Monday, January 30, 2017

The Pump Trumps Trump - column

Mack Hall, HSG

The Pump Trumps Trump

Enough about the president. Let us discuss adventures in buying gasoline along US96.

Last week I bought gasoline at an area station (let us call it Sooper Dooper Gas ‘n’ Cigarettes ‘n’ Lottery Tickets).

When I completed the transaction the pump said that I had bought 11.603 gallons of gas at $2.199 a gallon for a total of $25.51.

However, the ticket the same pump printed out said that I had bought 11.421 gallons of gas at $2.199 for a total of $25.11

Why the differences?

I snapped pictures of the pump readout and the ticket printout, and took them inside to the clerk to ask what this was about, how much gas did I really get, and how much would I be billed. She was very nice about it all, and printed from an inside machine a ticket that agreed with the pump’s readout, and asked to keep the ticket the pump had printed.

In a happier world I would have dismissed this as merely a machine error involving a few cents, but now I don’t know. Did someone fiddle with the pump or the two printers or all of these gadgets in order to realize an extra helping of cash from hundreds of such small errors – if they are errors – in a day?

I don’t know.

I do know that for me (a sampling of somewhat less than a hundred consumers), buying gasoline from different stations (another sampling of somewhat less than a hundred) associated with different companies along US96 has been, well, interesting in the past few months.

A station at which I bought gas for years stopped accepting credit cards at the pumps months ago. Signs said that the company was reworking the computer programming or something, but nothing changed. I did not suspect anything, but after some weeks chose to shop at other stations where I could pay at the pump and not walk away from the car.

But shopping elsewhere revealed the same problems. Other stations (some, not all) representing different oil companies, also had card readers that were not working. One clerk wanted me to leave my credit card with him while I gassed the car.

Well, no, that ain’t happening. You just don’t leave your card in the hands of someone else. You just don’t.

I have also noticed that some gas pumps at different stations reveal that access plates have been forced open (, that the keypads have been separated from the pump, or that the required state inspection seals are missing (

Any one of these curious matters in isolation would probably not be significant, but a pattern of curious matters is.

Even when nothing appears to be irregular the gas customer should always:

1. Keep the credit card in hand or in sight. It takes only seconds for a bad actor to scan the code on your card on a clever little reader concealed in his pocket or palm ( or under the counter.
2. Pull on the card reader to ensure it is not a shell overlay stealing your code (
3. Insist on a receipt – don’t ignore that “See Cashier for Receipt” sign.
4. Keep all your receipts and match them with your monthly statement.
5. Take a picture of the pump and the numbers every time you buy gas. Take pictures of any loose bits or damages to the pump.
6. Compare the numbers on the receipt and the pump before you drive away.
7. Don’t let the gas gauge fall below empty before shopping for gas. If you’re down to an empty tank then you’re out of choices and can’t drive away from a dodgy gas station.
8. Try not to be cynical – and sometimes that’s a challenge.


Cats are Iambic Pentameter - poem

Lawrence Hall

Cats are Iambic Pentameter

Light-footed cats are nature’s iambics
Each subtle feline step unstressed to stressed
Across a lawn, a counterpane, a heart
As a tail-twitching cat ballet, all grace

But dogs are four-beat Anglo-Saxon1 lines
Galumphing heavily and clumsily
Across a moor, a sleeping-bag, a heart
As a tail-wagging country reel (gone bad)

Soft-footed cats are nature’s iambics
And dogs are four-beat Anglo-Saxon lines

1Old English Anglo-Saxon (approx. fifth-twelfth century). Applies to four-stress hemistichal alliterative verse, e.g. Beowulf.

- Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Office of Quality Enhancement and Innovation - poem

Lawrence Hall

Office of Quality Enhancement and Innovation

The institution is committed to
ongoing, integrated, and insti
tution-wide research-based planning and e
valuation processes. To empha
size our continued commitment to this
process, institutional effective
ness is managed at the executive
level to foster a culture of con
tinuous improvement and is sustained
by the campus community. In sup
port of this integrative process, the
newly formed Office of Quality En
hancement and Innovation will work col
laboratively with administration,
faculty and staff to ensure the pro
cess continues.

The Office of Quality Enhancement
and Innovation (QEI) will focus
on enhancing and improving program
ming and services using innova
tion to foster quality and contin
uous improvement. QEI is lo
cated in the office suite with the Off
ice of Communications in A


In addition to special projects pre
scribed by the VP of Academic
Affairs, this office will continue to manage
Quality Enhancement projects and be
responsible for accreditation-
related tasks associated with
the QEP. Also, QEI will
continue to support your continuous
improvement efforts providing techni
cal support for Academic Effect.
This support includes technical issues
and training as needed. This office no longer
provides data entry assistance. Q
EI will also continue to assist
with survey requests and development
to assist with the evaluation
of services.

The institutional effectiveness
webpage is now listed as Quality
Enhancement and Innovation on the
Something-Something College website. Aca
demic Effect and other assessment
tools can still be found on this webpage. Fur
ther inquiries about institution
al effectiveness should be directed
to Dr. ) / ).

Thank you.

/ ) / ) /-) /, Ph.D.
Office of Quality Enhancement and Innovation
(xxx) xxx xxxx

Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way. Booker T. Washington

Empdocles in Etna - poem

Lawrence Hall

Empedocles in Etna

Empedocles – he taught
There’s nothing beyond death;
In trimeter he wrought
Until with his last breath
He fell into an alexandrine, all for naught

Matthew Arnold's Merope - poem

Lawrence Hall

Matthew Arnold’s Merope

If she had swung that axe, our Merope,
Her son Aepytus would be dead, you see
And that would have shortened the play, the plot –
But since he lives it still drones on – a lot!

Some Year's Day - poem

Lawrence Hall

Some Year’s Day

What century is it outside?

-Boris Pasternak

It’s a fair question: what century is this?
There was fog in the morning, this first day
Of the new year, and later overcast
There was nothing new in any of that

The fat grey squirrel raided the bird-seed at dawn
Which is why he is fat, and dampness dripped
From the roof eaves onto the long-dead leaves
There was nothing new in that, either

The first cup of coffee, the same old news -
It’s a fair question, it is: what century?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Parthian Thoughts from the InauGRRRRRation - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Parthian Thoughts from the InauGRRRRRation

Lawless day-riders, channeling the Ku Klux Klan in masks and hoods, vandalized and then burned a “stretch limo” (a really long car) during the inauguration. The car was neither marked nor guarded, which means that it was someone’s living, a look-at-me car hired out for weddings, high school proms, parties, and other occasions of innocent merriment. The mob not only destroyed someone’s car, perhaps not yet paid for, but also destroyed his or her job, thus demonstrating its collective contempt for honest workers.

Hasn’t Tom Brokaw become a grumpy old grump-grump! He used to be a real newsman, digging for the facts of a story. But that was before he became rich and cool and all about himself.

Those who wish President Trump ill surely savored the schadenfreude at his existential punishment Saturday morning in having to suffer the penance of almost two hours of being preached at by a catalogue of priests, imams, rabbis, gurus, wise ones, reverends, very reverends, and ministers in what some are pleased to call the national cathedral.

The former dean of the cathedral, the Reverend Gary Hall (probably a relation), was very clear that he would not have allowed President Trump in his church – or, rather, his private club. Members only, don’cha know, and no sinners welcome.

The current dean, The Very Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith, didn’t seem all that enthused himself, but let the sinner come inside. “Our willingness to pray and sing with everyone today does not mean we won’t join with others in protest tomorrow.” What a warm welcome from The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington! (

Early in the preaching service everyone stood up and sang “God Save the Queen,” only with the words changed. History is laden with ironies.

Life is in most things uncertain, but we can be reasonably sure that Mrs. Trump has never worn a “These ARE My Church Clothes” tee-shirt. President Trump might have that legend on his Sunday golfing cap.

When some microphone accessory asks a famous person “Who are you wearing?” the viewer longs to hear in response: “I’m wearing the embalmed hide of the last person to ask me that stupid question.”

Even better: “I’m wearing Wal-Mart, with accessories from Goodwill.”

On Saturday a sad woman styling herself Madonna broadcast to a crowd some menacing talk about “blowing up the White House.” As with Rush Limbaugh and his stash of illegal drugs, she won’t be sanctioned. You or I would be wearing not Ralph Lauren but jail ‘jammies the color of the president’s hair, accessorized with shiny handcuffs.

It’s the Russians’ fault.

Mr. President, now hear this: when in civilian clothes an American salutes by placing his hand over his heart. Perhaps you didn’t get the word because you were being treated for your disability heel-spur that day. And please don’t give yourself a medal.

The inauguration is over, and now Americans all over this great land, from sea to shining sea, on the mountains and prairies and fields and farms, in the factories and offices, in great mansions and humble homes, can return to their accustomed way of life - pushing, posing, posturing, planning, and plotting for the next presidential election.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Presidential Inauguration Edition - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Presidential Inauguration Edition

Consider this possibility: at the precise and somewhat tense moment of the transition of governments, one sturdy, crewcut fellow wearing a dark suit and dark glasses officially hands off the briefcase with the nuclear codes to a second sturdy, crewcut fellow wearing a dark suit and dark glasses. An unemployed Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey clown positioned immediately behind them then pops a balloon.

+ + +

In reading news and commentary (often a waste of time) one gathers that there are, with many exceptions, two hemispheres of reaction (so to speak) to our next president: slavish demi-worship or equally slavish loathing. The reality is that no president can do much of anything for you or to you. No president is going to pay your car note and no president is going to kick in your door and steal your valuable collection of U.S. National Park quarters.

(Bias alert – Y’r ‘umble scrivener voted, yes, but not for either of the loudest candidates.)

+ + +

How grand if the new president with his magic pen and telephone issued an order that Americans may hereafter freely buy bright lightbulbs and capacious toilet bowls without let or hindrance.

+ + +

Last week the world came to an end again. Weren’t you paying attention? The evening of the 12th was the Wolf Moon, and Venus was at its brightest in eight years. All this was the eve of Friday the 13th, and so the apocalypse, and, like, stuff, y’know? But maybe the Fates are deferring the Gotterdammerung until Friday at noon.

I blame the Russians. And George Bush. And public schools. And fluoride. And global warming. And Jade Helm operatives flying unmarked UN helicopters out of abandoned Wal-Mart stores. And the Green Bay Packers.

+ + +

A D.C. company named Don’s Johns has often supplied portable euphemisms for public events in the 51st-it’s-really-a-state-now. Some of the Trumpistas are taking offense on this occasion, and so the Don’s Johns logos will be covered with blue masking tape for the duration of the inauguration.

This may be related to “trump” as an English slang expression for an unfortunate noisy expulsion of flatus.

Happily, the company is not bilingual, so there are no Don’s Juans. That really would annoy someone: “Get ‘em outa here! Build that wall!”

+ + +

The inaugural parade will include military marching units, unless all the soldiers report to sick call with disabling heel spurs.

+ + +

No one wants to sing at the inauguration. Disapproval? Threats? Maybe someone needs to hire one of those middle-aged high school prom disc jockeys who never got over the BeeGees, and who has a fog machine and some Star Trek-y flashing lights.

+ + +

Gosh, what will President Obama do after Friday? Perhaps he could at last take a vacation.

+ + +

And, finally: if government functionaries, newsies, Hollywoodsies, and all the rest of us were to demonstrate as much class and character as Malia and Sasha Obama and Jenna and Barbara Bush, this nation would be a lot happier.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Where's Waldo's Pickup Truck? - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Where’s Waldo’s Pickup Truck?

Hey, kids! Forget that omnivorous dog – the excuse now is that the Russians hacked your homework.

+ + +

A current topic of discussion is the nature of pickup trucks as a culture / class marker. Those living in rural areas would be hard put to name a family that doesn’t own a pickup; those living in urban areas might be hard put to name a family that does, but disapprove of them anyway.

Country dwellers use pickups to haul fence posts, feed, seed, fertilizer, tools, critters, and crops because if they didn’t their city cousins wouldn’t have anything to eat or anyone to laugh at.

+ + +

Confusion 2017: is the C.I.A. good? Or is it bad? The sort of people who used to say it is bad now say it is good. The sort of people who used to say it is good now say it is bad.

+ + +

Rumor has it that Donald Trump has assigned the C.I.A. to find Carmen Sandiego as proof of their undying loyalty.

+ + +

Our outgoing president, who never made the first day of recruit training, has awarded himself The Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. His obedientiary, Ash Carter, pinned it on him before other real soldiers at Joint Base Myers-Henderson. Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense (euphemism for Secretary for War), also is not a veteran but earlier copped himself a couple of military medals for sitting behind a desk and doing thinky-stuff.

Now that our president is a military veteran, he will be ignored by the DVA. If you like being ignored by the DVA you can keep being ignored by the DVA.

Will our incoming president, also not a veteran, award himself some military medals too? Yuge ones?

+ + +

A body impressively styling itself The Council on Foreign Relations ( reports that under President Obama (Nobel Peace Prize laureate), our ironically-named Department of Defense, and our Merovingian Congress the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven other countries in 2016. We have no way of verifying the numbers, nor does the article specify what the COFR might mean by a bomb.

That all worked out so well in Viet-Nam, but, hey, why study history?

+ + +

When Donald Trump asks “Where’s Waldo?” his staff reminds him that Waldo isn’t real.

When Chuck Norris asks “Where’s Waldo?” Waldo shows up immediately.


Friday, January 6, 2017

"Until the First Star" - Orthodox Christmas Eve

Lawrence Hall

“Until the First Star” – Orthodox Christmas Eve

The first star won’t be seen this night. The clouds
Obscure this fallen world, and seem to hide
The pilgrim paths to Bethlehem from all
Who seek their Saviour in the colding night

But yet the first star will be seen in truth,
In all the faces around the happy table
Gathered from field and forest, east and west,
Breaking the Advent fast with Christmas joy

And with the liturgies Our Lord is born
Beneath the star that will forever shine

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wouldn't You Like to Die in My Beautiful Balloon? - column

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Wouldn’t You Like to Die in my Beautiful Balloon?

Last month, on 19 December, the real presidential election was held, and given the choices from a catalogue of less-than-ideal candidates the electors chose, well, a less-than-ideal candidate.

The Constitution, which is more discussed than studied, does not provide for direct election of the President. The legislature of each state appoints electors in proportion to the population, and these electors choose the President. The states are not obligated to give the population a voice in this matter except indirectly in the election of representatives and senators. As it is, they do, and when voting for President the citizen is in fact voting for an elector who says he (the pronoun is gender-neutral) will vote for president according to the popular vote, but in most states, including Texas, he is not obligated to do so.

This is inefficient. It is meant to be so. A tyranny is efficient. A Republic is inefficient, built with laws and other encumbrances so that all the people have a voice, not solely the population centers of the New York-California Axis.

The nation survived James Buchanan; it will survive the coming administration.

+ + +

According to Bloomberg and other sources, licensed Texas balloon pilot Alfred “Skip” Nichols was on thirteen different medications, including seven FAA-banned drugs, when he crashed his commercial balloon and killed himself and fifteen passengers last July. Mr. Nichols also had five DWI arrests, three drug-related arrests, and two prison terms for drug and alcohol convictions.

Apparently an FAA balloon pilot’s license ( is easier to maintain than a Texas cosmetology license (, and, generally speaking, your barber or beautician is unable to subject you to a screaming, falling, burning death.

+ + +

Hipsterism. It’s over. Burn the stupid hats.

+ + +

All I know about Russia comes from reading The Brothers Karamazov, so I don’t know what the lads in Moscow and Saint Petersburg are up to in the 21st century. Several years ago I read that Vlad, who sometimes takes off his shirt and wrestles with tigers, had all the computers in the Moscow kremlin removed and replaced with manual typewriters and trustworthy messengers for internal communications. I think he was on to something. The typewriters, I mean, not taking off his shirt and frightening American presidents with his rippling muscles.

+ + +

In Australia, a young man named Luke Moore learned that his bank had inadvertently given him a two million dollar overdraft protection on his checking account.

Oh, yeah.

Yes, he’s going to prison for four years because overdraft protection means you have to say you’re sorry and give it back.

Mr. Moore, a law student, spent the last two years, and two million dollars of overdraft, on sports cars, speed boats, and strippers, according to The Sun.

As W. C. Fields might have said, it’s good to know he didn’t waste the money.

Still, four years in prison.

If the law school in Australia doesn’t save his seat, perhaps he can migrate to the USA and become a licensed balloon pilot.


The McDonald's Around the Corner from the Vatican - poem

What Would Chaucer’s Pardoner Say?

Someone has opened a McDonald’s there
Around the corner from Saint Peter’s Square

And this has distressed a cardinal or three -
Yankee capitalism, don’t you see

But Big Mac pays thirty thousand in rent
Each month to the Vatican (Heaven-sent?)

Which owns the building, a profitable touch
Thus paying the water and light bills and such

So bring on the sodas, ‘burgers, and fries
Through golden arches under Roman skies!

Lawrence Hall