Monday, December 30, 2013

And Then a Light Bulb Didn't Come On

Mack Hall, HSG

And Then a Light Bulb Didn’t Come On

The Christmas casualties have hardly been processed through triage in time for the next offensive, New Year’s.

The odd thing about New Year’s is that it probably isn’t. January 1st as the beginning of the year is a late Roman tradition honoring Julius Caesar and his reformed calendar as well as Janus, the pagan god of doors, gates, and beginnings. Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism recognize other dates, as does China. For Christians the new year begins with the first day of Advent, and the U.S. government recognizes a fiscal year that does not correspond to the calendar year.

These considerations mean little to the thousands who will lemming together in New York’s Times Square (undoubtedly the Center of the World) on what may or may not be new year’s to be patted, probed, interrogated, and inspected in anticipation of yet another semi-obligatory jollification followed by casualty lists on the next day’s news, surrounded by pictures of Chinese-front millionaires in Chinese-made camouflage and strange young women posing naked on cannonballs which perhaps were not made in China.

We won’t be reading our morning newspapers with the aid of light bulbs for much longer, since with the new year almost all light bulbs will be forbidden by edict in the land of the free. By order, our mandated light sources will be strange helical constructions filled with toxins. We have been instructed to believe that these Buck Rogers gadgets last many years longer than the beastly old global-warming light bulbs in spite of the demonstrated reality that they don’t. The brilliant excuse made after the glowing fact is that the new squiggly things will emit rays on the visual spectrum for longer if the base is down. So, foolish people that we are, we didn’t build our houses with the light fixtures on the floor. What were we thinking?

The old joke about this being President Bush’s fault doesn’t work here since (we must throw some light on the source of the light source) President Bush really did sign off on the people’s permitted illumination on December 19, 2007.

Some people, perhaps well-lit themselves, celebrate what might or might not be a new year by discharging firearms into the air. A real problem with this is the old law of gravity, which really isn’t a law, the fact that whatever goes up must come down: tennis balls, birds, arrows, airplanes, your retirement investments, and bullets. A bullet fired into the air begins to slow, and then to slowly slow, and then to stop. Following its brief pause to check out the scenery ‘way up in the sky, the bullet begins slowly falling back to earth. Then it begins to fall faster and faster, following the acceleration constant as taught in 6th grade. When that little bullet falls back to earth, its small weight is propelled so fast by gravity that it will with ease penetrate a human. One moment someone’s outside celebrating a new year that might or might not be new, an artificial date on an artificial calendar that exists with or without one’s celebration, and the next moment that someone is dead from someone else’s falling bullet. What fun.

This is why for years (however they are measured on this irregular spheroid wobbling around along an elliptical orbit) the New Orleans police have parked beneath highway overpasses at midnight. Indeed, the beginning of 2013 was marked by the astonishing news that no one in America’s Most European City was struck by a falling bullet for three years running (

Well, here’s a wish that your new year (if this is a new year) is happy in every way, that no bullets fall on you or your family, that your democratically-elected toilets flush, and that your democratically-elected squiggly lights emit enough light to permit you to read without being poisoned or irradiated.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter Dawn

For our Mothers on Christmas Eve

Mack Hall

For our Mothers on Christmas Eve

Beyond all other nights, on this strange Night,
A strangers’ star, a silent, seeking star,
Helps set the wreckage of our souls aright:
It leads us to a stable door ajar.

And we are not alone in peeking in:
An ox, an ass, a lamb, some shepherds, too -
Bright star without; a brighter Light within
We children see the Truth three Wise Men knew.

For we are children there in Bethlehem
Soft-shivering in that winter long ago
We watch and listen there, in star-light dim,
In cold Judea, in a soft, soft snow.

The Stable and the Star, yes, we believe:
Our mothers sing us there each Christmas Eve.

Christmas in the China Seas

Mack Hall

Christmas in the China Seas

In the run-up to Christmas, cult leaders Martha Stewart and Kim Jong Un have both reduced their staffs.

Martha Stewart gave some 100 of her employees more time to spend with their families this holiday season by sacking them. Kim Jong Un will miss seeing his favorite uncle and political advisor at the festive board; Kim had the old man shot.

And their remaining followers all said “it’s a good thing™.” Or else.

Will Martha Stewart and Kim Jong Un’s surviving office staffs play Secret Santa this year?

What does the pudgy little dictator do for Christmas after he’s pruned his gift list by one relative? Perhaps he could buy one of those snuggie-blankie-thingies as advertised on the Orwellian telescreen and cuddle up with his good buddy Dennis Rodman while they watch It’s a Wonderful Life in the Communist translation, It’s a Miserable Death.

“Wow, Uncle Jang sure would enjoy the scene where Jimmy Stewart has Mr. Potter executed. Oh…wait…!”

“What’s up, man?” asks Dennis.

“Dang!” replies Kim Jong Un. “I just realized that I mixed up my death list with my gift list! I so hate it when that happens. Okay, so I’ve got a new Y-Box I don’t need. Can you use it?”

Martha might conjure up some chips and dips recycled from leftover snacks found in her former employees’ desks and garnished with bitter gall and a smile. Then she and the boys could pose at the gate to one of Dear Leader’s death camps for a look-at-us-ain’t-we-cute selfie complete with duck lips while all the generals clap desperately.

In North Korea, inadequate clapping is a neglect of social principle, and neglect of social principle is punishable by firing squad, having to hold still and wait for mortar rounds, or, on especially merry occasions, being eaten by hungry neighbors. The generals clap desperately.

On Christmas morning John Kerry, who says he was wounded three times in Viet-Nam, might swiftly boat up the river to join the party, with John Kerry Wounded Three Times in Viet-Nam™ tees (each featuring a patented glow-in-the-dark Purple Heart) for everyone. This will cause a row because Kim Jong Un’s gifts are Kim Jong Un™ tees, featuring Dear Leader Himself sporting a cool Che Guevera™ beret. At this point, Martha Stewart™ will quickly dial the USA to see if there’s a clause stipulating her cut on Kerry and Un tees in her many contracts with department stores. The generals clap desperately.

Following Christmas dinner, and the jolly throwing of the leftovers to the starving liberated people on the pointy ends of the bayonets, the party could take a cruise downriver to the several China Seas to fire missiles over Japan and watch the Chinese Navy and the United States Navy playing bumper-boats. The generals clap desperately.

You’re right – it’s not funny. How many young Americans home for Christmas will die before next Christmas in yet another undeclared war? Japan, China, Viet-Nam, Cambodia, Taiwan, South Korea, and North Korea take turns menacing each other and despising the American people who stand in lines to buy their junk. Our government appears to feel that 19-year-old Americans are disposable foreign aid that will somehow make other nations hold hands, get along, and approve of us.

One wonders if our generals are clapping desperately.


A Watching Star

Mack Hall, HSG

A Watching Star

On Christmas Eve in Bethlehem the Holy Family were put through a rough time, but they were spared moderns on MyMyMyFaceSpaceBook telling them how they got it all wrong: that science proves the Star could not have been there at that time, or that the Holy Family were cave-dwellers, or that someone’s misreading of this text or that inscription conclusively proves that, oh, a species of now-extinct giant hamsters, not oxen, were present.

Someone once said of a 2,000-year-old teaching “Well, maybe we’ve gotten it wrong for 2,000 years.”

How casually old stories and transcendent truths are tossed away.

No one has yet proposed that the shepherds weren’t present on that Night of all nights. They saw a Star and angels, not tweets or twerks, and in obedience to God, not to fashion, walked across the hills to see and to worship.

The conventions of advertising tell us that Christmas is only about really nice houses in the middle of snowy landscapes, and that people riding about in horse-drawn sleighs visit each other while laden with Orwellian telescreens and bottles of liquids labeled champagne (of the sort aged in railway tank cars for days), while some holly and lights and impossibly happy children hang about looking enthusiastically merry. Everyone, by the script, is home for the holidays.

In reality, on Christmas Eve a great many people aren’t home to hang socks on fireplace mantles. Just like the hotelier who had no room, and the shepherds watching their sheep, caretakers and guardians are out and about beneath our lesser stars: if the power fails, linemen will be out and up high in the cold and storms making it work again. Police will be on patrol because crime, too, will be on patrol, and hospitals, fire departments, railways, communications, air traffic control, and all the other necessities of a complex civilization will operating because a nation can’t simply turn off the lights for the night. Young sailors, Marines, soldiers, and airmen posted from Frozenb*tt Air Force Base in North Dakota to some rocky pit in Afghanistan must be awake and doing.

They are all our watchers, making our Christmas safe, and may that eternal Star shine upon them always.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

How do You Solve a Problem Like Maria Critics?

Mack Hall, HSG

How do You Solve a Problem like Maria Critics?

Last week Carrie Underwood was told, over and over, that she isn’t John Wayne. Or was it someone else she was told she’s not?

NBC and the legal entity that holds the rights to the literary estates of Rodgers and Hammerstein recently staged and televised a live production of The Sound of Music. There is nothing surprising in this; TSOM was a big Broadway production fifty years ago, and continues to be a popular show performed by professionals and amateurs.

Most people, though, know the songs and story through the 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews, who isn’t Mary Martin, the first not-really-Maria. And for the devout faithful, the film is forever ossified as the only production of The Sound of Music there ever was, that there was no TSOM before and by all that’s holy in blue hair rinse there shall never be another.

Carrie Underwood is indeed not Julie Andrews (both of them probably know that), and Julie Andrews is not Mary Martin, and Mary Martin is not the real Maria, just as (we’re being almost algebraic here) Jude Law is not Kenneth Branagh, and Kenneth Branagh is not Laurence Olivier, and Laurence Olivier is not the real Henry V.

For those who live in a never-neverland where it is forever 1965, the cry is “Sede vacantes!” They want their Maria mummified and locked away in an emotional crypt. Their doomsday rule is that a cute Anglican girl from England is the sole anointed one to sing the role of a cute Catholic girl from Austria, and that a cute Baptist girl from Oklahoma is verboten.

Happily, Maria Von Trapp, Rodgers and Hammerstein, their heirs, and their successors have never seen it that way. People involved with the various productions have not always agreed with details, but none of ‘em wants to turn off the gold that flows from them thar hills in Austria. The yodeling will continue, and many young women will don Maria’s Dirndlgewand and sing about larks and hills while dancing on stages in New York and Peoria and at local high schools for a long, long time to come.

The first Maria, the real one, famously got on very well with the third Maria, Julie Andrews, who in her turn gave her imprimatur and nihil obstat to Carrie Underwood. And y’know, if Julie Andrews says you can sing, well, you can take that to the bank in dollars, euros, or do-re-mi.

In the event, Carrie Underwood was smashing. For three hours, live, with no possibility of re-takes, she was Maria, singing, dancing, and acting among the stage hills and the stage chateau and through numerous set, lighting, and costume changes. Her voice is indeed a little bit country, but then she is a country girl, as was the original Maria.

Not all the cast were as well chosen – what’s with the almost middle-aged Rolfe in those silly shorts? – but Mother Abbess and Baroness Schroeder are outstanding. Audra McDonald (Mother Abbess) studied at Juilliard and has a lengthy resume’ of solid accomplishments on stage and on the Orwellian telescreen. She projects wisdom and benevolence with great skill. Laura Benanti (Baroness) vamps, flirts, and slithers through her role as a predator, clearly enjoying herself immensely. McDonald and Benanti’s classically trained voices are a perfect counterpoint to Carrie Underwoods’ Great Plains voice, all of them making a series of delightful songs all the better.

Stage sets are usually minimalist because of the limitations of space and the desire to focus on characterization and plot. The producers of TSOM 13 took a chance and built a series of realistic and connecting sets that really challenged the actors’ blocking and the cameras’ movements, and made it work. The miniature hillside does look stagey -- because it’s a stage – but the scenes set in the solar or garden room of Von Trapp’s mansion are redolent of Maxfield Parrish, especially in the use of gold and blue in the lighting. These scenes of a dreamy, Pre-Raphaelite world contrast with the menacing progressivism of the Nazis.

This contrast is fulfilled in the festival scene with intrusive technology, such as the microphone, and the series of huge swastika hangings in primary colors almost overwhelming the Von Trapp family in subdued clothing as they sing truth to power. Earlier in the play Max Dettweiler repeatedly urged the family to move with the times, to adapt, to compromise, and now with the usurpation of state power by National Socialism they are commanded to. Singing “Edelweiss” with its images of nature and innocence is their act of defiance.

Carrie and company gave us a great production, and the old grouches in the balcony don’t possess a veto over excellence. The irony is that in a generation or so when a new group makes a new film or Orwellian telescreen, perhaps The Sound of Music 2063, critics then will fault the new Maria for not being Carrie Underwood.


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Pig Stand, Beaumont, Texas, 2007 (photograph)

The Sky to Moc Hoa

Mack Hall

The Sky to Moc Hoa

The sky to Moc Hoa is hazily blue,
Layered between Heaven and heat. The damp
Rots even the air with the menace of death.
The ground below, all green and holed, dies too;

It seems to gasp: You will not live, young lad,
You will not live to read your books or dream
About a little room, a fire, a pipe,
A chair, a pen, a dog, a truth-told poem
Flung courteously in manuscript pages
Upon a coffee-stained table, halo’d
In a 60-watt puddle of lamp-light.

You skinny, stupid kid. You will not live.

Then circling, and circling again, again,
Searching, perhaps, for festive rotting meals,
Down-spinning, fear-spinning onto Moc Hoa,
Palm trees, iron roofs, spinning in a dead sun,
Spinning up to a swing-ship spinning down.
A square of iron matting in a green marsh,
Hot, green, wet, fetid with old Samsara.

Gunboats diesel across the Van Co Tay,
Little green gunboats, red nylon mail sacks,
Engines, cheery yells, sloshing mud, heat, rot.
Mail sacks off, mail sacks on, men off, men on,
Dark blades beating against the heavy heat,
The door gunners, the pilot impatient.
All clear to lift, heads down, humans crouching
Ape-like against the grass, against the slime
In sweating, stinking, slinking, feral fear
As the dragon-blades roar and finally fly,
And the beaten grass and beaten men
Now stand again erect in gasping heat,
Some silent in a new and fearful world.

You will not live, young hero; you will die.
What then of Dostoyevsky and Chekhov?
What then of your Modern Library editions,
A dollar each at the Stars & Stripes store
Far away and long ago in DaNang,
All marked and underlined? What is the point?
What then of your notebook scribbled with words,
Your weak attempts at poetry? So sad,
So irrelevant in the nights of death.
The corpses on the gunboat decks won’t care,
Their flare-lit faces staring into smoke
At 0-Two-Damned Thirty in the morning –
Of what truth or beauty are your words to them?

You haven’t any words anyway;
They’re out of movies and books, all of them.
What truth can adventure-story words speak
To corpses with their eyes eaten away?

Write your used emotions onto a page;
You haven’t any emotions anyway;
They’re out of the past, all of them.
What truth can used emotions speak to death?

So sling your useless gear aboard the boat:
A seabag of utilities, clean socks,
Letters, a pocket knife, a Rosary,
Some underwear, some dreams, and lots of books.

And board yourself. Try not to fall, to drown,
To be a floating, bloating, eyeless face.
Not yet. Think of your books, your words. Look up:
The sky to Moc Hoa is hazily blue.


1. Moc Hoa, pronounced Mock Wah -- a town on the Vam Co Tay River near the border with Cambodia.

2. “Young lad” or “lad” – employed sarcastically of recruits by chief petty officers.

3. “Young hero” – employed sarcastically of recruits by chief petty officers and of Navy Corpsman in Field Medical Service School by Marine sergeant-instructors.

4. Utilities – heavy, olive-drab, 1950s style Marine Corps battle-dress issued to Navy personnel on their way to Viet-Nam. Too darned hot. I had to scrounge lighter clothing from which the blood never completely washed out.

5. Samsara – in some Eastern religions, Samsara is the ocean of birth and death.

6. Gunboats – here, PBRs, or Patrol Boat, River. The history and characteristics of this excellent craft and its use in river warfare are well documented.

Let's Put the Friday Back into Black Friday

Mack Hall, HSG

Let’s Put the Friday Back into Black Friday

Two figures scrambled through the smoke and rubble under fire, and tumbled into a shell hole for cover.

“Whew!” exclaimed the younger one, wiping her brow and reloading her fifty shades-of-blue-death eye shadow. “That was close. But Mother, isn’t ‘door-buster’ a metaphor?”

“I won’t hear un-American talk like that!” exclaimed the older, wiping the blood from her credit card. “When Giganto-Mart advertises a door-buster sale, then by all that’s holy in the sales papers we’re gonna bust the door.”

“You didn’t have to take down that poor clerk. You hit him with his own walker, after all.”

“Oh, well, he’ll just have to accept the holiday merriment. Casualty lists are part of the fun of Black Friday. Besides, he was between me and the 20% discount sale on Orwellian telescreens.”

“But what about the old woman you ran down in the parking lot?”

“Dear, you’re missing the plot – it’s all about the 20% discount. Hey, What Would Darwin Do? I’m sure the old gal was glad to go. She lived a happy life. She needed to clear the way for a new generation of shoppers.”

“Is that what happened to my father? Darwinianism?”

“Ah, your father. Now there was a total guy. Never worked unless he needed a bottle or a fix between checks. Beaten to death for his sleeping bag on a cold night outside a Giganto-Mart. But he died happy – he was the first in line that October for a 20% discount sale, and got his picture on television chanting our national anthems, ‘Woo, woo!’ and ‘20% off!’ His life had meaning because he was shown on television waiting passively in front of a Giganto-Mart. That’s what keeps America great.”

“Mother, didn’t the ancients call this season something different?”

“There were several seasons, in fact. The two Christian holy days of All Saints and All souls were dismissed in favor of something called Halloween. That was when everyone began demanding free stuff. Then there was the ancient Christian season of Advent, which was renamed The Christmas Season. The original Christmas lasted from midnight on December 24th until January 6th, the Epiphany, but all that was jammed together as New Year’s.”

“I’ll gaggle it on my Dumbphone after I check my, my, my MeMeMeSpace for meaningless comments in order to validate my meaningless life.”

“Most of that old stuff is gone, and in our progressive age The Holiday Season is from the Back-to-School Salesmas in June to the holy Spring Salesmas in February. The anchor holidays are Pre-Black Friday, which some old people still call All Saints and All Souls, the two weeks of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Buystuffmas, New Year’s Salesmas, and Easter Bunny Salesmas.”

“So our seasons and our lives are predicated on losing sleep, waiting in lines, and pushing around other people in order to buy more of the same made-in-China stuff we already have? That’s our gift to civilization? All because advertising and our culture tell us we are defined by how much toxic plastic debris we acquire?”

“At a 20% discount, child, at a 20& discount. Remember those sacred words, and remember to stand stall and chant them proudly: Woo, woo! 20% discount!”

“Lock and load, Mama, lock and load.”


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Poetic Shutdown

Mack Hall, HSG

Poetic Shutdown

As lonely iambs roam cold, empty streets,
The sky is red with burning anapests,
And fluttering sonnets bewail their fate,
Adrift past barricades of turgid prose.
Raise high the Red Editorial Pen!
Lift up your tattered hypermonosyllables!
Let slip the hamsters of metaphorical war,
And upon this overdue library charge slip
Cry "God! for Canada, coffee, and blank verse!"

The Sacred White Bowl of Our People

Mack Hall, HSG

The Sacred White Bowl of Our People

A man may think himself a king, a god,
The master of his mind, if not his soul,
But bacteria know he’s a mess of sod,
Often enthroned on The Sacred White Bowl.

Autumn - a Variant

Mack Hall, HSG

Autumn – a variant

In some confusion, laughing through the leaves,
Wild, giddy Autumn, her hair disheveled,
Happily dances sweet October in,
Unsure if the morning calls for a frost
Or should stray sunbeams whisper through the clouds.

Autumn is the golden antiphon to Spring;
She vests herself among the morning mists;
Her favorite flowers are her coronet,
Wild, wanton flowers, yellow and white and gold,
To celebrate the liturgies of time.

The seasons-turning coverts sigh in the breeze
As Autumn teaches each leaf how to fly:
A delicate descent, and then a brief repose
Until a giggling little breeze skips through
To cue chaotic minuets, and so

Like faeries laughing on a moonlit night
Leaves scatter and skitter across the leas
Across the lanes, across the lawns to lead
The drifting months through Advent’s silences,
And finally to the joys of Christmastide.

Nearer my Darwin to Thee

Mack Hall, HSG

Nearer my Darwin to Thee

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis mentions that the elderly tutor who helped him prep for his university admissions exams was an atheist who remained such a dour Ulsterman that on Sunday mornings he wore his best suit for working in the yard.

Similarly, a recent movement among atheists, a movement perhaps enhanced by a gentle softener, is to gather on Sundays to kinda / sorta play at church. These Sunday assemblies are becoming popular, even to the point of mega-not-churches.

One wonders what exactly one does at an atheist kinda / sorta church. Does the service begin with the traditional “I will go to the altar of me, me, me?”

A really scary matter for the children of atheists is that the story of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents would be read with approval, with perhaps a round of applause for Herod’s freedom of choice. Following the reading, the assembly sings “Ave Margaret Sanger.”

Other atheist hymns and carols might include:

The Old Rugged Hammer-and-Sickle
How Great I Art
Good Comrade Wenceslaus
Nothing We Have Heard on High
Nothing Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Go Tell Nothing on the Mountain
At That First Wine-and-Cheese Tasting
O Come All Ye Faithless
O Little Town of Silicon Valley
O Go, O Go, Emmanuel
There is a Health-Care Plan in Gilead
We Gather Together to Ask a 504C Blessing
Amazing Graceless
Play-Doh® of Ages
This Little Energy-Efficient Light of Mine
Shall we gather at the Sewage Recycling Plant?
Nearer my Darwin to Thee
I Heard the Shopping Carts on Christmas Day
Joyful, Joyful, I Adore Me
Away in an Abortion Clinic
Now Thank we all our National Security Agency
Just a Closer Walk with my 4G Connection
All Hail the Power of Hubris’ Name
These Forty Days of Self-indulgence

If the atheist not-a-church thing becomes fashionable, will cowboy atheists and trucker atheists agree that they don’t worship the same God who doesn’t exist? Will rural atheists disdain town atheists? Will some atheists not worship God in Latin, while others not worship God in Greek? Will atheists argue whether L. Ron Hubbard should be read in Elizabethan English or in modern English? Will atheists abstain from food and drink an hour before not taking Communion?

That anyone would gather to worship as a way to deny worship is curious. People who don’t believe in Klingons don’t form associations denying Klingons, and those who don’t believe in fairies and pixie dust don’t put up posters desperately trying to explain how their lives are full, rich, and rewarding without accepting fairies and pixie dust.

But a group of lonely people who have no place to go on Sunday – isn’t that pretty much what those fashionable, overpriced coffee shops are for?


Why Americans South of the 49th Parallel Like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Mack Hall, HSG

Why Americans South of the 49th Parallel Like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

“You in the West have no idea what it’s like to be ruled by peasants.”

- Mihai in Balkan Ghosts

1. Rob Ford on that wrecking ball with Miley Khardassian and Kim Cyrus would pretty much epitomize contemporary pop culture.
2. Rob Ford appeals to the sort of person who, without any sense of irony, uses “hater” as an expression of opprobrium.
3. Rob Ford makes Glenn Beck seem almost reasonable.
4. Any mention of “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford” on the Orwellian telescreen updates the old Bob Newhart (“Hi, Bob!”) game.
5. Our Darwinian friends are reinvigorated, and can shout with Merry Generic Winter Holiday glee to the rest of us “Aha! The Missing Link at last! We told you so!”
6. USA-ians tend to perceive Canada as a nation of kind, thoughtful, industrious, educated people who, after a hard day of building igloos and cuddling harp seals, put away their red coats and spend their leisure hours exchanging Shakespearean bon mots in both English and French while cataloging the origins of Newfoundland sea-chanties in a Tim Horton’s across the street from Canadian Tire, compared with whom we are a lot of indolent slobs who care only for football and takeout; Rob Ford is an occasion for schadenfreude, our one opportunity to point a disapproving finger due north and crow “Nanny, nanny boo-booooo!”
7. Given that south-of-the-border Orwellian telescreen programming favorites include Duck Dynasty, Jerry Springer, and Doctor Phil, Rob Ford seems to be a real tater-chip-sody-water Yank.
8. In this coming season of Black Friday Weekend (which replaces the old, colonialist, imperialist, eat-animal-flesh Thanksgiving) one can fantasize about Rob Ford visiting Martha Stewart and knocking over her perfect Christmas tree while cracked out.
9. Consider Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a sumo wrestling match. Hey, it’s a thought. Strange thought. Okay, maybe not.
10. Parents no longer threaten naughty children with the bogey-man; they threaten ‘em with Rob Ford.
11. Whenever sub-49th-parallelians feel depressed about unemployment, the Affordable Health Care Act, the scorn with which their decaying nation is held by others, and the sad reality that the death penalty does not apply to the man who invented reality shows, they can always lighten the mood and, indeed, elicit sustained laughter by using “Rob Ford,” “Justin Bieber,” and “Canada” in the same sentence.
12. The existence of Rob Ford convinces even the loopiest racial supremacists in Massachusetts and Idaho that God really doesn’t consider them to be His last word.
13. Rob Ford and Honey Boo-Boo – soulmates? Or simply cousins somewhere along a DNA continuum we just don’t need to know about?
14. Those who exist on the New York-Chicago-Los Angeles Axis of infobrainpuddingment are grateful to Canada for introducing them to high culture – Moulsen’s, hockey, Rob Ford, and swerving around dead moose on the Trans-Canada Highway.
15. Finally, the USA and its New Model Army of Plain Women can be grateful that General Isaac Brock, Chief Tecumseh, and the lads kicked General Stephen Van Rensselaer III, the other lads, and all their blunderbusses back across the Niagara River in 1812. The possibility that Rob Ford could have been elected President of the United States gives anyone a dead-moose-in-the-road feeling.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Archer City, Texas - 105 Degrees

The Palace Theatre, Kirbyville

Once a Shipyard

Orange, Texas

Kirbyville Elementary, 2nd Grade, 1955

Fort George


Sarah and Kate

Niagara Falls, September 2013

Texas French New Wave Voting

Mack Hall, HSG

Texas French New Wave Voting

To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.

- Louis L'Amour (

Voting in Texas remains a lonely experience.

The new state requirement for an identification card with a photograph in order to vote was regarded by many as a solution to illegal voting by wild hordes of Those People. Others opposed the requirement as an attempt by meanies to suppress poor but honest Tom Joad just struggling day-to-day to scratch a living out of his new wide-screen television.

In the event, neither Tom Joad nor many other folks voted on state constitutional amendments last week. Perhaps Tom was too busy listening to the fat boys on A.M. radio to drive his Model A Ford to the polls (why do we call them polls?) while carrying his Texas driving license with his photograph on it.

Texas citizens who wish to withdraw from the noise and busy-ness and demands of job, family, and society for a day of solitude need not resort to a monastic retreat; they can volunteer to serve as election judges or poll watchers. As a polling official one can meditate upon the mysteries of the Rosary, read Keats’ Endymion, knit sweaters for the grandchildren, or write another chapter of that still unfinished book, all in perfect peace and quiet. The only sounds will be the air-conditioning cycling on and off and perhaps a fellow official making a fresh pot of coffee. Even the Desert Fathers would envy voting officials in Texas their solitude.

Similarly, a Texan who wants only a few minutes alone can do so by voting.

Imagine voting in Texas as a scene from an art-house movie – sorry, film; “movie” is so plebeian – in grainy black-and-white: the wind sighs across a desolate landscape as the camera pans slowly from empty prairie to an apparently abandoned town. Cue the tumbleweeds. Close-up of an unpainted, sun-weathered wooden front. Offscreen, footsteps are heard on the gravel. Since the auteur is influenced by French New Wave, this goes on for a long, long time. This is, like, y’know, art, and, like, stuff. Film, not movie. Finally, the unseen steps pause, and a hand reaches for the doorknob. After a long pause the hand pushes the door open. The rusty hinges squeak, and old spider webs, long still, are disturbed by the moving air. The camera, assuming the point-of-view of the still-unseen owner of the hand, moves into a room whose darkness is intermittently broken by shafts of light from the windows. This could be symbolic of the protagonist’s internal conflict between good and evil, or it could reflect the fact that the filmmaker has seen High Noon too many times. To the viewer’s right, shadows resolve themselves into people sitting silently in chairs. Do they symbolize Death (think Ingmar Bergman)? Do they symbolize Redemption-with-a-capital-R? Do they symbolize the bourgeoisie? Do they symbolize bureaucratic / hierarchic obscurantism as in Franz Kafka’s Das Schloss? Does their silence symbolize existential despair? No, they’re the election officials, and their brief silence reflects only their surprise that a Texan showed up to vote.


Dostoyevsky at the Garage Sale

Mack Hall, HSG

Dostoyevsky at the Garage Sale

Commerce in used goods has lost its aura of shame and has become acceptable in our culture, and possibly constitutes a significant part of our declining economy. We are told by the propagandists that American manufacturing is on the rise, but the displays of shoddy foreign manufactures suggests to the consumer that this might not be so. Can an economy really be based on selling insurance, snakefingers, drugs, and questionable information to each other?

After World War II this nation was the world’s greatest manufacturer, and in the late 1950s one only with difficulty found a product made anywhere else. In our time, though, if one wants an American-made hammer, shirt, camera, dinner service, pocket knife, or toy train, he no longer shops downtown (which no longer exists) or from the Montgomery Ward catalogue (which no longer exists), but probably at that modern American custom, the Saturday morning garage sale (which seldom features a garage).

In the past year y’r ‘umble scrivener has found: two wagon wrenches (aka monkey wrenches), a Kodak 33mm Pony camera, a made-in-Chicago metal pencil sharpener, several pocket knives, a cast-iron rope pulley for a water well, a handsaw, and any number of hand tools and power tools, all American made, not as investments but mostly for their immediate utility (the camera is on a shelf and the handsaw is Miz Bee-ish fence art).

At a recent Friends of the Kirbyville Public Library book sale I found a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, published in 1938 by The Heritage Press. The book is hardbound in boards and linen, measures about seven by ten inches, is translated by Constance Garnett, and features engravings by a refugee German, Fritz Eichenberg. The paper is not particularly heavy but it is well-made (after all, it’s into its eighth decade) and cream-colored, which, with the large text, is easy on the eyes.

This book was not manufactured as an objet d’art; it was meant to be read, and I’m reading it. Most good stories are about redemption, and thus civilization, and with Dostoyevsky the concept of redemption can be cubed and squared. After all, who among us has ever faced a firing squad? Happily, the Czar sent a just-in-time reprieve (which no Communist would ever do), and Dostoyevsky spent the following ten years in a penal colony (which, again, is not a common experience among us). The man definitely had something to say, unlike our modern I, I, I, me, me, me writers whose focus is upon their hurt feelings and their scripted outrage.

And George Macy had something to say too: in the middle of a terrible economic Depression (we’ll never know how many died in those grim times), with the ascendancy of Communism, National Socialism, and whatever ism one might apply to Japan (who once again has begun coveting Chinese land), Mr. Macy chose to say that civilization will go on, even under food rationing and air-raids. Mr. Macy commissioned the printing of books, farming out the acquisition of papers and boards and cloth, typesetting, printing, and binding to various small companies throughout the country, and selling them under the imprint of The Heritage Club. These books sold for a dollar or so, a fabulous sum at the time, and anyone who bought a book had to think, plan, and save for such a rare event. Mr. Macy said that civilization should go on, and whoever bought this particular volume in 1938 probably skipped some meals so that civilization would indeed continue.

The Easton Press ( is the successor to the several Macy companies and other publishers, and continues to publish books, some to be read and some apparently merely for display.

Their edition of Crime and Punishment is bound in leather, and is available for $64.90. In terms of purchasing power, that is much, much less than the dollar edition of 1938.

Even so, one is not sure that the sellers know what the book is. The advertisement reads: “Impoverished and desperate, a young man is driven to the murder of a loathsome pawnbroker - and finds himself trapped in a hell of paranoia and terror. Dostoevsky's enthralling novel is, at once, an extraordinary psychological study, a harrowing mystery and a brilliant detective thriller.” The first sentence is good, a brief synopsis, but while details in the second sentence are correct, overall, the point of the story is missed, and that is the theme of redemption. Dostoyevsky is a Christian writer, not Agatha Christie or a scriptwriter for the BBC, and he is always about salvation.
Curiously, the “Sandglass” insert of 1938 makes the same mistake, referring to Crime and Punishment as “one of the great psychological studies.”

Well, Dostoyevsky knew his own book was about salvation, not about psychology, and certainly not about sustainability and greenness.

I wonder if someone will come across Dostoyevsky’s pocket knife at a garage sale.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lessons, Week of 28 October - 1 November 2013

English 1301
Week of 28 October – 1 November 2013

Excellent work on the semester exam by almost everyone.  Congratulations!

This week is dedicated to research writing, so bring all your impedimenta, including your Orwellian telescreen.

We will read lots of old research papers (with the permission of the writers) of varying quality.  These are examples for you to consider, and some of the examples are not good. 

You, as an individual, must make a final decision on your topic this week, and have your instructor sign off on it.

You, as an individual, must write your thesis statement and have your instructor sign off on it.

You will have some time in class this week to research and write, either working from your personal Orwellian telescreen or in the library.  Staring at your MyFaceSpaceBookMeMeMe or email for repeated ego validation does not constitute work.  Next week we will enjoy a literary selection for its own delight and its relevance to your lives, and as the basis for an expository essay, so make use of your individual-choice class time now.

Everyone currently enrolled has a passing average; however, the research paper will be, for some, the cause of final failure due to repeated topic changes, lack of individual initiative, plagiarism, or shoddy workmanship.  Passivity is your enemy, and is defeated only by your own initiative every day.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Upon Reading Doctor Zhivago

Mack Hall, HSG
Upon Reading Doctor Zhivago
Love lost along abandoned railway lines,
Grave-cold, grave-still, grave-dark beneath dead snow,
A thousand miles of ashes, corpses, ghosts -
Sacrarium of a martyred civilization.
A silent wolf pads west across the ice,
The rotting remnant of a young man’s arm,
Slung casually between its pale pink jaws -
A cufflink clings to a bit of ragged cloth.
Above the wolf, the ice, the arm, the link
A dead star hangs, dead in a moonless sky,
It gives no light, there is no life; a mist
Arises from the clotted, haunted earth.
For generations the seasons are lies,
Since neither love nor life is free to sing
The eternal hymns of long-forbidden spring -
And yet beneath the lies the old world gasps
The old world gasps in sudden ecstasy
A whispered resurrection of the truth
As tender stems ascend and push the stones
Aside, away into irrelevance.
And now the sunflowers laugh with the sun
Like merry young lads in their happy youth
Coaxing an ox-team into the fields,
Showing off their muscles to merry young girls.
The men of steel are only stains of rust,
Discoloring the seams of broken drains,
As useless as the rotted bits of brass
Turned up sometimes by Uncle Sasha’s plow.
For this is Holy Russia, eternally young;
Over those wide lands her church domes bless the sky,
While Ruslan and Ludmilla bless the earth
With the songs of lovers in God’s ever-spring.

You and the Government Shutdown

Mack Hall, HSG

You and the Government Shutdown

In our nation’s capital, a number of veterans have torn down barricades that were blocking several war memorials, and taken them (the barricades, not the war memorials) away to dump in front of Tsarkoe Seloe…um, the White House.  That’s the stuff!  Our little rural county is not important enough to have any federal memorials to barricade, hence no protests, but maybe someone could go tip over a traffic cone in front of a convenience store.

The government shutdown is so bad that young military recruits aim their weapons at the targets and shout “Bang!”  When range drill is over they must collect, count, and turn in all vowels and consonants discharged in the exercise.

As a cost-saving measure, flags over government buildings will feature only four stripes and fifteen stars.

The Lincoln Memorial is closed, but visitors to Washington may stand reverently before a cardboard cutout of President Millard Fillmore.

Navy tankers are unable to fuel warships at sea, and are sending them song sheets for “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

For the duration of the crisis Canada has offered to lend their good neighbor to the south their four submarines, just as soon as any of them can be made to float.

In sympathy with our government’s funding crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to laugh at our President and Congress only three times a week instead of five.

Recently I referred to Speaker Boehner and the House of Representatives as a lot of harmless Merovingians.  The other night the ghost of King Childeric III appeared to me in a dream and demanded that I stop insulting harmless Merovingians.

The Veterans’ Administration, in the spirit of shared sacrifice, has agreed to ignore veterans at a slower rate.

In large cities, minimum-wage private sector workers are setting up soup kitchens for IRS employees, who are asked not to double-park their government-issued SUVs out front.

Until the budget crisis is resolved, the five full-time White House chefs will be reduced to seven.

In the last presidential election only about half of all Republicans bothered to vote; the other half stayed home to listen to Rush Limbaugh, war hero and family counselor.  Republicans are now so outraged at the shutdown that in the next election they will avoid voting in even greater numbers.

Transportation Security Agents at the nation’s airports have warned our government that if their pay is delayed they are going to start being nice to travelers. 

But keep calm, America, the chaos can’t last much longer – the Speaker of the House has threatened to wear his flowered golfing shorts and cry if the President doesn’t accept the Speaker’s abject surrender.


Fabrique au Canada

Mack Hall, HSG

Fabrique au Canada

Those of a certain age – born when giant hamsters roamed primeval swamps – will remember when Niagara Falls was a clichĂ©’ honeymoon spot.  If in a newfangled talkie film anyone mentioned Niagara Falls, that was code for a wedding, and at the end of the movie, all conflicts resolved, Jimmy Stewart and Myrna Loy drove Pa’s sputtering 1935 Ford roadster north to Canada.

Niagara Falls, Canada, is great fun, much like Disneyland, only without Disney's understated elegance.  The center of jollification is Clifton Hill, or, in French, Rue de la Moulson’s et la barfe-on-les-sidewalks. 

Okay, that’s not really French; I just made that up, but I’ll bet you couldn’t tell.

The views of the Falls are better from the Canadian side, but very expensive.  The free parking lots of only a few years ago are gone, and now the amateur hydrologist must slosh $20 into the wet kitty (or la chat) in order to park his Ford and spend some quality time with the water.  Lots of water.  Beautiful water.

The views from the American side are also quite good, and parking that ’35 Ford is much cheaper, but you also get the idea that you probably don’t need to be there after dark.

One New Yorker faulted the Canadian side for being too commercial; his idea of the natural and free was reflected in the broken glass of abandoned buildings on the American side.

Niagara Falls is a romantic fashion again, but now folks want to be married when they get there, not before.  A young couple of my acquaintance made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Ontario, and their families and friends dusted off their passports and their Christmas accounts in order to join them for the happy occasion.

The couple were wedded one beautiful autumn morning on a wet Maid-of-the-Mist boat wetly sloshing around at the wet foot of the wet American Falls, the wet Horseshoe Falls, and wetly back to the wet American Falls, thus adding to the occasion lots of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in proper portions just in case not everyone aboard had been baptized.

One thought perhaps the boat captain would perform the rites, but he was busy enough avoiding a low-budget Titanic finale to the wedding, and so a wet rent-a-reverend-doctor (he also teaches t’a chi and is a motivational speaker and a singer/songwriter) in a Roman collar and sporting a big, shiny Celtic cross wetly said some things to the wet couple on the wet fantail. 

The Very Impressive Clergyman must have spoken the right things though mostly unheard among all the racket of engines and water, for the happy (and wet) couple kissed, surrounded by several hundred wet friends, most of whom were Japanese and Korean (and wet), along with Kate and Lily, those adorable (and wet) little scene-stealers.  Even now, in Seoul and Tokyo, folks are happily passing around hundreds of photographs of the young American couple who made their vacations in Canada, God’s second-favorite nation, even more enjoyable.

After docking, the wet couple and the wet VIC sat at a (dry) table in a cafĂ©’ and spent a half-hour signing and witnessing lots of papers, and, finally, by the rules and regulations and august majesty, and, like, stuff of the Province of Ontario and the Dominion of Canada, not to mention the Maid of the Mist company, Frankie and Sarah were well and truly united in the wet institution of marriage.  When last seen they were catching a modern Canadian train, not a 1935 Ford, to Montreal, where no one can speak Spanish where no one will speak English.

But they’ll be fine.  In Montreal and in other destinations, geographic and spiritual, in the young couple’s lives, “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” (St. Julian of Norwich), for Frankie and Sarah will make them so.



Honor the Dead - Buy Alamo Chewing Gum

Mack Hall, HSG

Honor the Dead – Buy Alamo Chewing Gum

Al, Harold, and Jim on KLVI Radio built an interesting conversation one morning last week on the selling of history.  The immediate topic was a legal dispute over some notes Martin Luther King made for a speech, and which were saved by his late secretary.  The question before a court is this – who owns those notes?

Who owns history?

And who owns the Alamo?

San Antonio de Valero was one of five Catholic missions along the San Antonio River, and what is left of it is best known for the 1836 battle which was a disaster for all concerned.  General-President Santa Anna betrayed the honor and bravery of the Mexican Army by ordering the murder of prisoners his soldiers risked their lives to save.  

The State of Texas, the General Land Office, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas honor the dead of that terrible night by featuring a gift shop ( at the Alamo, which is as tasteless as a gift shop at Bergen-Belsen or among the graves at Normandy. 

Pictures of the Alamo are used to sell motorcars and hamburgers so that a real Texan can drive his as-advertised-in-front-of-the-Alamo pickup truck to the as-advertised-in-front-of-the-Alamo cinder-block fast-foodery for an as-advertised-in-front-of-the-Alamo hamburger and french fries (which aren’t really from France or the Alamo).

Would ya like a refillable Anne Frank coffee mug with your order?

Many of us have known a beautiful image, in a hospital named for her, of kind and gentle Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, also known as Saint Elizabeth of Thuringen, to be blocked by display tables and exhibits.  Who has the authority to say yes or no to that?

Who owns history?

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Marine and by repute a good man and a stand-tall Texan, spoke quite reasonably at a gun-rights rally within the Alamo last Saturday.

Commissioner Patterson, a sturdy advocate of freedom, also has a problem – should he have been there at all?  As Texas’ current defender of the Alamo, what will he do to maintain the integrity of a historical site whose ground is blessed with the blood of heroes?  The Alamo itself, although sometimes used for tellyvision commercials, has always been free from political demonstrations

A worse problem for Commissioner Patterson is that Alex Jones, haunted by Masonic-Jewish-Illuminati-NWO-Bildergerg-Weather Weapons conspiracies, also spoke – or, rather, emitted words at the same event.  If the Commissioner was ambushed (metaphorically, of course) in the matter, no blame can attach to him.  If, however, he knew he would be sharing the occasion with a man who embarrasses even Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, then he needs to withdraw his tinfoil hat from the political ring and himself to his Bunker of Solitude.

Lee Spencer White, president of the Alamo Defenders’ Descendants’ Association didn’t want this parody there.  She is against politics on site, maintaining, quite properly, that her group regards the Alamo as a family cemetery.

And, you know, there’s nothing that says family cemetery like a gift shop. 

Victoria Montgomery, spokeswoman for Open Carry Texas, argues that the history of the Alamo is predicated on politics, and that makes it a perfect place for a rally advocating personal freedom.

Both Ms. White and Ms. Montgomery make excellent points, but perhaps now the people of Texas should draw that line in the sand just like the one Colonel Travis may or may not have drawn:

The Alamo is sacred to the First Nations, to Spain, to Mexico, and to Texas.  The Alamo should be swept clean of made-in-China coonskin caps and of demonstrators; let the commerce and the look-at-me moments and filming for hamburger advertisements take place across the street, next to the Ghosts of the Alamo movin’ picture shows and fruit juice bars.

The Alamo began as a Christian church under the spiritual patronage of St. Anthony of Padua.  Unlike the other four San Antonio missions it will probably never be consecrated again as a church, but the theme remains – sacrifice and redemption.  As St. Thomas More might or might not have said, we have no windows to look into men’s souls, and so we must not presume to judge anyone who died on the walls of the Alamo; instead, we must remember our Christian obligation to respect them, “the dead with charity enclosed in clay,” as King Henry V might or might not have said. 

San Antonio is now a very large city, and for miles and miles in every direction people may buy, sell, and argue; what remains of the Alamo is such a tiny space that setting it aside as sacred ground where people will remove their made-in-China ball caps and be silent for a few minutes in the presence of a shared memory will do no harm to the State of Texas, the First Amendment to the American Constitution, or to cash registers.

Who owns history?  You do.  And so do the dead.



Sunday, September 22, 2013


Lawrence Hall

P. O. Box 856

1286 County Road 400

Kirbyville, Texas 75956



Having withdrawn from the existential struggle,

Surrendering their arms and protest signs,

They muster in Denny’s for the Senior Special

Uniformed in knee-pants and baseball caps

And Chinese tees that read “World’s Greatest Grandpa,”

Hearing aids and trifocs at parade rest,

And quadrupedal aluminum sticks

Raging against the oxygen machine.

Not trusting anyone over ninety,

They rattle their coffee cups and dentures

Instead of suspicious Nixonians,

And demand pensions, not revolution.

They mourn classmates dead, not The Grateful Dead.

They do not burn their Medicare cards

Tho’ once they illuminated the world

With their flaming conscription notices.

They no longer read McKuen or Tolkien

Or groove to the Mamas and the Papas;

Their beads and flowers are forever filed

In books of antique curiosities

Beside a butterfly collection shelved

In an adjunct of the Smithsonian

Where manifestos go to be eaten

By busy mice and slow-pulsing fungi.

As darkness falls they make the Wheel, not peace -

They did not change the world, not at all, but

The world changed anyway, and without them,

And in the end they love neither Jesus

Nor Siddhartha, but only cable t.v.


Lawrence Hall

P. O. Box 856

1286 County Road 400

Kirbyville, Texas 75956




Fading slowly from the existential struggle,

Waving their MePhones about in protest,

They swarm to Starbuck’s for adjective coffees,

Uniformed in knee-pants and bulbous sneaks

And Chinese soccer tops with little checkmarks,

Their graduate degrees at parade rest,

And in confusion, suddenly-stalled careers

Raging against the thirty-something machine.

Not trusting anyone under forty,

They rustle their foam cups and resumes’

Instead of suspicious Democrats,

And demand promotions and Perrier.

They mourn pinstripes and leather briefcases,

And the old floppy disc of yesteryear,

And fumble their PowerPoint Presentations

Tho’ once they illuminated the world

With colored markers on glossy whiteboard.

They no longer play games on a Commodore

Or rock to neo-Carib fusion jazz;

Their Rush is Right baseball caps are now filed

In trays of antique curiosities

Beside the moldering hippie stuff shelved

In an adjunct of the Smithsonian

Where curricula vitae go to be eaten

By a computer virus named Vlad.

Now, as the sun sets on Ferris Bueller’s day

They count and verify their MeBook friends -

They did not change the world, not at all, but

The world changed anyway, and without them,

And in the end they love neither Jesus

Nor The Force; like Eve, they bow to an Apple.


Truck Stop Restroom Cologne

Lawrence Hall
September, 2013

Truck Stop Restroom Cologne

Denny’s / Flying J, Orange, Texas

Check out the boom-chick in the parking lot -
Love and diesel fumes are in the air.
Tattoos and cigarettes, oh, man, she’s hot!
Industrial peroxide tints her hair

Like rainbows in a toxic fuel-oil spill.
Her waist is a rockin’ forty-four,
A pavement Venus posed before the grill
Of a Peterbilt outside the truckers’ store.

How can the lovestruck swain lure her to his cab?
Persuade her to give him her innocent all?
A ripped-shirt display of a manly ab?
Wait - what’s that machine on the restroom wall?

Cool dude, you’ll never have to truck alone
If you scent yourself with restroom cologne.