Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Last Modem Standing

Mack Hall

Until a recent rainy evening I was the last guy in the USA using a dial-up modem for connecting to the ‘net. As the sky darkened and the wind blew and the rain began to fall I thought that I should probably go and disconnect the… (FLASH! POW!) …modem.

Cue the fading and erratic static.

The next day I went in search of another modem, and considered that the all modems I had lost to lightning would put a hurt on even the manliest of landfills. Indeed, whenever I have bought a computer in the past I also bought an external modem, knowing that a ‘puter’s built-in modem always goes poof within a week, dying perhaps of shame.

A visit to Giganto-Mart was without success; the misnamed help weren’t much interested and appeared not to know what a modem was anyway. Lots of routers, but I’m not sure I need anything routed just now; if I do, I’ve got a Garmin.

MegaXtreemOffice in Beaumont had no modems; as the young man explained, dial-up modems (or is that modi?) are now as antique as 33 1/3 records and the Edsel, and referred me to my very own cellular service at a kiosk in Happy Meadows Mall.

And there, after lengthy negotiations with a nice fellow named Basil or Sidney or something like that, though the touch of Hindi in his accent suggests that’s not what’s on his birth certificate, I am now wirelessly wired to the outside world.

Okay, my daughter had to help. She didn’t make too much fun of me.

Spending a disconnected evening with a book, the newspaper crossword (Children, your grandparents will explain to you what a newspaper is…), and (gasp) television was okay, but I am happy to resume my usual geek/nerd/anti-social/loser habits. Hey, want to know the temperature in Bombay / Mumbai today?

Neville said that wireless would load really, really, really fast up here in the woods. He was wrong. Only kinda fast. But much better than dial-up.

The best thing of all is that now I can compute anywhere in the house, and will say ‘bye-‘bye to that rather expensive telephone land-line and to the AOL account.

And now I can download videos of Fox News’ Glenn Beck screaming at people who don’t line up in straight rows. Do you get the idea that Glenn Beck was nicer when he was drinking? Glenn Beck – a French expression meaning "change the station."

My fear is that now I will become one of those tiresome people who travels with a computer. I’ll bet Glenn Beck travels with a computer.

The Last Modem standing is now a base for my beautiful old Argus C3 (the famous "Brick") 35mm film camera on display on a bookshelf, still usable some forty years after it was built, a work of art in metal and glass. Don’t you wish computers and their accessories would last that long!

What Did You Do in the War, Mummy?

Mack Hall

Last week Harry Patch, the last British veteran of the Western Front, died at 111. Even at his age he was lucky not to have been conscripted for the current Afghan campaign.

In 2006 a 75-year-old retired American Army surgeon, Colonel William Bernhard, was reactivated – drafted – and sent to Afghanistan. Once upon a time it was the elderly who sent the young to die in far-away wars; now the young are sending the elderly instead. For the elderly, of course, this means they get to go to two or three wars in their lifetimes while the youthful presidents and prime ministers who send them avoid unpleasantness altogether.

Of all the world’s leaders, possibly two have served in uniform. The Pope was drafted into the Wehrmacht when he was sixteen, and the Queen volunteered as an ATS driver when she was the same age. She got her hands dirty and had to take cover in air raids, joining, as Bill Mauldin said, the club of them what has been shot at.

Some delicate souls in our time claim PTSD from having a bad day at the office.

Unfortunately, politicians with clean hands (if not hearts) still want to send other folks and other folks’ children to the wars. Well, I’ve got a solution for that: the next time anyone wants to have a war, the politicians and their kids, young and old, go first. Using Dr. Bernhard, the Pope, and Queen Elizabeth as precedents, the top age will be 75 and the bottom age will be 16.
"But…but…I’m in a wheelchair!" protests white-haired Senator Gloriosous.

"Not a problem, Private Gloriosous," replies Sergeant Rock, "We built ya a ramp to the turret of this here armored car. Yer a machine-gunner now. The war -- sorry, I meant nation-building -- you voted for is right down the street. Get with it."

"Oooooooooooooh! I want to be an officer in a pretty uniform and go to officers’ clubs and dances," coos Congressman Warprofit’s daughter Heather-Misty-Shannon-La’Shan’qua-Dawn.
"Wrong, Private Warprofit," replies Corporal Hardbutt. "You’ve got street patrol in two hours. Right now you’ve got KP. Your pa can help you. Wash all these mess trays."

"But…but…I’m a college graduate! I have an Honors BA in Community Activism with a minor in Serbo-Hungarian Literature!"

"Oh, sorry, Private Warprofit. I didn’t know. Here, I’ll show you and your pa how to wash dishes…"

"I don’t want to go to a beastly war!" pleads Poncy Tworbt, president of the Sidwell Friends School Chess Club. "I don’t wanna! I’m, like, y’know, an intellectual, and, like, stuff! I’m an artist! And a guitarist! I’m forming a band! I’m sensitive. I’m only 16! I just got my first Mercedes-Benz for my birthday! I’m special! Mummy tells me I’m special!"

"Yeah, Seaman Tworbt?" replies CPO Brasso, a career Navy man with his right forefinger locked in a perpetual curve from carrying a coffee cup for 30 years. "Well, yer mummy’s a Congressman, so yer goin’. Ya play chess, ya say? Great, here’s your swab and bucket. Get this boat deck squared away; we got night patrol up a little river they say used to flow from Eden. Sure hot now, in lots of ways. You might live through it. Now get busy."

The President goes too; the commander-in-chief can command from behind some sandbags in 115-degree heat. You think it’s a good war, boss? How good?

In the meantime, each investor in companies with military contracts will receive a private’s pay for the duration of the war.

But what about the ordinary citizens, the folks who have no power to declare a war? Oh, they can go to the wars if they want to: the kid at the feed store, the guy climbing the cracking unit, the lineman, the nurse, the storekeeper, the doctor. Sure, if they want to go. But they don’t have to.

Next time we have a war, the uberklasse can lead us from the front.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lobsters on a Plane

Mack Hall

So why do the lobsters get to ride for free?

You find your seat with your small carry-on, sit as assigned as part of the herd, and then observe that while United Air Lines has required you to pay $20 to check your suitcase, other passengers are entering the cabin with bags larger than the one you checked, multiple bags, and even large cardboard boxes containing lobsters. Live lobsters. Critters. All for free.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia a shop in the airport sells live lobsters to the sort of people who wear God Bless the USA baseball caps made in China: “Look what I brought ya from Canada, honey – a live lobster!”

Oh, yeah, a clicking, clacking crustacean. Just what everyone wants as a souvenir.

Not only does United Air Lines interpret their own baggage rules loosely, so does the United States government. Everyone entering the country must complete and sign a form stating that he is not bringing in any agricultural products or varmints. So what’s with ignoring the lobsters?

Did the lobsters have to sign a document stating that they were not bringing any parts of humans into the USA?

Is there a possibility of Mad Lobster Disease?

Are the lobsters patted and wanded? Do they have to take off their little claws while scuttling through the metal detector?

And speaking of claws, if I can’t bring my little Swiss Army knife on board, why aren’t the lobsters disarmed too? Could this be part of a plot? Is Dr. Doom lulling us to sleep with real lobsters and waiting to take over a United States aircraft with evil robot lobsters sold through a secret agent pretending to be an ‘umble dealer in live food at the Halifax airport?

The poor cabin attendants on airplanes have to deal with all the humans, excess luggage, and lobsters, trying to close the cheap plastic hatches on too many bulging bags and boxes. During the flight folks get up and open the hatches to let their excess junk drop on other folks below them.

AT DFW the lobsters got off all right, but United Air Lines whimsically offloaded the checked luggage at diverse places. When I and my party finally found ours, no one was watching it and no one asked for our claim checks. Anyone could have walked out of the airport with my dirty shirts and my loose loonies and toonies.

Shame on you, American Air Lines. Your baggage-handling practices stink as badly as those lobsters. I want my money back.

What really happens to the lobsters who were carried out past the baggage carousels with no delay? Do happy spouses or significant others clap their hands in glee and exclaim “Oh, wait until I show this exoskeletonal varmint to the neighbors!”?

Are the children sent to take their new little friend Sparky to the back yard to play?

“But Daddy, I wanted a Sergeant Preston of the Yukon action figure with a machine gun and a rocket launcher!”

“Sorry, son; Canada ran out of Mounties, but I brought you this swell lobster!”

Does the United States Department of Agriculture send a S.W.A.T. team based on a neighbor’s anonymous ‘phone call about unregistered foreign livestock?

I heard a rumor that next year halifax is going to upstage Pamplona with an annual running of the lobsters down Water Street, past Tim Horton’s, and down to Murphy’s Wharf, eh. Any fatalities will be carried out to sea on Theodore Tugboat and dumped into the water at George Lighthouse with full military honors.

Either that or stuffed into the overhead bins on United Air Lines