Monday, January 28, 2013

From 2012: Super-Servile Sunday

Lawrence Mack Hall
From The Road to Magdalena
Available from as
a Kindle and as fragments of
dead tree

Super-Servile Sunday

O sink not down to that corrosive couch,
Docile before the Orwellian screen
That regulates the lives of the servile,
Dictating dress and drink, demeanor, dreams;
Declare your independence from the sludge
Of vague obedientiaries who drowse
Away their empty lives in submission
To harsh, diagonal inches of rule,
Poor weaklings chanting tainted tribal songs
In chorus hamsterable, huddled, heaped,
While costumed in their masters’ liveries,
And feeling little while thinking even less,
The very model of the State’s non-men,
Predictable and dull, submissive ghosts
Crowded, herded in cosmic cattle chutes,
Reflected in dim, noisy nothingness.

But you, O you, be not of them, but be
A wanderer in the moonlight, one known
To God and to His holy solitude.


1.21.13, Sergeant Rock Talks to the Trees

Mack Hall

Sergeant Rock Talks to the Trees

Fifty shades of electronic dyes have been splashed on the screens of millions of little plastic boxes regarding young people’s sense of entitlement.  The stereotype promoted is that young people in our time suffer unrealistic expectations of privilege and immunity from the consequences of their own actions.

Thank goodness we have such positive, grown-up role models as 41-year-old Lance Armstrong, 61-year-old General David Petraeus , and 72-year-old Senator Barbara “Don’t call me ma’am” Boxer to help America mold the youth of tomorrow into selfless adults focused on the greater good of the Republic.

Stereotyping is wrong; it considers an isolated action or attribute in an individual and falsely applies it to a group sharing other attributes of the individual which are not connected psychologically, ethically, or morally to the first attribute.  If, say, an 80-year-old woman microwaves cats for amusement, it does not thus follow that microwaving cats is an attribute common to all 80-year-old women.  Joseph Stalin smoked a pipe, but few pipe-smokers are atheist genocidal maniacs.  The late Kim Jong-Il of North Korea wore pantsuits, but that doesn’t mean that people who wear pantsuits are fond of herding people into slave-labor camps.

Stereotyping is the assembly of false analogies, and is as illogical as it is unethical. 

And, certainly, bashing the young is no new thing:  C. S. Lewis criticized the post-war fashion in excessive praise of children in “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.”  But then he got married and helped raise stepsons, and apparently decided that young’uns weren’t so bad after all.

One cannot deny that many 15- to 20-year-olds are narcissistic; that is a function of childhood which the maturing person sloughs off through self-discipline.  To fault a 15-year-old for being narcissistic is to fault a 15-year-old for being, well, 15 years old.  Generally, they get over it, but sometimes they fail, and then they become environmentalists.

Although we help young people grow out of self-obsession, the Marines are now to be taught to be narcissistic (and when one writes “narcissistic,” one thanks whatever gods Henley thought of for spell-check, eh!), according to the Associated Press.

In Camp Pendleton’s sunny clime where I used to spend my time (sorry, Rudyard), Marines will now be taught “meditative practices, yoga-type stretching and exercises based on mindfulness.”

In 2011 a Naval Health Research Center scientist (whoever that august personage might be) conducted one of the first experiments – more are to follow -- on Marines in which, after a practice assault on a practice Afghan village with lots of practice shooting and practice screaming and yelling, the Marines (whose new battle cry is “Over the Top, Devil Lab Rats!”) were then required to take some me-time to practice their Buddhist-inspired meditation techniques and get in touch with their feelings.

One of the let’s-all-go-to-our-happy-place practices prescribed for the Marines, according to the AP, was “to sit in silence and stare at their combat boots, becoming aware of how their feet touched the classroom floor.”

One does not imagine that the giddy Mujahadeen in Afghanistan will indulge Marines in breaking off a fight to take a therapeutic pause to contemplate how their combat boots touch the blood-sodden ground:

“Private Smith, have you checked that weapon?  We can expect a counterattack.”

“No, Gunny-Guru; I’ve been marveling at my new one-ness with the universe in meditating upon the circle of life and being-ness in my bootlaces.  I feel so at peace.”

Young Marines assaulting a strongpoint will soon, under the tutelage of Navy scientists, fling flowers and the collected works of Alan Watts at the enemy.

In sum, we needn’t worry about ordinary young people working painfully through adolescence; they’re doing better than many of the adults.


1.27.13, Music to Freeze to Death By

Mack Hall

Music to Freeze to Death By

The re-packaging of all the Titanica continues, demonstrating that nothing succeeds in show business like the deaths of hundreds of people and the recycling of the old Cowboy and the Lady theme: working-class lad corrects the ‘tude of the haughty rich girl, who falls in love with him and cooks, cleans, and has lots of babies happily ever after.  This was amusing with Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon, but quickly deteriorated into Nazi / Communist leveling ideology in the 1942 Titanic and in every subsequent Titanic film.

Last year Sony published a CD of music from the Original Motion Picture (yes, in caps, as if there could be an unoriginal motion picture), and, more interestingly, some of the popular songs that were part of the White Star songbook: “Valse Septembre,” “Marguerite Waltz,” Wedding Dance,” Poet and Peasant,” “Blue Danube,” “Song Without Words,” “Estudiantina,” “Vision of Salome,” “Titsy Bitsy Girl,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,”  “Sphinx,” “Barcarole,” “Orpheus,” “Song of Autumn,” and “Nearer My God to Thee.”

James Horner’s soundtrack is quite familiar, and the Irish influence is very appropriate, given that the ship was built in Belfast.  The design was English, but strong Irish hands riveted the plates.

The music aboard the Titanic was not Irish, though; Austrian seems to be the dominant influence, along with bits of English, German, Yiddish, and African-American.  The songs popular in 1912 are an interesting look at popular culture.  Some of the music is light classical, and some are the musical equivalent of Victorian parlor poetry.  Ragtime, a predecessor to jazz, might have been considered somewhat daring.

Apparently the musical selections were by request and quite mixed: “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” might be followed by a Viennese waltz and then an operatic overture.  Neither musicians nor the audience fixated on genres, leaving themselves aesthetically open to new possibilities.

There were only eight musicians aboard the Titanic, contractors from a music agency: one pianist, three violinists, three cellists, and a bassist. They played as two different groups among the various dining rooms, in concert, and at divine services for first class and second class passengers.

There was no guitarist, so the dying were spared that when the end came.

The matter of “Nearer My God to Thee” has often been debated, but the testimony of the survivors is that after a sequence of lighter music, the musicians played the hymn toward the end.  The movies cue the music precisely to the sinking of the ship, but life is seldom so tidy.  Disasters, personal or collective, seldom feature a soundtrack. 

Curiously, no one has yet made an epic film about the hundreds of people who die in nightclub fires.  The Titanic is often used as a metaphor for our hubris in depending upon technology, but filmmakers never film the hubris of nightclub owners who lock emergency exits.  And while hundreds suffocate and burn to death, what does the band play?

And now, this Sunday, thousands and thousands of people will crowd themselves together into a relatively small space with not nearly enough escape routes if there’s a crisis: a bomb, a riot, a flash mob, or a cascading panic of undetermined origin.

Do we make progress?

And what will the band play?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

LinkedIn - a Caution

Please know that from 16 January until 21 January (at least) LinkedIn sent, without my knowledge, a great many invitations purporting to be from me. There is no question of an error because some of these false invitations were made on days when I did not access LinkedIn. I canceled my account with LinkedIn and will not accept any emails with a LinkedIn connection. I am, of course, always happy to read notes and letters from friends and professional contacts via my aol address.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

LinkedIn? Not Anymore

Please know that on 16 January LinkedIn sent, without my knowledge, a great many invitations purporting to be from me. I am canceling my account with LinkedIn and will not accept any emails with a LinkedIn connection. I am, of course, always happy to read notes and letters from friends and professional contacts via my aol address.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

6 January 2013: The Downton Abbey Typewriter and Dog

6 January 2013

Mack Hall

The Downtown Abbey Typewriter and Dog

The popular Sunday-night emo-wallow Downton Abbey is predictable in plot but surprisingly strong in character development.  One first-season episode, for instance, features a housemaid, Gwen, who does not intend to remain a housemaid, and who secretly buys a typewriter and takes a correspondence course so she can try for a better job as a secretary.

The typewriter, which enjoyed a run of about a century, is a machine which resulted from technological change and which in its turn advanced cultural change.  A product of the industrial revolution, the process of mechanical writing sped up communications and the storage and access of information – a typist layering up to five sheets of carbon paper and typing paper could produce an original document and five accurate copies simultaneously.  Had Bartleby the Scrivener access to a typewriter he might not have succumbed to depression.

For reasons that remain obscure, the use of typewriters converted the historic male role of secretary to a woman’s job, and in the 1980s many young men were reluctant to learn about computers because of testosterone-withering keyboards – “typing’s a girl thing!”

Plain paper – in this country, 8 ½ inches by 11 inches – has shifted in name from letter paper to typing paper to copy paper to computer paper, following the pen, the typewriter, the photocopier, and the computer into a world barely recognizable to Bartleby and Gwen.

Gwen in Downton Abbey wants to make a better world for herself.  Although the great houses and their squads of servants would begin fading into tourist sites and council housing after World War I, probably no one in 1912 could have anticipated such a rapid end.  Gwen only knows that she wants to work in an office and thus enjoy more control of her own life.  Her Imperial Model A typewriter, manufactured in Leicester from 1908-1915, is for her a symbol of emancipation.  As such, it is an object of suspicion to the less-ambitious among her fellow servants.

Gwen mentions having saved for the machine; given her low wages and the high cost of new technology, her typewriter was probably most of a year’s income.  Gwen had to earn her way and pay for her learning by herself; there were no community colleges and no encouragement.

For men, the typewriter became a symbol of the square-jawed writer and poet, smoking cigarettes, sloshing whiskey, and beating out novels and poetry in garrets on the Left Bank of the Seine.  One imagines Ernest Hemingway posing for a publicity photograph standing thoughtfully on a railway line, his trusty old typewriter slung over his back.

C. S. Lewis, however, advised young writers never to employ a typewriter, maintaining that the mechanics of it disrupted one’s flow of thought.  Lewis preferred a steel pen and bottle of ink all his life.

For the beatniks, the typewriter, according to the creepy and self-obsessed Allen Ginsburg, was holy, a sacred adjunct to creativity.  The thesis is unproven since Ginsburg never found anything more fascinating to write about than himself.  In this he prefigured great numbers of self-absorbed narcissists eternally admiring themselves in little boxes of endless tautology.

For revolutionaries, the typewriter was a way of rapidly generating and publishing manifestos.  Tina Modotti, a cute, fascinating, and treacherous Red, made a famous photograph of her lover Julio Antonio Mella's typewriter, though as a Stalinist operative she may have been one of the causes of his unsolved murder.

Once the revolutionaries were successful, they in their turned banned the typewriter.  In most Communist states typewriters had to be registered, and in at least one workers’ paradise, Romania, the possession of an unregistered typewriter was a death penalty offense into the 1980s. 

Gwen’s Imperial Typewriter is usable today, a century after it was constructed; none of the electronic gadgets the reader uses today will exist within five years.  Lord Grantham, the worthy Mr. Carson, and Gwen may yet have something to teach us about lasting values.

What Lord Grantham, Mr. Carson, and Gwen perhaps will not tell us is why, at the opening of each episode of Downton Abbey, the viewer is mistreated to a very large view of the west end of an eastbound dog.  Perhaps the producers of the show are telling us what they think of us?