5.31.2021 – suddenly conscious

suddenly conscious
power in numbers safely
permit viciousness

Part of the Mencken Project

Taken from the line:

Not because the stoneheads, normally virtuous, are suddenly criminally insane. Nay, but because they are suddenly conscious of the power lying in their numbers—because they suddenly realize that their natural viciousness and insanity may be safely permitted to function.

In other words, the particular swinishness of a crowd is permanently resident in the majority of its members—in all those members, that is, who are naturally ignorant and vicious—perhaps 95 per cent. All studies of mob psychology are defective in that they underestimate this viciousness.

From Damn! A Book of Calumny. XX The Crowd, by HL Mencken, 1918

5.30.2021 – Night drew attention

Night drew attention
to facets, effects that were
submerged in the day

Adapted from the book, The Art of Travel (2002, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton, and the passage:

I began word-painting.

Descriptive passages came most readily: the offices were tall; the top of one tower was like a pyramid; it had ruby-red lights on its side; the sky was not black but an orangey-yellow.

But because such a factual description seemed of little help to me in pinning down why I found the scene so impressive, I attempted to analyse its beauty in more psychological terms.

The power of the scene appeared to be located in the effect of the night and of the fog on the towers.

Night drew attention to facets of the offices that were submerged in the day.

Lit by the sun, the offices could seem normal, repelling questions as effectively as their windows repelled glances.

But night upset this claim to normality, it allowed one to see inside and wonder at how strange, frightening and admirable they were.

The offices embodied order and cooperation among thousands, and at the same time regimentation and tedium.

A bureaucratic vision of seriousness was undermined, or at least questioned, by the night.

One wondered in the darkness what the flipcharts and office terminals were for: not that they were redundant, just that they might be stranger and more dubitable than daylight had allowed us to think.

Adapted from the book, The Art of Travel (2002, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton.

According to the website, GOOD READS, Any Baedeker will tell us where we ought to travel, but only Alain de Botton will tell us how and why.

As I said in the section on Architecture , what I find irresistible in reading Mr. de Botton is his use of language.

I get the feeling that if you made a spread sheet of all the words, adverbs and adjectives used by Mr. de Botton, you just might find that he used each word just once.

Neat trick in writing a book.

If I knew how to do that, hey, I would.

** More from the category TRAVEL — click here

5.29.2021 – matter of making

matter of making
conscious effort to notice
understand elements

Adapted from the book, The Art of Travel (2002, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton, and the passage:

True possession of a scene is a matter of making a conscious effort to notice elements and understand their construction.

We can see beauty well enough just by opening our eyes, but how long this beauty will survive in memory depends on how intentionally we have apprehended it.

The camera blurs the distinction between looking and noticing, between seeing and possessing; it may give us the option of true knowledge, but it may also unwittingly make the effort of acquiring that knowledge seem superfluous.

Adapted from the book, The Art of Travel (2002, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton.

According to the website, GOOD READS, Any Baedeker will tell us where we ought to travel, but only Alain de Botton will tell us how and why.

As I said in the section on Architecture , what I find irresistible in reading Mr. de Botton is his use of language.

I get the feeling that if you made a spread sheet of all the words, adverbs and adjectives used by Mr. de Botton, you just might find that he used each word just once.

Neat trick in writing a book.

If I knew how to do that, hey, I would.

** More from the category TRAVEL — click here

5.28.2021 – With a graceful lilt

With a graceful lilt
Autochthonous, Number 4
by William Grant Still

A reoccurring theme in this blog is the access to music that anyone and everyone, has so long as they have access to the world wide web.

I am sure there was NEVER been a time in all of human history that such much music is available to so many people for so little effort.

You can search You Tube (Bach and Emperor) to watch a scene for a movie where Frederick the Great summons Johann Sebastian Bach to the palace to play something.

Well, I can bring up anyone from anywhere for any piece of music with a few taps of my fingers.

Boy howdy!

Almost beyond belief.

As my faithful readers know, I listen to Classic FM when I am working.

It is a Classical Music global radio station from London.

Being from London, it is four or five hours ahead of me so I know that somewhere in the world, someone has already made through the next four or five hours.

It also has the best traffic reports.

When the A1 to Cambridge was backed up all the way to the anti clockwise at Potter’s Bar due to a lorry overturned in the lay by, Atlanta traffic didn’t seem so bad.

It is an interesting radio station in that it uses the same software to determine playlists used by pop radio stations.

This is bad as that you did get to hear a lot of music a lot.

I mean it repeats favorites often.

Maybe I could do with a little less Elgar in my day.

But this is good as you avoid a lot of Mahler.

And it is good because when you hear something unfamiliar there is a chance you will hear it again.

So it happened today.

You see, some time back I caught a piece of music new to me.

While I could browse the online playlists for the stations, I think this was one of those moments when the presenter snuck a piece of music on air to see the reaction.

I could tell from the sound that the piece was American.

And I could tell from the sound that the piece was most like from the Big Band – Jazz era.

It was Aaron Copland-esque without being Aaron Copland.

It was Virgil Thomson-esque without being Virgil Thomson.

But I could not found what it was.

And it was played again today.

This time it WAS listed in the online playlist.

I wasn’t prepared for what I learned.

I had never, NEVER heard of the piece of music or the composer ever.

The piece was the 3rd Movement of the 4th Symphony of one William Grant Still.

The symphony is titled, Autochthonous which is defined as an adjective (of an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists.

The 3rd Movement is titled, ” With a graceful lilt.”

William Grant Still, according to Wikipedia, is known primarily for his first symphony, Afro-American Symphony (1930), which was, until 1950, the most widely performed symphony composed by an American. Also of note, Still was the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony (which was, in fact, the first one he composed) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television.

Wikipedia continues, “Still arranged music for films. These included Pennies from Heaven (the 1936 film starring Bing Crosby and Madge Evans) and Lost Horizon (the 1937 film starring Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt and Sam Jaffe). For Lost Horizon, he arranged the music of Dimitri Tiomkin. Still was also hired to arrange the music for the 1943 film Stormy Weather, but left the assignment because “Twentieth-Century Fox ‘degraded colored people.’

I typed William Grant Still into the google and am now introducing myself to the wonderful works that Mr. Still created for us.

I didn’t know his name until today.

But I will know his name and his work for the rest of my life.

I have to ask, how many more William Grant Still’s might be out there?

Sometimes the changes brought upon us by the information superhighway are for the better.

I’ll take the access to the music of William Grant Still any day.

That and the search for more like this.

5.27.2021 – floods of yellow gold

floods of yellow gold
gorgeous, indolent, sinking
burning, expanding

Adapted from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d by Walt Whitman

Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air,
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific,
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there,
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows,
And the city at hand with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

Sunset over Pinckney Island and Skull Creek at high tide on the north end of Hilton Head Island.

5.26.2021 – what is said, not said

what is said, not said
have to listen to not hear
what I did not say

What is a haiku?

Anyone who reads this blog will tell you that I am the last one to answer that question.

I just write them.

I recently wrote a series of haiku that I felt was one haiku with five stanzas.

Was this allowed I wondered.

I knew who to ask.

My brother Pete teaches a class on poetry, through no fault of his own, at Michigan State University [sic].

I asked him if my use of the word stanzas ‘worked’ when constructing haiku.

He responded much to the point and with words much better than I ever could have brought together.

Pete said:

…does this work? Hmmm…

Well, yes, it works if it accomplishes the purpose you intend for it.

But is it a “haiku in five stanzas”?

That is little like saying, “I have a car with wings that flies.” You can call it that if you want to, but if you brought it to 456 Auto Fix, Hendrick would tell you that is not a car – it’s a plane.

Historically, the most popular Japanese poem form was called a Tanka, consisting of 5 lines and 31 syllables. The first three lines were 5-7-5 syllables, and the last two lines were 7-7.

Among the common people, a kind of slam poetry was developed, where two poets would try to outdo each other. The first poet would offer the hokku – the first three lines, and the second poet would complete the final two lines. These tanka composed by two poets were called Renga. These Renga were of two types – serious and comic. The comic forms came to be known as haikai.

In the Imperial Court, these Renga could be extended by five more lines, with the poets reversing roles, but still connecting the themes of the previous stanza. This could go on and on, up to 100 lines or more, with the “competitions” becoming highly structured and rule-governed.

Haiku is Basō’s reaction to these long court poems that tended to drone on and on. Instead, he tried to say as much as possible with just three lines. He took the hai from haikai and the ku from hokku, and made ‘haiku’ – and called it complete; no poetic completion or response or extension was necessary. It depended on the listener to complete the poem – to connect the dots, so to speak – in his head.

So in a good Japanese haiku, what is unsaid is just as significant – and just as clear to the listener! – as what is spoken. This skill – hearing what is not said – is highly valued not only in Japanese poetry, but also in Japanese life. (It also helps a lot in conversation with your wife!!)

It is a bit like Elijah sensing the presence of God – not in the wind, or the fire, or the earthquake, but in the utter silence – something that sounds like sheer nonsense to the modern western scientific mind. But now I am talking about theology, not haiku.

So a “five stanza haiku” is as oxymoronic as a long shortcut or a tall midget.

Too many words…!

And that is pretty much everything I know about Haiku…

Thanks for sharing your words and thoughts, and for all the things you didn’t write…

From what my brother says, it seems that these haiku competitions were the rap battles of 8 Mile fame in Imperial Japan.

It struck me that I often leave a lot unsaid in my ‘haiku’, hoping that the reader will catch what is unsaid.

And it struck me that to hear what is unsaid one has to listen more closely to what is being said to hear what is being unsaid or not being said to avoid the 1984isms of unsay.

As Chief Dan George said in the movie, “Outlaw Josey Wales”, I will endeavor to persevere.

And thank you all for not listening … I think?

I can hear you fine – I am NOT listening – Me circa 1962?? – Not much changed

As I am so fond of quoting, like Frank Lloyd Wright liked to say, “There you are.”

PS: The use of [sic] with Michigan State University implies that the error is in the original or “Michigan State University as it is understood.”

5.25.2021 – there is a corpus,

there is a corpus,
congenital attitudes,
found in everyone

a way of thinking
of ineradicable
doctrines determine

one’s reactions to
persons ideational
lone environment

In fact, primary
attitudes will constitute
essential person

understanding of
place, function as member of
human society

Part of the Mencken Project.

From THE AMERICAN CREDO: A Contribution Toward the Interpretation of the National Mind

By George Jean Nathan and HL Mencken, 1920

From the line: “deep down in every man there is a body of congenital attitudes, a corpus of ineradicable doctrines and ways of thinking, that determines his reactions to his ideational environment as surely as his physical activity is determined by the length of his tibiæ and the capacity of his lungs. These primary attitudes, in fact, constitute the essential man. It is by recognition of them that one arrives at an accurate understanding of his place and function as a member of human society;”

The first multi stanza haiku I ever wrote.

The question then, what are these primary attitudes?

That is what this Mr. Mencken and Mr. Nathan attempted to gather together in this book.

Mencken writes, “Well, here is an attempt to assemble in convenient form, without comment or interpretation, some of the fundamental beliefs of the largest body of human beings now under one flag in Christendom. It is but a beginning. The field is barely platted. It must be explored to the last furlong and all its fantastic and fascinating treasures unearthed and examined before ever there can be any accurate understanding of the mind of the American people.”

Then they two list some 488 odd things that back in 1920 may have been what we call ‘accepted wisdom.’

#411 – That if one’s ear itches it is a sign that some one is talking of one.

Many have not passed the test of time.

#384 – That all Japanese butlers are lieutenants in the Japanese Navy and that they read and copy all letters received by the folks they work for.

Some of these ‘fundamental beliefs’ that are beyond acceptability today I will attribute Mr. Nathan.

Why should I give Mr. Mencken a pass and not Mr. Nathan on some of their comments?

Mr. Nathan seems to be that brilliant man who would have been mad and angry and prejudiced in any era.

Mr. Mencken just disliked everyone.

Maybe we should re-write them for today?

While the list of things needs updating.

I am not sure the opening preface does.

5.24.2021 – much thinking marked

much thinking marked
by blowsy vacuity
disregard of facts

For the Mencken Project

Adapted from the Minority Report by HL Mencken 1956

The line reads, “… and I sometimes suspect that it may be the main cause of the blowsy vacuity which marks so much of the so-called thinking of mankind. What ails that thinking, two times out of three, is simply its disregard of large categories of essential facts …”

Blowsy?

Having a sloppy or unkempt appearance or aspect.

Vacutiy?

Lack of thought or intelligence; empty-headedness.

Put them together?

An unkempt lack of intelligence or a sloppy empty-headedness.

5.23.2021- Best thing about him?

Best thing about him?
Was very equanimous!
About her? Chose word
.

Okak, okay, okay.

I admit it.

I look forward each Saturday to reading the Blind Date feature in the Guardian.

The Guardian Newspaper sets up a blind date at a London area restaurant and then the two participants answer a list of questions about the date.

I like the descriptions of the restaurants and one of the questions is, Table Manners?

Lots of good answers here like “Outstanding. Unlike me, he ate the pizza with a knife and fork, and didn’t spill anything on himself.”

Also they are back in real restaurants now and not ordering ‘take away’ and meeting on Zoom.

The final question is “Would you meet again?

You get really great answers here.

Like, “Maybe if I was biking past him in the park, I would wave of course,” or, “For sure, we’re both in need of some pub exploration.”

I was struck by the column yesterday by the young lady’s response to the question, Best thing about him?

Her response was, “He was very equanimous.”

I have no idea when the questions about the date are asked.

I don’t know if they are talking on the phone with the reporter or if they are filling out an online questionnaire and have access to an online thesaurus.

Equanimous.

Equanimous?

Boy Howdy! How about that!

How would you like to be described by a word that you had to look up?

How would you like to be described by a word that you had to guess at its meaning.

My first guess was that it meant I was like a horse or had horse like qualities, what ever those might be.

Looking it up it means, possessing or displaying equanimity.

Which means possessing or displaying an evenness of mind especially under stress.

A calm dispositon.

I realized why I wasn’t familiar with the word.

No one has ever described me as possessing or displaying an evenness of mind especially under stress.

I had been described once as l lackadaisical.

When I looked a question at my teacher she looked me in the eye and said ‘goofy smart.’

We left it at that.

I remember once in a loud vocal Newsroom argument I made a strong defense of NOT doing something and someone pointed out that what I said could be considered ‘The Voice of Reason.’

To which someone else yelled, ‘When it comes down to Hoffman being the voice of reason, we know we are in trouble.’

But I digress.

Equanimous.

What a great word.

Maybe that was the best thing about him.

The best thing about her, for me, was that she chose the word.

PS for the record, HIS answer to the Best thing about her was, ‘Beautiful eyes and an easy smile’.

Here you can read it for yourself.

5.22.2021 – Ask, what can I do?

Ask, what can I do?
Can you postpone nightfall? That
is when the bombs fall.

Came across this phrase and it hit me hard.

Can you postpone nightfall?

It was in an essay written by a Palestinian now living in Australia.

She was writing about living with the recent turmoil in the Middle East through phone calls home.

When she closed call she asked, “What can I do?”

The response was “Can you postpone nightfall, that is when the bombs fall.”

Not taking sides here.

I have read a lot of history and a lot of history is military.

A lot of history is war.

War is ‘politics by other means’.

But that seems too simple.

In the grand scope of world history, what great invention, what great increase in knowledge and machines did not find an almost instant application in war.

At one time the greatest military weapon that separated the winners from losers was the stirrup.

A Knight with stirrups could keep his balance and use a sword effectively without falling off.

Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup, but few have had so catalytic an influence on history, so says Wikipedia.

Gunpowder.

Telescopes.

Sailing Ships.

Motors.

The Wright Brothers first flew in 1903.

By World War 1, 1914, planes were part of the battlefield.

Still when the Hermann Goering’s Nazi Air Force bombed the city of Guernica as part of the Spanish Civil War in 1937 (it’s complicated) the world was shaken, but maybe, not surprised.

Without Picasso’s painting of Guernica, the world would have forgotten about this a long time ago.

A digression but maybe this is what art is all about as it doesn’t let us forget.

I recently finished a good read titled The Last Bookshop in London.

A fictionalized account of life in London during the blitz of World War 2.

What came across for me was the utter randomness with which the bombs fell.

We have been flying around dropping bombs on each other ever since the plane was invented.

Reading the articles about the Middle East again I am struck by the utter randomness of the destruction.

I can think of a lot of words that describe a world where this happens.

Civilized is not one of them.

I think of the saying that the number one proof of intelligent life in the universe is that no one has wanted to contact us.

The frustration builds.

The desire to do something, anything builds.

But what can you do?

Can you postpone nightfall?