide, and they are great love indeed. The greatest happinesses are the small happinesses asleep like puppies amid disheveled piles of blankies and pillows on the living-room floor, one of them still somewhat green but all of them safe from hurricanes, joyful proofs of a loving God who means for the world to go on.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Take That, You Rascally Republicans!

Mack Hall

All the world turns its attention to the upper midwest this week, because when you’re talking about Republicans in Minnesota, you’re talking about some serious excitement, boy! When Uncle Edgar and Aunt Mabel wear their funny made-in-China Uncle Sam hats and start chugging some discount-store champagne on the convention floor, sooooeeeee, look out!

I just want all of You People out there beneath the embracing wings of my private jet to know that I am waiting for The Call to serve you, my little People, you ‘umble little working men and women who keep the wheels of American industry turning, as your next President and Saviour. Indeed, I pre-pre-release my pre-prepared pre-acceptance speech, for which in return my underground banks of secret computers manned…um…personned by my operatives are even now mining your personal computers for information:

My fellow Americans,

As I stand here tonight, bathed in the glorious reflected light of myself, the guy for whom I have been waiting, pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box, I just want you to know that the future lies ahead. The past is behind us. Tomorrow is another day. We have nothing to love but love itself. Nothing stands between us and the spirit of victory except the spirit of defeat.

Yes, we can – we can use commas to set single nouns of affirmation apart from independent clauses.

My running mate is a Washington outsider who brings years of Washington experience to the ticket in order to call upon veteran lawmakers to revolutionize business as usual in order to bring America to a brave new dawn of hope, because, after all, yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is a new day, and the sun shines on all persons regardless of creed, color, or walk of life.

As we open a new chapter of life on the long and weary road to a brave new world, the key to the future will unlock the envelope of opportunity for all, equality especially for the marginalized who build this great country daily with the sweat of their tears and the muscles of our toils.

Let us ensure that never again will Joe Six-Pack and John and Mary Catholic be burdened with having to think too much about errant hyperbole or have to deconstruct shades of meanings, or meanings of shades, because the blue-collar little people need to sit around their kitchen tables as they plan in hope the riding of their bicycles to their humble little jobs as they save the planet from global warming caused by a failure to think outside the pre-paid mailer and the inefficient recycling of fueled fossils and solar wind power for all the people of the world in peace, love, and harmonic convergence because life is like a delicate flower that must be gently nourished so that it will grow to be like a mighty oak sheltering the world from America’s occupation of Tibet.

My fellow Americans, let the nuance go forth from this second and minute and hour and decade from this night which defines a new generation of nurturing and loving souls who are passionate in their dedication for an America which looks more like the world, and a world which embraces each other in her loving arms because at the end of the day the bottom line is that we are all children of Mother Earth who is crying for her children through tears stained by pollution and a failure to love as the green torch of hope is passed from loving hand to loving hand and from loving windmill to loving windmill in the ever-expanding passionate quest from renewable energy sources under the selfless guardianship of my old pal T-Bone, who also just happens to own most of the ground under which those windmills sit.

I also want to thank my spiritual leader, The Reverend Doctor Bishop Brother Billy-Bob Hairdo of the Bright Light Free Will Four Square Full Gospel Holiness Sanctified Temple Fellowship Outreach of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Lamb and Taco Stand, your Visa Card welcome. I know he would love to be here with you tonight, but he got crossways of the district attorney and is even now being brutally tortured in a FEMA trailer.

With an unfailing confidence in the future that the sun will shine bright on a new America cleansed of last week’s news because it is all so last year, I pledge to you, my fellow Americans, my pledgeness that I will pledge to serve you in my beingness of soul and extend my blue-collar backgroundness through my simple Spode china dinner settings at a table open through all the highways and byways of this great land to all God’s / Buddha’s / Allah’s / Gaia’s children. With all my layered humility I pledge to thank you with all my heart and soul and prayers and thoughts.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Down From the Door Where it Began

First printed in 2001

Mack Hall

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the road has gone
And I must follow, if I can
Pursuing it with eager feet
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet –
And whither then? I cannot say.

-- J. R. R. Tolkien

Our former random collection of stem cells left for university on Sunday, alternating between giggles and tears as she loaded her little Volkswagen with flutes, clothes, books, tennis racket, computer, makeup, pillows, blankies, and all the other impedimenta of the late-adolescent female beginning her journey on her chosen road. This has been a week of departures, the annual late-August migration of high school graduates out of America’s fast-disappearing little towns and into the groaning centers of population for college or careers. In ones and twos they have flown away like hummingbirds in November, all the little rug-rats who squealed at birthday parties and sleepovers, and scampered through the house with the merry dachshunds. They long ago packed away the Barbies and took up books, musical instruments, microscopes, and computers instead. Some are off to great universities, some to the Marines, and some to the wonderful world of entry-level jobs: “Ya want fries with that?’

I woke up early on Sunday morning, and did what all fathers do for their college-bound kids: I washed Sarah’s car. It didn’t really need it, but I didn’t know what else to do. We had all gone to Mass the night before, because all journeys properly begin and end at the Altar. However, this left us with maybe too much time before Sarah joined The Other Sarah for their two-car departure. So I mowed the lawn. It didn’t really need it, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Eldon came over in the early afternoon; both his girls have left for A & M, so in our great sorrow we broke out a couple of cigars, sat under the fan on the back porch (now more commonly known as a patio), and felt old. Finally, around two, I violated my own no-cars-on-the-lawn rule and backed Sarah’s little Bug to the front door, where I followed orders and helped Sarah load her gear to her specifications while the usually merry dachshunds watched sadly. They didn’t know what was going on, but they somehow knew that their little world was about to change. And then there was nothing left to do. Sunlight fell on the green grass and the blue Volkswagen while the sky to the north darkened with an approaching thunderstorm. Hugs all around, and then Sarah drove away down the lane and the dusty East Texas road -- not to a movie or pizza with her buds, and not for an afternoon or an evening, but far away and forever.

Now the house is very quiet, and the babble of the television and the rattle of the washer can’t disguise the emptiness of a house where a child used to live. Sarah’s awards-heavy letter jacket hangs in her closet in its plastic bag from the cleaners. Last week it was her resume’; now it’s just an artifact of the past, stored away with plastic boxes of toys and games. On her bed reside the stuffed animals she cuddled at night and when she was sick. Her books are stacked on their accustomed shelves: the worn Little House books she read over and over, Diary of a Young Girl, My Cat Spit Magee, 501 Spanish Verbs, Agatha Christie mysteries, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, every Sweet Valley High book ever churned out on spec, Finland, Jane Austen.

One of the best things I ever did for Sarah was to ban daytime television during her childhood summers. Thus, she climbed her favorite tree with books, cats, and her cap pistol, and spent many warm afternoon hours in her green-lit, bee-humming world, hidden away from adults, reading. This was sometimes alarming, but she got through it without any broken bones.

They will wait patiently for Sarah: cats and dachshunds and stuffed toys and books and her climbing tree. I’ve even saved her cap pistol in case she should someday feel the need to be Queen of the West again. No kids run in and out of the house, and the ‘phone doesn’t ring a dozen times or so nightly -- The Divine Sarah’s Answering Service is definitely out of business. The stereo doesn’t shake the walls. I can watch The History Channel all I want. Heck, maybe I am The History Channel.

Fare thee well, Sarah Elizabeth Maria Goretti Hall, daughter of Cromwellian Roundheads and French refugees, of American Indians and Yankees and good Confederates, of soldiers and sailors and farmers and railroad men and laborers, of women who crossed oceans in wooden ships and gave birth in wagons along forest trails. Thank you for the magical gift of your childhood. I hope you get to see the sunset at midnight in Finland again, and climb on a bronze lion in Trafalgar Square. I hope you play your flute in Italy, visit castles in Germany, ski in Austria, and do whatever it is they do in Australia. I hope your friends are always like those great kids you grew up with. May your little Blue Bug carry you to great adventures, and may it follow its nose home when you are ready to come back to the door where a couple of little dachshunds and an old dad sit waiting for you.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Roderick Spode Goes to the Olympics

Mack Hall

Dictators are not as sartorially formal as they used to be. Wodehouse’s fictional Roderick Spode practiced dictator-poses before a framed photograph of Benito Mussolini (as, apparently, did Bill Clinton; notice the pouty lower lip thing). China’s Hu, though, overlord of a larger slave empire than that of the slacker Hitler, forswears uniforms and moustaches and stern looks in favor of nicely-tailored sports coats, benign smiles, and Rotarian back-slaps.

Well, if a man’s going to speed your demise (Hey, Hu, what really happened to the Panchen Lama in 1989 while you were the gauleiter of Tibet, hmmmm? Heart attack, you say?), he might as well wear casual clothes and eye your corpse through designer glasses.

Someday the participation of the democracies in the Peiping / Peking / Beijing games will be viewed with as much embarrassment as showing up at the 1936 Olympics and posing prettily for snapshots beneath all those swastikas. Now, as then, the attitude by visitors and locals alike is very Feldwebel Schultzian: "I know NOTHING!"

Olympic games under tyrannies will never be open about their true athletic endeavors. Behind the gymnastics and basketball and footraces are the eternal competitions of dictators. This year’s winners and losers are:

Conquering Small Nations: Russia over Georgia takes the gold; China over Tibet takes the silver.

Executing Prisoners for the Harvest of Their Organs for Rich People: China by a hair-trigger.

State Religions: The Chinese Patriotic Church Not Associated With That Jew-Plutocrat Outfit in Rome falls to Hugo Chavez’s New and Improved Venezuelan Catholic Church Not Associated With That Jew-Plutocrat Outfit in Rome. The medals are presented by an Anglican priestess doing liturgical dance to the musical stylings of Dan Shutte.

Murdering Women: Gold: The Taliban, Silver: Al Quaeda, Bronze: Hamas.

Poisoned Foodstuffs Production: Gold: China, Silver: China, Bronze: China.

Blaming America for Everything That’s Wrong in the World: Gold: Russia; Silver, Iran; Bronze: China.

Geekiest Dictator: Gold: North Korea’s Kim Jong-Ill; Silver: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe; Bronze: Russia’s Vladimir Pewwwtin. Dishonorable Mention: Nancy Pelosi (The people can’t afford gas? Let them walk. Congress is dismissed.).

Most Oppressive Regime: Gold: North Korea, Silver: Zimbabwe; Bronze: Canada’s Human Rights Commission (Freedom of speech? Canadians don’t need no stinkin’ freedom of speech!).

The closing ceremonies of the Dictator Olympics will include a musical tribute to Saddamn Hussein along with a slide show of his death camps and his former friends being thrown to their deaths from bridges and buildings.
And now, while much of the world suffers, we return to our feature presentation of Hannah Montana’s latest stupid cell-phone-camera stunt.

Roderick Spode Goes to the Olympics

Mack Hall

Dictators are not as sartorially formal as they used to be. Wodehouse’s fictional Roderick Spode practiced dictator-poses before a framed photograph of Benito Mussolini (as, apparently, did Bill Clinton; notice the pouty lower lip thing). China’s Hu, though, overlord of a larger slave empire than that of the slacker Hitler, forswears uniforms and moustaches and stern looks in favor of nicely-tailored sports coats, benign smiles, and Rotarian back-slaps.

Well, if a man’s going to speed your demise (Hey, Hu, what really happened to the Panchen Lama in 1989 while you were the gauleiter of Tibet, hmmmm? Heart attack, you say?), he might as well wear casual clothes and eye your corpse through designer glasses.

Someday the participation of the democracies in the Peiping / Peking / Beijing games will be viewed with as much embarrassment as showing up at the 1936 Olympics and posing prettily for snapshots beneath all those swastikas. Now, as then, the attitude by visitors and locals alike is very Feldwebel Schultzian: "I know NOTHING!"

Olympic games under tyrannies will never be open about their true athletic endeavors. Behind the gymnastics and basketball and footraces are the eternal competitions of dictators. This year’s winners and losers are:

Conquering Small Nations: Russia over Georgia takes the gold; China over Tibet takes the silver.

Executing Prisoners for the Harvest of Their Organs for Rich People: China by a hair-trigger.

State Religions: The Chinese Patriotic Church Not Associated With That Jew-Plutocrat Outfit in Rome falls to Hugo Chavez’s New and Improved Venezuelan Catholic Church Not Associated With That Jew-Plutocrat Outfit in Rome. The medals are presented by an Anglican priestess doing liturgical dance to the musical stylings of Dan Shutte.

Murdering Women: Gold: The Taliban, Silver: Al Quaeda, Bronze: Hamas.

Poisoned Foodstuffs Production: Gold: China, Silver: China, Bronze: China.

Blaming America for Everything That’s Wrong in the World: Gold: Russia; Silver, Iran; Bronze: China.

Geekiest Dictator: Gold: North Korea’s Kim Jong-Ill; Silver: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe; Bronze: Russia’s Vladimir Pewwwtin. Dishonorable Mention: Nancy Pelosi (The people can’t afford gas? Let them walk. Congress is dismissed.).

Most Oppressive Regime: Gold: North Korea, Silver: Zimbabwe; Bronze: Canada’s Human Rights Commission (Freedom of speech? Canadians don’t need no stinkin’ freedom of speech!).

The closing ceremonies of the Dictator Olympics will include a musical tribute to Saddamn Hussein along with a slide show of his death camps and his former friends being thrown to their deaths from bridges and buildings.
And now, while much of the world suffers, we return to our feature presentation of Hannah Montana’s latest stupid cell-phone-camera stunt.

The Secret Jail for Democrats

Mack Hall

To read that Denver has built a secret jail for the detention of Democrats (activists say so; it must be true) is a thought so heart-warming, so touching that it would bring a tear to Colonel Klink’s monocled eye. One imagines jack-booted goon-squads of blonde Russian supermen employing electric cattle prods – or at least Super-Soakers filled with tap water – to herd masses of bleating liberals, liberals shuffling along on their all-natural hemp sandals and clutching their meagre possessions in tattered Starbuck’s gift bags, into cold, dripping dungeons secured by clanging iron doors. O, be still, my heart.

Alas, it is not so.

The city of Denver, under siege by foreigners with bags of deadly poisons and by domestic crazies with bags of feces to fling at the Party worthies, has converted a warehouse into a processing area for citizens alleged by police officers to have committed criminal acts. Flinging poison or feces, for instance.

The center is on Steele Street, and Steele is homonymic with steel, and the Russian for steel is Stalin, if you get my meaning. Lift high the barbed wire, comrades!

Just why there should be protestors in a society with an almost universal franchise (Do you have a pulse? Hey, you can vote!) that can change its government every two years eludes the thinking person. What are the protestors protesting? The vote? Freedom? Democracy?

According to the city, the center is simply for the post-arrest processing of peace-lovers who fling poison and doo-doo, not for long-term detention.

But according to the protestors, the center is a Putinesque Gulag with whips and chains and waterboarding and posters of Ronald Reagan in every cell.

Sigh. If only.

The city says the facility has been expensively remodeled, certified by the fire marshal, and air-conditioned, and offers water, restrooms, and medical care, which is a much better deal than Denver’s homeless ever get.

What? No coffee shop? No Evian water? No religious services? No widescreen telly? No quiche for breakfast? No direct line to Rick Warren or the Dalai Lama? The horror! The horror!

Rumor has it that the speaker system will play the theme from The Great Escape as the prisoners are fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed by Rolling Stone.

One anticipates that being arrested at the Democratic Party Convention will be a badge of honor among the bags of feces…I mean the carriers of bags of feces. Years from now aging leftists will brag at Old Comrades’ meetings about the brutality they suffered at the blood-stained hands of Officer Jennifer of the Denver Police: “She offered me a cup of house coffee – in a global-warming plastic cup!”

“I know where you’re coming from, comrade. When I asked for something to eat after ten long minutes of incarceration and starvation, Officer Stan gave me a sandwich on…sniff…white bread! Clearly that was racist code! Sob! And the sandwich contained meat from one of our animal comrades! Did they think I was a cannibal!?”

“You comrades are weak! You should have acted! I, in the name of the Revolution and of The Red Dawn of Aromatherapy, torched the twenty-year old car of a single-mother housekeeper at the Hilton! That taught her what it meant to cooperate with the oppressors!”

The Denver facility is supposed to be able to process sixty vegetarians an hour, but of course delays can happen, and Comrade Feces and Comrade Rycin may have to wait in holding areas. How will this be handled? Will roving, tattooed gangs of Hillaryites fight with roving, tattooed gangs of Obamistas in this Andersonville-in-the-Rockies?

Will sullen prisoners stare bleakly through the barbed wire at passing convoys of limousines carrying in degenerate capitalist luxury the more-comrade-than-thou Party functionaries?

Will prisoners raising clenched fists – fists clenching their PDAs -- generate manifestos demonstrating solidarity with the Russian workers’ and peasants’ liberation of fascist, war-mongering Georgia under the benevolent, all-seeing, all-knowing eyes of Comrade Putin?

Sergeant Schultz says “I know nothing! NOTHING!”

Ready the lawyers and grief counselors, Denver; it’s going to be a bumpy week.

Don’t laugh, you rascally Republicans; you’re next. Bwahahahahahaha!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Preabsolutely

Mack Hall

Perhaps the excessive use of the prefix “pre” began with advertisements by funeral homes: we were urged to preplan preneed for our predemise. But of course a plan by definition is a pre thing, and if you are planning your funeral that too is pre since you are not yet posed (or preposed) in the coffin under the scientifically-arranged (or prearranged) lights to make you look pretty. To say “pre-plan” is like saying “plan-plan.” With the complementary use of “absolutely” as a universal four-syllable substitute for the perfectly utilitarian one-syllable “yes,” the language took a divergent road in the yellow wood, and the way back is blocked by an avalanche of obscurantism.

To help make the works of our culture more accessible to moderns lost in that wood, I propose (or prepropose) the following re-makes (pre-makes?) of certain literary and cinematic icons of our time:

Casablanca:

Rick: “Last night we presaid a great many prethings. Absolutely. You presaid I was to predo the prethinking for both of us. Well, I've predone a lot of it since then, and it all preadds up to one prething: you're pregetting on that preplane with Victor where you prebelong. Absolutely.”

Ilsa: “But, Richard, preno, I... I...”

Rick: “Now, you've got to prelisten to me! You have any preidea what you'd prehave to prelook preforward to if you prestayed here? Nine prechances out of ten, we'd both prewind up in a preconcentration camp. Isn't that pretrue, Louie?”

Captain Renault: “Absolutely.”

Ilsa: “You're presaying this only to premake me prego.“

Rick: “I'm presaying it because it's pretrue. Inside of us, we both preknow you prebelong with Victor. You're prepart of his prework, the thing that prekeeps him pregoing. If that plane preleaves the ground and you're not prewith him, you'll preregret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but presoon and for the prerest of your prelife. Absolutely."

Ilsa: “But prewhat about us?”

Rick: “We'll always prehave Paris. We didn't have, we, we prelost it until you precame to Casablanca. We pregot it back last night. Absolutely.”

Ilsa: “And I presaid I would never preleave you. Absolutely.”

Rick: “And you never prewill. But I've got a prejob to do, too. Where I'm pregoing, you can't prefollow. What I've got to predo, you can't be any prepart of. Ilsa, I'm no pregood at prebeing prenoble, but it doesn't pretake much to presee that the problems of three little people don't preamount to a hill of beans in this precrazy world. Someday you'll preunderstand that. Now, now... Here's prelooking at you kid. Absolutely.”

Gone With the Wind:

Scarlett: “Oh, Rhett, prewhere shall I prego? What shall I predo?”Rhett: “Absolutely.”

President Kennedy: “Ich prebin ein preBerliner. Absolutely.”

John Wayne in True Grit: “Prefill your hand, you son-of-an-absolute!”

Ernest Hemingway: “There is prenothing to prewriting. All you do is presit down at a typewriter and prebleed. Absolutely.”

Thomas More: “I predie the King’s pregood servant, but God’s prefirst. Absolutely.”

Martin Luther King: “I prehave a predream. Absolutely.”

President Roosevelt: “Yesterday, a date which will prelive in preinfamy, the United States of America was predeliberately and preabsolutely preattacked by naval and forces of the Empire of Japan…”

And now, let us close with a prayer:

“Our Father, who preart in Heaven, prehallowed be Thy Name. Absolutely. Thy prekingdom come, Thy will be predone, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Absolutely. Pregiveus this day our predaily prebread, and preforgive us our pretresspasses as we preforgive those who pretresspass against us. Absolutely. And prelead us not into temptation, but predeliver us from preevil. Absolutely.”

-30-

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beijing, We Have a Problem

Mack Hall

The 19th was the British century, and the 20th was the American. The 21st is said to be the Chinese century, but beijing has a problem with sex.

To be specific, the Communist Chinese need laboratories to determine what sex other peoples are. Maybe we all look the same to them.

How can a nation that means to rule the planet, the skies, the moon, and Barbie’s playhouse do so if they are unclear on some basics, such as what are little comrades made of?

Perhaps the problem originates with Barbie and Ken, those all-American toys made in China for a generation now, and both of whom are indeterminate in their equippage and orientation. G. I. Joe, made of toxic waste in the factory next slum over, is a little more butch, but who’s going to hassle a guy who doesn’t know what branch of the service he’s in but carries machine guns? Maybe the Chinese have been spending too many hours making toys and sniffing too much glue and too many chemicals to be clear on the concept of boy and girl anymore.

The hosts of the Olympics, which are to sports what the current Chinese regime is to parliamentary democracy, have set up a laboratory to determine if purportedly female athletes are in fact males. Apparently “drop ‘em” is not adequate; neither is “turn your head and cough.” And you can bet your bottom, well, bottom that the scientist chicken inspectors will all be comrades of the male persuasion.

“Okay, comrade, ve haf ways of making you talk in basso profundo.”

The laboratory will not be testing male athletes to determine if they are actually females passing for bubbas, which would appear to be a violation of some Universal Declaration of Something or Other which associations of overpaid suits who know entirely too many big words are always generating. Where is the equality, comrades?

Chess players are not tested to determine their sex, nor or bandsmen, though of course Hulk Hogan never tried out for twirler. Cheerleaders are not subjected to inspection by committees of drooling Commie scientists making memories with their cell-phone cameras, nor are girls’ softball teams.

The air pollution in Peiping / Peking / Beijing is so bad that perhaps the what-sex-are-you committee will listen to the athletes’ coughs with some sort of audiometer for tone and pitch in order to determine sex. This would be less intrusive than a blood or wee-wee test, except when the toxicity of the weird chemicals the Chinese use to make stuff to sell to us causes the occasional cough-up of a chunk of lung.

So what happens if the committee determines that Carlita is in fact Carlos?

“Comrade athlete, the first screening suggests that you are not what you purport to be. Prove to this committee that you are a woman – serve us tea. In high heels. And make sure you do the Bunny dip. Let us hear you giggle.”

And if an athlete is determined to be the wrong sex? “Comrade athlete, The New and Improved Glorious Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic of China is proud to be the world leader in selling and installing body parts. If you’ll just take a look at this catalogue of, oh, volunteers from Tibet as well as, cough, uppity local volunteers from the Han, all in primo condition, we can can shoot…um…harvest the volunteer and have you a new sex up and running by the time the games begin, complete with a certificate of authenticity. Yes, the East is Red and your VisaCard is welcome. Plus, if you act now, you get to keep the Ginsu knives we use for the surgery, as well as the stick-it-anywhere magic light bulb and the roach spray.”

ChiCom games – gotta love ‘em.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mack Reports on Hurricane Dolly

Mack Hall

Mighty Category (number) Hurricane Dolly demonstrated Mother Nature’s wrath and scorn for man’s place in the planet as she slammed / stormed / thundered ashore to make landfall at (place) while a terrified humanity bravely hunkered down with all escape routes cut, praying to dodge the bullet as this mother of all perfect storms angrily manifested her rage with rogue winds tossing cars about like matchboxes and snapping trees like matchsticks, drenching the earth in the mother of all rainfall, spawning tornadoes and cutting a swath of destruction and leaving in her wake a cataclysm of destruction and a tsunami of wrecked emotions impacting women, children, and minorities most, the situation on the ground evoking post-traumatic-syndrome personal-demon memories of Hurricane Katrina, a perfect storm that changed our lives forever and defined a generation. (Sepia filter on lens. Fade to a fellow sitting in the mud playing the harmonica. Cut to a toothpaste commercial.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

World Geezer Day

Mack Hall

With the close of World Youth Day in Australia, we aging Boomers naturally ask why we can’t have a day of our own with a visit by the Pope. After all, our parents said we were special, right?

The young people are fond of singing “Benedetto!” (Clap! Clap!) over and over while waiting for the B of R to land at the airport. For World Geezer Day it’s more likely to sound like “Benedetto!" (Wheeze! Wheeze!). Gotta keep that oxygen going, Gramps.

World Geezer Day will require clearly written rules, unlike World Youth Day. The kids in Sydney were by all reports just as nice as can be, but Boomers tend to feel (and it’s all about feelings, right?) that ordinary good behavior is so bourgeois and beneath them. Here, then, are the rules for the proposed World Geezer Day:

John Lennon, the Dalai Lama, and Heather Mills are not saints. The canonization of Jimmy Buffett, however, is up for discussion. Even so, “Margaritaville” will not be sung at the Elevation.

Please note the signs for the hand-holding section and the non-hand-holding section at Mass, as well as the hand-waving-mouth-open-eyes-closed section and the respectfully-modest-it’s-not-about-me section. If you don’t know how to behave at divine services, young people will be available to help you grow up.

The Mass will be in Latin. Deal with it. Your ancestors understood it perfectly, as do your children and grandchildren. It is only baby boomers, with all their college degrees and who are purportedly the most educated Americans ever, who wah-wah that they can’t understand the simple Latin of the Mass.

Teenagers will be provided to assist you with your oxygen tanks and to help you understand the difference between the Mass and Bob Dylan.

There will be no – repeat, NO – felt banners. Further, there will be no liturgical dance, no guitars, no sitars, no bongos, no tambourines, no dangling speakers, no slide shows, no films, no turning on and off of lights. The Mass is worship, not a hootenanny.

As a concession to politics…um…dietary needs, communion wafers are organic and fair trade, and made from wheat raised by barefoot First Nations farmers living in communes and singing songs about Chez Guano along an obscure tributary of the Verizon River in Lower Saxony (you paid attention in third-grade geography, didn’t you?).

One of the featured workshops will be on praying the Rosary. This will be taught by teens since obviously you people never paid attention to your mothers and fathers.

Sorry, no, the Holy Father will not autograph your tee-shirt.

Please understand that the Sacrament of Penance cannot be accomplished through text-messages (“4-giv me F 4 I have sind…”).

Incense, yes; marijuana, no.

When all else fails, remember that this is not 1968. Grief counselors under thirty will be available to help you find closure.

John Paul II began World Youth Day during his reign, and Benedict XVI has enthusiastically continued this happy custom. Perhaps this is because neither Karol nor Joe had a youth. Oh, technically they did, but they grew up under the Nazi tyranny, not exactly kegger time on the beach. Modern kids gather openly to celebrate the Faith; when young Karol and Joe were young they celebrated the Faith too, but usually in secret, and further celebrated finding something to eat occasionally, and celebrated being alive at the end of each regimented day and at the end of each terror-filled night. Perhaps it is this genuine deprivation in their teens and twenties that made them so determined to joy in the young people of our time as a new generation celebrates life and worships in freedom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For Jason and Ingrid on the Pilgrimage Road to Santiago de Compostela

Mack Hall

An Old Man Takes His Evening Walk

For Young Jason and Inky on Their Morning Journey

An old man weary-wends his evening walk
Along a wood-walled way, soft-shadow shaded:
Our planet’s little star now makes report,
Passing the watch to mysteries-haunted dusk;
The spoors of animals, like chalk upon
A classroom board, the sums of life drawn out
In fear and pain, and soon to be erased,
Detail in mud the curious walks-about
Of deer and possum, dog and squirrel and snake,
And an armadillo’s sudden-wheeled death.

From Grendel’s darkening woods the heavy air,
Incensed by ghosts, patrols the twilit mists
In search of day-lingering happiness
To drag down, down into the rising chill
Of long-dead summer grasses sighing for
The hopes of a longer-dead spring. The moon,
Dry ages cold, rises above the trees
As an ice-dead witness to the decay
Of stubborn dreams caught out in the open,
Too far through the fog from the lamp-lit door.

Perhaps this night is a dreamed pilgrimage,
To Santiago, perhaps, or to Rome,
Or maybe to far Constantinople
Dreaming under the Bosphorean sun,
Notre Dame de LaSalette, Canterbury,
Or happy mysteries in some sunlit field,
Duct-tape-repaired sneakers slapping the dust
Happily, eagerly, laughingly as
The golden domes of our ancient young Faith
Rise beyond the dawn, where they always were.

May your nights and the road slip lovingly
Across your souls like Our Lady’s soft prayers,
And may you come at last to where you are.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Orwell Was Wrong

Mack Hall

Orwell got it wrong, of course. In 1984 the omnipresent telescreen is forced upon a subservient population by an omnipotent socialist government. The reality in the USA is that we, the people, demand telescreens from omnigoofy capitalist providers at omniexpense to ourselves.

My own telescreen began wonking out last month, and so I packed a small bag, said goodbye to the family, and sat down to spend much of the summer on the telephone talking to The Stepford Robots. Apparently the robots were tuned in to the DaVinci Templar Crystal Pyramid Club of Constantinople Matrix Continuum on Channel D via U.N.C.L.E. headquarters; they certainly weren’t listening to me.

The Stepford Humans who finally replaced the robots were as scripted and inattentive as the robots. The drill with technology appears to be that when your satellite service fails, it is your job to fix it. The Stepford Humans expect you to work through a diagnostic scheme that would challenge Bill Gates’ dog, a diagnostic scheme which includes climbing a ladder and looking at the satellite dish itself.

I’m paying how much a month for this?

Have you ever stood atop a ladder and meditated upon a satellite dish? Unless you are still living in a Neverland Where It Is Always 1968, practicing Incidental Pedicuration and chanting lines from Alan Watts on your sitar, I can’t recommend it. The device which brings Groomzillas, Flip This Double-Mortgaged House, and other classics of Western Civilization into your living room is in itself pretty dull. A satellite dish looks as if it grew up wanting to be a radar on a James Bond villain’s jet-powered gunboat with bikini babes and missiles, but somehow lost focus, dropped out of high school, hung out smoking magnetic tape with cast-off reel-to-reel tape recorders, and found its way to your roof, pondering a withered leaf, a dead lizard, and the mysteries of the universe in its existential concavity. And, like, y’know, stuff.

After a few occasions of robot crosstalk with both robots and humans, I finally had to say “Ma’am, stop.”

This barely broke the pattern of the Stepford Human reading her script.

“No, really, stop. I’ve done that. No, listen to me. Listen to me. I’ve done that. I’ve done that several times. I’m tired of getting out the ladder and climbing to the roof. I’m tired of checking cable this and cable that. I need a human being to come out here and check the system.”

“Have you checked the second receiver?” asked The Stepford Human.

“Ma’am, I don’t have a second receiver.”

“Our records show that you have two receivers.”

“Ma’am, technically, I do. I bought a new receiver to replace the old receiver when I thought the problem was in the old receiver. I made a ‘phone call and cleared that. The old receiver is in a box on a shelf and not hooked up to anything.”

“Yes, but you were supposed to make another call to deactivate the old receiver. Our records show that you have two receivers.”

“Ma’am, the old receiver was deactivated; that’s why I replaced it.”

“Yes, but you were suppose to make another call to deactivate the old receiver. Otherwise we will continue billing you for two receivers.”

“You’re billing me for two receivers?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, stop it.”

”That’s not my department. You’ll have to call another department.”

“Well, will you send a real human to come out here and look at all this? I’m not an electronics technician, and I’m too old and fat to be climbing up to the roof.”

The Stepford Human sighed, pondered all this, and grudgingly admitted that a technician, he’s very busy, you know, could come out in eleven days.

So let it be written; so let it be done. The technician arrived on the appointed date, his tattoos and piercings bridging the aesthetic gap between a storm trooper and PeeWee Herman. But he knew what he was doing. The problems were in some sort of pod (probably full of carnivorous Martians just waiting for the signal from evil President Bush to hatch and take over the planet) that the dish holds in a little arm, was as dysfunctional as a Hillary operative. This was a matter that a householder could not observe, diagnose, or repair, so take that, Stepford Robots and Stepford Humans who insisted I keep running diagnostics.

The fellow with the metal blobs sticking out of his face and the Iron Cross (he didn’t look old enough to have been in World War II, but who’s to say, eh?) on his body handed me his ‘phone; his supervisor wanted to talk to me.

“Allo? Ees thees Lorenz Haullllllll?”

“Yes, speaking.”

“Meeeeester Haulllllllllll, do you own you ownnnnnn houuussse?”

“Why? You want to buy it?”

“Eeeef yewwwww own you own house we haf a special offer…”

“Not interested.” I handed the ‘phone back to the technician, who was embarrassed by having to go through all this. And it must be pretty hard to embarrass a guy whose face is studded with metal parts (maybe a satellite dish exploded?) and who wears Iron Cross tattoos.

I pay for this, Gentle Reader. I pay for this.

Orwell, thou should be alive at this hour.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Priestblock 25487, by Jean Bernard

A brief review for Amazon.com:

Father Bernard's narrative, written shortly after the war, is especially effective in its understatement. Fr. Bernard was an intellectual but not a writer, and so his narrative, seeking to tell only the facts, without any embellishment (really, is anyone today capable of writing a narrative without clouding it with "it changed my life forever," "defined a generation," "horrific," and all the other assembly-line filler-phrases and adjectives?)is focused, tightly-constructed, and useful. Acquaintances speak of reading through Fr. Bernard's little book of daily life in a concentration camp in one sitting -- it really is that good.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Curse of the Headless Hitler

Mack Hall

In Berlin a Communist ex-policeman crossed a barrier in a private museum in order to twist the head off a wax statue of Adolf Hitler costing around 250,000 U.S. dollars. Or, in terms of real purchasing power, a couple of gallons of gasoline.

Was that not bravely done of the Communist? Of course one wonders if the Communist ex-policeman is aware that his hero Stalin and the now heil-less, headless Hitler were great chums at one time, sharing the occasional quiet evening over Poland.

One would think that an ex-policeman would respect the property rights of others, and twist off Hitlerian heads only with the permission of the owners. "I say, Franz, may I twist off the head of your wax statue of Hitler?" "I’d rather you didn’t, Heinrich, but over here I’ve got this lovely, pre-owned Admiral Darlan you might fancy."

Another question obtains: who would spend the equivalent of a cup of Starbuck’s coffees building a wax statue of an emo creep who murdered almost as many people as Stalin or Mao-Tse-Dung? If a private museum has a quarter-mill lying about gathering dust or wax, why not build something useful, like a library of history for the children of Berlin?

Will folks now make a habit of decapitating images of Saddamn Hussein, Osama Bin Ladin, Henry VIII, Nicolae Ceaucescu, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, and whoever invented TV reality shows?

Revising and sometimes eliminating history are as American as tortillas. All the schools that were named for George Washington or Davy Crockett or Kit Carson have long since become renamed for contemporary heroes or perceptions of heroes. William Barrett Travis Elementary becomes Emilio Zapata Elementary, and in a few years Chou En Lai Elementary.

Those type-A personalities who, for good or for evil, thundered through history and thought their names would live forever are as but dead double-A batteries leaking acid in a child’s discarded video game in a ditch next to the beer cans and the fast-food wrappers and the rotting armadillo done in by a speeding Hyundai.

Heck, even your bank changes names two or three times before you go through a couple of boxes of those prettily-printed checks. A friend suggests that banks would do well to put up their new signs in velcro; they’ll be coming down in a year or two. And do you know who owns your neighborhood bank? In my little town’s case, a company out of Spain at present; the revolutionary process seems to be reversing itself.

I wonder if there is a statue of a 19th-century Spanish financier somewhere. And would anyone care if its head were knocked off by some Communist screaming "Death to El Caudillo!"? Um, dude, like Hitler he's been dead for years now. Your show of righteous outrage is about eighty years too late.

What will happen when The People learn that the Dalai Lama was a slave-owner until the Chinese ran him out of Tibet? He’s living large now, though – jet planes, hotel suites, an entourage, medals of freedom here and there. There’s lots of money to be made in the holy man business. With no statues of the Dalai Lama, folks will just have to smash their made-in-China Dalai Lama coffee mugs in protest outside Abraham Lincoln – Teddy Roosevelt – Al Gore Consolidated High School.

Watch out for the carbon footprint, though.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Time to Wear the Big-Boy Pants

Mack Hall

Booze is at last legal in Jasper, Texas, and the first purchaser probably looked at the news cameras while heaving a case of Slough Dooky Beer into the trunk of his ’48 Hudson and squalling “These beer prices are ridiculous! Just ridiculous! How can I feed my children when beer prices are so high? This is all Bush’s fault!”

As we all know, Jasper County has always been a model of sobriety, with no alcohol abuse, no car crashes caused by drinking, no booze-fueled fights among neighbors, and no beer cans glinting like jewels in the Monday morning sunshine along its pristine roads.

Oh, yeah.

In this generally free nation various groups are always trying to limit the freedoms of other groups, and, sadly, often succeeding.

For almost a decade an amendment to the Constitution forbade the consumption of alcohol in any form in the entire country. But lighting up a cigarette was fine, as long as the substance smoked was tobacco.

Tobacco is now taking its time-out while alcohol becomes a health drink (well, St. Paul thought so), probably soon at a Starbuck’s near you.

Many localities ban the private ownership of firearms, contrary to the Constitution and, one may add, contrary to the Texas Declaration of Independence, which is very clear that possession of firearms is a right of free people. Banning home defense is a touchy-feely camera occasion for wealthy, peace-loving government officials who work in fortresses such as the Jefferson County Courthouse and live in gated communities guarded by armed security forces.

Peace-loving animal rights activists wearing chemical-based sneakers made in slave-labor camps in Asia beat up women who wear fur coats, and equally peace-loving vegetarians want laws passed forbidding you and me to eat Elsie-the-Cow.

Freedom of speech, the very first item in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, is now subject to the sensitivity (don’t you just love the euphemism!) codes of corporations, campuses, and local governments. A, um, humorist can now scream vile obscenities at your children on broadcast channels (thank you, George Carlin), but you dare not publicly criticize, oh, religions of peace that strap bombs to their own children.

And, no, none of this should be happening. Americans – and everyone on this planet -- should enjoy their God-given rights to create and maintain individual and family lives in a strong civilization, and grown-up enough to show restraint without oppressive laws.

If a grownup wants to smoke a cigar in his own home on Saturday night, no agency should forbid it and no Soviet-ish snoopy neighbors should be tattling. On the other lung, if someone hasn’t figured out that choking on gaspers all day is bad for him, he probably doesn’t need to be loose in the street without a minder. Time to wear the big-boy pants.

If a couple wish to enjoy a glass of wine over a romantic dinner, that should not even be up for discussion by anyone else. But then everyone needs to remember that even that one glass compromises one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. With freedom comes grown-up responsibility to limit one’s behavior. Time to wear the big-boy pants.

If a citizen wishes to speak or print criticisms of his government or of other institutions, the First Amendment should always be extended very broadly. But then a grownup ought to know better than to waddle through Parkdale Mall among children and screaming obscenities into her cell ‘phone. Time to wear the big-girl pants.

Come to think of it, she really was a big girl, but never mind.

If a citizen wishes to own a firearm for hunting or for putting a stop to the thugs who kick in doors in the middle of the night, even the Supreme Court backs him on that. But does someone living in an apartment complex surrounded by hundreds of innocent neighbors living behind cardboard walls really need to show off to other idiots with a .357 magnum? Time to wear the big-boy pants.

We don’t need plenipotentiary “human rights commissions” of the sort Canadians now suffer under. Freedom means telling King George III to take a hike. But freedom also means wearing the big-boy pants.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Reality Funerals

Mack Hall

Several weeks ago a fellow who made his living arguing with people on the tellyvision died unexpectedly (but, really, does anyone expect to die on a given day?), and all the people he argued with suddenly got weepy about him.

Indeed, the retro-hagiography was fulsome enough to suggest that Jesus could have learned a lot from the tellyvision talk-show host.

Death has its fears, of course, the fear of God’s just punishments, the fear of what will happen to family members, and, even worse, the fear of someone interrupting the priest or minister at the funeral and suggesting "Hey, let’s each of us share a memory of the dear departed."

People who suffer these moments that bridge the cultural gap between Goofy and Oprah are the reason that wise people sit by the door at contemporary weddings and funerals, ready to bolt for sanity, safety, and freedom.

Imagine the eulogy if some sort of law or moral code required anyone speaking at a funeral to tell the plain, unperfumed truth about the more-or-less-dear departed:

He forgot where he came from.

Give back to the community? Give back what? Did he take something that wasn’t his?

When they made him did they broke the mold? No, he was just another man. And who are "they?" And what mold?

He often met strangers. And he sometimes met men he didn’t like.

He wasn’t sharing Jesus last week; he was sharing a bottle with some other old reprobate.

He didn’t have a favorite football team; he thought the idea of a bunch of grown men wearing made-in-China costumery and yelling at a television set pretty stupid.

No, he really wasn’t much of a family man.

He preferred poker to honest work.

He wondered why a fat kid with a cell ‘phone and tattoos needs a free lunch.

His word was his bond, and people who knew him didn’t trust either one.

He could have bathed more often.

He cheated widows and orphans.

He always talked about his working-class origins, but he wouldn’t hit a lick at a snake.

Oh, yeah, he was always bragging about being Irish. He couldn’t find Ireland on a map, though.

Oh, yeah, he was always bragging about being Irish, even though his monthly check was headed "The United States of America."

He was an old grouch who didn’t like dogs, though he did once admit that children went well enough with tater tots and habanera sauce.

He didn’t tip waitresses or sack boys; he thought they ought to be happy with minimum wage.

He always said that 100 channels of cable tv had more meaning for him than volunteering at the nursing home or the library or the school.

If you were down on your luck or needed help in any way, you could depend on him to refer you to somebody else.

When his hard-working wife of blessed memory gave him money to take the kids for their childhood vaccinations he spent it all on lottery tickets.

And, finally, his hero and role model was always Ted Kennedy.