Monday, May 26, 2014

Decoration Day

Mack Hall
26 May 2014

Decoration Day

Poor graves are decorated well enough:
Spring sunlight falls in halos on these stones
Which wear as battle-honors aged lichens,
And rusted bits of wire from long-dead wreaths

The unknown graves are laurelled best of all:
Forever lost beneath some parking lot
Or accidentally ploughed yet further still
Into the mists, and closest, now, to God

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Sea-Road to Constantinople

Mack Hall, HSG

The Sea-Road to Constantinople

For Tod on his Birthday

A coastal lugger wallows in the waves
Almost adrift in its poor steerageway
Slow-yawing northeast from the blue Aegean
Into the soft-murmuring Marmara.
Athens is in the past, and soon, ahead,
Constantinople’s walls will catch the dawn.
Our sticks, our packs, a space upon the deck
A book of verse, a cup, a spoon, a bowl,
Some prayers the priest was pleased to copy out
For us poor pilgrims who with weary feet
Were pleased to board a northbound boat at last
And rest through sunlit days with pipes alight
And words and prayers afloat among the sails,
Among the gulls that circle ‘round the mast.
All travelers pray for their hearts’ desires
To wait for them ashore at journey’s end;
For us, ours is to serve the Emperor -
A little further, there beyond the stars.

King Herod Recycles

Mack Hall

King Herod Recycles

How many dead Canadian babies does it take to make a pot of coffee?

In Oregon the question is not a crude two-in-the-morning bar joke. A CBS affiliate in Oregon, Breitbart News, the Associated Press, and other sources report that a county-owned incinerator in Oregon, in partnership with several private companies, including Covanta and Stericycle, accepts all sorts of waste for generating electricity. This waste includes medical waste from Canada, and this medical waste from Canada includes diseased human tissue, human body parts, and dead babies.

Live humans cannot cross the border between Canada and the United States without passports; cargos containing dead bodies as a feature of international trade are waved on through.

In Oregon, then, the faithful praying in remembrance of the Holy Innocents murdered by King Herod may well be reading the appointed scripture for that day’s liturgy by light provided by the incineration of more holy innocents.

Do joggers, hikers, bicyclists, and children playing outdoors in Marion County, Oregon occasionally sniff the air and wonder about the unusual smell?

When Allied soldiers liberated the hundreds of concentration camps in 1945 and among other Dante-esque scenes found fragments of human flesh and bones in the incinerators, those hellish visions haunted them for the rest of their lives. Now it’s called recycling.

Marion County commissioners were rightly appalled when they learned of this horror, and immediately told their suppliers to stop sending them dead babies as fuel. No blame can attach to the commissioners for not knowing earlier: when a county buys paving materials, paper, cleaning supplies, photocopiers, patrol cars, food for prisoners, and any of the thousands of other needful goods that make a local government entity function, it does not occur to the purchasing agent or commissioners to stipulate in the purchase orders that dead humans are not to be part of the supply chain.

Not until now, that is.

In the twisted world of environmentalism as an absolute imperative, burning oil or coal for energy is bad, but burning dead babies for energy is good. Apparently the smoke from burning bodies – a renewable resource – is harmless to the bunny rabbits and butterflies.

Well, that’s Oregon. What about us? Where does our electricity come from? What – or who - goes into our cosmetics, our perfumes, our food?

Impossible? Consider Marion County, Oregon.

There’s nothing good that can be said of King Herod, but not even he referred to his victims as fetal tissue and medical waste.


Hitler's Teacup

Mack Hall, HSG

Hitler’s Teacup

According to Canada’s National Post, a furniture outlet in Germany has been selling Chinese-made teacups decorated with roses, leaves, romantic sentiments, and a portrait of Adolf Hitler.

The seller protests that he didn’t know the cup was loaded, and that the Chinese manufacturer must have sneaked Hitler in. Oh, those wacky Chinese, anything for a gag, eh?

The cups are rather attractive as far as the roses and vegetation and florid writing go, but when one looks beyond the hearts and flowers, yes, there in the background, slightly fuzzed out, is old Toothbrush-Moustache himself on a reproduction of a postage stamp.

Hitler. You will remember, was a teasipper, a tee-totaler, a non-smoker, a wannabe artist, and a druggie who sported funny-looking facial hair and who checked his horoscope daily – in short, very much a hipster for our time.

One wonders what the Mussolini cup will look like. But why not go for the complete set of 20th-century mass-murderers? Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Mousey Dung, Stalin, Mussolini, Ayatollah Khomeini, Tito, Che Guevara, The Castro Brothers, the other boys in the band – how is it that some of our “rarer monsters” (Macbeth) are scorned, while others rate their own made-in-China tee-shirts, tote bags, and coffee mugs, huh?

Pity (or not) poor King Leopold of Belgium, for instance – a century ago he and his merry Belgians (now the rulers of Europe) perpetrated the deaths of millions of Africans. Even the other colonial powers were disgusted by genocidal Belgium. Yet the wannabe cool kids don’t sport King Leopold tees but rather the image of Che Guevara, whose death count is only about 30,000 prisoners and miscellaneous civilians. Even Ho Chi Minh tops Che, with some 200,000 of his fellow Vietnamese, including much of his home town, taken out in the early 1950s. Does Ho have his own tee-shirt or coffee mug? Nooooo. And, hey, he was a poet. He said so. Who can argue with a poet whose rhyme and meter are backed up by his death squads?

For those with a more Hegelian sense of tyrants, tailoring, and trends as a fusion of the inane and the irrelevant, The Daily Mail reports that the Topman Horace Coat that sells in England for 205 pounds (over $300) features a purported symbol of a Croatian SS division. Others point out that the squiggly thing is an ancient Odal rune, whatever that is. Somebody else said that the thingie purported to be an Odal rune is so obscure, and the patch on the jacket so misshapen, that no one could have connected the jacket with the SS except by a bizarre stretch of the eyeballs.

What is very clear to any observer of any political bent is that the Topman Horace Coat is chupacabra-ugly, looking for all the world – the fashion world - as if some Nibelung had gathered up all the scraps of cloth, leather, and rubber from a sweat shop floor after a hard day of oppressing third-world workers, mashed them (the sweepings, not the workers) all together with liberal glops of glue, and called it a trend.

And the people all yipped “Iconic!” while saluting with their Barclay Cards.

In sum, the really happenin’ people, cooler than you’ll ever be, can shoal up against the latte counter in the morning, all wearing their Croatian SS coats, and order a cup of herbal tea with a picture of a tyrant on it.

Well, maybe the tea will help them with their cultural amnesia.


Passover, a Blood Moon, and a Debt

Mack Hall, HSG

Passover, a Blood Moon, and a Debt

On Passover, we will see a (gasp) Blood Moon in the sky, and so the world is coming to an end again. On the ‘net there’s a picture of a real big Blood Moon behind the Moscow Kremlin, so it must be so.

Yes, the End Times are back, according to Reverend 1-800-501C3 on the Orwellian telescreen, so send him money. The End Times are always hanging around, leeching onto you like that fellow who approaches you in the parking lot and tells you he ran out of gas on his way to his mother’s funeral in Waco. The next time you see him he’s taking his child (cue the sad child who knows darned well to keep his mouth shut or else) to the hospital in Houston and the car’s transmission went out, and brother, can you spare a twenty God bless you sir?

The year 1999 was an especially profitable season for End Times, what with mysterious glowing chupacabras in the sky spelling out 999 (which is even worse than 666) in Babylonian hieroglyphics, coded signals from Fred Phelps’ basement, and crudely-illustrated Jack Chick pamphlets telling you that you’re going to (Newark) anyway, so don’t even bother trying.

Hey, why read the Bible when you’ve got Jack Chick, eh?

When the sun rose on 1 January 2000, some folks climbed down from their roofs, consulted The Voices, whapped themselves on the forehead (“Wow, I could have had a Julian calendar!”), and said, “Oh, wait – we miscalculated. 2000 is the end of the millennium, so, like, the end of the world is coming next year. Really!”

Anyway, on the ‘net this week somebody said that somebody said that somebody else said that we’ve got a tetrad coming. Whatever a tetrad is. And so with the tetrad comes the End Times, and this time – or end time - they really mean it, okay?

And yet – and yet Easter will come again this year. The Altar will be set right after the grim Triduum, and on Sunday morning spring flowers and morning sunlight will supplant the darkness of Good Friday. Local ministers and priests (Chaucer’s “parsouns”) will tell again a 2,000-year-old story because they look to God, not to Hi-Def images of Reverend 1-800-501C3, for the truth.

After the liturgy there will be merriment, dinner on the grounds (which really isn’t on the grounds, but in the hall), and an easter-egg hunt (which really is on the grounds, unless there is rain, in which case it will be in the hall).

The nice man who mows the church lawns will mutter for months (for this now is effectively a part of the liturgical calendar) about the lawnmower blades finding undiscovered plastic eggs and, worse, real eggs in an advanced state of malodorous decay.

But it’s all told much better in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture (except for the undiscovered eggs ripening through Ordinary Time), the sequence from Good Friday through Holy Saturday to Easter morning, followed by a happy feast.

In the evening we can again watch Charlton Heston lead the children of Israel out of the brickpits and into the desert, still fascinated even though we know how it ends. Great stories are like that.

Easter – or Pascha, if you prefer - beats superstition, including the laughable blood moon, all hollow. And you don’t have to send money to anyone – in every way, the debt has been paid.


The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Knife Collection

Mack Hall

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Knife Collection

The first exhibit at the new George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University is a new metal detector celebrating American freedom. The visitor freely surrenders any metal objects and places them in a little plastic basket to be scrutinized electronically while he or she freely passes through the electronic confessional for the revelation of any hidden secrets.

The library staff are pleasant and somewhat apologetic about the procedure; the polyester polizei less so. After all, no American lad dreams of growing up to wear a cheap uniform and proctology gloves while living out his dream of handing out plastic baskets and looking at people’s metal objects on a little Orwellian telescreen.

The website ( is clear that all visitors will subject themselves to electronic search, and that “any weapons will be confiscated by security staff and not returned.” Said “weapons” include, by name, Swiss Army®, Gerber®, and Leatherman® shiny things.

One wonders why Swiss Army, Gerber, and Leatherman are singled out as special menaces to the Republic.

The buildings are handsome and functional, much influenced by Bauhaus and to a lesser extent by Art Deco. The main hall features a high clerestory which provides most of the illumination.

In this area the exhibits, unimaginatively displayed, are gifts to President and Mrs. Bush by many nations. Russia gave a huge silver samovar breasted with the double-eagle of the Romanovs, whom the current government’s predecessors had shot, including the children and their pet dog.

The observer also, well, observes among the presidential gifts (while shaking off the half-life of any lingering mysterious rays from the security scans) the presidential swords, daggers, and knives. Swiss Army®, Gerber®, and Leatherman® are not among them.

The reproduction of the Oval Office is very well done, and since everything in it is a reproduction, touching is permitted. You can even sit in the reproduction presidential chair behind the reproduction Resolute desk (feet down, please), and play with the reproduction presidential telephone, which is not red.

And where is the reproduction bust of Winston Churchill?

Not on exhibit is even one of the many White House computers vandalized by the classy Clinton staff on their last day in office in January of 2001.

The exhibits are well accomplished, though one must explore the usual Minoan labyrinths – is this a dead end, or can I go forward, or must I go back? - and interesting, especially to the lover of American history but also for those with only a casual interest. The George H. W. Bush Library in the Holy City of College Station offers much more, but the George W. Bush Library at SMOO (for SMU, Southern Methodist University) is new and somewhat raw, and will expand.

The gift shop is small, poorly stocked, and expensive. For eight dollars you can buy a little wooden stick purported to be a bookmark. A little wooden stick that reads “The George W. Bush Presidential Library” is still, in the end, only a little wooden stick. For eight dollars.

One of the books for sale is The Brothers Karamazov., and it is listed on a photocopied leaflet as one of “Mrs. Laura Bush’s Family Favorites.”

One does not imagine any family sitting by the fire on a winter night and taking turns reading The Brothers Karamazov to each other, but Mrs. Bush is of a literary bent, and so is President Bush, though he takes Texas pains to hide it. Mrs. Bush says this is her favorite book, as does Mrs. Clinton, which could lead to an interesting debate topic in the next election cycle.

Moderator: “Senator, if you are elected president, which translation of The Brothers Karamazov will you promote as more accurately reflecting Dostoyevsky’s original Russian, the older Constance Garnett or the modern Peaver-Volokhonsky?”

Finally, the true center of the George W. Bush Library is a memorial to the thousands who were murdered on 9/11/01. And this is where all the museum jokes slink away, for here are suspended fragments of huge steel beams, perhaps twenty feet high, burnt and twisted. And this is why you’ve come. This is where you remember. This is where you put the camera away. This is where the goofs who wear their hats indoors remove them. This is where you stop talking. Not because you are told to do so, but because over 2,753 people from 60 nations deserve this of all of us.

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord…”


The Pegwinders

Mack Hall, HSG

The Pegwinders

There are music lovers who would almost rather gnaw off an arm than endure yet another photocopied, overmixed, overproduced discount-store sound. And one can understand – country-and-western music is at present sodden with derivative hat-acts and three-chord commandos whose music is as lacking in creativity as their publicity stills.

And yet there are always a few rebels who don’t simply follow and imitate, but who with talent, discipline, and respect for their audience take an artistic tradition and make some seriously new noise with it. One group making a wonderful new contribution to folk culture is The Pegwinders.

Sure, they continue a musical tradition, but it’s a good old tradition born of pine trees, river bottoms, sawmills, farms, oil wells, machine shops, dirt roads, bare feet, some dogs in the front yard, church on Sunday, and knowing where you came from.

The fusion of blues, folk, rock, and hillbilly did not begin with Nashville in the 1950s; it originated much earlier in Kirbyville, Texas with Ivory Joe Hunter, who needs no adjectives. Nor is this an ossified tradition; East Texas is rich with young musicians whose hands are as skilled with wrench, saw, and plow as they are with fretboard, capo, and pick, with truck scales as well as musical scales. Blessed with formal instruction in church, school, or in private lessons, and informal pickup sessions at home and, yes, in that famous garage, fresh voices celebrate the culture given to them by mastering it and then pushing it forward in bold new ways.

Thus it is with The Pegwinders.

Sarah Rose Fusell is the brains, the beauty, and the voice – or The Voice – of The Pegwinders. When you hear that sweet, powerful, disciplined delivery, well, sure, the guys are great, but Sarah is the heart of the set.

Steve Fussell, the concussionist, can make the drums and cymbals sing as smoothly as a V-8 engine, for this master mechanic knows his way around all of them.

Cory Horton is the bass man, as in, yeah, that’s a BASS, man!

Colby Tharp is a triple threat with voice, guitar, and the harmonica, an underrated little instrument often relegated to a cliché background noise in prison movies. In the hands of this master, the harmonica sings like the winds through the pine tops on an autumn day.

Brady Barnett is a keyboardist who can gentle from the keys the softness of a spring morning and then make them stand up and howl like nobody’s Nashville business.

Sarah, Steve, Cory, Colby, and Brady are hardworking artists who as The Pegwinders make music, make happiness, and make history.

Yeah, they’re that good.

You can hear The Pegwinders at the Jasper Lions’ Club Rodeo on Thursday night, May 8th. Someday you can say with pride “I knew them when….”