Saturday, May 29, 2010

The 1914 Model is Outdated

Mack Hall

The 1914 Model is Outdated

Some weeks ago a South Korean warship blew up and now the North Koreans and the South Koreans are calling each other rude names. South Korea and Secretary of State Clinton have done the CSI thing on scraps of metal and claim that a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean warship with a torpedo.

What does this have to do with us? Plenty.

Because of 1914-model interlocking treaties, this country backs South Korea, who despises us, and China, who also despises us, backs North Korea, who loathes and fears us.

North Korea is run by an anonymous klaven of frozen-faced men headed by a demonic dwarf in elevator shoes. These characters should be laughable as the villains in an episode of The Avengers or The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; alas for civilization that they are very real and command a huge army, air force, and navy, all equipped with nuclear weapons. As with any Communist nation, North Korea has made its military power and its workers’ paradise by shooting and starving millions of workers. They have nothing to lose.

Standing between these crazies, who, remember, loathe us, and the South Koreans, who, remember, despise us, are a few thousand American soldiers. Don’t expect Belgium or Switzerland to lend a hand with this one, and, really, why should they? And why should we?

Switzerland, as always, will profit from this war, and the Chinese will do their best to stay out of it too, except to sell the North Koreans more weapons to use again others.

South Korea is now one of the world’s most economically developed nations, and maybe it’s time they guarded their own eggs-and-ham border.

Indeed, maybe it’s time we started guarding our borders too. The American military is fighting all over the world, and the people our solders are fighting are genuinely evil. Some of them mean to conquer the world, which is clear in their own book if anyone here would bother to read it.

But the question must be asked: why is it always Americans who must go and try to make chicken soup out of chicken armpit? Other nations help, especially Canada and England, but given that our current regime does not like Canada and has certainly stiffed England with unforgivable ill manners, they may not feel like allying themselves with us in the future.

In the meantime, a sturdy but far too small American army may find itself stranded and annihilated defending a country that doesn’t like us. Remember that the North Koreans possess, thanks to China and Russia, nuclear weapons, and the flight time from North Korean launch sites to our lads on the ground is but mere seconds. Seconds.

This ain’t pretty.

Must more thousands of American young die for South Korea?

Perhaps the next time two nations who hate us go to war with each other, we could stay out of it.

But, hey, how about American Idol and next year’s football season, eh?


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Press One for Rational Thought Concerning Arizona

Mack Hall

Press One for Rational Thought

Arizona, a most unfashionable state after firing on Fort Sumter earlier this spring, is now a pariah (or is that a piranha?) for wanting the English teachers in its public schools to speak, well, English.

There is no word on whether Spanish teachers in Arizona schools must know Spanish.

Employing standard English is clearly not a requirement for holding a sinecure as a super special golly administrative assistant czarina in some school districts, but, generally speaking (speaking in English), English teachers really should have pretty good control of the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Belloc, Churchill, Tolkien, and Thomas the Tank Engine.

If a strong accent is a bar to employment as an English teacher, any native Texan currently employed as such ain’t a-gonna be much longer; he’s gonna have t’ drag up pronto an’ mosey into th’ sunset, y’all.

English teachers must know English, just as a nurse ought to know patient care and a welder should use more than Elmer’s Glue for bonding.

Imagine taking your wheezing pickup truck to your mechanic: “Hey, Cletus, Ol’ Blue’s stalling on acceleration again…hey, where are you going?”

“Sorry, old friend, I’ve been reassigned by the government as a dental assistant. Diversity and multiculturalism, they say.”

“Dental assistant? Cletus, you don’t know anything about teeth; you only got two of ‘em anyway! And who’s gonna take care of Ol’ Blue, my 1956 pickup?”

“Here’s Sven, your new mechanic. He’s an expert in Swedish massage.”

“Massage!? Ol’ Blue don’t need a massage! It’s the carburetor!”

“Ja, me fix carburetor good with warm towels, ja. Ze government say so, ja. Ich bin ein multicultural sensitive mechanic now, is good, ja?”

Arizona is catching a lot of flak (which is a German import) for trying to control the international border and protect American citizens in the absence of enforcement of federal laws by the federal government. The reaction in some in the salons of D.C. has been to sneer and to wear the now-obligatory cause-of-the-month rubber wrist bands pooh-poohing a state that was home to sophisticated cultures hundreds of years before Washington was inhabited by anything more than mud turtles and malaria mosquitoes.

Some states are proposing an economic boycott of Arizona. Two problems obtain – Arizona is an exporter of electrical power and water to other states in a nation that, due to governmental short-sightedness, is lacking in both. California, for instance, is no more in a position to dictate terms to Arizona than Washington is to our Chinese masters.

The second issue is this – whom (“whom,” he said, for he had been to school) do the critics think live in Arizona? Vikings? Arizona has enjoyed a Spanish culture for some 500 years, and numerous First Nations cultures for millennia longer than that.

In Arizona you eat breakfast at Juanita’s cafĂ©’, not at Janice’s, and if you speed you don’t get a ticket from Al Caldwell’s friend Officer Fatback but from Officer Rodriguez. You might buy your gasoline from a station owned by an Apache whose folks have lived on the same bit of land for a thousand years. All these American citizens want to live under the same Constitutional protections as the rest of us.

Boycott them? Why?

For the record, I, unlike the Attorney General of the United States, have read Arizona’s new bill regarding folks who cross the international border without a passport, a driver’s license, or at least a Sam’s Club card. The law is positively Merovingian in its harmlessness and inadequacy. Crossing into the USA for work or study (or, sadly, crime) remains a great deal easier than trying – trying, because you might not be permitted – to pop across the Canadian border to visit Niagara Falls for an hour.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Class of 2010

Mack Hall

Children insist on growing up and going away. Every year the old…um, venerable parents and faculty see their high school seniors off to the new world they must make for themselves. Oh, sure, there are always one or two graduates of whom one can sing “Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone,” but the loss of most of the young’uns is very painful, very real, very acute, and very forever. And while some old guy taught them not to ever split (cough) infinitives, which they immediately forgot, the block form for business letters, which they usually remember, and the possible symbolism of Grendel in Beowulf, there are always lots of other little things parents and teachers hope they have learned along the way.

Here then, Class of 2010 are some disconnected factoids your old English teacher meant to share with you earlier in the year, before the month of May very cleverly sneaked up on all of us:

1. In October you will return for homecoming. You will find pretty much the same teachers, school, and friends you left behind. It will all seem very familiar at first. But you won’t be on the team or in the band; it isn’t about you anymore, and that will be oddly disturbing. The same school that once nagged you for tardiness and absenteeism will now require you to wear a visitor’s badge. By October of next year most of the students in your old high school won’t know who you are -- or were. And they won't care. You'll just be old people.

2. Some day surprisingly soon you will hear shrieks of insolent laughter from your child’s room. You will find your child and her friends laughing at your yearbook pictures. You and your friends will be subject to scornful dismissal by a new, cooler-than-cool generation. You will feel very old.

3. Change the oil in your car more often than the manufacturer recommends.

4. Billy Graham attended a public school; Adolf Hitler attended a Christian school. Don’t obsess on labels.

5. You are not going to win the Texas lottery.

6. T-shirts are underwear.

7. For a whole year folks have been telling you how special you are; on the morning after graduation you’ll be just another unemployed American.

8. Don’t whine that you’re old enough to fight in Afghanistan but “they” won’t let you buy a beer. You’re not in Afghanistan.

9. Have you ever noticed that you never see “Matthew 6:5-6” on a sign or bumper sticker?

10. College is not high school.

11. Work is not high school. There is no such thing as an excused absence in adult life. The boss will not care about your special needs, sensitivities, artistic gifts, or traumatic childhood.

12. God made the world. We have the testimony of Genesis and of the Incarnation that all Creation is good. Never let anyone try to tell you that the world is evil.

13. Listening to radio commentators with whom you already agree is not participating in our democracy. Until he was in his thirties, Rush Limbaugh never even registered to vote in any place he ever lived. You can do better than that.

14. Why should someone else have to raise your child?

15. Tattoos do serve one useful purpose – they will help your relatives identify your body after you die of some weird disease that was on the needle. Yeah, sure, the process is sterile – a tattoo parlor looks like a hospital, right?

16. Your class ranking is little more than a seating chart for graduation, reflecting your performance in a sometimes artificial and often passive situation for the last four years. Your future is up to you.

17. Knowing how to repair things gives you power and autonomy. You will amaze yourself with what you can do with duct-tape, a set of screwdrivers, a set of wrenches, a hammer, and a pair of Vise-grip pliers.

18. Movies are made by committees of thousands of people. Sometimes they get it right. Books are usually written by one person. Sometimes he or she gets it wrong. But there are lots more good books than there are good movies.

19. Put the 'phone down. Grasp the steering wheel firmly with both hands. Stay alive.

20. Save the planet? Reform the establishment? Stop meanies from beating harp seals to death? Hey, get a job first.

21. Time to wear the big-boy pants.

22. Some people are Democrats because they believe the Democratic Party is best at protecting the rights of the individual. Other people are Democrats because they are part of the Socialist / Communist continuum and believe that government is a weapon to bludgeon people into obedience. Some people are Republicans because they believe the Republican Party is best at protecting the rights of the individual. Other people are Republicans because they have Fascist tendencies and believe that government is a weapon to bludgeon people into obedience. Hiding out in the woods and refusing to participate is not a logical option.

23. You are the “they.” You are the adult. You are the government. You are the Church. You are the public school system. You decide what movies will be watched (if not made). You decide what will be on the television screen in your home. Your life is your own – don’t become one of the sheep.

24. Giving back to your community begins now. Serve humanity -- join the volunteer fire department, teach Sunday school, clean up the city park one hour a week, or assist at the nursing home.

25. Don’t bore people with sad stories about your horrible childhood. No one ever lived a Leave It To Beaver or Cosby existence. And besides, you might have been the problem. Get over it.

26. The shouting, abusive, 1-900-Send-Money TV preacher with the bouffant hairdo strutting about on the low-prole stage set while beating on a Bible and yelling is not going to come to your house in the middle of the night when your child is sick, you don’t have a job, and you don’t know where to turn. Your pastor – Chaucer’s Parsoun -- may not be cool and may not sport a Rolex watch, but he’s here for you. Support your local congregation.

27. If you insist on taking your shirt off in public, shave your armpit hair. Or braid it. Or something.

28. Don’t wear a shirt that says “(bleep) Civilization” to a job interview.

29. When someone asks for a love offering, offer him your love and watch his reaction. He doesn’t want a love offering; he wants money. Sloppy language is used to manipulate people. Call things by their proper names, and hang on to your wallet.

30. Stop eating out of bags and boxes, and learn how to use a knife and fork. From now on the menu should be in words, not in pictures.

31. What is the truth? Is it something you want to believe? Something repeated over and over until you come to believe it in spite of your own experience?

32. A great secret to success in a job or in life is simply to show up.

33. Most people do not look good in baseball caps.

34. You will always be your parents’ child. You may become a doctor, lawyer, banker, or, God help you, president, but your mother will still ask you if you’ve had enough to eat and remind you to take your jacket in case the night turns cold. And parents are a constant surprise -- they always have new knowledge you need to acquire.

35. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is all the English grammar and usage book you’ll ever need. If more people understood that and had a library card, every English teacher in America would be an ex-English teacher standing in line at the Wal-Mart employment office. Keep it a secret, okay?

36. According to some vaguely named family institute or some such, raising a child to the age of eighteen costs the family $153,000 and a few odd cents. The taxpayers of this state spend about $5,000 per year on each student. Thus, a great many people have pooled their resources and spent about $213,000 on you since you were born. They did not do this in order for you to sit around complaining about how unfair life is. Do something.

37. There was never a powerful secret society variously known as The Preps, The Rich Kids, or The Popular Kids, just as there are no unmarked U.N. helicopters. But if you ask me, those guys who play chess need watching; I hear that the pawns are reporting all your movements to The 666 Beast computer in Belgium via computer chips in your school i.d. card.

38. Thank you notes: write ’em. It shows class. You don’t have to pay big money for pre-printed notes; buy notepaper with pictures (hunting scenes for the guys; flowers for the girls) on the outside and nothing on the inside. You can write; you’re a high school graduate, remember?

39. Babies cry. That’s not a crime. However, in public places, other people do have a right to hear a sermon or attend a movie without prolonged yowling. You may feel awkward about getting up and quietly taking the infant outside; you shouldn’t. When you discreetly carry your crying baby away for a few minutes to attend to its needs, other people are grateful to you for respecting both them and your child, and are pleased that the child has such great parents.

40. Take a long, lingering look at your classmates during graduation. You’ll never see all of them ever again. In ten years many of you will be happy and honorable. Others at only 28 will be sad, tired, bitter old men and women with no hope. Given that you all went to the same cinder-block school with the same blinky fluorescent lights, suffered the same old boring teachers, drove along the same dusty roads, and grew up in the same fading little town, what will have made the difference?

Well, Class of 2010, it’s time to let go. Thanks for everything: for the pictures and paper balls and pizza and pep rallies and recitals and concerts and games, for your thoughts and essays, for your laughter and jokes, for usually paying attention (“Focus, class... focus...focus...focus...class…class…class…class…”), for really thinking about Macbeth and Becket and Beowulf, and those wonderful pilgrims (who, of course, are us) forever journeying to Canterbury, for doing those business letters and resumes’ over and over until YOU were proud of them, for wrestling with iambic pentameter, for all the love you gave everyone around you every day. Take all those good things with you in your adventures through life.

And whether we shall meet again I know not.
Therefore our everlasting farewell take:
For ever, and for ever, farewell...

--Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, IV.iii.115-117


Friday, May 7, 2010

Sidonian Dido

Mack Hall

(Rough draft scribbled in class long ago)

Sidonian Dido

Sidonian Dido, Africa’s Queen –
Dreamer on the Mediterranean shore,
Why is it that your truth has not been seen?

In singing ancient songs there is far more
Than tall tales treacherous Trojans tend to tell,
Crude calumnies by Teucerian bores

Your faithful friends followed when your star fell
In your Phoenician homeland far away;
In Africa you built anew, built well

Your city between the desert and bay,
Carthage, homeland of courtesy and grace,
Where even Juno deigned to dwell, some say

Sidonian Dido, your ancient race
Brought to the desert the lute and the lyre,
Made moonlit music in that dream-scaped place

Sidonian Dido, Africa’s Queen!

The bitter black smoke of your funeral pyre
Cannot obscure the brilliance of your fire,
Cannot win honor for Dardanian liars

Sidonian Dido, a dreamer’s queen –

Sing to us who love you on African nights
When the deep desert dreams in limpid light,
When eyes and hearts and moon are full and bright

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sleepy LIttle Southern Rattlesnakes

Mack Hall

Alas that terrorists and foreign oil executives never seem to bother rattlesnakes, a professional courtesy which suggests that vipers of all species recognize each other and perhaps even share a secret handshake. Well, maybe not a handshake.

According to an Associated Press story, rattlesnake roundups are declining. Hmmm – rattlesnake roundups. As fond as I am of cowboy films, I don’t remember John, Roy, Hoppy, Gene, and the boys herding snakes along the Chisholm Trail to Texas. How would they do that? “Slither along, little herpetofauna, sing a-kiyi-fangy-ki-yay?” Think of the classic movies: Fang-fight at the O.K. Corral, Fang of the Barbary Coast, They Died With Their Snakeskin Boots On, Stagecoachwhip, and The Sons of Katie Adder.
Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, like fire ants and some world leaders, live mostly underground. In rural communities catching these critters and killing them is jolly good sport, just like in Rio Bravo, and rattlesnake rounder-uppers have developed marvelous new ways of snatching serpents out of their dens. Instead of pouring gasoline down a hole and seeing what pops up, modern hunters, Beyond Petroleum, insert plastic tubes and listen for the rattle, and if such a sound is forthcoming then a smaller tube with a hook is inserted (somehow I feel the discomforting words “you may feel a little pressure” are spoken at this point), and the snake is dragged out.

The rattlesnake is then killed and eaten. The convention is that snake tastes like chicken. Since I’ve tried chicken, I’ve no need to sample snake. Perhaps snakes could be made part of the school lunch program: snake tenders, snake fingers, snake-fried snake, and snake ring things.

The skin is made into belts, purses, shoes, boots, wallets, and other fashion accessories for sale to tourists, though I suppose rattlesnake do-rags are not do-able.

The rattlesnake’s skull and bones and rattles are made into trinkets, and I certainly hope to find toys made of rattlesnake remnants for the next niece or nephew for Christmas: “Uncle Mack! Thank you so much for my Barbie Snake House! You’re the greatest!”

These hunts supplement rural economies through their curiosity value, and people really do pay money to stand around and eat snake sandwiches and buy stuffed snakes, and good for them.

Unfortunately, environmentalists are unhappy with rattlesnake hunts, maintaining that rattlesnakes are declining in population everywhere but in Congress. Alas that no one rounds up environmentalists and makes trinkets of them. Anyone who spends any time outdoors from Pennsylvania to California will observe that there is no shortage of rattlesnakes, and that rattlesnakes are not our anthropomorphic friends. Rattlesnakes can kill a healthy adult, and will kill a child.

But then, hey, it’s always open season on children in American now, and no doubt PETA will defend to the death – a baby’s death -- a snake’s right to choose.

If rattlesnakes were to disappear, who would care except the sort of unread sheeplings who wear Che Guevera tee-shirts? The biodiversity argument holds no venom; Ireland has no snakes at all, nor does Newfoundland, and the folks and animals there seem to rich and rewarding lives without the blessings of pit vipers.

The AP writer was doing pretty well until he employed the most over-used clichĂ©’ in Christendom, referring to a small town in Alabama as “sleepy.” But perhaps this is not the scrivener’s fault; he may have been simply following orders and the AP style book. One never reads in the national press of a Southern town as anything but sleepy, so possibly use of the tired metaphor is an edict. Southern towns, according to the form book, are always sleepy, with the court house dozing in a hammock and the grocery store snoozing on the back porch and Main Street fitting itself into its CPAP mask for a good night’s slumber. Middlebury, Vermont, enjoying superior character, never sleeps, nor does Bangor, Maine.

Towns aren’t sleepy, but some unimaginative writers are.

I dare not suggest that anyone reading this excellent newspaper kill rattlesnakes since some sub-species are protected under penalty of law, and goodness knows I would never place the life of a child over that of a reptile; that would be wrong.