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.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

No, It's Not Katrina

Mack Hall

All of Iowa’s major rivers are flooding, which means most of Iowa is flooding. Farms, suburbs, urban areas, the capital, the capitol, even the University of Iowa itself.

And, naturally, the flyover newsies seem unable to make any observation that does not include an allusion to Hurricane Katrina. The attitude seems to be “You think this is bad? Hah! This is nothing like Katrina.”

And indeed, the situation is nothing like Katrina. No one in Iowa is shooting at the rescue helicopters, for one thing. For another, the pictures indicate that people in Iowa, people of all ages, races, and socio-economic blah-blahs, are working on the levees and stacking sandbags. Working. Taking care of business.

This has really got to be frustrating for the networks. Imagine a blow-dried news reporter trying to get some drama on tape:

“I say, fellow, I’m Neville Ponsonby with National Consolidated World News Tonight, Tomorrow, and Now. Could you…”

“I’m kinda busy here, pal. Whaddaya need?”

“Well, I was wondering if you would put that sandbag down and step over here.”


“I want you to sit in the street and play this harmonica. Make some sad waaaah-waaaaaaaah sounds on it, like, you know?”

“Why in the (Newark) would I do that? I’m trying to protect our town library right now, so move out of the way. Besides, I don’t play the harmonica.”

“Oh, I see. Well, would you just sit in the street and cry or something? Say terrible things about the evil President?”


“Would you pretend to break into that grocery store over there out of your deep sense of existential frustration?”


“Hmmm. So you agree that this flooding is the result of evil capitalist middle-Americans driving SUVs and pickups to work.”

“No, I don’t. Now get gone.”

“You will when we feed this through the computer and have it come out the way we want.”

“Say, you had your face bashed in lately?”

“Get that angry face, cameraperson. This is another victim frustrated by the results of global warming.”

“You wanna help stack sandbags, or are you just gonna stand there like one of the leisure classes?”

“You Iowans are sooooooooooo boring. You don’t riot. You don’t loot. You don’t sit in the street and demand to know when help is coming. You’re just working. How can I make an artistic story out of that?”

“Art? You say that working isn’t art? That trying to save my town’s library is not art?”

“Well, I mean, do you play a musical instrument? Do you have an annual jollification when you have tourists come into town to buy booze and get drunk and expose themselves and get arrested?”

“I done all that when I was sixteen. Got over it. Grew up. Got a job.”

“But where is the art in that, O boring Iowan citizen? Where is the quaintness? The culture? The Europeanness?”

“Well, my great-grandpa Luigi was from Italy…”

“Sigh. Turn off the camera. It just won’t do. You Iowans – you don’t sing, you don’t dance, you don’t loot, you don’t beg, you don’t scream at the cameras, you don’t even shoot at the helicopters. You’re even working instead of sitting in the street whining. Just wait until I tell this at my next white wine and cheese salon when I get back to Martha’s Vineyard. They won’t believe it. No, alas, this isn’t Katrina. No Pulitzer prize for me here.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Beggars, Urban Climbers, and the Environment

Mack Hall

Last week one of the world’s superfluous rich climbed the New York Times Building (is there a connection?) to unfold a banner maintaining that economic activity – that is, working – is more deadly than the Muslim attacks on this country in 2001.

This activist-drone travels by jet around the world climbing buildings in the name of environmentalism (whatever that really is). One wonders how large his carbon buttprint is.

Better yet, how large would his carbon-based life form splatter-print be if he were to go ooopsy and fall? The only problem is that he might fall on someone who actually works for a living.

Activists are people who expect you to give them money for not doing much except travelling around and telling you what to think. Local television stations seem fond of these parasites. If some nutter bicycles through town wearing pink feathers and maintaining that he is pedalling coast to coast in order to raise money for hamster-abuse awareness, you can expect to see him being taken seriously by some wide-eyed young reporter on the evening news.

Begging may be beating out looking for a job. On a typical Saturday one cannot drive anywhere without having to slow down for a gauntlet of begging youths who no longer even plead the fig-leaf of a carwash. Three questions obtain:

1. Why do adults endanger children by setting them to begging in the streets and along highways?

2. Why do adults set children to begging at all?

3. Why should you give money to some fat kid standing around with a poster and his cell-phone? Couldn’t he go climb a building or something?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. This could work – or, rather, beg. The next time the Cletusville Newts are up for the semi-bi-whatever-district-pre-playoff-almost-championships in Weatherford, their parents and coaches could have them climb buildings with protest signs: IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME MONEY TO SEND ME TO THE CHESS CHAMPIONSHIPS IN WEATHERFORD YOU HATE THE ENVIRONMENT. AND YOU HATE JESUS, TOO.

The problem is that we don’t have many dramatic buildings around here. Protestors and beggers will have to learn how to shinny up blue FEMA tarps. Kids are good at climbing, and they’re less likely to be run over by a 1968 Chrysler or abducted by a vanload of paedophiles while they’re up on a roof.

Imagine some protester climbing up the side of your house some morning:

“Hey, man, what’re you doing on my roof?”

“Can’t you read the sign, you anti-environmental fascist? I’m raising awareness about Hurricane Katrina! Gimme some money!”

“Get down from there; you’re tearing up my FEMA tarp!”

“I can’t; your dog’s got me treed!”

“Good dog.”

Perhaps the best response to the roadside beggar-children who swarm your car at intersections is to beg in return: “No, kid, you give me some spare change; I just bought a tank of gas.”

Sunday, June 1, 2008

When in Doubt, Blame the Soldier

Mack Hall

“War hath no fury like a non-combatant”

-- Charles Edward Montague

On the night of 6 June 1944 my father was on a ship in the English Channel with his armored car and crew and a few thousand of their closest friends, waiting for their turn to land in Normandy on the second day of the invasion. He said “it looked like all Europe was on fire.” He landed on 7 June, and was told by the beachmaster to “drive inland as far as you can go; drive like *&##; nothing is secure.”

“As far as you can go” turned out to be Zwickau some ten months later, with leisurely stops at Bastogne and Dachau.

Imagine a soldier in World War II landing on a beach in Normandy or anywhere else and being sent home for saying something rude about Hitler or the Emperor of Japan: “Sergeant Hall, stop that; mass-murderers have their feelings too, you know. We have to understand Hitler’s special needs. After all, he had a rough childhood. Didn’t you pay attention during the group therapy sessions that replaced lifeboat drill? We’re pulling you out of the invasion and sending you home for sensitivity training.”

Perhaps a journalist from, oh, Princess magazine heard about that exchange, and published it. In a few days Hitler could have read the sad story in the Washington Zeitgeist or the San Francisco Morning Screed and wept into his morning injection of weird drugs before filing a complaint with the United Nations.

Recently an American soldier was sent home from Iraq because he was accused of using a copy of the Koran for target practice. This was said to be offensive to the sort of people who strap bombs to their own children.

More recently a Marine was removed from checkpoint duty for handing out coins which bore the quotation from Saint John 3:16 on them instead of quotations from the Koran about how lovely it is to kill Jews.

Okay, okay, a soldier surely has better things to do than pot at a book, and a Marine at a checkpoint should be watching carefully for the little girl whose father packed her school bomb that morning so she can kill and die for his god.

Somewhere nearby there is a cranky old sergeant whose job is to growl “Private Ponsonby, if you want to discharge that firearm you find an Al Queda,” or “Corporal Snortborger, you ain’t no missionary.” And that should be the end of it. The United Nations, whose craven peacekeeping forces are a terror only to women and children, doesn’t get a say. Neither should the sort of people whose experience of war is limited to John Wayne movies and pose-for-the-camera protest marches.

A soldier who gives someone a token or religious medal with a few words about divine love on it may be a little off-task (or maybe not), but he’s the one who was sent in to clean up the mess the politicians made, and he appears to have a better idea than most politicians about how to do it.

Could we at least pause for a moment to say something at least slightly disapproving of an ideology that tortures and murders the few prisoners it manages to take? Dare we suggest that strapping bombs to one’s own child is not good parenting? Is it beastly to infer that cutting the throat of a diminutive stewardess is not nice? Is one boorish to notice that the previous Iraqi regime actually built a concentration camp for the children whose parents it had imprisoned or murdered?

Could we at least pause for a moment to say something at least slightly approving of the American soldiers we have sent into combat and, worse, “peace-keeping?”

Giving a Christian blessing to a civilian is not a soldier’s duty, but neither is it a war crime.