Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stroked While Trying to Escape

Mack Hall, HSG

Stroked While Trying to Escape

(Hosni Mubarak)

The new dictator dictates that the old
Must suffer a stroke while trying to escape;            
Hosni ruled heavily, cruelly, and cold;
It’s his relatives now who wear black crepe

Rain in the Night

Mack Hall, HSG

Rain in the Night

The rain has washed away the chance to mow
And so
The little frogs are safe from spinning blades
The shades
Of caterpillars will not be dispatched
Or thatched
The misty morning’s soft midsummer air
Is fair
In repose peaceful as the rabbits munch
Their lunch

Tax Appraisal

Mack Hall, HSG

Tax Appraisal

Most happily the county and the state
Have no ability to count or rate
Our memories singing across the land:
Roaming with Robin and his Merry Band,
Getting the cows up at the end of day
The distant rumble of the Santa Fe
The ancient forest just beyond the fence
The stings of bees that made one yelp and wince
Kissing a girl beneath the old oak trees
(O what a flirt she was, a scamp, a tease!) -


Governments can’t tax our memories or dreams,
So we are free to fish in Lethe’s sweet streams

An Old, Old Colossus

Mack Hall, HSG

An Old, Old Colossus

News item: corpses of stowaways found in a container ship

Foul darkness, stench, and silence thus entomb
Dead made-in-China hopes inside a box,
Lost souls upon, within, a breathless sea
Among the video games and Christmas toys,
The sneakers that one cannot live without
And fashions fresh from blooded tiny hands
In squalid concrete blocks of suicide.
True bills of lading note the paperwork,
Promissory notes of neatly typed doom,
Free on board, but payable upon our deaths:
The tired, the poor, the huddled corpses wait,
Decaying in an airless metal box,
Afloat upon a golden harbor where
A grim, badged functionary, uniformed
In body-armor and tactical gear,
There lifts his lamp inside the blackened door,
And mourns.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Moments Before the Wedding: "Awwww, Mommmm...!"

Whose Bible? Whose Army?

Mack Hall

Whose Bible?  Whose Army?

ABP (Associated Baptist Press) News reports that the Pentagon will no longer license Lifeway Christian Resources (associated with the Southern Baptist Convention) to emboss official military emblems on a line of its Bibles.

The casual reader will be surprised that the Joint Chiefs of Staff license any product, as if they were a sports franchise negotiating with Chinese factory bosses for tee-shirts, water bottles, and underwear with advertising printed on them.

The second problem is that the Pentagon is a 70-year-old building in Washington.  It doesn’t license, say, or do anything; it is a building with a roof and walls and offices and restrooms and cafeterias and windows.  Buildings are remarkably deficient in intellect, will, or voice, except in late-night horror movies about lust-crazed elevators.  Attributing a statement to the Pentagon is as careless as attributing one to the Vatican.  The Vatican is a small city-state, and can’t say anything.  One might as well attempt to attempt to give a voice to Luxembourg or Liechtenstein. 

An accurate attribution is to report that a properly constituted authority figure by name within the Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the Vatican, or the Pentagon has made a moral, ethical, legal, or business decision.

Any variation on “The Pentagon says…” is sloppy reporting, for it does not say what individual or named committee under the authority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff enjoys the power to license tchotchkes.

And for me, there’s nothing that echoes the sacrificial spirit of Sergeant York, Audie Murphy, and Dorie Miller like a committee of commissioned officers in air-conditioned suites cutting deals for Chinese coffee mugs with the Navy seal on them.

So who put the “Eeeeeeeeeeeek!” into the unnamed licensing committee at the Pentagon?

Mikey – yes, a grown man who goes by “Mikey” - Weinstein is the recipient of a first-rate education first at the Air Force Academy and then at law school, all funded by the taxpayer.  He has demonstrated his gratefulness by suing lots of folks because apparently, in one of those late-night bull sessions that are an essential part of barracks life, a sort of Hyde Park Corner safety valve granted by the wiser sort of NCO, he once heard religious opinions with which he did not agree.

The horror, the horror.

In such matters one should, of fairness, not only read about an individual, but should read what he says:   Note the statement under the banner of the web site:

When one proudly dons a U.S. Military uniform, there is only one religious symbol: the American flag.  There is only one religious scripture: the American Constitution.  Finally, there is only one religious faith: American patriotism. 

– Mikey Weinstein

Mikey’s proposed incarnation of the State as a religion, and as the sole religion, is a novelty of tyranny quite in opposition to the Constitution Mikey purports to defend.

There may or may not be ethical and legal arguments for a military symbol embossed on the cover of a Bible, missal, siddur, or other prayer book.  However, to imagine an soldier in the heat, filth, dust, and danger of Whose-Brilliant-Idea-Was-This-istan being offended because the fellow next to him owns a copy of a Bible with an Army symbol on its cover is, to the generous-minded, unthinkable.

If Mikey, a keyboard commando who apparently has not been in combat himself, wants to own and read in his comfy office a copy of a Bible without anything embossed in the cover, under the Constitution he is free to do so.  And if an E-2 in 120-degree heat can take a few minutes to read from a Bible whose cover is different from Mikey’s, he not only has the same Constitutional right to do so, he has earned and defended that right in ways Mikey fails to understand.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

The President and the Deadly Dinner Forks

Mack Hall, HSG

The President and the Deadly Dinner Forks

Last week the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials met at Florida’s Disney World (the National Association of Canadian Elected and Appointed Officials perhaps had to settle for Dollywood).

The President spoke at a dinner for the group, but before he could safely do so, Raquel Regalado, an official of the NALEO, required the Elected and Appointed Officials to give up their forks – they were never trusted with knives from the beginning -- because of the danger of such instruments to the Leader of the Free World.

There is no word whether the Elected and Appointed Officials were later strip-searched for unauthorized teaspoons.

Ms. (no doubt) Regalado said to the Elected and Appointed Officials: “As you know, we’re having another speaker and there is some Secret Service involved. So there’s a reason why there’s (sic) no knives at your table and the forks will be collected…“So, like the good Hispanic mother I’m here to tell you to please, eat your lunch.”

With that, Ms. Regalado and the Secret Service promoted layers of stereotypes: according to them, folks who have some Spanish ancestors are not to be trusted with the safety of the President or even with ordinary dining-room tableware.

Given reported recent behaviors, shouldn’t the Secret Service have been disforked instead?  Has NALEO busted heads in bar-fights in Martha’s Vineyard?  Did a NALEO official refuse to pay a, um, fun date in Colombia? 

And imagine the President speaking at a Knights of Columbus dinner.  Grand Knight Feeney comes out and says “Sure, faith ‘n’ begorrah, and because yer Irish we can’t be trustin’ ye, sure, so we’ll be givin’ ye mashed potatoes and ye’ll eat ‘em with ye bare hands, sure, so ye won’t be hurtin’ our darlin’ president.”

Or at the Churchill Club: “Eh, wot, chaps, righty-o, then, just sit quietly while the staff remove all sharp objects.  We who had an English ancestor centuries ago are marvelously malevolent, and the Secret Service fear we might fling cutlery, crumpets, and Shakespearean bon mots at the august personage of our elected President, rather, don’cha’know.” 

No, the President and the Secret Service doesn’t require that forks be confiscated from other loyal Americans, so why was a Latino organization singled out?

Ms. Regalado referred to herself as a “good Hispanic mother.”  Would a good mother of any cultural heritage permit a guest to bring his bully-boys to dinner and humiliate her children?

This incident, reported by The New York Times and others, is disturbing in its narrative of the fear, distrust, and hubris of the Secret Service, if not the President.  But even more disturbing is the passive acceptance of such arrogance: Ms. Regalado, a leader of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, instead of refusing the slight, submitted to it and required the audience to surrender their dinner forks.  And if even one courageous member of NALEO refused to be patronized by such goon-squad behavior, and quietly left the room with human dignity intact, there is no record of it.

The Huffington Post reports that the audience applauded and cheered for the President – the President who fears and distrusts them.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Who Defines You?

Mack Hall, HSG

Who Defines You?

The 20th Century may not be remembered as much for the invention of radio, television, flight, and broad-spectrum antibiotics as it will for the matter of so many governments putting so many people behind barbed wire.

In 1942 Dr. Viktor Frankl, a middle-aged Austrian psychiatrist considered unworthy of life in the new world order, was one of the millions sent to Nazi camps, and in 1945 was one of the several thousand who survived.  His intellectual discipline as a physician remained with him through the horror, making him a rational observer in an irrational milieu.

In 1946 Dr. Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, a two-part book reflecting on his experiences in the prison camps and analyzing those experiences for meaning that extends to all of life.  His conclusion – and this is an oversimplification - is that all of life has meaning, especially suffering, even when we do not know what the meaning is.

Dr. Frankl does not lapse into that tired 19th-century Darwinianism about the survival of the fittest: he states categorically that the best died because they helped others, often with their own inadequate bits of food:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Just as strongly, Dr. Frankl repudiates determinism: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Dr. Frankl is a bit rough on himself for making it through, perhaps because of survivors’ guilt, but he never indulges in self-pity and never focuses on himself.  Indeed, his concept of therapy is openly against that of Freudianism and its ideas of endless introspection and self-pity.  For Dr. Frankl, emotional healing lies in the individual searching for meaning for his own life but simultaneously outside his life:

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system…being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself--by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love--the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.

One of the cliches’ of our time is “defined a generation,” a weak passivity that should be rejected, certainly in the context of such drivel as “The music of X defined a generation” or “The movies of Y defined a generation.”  No, they didn’t.  Collective definitions are always flawed, and in any event a strong individual defines himself and refuses to be a lemming.  Dr. Frankl was no lemming sobbing into a MySpace account:

We have come to know Man as he really is.  After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

Some collateral reading:

Bernard, Jean.  Priestblock 25487.

Frank, Anne, Diary of a Young Girl.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki, and James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar.   One wonders how much of this book is by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who was behind the wire, and how much is by James D. Houston, who was not.  Is Mr. Houston a not-so-grey eminence? 


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Graduation Portrait

Mack Hall, HSG

Graduation Portrait

Dyscostumed as a polyester monk
The graduate poses on the railway,
Then leans and pouts against an old brick wall,
And then again at the city limits sign,
Or walking barefoot on a dusty road,
And there must be a guitar there, somewhere,
And his pickup truck and the neighbor’s horse,
His letter jacket with a scripture verse,
And maybe a book that he’s never read:
Electronic images in a camera
Made in China, revealing nothing
But a tabula pretty darned rasa,
Unique, because his mother told him so,
Unique in his made-in-Shanghai jeans,
A child of God, according to the minister
Of the Adjective Fellowship of Hope
Where once he was Joseph in the Christmas play;
A target audience for Anheuser-Busch,
A tapping texter sexter flipping off
The world in a file he thinks is secret.

But in one frame he’s shyly caught in thought,
And in that accidental snap one sees
The merest hint of something that might be
Someday a man, a man who’ll stand and dare
To disobey the order of the day,
And then, wilder and bolder yet, obey
The Catena Aurea of eternity.

The Starbuck's on Mount Everest

Mack Hall, HSG

The Starbuck’s on Mount Everest

The Truth is Out There (whispered in all caps)
Hidden in a tax-sheltered bucket list
Guarded by albino republicans
On the nepallingly deadly ice
Of the something-est mountain in the world.
Where the Sherpas are like, so cool and stuff,
So at one with their, like, inner thing-ness,
Spiritual advisors to lemmings lined up
Like padded, rainbow-colored walruses
In baseball caps, lining up patiently,
Lining up in the cold for group lattes
Lining up in the cold to twit their deaths
Civilization lining up to die
A litter of bodies frozen ice-green
Above, beyond the death-hot Syrian plains.
After making, perhaps, pallid obeisance
To a little god-king playing at cards,
His picture-card death-lists for Nobel peace.

Poor Blind Milton

Mack Hall, HSG

Poor Blind Milton

Will those who risk the bleak and arid heights
Of grim Paradise Lost require a guide,
A Sherpa of iambics for the trail?
The high blue ice of true discovery
Is littered with the tinkling toys of time:
Manifestos and men of destiny,
Loud ideologies like frail free verse
Evolving night by night, bringing, each dawn,
This morning’s firm eternal verities
Hammered in smoke upon the hissing wind,
For man’s first fall was to believe himself
To be Himself, th’eternal Self-ness,
An Orpheus before whom nothing was,
Or yet a better Vainamoinen
Here now to sing the broken world aright
With his latest electronic Sampo
Recording styled Myself Agonistes.

Their bodies litter for a time the earth
Beneath the leaf-fall orchards of the Now.

But Milton, poor blind Milton, sang the Truth
In soul-seared pain, in self-awareness bleak,
Since Milton, too, composed a song of death,
First-person singular in Satan’s voice;
He knew of Hell: for he betrayed his King.

Telephony Candidates

Mack Hall, HSG

Telephony Candidates

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

-      Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Silver Blaze”

That curious silence on Wednesday morning of last week was your telephone not ringing, not ringing at last, after weeks of auditory assault on your work, your leisure, and your home.

Mr. Alexander Graham Bell probably did not anticipate the ubiquity of the ‘phone or its susceptibility to misuse by governments.  For the past few weeks our ‘phones have been occupied by folks who proclaim their desire to be politicians by decrying politicians.  Governor Palin and Governor Perry wanted to be my automated best friends forever, and all sorts of strange people interrupted my day to tell me their opponents are bad people.

Here’s the problem – candidates use my telephone in order to bother me.  They are not paying for my telephone; I am.  Private-sector vendors are now forbidden to bother people with unwanted telephone calls, but clearly Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution does not apply to political candidates who propose to protect and defend Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, and that’s some serious irony indeed.

If someone other than a political candidate telephones you repeatedly, you have a legal case regarding stalking.  Political candidates get a free pass, a free telephone pass, and you have to pay for it and you have to put up with it.

Even the most casual observer would deduce (elementary, Watson, elementary) that unwanted telephone calls invariably result in negative feelings.  A candidate or his minions who bother folks by telephoning them have given the annoyed citizen one good reason for NOT voting for said candidate. 

Public Utilities Commission of Texas probably can’t do anything about political ice-calls, but you could write them a brief email letter (block format, six parts, just as you were taught in school) POLITELY telling them how you feel about receiving repeated unwanted telephone calls (my personal best is nine in one day) from political candidates:

Public Utilities Commission of Texas
1701 N. Congress Avenue
P. O. Box 13326
Austin, Texas 78711-3326

No, no, don’t call the fat boys on a.m. radio; email the P.U.C.

But my feelings are really hurt – Governor Palin ignores me now.  She just wanted me for my vote.  Sniff.

Graduation 2012

Mack Hall, HSG

It’s on the ‘Net; It Must be True

Alexander Graham Bell, a Canadian who was born in Scotland, invented the telephone so that young Americans could use the thing to talk, text, tweet, and twit to each other during high school graduation and thus ignore high school graduation.  Since Mr. Bell never finished school, we may appreciate the layers of irony.

In May of every year, like buzzards returning to wherever it is buzzards return to, tiresome screeds about the ignorance of graduates arrive to roost in one’s in-box. 

One of the most popular is wrongly attributed to Bill Gates, another successful fellow who did not finish school and who does not write silly stuff, and is usually titled “Rules They Didn’t Teach You in School” or some such, and is forwarded by the sort of people who never vote in their local school board elections because they’re too busy complaining.

The idea of hopeless naivete is not true of most high school students, and it’s certainly not true of college students.  Very few graduates ever finish a degree on the mummy-and-daddy nickel, and for those who do, well, good for their mums and dads.

The reality is that most college students work their way through school, usually in minimum-wage jobs and at odd hours.  A student who works the night shift flipping burgers can only wonder about why he is falsely stereotyped as someone who thinks he’s too good to flip burgers.

My daughter spent some college time shoveling (Newark, New Jersey) in a stable.  Hamburgers would have been better.

Any college classroom will feature, yes, a few princesses of both sexes, but they are far outnumbered by folks who know their way around the loading dock, Afghanistan, and hospital wards at 0-Dark-Thirty, and who can wield with great skill an M4, a broom, and a bedpan.

One of my fish English students was a former sergeant who left the Army after sixteen years.  When I asked him why he didn’t finish his twenty he said that after three combat tours in the desert he figured he had pushed his luck enough.

He and his mates studied English literature in a college hydraulics lab because of a shortage of classroom space.  No ivy grew on the equipment.

Two of my students were in their mid-thirties, had been pals from childhood, owned a roofing company, and were nursing students.  In their late thirties, they said they were getting a little old for climbing up on roofs all the year ‘round and were going to sell the company and work in the shade for a while.  I asked them why they didn’t keep the company and spend well-earned time out of the sun by delegating more authority to their employees.  They said that their names were on each roof (metaphorically), and that they would never sign off on a job if they didn’t have first-hand knowledge of each square inch of that roof.

Oh, yeah, some dumb college kids, huh?

Age and experience are good, but they are only predictors: there are adult students who become angry when they are required to show up on time (which, presumably, was required of them on the job) and actually do some work (ditto).  In the same class there can be 18-year-olds demonstrating a far better work ethic (not the one texting behind her Volkswagen-size purse, second seat, second table on the right) than their elders.

In the end, success is almost always the result of an individual’s choice to show up for work, whether on the factory floor or in the classroom, and hit a lick at it.

That is, after the individual takes the tin cricket out of his ear.  In school we were taught that in ye olden days of yore crazy people who stumbled around mumbling to themselves were kept safely away from others by being chained to a wall somewhere.  We thought that was a bad punishment.  Silly us.

One of life’s lessons – it needn’t come from the classroom – is that stereotyping is wrong.  Just because something’s on the ‘net doesn’t mean it’s true.  Those giddy folks waving their diplomae (“diplomae,” he wrote, for he had been to night school) around and yelling almost surely worked very hard for the moment, both in and out of the classrooms and laboratories.

+Ray Bradbury

Some years ago I attended a computer convention at which Ray Bradbury spoke, and I wish I had a transcript of his speech -- he was so logical, so reasonable, so balanced in his discussion of civilization and technology.

Afterward we were told that Mr. B would be happy to sign copies of his books, but not other bits of paper -- the man was not naive about marketing! I had with me my boyhood copy of Fahrenheit 401 and wanted him to sign that. I don't think he was happy about signing a thirty-year-old paperback but he did, and an acquaintance took our picture. The expression on his face very clearly expresses his thought: "Who is this strange man and why couldn't the cheapskate have bothered to buy a new copy of my book in the lobby?"