Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bourgeois Sentimentality - poem

Bourgeois Sentimentality

A beagle puppy napping on the hearth
The morning offering whispered at dawn
Young lovers flirting on a garden bench
The chair in which Granddaddy used to sit

Cranky old men who feed the birds each day
Cool boy-band posters on a teenager’s wall
Red spider-lilies in the autumn sun
And children’s toys scattered all over the yard

“Bourgeois sentimentality!” some cry:
Well, yes, yes it is – by the Grace of God

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

To Incorporate Institutional Effectiveness into Our Everyday Language - poem

To Incorporate Institutional Effectiveness into
Our Everyday Language

)/)/)/ is updating our assessment plan for
Instructional units beginning this fall
2016 semester. After
Visiting with /)/, our SACSCOC
Consultant and Dr. /) yesterday
About our assessment process, it was
Determined that it is in our best interest
To clarify, verify and hopefully
Simplify the current random selection
Assessment process. Therefore, in lieu of
The use of the random selection process,
The plan for this semester and moving forward
Is to assess all students in all sections
Of courses used in the assessment process
And to report data on all students,
NOT just assessing or reporting data
On a random sample. In order to provide
Appropriate artifacts, we will choose
Representative samples (examples
Of great, fair and low achievement artifacts)
To be included in the artifacts
Collection for SACSCOC reporting. However,
We do still need to collect all artifacts
So we have those in the event they are
Needed. This will give us a better picture
Of how our students are performing.

I know that we are changing directions
And I ask that you be patient as we
Navigate through this process and determine
How best to collect, assess, and use the data
We receive to make continuous improvements
For the good of the students and to
Incorporate institutional effectiveness
Into our everyday language.

Thank you for your willingness to assist
In this process and determining the best
Ways to help our students. Stay tuned as we
Look at and develop some additional
Templates or formats to report the data.
Please share this information with your faculty.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Stagecoach That Robbed Its Passengers - Column, 9.19.16

Mack Hall, HSG

The Stagecoach That Robbed Its Passengers

A common commercial reference in western movies is the stagecoach / banking / shipping group known as, well, let us call it Snork-Ponsonby. In a good old Saturday matinee’ shoot-‘em-up the outlaws rob the train for the Snork-Ponsonby gold shipment, the Snork-Ponsonby Express Office for the farmers’ and miners’ deposits in the Snork-Ponsonby safe, and, most thrillingly of all, the Snork-Ponsonby stagecoach for its Snork-Ponsonby strongbox – so strong that a single shot from a revolver blows it open.

“Hand down that strongbox, ya capitalist lackeys, or we’ll shoot ya down off that stagecoach like flea-bitten mangy varmints throwing up the acidic remnants of busthead whiskey and prairie dog stew in the streets of Lordsburg, New Mexico after a night of carousing at the Shortbranch Saloon and Garden of Earthly delights!”

Or words to that effect.

Despite tremendous growth and changes of ownership and associations since its founding over 150 years ago, Snork-Ponsonby retains a strong commercial and cultural identification. Credit-Suisse doesn’t feature a stagecoach in its advertising or on its letterhead. As for France, the Credit Agricole-Credit Agricole Group (yes, there are two credits, two agricoles, and one group in the name, for some reason) is so title-heavy that a sign painter would have trouble fitting all that lengthy title-ness onto a wagon-lit.

Snork-Ponsonby long ago sold off its stagecoaches in order to focus on banking, but still must deal with robbers. Curiously, if the news is to be believed (and there have been no arrests or indictments), Snort-Ponsonby now robs its depositors itself, thus saving the bother and expense of the old-fashioned third-party road bandit.

Like Doc Boone and Miss Dallas in John Ford’s Stagecoach, some 5,000 Snork-Ponsonby employees have been told to be on the next stage out of town. They are victims because somebody / somebodies in the banking system secretly added credit cards and false accounts to customer’ existing portfolios, thus padding the already hard-to-understand monthly statements with all sorts of clever little charges.

The wonderful Canadian actor Berton Churchill personified the stereotype of the stuffy but corrupt banker as Gatewood in Stagecoach. As with Chaucer’s “Marchant” (merchant / businessman), Gatewood is pompous and preachy and dressed very well, but no one knows that his bank is failing due to his greed and incompetence:

     His resons he spak ful solempnely,
     Sownynge always th’encrees of his wynnyng.
     Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle,
     This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette,
     There wiste no wight that he was in dette

The modern personification of a corrupt banker might be a woman, a Snork-Ponsonby executive who cost thousands of industrious low-level banklings their livelihoods while her fellow Gatewoods on some board paid her millions to go away and, oh, spend more time with her family.

As the sun sets over the dusty trail west of Deming, let us close with one of Banker Gatewood’s speeches from Stagecoach, spoken while, as IMDB notes, he clutches to his heart the valise full of money he has stolen from the poor farmers, ranchers, miners, and workers who trusted him:

I don't know what the government is coming to….(w)hy, they're even talking now about having bank examiners. As if we bankers don't know how to run our own banks! Why, at home I have a letter from a popinjay official saying they were going to inspect my books. I have a slogan that should be blazoned on every newspaper in this country: America for the Americans! The government must not interfere with business! Reduce taxes! Our national debt is something shocking. Over one billion dollars a year! What this country needs is a businessman for president!

Amos 8:47 says it all much better, only without a stagecoach chase.


Let's go to the Pub and get Bombed - poem

Let’s go to the Pub and get Bombed

New York, 17 September 2016

Twenty-nine wounded, but nothing to fear -
The mayor assures us there’s no terror here

Friday, September 16, 2016

Oh, Possum! - poem

Oh, Possum!


Marsupials in the Mist


Didelphimorphia Park

Well, there you are, snarling behind the mesh
Of a steel humanitarian trap
For the crimes of digging under the fence
And encouraging the dogs to escape

Stop hissing, now, through rows of dragon-teeth
And listen to human words you won’t believe -
Late summer grapes have tempted you to this,
So absolution is granted; ajar is the door

Your executioner stands down: Go forth!
And be a better ‘possum forever more

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Not Standing up to Honor a Bucket of Pokemons - column, 11 September 2016

Lawrence Hall

Not Standing up to Honor a Bucket of Pokemons

Not standing up for the flag has become the latest look-at-me fashion. Like selfies, hashtaggeries, unicycling across Texas to get money uh, “raise awareness,” the incessant “starting a conversation” thing, LiveStrong bracelets, and throwing a bucket of ice water over one’s head, it will go away, only to be replaced by next year’s newer-than-new look-at-me, me, me virtue-signaling.

Some have suggested that not standing for the flag constitutes treason, but probably not. At worst it is ill manners. After all, committing an act of treason requires some degree of critical thinking.

What might be more important is whether a young man stands up to greet his mother.

+ + +

An event known as The World Dog Show is scheduled to be held in China in 2019. The irony is that in China the dog is more than a domesticated little pal; in China the dog is lunch. Order a hot dog in China and that’s exactly what you get. Think of supper as a roasted beagle, maybe with an apple in its mouth.

+ + +

John Hinckley, who made his name and his fame sneaking up on unsuspecting people and shooting them, is now free to be (you and me?), driving around town, living with his mom next to the golf course in a gated community, working on his art and his singer-songwriter gig, and visiting psychiatrists and therapists who hold his hand and tell him how special he is.

While you are at work, perhaps Mr. Hinckley will inspire you to greater efforts by deigning to wave to you as he tootles by in Mumsy’s car on his way to his music lessons and his therapy.

+ + +

Last week your ‘umble scrivener visited an old but elegant little bakery / coffee shop on Calder in Beaumont. With the morning sun streaming across the four or so tables, newspapers lying about, fresh coffee and croissants, and a cast of diverse characters (one of them was reading a book!), the scene was so very 1950s beatnik, only without the berets, bongos, cigarettes, and manifestos.

A woman approached the waitress / barista apologetically to say “I am so sorry but my little girl spilled her goldfish [the crackers, not the critters] on the floor. Could I borrow a broom and dustpan?”

The barista replied cheerfully “Oh, no, honey, I’ll get that.”

The woman apologized again, and the barista cheerfully assured her that this was not a problem at all.

The happy little girl, perhaps two or so, learned from her mom and the barista about tidiness and about how real adults resolve life’s many little daily happenings without displaying any me-me-me-ness.

And all that was exactly as encounters should be, and so seldom are. Here and there, almost hidden at present, civilization still happens.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ode to Barnes & Noble - two poems

Lawrence Hall

Ode to Barnes & Noble

Patrick Leigh Fermor never roamed these aisles
Sir John Betjeman never rhymed these aisles
Graham Greene never despaired of these aisles
And Rod McKuen was never alone here

And anyway the two or three feet of poetry
Are hidden far away in the back behind
The puzzles, records, comics, and plastic toys
And solitaries plugged into their machines

But on a winter weekday a writer’s retreat -
A yellow pad, coffee, a window seat

Ode to Barnes & Noble - Variant

Patrick Leigh Fermor never roamed these aisles
Sir John Betjeman never rhymed these aisles
Graham Greene never despaired of these aisles
And Rod McKuen was never alone here

And anyway the two or three feet of poetry
Are hidden far away in the back behind
The puzzles, records, comics, and plastic toys
And solitaries plugged into their machines

But on a winter weekday a reader’s retreat -
A New in Fiction, coffee, a window seat

The Moon Would Be Alone - poem

Lawrence Hall

The Moon Would Be Alone

The moon veils her presence with mist and damp
Mortals are not wanted in attendance
On such a night, when rain rises as fog
And the singing of frogs is a menacing chant

The apples of summer, the frosts of autumn
The barefoot maidens dancing on the lawns
Or old men smoking through philosophy:
All are forbidden on a night like this

Above the trees swings a half-hidden lamp -
The moon veils her presence with mist and damp

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Kettle Calling the Pot Chartreuse - poem

Lawrence Hall

The Kettle Calling the Pot Chartreuse

It was only the ice of the tipberg
When the upset was applecarted and
A sand was drawn in the line, though better
To curse the candle than dark a lightness

Or judge a cover by its book shelving
Off the flies toothed to the arm calling a
Posthole auger a posthole auger
Which was cracked at the dawn of down and hurts

In chaining a yank on the side bed of
The wrong partial wax of ball went pancreas down

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Papa Ben - poem

Lawrence Hall

Papa Ben

In that old man, that frail old man, the power
Of God is manifest in gentle love
His whispered prayers are louder than the roarings
Of wicked dragons loosed upon the world

His every beaded Ave is a hymn
Taught by an Angel and sung in the Presence
Of Our Lady Fair, our crown’ed Queen
In praise of God, and for the blessing of all

In solitude he lives for God, for us -
For in that man, that frail old man, Christ lives

Monday, September 5, 2016

War Chariots at Dawn (and a Three-Hole Paper Punch) - poem

Lawrence Hall

War Chariots at Dawn
(and a Three-Hole Paper Punch)

A friend was given a dream in which there was:

Deep darkness and an infinite silence
And then a soft, soft, subtle tingling sound
On the horizon impossible blue
And then more light and then a jingling sound
A line of chariots in silhouette
And led by Three in ancient robes, afoot
And all advanced upon my friend who was
Three in himself, but not capitalized:
A boy afraid, and a middle-aged man
And an old man too, to complete the three
The uncapitalized three, in the darkness
The men then urged the reluctant boy forward
For he was fearful in the face of the Three
And of the chariots on the horizon -
And there the dream ended, all unresolved

And I was given a dream in which there was:

The three-hole paper punch gone missing from
The office (of old and unrequited dreams1)

1a play on The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Zavalla, Texas - poem

Lawrence Hall

Zavalla, Texas

In Zavalla, Texas, an old café

Beside the two-lane blacktop through the pines

Even the setting sun seems summer-tired

Aslant across an open page of Keats

The old men political over their coffee

Are silent suddenly, a surprise to all

The oldest shuffles over on his cane

And asks suspiciously “What are you?”

What are you? Each man asks that of himself

In Zavalla, or wherever he happens to be

Leafy Labor Day and Summer's Last Dragon - poem

Lawrence Hall

     Leafy Labor Day and Summer’s Last Dragon

In a happier world, children this day,
Barefoot children, running about in play
Would pause now at the end of summer time -
New school supplies from the old five-and-dime

Write those first smudgy lines with a new ink-pen
For tomorrow the new school year takes in
And count their cedar pencils, one, two, three
Then out again to the Robin Hood tree

A wooden sword, and a dragon to slay
In a happier world, children this day

     (Their Robin Hood wants to slay a dragon,
     and so a wrathful dragon slain shall be;
     Little children know best about these things)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

There are no Millenials - column, 1 September 2016

Lawrence Hall

There are no Millennials

After the Second World War the surviving soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guard, and Marines came home to their wives and girlfriends, and then they, well, you know, resulting in a high birth rate. Years later someone said this event was a “baby boom.” Thus, children born to World War II veterans were labelled “baby boomers” and then simply “Boomers,” usually as a pejorative. Everything that was wrong in the world was said to be the fault of Boomers, who were insolent, indolent, ungrateful, self-indulgent, disrespectful, and un-American – even those 2,000,000 Boomers who fought in South Viet-Nam, North Viet-Nam, Cambodia, and Laos, and the 60,000 Boomers who were killed there because the young officers of 1941-1945 forgot their lessons as they grew grey and decided that the casual disposal of young lives in undeclared wars would be a good idea.

Some sources define a Boomer as anyone born between 1946 and 1964. Accepting this definition, a baby born at 11:59 P.M. on the 31st of December 1945 is not an evil Boomer, but one born at 12:01 A.M. on the 1st of January in 1946 is. A child born just before midnight on the 31st of December 1964 is a bad, bad Boomer, and a child born just after midnight on the 1st of January 1965 is a God-fearin’ John Wayne American standing straight and tall.

You remember John Wayne – he played Yankee Doodle American police officers, fire fighters, pilots, soldiers, and sailors in the moving pictures, but never did any of those things for real.

Why isn’t there a movie about the life of Dorie Miller?

As with all forms of stereotyping, condemning people because of their dates of birth is illogical.

The new targets of chronological prejudice are Millennials, who of course aren’t Millennials at all, but individual children of God who happened to have been born on…wait…when?

In 1987 William Strauss and Neil Howe (both Boomers) wrote academic research about the identity group whom they were the first to label as Millennials, and for them this centered on the children who would graduate from high school in the year 2000. Thus, by the original meaning, the only millennials are those who happened to have walked across a stage in May or June of 2000.

William Strauss also wrote academic research about Viet-Nam veterans, though he was never in Viet-Nam himself. How cool is that.

Millennials in their turn are said to be insolent, indolent, ungrateful, self-indulgent, disrespectful, and un-American – even those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and every other Whosedumbideawasthisistan because the young officers of 1964-1970 forgot their lessons as they grew grey and allowed civilians who missed that whole Indo-China thing to bully them into the casual disposal of more young lives in more undeclared wars.

Resume’ enhancement and medals for the desk commandos, body-bags for the desert fighters.

All the futile arcana of Boomer / Gen X / Gen Y / Millennial is no more relevant than conversational Klingon. Let it go. As C. S. Lewis says in Prince Caspian, we are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and that is glory enough and shame enough.

Anyway, when it comes to being narcissistic and self-centered, I stand alone. So to speak.

The background noise you hear comes from my fellow Boomers rattling their walkers, false teeth, and oxygen tanks in disapproval of Millennials – those lazy Millennials who are now our doctors, nurses, builders, police officers, oil drillers, fire fighters, pilots, chemists, engineers, attorneys, and on and on.

But I must go – there is a John Wayne movie on the telescreen. I can recite the dialogue in Rio Bravo from memory, but I don’t want to miss it anyway.