Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blame the Welder

Mack Hall

The first smoke had barely risen from a famous no-tell in Las Vegas before someone said that the fire was probably caused by – surprise -- a welder’s spark.

Why is almost every fire attributed to a welder’s spark? Why is the cause never an accountant’s cigarette? Or someone’s made-in-China electric heater octopussed into one outlet along with a computer, a television, and a hair dryer?

Welders, who practice applied metallurgy, must study for multiple certifications before they may perform their art and science with a catalogue of impedimenta, including gasses, glasses, rods, electrical gadgets, helmets, and safety lines, and are repeatedly tested by each employer or contractor. A welder is thus highly unlikely to be unaware that his endeavors involve the generation of great heat.

Surely no welder ever said "Gee, I don’t want to make a mess; let me spread lots of old newspaper on the floor beneath this task," or perhaps "Hmmm, I’ll bet this job would go faster if I propped these two pieces of metal across a couple of tanks of gasoline."

And yet, for all their knowledge and experience, welders are the first to receive scornful scowls of uniformed judgment and focused fingers of Clintonian accusation when an unplanned fire spoils someone’s afternoon.

One begins to infer that the phrase "welder’s spark" is coded into some sort of speed-dial system for news agencies.

Is there a fire in a hundred-year-old building amateurishly re-wired by its owners based on internet directions? Must be a welder’s spark.

Is a ship aflame off Alaska? Must be a welder’s spark.

Does a sensitive senator suffer a headache? Must be a welder’s spark.

That busy little welder’s spark sure gets around. What other mischief might a welder’s spark cause?

Colonel Mustard murdered Professor Plum in the library with a welder’s spark.

Macbeth famously asked "Is this is a welder’s spark which I see before me…?"

High school athletes may be tested for illicit welders’ sparks.

California legalizes sniffing welder’s sparks by prescription.

Angelina Jolie is pregnant by a welder’s spark.

Police and animal control officers raid filthy house crowded with starving welders’ sparks.

President Bill Clinton blames Senator Obama for playing the welders’ sparks card.

Welders’ sparks cause global warming.

Child mauled by unleashed welders’ sparks.

James Dobson says welders’ sparks are not a real religion.

Detroit Mayor sends steamy welders’ sparks to his lover via email.

Activists demand that welders’ sparks be removed from school vending machines.

Yep, you can bet your cigarette lighter, candles, leaky gas cans, and overloaded circuits on this – the first reporter on the scene of a fire will always blame it on a welder’s spark.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Huckabee and the Squirrel

Mack Hall

Mike Huckabee ate Rocky the Flying Squirrel!

Okay, he really didn’t, but he did state while campaigning in Las Vegas that when he was in college he cooked squirrels in his popcorn popper.

This naturally leads the American voter to ask two salient questions about why a college student cooked squirrels in a popcorn popper: Was this because of a shortage of popcorn? Or of a shortage of neighborhood cats?
One imagines Senator Edwards ordering squirrel in French – but only so that he can sue it. Or Senator Hillary Rodham dropping a squirrel at thirty feet with only her Glare of Death.

What we are dealing with, my fellow Americans, is a candidate for the Presidency of the United States who may have struck on a solution for starvation in third-world countries: let them eat squirrel.

President Bill Clinton might interrupt to maintain that he personally saw squirrels bullying union culinary workers during the cauci in Las Vegas.
Both President Bill Clinton and Governor / Reverend Mike Huckabee are from Hope, Arkansas, which may explain much.

Several years ago a friend and I spent the night in Hope, and had a sandwich at the local Dairy Queen. There was no squirrel on the electric menu, but I think the culinary workers were humming the theme from Deliverance.

I too have eaten the arboreal rodent; it was one of those experiences my Depression-raised father thought I ought to know about. Those of us raised in the security of plenty mock such a diet only from our ignorance, for mankind has always lived on the margins of starvation. We who motor along highways lined with cafes’ and grocery stores full of good, inexpensive food almost never think about the harsh reality that our ancestors almost always needed a little more protein for the pot.

And you never, ever joke about food with Depression babies. Once upon a time I pushed away a plate (not squirrel), and my father said "Eat your supper; there are children starving in China who would love to have those beans / peas / potatoes / corn."

Suffering from a pre-adolescent failure to think critically, I said "Well, they can have mine."

The sequel was not pretty, and to this day its memory makes me sit lightly.
A modern host might ask you of a meal "How did you like the presentation?"

A host raised in the 1950s may ask "Was it good?"

But your Mawmaw and Pawpaw will ask, in genuine concern, "Did you get enough to eat?"

The psychic pain of real hunger and fear of hunger runs deep.

As for me, I am a good hundred pounds away from ever again eating squirrel or broccoli.

And as for the candidates’ dietary choices, who gets eaten next – Alvin the Chipmunk?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chariots of Plastic

Mack Hall

Seventy-something years after Germany invented The People’s Car, India has reinvented it.

The Tata Group (I’m not sure what a group of Tatas is, or even a single Tata) has built the prototype of a five-seater sedan, the Nano, which will cost $2,500, about the price of a couple of cups of de-fatinated cuppacino at Starbuck’s.

The Nano features a two-cylinder gasoline engine, will putt-putt down the road for fifty miles on a gallon of gas, and meets all European safety and emissions standards. The Nano features no power windows, no radio, and no air-conditioning. In short – and the Nano is fairly short – it’s pretty much a Hindu reincarnation of the Model T.

You and I can’t buy one. For now.

The next step up is the Maruti 800 from India and the Chery from China at about $5,000 each.

You and I can’t buy one of those either. For now.

These first-world cars (because we are now exporters of raw materials, not manufactured goods, to China and India) are cheap and efficient, and so naturally the environmentalists are concerned about the planet. This means they are concerned about uppity peasants enjoying freedom. After all, if Gupta and Chang can afford their own cars, they can drive to the next town for a better job, and maybe even move out to the suburbs. No longer will Gupta and Chang be restricted to living in the center of Bombay and Shanghai, dependent on politically-controlled public transportation and public housing.

An advantage for Hindus is that getting together to burn Christian churches will be more convenient. Instead of mobs with pitchforks and torches running down the streets, India can have mobs in their Nanos and plastic cigarette lighters driving down the streets. The old days of spreading rumors by word of mouth will be replaced with spreading rumors via text-messaging, thus advancing civilization.

One wonders – does a mob burning a church have to buy carbon-offsets for the event?

India is a remarkable nation. Controlled by the British for almost two hundred years, India after independence has become more British than the British. India is a capitalist nation that exports teachers, investors, technology, and manufactured goods all over the world, while Britain, where the Industrial Revolution began, is now little more than a Soviet Socialist Disneyland increasingly controlled by…I’m supposed to say extremists, I suppose, or disaffected youths.

India, having fought for the British in World War I, World War II, and the colonial wars, kept its British military traditions, and, unlike Britain, is proud of its army, its navy, its nuclear weapons, and its developing space program. India, like China, is taking its turn as an awakening and dynamic giant, while America and Europe seem to be idling in a lotus-land of self-indulgent pop culture, dime-store religious mysticism, junk food, and interminable lawsuits.

In sum, we might someday be driving our Nanos to our jobs at a Mahindra plant in Beaumont, and reporting to Mr. Gupta.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Is Primary Voting Primarily for Primates?

Mack Hall

The non-system of primaries and caucussing is fascinating, possibly because, like John Kerry’s self-invented war record, it is a great mystery. However, after much study one can figure out how the typical primary caucus works.

In the rural South, of course, there is no mystery – One Party, One Primary, One Folk.

But in New England, the home of the bean and the codpiece, a citizen enjoys choices, and those funny little states up there in Robert Frost country entertain the world with an eclecticity of Ye Olde New England gatherings to determine, well, not much of anything.

On the appointed day for a pricus or a caucary, the sturdy New England farmers and their wives, and the less sturdy New England investment bankers and their significant others, tramp through the snow carrying blunderbusses and Geneva Bibles to gather in houses, schools, and Farmer Ezekiel’s barn to invoke folksy ain’t-they-quainte Ye Olde New England votingness.

In one corner of the room the Obama supporters, young and energetic, cluster together in their Dockers and Earth Shoes and cable-knit sweaters and say nice things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America.

In another corner of the room the Hillary supporters, both of them wearing red power-blazers and sturdy shoes and 1970s jet-pilot glasses, hug each other and reminisce about 1968 and The Revolution while saying nice things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America. The McCain straight-talk expressos wander between this group and the kitchen, checking their GPS systems for Change and Hope and a New Day in America.

In yet another corner of the room the Romney supporters in their Cole-Haan pinch-tassle loafers and Izod shirts try desperately to sound like what they imagine The People to be while saying nice things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America.

In the remaining corner the Huckabee supporters clutch their spit-cups, cinch up their gimme caps another notch, look around suspiciously, and say nice things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America.

Outside in the snow, Ron Paul’s obedientiaries practice marching in step by torchlight, breaking occasionally to chase reporters and to beat up anyone who says nice things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America.

Members of each group are free to say nice things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America, and then shift allegiances to move to another group which says nice things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America. After a period of Red (or Blue) Rover, Red Rover, Can Ebenezer Come Over, folks make their decisions, their heads are counted, and the results are sent to the state election commission and to the world.

Now this works only if the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow by the light of one of those squiggly little glass thingies full of poisonous mercury, in which case the town crier cries "Oyez! Oyez!’ and the quaint New Englanders do the dance of the mid-winter fertility festival in wooden clogs, and start over.

The Huckabeings angrily maintain that the results were pre-determined by evil functionaries in the Vatican and sent to secret operatives via the secret radios in the secret basement of Bob Newhart’s inn.

At the end of the Norman Rockwellian evening the caucasians enjoy a mug of Ye Old New England cider or something, and then go outside to be screamed at and threatened by the Ron Paulistas.

With one per cent of precincts counted Fox News calls the races, and the candidates stand before their sound-alike-cheering faithful to say Nice Things about Change and Hope and a New Day in America, thank the state from the bottoms of their pancreases or something, talk about how honest they are and how they just want to serve The Just Plain Ol’ Common Workin’ People, and then fly away in private jets to shake babies and kiss hands (or some other body part) in other little snowbound states where the most excitement for four years running is watching the statue of Revolutionary Colonel Hiram Smedleybottom change reflected colors as the town’s traffic light changes.

And yet, somehow, the Republic survives.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

White Lung Syndrome

Mack Hall

Trying to understand the writers’ strike is genuinely problematic. There are only about 10,000 entertainment writers along the New York – Hollywood axis, and while some actually are on strike, others of the brothers / sisters / comrades are cutting separate deals with Big Media.

And for what are some of (not all) the writers striking? A reduction in job injuries from paper cuts? The issue appears to be the arcane matter of residuals from internet reproduction or re-broadcast of movies and television shows. This makes some sense – when a movie is re-broadcast, income from the advertisements and sales of tickets means that someone is making money from the exhibition, so the writers and actors should receive some part of that.

Where the argument falls apart is that the concept of residuals does not obtain in other fields of endeavor.

Consider the modest little Ford Escape owned by an aging and not very successful writer. Once upon a time auto workers in Michigan assembled the little car, for which labor they were paid. The aging and not very successful then bought the little Ford Escape, and enjoys driving the machine around. The workers who built the car do not enjoy residuals every time the car is driven, repaired, or re-sold.

Several years ago, following Hurricane Rita (which never happened because it had nothing to do with New Orleans), the aging and not very successful writer hired a roofing company to re-roof his hurricane de-roofed house, and a good job it was. Every time the rain falls or the cold winds blow the aging and not very successful writer enjoys the benefits of his excellent new roof, and yet the roofer and his crew receive no residuals.

If the guy who scribbled “Take my wife – please!” receives residuals for the rest of his life based on a one-time effort, why not residuals for auto workers and roofers?

The nice lady who cuts the hair of the aging and not very successful writer does not receive a residual every time some lissome lass coos “Oooooh, look at the geriatric hottie with the great haircut!”

The Writers (sic – that should of course be “writers’”) Guild of America forbids actors to cross their picket lines and has forbade Jay Leno to deliver his own monologue made up of his own jokes that he thought up himself. One gathers that the WGA is not exactly a hotbed of freedom and individuality.

Now the WGA, somehow involved with SAG in striking against NBC and HFPA (Where Have All the Acronyms Gone, Long Time Passing…?), is threatening not to write for the awards shows.

Does this mean that awards shows had writers in the first place? Does it really take a professional writer to create the babble issuing forth from the heavily-lipsticked and decidedly foul mouth of some aging starlet receiving some sort of plastic award for having had a hit show in the 1960s and now peddling medications? “I just…oh, gosh…I mean…I just wanna…like, you know…um…you know, like…um…thank all my briefcase holders…um…and all the, like, you know, other little people…not that you’re really little…I mean, like…um, and you little people all over America…like, you know, in flyover country…like, you little people who worship me…because, like, you know…I bring some meaning…like…into…your pathetic little lives because you can’t read a freakin’ book or newspaper, and you just stare into that stupid glowing tube all the time…and…like…(BLEEP) that evil (BLEEP)ing George Bush and his (BLEEP)ing colonialist imperialist running dog capitalist war against the, like, you know, South Africans or something, like…you know…those funny little people in Argentina or somewhere like that…gosh, ain’t I cute!”

Residuals for writing jokes? Maybe. But first let the writers argue for residuals for miners and linemen and other people whose jobs keep us safe and warm and fed, and which involve more risk than dry-air allergens from an air-conditioned office atmosphere