Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Autopen is Mightier than the Reality Show

Mack Hall, HSG

The Autopen is Mightier than the Reality Show

Techniques for job seekers change with the times, but although a dark suit might not be required now, reporting for a job interview while wearing a red cape is probably a no-no.

What’s really funny – laugh now -- is that you’re paying for the red cape.

A taxpayer-funded body called Workplace Central Florida (“employment agency” is, like, y’know, so old-school) has wasted – um, invested -- some $14,000 for red capes for central Floridians looking for work. Folks in the off-center parts of Florida can be grateful that they are merely unemployed, not both unemployed and made to dress like really fey superheroes. The feeling – obviously not thinking – behind this public humiliation of the unemployed is that if they are required to costume themselves like fools they will then take heart as they battle the scourge of (I am not making this up) “Doctor Evil Unemployment.”

Just why the former Mister Unemployment has been granted a doctorate and by what institution eludes the perceptive reader, but then one supposes that “Reverend Unemployment” would offend the millions of men and not a few women who like to be saluted in that market place mentioned in the Gospels.

Workplace Central Florida receives $24 million dollars annually from those of you who already have jobs, and I say that’s money well-spent. If working people were to keep more of the dollars they earn they’d probably waste their income on a new roof or a more dependable car. How good of the wise and benevolent government people vote for to relieve them of making decisions about the results of their own work.

A few states up, in North Carolina, a Presbyterian church in Charlotte has been fined $4,000 for pruning their own crepe myrtle trees (otherwise known as really big weeds) on their own property.

The city of Charlotte employs a “senior urban forester,” who missed his true calling as a Nazi UberSturmPoopFuhrer, to punish people for taking care of their lawns. If there is a senior urban forester then it follows that there are junior urban foresters and perhaps even stadtwaldjugend marching about in black shorts and snooping in Charlotte’s back yards for unauthorized and disharmonious vegetation.

If you wish to trim your own trees in your own yard in Charlotte you must apply to the city foresters, the Green Gestapo, for a permit, preferably with your cloth cap clutched in your dirty hands, you swine, and your head ‘umbly bowed. If your papers are not in order you will be punished at $100 per branch. The North Carolina Division of Forestry makes the friendly suggestion that you should be should be certified by the National Horticulture Board in order to lop off a branch that’s scratching your car, but we’ll overlook it this time, comrade. We have ways of making your daisies talk, and we know where your tomato plants live.

Punishing people for being tidy and responsible is clearly very profitable for the thugs – um, public servants -- in Charlotte’s city hall: look at a tree, decide that you don’t like the way it’s shaped, and write a ticket for $4,000. Someone in Charlotte, North Carolina is looting lots of money from the people through the misuse of police powers.

But, again, the people of Charlotte, just like the people of every city, have exactly the city government for which they voted.

But in fact most people don’t vote. The turnout for presidential autopen elections every four years barely tops 50% of the electorate; off-year state and local elections are characterized by a few dutiful poll-watchers who are as lonely as a touring opera company in Nashville. Perhaps those who don’t vote are too busy listening to Rush Limbaugh and Oprah Winfrey.

But have no fear, the Republicans are here – only it turns out that some of those running for the office of Autopen of the United States don’t have much of a voting record either. They want your money, though.

Sarah Palin, for instance, is touring the United States in a big ol’ bus in order to ask for money. Now since Mrs. Palin already has lots and lots of money from her book and even more from her speaking tour, and according to rumor has recently bought a really big house in Arizona, just why she needs the few pot-metal coins the Tree Gauleiters haven’t yet seized from you is another philosophical question.

Maybe the voters aren’t showing up because there isn’t much to vote for; the Dancing With the Stars audition rejects presented to us by the Republicans won’t cut it any more than the autopen. To paraphrase Wordsworth, “Patrick Henry! Thou shouldst be living at this hour!”


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tour de Hello Kitty

Mack Hall, HSG

Tour de Hello Kitty

When did America cease to be a nation of workers and become a community of guys in knee pants?

A recent tiff among those of the male persuasion who address each other as “Dude!” and aren’t joking about it is the alleged doping scandal regarding Lance Armstrong, The All-American-French Boy.

France, the nation who gave the world the great Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal, took it all back by inventing the Tour de France. “Tour de France” is a French (obviously) phrase which translates roughly as “boys wearing brightly-colored plastic toadstools on their heads and racing their bicycles.”

Once a year the sort of people who subscribe to PBS and voted for John Kerry become excited about the Tour de Knee Pants, perhaps because their boats are being refitted for the yachting season.

Professional cyclists seem to be the sort of people who, if they actually had jobs, would come to work with cell ‘phones and keys in one hand, and designer bottles of designer water in the other.

As in all races, someone wins a pedally-thing, and the others complain. Lance (what were his parents thinking?) won the Tour de Dude on numerous occasions, much to the annoyance of the French. Now he is accused by his bike-riding guy-dude-homies of having taken dope in order to win the Tour de Pedal-Pushers. Why are these accusations made years after the fact? Did Lance sneer at another bike-riding-guy-dude-homie’s bicycle helmet?

And what is with bicycle helmets, anyway? How does a Glad-Bag on steroids reposing on the top of a bicyclist’s hair protect the bicyclist? If a sport requires a helmet, wear a helmet, not a Hello Kitty fashion accessory.

But here’s the thesis of this article: who could be so excited about winning a bicycle race that he would take strange chemicals and ruin his health in order to win it? And, really, who could be so excited about watching a bicycle race without chemicals, mega-doses of caffeine, for instance? “I say, Percy, wake up; here come the leaders in the Tour de Yawn. Rather. Wot.”

Bicycle racing seems so, well, not American. Does one imagine Zorro riding to the rescue on his trusty bicycle? General Patton on a Schwinn? John Wayne pedaling off into the sunset? President Reagan polishing the saddle of his Raleigh? Teddy Roosevelt wheeling up San Juan Hill with one of those bubbles on his head? George Washington kneeling in the snow and praying while his faithful bicycle stands by? I think not.

Look, bicycling is a healthy sport, and many of us grew up falling off our Western Flyers, but when we were old enough to borrow the car we didn’t reject the Ford Galaxie 500 and choose to go cruisin’ downtown on the old bicycle instead.

Bicycling as a serious sport – what next, helmets and knee-pants and accusations of drug usage in shooting marbles?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Class of 2011

Mack Hall, HSG


Children insist on growing up and going away. Their teachers are not happy about that. Really. Every year the old…um…venerable faculty see their high school seniors off to the new world they will make for themselves. Oh, sure, there are always one or two of whom one can sing “Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone,” but the loss of most of the students is very real, very painful, and very forever. And while the teachers taught them not to ever split infinitives (cough), which they immediately forget, 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 one hopes they have learned along the way.

Here then, Class of 2011 are some disconnected factoids your old English teacher meant to tell 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. By October of 2012 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 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. MyFace, SpaceBook, Tweeter, and all the rest are surprisingly dangerous to your career and to your safety.

8. When posing for a photograph, never hold your hands folded in front of, um, a certain area of your anatomy. It makes you look as if you just discovered that your zipper is undone.

9. Have you ever noticed that you never see “Matthew 6:5-6” on a 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 tell you that the world is evil.

13. Most people are good, and can be trusted. But the two-per-centers, like hemorrhoids, do tend to get your attention.

14. 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.

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

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

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. Movies are made by committees. 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.

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

21. Save the planet? Reform the establishment? Stop meanies from beating harp seals to death? Get a job first.

22. Time to wear the big-boy pants.

23. 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.

24. Everyone tells cheerleader jokes, but cheerleaders are among the most successful people in adult life. The discipline, the hard work, the physical demands, the aesthetics, the teamwork, and the refusal to die of embarrassment while one’s mother screams abuse at the cheerleader sponsor do pay off in life.

25. 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 will be on the television screen in your home. Your life is your own – don’t become one of the bleating, tweeting sheep.

26. Giving back to the community begins now. Do something as an act of service to humanity -- join the volunteer fire department, teach Sunday school, clean up the city park one hour a week, assist at the nursing home.

27. Don’t bore people with sad stories about your horrible childhood. No one ever lived a Leave It To Beaver or Cosby existence. Get over the narcissism.

28. 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 the house in the middle of the night when your child is dying, you don’t have a job, and you don’t know where to turn. Your pastor – Chaucer’s Parsoun -- may not be cool, may not be a clever speaker, may not sport a Rolex watch, and may not have a really bad wig, but he’s here for you.

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

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

31. 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.

32. Stop eating out of bags and boxes. Learn how to use a knife and fork.

33. Life is not a beer commercial.

34. On the Monday after graduation you’ll be just another unemployed American.

35. When you find yourself facing a dinner setting with more than two forks, don’t panic; no one else knows quite what to do with three forks either. No one’s watching anyway, so just enjoy the meal.

36. 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?

37. Green ideology means that gasoline costs more than you make.

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

39. No one ever agrees on where commas go. If someone shows you a grammar book dictating the use of commas one way, you can find another grammar book to contradict it.

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

41. There is no such thing as a non-denominational worship service.

42. 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.

43. 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?

44. From now on the menus should be in words, not pictures.

45. 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.

46. 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.

47. Thank you notes: write ’em. It shows class. You can write; you’re a high school graduate, remember?

48. Don’t reach for the pen in someone else’s pocket. Carry your own.

49. The school award you should have received: For Compassion. While I must confess that I was happy to see some of you on a daily basis because that way I was sure my tires would be safe, there was never one single instance of any of you taking any advantage or being unkind in any way to those who were emotionally or physically vulnerable. Indeed, most of you took the extra step in being very protective of the very special young people who are blended into the student population. There is no nicely-framed award for that compassion, not here, anyway, but even now there is one with your name on it on the walls of a mansion which, we are assured, awaits each of us, in a house with many mansions. God never asked you to be theologically correct; He asked you to be compassionate, and you were. Keep the kindness within you always.

50. 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 will have failed life, and 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 2011, it’s time to let go. Thanks for everything: for the 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 to roll call (“Focus, class... focus...focus...focus...”), 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


Sunday, May 8, 2011

With Our Thrift-Shop Televisions We Will Conquer the World

Mack Hall, HSG

With Our Thrift-Shop Televisions We Will Conquer the World

With the death of what’s-his-name in a small airborne assault in the great tradition of American raiders dating back to John Paul Jones, the world waits and wonders and ponders this great question: couldn’t the Scourge of Allah afford a better television set?

Did anyone ever tell The Pride of Riyadh “Hey, Fatwallah Guy, they’ve got flat screens now. I can score you one down at the souk for maybe two hundred filthy pagan dollars.”

But The Big Wookie was apparently comfortable with his thrift shop 15-inch and his Just For Bin dye job. Images of the old poop show him squatting on the floor huddled in a blanket and surfing the channels in a filthy room that any monotoothed Hardin County nester would disdain.

Wikipedia reports that the Lyin’ of the Desert’s favorite activities were charity, reading, horses, writing poetry, and following the English soccer team Arsenal. He was a soft-spoken man who perhaps enjoyed walks on the beach and candle-light beheadings of infidels. Hey, girls, isn’t that pretty much the blind date your well-meaning cousin set you up with after your guy Skippy cheated on you with your best friend Tammy?

The Big O was quite the family man, too. No one is clear on just how many wives he infested, and several of his exes (none in Texas) were never seen again. He sperm-donored some 20-25 children, and before his death was living with three wives, which may explain the haunted look on his face.

Did this Ward Cleaver of the Sands attend PTA meetings?

And imagine the home life of the family:

“Daddy, daddy! We’re playing Arabs and Jews, and Brother #12 won’t ever let me be the Arab! Why do I have to be tortured and beheaded all the time?”

“Now, boys, your father’s very busy plotting world domination and global genocide of the infidels; you go outside and play with the nice new Russian Kalashnikovs he gave you for World Peace Day.”

“Aw, shucks, honey, you’re the greatest. I think I’ll wait awhile before having you stoned to death.”

The sad reality is that Lurch was an evil man, a genocidal maniac who inspired others to murder thousands of people, most of them of his own religion. This spoiled son of the rich was technically trained but not educated, and loved machines – especially machine guns – but disposed of humans as mere obstacles to his demon-haunted fantasies of a perfect world.

When a good man dies one often says “We shall not see his like again,” and this is true. All good men exhibit the traits of honesty, loyalty, courage, and civilization, and yet they really are individuals.

But the evil little men who bedevil the world – they are drainage-ditch-common, mumbling and muttering as they listen to The Voices in grubby rented rooms or even grubbier tents, scribbling into their notebooks or tapping into their machines their eternal shrieks against God and man, their endlessly recycled versions of Mein Kampf, The Turner Diaries, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Das Kapital, and warehouses full of sophomoric manifestos.

Alas that we will see his like again.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Always Wear a Clean Shirt at a Wedding

Mack Hall, HSG

Always Wear a Clean Shirt at a Wedding

During the recent royal wedding one could not help noticing the wild, bizarre headgear that seemed to detract from the sacredness of the occasion – I refer to hairy Prince Harry’s hair, of course. He seemed to be channeling Donald Trump. Oh, the follicles of one’s youth!

Prince Harry was in military uniform, and one wonders why his commanding officer didn’t tell him “Lieutenant, prince or no prince, you get that hair cut to regulation.”

Otherwise, how good to see women wearing hats in church and men respectfully bareheaded in the presence of God. Many middle-aged men have done great harm with the me-me-me thing of teaching younger men that respect for God, women, and country is secondary to keeping one’s costume ballcap on during all occasions because, like, y’know, this cap is who I am.

Yes, what man does not want to be a made-in-China cap?

The young princes, both pilots, looked great in their uniforms, and their families and friends were very proud of them. One imagines the awkwardness of someone opposed to military service getting married: “The groom and best man were resplendent in matching cable-knit sweaters.”

No one in the congregation displayed a cell ‘phone. Now that’s class.

No one in the congregation wore tee-shirts.

No one in the congregation wore advertising on his or her clothing.

No guitars. Thank God.

No cringe-making amateur musical moments.

No microphones or loudspeakers dangling from the ceiling.

No miscued audiotapes of “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”

No one in the congregation called out “Where’s the birth certificate, William!?”

Baby sister as maid of honor and baby brother as best man – a brilliant way of avoiding squabbles and crowds on the altar.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London both mentioned God. This could distress NBC and CBS.

There were no air-raid sirens during the wedding; NATO hasn’t yet gotten around to bombing England.

Some gossipy old women on the television judged the guest list and found it wanting. Hey, Miz Grundy and Aunt Pittypat, not your call, okay? Not your family, not your decision. Just be happy if your own children ask you to their weddings.

Finally, although the wedding pictures were lovely, let us not neglect the great photograph of Princess Kate in khaki and boots in a muddy field, a shotgun in one hand and a brace of fowl in the other. Now that’s an English princess of the old school! Cue that country song about the tractor.