Monday, March 31, 2014

The First Hummingbird of Spring

Lawrence Hall

The First Hummingbird of Spring

O wing’ed messenger of innocence,
Aloft among the pollinating flowers,
At last you have returned from Mexico
And warm months there among soft latitudes
Where little birds can make a holiday
Far, far away from withering Arctic winds.

O tiny traveler, what souvenirs
Did you declare to customs at the Rio Grande?
South winds to tell the flowers to wake up
And Rosaries of morning fogs to bless
The yawning grasses with a morning drink,
And fresh new sunlight for the industrious bees.

O buzzing and impatient little friend!
Just wait a minute, your breakfast is coming -
The old glass feeder washed and packed away
In harvest-rich October’s golden light
Must be recovered and refreshed for you,
How good it is to see you home again.

Hey, Nice Little Suitcase You Got Here. Hate to See Anything Happen to It.

Mack Hall, HSG


Hey, Nice Little Suitcase You Got Here. 

Hate to See Anything Happen to It.


“This is disinfectant.  Use it.”


-Train Guard in Doctor Zhivago


When George Custer and I left Viet-Nam (poor George got into some fracas in the Dakotas later on), every departing passenger was required to go to confession before being subject to a pat-down.


The confessional was a little walk-through closet curtained on both ends.  The sign advised the passenger that if he was carrying home instruments of destruction for later use to repent of any such idea and in the privacy of the closet leave the things-that-go-boom in a little box provided for them.


My seatmate, a fellow named Wellington (he later visited Belgium and designed boots or something), was much amused when I told him that out of curiosity I had peeked into the box and had seen pistols, .50-cal machine-gun rounds, bayonets, knuckle-dusters, and a couple of hand grenades.


Lo these fifty years later no such courtesy or privacy is extended to airline passengers: unhappy people of the sort our mothers warned us against touch us in ways once regarded as inappropriate outside the bonds of wedlock. 


As for your toothbrush and spare socks, at Los Angeles International Airport, familiarly known as LAX(ative), there is no need to leave things in a little box for others to take away; the baggage smashers will go into your old Samsonite and decided for themselves which of your earthly goods they will endow themselves with.


Passengers, by order of Higher Authority, must not / may not / will not secure their bags except with a TSA-approved lock to which everyone in Christendom, Cathay, and Cucamonga has a key. 


Last week the Los Angeles police and the airport police (everyone has a police force these days; thinking of getting one myself) arrested a number of workers for liberating the people’s goods from the Belly of the Beast.  Apparently this criminal gang / activist group is an ongoing problem for LAX(ative), and like Captain Reynaud’s Casablanca Police Department the local authorities make a few arrests every now and then, claim to be shocked, shocked that there is pilfering  going on, and then steal Sam’s piano.


In Casablanca the response to a crime is “Round up the usual suspects.”  In an American airport the response is “Certain measures have been implemented…” broadcast over and over from Big Brother’s overhead speakers. 


When the unhappy people (maybe it’s the polyester uniforms) hired to paw through your stuff paw through your stuff, they ask “Did anyone else help pack your suitcase?”


And then lower down in one of the circles of (Newark) others who are not hired to paw through your stuff paw through your stuff, they help you unpack your suitcase before you even board the plane.


This is why the airline charges you to check your bag.


The cleaners, loaders, and security at American airports, unlike the paying passengers, are not inspected, not checked, not watched, and not regulated. What is to prevent some resentful son of toil from accepting a nice gift in a fat envelope in exchange for placing another fat envelope in your luggage?


When the Agency for Something Or Other reconstructs the accident and analyzes fragments of your suitcase, they can then tell your survivors that “Hey, your old daddy took a bomb on board.  What did you know about this?  We’re going to seize – um, sequester – all your property, and, hey, have you visited Guantanamo this time of year?  They say it’s lovely.”


While the Los Angeles police are investigating the LAX(ative) Chapter of the Comradely Brotherhood of This and That Oppressed Workers International, perhaps Captain Reynaud could ask them if they know where your lost youth is.  They may have pinched that too.



Monday, March 24, 2014

Ode to a Dead Coral Snake in the Road

Lawrence Hall

Ode to a Dead Coral Snake in the Road

(Where do the Neurotoxins Go?)

Red and yellow kill a fellow


Thanks to the tread, you’re now real dead.

High Noon at the Bird Feeder

Lawrence Hall

High Noon at the Bird Feeder

A little dog, a streak of dachshund red,
Across the grass speeds to a squirrel’s doom
She wants its blood, she wants its flesh, she wants it dead;
Ripped, shredded, and torn, it will need no tomb.

The fat old squirrel, a fluff of forest grey,
Is unimpressed by doggie dementia;
To Liesl’s grief he leaps and climbs away -
Never underestimate the Order Rodentia!

Liesl’s squirrel clings to a low-hanging limb
And chatters abuse at the angry pup
Who spins and barks and spins and barks at him
Laughing among the leaves, and climbing higher up.

So Liesl snorts and sneers, and marks the ground;
She accepts not defeat, nor lingers in sorrow;
For Liesl and squirrel it’s their daily round;
They’ll go it again, same time tomorrow.

Bipolar Vortex

Lawrence Hall

Bipolar Vortex

Global warming? The concept’s tired and old,
For one only knows that today is cold.

The Frogs of January

Lawrence Hall

The Frogs of January

Have the frogs of January lost their minds?
This is the season of reptilian sleep,
To leave the winter’s frozen world behind
And keep their dormant lives in storage deep

This balmy dusk is not a time for song;
This temporary warmth is but a cruel tease;
Frogs won’t sing through this winter dusk for long:
The soft winds whisper of a coming freeze.

What Do the Trees Talk About

Lawrence Hall

What do the Trees Talk About?

A damp wind blustering from the east
Says nothing for itself but sets
The trees to talking among themselves
Of matters high indeed, high up
Where branches wave their limbs about
While fussing about the weather.

Seven Silent Buzzards

Lawrence Hall

Seven Silent Buzzards

Some seven or so so-silent buzzards
Lurk in the pine-tops in the last of the sun
Wondering if humans walking for their health
Measuring their paces with little machines
Taste good when fresh (it’s all about the flesh).

Longbows and Rosary Beads

Lawrence Hall

Longbows and Rosary Beads

For Pearl of Tyburn

Our happy England is Our Lady’s dowry
An island of longbows and rosary beads,
Where we are proud to work, to pray, to fight,
To love the land and sea and misty skies

Our happy England is a thoughtful land
An island of writers, scholars, and rogues
Whose stories, sonnets, songs create new worlds,
A commonwealth of art for the ages

Our happy England is not bound by coasts,
By distances or time. Our island is
An empire of the mind, as Churchill said,
The blessed Avalon of our hearts’ desires.

Published in Longbows and Rosary Beads ( ),
5 January 2014

Deep Dusk

Lawrence Hall

Deep Dusk

A skeleton of dead black branches frame
The falling sliver of January moon
While an owl’s threats echo in the darkening woods
And cold stars measure out the universe.

Lenin's Dream

Lawrence Hall

Lenin’s Dream

Imagine slaves buying their chains
Proudly bragging about their chains
Prettily decorating their chains
Gloriously celebrating their chains
And accessorizing their chains

Waiting patiently in long queues
All lined up by ones and by twos
Uniform in their chemical shoes
Beast-marked with their camp tattoos
Obedient to the latest news

Desperate for the latest ‘phone
Desperate never to be alone
Desperate for approval shown
Desperate for a cool ring tone
Desperate not to be unknown

Canary in a Coal Mine

Lawrence Hall

Canary in a Coal Mine

If a canary dies, who notices?
One little bird, of no significance -
Except for a specific circumstance -
Sacrifices its life to tell a tale.

If two canaries die, who notices?
Two little birds, of slight significance -
Except for a specific circumstance -
Sacrifice their lives to caution us.

If all canaries die, who then is left
To grasp, to gasp the truth learned far too late -
Civilization dies one canary at a time
Tiny corpses littering the mine.

Semester Exam

Lawrence Hall

Semester Exam

Fluorescents flicker and fall upon bowed heads
And printed letter-paper, organized
By title, paragraph, number, and line,
Interrogations set in Bookman Old Style

And then words fall, flung bravely to each sheet
As desperate, inky thoughts flailing for breath
While to battered be by split infinitives
Demanding an A, praying for a prom date.

Janus Laughs

Lawrence Hall

Janus Laughs

Old Janus surely laughs at our mistakes
In thinking that the world begins again,
That pages turned in calendars and books
Reduce mysteries into measurements

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quebec's Separation Anxiety

Mack Hall, HSG
Lawrence Hall

Separation Anxiety

Second only to the matter of the missing Malaysian aircraft and Miley Khardassian’s missing clothing, the world is seriously concerned about what small province should be attached to what country.

We refer, of course, to Quebec, whose elected provincial government on occasion reminds one of the 18-year-old cheerleader who sued her parents for not understanding her preciousness enough to give her lots and lots of money.

Once upon a time France was the gros chien of European colonizers in North America east of the Rio Grande. The English, Dutch, and Spanish possessions were relatively small beachheads surrounded by the huge territories that were Nouvelle-France.

Three hundred years later all that is left of France in North America is St. Pierre et Miquelon (, a few small islands off the coast of Newfoundland. As an aside, while all history is fascinating, the brilliant 1941 Christmas eve raid by the Free French on what Secretary of State Cordell Hull dismissed as “two rocks” is a wonderful story (

With the defeat of the French at Quebec in 1759, and then nasty little Napoleon’s sale of the rest of Nouvelle-France, about one-third of the present USA, in 1803, France was pretty much through in North America. But was all that land Napoleon’s to sell? Besides the reality that Napoleon was a usurper and a tyrant with no legal claim to anything, Spain too said all that territory was theirs.

None of them asked the First Nations who owned it, of course.

Which leads the reader back to Quebec, Canada’s largest province, though it is smaller than Nunavit, which is a territory and not a province, and Canada is confusing.

A look at the map reminds the reader that Quebec, all by itself, is a great big ol’ chunk (grand vieux marceau) of Canada. In the 1960s and 1970s a Francophone separatist movement, through murder and intimidation, generated a civil war in the province which was resolved through mass arrests, tanks in the streets of Montreal, and curious and confusing compromises with the federal government and internally.

Quebec has since voted on independence from the rest of Canada several times, so far choosing to remain, but once again the Parti Quebecois is pushing the matter.

No one seems to have asked the other Canadian provinces and territories if they wish Quebec to go away. Quebec suffers the highest taxes and the greatest debt ( of any state or province in North America. Only a few provinces are net providers of revenue to Canada as a whole, which means they must pay higher taxes to support the net takers. A visitor to Canada notes that the prices of goods there are quite reasonable until the tax is added – and there is the economic chienne-gifle.

What does all this have to do with the USA? A great deal. Canada is this nation’s biggest trading partner ( Not only that, Canada is the USA’s best friend; given the politics of our time, Canada may be our only friend. The border between Canada and the USA is artificial; the North American economy transcends that mapped but otherwise unreal line across the continent, and we really are one economy.

Instability and lack of leadership in the USA (the Keystone pipeline comes to mind) affect everyone from Nunavit to Mexico City. Similarly, instability and lack of leadership in Quebec affect everyone from Mexico City to Nunavit.

The Crimean peninsula is relatively important to us -- it is certainly important to the Crimeans – but the decisions the people of Quebec make in the next year or so are of immediate urgency to them and to us.

One wonders if a lonely little USA destroyer will appear in a “training exercise” among someone’s fishing nets along the St. Lawrence.


Music Download on the Roof - A New Silent Musical

Lawrence Hall

Music Download on the Roof – A New Silent Musical

“Rabbi, is there a blessing for the Czar?”
“A blessing for the Czar – yes, on my ‘blog:

A Catholic Funeral

Lawrence Hall

A Catholic Funeral

Oh, our sister is dead; what is to be?
Shall we bury her with a Rosary?

No, those pre-Vatican II days are gone:
We’ll fold into her hands her new Iphone!

A Boy and His Dinosaur

Lawrence Hall

A Boy and His Dinosaur

In another world, a silent world within,
The dominant species are dinosaurs.
Never having fallen, no evil obtains,
And beneficent reptiles live there as -
As innocently as butterflies.
In his quiet world of gentle reptilians
A little boy is never without a friend,
A Saurian with an unpronounceable name,
To share a cave, a thought, a book, a toy,
And so that world with a best-friend dinosaur
Is the child’s real world, the only one
Where he knows love.

The Westminster Chinese Chimes

Lawrence Hall

The Westminster Chinese Chimes

An elegant clock ticks on the mantelpiece
Proclaiming the hours with an electric chime
Sarah thinks this violates household peace
And the cat, well, he can’t even tell time.

The Homeowners' Association

Lawrence Hall

The Homeowners’ Association

For Robin

“Your attitude’s been noticed, comrade.”

- Block Warden to Yuri in Doctor Zhivago
When in chill autumn a golden leaf falls
The Homeowners’ Ass. sends an indictment
And if after five one vacuums the halls
The Homeowners’ Ass. yelps “Too much excitement!”

Then when in a rainstorm you park your car
The Homeowners’ Ass. alerts snooping eyes
And fines you because you’re an inch too far -
“Your attitude’s been noticed,” hiss the spies

Comes the spring, and the world turns to green
The Homeowners’ Ass. disapproves of your grass
Somehow it’s ragged, you know what we mean…
“Oh, go blow it out your Homeowners’ Ass.!”

Breakfast With a Granddaughter

Lawrence Hall

Breakfast with a Granddaughter

for Valentine

A four-year-old does not pencil you in
Or plan her day around a power lunch
Carefully scheduled in a little box;
Her calendar is filled with a pancake,
A slice of bacon crisp, a glass of milk,
The latter drawn way up, up, up the straw
And down again, puff, puff, a fountain of bubbles
Accented with the most glorious giggles
Ever to sail across the universe
And back again. Let’s have a refill of ‘em:
Giggles, please, already sweetened with joy.

The Greatest Gift of the Enlightenment

Lawrence Hall

The Greatest Gift of the Enlightenment

A merciful machine is the guillotine
Empowering a compassionate society
To actuate therapy efficiently
Imagined by a diverse team of dreamers
Who saw what was why, and asked themselves why not
This greatest gift of the Enlightenment
Built using the latest technology
Sustainable wood from certified rainforests
And recycled metals crafted by artisans
Places the consumer at the center
Enhances higher order thinking skills
And promotes community values
Authentic ecosystem solutions
Embrace the needful progressive experience
A solution addressing social needs
And building teamwork across the spectrum
With voices for the voiceless voiced with love
And it all began with an idea, a dream
In someone’s kitchen, dorm room, or garage

The Enlightenment

Lawrence Hall

The Enlightenment

A dimly-lit and dripping corridor
Echoing with the screams of broken souls
As they are liberated for a new age:
The executioner adjusts his hood,
Wipes his hands free of blood and fragments of bone,
And checks his incoming text-messages.

Vesting for the Office of the New Day

Vesting for the Office of the New Day

In the darkness of night Matins was sung
By the watchful few who rise for that Hour
And now at Prime most everyone is up
At dawning yawning for that courage-cup
With which to challenge back the challenges
Of this fallen world

Take thou a well-worn cross, of wood perhaps
Or maybe pewter stained with well-worn sweat
Or maybe silver plate or jewelers’ gold
Upon it place a kiss, and cross yourself
And slowly don the vestment of eternity
And turn to the sun

Peter, Paul, and Mary Reconsidered

Mack Hall, HSG

Peter, Paul, and Mary Reconsidered

In a re-sale shop in Jasper, Texas y’r ‘umble scrivener found a CD (a format now as dated as vinyl and electromagnetic tape) for a dollar, and crunched it into the player in his heritage (translation: old) car (because the machine makes a crunching sound when it eats music).


Peter, Paul, and Mary, the group’s eponymous 1962 album, and their first, was issued on LP vinyl, which, like pay telephones, passenger trains, typewriters, and Kodak cameras, will require some exposition for those who aren’t card-carrying Medicare-istas.

The oeuvre might perhaps be labeled as folk, but while that style quickly deteriorated into hootenanny-ness, PP&M were never follow-the-fashions derivative. Neither are their songs self-indulgent therapies about themselves and their feelings; their songs are about work, play, justice, childhood, and beauty.

The songs of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers were only part of the background top-forty a.m. music of your scrivener’s youth, but to his now mature ear they are perfection. The months of rehearsals are evident in the professionalism and cleanness of the performances. PP&M need no gimmicks, echo chambers, or layers of tracking; as true musicians they respect their audience and never lapse into curious noises.

The guitar has become a cliche' of folkabilly, casually slung over the shoulder of yet another 30-something hat-act posing mournfully on railroad tracks for a black-and-white publicity photograph, but the reality is that the legions of three-chord-commandos twanging wires are more annoying than musical. And, really, does anyone really stand on railroad tracks except for high school graduation pictures? Peter and Paul, though, respect the guitar, know the guitar, and rehearse the guitar. In a time when one often suspects that guitar is only a French word for kindling, PP&M remind us that there really are people who know that it is a musical instrument of great sophistication and potential, not an accessory.

And Mary - that voice! Crystalline! The notes to the album describe her, in language that would now be censored for its isms, “a bright, young blonde-and-a-half.” Oh, yeah. Mary never performed in her skivvies or mated with an amplifier; she didn’t have to.

The convention at this point in a narrative is to lapse into filler-language about how people could really sing and play music Back in the Day, but that is nonsense, of course. There are always professional artists who play music worthy of their audiences. There are not always audiences worthy of the artists.

Some criticism of the trio is valid – they allowed themselves to be used for propaganda, and Paul Stookey could be convicted of cultural manslaughter for the powder-blue-tux oozings of “The Wedding Song.” But when the organizers no longer needed Peter, Paul, and Mary, they were discarded as irrelevant and uncool. Their cosmic payback was “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” which subtly mocked the pretensions of acts which had little to offer but junior-high locker-room language and look-at-me-me-me-ness.

Once upon a time, but definitely not in The Land of Honalee, a pal propped his dinky little transistor radio on some sandbags. The machine’s brave little 9-volt battery and its two-inch speaker, punching below its weight, were pushing out "500 Miles from Home" as broadcast from AFVN Saigon. The Chief didn’t like it, but then we didn’t like him. And, anyway, being 12,000 miles from home will get to you, too.

The gratitude is a little late, but thanks for that moment, Peter, Paul, and Mary.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Carter, the Convicts, and the Railway

The Carter, the Convicts, and the Railway


“See all those workers digging through that hill?”

The carter asked, there pointing with his whip

While two mismatched old horses lumbered on

Jerking carter and prisoners along the ruts.


An empty church, its now skeletal dome

Open to the dusk, lay somewhat in the way

Of where the rails would lay, just there among

Stray stalks of wheat, from lost and windblown seeds.


One prisoner yawning through his sorrows said

“I wonder why the Czar didn’t send me there

To carve with pick and shovel and barrow and hod

His new technology across the steppes.”


“Too close to Petersburg, and Moscow too,

My lad.  The Czar wants you to labor far,

Far off.  No mischief from you and your books,

Your poems, your nasty little magazines.”


“Oh, carter, is Pushkin unknown to you?

Turgenev, Gogol, Dostoyevsky too?

What stories do you tell your children, then?

Do you teach them to love their Russian letters?”


The carter laughed; he lit his pipe and said

“You intellectuals!  Living in the past!

Education for the 19th century -

That’s what our children need, not your old books.”


“Someday,” the carter mused, “railways everywhere,

And steel will take you where you will be sent.

Electric light will make midday of night

And Russia’s soul will be great big machines!”


“Machines, and better guns, and better clocks -

All these will make for better men, you’ll see.

You young fellows will live to see it; I won’t,

But what a happy land your Russia will be!”


And the cart rattled on, the horses tired,

Longing for the day’s end, and hay, and rest;

The prisoners made old jokes in laughing rhymes,

Begged ‘baccy from the carter, and wondered.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some Observations on the Habits of the American Cardinal

Lawrence Mack Hall, HSG


Some Observations on the Habits

 of the American Cardinal


The Cardinal knows that he is a pretty bird

Splendidly attired in feathers bright and gay

He publishes loudly; he will be heard

Among the squawks of mockingbird and jay


He gobbles and scatters husks, rusks, and seeds

In self-indulgent abandonment

He ignores all others in his wants and needs

They’re secular birds; they can take a hint


The Cardinal certainly loves to be seen

At the public feeder in all his pride

Attentive to fashions, and always keen

For the Best Birds to be seen at his side


And then one day


A few remnant feathers, a ripped cardinal’s hat -

He seems to have forgotten the watchful cat.


The Plains of San Agustin

Lawrence Mack Hall
From The Road to Magdalena, 2012

The Plains of San Agustin

“And lean upon a peasant’s staff”


But rather lean upon a pilgrim’s staff,
And trudge the road to Magdalena, yes,
With Rosary in hand, wearing old boots
From some lost war, some long-lost time ago;
A canvas vade mecum for his gear,
A worn-out boonie hat against the sun,
The high-plains sun against the stars, upon
The track to Magdalena in the fall,
To listen to the spirits converse with clouds
Upon the Plains of San Agustin where
A Very Large Array of idols listens for
A voice from space, from far beyond the skies;
For there, if anywhere, He can be heard,
But not from painted idols, no, but from
The haunted earth, and from the stars and back
Again.  And then – and then shuffle away,
Stick tapping on the rocks, boots treading dust;
For if some stranger finds that stick, those boots
Abandoned in the brush some desert noon
And bones upon the sands like scattered words,
He’ll know a pilgrim made a happy end.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"Thank You for being Such a Valued Customer"

“Thank You for being Such a Valued Customer”


And, oh! Have we got a deal for you!

We looted a channel, we’ve raised your rates

We know you paid, but you’re still overdue

We teased you with some weekend movie baits

Which ought to be included anyway

We’re the worst service in history’s annals

We fu(dge) your contract almost every day


We want you to buy even more channels!

Major Pettigrew's Last Duck Hunt

Mack Hall, HSG


Major Pettigrew’s Last Duck Hunt


The annual shoot at the local estate is by itself worth the price of a copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. 


Lord Dagenham, a worthy variation on P. G. Wodehouse’s eh-wot-oh-rather-don’cha-know Lord Emsworth, is a somewhat down-at-the-Rolls Royce noble who rents out much of his ancestral home to a private school and who is selling some of his lands to an American real estate developer.


The last annual duck hunt in the doomed countryside ends as a menace to the humans more than to the ducks.  The hunters, mostly English and American bankers playing at being squires for a day, are on the firing line when suddenly the field of fire is occupied by: (1) ducks, lots of ducks, (2) the schoolchildren, who raised the ducks as a science project and who rush in to defend them, (3) the gamekeeper and the farm hands, trying to round up both the children and the ducks, (4) environmentalists, and (5) the local Save Our Village protestors.  And, yes, someone gets bashed with a sign proclaiming “Peace.”  The reader sees that coming, and is delighted when it does.


A safe modern writer would have fitted all this into a scripted screed against guns and hunting, all kitted out with global-warming environmentalism and cuddly Disney children and animals.  Miss Simonson will have none of that; she makes fun of everyone involved, sparing not even the children: “’They killed our duckies,’ came a wail from a child holding up a bloody carcass.” 


As Lord Dagenham says, “I had no idea that fee-paying pupils would smell bad.”


Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is framed as boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back, only geriatric, but is saved from Famous Greeting Card Company sugar-free syrup by Miss Simonson’s lemony (seldom acidic) observations on socialists, yuppies, environmentalists, the upper classes, the lower classes, country clubs, the sort of people who resent country clubs, the Church of England, Moslems, Americans, Englishmen, artificial Christmas trees, hunters, anti-hunters, parties with themes, “the glass-squashed faces of small, angry children” on school busses, and flavored teas.


Through all this Miss Simonson develops a delightful love story.  The protagonist is Major Pettigrew, retired from the British Army, and his friend, Mrs. Ali, owner of the local shop.  Both are widowed, and they “meet cute,” as the film cliché goes, but their relationship must voyage from acquaintance through friendship and finally to love through 355 delightful pages of misunderstandings, cultural differences, disapproving relatives, disapproving neighbors, a retired banker “with an almost medical allergy to children,” organic turkeys, neighbor Alice’s organic vegetarian lasagna that smells like plankton, neighbor Marjory, whose sole topic of conversation is her gifted and talented grandson, a dotty vicar, the vicar’s even dottier wife, the aforementioned hunt, an annual club dance that deteriorates into a food-throwing, stage-collapsing, drink-sloshing brawl, a continuing sub-theme about a matched pair of Churchill shotguns, and a knightly rescue of an imprisoned lady.  And ducks.


The setting is a Wodehouse England that never really existed, flavored by Jane Austen, Kipling, Agatha Christie, the Romantic poets, Alexander McCall Smith, declasse’ climbers, and the occasional cup of real tea (no rose hips or other debris for our hero). 


Some of the social assumptions are a bit naïf, and in this the novel sails dangerously close to being approved of by famous television ladies, but this is a love story, after all, and one with a happy ending. 


Even so, with lines such as “The major wished young men wouldn’t think so much,” “a group of faded hippies, with ripped jeans and balding heads,” “Old Mr. Percy became so drunk that he threw away his cane and subsequently fell through a glass door while chasing a shrieking woman across the terrace,” and mention of an assistant imam named Rodney, this is a book that even manly men can read without fear of their boots magically dissolving into designer cross-trainers.


And there are ducks.


Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, is published by Random House.



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Send Not to Ask for Whom the Clock Ticks

Mack Hall, HSG


Send Not to Ask for Whom the Clock Ticks


“Time is but the stream I go afishing in.”


  •  Thoreau
    Several decades ago I bought a clock at Jerry’s Family Pharmacy on Main Street in Kirbyville.  When I bought the clock the mere fact of buying a clock would not have been worthy of mention.  Now it is, because clocks are uncommon.
    People seldom determine the time from clocks or watches.  In the mornings tiny little made-in-China Orwellian telescreens wake up their obedient humans, who then pass the rest of the day, heads humbly bowed, perusing, viewing, reading, or hearing their masters.  When a modern wishes to know the time, he (the pronoun is gender-neutral because calling one person “they” is barbaric) pulls from the recesses of his garmenting his Orwellian telescreen.  Then he reads his twits, twoots, and Me-mails, slides the news to see what some embalmed personality has done further to degrade himself, and goes back to the Me-mail as a validation of his existence.
    In 1914 no man would have worn a wristwatch because they were “sissy.”  That changed with trench warfare, and the suddenly manly wristwatch enjoyed a century of service and adornment.  In 2014, though, a modern young man would no more wear a wristwatch than he would stand up when his mother enters the room.
    As with watches, buying a clock is worthy of note as a curious activity from a bygone day, rather like not wearing camouflage at a funeral.
    This clock was made in the USA by a company that still exists as an office somewhere but which has long since farmed out the construction of clocks, for the few eccentrics who want one, to China.  The mechanism for ringing the alarm gave out years ago, but the clock continued its dependable tick-tick-tick (being a superior sort of clock, it refused ever to tock) until a sad day not long ago when its winding mechanism would not wind.  After its final day as an intact ticking clock its spring wound down for the last time.  It ticked no more.
    As would any good American, I took the clock apart to explore its innards.  The key had stripped its threads (dang, after only twenty or thirty years…).  I wound the clock with pliers, and once again it tick-tick-ticked nicely. 
    The clock machinery now resides on my desk, wound each day with a pair of pliers (made-in-China) kept handy for the purpose.  It is wonderfully inaccurate, gaining or losing about five minutes each day, but it is aesthetically pleasing as an objet d’art.  Three metal stampings bound together with slender bolts form a matrix for the springs, gears, and escapement wheel, all of which can now be seen in action.  The hour hand and minute hand, painted with some luminescent material that would probably give the EPA the Aunt Pittypat vapors, still glow briefly in the dark after lights out.
    The ticking is curiously comforting, reminding the tick-hearer of Jerry’s Family Pharmacy, a happy heartbeat for Main Street, now just another dark and empty storefront and an empty place in the hearts of those who remember good ol’ Jerry Nobles and his wheezy jokes.  The castoff 1950s chairs and table where old men made merry and told stories over coffee are all gone, as are most of the old men, as are the stories.
    But only for us, and only for a time, for in God’s omnipresence no happiness ever really goes away, not from Him. 
    Tick, tick, tick…

Henry Kissinger's ON CHINA

Mack Hall, HSG


Henry Kissinger’s On China


“Blood will have blood”
- Macbeth 

On China was a Christmas gift by a couple of folks who really do qualify as Old China Hands.  Well, okay, early-middle-age China hands who spent several years in China, and whose curiosity about what was happening in Tibet, in the western provinces, in small towns, and in the cities and factories annoyed the Chinese government on a number of occasions.  One hopes someday they will write their narrative on China, for it will be far more reliable than Henry Kissinger’s self-serving door-stop.


Kissinger’s own story is fascinating.  He was born in Germany to Jewish parents, and as a young man escaped with his family to New York via England.  He was drafted late in World War II, and his service to his adopted country is remarkable indeed.  His Bronze Star was well-earned.


Unfortunately, Kissinger’s will to power led him in subsequent decades to dispose of nations and thousands of lives through his arrogance and his reptilian insensitivity to human suffering.  His Nobel Peace Prize reeks of blood and death and decay, as does his career.


On China is over 500 pages of turbid Henrican self-indulgence though on occasion some sense can be filtered from the cascading fall of words, words, words, big words, small words, all striving for hegemony, which is possibly the author’s favorite word.  The preface and the first few chapters are very useful; the beginning brilliantly and succinctly defines, compares, and contrasts American and Chinese concepts of exceptionalism (p. xvi), and the early chapters are a good overview of Chinese history.


After that, the adventure becomes a plod.


And in all of this plodding, Kissinger never employs even one of his warehouse of words in sympathy for the millions of Chinese murdered by the Communist Party in the revolution and afterward in purge after purge, in managed starvation, in mass executions, and in the genocidal horror of the Great Leap Forward.  And there is no surprise in this, for Kissinger never grieved for the thousands of deaths for which he is responsible in Viet-Nam (almost 60,000 American dead alone), Cambodia, Laos, Cyprus, Bengal, Chile, East Timor, and Kurdistan.  In his book he never mentions the Chinese government’s murders of protestors in Tiananmen Square and in numerous cities in China in 1989, nor the thousands of Chinese citizens who “disappeared” in the weeks following.  His consulting business and his relationships with the power structure in China might be compromised were he to do so.  In Kissinger’s narrative of Tiananmen (pp. 408-439) he does not mention the deaths (“This is not the place to examine the events…” [p. 411]), and suggests that using tanks and machine guns against the protestors was really the protestors’ fault.


In her 11,000-year history, China has not yet acted imperially, and there are no Chinese military bases outside of China.  China’s influence on the world has been generally positive through its culture and its mercantilism.  Dr. Kissinger assures us that China will continue to be an inward-looking nation.


However, China’s rapid development of her army, air force, and a blue-water navy suggests otherwise.  China invaded its former ally North Viet-Nam in 1979 (and lost), threatens Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan, and is messin’ and stirrin’ all over the Western Pacific.  The United States Navy, through its fleets and air arm, can, in concert with other nations, defeat Chinese aggression at present.  However, no situation is ever static.  The United States is a declining power while China is a rising one.  China probably does not want to dominate the United States militarily, but China does own this nation financially and soon we may well be a supplicant hoping our new masters will be kind to us.  This is not Kissinger’s script; this is reality.


China quite rightly resents her humiliation by Western powers in the 19th century and Japan in the 20th.  China insanely murdered millions of her own people after World War II and into the 1970s.  A nation with a catalogue of resentments and a recent history of violence, a nation that in the 21st century arranges the executions of her healthy young people so that their organs can be harvested for transplants for sale to the wealthy, is not ruled by flower children, and is not a peaceful nation of vegans meditating on ancient Confucian wisdom.  China is not this nation’s friend, and neither is Henry Kissinger.


Another reality, a bizarre one, is that Dr. Kissinger, author of deaths and books, has dedicated On China, a serious if deeply flawed examination of China and its influence on the world now, to a dress designer.


Anyone wishing to give this mildly interesting recycling of vegetable matter a look can check it out of the public library; this would minimize the profits to an evil man.



"O Canada, We Obey the IOC"

Mack Hall

P.O. Box 856

1286 County Road 400

Kirbyville, Texas 75956

409 423 2751


“O Canada, We Obey the IOC”


Last week Penguin Books pulled Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: an Alternative History from circulation in India, and destroyed copies still in its supply chain.


Professor Doniger’s book is almost surely boring – any book with a colon in its title is going to be a yawner.  After all, from our high school lessons in anatomy and physiology we remember what a colon is full of.


But Penguin didn’t destroy its own book because it is a doorstop; Penguin meekly surrendered to a religious group which didn’t like the book. 


One might expect self-censorship by a company in India, but surely not in Canada, the nation based on that whole thing about The True North Strong and Free.


USA-ians wanting a frozen-moose report from Newfoundland or another exploding-train-in-Quebec news item from north of The World’s Friendliest Border will not be hearing anything on CBC Radio via livestream.  To call up CBC radio on the ‘net (rather like Macbeth calling up those witches in Act IV?) is to be greeted with Hamlet’s “The rest is silence.”  The electronic page is there, all right, but nothing happens except a sign reading “From Feb. [sic] 6-23, CBC Radio One live streams will only be available to Canadian listeners due to Olympic rights restrictions. However, you can visit to listen on-demand or download podcasts.”


Whatever amount of money was exchanged between the International Olympics Committee and the CBC apparently wasn’t sufficient to buy enough letters to spell out “February.”


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which Canadian taxpayers must fund through taxes, chose to silence its own livestream outside Canadian borders.  The bit about listening to on-demand to podcasts is not technically a lie, but until the IOC gives Canada permission, no new podcasts are being generated.


If this self-censorship by the CBC applied only to live Olympics broadcasting, well, fair enough.  Bribes…um…money has been exchanged from oily hand to oily hand for the games.  However, the CBC has silenced all its livestreaming outside Canada’s borders – weather, news, recipes for roadkill moose, and the latest rumor about the whereabouts of the elusive Lyuba Orlova.


The last news USA-ians heard of the abandoned Russian ship Lyuba Orlova was that it was infested with giant cannibal rats and drifting toward Ireland.  Until the IOC gives its colonial minions in Ottawa permission to broadcast again, no one will know if the giant cannibal rats on the Lyuba Orlova are reading up Irish stew recipes in Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” or Rod Serling’s To Serve Man, or innocently rehearsing choral routines from The Flying Dutchman.


Canada is this nation’s biggest trading partner and a solid ally.  Every day thousands of Americans cross the border to work and shop in Canada, and thousands of Canadians cross the border to work and shop in the USA.  All along that 3,000-mile border people cross this way and that for lunch with the in-laws.  Tons of food, manufactured goods, raw materials, and the occasional moose are daily traded via rail, roads, and air between our two great nations.  That Canada can be bribed or bullied into silence, compromising friendly relations, suggests not incompetence by a few functionaries but malicious intent by a third party.  Who?  And why?


Emails to several CBC address were not answered.  Well, maybe all the headquarters gnomes were too busy listening to the games.  Certain the CBC leadership listens to the IOC.  The emails were not impertinent; they did not ask if some CBC vice-president’s daughter or son recently received a full scholarship to an exclusive private school in Switzerland or France, or if another CBC executive suddenly sported a shiny new SUV in his driveway.  To ask such questions would not only impertinent but wrong.  No rude questions were asked, and the respectful questions were not answered.


Perhaps CBC Radio shares the same ‘tude toward listeners that Air Canada displays toward passengers: “We’re Not Happy Until You’re Not Happy.”