Monday, June 27, 2011

Ash Wednesday in Libya

Ash Wednesday in Libya

For Anthony Germain

The wisdom of the desert is dispersed
Among the industrial monuments
To mechanized murder, wireless chaos,
And war-porn for touch-screen degenerates.
On this Ash Wednesday night while smoky flares
Obscure, with false, flickering fumes, the stars
God sent to dance above those ancient lands,
You choke and weep among the ashes of
More victims of pale Herod’s shopping trips.
So of your kindness grant that we, your friends,
May wear your ashes for you on this night,
And for the weary innocents who flee
The ashes of their burnt and blasted world.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rule by Frat Boys

Mack Hall, HSG

Rule by Fraternitaspuerate

Remember Joel Fleischman, Northern Exposure’s lead whose sense of entitlement clashed with his obligations to the taxpayers who funded his medical school? Our government at present seems to consist of an oligarchy of Joel Fleischmans, and we the people elected them.

In high school civics class we were told about the basic forms of governance: oligarchy, monarchy, democracy, republic, dictatorship, and so on, and some of the murderous variants such as the concept of the soviet, committee of public safety, and triumvirate.

In our time we have a new form of government, rule by fraernitaspuerate – rule by frat boy, by Joel Fleischman and his partners in perceived privilege.

When Britain stood alone against the Nazi menace, Churchill did not don knee pants and take to the golf course to yuck it up with King George in a baseball cap while England was being bombed. Crockett, Travis, and Bowie did not compromise their differences during 18 rounds on the Alamo’s golf course (officers only, except for Wednesdays and Thursdays). There is no report of a golf course on Masada, but perhaps the Chinese will have built one by next week, along with a luxury hotel near the western gate.

In the news we read of our military operations all over the world, operations of dubious legality that even Emperor Vespasian would find pointless, and on the same page we also read about our President and our Speaker of the House playing golf in the midst of economic and moral crises. Our Merovingian Congress squeaks harmlessly, left leaderless by the knee-pants abdication of John Boehner, R-Ohio, who sacrificed his ethics at the first tee.

Well into the 1970s the leadership of this country, locally and nationally, consisted of folks who suffered through the Depression and World War II, and who worked at real jobs. The question was not “What fraternity did you belong to?” but “What was your outfit?” Some of them had some college but few of them had four-year degrees.

Our leaders now seem to be superannuated frat boys with little sense of responsibility: John Kerry, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, and now Congressman Boehner and his new-found golfing buddy. Heck, even Sarah Palin has not really explained why she abandoned the Alaskan voters. The lack of gravitas, the nonexistent sense of duty, and the inability to discern between right and wrong seem to be defining characteristics of our leadership and, thus, of the electorate who empowered them.

Perhaps we should asked future prospective candidates to electoral office to respond to the following prompts:

1. Tell us all about your social network issues.
2. Have you ever heard of the Constitution? Does Section 8 of Article 1 mean anything to you? How about the 4th Amendment?
3. Does your church have a history leading further back than, say, last week, and a leadership that consists of more than the pastor’s extended family? Codicil: is your copy of the Bible larger than Bill Clinton’s?
4. Have you misrepresented your military history?
5. Have you ever belonged to a fraternity – that is, have you paid people to humiliate you so they’d be your friends?
6. Have you ever had a job that required you to sweat? (Not going populist on ya here, folks, but all these 4.0-GPA-idea-men are wrecking us)
7. Do you solemnly vow never to use a screen-thingie during your speeches?
8. Do you solemnly vow never to wear a white tie with a dinner jacket?
9. Do you solemnly vow never to wear knee pants / pedal-pushers?
10. Do you solemnly vow never to wear lumberjack shirts while campaigning?
11. Do you play golf? Why? Explain yourself.
12. Do you wear those dime-store wraparound sunglasses that make you look like a dragonfly with glaucoma? Why?
13. Do you understand that if we elect you to office, the airplane, the house, the cars, the staff, the money – they’re not yours; they’re ours?
14. No more soft/pop 1960s rock at the conventions. Seriously. As a codicil, no Republicans trying to dance; there’s enough sorrow in the world already.
15. You ain’t the Queen. If you ever, ever, ever lapse into the first-person plural, you will be required to resign immediately and will lose your citizenship for cause.

Now, then, agree to these terms and one or two of us might consider you for public office; the rest of the electorate are too busy listening to Rush Limbaugh or Oprah Winfrey to vote.


Smoke Break

Mack Hall, HSG

Smoke Break

By late next year all cigarette packages in this nation must bear pictures of diseased lungs, smoke issuing from a tracheostomy, and perhaps even dead bodies. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) believes that these grotesqueries will turn folks off to smoking.

The reality, of course, is that pictures of cancerous corpses are just the thing to attract the attention and pocket money of the typical 16-year-old.

If cigarettes really are fatal, then why don’t government entities ban the darned things? Is it possible that quitting tobacco taxes is harder for a government than quitting tobacco is for a three-pack-a-day man?

But the really cosmic question is this: do cigarette company workers have to go outside for a smoke break?

We’ve all heard the news about cigarettes; there are more urgent warnings necessary on these other objects:

Guitar: “Caution – picking up this instrument will give you delusions of talent.”

Television: “Warning – this is not your life.”

Video game: “Danger – play this only if you don’t have any friends.”

Goatee: “Before wearing this, um, style, consider the root word of ‘goatee.’”

Goatee II: “Aviso – the goatee is the hirsute equivalent of the Nehru jacket.”

Big-Box Electronics Store: “Please note that every employee in this building is programmed to lie to you.”

Telephone message: “When we say your call is important to us, we don’t mean it. If your call were important, you wouldn’t be listening to a recording. Have a nice day. If you believe that this recording cares.”

Pencil: “This device does not know mathematics.”

Restaurant: “The servers here have been instructed to nasal out ‘no problem’ instead of saying ‘you’re welcome.’”

Family restaurant: “The ‘family’ bit means screaming children throwing food.”

Vegetarian restaurant: “You can hear the carrots scream when you bite into them. Really. Carrots are your friends. Why would you eat your friends?”

Radio talk show: “Listening obediently to the following millionaire who never had a real job does not constitute participatory democracy.”

Bible: “Reading this does not make you judge of the universe.”

Golf club: “Using this stick to hit a little ball into a hole in the ground does not empower you to send young people to their deaths in other countries.”

State line: “Welcome to New York. You may not marry your bicycle. Yet.”

Bottled water: “This is just water. We took it out of a tap and drained it into a bottle made of weird chemicals. And you’re going to pay for this?”

National Public Radio: “As we go into yet another annoying fund-raising campaign, remember than some of our announcers are given over $300,000 a year to babble on the radio. And now, let’s dig into those pockets, little people; NPR needs the money for, like, y’know, social justice and global warming.”

Oh, yeah, there’s a whole lotta smoke being blown these days.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Barnes and Noble -- The Nook's Disappearing Books

The Nook is an amusing gadget, but mine -- this is, of course, a sampling of somewhat less than 100 Nooks -- is unreliable.

When I bought my Nook I decided to download only free books until I found something I really wanted to buy. After all, most of us have the books we really want, and the Nook would be good for travel books, detective stories, easy road-reads, and so on. In the event, I will never purchase a book for the Nook because the free ones have a bad habit of disappearing when wanted, not unlike the sales folks in big-box stores in Beaumont, Texas. Why, then, would I buy a book that might then disappear?

Barnes and Noble's customer service on the 'net and in the Beaumont store are great, and I cannot fault them at all. The problem lies in an ill-tried and clumsy technology, and in gadgets made by the lowest Chinese Communist bidder.

At one point everything I had downloaded was not accessible; the books were only titles on the screen. I went to the store and tried to download them again, and this didn't work either. Finally, the nice B & N staff formed a committee, examined the problem and the machine, and concluded that the only solution was to de-register the Nook and then re-register it.

A critical Why? goes here.

So I spent an hour re-re-downloading my books, some twenty of which wouldn't download again. A problem with this is that the titles still exist, and the only way of getting rid of them is to access one's B & N account on a computer (again, why should this be necessary?), and deleting the non-downloadable titles, one at a time. And this does not always work.

The screen has frozen at least twice, maybe thrice, and while the solution is not demanding -- prying the Nook apart and removing the battery for a few minutes -- why should this be necessary at all?

The e-reader has a great future, and I enjoy downloading obscure, out-of-print books for free. But the Nook is not yet ready. If you buy the gadget, don't trust it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Little House in the Big (and burning) Woods

Mack Hall, HSG

Little House in the Big (and burning) Woods

Around 7:45 P.M. evening last week I was enjoying the dusk and giving the plants a drink when I noticed that the fields and woods to the northwest of the house were hidden in a thick white cloud, and with that quickness of mind which is a marvel to all who know me I deduced that we had a woods fire.

I did the 911 thing and then drove across the field to the tree line. I walked into the deepening-dusk woods and heard something moving -- arsonist? Deer? Wolf? Congressman Weiner? Hillary Clinton wearing a Richard Nixon mask?

"Hey!" I called. The moving stopped. I pushed my way perhaps thirty feet into that thickety, attack-briary mess and gave it up, bruised, scratched, and humbled, and returned to the open.

The first responder on the scene was a city police officer, and quick upon his tire-treads followed the Kirbyville VFD. Their sirens set the wolves – and my dachshund, Thunderbolt -- to howling mightily.

The firemen tried to walk into the brush, made it about thirty feet, and returned, scratched and sweating and gasping in the foul heat. This was a sub-theme of the evening -- everyone who responded to the fire, neighbors, firemen, and Forest Service, charged into the thicket against briars and vines, and all returned much exercised. A five-year growth of thicket in East Texas is as effective a barrier as all the barbed-wire in Viet-Nam bunched together.

An advance team from the Forest Service arrived, all kitted out in Darth Vadar helmets with recessed blue lights for forward visuals and blinking red lights on the rear. They charged into the woods and shortly reappeared, frustrated as the rest of us, their navigational lights still shining and blinking.

Two Forest Service bulldozers arrived and were quickly off-loaded, and just as quickly charged into the woods and disappeared, thundering unseen in the darkness toward the flames. These iron dragons surrounded the fire within an hour, isolating it to die, and within an hour or so were back on their trailers being transported to another fire.

The field was crowded with cars and trucks and four-wheelers and all sorts of people smoking cigarettes and talking on radios and cussing and enjoying themselves mightily in the hot night. And God bless 'em, for within a few hours they had the situation controlled. All the neighbors showed up, most of them with shovels, ready to get with it. Good folks, good folks.

The source of the fire is unknown; there was some speculation about lightning strikes from the cruel, teasing black clouds that sail above our year-long drought most afternoons.

Y’r ‘umble scrivener still has a house in which to live because of the quick response of the fire and forest services, but if they had been away on another fire -- the village idiots are loose, you know, loping along with their knuckles scraping the ground, playing with matches, their two or three brain cells misfiring at the synapses -- this narrative might not have ended happily.

Thanks, everyone.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Quotations from the 45th President

Mack Hall, HSG

Quotations from the 45th President

“Golf? No, never tried it. But now let me tell you about hunting squirrels when I was a child…”

“I swear to you, the American people, that I will never appear in public in knee-pants, a baseball cap, or those bug-eyed sunglasses that look like a dragon-fly wearing an oil spill.”

“Today I told the Air Force and the Marine Corps to take away the presidential jets and helicopters, and to employ them for medevac purposes for our sick and wounded soldiers. I don’t need all that look-at-me junk and you sure don’t need to pay for it.”

“I told my (husband / wife) that if (he / she) didn’t shut up in public I was going to ship (him / her) to a (monastery / convent) in the Ural Mountains of Russia until this presidential term is over.”

“This morning I apologized to the British people and asked if we could have back that bust of Winston Churchill. Then I had a GS-2 clerk telephone Hamad Kharzi in Afghanistan and advise him that he might want to make his funeral arrangements because as of noon tomorrow I’m withdrawing military protection and leaving him to the mercy of his own folks.”

“I want to apologize to the American taxpayer for all the security that’s around me. I’m told it’s a necessity but I know it cuts me off from reality. I promise you that I’ll do my best to reduce the private armies with which so many politicians, including presidents, surround themselves. If the ordinary working American doesn’t have security guards on the job or at home, why should he have to pay more taxes so others can have them?”

“This morning I withdrew all limousines and drivers from federal service, including the presidential ain’t-I-special-mobile. If an undersecretary for the secretary to the czar of the Bureau of Resume’-Building can’t find his way to work on the salary you’re paying him, then maybe he’s not qualified for the job.”

“I can’t require this, of course, but today I ask all state governors, beginning with the Republicans, to get rid of their taxpayer-funded helicopters and limousines.”

“But folks, you’ve got to do your part. Only about half of you are voting, and so no wonder you’ve got fat governors flying to their children’s ball games while asking you to sacrifice. Don’t complain if you’re not voting.”

“During this presidency the presidential dinnerware and silverware will gather dust. In the White House folks will eat like you do at your house. Also, the self-conscious attempts at culture are over – no more bogus poets who don’t know an iamb from an anapest. No more musical evenings. You elected a president, not a cruise director.”

“Several congressmen suggested to me that somehow it would be to this nation’s advantage if a great many 19-year-old Americans were to die in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and God knows where else. I assured those congressmen that if this nation ever goes to war it will be with a congressional declaration as required by the Constitution, and that their children and mine would be conscripted as enlisted soldiers and sent into combat first.”

“And, now, on the second day of this presidency…”