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:

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.”


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 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

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, 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.