Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Hazy and Hazardous Beginnings

My first recollection comes from my third year. I was all dressed up in Sunday finery (with someplace to go, I knew not where.) It was in the first rented house I have any memory of—on Mendota Avenue. That’s in the near Northwest of Detroit, just above Highland Park, and thus near Hamtramck, the Polish working class enclave of Detroit where my single parent of a mother, May Gertrude Fitzpatrick Hazard, taught eighth grade at the Dickinson Middle School, or Junior High as they dubbed them in those old days of the 1930’s.

She didn’t have her own home until 1945, when a cheap wartime FHA mortgage allowed her to buy a house shared with another singleton teacher, Marge Gaul, an East Detroit elementary school principal she got to know summers up at our cottage on Lake Huron, ten miles South of Tawas between U.S.23 to Detroit and a dazzling thirty foot bluff on the lakefront.

It still mystifies my uneconomic head to learn that her summer cottage only cost her $1550 in 1938: $800 for the 50 foot lot and $750 three bedroom cottage with a stone fireplace and a wraparound front porch featuring the non stop kaleidoscope of Lake Huron. She called it Birchloft, from the gorgeous second growth trees (replacing the virgin pines I later learned my lumberman grandfather had shamefully clearcut a generation earlier!) it had.

Next door, Leona Henchey, a college chum who was an elementary school principal in Detroit, built an even grander but basically boring grey shingled two story structure. To our right was May’s sister Loretto’s summer place, Silver Birches, the first female junior high school principal in Detroit (we used to brag). She had a crippled right hand, which we never talked about, but which I assume was what kept her an old maid. As unlikely as it sounds, she was the egghead of the family!

Which is another way of saying that she subscribed to the Sunday New York Times, a very infrequent habit among immigrant Irish families. The other girl in the eight children Fitzpatrick family was Lillian. Aunt Lil was the housekeeper of the three, and she spent her summers there with my cousin and Bob, six months older than I. I was seriously upset when I learned while I was teaching in London the summer of 1968 that my brother Mike had talked her into selling the cottage to Aunt Lil’s daugher-in-law. Birchloft was the only settled thing in my isolated childhood.

The Depression was no picnic, and my memory is of the family having to move almost every fall, even though I was off in boarding school between the ages of three and thirteen in Bay City, Michigan. To save money in the summer she let the school year rental go and picked up a new place in the fall. After Mendota it was a duplex across the street from Holy Mary Repriatrix convent, across Six Mile from the Jesuit University of Detroit.

And then it was across from Highland Park High school in big Gothic apartment complex just off Woodward Avenue, the main drag of Detroit, and then behind Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, presumably because my brother Mike was then going to Catholic Central High School. His lack of a father was just beginning to show. He was drinking, and when I came home on vacations from Holy Rosary would mostly be lying on the couch, defeated by his latest misdemenors which often included petty larceny.

(Harry E. Hazard, a furniture salesman when he returned from a captaincy in the American Expeditionary Force in 1919, had defected to Nevada with his office secretary Ruth in 1930.). It was all a mystery to me, but I could later well imagine as my own marriage disintegrated that the sexual license he enjoyed in Paris on liberty didn’t jibe with the prim morals of my mother.

On Mendota, my mother “roomed” with Justine Fitzpatrick (no relation) an ex nun who split expenses. Her father was as close as I got to a father figure. “Uncle” Dan was a blue collar Mick with a great sense of humor. He supervised delivery trucks at a downtown department store. My first taste of working stiffs was coming in out of the cold of a Christmas vacation to thaw in front of his electric warmer. The Fisher Building had just been finished, with its Golden Tower (grand nightlights), and he referred to it as the Gillyhoo Bird’s Nest. When he got home each night from his job at Crowley-Milner’s (the third biggest department store in downtown Detroit, after Hudson’s and Kern’s) he would settle down in his favorite chair in the living room with his Detroit Times for a few minutes.

Then he would look at me suddenly and ask, "Heh, Pat, did you just hear a whoosh of wings?” At first I was astonished at how good his hearing was, picking up the flights of the Gillyhoo Bird so quickly. I would volunteer to check behind the window ledges outside the front room, and sure enough, it was a Mars bar, or a Baby Ruth. The Gillyhoo Bird had landed again, the greatest avian philanthropist of my childhood. Indeed, that first recollecting, with the anxiety I felt long before I knew what the word meant, was soon followed by my first automotive trip to Bay City and Holy Rosary.

My second memory followed soon after we arrived there. As my mother prepared to leave for Detroit, she handed me a five dollar bill (a sizable grant in the Depression!). I tore it in two and flung it at her. My life as a lonely naysayer had begun! Sister Mary Felicia, O.P. the first and second grade teacher folded me in her arms as I sobbed watching my mother drive away from the happy crowds of parents dropping off their boys for boarding school. She extended her franchise as she became my one on one kindergarten tutor for the next two years. In a bewildering world, Sister Felicia became my island of security.

In 1980 when my brother Mike died of alcoholism in Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia, I got sentimental when I returned his ashes to Detroit for burial in Mount Olivet Cemetery. I started visiting my old haunts. I wondered about Sister Felicia. Holy Rosary had folded as a boarding school and its noble four story Victorian brick pile became a business center. I wondered if Sister Felicia indeed was even still alive, fifty years after she became my de facto mother.

I drove up to her Dominican Motherhouse in Grand Rapids to check it out. The front desk assured me she was upstairs in Room 202. I knocked timidly on the door of 202. She opened the door and in a rather unfriendly voice demanded to know what I wanted. I asked if she was Sister Felicia of Holy Rosary Academy. She granted she was in a still ungenerous old lady’s voice. “I’m Pat Hazard,” I said timidly. “PAT HAZARD!!?? You’re best student I ever had!”

And she proceeded to accompany me with her walker down the main corridor telling one and all that “Pat Hazard has come to visit me”. Heh, I was whelmed. It was even a greater high than the tribute my son Michael and I paid to his dead Uncle’s cremains when we threw a McDonald’s coffee cup full of his ashes over the finish line of the last race that night at the Detroit Race Track, to memorialize his gambling habit. He had died from too much drinking at his favorite Greenwich Village bar on his annual visit to the Belmont Stakes. May he rest in pieces.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Holy Rosary Academy

I have a overpowering memory of my first night at Holy Rosary Academy. I was assigned to the bed most adjacent to the external fire escape that doubled backed down to the ground and to prefect Sister Mary Veronica’s enclosed bedroom. Sometime after midnight, Tarzan quietly opened the window that gave on the fire escape and grabbed me gently but firmly in his arms and proceeded to kidnap me down the staircase to the third floor.

As we were halfway down the staircase, Sister Veronica suddenly turned the corner and started climbing the staircase. Tarzan spun on his heel, put me back on my new bed, and disappeared through the window to the fire escape. The nun gave her dorm full of sleeping boys a visual once over, ending her supervision by tucking me in and chiding me softly for not already being asleep. I can see her now as clearly as I did in my fantasy over fifty years ago.

She was a lovely looking young woman, a dead ringer for Bing Crosby’s colleague in “Going My Way.” There is one other angst I was already beginning to feel: my abandonment by my father. Eventually I became so threatened by my fear of “being exposed” that whenever, after holidays, for example, when palaver invariably turned to family relations I would engage in non sequiturs by switching the topic of conversation to the Detroit Tigers or Lions.

Oddly this shtick peaked the year I was eleven, when Detroit peaked psychologically if not economically: our teams won the World Series, the NFL title, the Stanley Cup—and Joe Louis creamed Max Schmeling. This fear of disclosing a family secret never really disappeared: I attribute it to this day to my inability to maintain long term friendships strangely combined with a deft ability to quickly open such relationships. Heh, Tarzan where are you when I could use you?

The four story, red brick High Victorian Holy Rosary Academy structure put its students dormitories on the top floor. The Junior dormitory (first through fourth grades) was on the south western part of the building. It was separated from the Senior Dorm (fifth through eighth) on the far eastern side by a set of bath tubs paralleled to a set of johns. The northern edge had a set of large multipurpose rooms, mostly used for recreation, except for the Sick Bay on the far eastern corner.

A spooky enclosed set of stairs led into the pitch dark attic, sometimes used to punish refractory students. Steep staircases at each end of the floor led to the third floor. The nuns lived under the students on the third floor, between the study hall/theater under the Senior Dorm and the Chapel under the Junior Dorm. Double classrooms (seventh and eighth grades , Far North,) presided over by Sister Charles Borromeo, as tall and threatening as principal Sister Alexis was short and bristly, (third and fourth grades with Sister Marie Bernadette, a young, good looking nun we tended to project the Lourdes saint onto) and fifth and sixth grades presided over by Sister Mary Somebody.

The second floor began with music practice rooms (where I practiced being trumpet bandleader Charlie Spivak, mainly because his theme song, “Stardreams” was so easy to simulate. Across the hall the ectomorphic Sister John ran a tough music program, where she rapped my knuckles one afternoon because I let my fingers dribble over the keys instead of primly putting them on top of each key. “You look like a jazz musician,” she snarled, I still being too innocent to take that as a compliment. Sister John had the skills of a night club owner, however, using the Depression to poor talk musical celebrities like touring British pianist Alec Templeton into freebie concerts.

That floor also had lounges for visiting parents, as well as the Principal’s Office, next to the Chapel. Sister Alexis was my first contact with a holy fascist, who whipped our butts in autos de fe held in the Refectory before an audience of students who realized they might be the next to lower their shorts for such a beating. That dining room is also responsible for my bad table manners. It was the Depression after all, and the cuisine was so marginal we often mocked ourselves as going to the Hungry Rats Association, HRA, Rah Rah. To this day I consider eating macaroni a mortal sin.

Across from the Refectory was Sister Felicia’s first and second grade classroom, where faute de mieux I hung out for two years as a kindergarten singleton. In the basement there was the laundry and heating complexes, plus a too low-ceilinged excuse for a basketball floor and where we were taught to dance: day student girls made that possible, and as I got ready in 1940 to go off to a minor seminary in Detroit, I created a minor scandal for my very public crush on Geraldine Kirchman—whose older brother had just been ordained!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Media Moves

When I was the Education Adviser for Time/Life Films (1968-72), I experienced the first shock of my media experience: Life magazine folded! One of my priceless pleasures working there stemmed from our being on the same floor as the Photo Lab. Not only could I get all of my photographs developed and printed for free (that surcease led to the outrageous evil of my overshooting!), but I would find myself chatting that art with the likes of Alfred Eisenstaedt!

But I come now not to bury Life, but to praise the resiliency of Time, Inc. In 1955-56 I had a Fund for the Republic fellowship in New York City—to see how high school English teachers could assume a more creative relationship with the new medium of TV. I had written an essay on assigning original TV plays in school for Scholastic Teacher, “Everyman in Saddle Shoes,” when I explained how productive it had been for me to assign “A Catered Affair” and “Marty” from the Philco Goodyear Theatre. Maury Robinson, that creative publisher of the Scholastic magazines asked me if I’d like to take over as radio TV editor while I was in New York. Would I?! That gave me total access to the networks, and I still remember the thrill of Arthur Penn, then at the very start of his career, direct Dina Merrill in rehearsals for another Philco Goodyear.

But then a bigger serendipity dropped on my fuller and fuller plate. I quickly picked up the New York habit of reading the Times on my subway ride from Flushing to Fifth and 42nd Street. I noticed a feature on an impending White Conference on Education. I invited myself, a fearless Julien Sorel from East Lansing MI. As I entered the Washington Hilton foyer, I noticed Ralph Bunche (I recognized him because he had recently been on a Time cover) in a deep conversation with a man I had never seen before. (Indeed there were a lot of those that year in the Big Apple!) I brusquely interposed myself into their conversation, “I’m Pat Hazard from East Lansing High and I’m in New York to study the uses of Television for English Teaching!” As you can well imagine there was a stunned silence as these two celebs figured how to out me. The unknown quantity finally asked, “Well, how are things going, Mr. Hazard?”

“Terribly,” I conceded. I told them I’d been trying to get an interview with Pat Weaver, whose recently articulated philosophy; ENLIGHTENMENT THROUGH EXPOSURE, fit my educational dreams like a glove, but I couldn’t get to first base with the NBC brass.. His secretary’s temperature dropped several more degrees at each overture.

After a little more blatherous palaver, the stranger identified himself: “I’m Roy Larson, the publisher of Time, and I’m on the board of directors of the Fund for the Republic. How would you like an office at Time to facilitate your research.” GULP. He gave me a card with his office telephone number, and asked me to call him the first thing Monday morning, to arrange for an office. And he returned to his intense conversation with Dr. Bunche. It was not yet noon on Saturday.

Monday and I was soon in my new office, near the top of the Time Life Building scanning the Manhattan Skyline. “What the fuck do I do now?” Suddenly, I was just another Rube, paralyzed by the Biggest City. Then visions of Sylvester Weaver started coming into focus in my head. I’d call his secretary one final time. She was frostier than ever. “Mr.Hazard, this is the beginning of the Fall Season, and Mr.Weaver is really very busy.” I conceded that with my response,”Well, I’m just starting my fellowship and I’m extremely busy as well. If Mr.Weaver has fifteen minutes free this week, please call this number. JU 62525.”

And hung up. It was 9:15 a.m. I settled down to read the latest issue of Time, just to feel like I could feel at home. 9:45 a.m. A Time secretary poked her head through the door and asked, “Is there a Patrick Hazard here? Call from NBC. Pat Weaver’s office.” Goggle-eyed (I didn’t yet know how powerful certain phone numbers were in Manhattan. It was the refrigerated secretary, with a decidedly more hospitable tone on the phone. “Are you free at 1100 a.m.today to talk with Mr. Weaver. He’s just had a cancellation.” I agreed as amiably as my sudden panic permitted. I asked a local how to get to Rockefeller Center and NBC. “No problem. Just cross Sixth Avenue, go past the Radio City Music Hall, ask for NBC.”

Pat Weaver was a wonder. As I entered his office, he was exercising (intellectually, he told me later) on his Bongo Board, a one-man see-saw he used to clarify his thinking. He was a very engaging man, kinetic energy sizzling off his easy going, rangey hulk. He asked me to tell him what I had been doing with TV in my classes in East Lansing. Michigan State had just opened a UHF TV station, so I talked my twelfth grade students into producing a weekly TV series, “Everyman Is a Critic”, where I was the MC, but they were the guests who chose their own topics; pop music, hot rods, television,.

I told him how I had assigned “Marty” to my tenth grade class, sight unseen. And Maurice Evans in his Hallmark “Macbeth”. His eyes glowed as I ticked off these NBC productions. He told me how they fit with his Enlightenment through Exposure concept, and went on to speculate how his live “Wide, Wide World format” could quicken the mass audience’s curiosity, and how open formats like the“Today”, “Home”, and “Tonight” shows could allow a mix of features of varying degrees of complexity.

It was thrilling to hear him speculate along the lines that I thought only academics were allowed to trod. He wanted to know where I went to school. I explained how I majored in philosophy at the Jesuit University of Detroit, my home town, took a master’s degree at Western Reserve in Cleveland, and was taking final courses for my prelims at Michigan State as I wrote my doctoral dissertation. He wished me luck and asked me to get in touch if I ever got stuck. He made me promise to give him a copy of my final report.

He picked up his phone and asked his secretary to get him the head of PR. Soon I was in Nancy Goldberg’s office, learning how I could watch rehearsals, look at live performances from the director’s booth. Bless Roy Larson and his magic telephone number. She set up appointments with Ed Stanley, the head of Public Affairs, and Stockton Helfrich, the censor. The only thing more exciting was the interview in a Manhattan bar near Grand Central Station that Louis Forsdale of Teachers College, Columbia set up for me with Marshall McLuhan, who was a visiting TC professor that year.

I came upon Marshall early, when he was writing pieces for “The Mechanical Bride: The Folklore of Industrial Man” (1950) for Commonweal, the lay magazine that liberal Catholics published. He wrote that book, he told me, because when he began teaching Freshman English at the University of Wisconsin after his final studies at Oxford University, he felt he was an anthropologist in a strange land, where he had to begin by learning the language. Between Larson, Weaver, and McLuhan, I seemed to be executing an educational triple play.

Larson was especially solicitous. He sent me to Chicago to see how Life was printed. He arranged for me and the son of the editor of Der Spiegel, the German equivalent of Time, to watch an edition of Life being together from scratch, just we two and the editor in chief, the art director and the managing editor. You couldn’t pay for such media tuition. There was always some special angle to make the mystifications of media more accessible to the outsider, learning from scratch. At the end of this annis mirabilis, I gave a talk at the Four C’s convention, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, which is to say, Freshman English.

My talk was entitled “Liberace and the Future of Cultural Criticism” in which I argued you had to get into the lion’s den of mass culture or the barbarous animals would win. Three English professors from Trenton State came up after and asked me if I’d like to play those tunes at their college. Where is Trenton, I innocently asked, having flunked fifth grade Geography back in Bay City. It’s the capital of New Jersey,” they chorused in unison, exchanging looks as if to say, how in the hell did this guy look like a winner. I accepted their offer.

It was a blue collar, commuter college (TRENTON MAKES/THE WORLD TAKES) shouts an electric sign garnishing the main bridge over the Delaware River. The chairman insisted that every freshman read the daily New York Times, to upgrade their sites. (Saved me an expensive subscription! And it was a useful tactic.) The librarian, Felix Hirsch, was a former editor at the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, a Jew fleeing Hitler, and raising intellectual standards several cubits in one fell swoop.

A generation later, the local brass got in a onomastic tizzy with nearby Princeton when they decided to revive Princeton’s old moniker, The College of New Jersey, to gentrify its blue collar provenance. Princeton didn’t argue long, because it was infra dig for them to squabble with such a lowly institution. I would have stayed there until tenure, had I not finished my Ph.D. and gotten a Carnegie post-doctoral fellowship at Penn to create an American Civilization course on “The Mass Society”.Create the course in 1957-58—first semester on Mass Production (industrial design, architecture, urban planning), second semester on Mass Communication (print, graphics and broadcasting) and teach it in 1958-59). During the second year, Walter Annenberg gave Penn two million dollars to start a graduate school of communication. Faute de mieux, I became the First Gofer.

Gilbert Seldes had deeply influenced my thinking about mass culture, first with his pioneer book, “The Seven Lively Arts” (1924) and then “The Public Arts” (1950) so I argued that the first Ivy school (that was stretching it, given Columbia’s School of Journalism, but you know how donors are) should be led by a unique pioneer like Gilbert Seldes.

We used to joke that I was the St. John the Baptist to his Jesus, crisscrossing the country talking to media trade associations and major J schools, to tell them how we planned a curriculum with media arts workshops at the center of the curriculum, somewhat like Walter Gropius’ scheme for the Bauhaus, with Charles Hoban of the School of Education teaching a course on research techniques, me giving a lecture course on media history (that old chestnut from “Cave Painting to Comic Strips”), Vice Dean Charles Lee supervising a weekly postprandial series of visiting media movers and shakers, and Gilbert giving a course on himself under the rubric, “Media Criticism”.

Lee was too wishy washy to pose serious, even threatening , questions to the media brass so the lectures plus questions never reached the qualitative level of the Faculty Club Dinner. Harold Feinstein gave a great photography workshop, but left to fulfill his outstanding career. George Dessart, a producer at local station WCAU-TV, gave a very successful TV workshop He went on to Brooklyn College to a post TV career as an educator of professionals. Gilbert was past his peak, drank a bit too much, and was characterologically unfit to kowtow to academics. So he soon retired, and George Gerbner, a fascinating Hungarian Jew who fled Nazi persecution in Budapest to become a successful journalist in San Francisco before becoming a professor. His social science commitments completely superceded Gilbert’s aesthetic perspective.

I spent only two years there, being appointed first Director of American Studies at the East West Center in Honolulu, where we used radio and TV to explain Asia to the American students and America to the Asians. It was exciting and innovative, but I returned to Philadelphia mainly because my Number Two, Seymour Lutsky, chosen without my knowledge or consent, had spent the last ten years as a CIA operative!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

I.F. Stone: The Compleat Newspaperman

Isadore Feinstein (1907-1989) took the not so Judaic-sounding nom de plume, I.F. Stone, to better navigate the secular shoals of big city journalism. But to his fans he was always reduced to his beloved nickname, Izzie. Indeed, in 1975, that liberal librarian Keith Doms of the Free Library of Philadelphia gave me permission to run a national competition for the best undergraduate journalism in the investigative tradition of this local boy who made himself good. Inevitably, the award was called the IZZIE.

I made only two phone calls to the master, one to ask his permission to make an award under the aegis of FLOP, and one to tell him the results. He was grandpa friendly on the first, unabashedly thrilled on the second. I had assembled a distinguished jury one Sunday morning at my house in Greenbelt Knoll—including the likes of Peter Binzen, late of the Inky, MOMA’s cinema man William Sloan, and Annenberg Dean George Gerbner.

We agreed unanimously to give the prize to the University of Arizona for its new monthly monitor of its state’s media, “The Pretentious Idea”. The ironic title derived from the editor of the Arizona Republic’s snooty response to students asking him for financial and moral support for the new publication. “What a pretentious idea,” he snapped, “students monitoring professionals.” Izzie loved the humble chutzpah of the students. But he seemed most pleased by the special praise given to an Atlantic City teacher/newspaper supervisor whose students uncovered fiscal hanky-panky in their school’s audiovisual department.

Alas, one of my best students from Annenberg was then running a new media department in Santa Rosa Junior College, and he inveigled me to spend the next year, 1975-76, as the visiting Andreini Fellow to shake up his troops with new media courses as well as by running a weekly FM radio series over KALW, San Francisco, “Museroom West,” whose epigraph was Ezra Pound’s adage, "Literature is News That Stays News”. (Another powerful motivation was my getting myself out of Philly during its Centennial celebration infestation with excessive colonial militiamen.)

So the Izzie stalled after its inaugural year. The Nation Magazine tried to revive it during the 90’s. And as late as last year that Izzie freak Danny Schechter was mulling a revival. Anyone who reads the new compilation, “The Best of I.F. Stone” (New York, Public Affairs Press, $23.95), would agree that we ought not to forget his example, however we decide to honor it.

Stone was a philosophy major at Penn, and (having endured my own stretch of academic boredom) I assumed he dropped out before graduation through ennui. Absolutely not, “but the atmosphere of a college faculty repelled me,” he conceded. When Penn finally got around to granting him an honoris causa bachelor’s hood, he raved about his professors of a half century before to the local press.

When they asked him how he felt about finally getting his B.A., his fey response was pure Izzie: “I got out of Phy Ed.” And here was a thinker who spent his retirement teaching himself Greek, so he could bring the same authenticity to his last book, "The Trial of Socrates” (1988) that he had brought to his relentless probing of America’s political institutions during one of its most dangerous eras.

But printer’s ink was early in his blood. “In the small town where I grew up Haddonfield, N.J., I published a paper at fourteen, worked for a country weekly and then as correspondent for a nearby city daily. I did this from sophomore year in high school through college, until I quit in my junior year.” (The Best of I.F. Stone, p.2) “While going to college I was working ten hours afternoons and nights doing combination rewrite and copy desk on the Philadelphia Inquirer, so I was already an experienced newspaperman making $40 a week—big pay in 1928.”

He claims to have become a radical in the ‘20’s while still in his teens, mostly from reading Jack London, Herbert Spencer, Kropotkin, and Marx. He was elected to the committee of the New Jersey Socialist Party before he was old enough to vote! He did publicity for Norman Thomas in his run for the Presidency in 1928, but, significantly, drifted away from political work because of his distaste for left wing sectarianism. He even has good words for Colonel McCormick of the Chicago Tribune because that man stood for something, unlike most publishers who, Stone contended, were really just running merchandising schemes.

When the Compass closed in November 1952, he decided to launch his own weekly four pager. He called it his “piggy-back launching”, using the mailing lists of PM, the Star, the Compass and of people who had bought his books—five in print by then. With two advance mailings he amassed 5,000 subscribers at $5 each. He praises the Government for never politically quibbling over his or Seldes second class mailing privileges. “The difference between the second-class rate and the cheapest third-class rate was the equivalent of my salary.” (p.4)

We think of his weekly as a one-man operation, but it was actually a two person business—his dancing partner wife Esther ran the business side and the circulation peaked at 20,000. And as radical as his journalism may have been, he was still an aesthete at heart, glorying over his beautiful Garamond type face, eschewing sensational headlines, but designing the page with discreet boxes and other graphics devices to order his thoughts. I can just picture him and Esther doing their twice weekly dancing stints, mulling over the next edition as they sweetly smooched.

It is marvelous to have him explain his journalistic tactics. Take his coup with the Atomic Energy Commission. In the first underground atomic test in the fall of 1957, the New York Times repeated the AEC line that it couldn’t be detected beyond 200 miles. Yet Izzie noted reports from Toronto, Rome and Tokyo saying the explosion had been detected in those distant places. Since Dr. Edward Teller and his crew at the Livermore Laboratory opposed a nuclear test ban agreement, they were eager to prove that underground tests could not be detected beyond their 200 mile limit.

Izzie filed away the press reports of long distance detection. Eisenhower’s disarmament chief Harold Stassen told Hubert Humphrey’s Senate Disarmament Subcommittee that a network of stations 1000 kilometers (580 miles) apart would police any nuclear test ban. The AEC repeated its 200 mile prediction, to undercut Stassen. Izzie called the AEC and reminded them of the Toronto, Rome and Tokyo reports. They promised to look into it while Izzie tracked down a seismologist at the Coast and Geodetic Survey.

The seismologist said he didn’t believe the Toronto, Rome and Tokyo stories, but that he knew for a fact some 20 U.S.stations had detected the explosion, one 2600 miles North of the Nevada test site in Fairbanks, Alaska, another 1200 miles East in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Geodetic man asked Izzie why he was interested. When he cited the AEC, his informant clammed up. The AEC later said it had made an “inadvertent” error! And so it goes, when Izzie sniffs a story.

Perhaps most important for cadet journalists is his elegant explanation of how government press bureaucracies neuter potential critics—flattering them with free dinners with powerful figures, and so on. Izzie philosophizing on the dynamics of such tactics is worth the price of admission, not to mention his thoughtful rerun of those critical phases of our late twentieth century history in the pieces reprinted here.

And although inspired by George Seldes’earlier weekly “In Fact”, Izzie makes a point of how much harder it was to replicate their kind of journalism in the McCarthy Era. Seldes had enjoyed the backing of left wing unions during the Popular Front era, for example—which evanesced when he sided with Tito against Stalin. Izzie had to build his own circulation, one reader at a time.

One final note. I emigrated back to Northern California in 1982 to begin my second life as a free lance journalist. To my glee, I soon made my first masthead, as cultural reporter for the “San Francisco Business Journal”, next to the old faithful “Welcomat”, my most satisfying stretch of ink.

Except for one missed opportunity. When Izzie was scheduled to speak in the Hearst Lecture Series, I sent him a proposal that I assemble two of the Bay’s most vocal local lefties, Vincent Hallinan and Harry Bridges, for a sit down meal with him. “If you can find us some good dim sum place, you’re on!” Heh, you’d have to be sum dam dim if you’d couldn’t find such in San Francisco.

But I had made a special choice, the place where I had just very vocally mocked Veep George Bush over his 1984 campaign stumble of attacking Geraldine Ferraro for her feminism! Alas, the best laid plans of fans gang aft--kaput! His sister, Judy Stone, then the film critic of the San Francisco Chronicle used her family veto to cancel this slummy dimming—worried about her brother’s overextended heart. Yo, I still have the unending pleasure of his tasty prose. Nothing dim about that. Still, that cudda been a what a bin!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Sex Ed

Duane, that he-man editor of the Philadelphia City Paper (8 February 2007) is in a rare tizzy. A reader has accused him of the grossest hypocrisy for in effect financing his high toned editorial content with sex ads in the rear, so to speak, of his alternative paper. This elicits from Duane as coherent and plausible defense of the American intellectual firewall between editorial and business sides as ever I remember reading.

But the part time thriller writer has a softer side. Last month this emigrant New Yorker was recounting his recent family visit to Ground Zero and his anxiety about explaining it properly to his four year old son. (Done, with aplomb.) But this week he concedes that when his daughter has reached the “proper” age, he knew he’d have his lobes full trying to explain the aforementioned rear of his publication. Sex Ed, indeed.

I am highly disqualified in such a discussion. First, ten years (from age 3-13) in a boarding school run by Dominican nuns, followed by three years in a minor seminary (with a two year interim in the U.S. Navy where I oddly, and sadly, remained a virgin) culminating in three years at a Jesuit University. What I didn’t know about sex could fill the Vatican’s Library.

So after a year in graduate school when I fell on a blind date for a high IQ Catholic blonde bombshell, was I ever under-prepared for holy matrimony. Never did two such intellectual virgins pool such bottomless ignorance in the Sex Department. That our “marriage” lasted for twenty years is more a tribute to her patience and our children’s charms than to what I did or didn’t do with her in bed.

Divorced, as a late deBloomer, I became a serial fornicator, making up with frequency and variety what I had so egregiously flubbed as a husband. My deepest regret is the bad example I set my children by my delayed playing. Now, at 80, I have much more time to consider the issues which Duane raises. I have no problem with lonely hearts ads, even though the escalating coarseness of some of them unsettles me. And the no holes barred sex edifiers seem to me to add exponentially to this coarseness. If I learned anything about sex, it’s that it should be gentle and generous.

It didn’t begin with Playboy Hugh, but Heffneritis engendered a new mental disease that encourages timid souls to fantasize about undescribably great SEX while HE stands by a cluster of sluts dressed in his pajamas. As a TV journalist I was once invited to his spread (forgive the noun) in Hollywood.

The epiphany of the evening was seeing Hugh descend the grand staircase, to the plaudits of his guests, gamely brandishing his current receptacle. But what??I couldn’t believe it. Irresistible Hugh cannot dance worth a hoot. He was the squarest, tightest assed T(w)erp I have ever seen, and as a certified graduate of Detroit’s Eastwood Gardens outdoor dance pavilion, believe me I’ve seen many four footed prancers.

And now there’s the Porno Ring tracked down by the Austrian Polizei, with American subscribers leading the list! And American police trapping sexual morons getting set up with underage “websighters” YOU TUBE could easily become YOU LUBE: And the dry fucking seen on MTV is grist for some chiropractor’s mill. Whatever happened to “You’re the Top/ You’re the Louvre Museum/? Rock music seems to my old “Satin Doll” (“Knows Latin!”) ear as so much pig grunting up to an orgasm.

In the PCP’s “sister” publication, the Philadelphia Weekly, there’s a recent piece about a local girl’s very successful sex column at Columbia University, under the contentious title, “Talking Head”. (Joanna Zuckermann Bernstein, PW, January 24, 2007)

Twenty-one year old political science/human rights major Miriam Datskovsky “doesn’t seem the type to write about boy friends and blow jobs,” comments Ms. Bernstein. Miriam contends she’s not the sort either to draw attention to herself. Which her “Sexplorations” column has, in spades, since it began in September 2004.

In Amy Sohn’s piece on sex columnists for “Magazine” she was characterized “one of the more intelligent of the group”! In the popular blog, “Gothamist”, she was described as rising “above her peers, producing culturally insightful work that explores the ins and outs /ahem!/of sex at Columbia.” Sweetly blown job.

In her piece, "Spitting, Swallowing, and Some Other Secrets,” Miriam generalizes: "There is nothing not dirty about oral sex. It’s someone’s penis in your mouth, it’s your tongue inside someone’s pussy. Blow jobs. Eating out. Giving head. Gross. And yet we love it. We love receiving it; we love giving it. Or maybe we love receiving it and hate giving it. I’m an anomaly. I hate receiving it and love giving it.” And her biggest turn off is some guy interested in her because of her column!

This once Orthodox Jew went secular at 13. But her family is supportive. Her uncle reads it all the time. Her dad never. And her mother only reads “mom-proof” efforts. (The blow job piece didn’t make the Mom’s cut.) I’m afraid such columns would never have helped our hyper-Catholicized marriage. And I’m glad for my children’s sakes that we’re more open about sex.

But I’ve come to despise Hefnerized sex, along with all over-consumerized human interactions. I hope my latest child (Daniel Patrick Hazard was two months old today on my 80th birthday!) will be as unexploitative of women as I wasn’t. And bless him, my first son Michael. When I had the crudeness to excuse myself from a family meeting to service my current inamorata, he greeted my return with: “You make it very hard to love you, Dad.” A hard hard lesson learned.

And I encourage editor Duane not to worry about his daughter—although all alternative papers would set a better general example if they encouraged their ad salespersons to look for greater diversity in financing. And his daughter will learn more from watching his behavior to her mother than from any other alternative, weekly paper or a live person.

By the way, Miriam, after her imminent graduation, hopes to write a book about the relationship between sexuality and feminism for college age women. Reticent as she was in the beginning, she’s clearly on the make now! Call Sexploration the lowest rung on the career ladder.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Crocodile Tears over Gross Clinic

Perhaps we should examine the grossly perverted values that led to this Gross “crisis”. For over five generations, the Movers and Quakers who have run Philly’s cultural life into the ground, no one, BIG or small, peeped about the hidden scandal that as few as 500 people a year had contemplated “the greatest painting ever made in Philadelphia.” And that’s not vetting those gross numbers for “dupes”, which is to say those Jeff workers who walked by it every day, semi-comatose to its putative value.

But those aren’t the kind of “dupes” I want to discuss. When I was Gilbert Seldes’ gofer for the then new Annenberg School in 1959, I was shocked by the cravenness of Penn officialdom vis a vis their donor, Walter. I had noted, growing up in Detroit, that Money Talks. But I had to wait until Penn hired me to learn that BIG MONEY SHUTS EVERYBODY UP. And the sycophantic way they unsuccessfully trolled Walter to get him to leave his art collection to PMA still fills me with disgust.

I had been taught that art cultivated you. Refined you, so to speak.And unrefined or not, we need to refind the USA from these False Profiteers. Culture Vultures All I have seen in this gross affair has been the Grossest Hustle. Even Professor Zaller, whose every trope I usually grope, descemds to a certain snootiness about Ozark Robber Baronesses.(Before he dismisses Arkansas a Cultural Swamp, he should look at the architecture that earned the late E.Fay Jones of Fayetteville an AIA Gold Medal.) He describes the Walmart heiress as an airhead “who proposes to decamp with it to Arkansas to delight the local booboisie.” “Miss Moneybags” just wants it. Shame on the BSR’s strongest intellectual heavyweight for going so fecklessly “ad hominem.”.

And now the many honored Gresham Riley, a professor of philosophy no less, specializing in his final days with the problem of evil, makes fancy sillygisms over the differences between saving the Gross from Ozarks bandits and moving the Barnes closer to the people that Dr.Barnes wanted to educate. Man, this whole affair is bringing out of the worst in all of us.

Zaller succinctly summarizes the fancy financial shenanigans the Parthenon Pretties have devised to “steal” the good Argyrol Doc’s estimated $30 billion trove.He comvincingly convicts them of Lies, Conspiracy,Defamation and Fraud. Wouldn’t their planned swindle give the PP’s a quick leg up on their $500 million Frank O. Gehry Fantasy. Their penniless FOG lifts!

Through all this murkiness, Stephan Salisbury, cultural reporter for the Inquirer, has shone a clear light on its myriad messy details. When Steve Wynn “folded his bad hand” to strip the Old Curtis Building of its “Dream Garden” mosaic marvel, then Mayor Ed Rendell quickly made it our first certified “historic object”. There was talk of a register of historic objects. A group met to discuss this in 2005 but never met again. Mayor Street just flexed his oral muscles over legislation to keep us from other Gross surprises.

I still remember vividly the joy of my Beaver colleague Benton Spruance when the 1% rule of the Redevelopment Authority in 1959 enabled him to grace the chapel of the City Detention Center with a mural. Salisbury reports that many of those RDA works of art have been moved, damaged, or disappeared. Sandy Calder devised a set of giant banners for the Centre Square’s interior atrium which disappeared fifteen or twenty years ago. They were feared lost.

Luckily they have been discovered in storage, and Susan Davis, head of the RDA art program, is searching for a suitable site for them. There are 450 RDA works and over 300 other works financed by an analogous City program.The city owns about a thousand works of sculpture, according to Margot Berg, director of that city art program. There are 2,830 paintings in the city’s collection, if you count all the mayoral and aldermanic portraits, not all of which are at either an Eakins or vendible level! Penn has a slew of art, and President Amy Gutmann is busy devising a new deaccessions program to retrieve “abandoned” minorpieces and find them a safe museological home. (Inquirer, 12/19/2006)

In short, the Gross brouhaha has forced us to confront the irresponsible ways we’ve been trashing our art heritage since the idealism of the Dilworth era cooled. The gross finagling around the Barness exhumation (Orphans Court, indeed!) and the quick fix of the Gross selloff should force us to call a moratorium on all Art Moves until we have a long range plan to protect what we have-- before we start multiplying museums on the Parkway like lusty rabbits.

The troubles that face Philly have little to do with art: it’s repairing broken families, getting ordinary kids to finish school, and paying the poorest Phillies enough steady income to keep them moving on up. The Museum Boom (I call it the Ka-Boom) is greatest illusion the PP’s of this world have inflicted on a comatose citizenry. All the Gehry on earth won’t help a bit if young people fear they’ll be killed on the way to school. The obscenely inflated art market is the flip side of the absurdity of paying CEO 500 times what their workers get. They’ve got to do something with their indecently indiscretionary surpluses. They fool themselves into believe they’re “finally” civilized themselves by chasing aesthetic rainbows.

Losing an Eakins is not nearly as devastating as losing one’s soul. The tsunami of Crocodile Tears over the “The Gross Clinic” is a Krock, plain and simple. That our cultural leaders can’t see this is a true index of how far we’ve fallen.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Awakening from the American Dream

The “compassionate” conservative Christians who pretend now that a “liberated” market economy is an almost theological certain given have forgotten a crucial Biblical text: Not all who say, “Lord, Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bush Administration’s absurdly skewed tax policies—to cotton up to millionaires while leaving the middle class to disintegrate--is even more diabolical in what it has done (and not done) in South Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The Wallmartification of America (I’m tempted to call it Wallmortification for it is ending up doing) is surely a global disaster in the making.

It completes the malignant process I saw accelerating when I was paying my way through University by working summers in Detroit’s automobile factories. The automotive ruling class first derided Henry Ford in 1913 when he had the perception essential to a mass production economy: pay the workers $5 a day so they could afford Fords. In the 1930’s it was a business class given that unions were an affront to their power and a disabling sharing of decisions with the workers.

They bitterly gave into the sit down strikers but silently vowed to move their factories to the poorer South as soon as they could avoid the sanctions of the New Deal. For a brief flowering, in the 1950’s-1970’s, I saw the benign effects of the Henry Ford concept of making producers consumers of their own products. Assembly line workers in Michigan were buying summer homes and putting their children through college.

Then their globalizing schemes began as first the textiles factories and then durable goods factories moved into the anti-union South, a part of the country still licking its wounds over the licking it got in the Civil War. Poor whites were beguiled with the poison of racism, and the American Dream was terminally threatened. For until we find ways of extending economic opportunities on an escalating scale to the poorest corners of the globe, we are just being imperialistic in a new guise.

Few Americans realize that the concept of the “American Dream” was developed in the Depression as a kind of whistling in the economic darkness, an implicit guarantee that anyone in America could be a self-made rich man if not a millionaire. That Dream, of course, was only an updating of the central American myth of “The City on the Hill”, that absurd hubris that God, in his Christian covenant with New Settlers expected what came to be America would be a beacon to the entire world.

Over the centuries that became “Manifest Destiny” as we expunged the native inhabitants in the name of Civilization and enslaved Africans to make abundance for the few quickly possible. Needless to say, this involved self delusions so gross and endemic that few Americans had the inclination, never mind courage, to laugh at Fourth of July fatuities. A country that was born of double genocide has a great deal of unpalatable truth to repress and the American Dream ideology is the last phase of that self delusion.

Let no one pretend that Americans who bravely attempt to deal honestly with these self-destructive fantasies are enemies of the people. Far from it. They are the only true patriots in a culture that has turned Dr. Johnson’s aphorism that “Patriotism is the last refusal of scoundrels”.Throughout our history true patriots like Abraham Lincoln who tried manfully to heal the wounds that slavery inflicted on our grandiose notions of our Exceptional God-given destiny.

Mark Twain and William Dean Howells sounded the alarm when our self-delusions escalated from justifying the double genocide of red Indian and black African to justifying Teddy Roosevelt era incipient imperialism. When William Howard Taft justified the suppression of Filipino patriots who had just successfully thrown out the Spanish oppressors by saying we were just “bringing Christianity to our Brown Brothers”. Imagine. Filipinos had been forcibly Catholicized for three centuries when this feeble rationalization of imperial injustice was accepted by an American public hornswoggled for two centuries over our illegitimate birth as a Republic who killed Indians and enslaved Africans with impunity.

Because the entertainment media and a slovenly supine school system have created an American dumbocracy, most Americans are completely ignorant of the way U.S. Marines ruled for U.S. in the Caribbean and Central America in the early twentieth century, and how the CIA took over after World War II in eliminating democratic governments in Iran, Chile, Guatemala and so on, proving that even a conservative president like Eisenhower was dead right when he warned U.S. in his farewell address to fear the military-industrial complex.

Little could Ike have foreseen how grossly disproportionate the Pentagon’s budget is compared with the aid we give to emerging nations. And so ignorant are 99 and 44/100s of Americans of world history (that they float, aimlessly!) they truly believe that America is the “All Time Hit on Humanities Hit Parade” the fatuous formula enunciated by advertising eminence Fairfox Cone in 1957 when economists feared we were slipping into recession. Americans can never learn from the rest of the world because our Exceptionalism (devised over the years to hide from U.S. the appalling discrepancies between what we think we are and what we’ve really become).

So stupid is this voluntary blindness that we really think Canada’s “socialized” medicine is a trap we must avoid at all costs—those costs including the paradoxical greater national expenditure for health and declining health services. Or that the Scandinavian societies are crippled by their high income taxes. It is not paradoxical that this self-deluding Exceptionalism has reached its fever pitch in a Presidency where the incumbent flagrantly exhibits his own semi-literacy for electoral purposes (dumb voters can identify with a man who mispronounces words or “commits” solecisms) and glibly promises to leave no child behind while cutting the taxes needed to support such necessary changes in order to wheedle more electoral support from rich and/or complacent voters.

(Has there ever been a more disingenuous electoral slogan than “It’s your money”?—while simultaneously twisting Congress’s arms to get more wealth in the hands of the already superwealthy.)

But then what can you expect from a old rich dropout who went AWOL in the Texas Air National Guard (already a rich man’s option as the Champagne Squadron that never got within several thousand miles of Vietnam), who brags about his wasted Yale education, who drank and snorted to his fortieth year, when he became a serial bankrupt until friends got him a small stake in a new baseball team, the Texas Rangers, where this private enterpriser got the city of Arlington to pay for his new baseball stadium, and whose piddling grub stake (apparently a result of insider trading for which the SEC never punished him, his father being a powerful politician) miraculously flowered into a fortune he now flaunts in his Crawford ranch, pretending to be a rancher by doing photo ops clearing away brush. If that isn’t a parody of what the American Dream is supposed to be (hard, independent work rewarded), then this farce is turning into tragedy for America in Iraq and elsewhere. “Mission Accomplished!”

“Bring ‘em On!” Schoolyard bullying as international diplomacy. Kyoto? Bah. It would cost U.S. too much. International Criminal Code? Heh, they’re after American soldiers and diplomats. And so on. God Help Us. This man needed to be “saved”, as he glibly displays his calculated ignorance by insisting that Jesus is his favorite “philosopher”.

But the real American Dream (expanding autonomy bit by bit to the entire globe) needs to be hijacked from its cynical supporters, the neocons who looked into the future and saw that if we didn’t continue to control Middle Eastern oil, our days of hegemony were soon over. I even think that’s a valid assumption. It’s only the lying strategy of the Bush Administration that is ultimately going to turn us into a de facto fascist dictatorship.

(It’s his duty to protect U.S.--poor little us—after 9/11. Don’t worry. I’ll do a heck of a job. Believe me.) Perhaps the most significant truth the neocons have admitted to was the flagrant failure of the U.S. in the twentieth century to deal with dictatorships whenever they served our immediate economic interests, including Middle East oil. Big Oil has a lot of criminal collusion to plead guilty to. And not just refusing to deal with greenhouse gases. Or Cheney’s preferring secret Big Oil policymaking to raising admission standards and financing alternative energy sources

Now there are alternatives to the Walmortification of America. I want to describe two. One is base on Brian Knowlton’s “Turning out gadgets for a $2-a-day multitude” (IHT, December 31, 2005-January 1, 2006, p. 2. cols 1 & 2.). and the for profit architectural work of Martin Dunn who builds for the poor and disabled in the Bronx and Brooklyn. (Ibid., p. 15.) I do not mean to exclude Habit for Humanity or the Center for Architecture. But I want to point out that Wal-Mart’s dismantling the American middle class for its billionaire owners is not the only option open to fair-minded Americans.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Memo to Latino Couple

Fellating each other
on the Beaumont
to Houston Greyhound
in plain daylight
seems so implausible
I couldn't believe my eyes
They had aroused me
by their nuzzling foreplay
but blow jobs on the daylight
express bus?
It just takes a pillow
over the Latina's head
as the Latino fondles her
back and neck and arms
they smiled
it seemed a bit
as they came up for air:
I sneered inwardly
at my oh so proper wife
who would never stoop
to be so conquered
sitting primly next to me.
Heh, if it works for you
Go, go Greyhound,
and leave the
fellating to them!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Hazard's riposte

No free lunch in the cultural sector, Dan? How about an affordable brunch? And although I no longer smoke and rarely drink, I have no problem with banning its public collateral damage. Man has a right to poison himself in private! But that you can be bored by Finland, Sweden and Denmark astonishes me. In my European retirement, I’ve spent almost as much time in Scandinavia as in the rest of Europe. What are you smoking, Dan? Gauloises?

I grew up in Detroit, relishing Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, and later his son Eero at the GM Tech Center. Now I scour Finland for more Aalto.

True, jazz grew out of coping with black misery in the Mississippi Delta, but Benny Goodman picked up his clarinet in a mainly benign Chicago and got along with Louie Armstrong. And take Proust’s madeleines away and he’d find something else to munch on deeply and retroactively.

Are you going to blame Mozart’s 600-plus works on Austrian oppression? And Beethoven’s glory on his deafness? Surely there must be a via media between Hobbes and Norman Vincent Peale.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Rottenberg's Reply

My reference to Eastern Europe was intended ironically. By all means let’s consider Finland, Sweden and Denmark. These are indeed fair and decent societies; perhaps coincidentally, they are (in my judgment, to be sure) nowhere near as culturally stimulating as those benighted places where rich and poor seem always to be at each other’s throats. Drama requires conflict. And if we eliminate, say, tobacco and liquor, we may also have to learn to do without, say, Proust and jazz. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Hazard Replies

Re your Editor’s Notebook response to my essay on "The ‘Capital C’ Culture syndrome"—

Eastern Europe as an example of fairness and accessibility? I have spent the last seven years in a part of that Eastern Europe, and have visited Bautzen, the prison where thousands were dispatched for trying to be decent. Come on, Dan. How about Finland, Sweden or Denmark for valid comparisons?

I have no argument with Bob Scott as a civilized man. He was the best of what is left from the WASP hegemony. But his crowd’s hiding behind Anglophilia instead of creating a truly egalitarian culture has saddled us with apparently intractable problems.

Do you see no connection between the recent reports of Exxon’s chief cleaning up on our oil addiction and the underclasses in Philly having to dodge daily bullets? Zillionaires and homeless coexisting? No number of museums will ever close that gap.

Decent income (not underpaid illegals to do our dirty work), effective education for the damaged poor, and an open mind among the privileged about a globalizing economy favoring the already overfavored: yes, those are the necessary if not sufficient conditions of a truly cultivated society.

Otherwise Culture with a capital C is just an unearned badge of status, crippling the overfavored into thinking their lives are exemplary, rather than simply overfavored. Eastern Europe as a counterargument? That’s a stinking Red Herring, Dan.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Editor's Notebook: Dan Rottenberg

In his attack on “The Capital ‘C’ Culture syndrome,” Patrick Hazard argues that the top-down notion of uplifting the masses by inundating them with museums and such is the wrong approach: “You build a decent society of fairness and accessibility and the Culture follows,” Hazard contends.

Hmm. Didn’t some guys in Eastern Europe recently spend about a half-century experimenting with such a strategy? And didn’t they, in the name of fairness and decency, inadvertently create the most boring and repressive cultures in the history of the planet?

(This exchange was originally on the luminous and literate site, Broad Street Review, where art and ideas meet.)

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Capital ‘C’ Culture Syndrome

Kudos to Kevin Plunkett for his exhumation of the forgotten Philadelphia novelist John McIntyre (“Noir Town: The hard life of John McIntyre, the legendary Philly novelist nobody’s heard of," City Paper, March 16, 2006). It gave me a King Tut discovery-level thrill. But the larger question remains. How did McIntyre (1871-1951) get lost? Here’s my explanation of this bit of cultural amnesia.

After all, Lincoln Steffens had made a rep and a bundle in 1904 when he published The Shame of the Cities. That’s where he observed that Philly was not only corrupt, but content in its corruption. And two years later Upton Sinclair shook up the slaughterhouse with his political fiction, The Jungle. How come Philly remained corrupt up to the Dilworth era, whereas the meatpackers got their act together promptly? My guess is: because all classes eat meat and fear butcher corruption, but only the lower classes suffer from political corruption.

It all really started in 1876 when the regnant Republicans sold out the country to the South by withdrawing federal troops during an incomplete Reconstruction in exchange for the South’s collusion in the Gilded Age. To this day we are bedeviled by this Faustian bargain. (George W. Bush is only the latest con man in this kleptocracy.) And how did this degradation of the democratic ideal work out in Philly? It created the Main Line, where the upper classes could avoid the ugliness of the city’s moneymaking activities by creating economically gated communities that simulated their Anglophilic ideals, down to the place names they gave their new settlements.

That’s when the Robert Montgomery Scott illusion was born— namely, that high Culture with a capital "C" could compensate for the miseries of poor working people and eventually might even civilize them sufficiently to live with their betters. Incidentally, it wasn’t until I had been Ph.Deified for 20 years that I stumbled across what Matthew Arnold had really said about Culture and the newly enfranchised masses. We all heard about the importance of savoring the best that had been thought and said, but it wasn’t until Cambridge had its first blue-collar Ph.D., Raymond Williams, that we learned why it Culture so important: so that we could bring a stream of fresh ideas to resolve the problems caused by industrialization.

Consider Philadelphia in the 1920s. Its ivory tower was the University of Pennsylvania, the last local redoubt of WASPishness. Penn had a chance to hire W.E.B. Dubois when that prescient black scholar produced his Harvard Ph. D. dissertation on the Philadelphia Negro bourgeoisie. No way. And Penn was off bounds to Jews as well: The English Department didn’t hire its first Jew (Charles Lee, né Levy) until the 1950s— if you can call a JASP a Jew.

Meanwhile, the WASPish types who ran the Modern Language Association cynically turned their backs on the public schools, since they were interested only in the private schools from which they drew their privileged graduates. Thus the privileged became more privileged, further separating the cultivated from the undercultured.

Consider as well the quirky patent medicine millionaire, Dr. Albert Barnes. He had no use for the Art Museum crowd, significantly entrusting his foundation to the black Lincoln University. And he quite openly built his curriculum on John Dewey’s pragmatism. Barnes wanted his blue- as well as his white-collar students to metabolize the significance of art as human experience. The Art Museum squad was more interested in playing the art market with their "discretionary" funds, which essentially meant playing head games over the Higher Goofiness of Modernist art, from Dada to abstract inexpressivism.

The Inquirer’s art critic Ed Sozanski recently praised Marcel Duchamp: "With dry wit and dispassion, he directed art audiences to cherish the idea more than the object, while warning them against taking art too seriously"(Feb. 19, 2006). Maybe Dada should be renamed Duh, Duh? Mr. Dada famously turned a urinal into an "art object." Recently a nutty European viewer took a whack at the portable, non-functional pissoir. Who’s nuttier? Urinalysis could be better than mine! In their neo-Parthenon on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, our current cultural commissars ask us to revere some slightly duChamped sheets of glass as Prime Art!

Also recently, Philly was treated to the visions of a Brazilian city planner who has turned his hometown into a wonder by starting with small “c" culture and building on that. The Scott crowd has it backwards. You build a decent society of fairness and accessibility and the Culture follows. All that hoopla about betraying Barnes by bringing him to the Parkway. And Calder too! Wrong. Everyone wants a Bilbao effect. We have covered the country with museums and filled the people’s minds with drivel. It won’t work.

Let’s hope some Phillyphile publisher like Running Press gives us a shot at reading John McIntyre, and that Ph.D. candidates start using the McIntyre archives at Temple to explain why we’ve been so blind up to now.

Note: This piece was first published in the literate and lively Broad Street Review. An exchange of views with the editor will follow over the next several days.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Camels, Needles & the Obscenely Rich First World

You remember the New Testament bromide about its being more difficult for a rich man to enter Heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of the needle? Well, Pope Benedict XVI has raised the same minatory threat in his latest book, “Jesus of Nazareth”, appearing on his eightieth birthday, April 18, 2007.

Simultaneously, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Archbishop of Mainz as well as head of the German Bishop’s Synod, is quoted in an interview in my local Weimar paper (Thuringer Landes Zeitung) that a living wage is an absolute moral requirement in Europe.

The so-called “red” Cardinal has been raising episcopal hackles for many years now. But the Pope’s new book is based on the significance of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who you may recall shamed both the thieves and the pious travelers who were too busy to aid a fellow traveler in distress. Rätzinger goes further than Lehmann.

He accuses the imperial European powers of being the “thieves” of recent history, whose brigandage did not end with the showoff “decolonization” that followed World War II. He further astonishes those who dismissed him as the cretinous Rottweiler of the Roman Catholic Church by contending as well that Karl Marx was correct in analyzing the alienation of prosperous Europe. This calls for some serious soul searching on the part of the West.

In addition to reluctantly agreeing with a Pope whom I dismissed as a medieval recidivist, I have a self-satisfying feeling! In 1949, as a graduating philosophy major at the Jesuit University of Detroit, I won the Midwest Jesuit Province annual essay contest with a bit of an ad hominem screed entitled, “Needed: More Red-blooded American Catholics,” by which I meant Detroit Catholics who competed with local Communists in their zeal for racial and social justice.

I don’t remember a single Jebbie on the faculty who encouraged this line of thought by congratulating me—except for my sociology professor, the Reverend John S. Coogan, SJ, who tried to talk me into switching majors (from philosophy to sociology) on the grounds of my term paper analyzing the split personality of the new Negro magazine,”Ebony”, with ads touting hair straightening agents side by side with editorial contents emphasizing ethnic identity.

Coogan was notorious in the Detroit area for taking on the Radio Priest, Charles Coughlan, who spewed anti-Semitism every Sunday on his broadcasts from the Shrine of the Little Flower in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, MI. The Dominican nuns at my boarding school, Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City, Michigan; were faithful every Sunday listeners!

My own ecumenical efforts were feeble indeed, such as talking to Catholic high school students under the aegis of the Catholic Interracial Council or “integrating” the Senior Prom at Eastwood Gardens by double dating with a “colored” couple.

Still, it pleases me to see Rätzinger catching up with newly octogenarianized me, also born like him in 1927. Then I went off to Cleveland to take a Ph.D. in American Culture at Western Reserve University. My Uncle Al, the Rev. Aloysius Mark Fitzpatrick, it so happens, was the editor of the local diocesan weekly, The Catholic Universe Bulletin. I would serve Mass for him at Madonna Hall, an old ladies home, and then go back to my digs in Newman Hall and write crypto-Marxist editorials for the Newman Club paper.

Word of my evil doings reached the Chancery downtown where it also happened that Bishop Krol was practicing his anti-ecumenical small-mindedness that he would soon bring to perfection as the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia—where fate would have it I would spend my mature years after earning the Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and Arcadia University.

The Chancery brass bellyached to Fitz as well as the Newman Club chaplain, Paul J. Hallinan. “What the hell’s wrong with your nutty nephew, Fitz, was the kernel of their complaints?” Uncle Al was not a fighter, so it fell to Hallinan to take up my defense. He was also working on a Ph.D. at U of Penn, with a dissertation on the first liberal bishop of Cleveland. His answer was curt and clear: “It’s a university, gentlemen. We’re seeking the truth!” Hallinan went on to be the first Northern Bishop in Charleston, S.C. since Reconstruction.

A lay committee met him at the airport, and on the trek into the terminal, their chief whispered to Paul that there was a big problem with their new Hospital. He feared that if they integrated it, they would loose their sponsors. Slyly Paul asked quietly, “Is it a Catholic Hospital?” “Oh yes,” his informant answered. “Gotta be integrated!” He told me this story when we had dinner after I did a story on the centennial of the Firing on Fort Sumter. He had heard that I was fronting for covert Communists at Reserve as the chairman of the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Forum.

It was founded by Ray Ginger, the biographer of Eugene Victor Debs, and his lawyer wife Ann Fagan Ginger, still an active leader in the National Lawyers Guild, often described as a Communist front. Ray was academically blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and took a teaching job in Canada, where he died prematurely in his fifties. I wasn’t yet a Marxist,but I did start subscribing to “The National Guardian” and reading it weekly soon convinced me for a while that Red was not Dead.

When I went back over Christmas to the U of D campus in 1949, I ran into my old metaphysics professor, the Rev. Rene Belleperche, S.J:, who greeted me hostilely, “I hear you’ve gone over to the Communists, Hazard.” Not exactly a Christmassy greeting! He was popular on campus less for his philosophical insight than for being the chaplain of the Detroit Red Wing hockey team!

Just like the Rector of Sacred Heart Seminary, Monsignor Henry Donnelly, was notorious for having once tried out for the Detroit Tigers! Commonweal Catholics came to call this aggressive identification with sports by a despised intellectual minority as the CYO syndrome. Donnelly caught me and Jim Van Slambrouck smoking after midnight in the Gothic Tower

"What are you two doing up here after midnight?” he asked testily. “Trying to learn how to smoke, Monsignor. Any suggestions?” He forbade me to return to the Seminary after the 1943 Easter Vacation. He said it was for that midnight lark, but Jim never got the hook. As I look back, I realize it was probably the first outbreak of bi-polar disorder that would complicate my early years as a husband and professor. I used to discombobulate my Latin teacher, Father George, by my out of control wisecracking, among other scholastic disorders!

Bishop Hallinan later asked me if I was back in the Church yet? With diabolical condescension, I sneerishly replied, “No, Father. My contribution will be persuading practicing Catholic to take their plastic saints off their automotive dashboard. It was nasty and childish. He then told me the big news: he had just been appointed the first Archbishop of Atlanta.

There he became an intimate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and broke my heart by dieing of hepatitis in his early fifties. He probably picked up the virus as a chaplain in the South Pacific during WWII. He was the first evidence I found that you could be both a questioner and good Catholic. Lehmann and Rätzinger seemed to be converging to a similar position.

It is clear that both the insanely polluted rapid modernization of China and the accelerating anti-egalitarian economics of the United States deserve the ethical condemnation of clerics like Lehmann and Rätzinger. That globalization is reproletarianizing the American middle class while executives now “earn” 500 more times what their workers do (even before you factor in globalization) is obscene.And that the religiously hypocritical Bush, whose achievement of millionaire status is contemptibly non-meritocratic is blasphemous.

And if the higher clergy can show the flocks how their religious truths indeed indict the First World in the world court of public opinion, we may achieve a humanization of public policy before Time catches up with the Hypocrats. Sadly the two leading national engines accelerating self-destructive climate change thumb their noses at the Kyoto protocols.

America’s transportation and primary/secondary education infrastructures are silently collapsing. And China is insanely polluting itself to the point of extinction. We need all the help we can get from religious leaders. Lehmann and Rätzinger may save us just in time, with a lot of luck from Heaven!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Pat Weaver's Defeat

For a cadet teacher in East Lansing, Michigan in 1952, James L. Baughman’s “Same Time, Same Station: Creating American Television, 1948-1961 (John Hopkins University Press, 2007) is a marvel. To a lower middle class Detroiter, who had never seen a symphony concert or a Broadway play before he got to graduate school, it describes with marvelous completeness (125 pages of footnotes in a 433 page book) the epic battle between the visionary head of NBC, Sylvester L. “Pat” Weaver, and the rest of the emerging networks TV brass.

A Dartmouth preppie from a well-to-do Los Angeles family, he had cut his broadcasting teeth as an adman for network radio. He believed that the new medium of television could generate an era of mass enlightenment. Especially if he could break the old tradition of radio sponsors controlling broadcast content.

Weaver argued with real conviction that every American could become “an Athenian”. ENLIGHTENMENT THROUGH EXPOSURE was his motto. If only he could break that deathly hold of sponsors on broadcasting content. “General” David Sarnoff was equally eager to sell his RCA color TV’s and backed the innovator in the belief his “spectaculars” could sell the masses on his sets.

Sarnoff was an immigrant Russian Jew who hadn’t finished high school, and Pat the preppie rode roughshod over his boss’s status panic. Baughman is especially perceptive in showing the vulnerability of other leaders in the new medium to such personality conflicts.

But Weaver’s rationale for upgrading TV appealed to many young teachers. Assigning Maurice Evans in “Macbeth” or Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” documentaries seemed a natural. Especially promising were the original TV plays like Paddy Chayefsky’s “Marty” and “The Catered Affair”. My first national publication was an essay on such classroom use of live TV, “Everyman in Saddle Shoes” (Scholastic Teacher, 1954).

And Michigan State had just opened a UHF TV channel and was eager for local participation. So I got my 12th grade English students to organize a weekly pop culture hour, “Everyman Is a Critic”. We discussed one topic a week--fashion trends, pop music, racing cars, and of course, television. These maneuvers led to a Ford Foundation fellowship in New York (1955-56) to speculate on other forms of collaboration, made especially effective when I was appointed the radio TV editor of Scholastic Teacher magazine. My first ambition was to interview Weaver, but his secretary grew colder and colder the more I tried.

Serendipitously, I read in the New York Times (my new daily ritual riding the subway from our apartment in Flushing to the magazine offices in mid- Manhattan across the street from the Main Public Library) that there was a White House Conference on Education scheduled for the next day. Motivated by the chutzpah of a midwestern Julien Sorel, I showed up at the Washington Hilton, uninvited.

As I entered the foyer I saw Ralph Bunche (he had recently been on a Time cover) in a deep conversation with another man. I butted in, and explained that I was on a fellowship to discover creative ways of using the new medium of television in high school English classrooms.

The unidentified man broke their stunned silence at my interruption by asking,”Well, how is it going, Mr. Hazard?” I exclaimed at my joy of New York’s museums, theaters, and restaurant. But I couldn’t get an interview with Pat Weaver. My interrogator then identified himself as Roy Larson, the publisher of Time magazine, as well as a board member of the Foundation which had given me the fellowship! “How would you like an office in Time to facilitate your research?” I gulped, and agreed to meet him Monday in his office at the Time Life Building.

So there I was looking out over Manhattan from my “office”, wondering what my next move should be. I’ll make one last pass at Weaver. The secretary was so distant you could see frost forming on the telephone wires. “Mr. Hazard, this is the beginning of the fall season, and Mr. Weaver is very, very busy.” I allowed as how it was the beginning of my research fellowship, but that I’d appreciate fifteen minutes with him, and then gave her what turned out to be the magic Time number, Judson 62525.

It was nine a.m. At ten thirty I was invited across Sixth Avenue to Weaver’s office. To my temporary dismay, I found him on a Bongo Board, a kind of one-man see-saw that he claimed helped him think more clearly. Hmmmm. I was becoming enlightened in an unexpected way by this exposure. Nonetheless, when I left an hour later, he had arranged for me to have full access to his network, beginning with the publicity department, which arranged for me to watch teleplays in rehearsal and set up appointments with other network brass.

And Sid in PR made it easy for me to duplicate access to the other networks. It got me fascinating interviews with academics like Columbia’s Richard Hofstadter and Marshall McLuhan as well as broadcasting innovators like Don McGannon at Westinghouse and Richard D. Heffner at WNBC-TV. I had learned the first rule of mass media. It ain’t who you know; it’s how you use the telephone.

Baughman is especially gifted at identifying crucial “little” details, such as Dave Garroway’s “Today” show’ failing until the cheeky chimp J. Fredd Muggs showed up to mesmerize the children at home. Weaver pioneered other formats which accommodated his keep the sponsors from mucking up content rule such as “The Home Show” (which he originally dubbed “Shopping”! And of course “The Tonight Show”.

I wonder how much more Pat could have done had he not alienated “General” Sarnoff (that wartime honorary “degree” always had to be used in addressing him!) The day the General convened his top execs to announce that Weaver was the new chairman, Pat arrived late--to find the General in the chairman’s chair. Weaver made him give it up! He lost “his” Chair in the Fall of 1956.

Especially good is the story of how Walt Disney saved ABC-TV because he had more confidence in the medium than the execs who didn’t know which way to turn to fight the two main networks. “The Mickey Mouse Club” assembled the moppets just as Dick Clark later attracted the teenagers that together made the “third” network viable. South Philly teens didn’t cost anything. And once the TV audience stabilized, the number of Afro-American dancers was kept to a minimum!

I had always wondered why Walter Annenberg built his first TV station at 46th and Market. (It was because it was next to an arena that early programmers thought was to be a programming mainstay: wrestling, boxing, roller derbies.) He later gifted it to WHYY, until the area became a bit too dicey for that staff. Incidentally, when I did a 13 part University of the Air series on architecture in 1960, the crew was the same one that did “American Bandstand.” They used to tease me about my miniscule audience. I urged them to plant a few South Philly fillies in the background—to see my ratings soar.

While Baughman spends some time on the creation of news and public affairs traditions at the various networks, including eventually PBS, he doesn’t give it the same attention he does to entertainment programming. And while the Ronald Reagan ukase that virtually ended the concept of “equal time” comes two decades after the end of his account, it ignores what I think is the gravest weakness of contemporary television, the pollutocratic spending in our electoral cycles. Most European TV networks give electoral contestants equal free time. Nonetheless, his analysis of the new medium’s first 13 years is overall exemplary historiography.

I still believe that the failure of the university humanists to encourage excellence in the emerging medium was a gross trahison des clercs. Their ignoring TV was coeval with their sinking into the swamp of Frenchified mistiphysics as well as their simultaneous overproduction of PhD.’s who wandered in frustration from one part time job to another, with no pension rights, no health insurance, no tenure track. Simultaneously, a lucky few got $100,000 plus sinecures.

I remember one telling incident: I had arranged at a Modern Language Association convention to show Dave Myers’ excellent self-financed film on the poet Theodore Roethke. He had a go ahead from Marianne Moore to do a similar film on her work. I asked the MLA Executive Secretary’s aide Mike Shugrue if we could try to raise that money among the members. “Pat,” he replied, “our members have had a very bad year on the Stock Exchange.” Ms. Moore died before the next annual convention.

If the University humanists ignored the new medium, the New York intellectuals dismissed it with a sneer and a taxonomy of scorn, as in Dwight Macdonald’s cute categories-- lowbrow, middlebrow, and highbrow. In discussing this impasse, Baughman cites one participant in the debate: "Some very respectable critics. . .have argued that the only defensible strategy for the humanist in mass culture to to teach his students to hate it.”

I agreed, and turned to the footnote to see who had said it. I had! In my introduction to a collection of essays, “TV as Art: Some Essays in Criticism” (National Council of Teachers of English, 1966). Roy Danish, head of the Television Information Office, and I had assembled a roster of pro TV critics, ranging from CBS executive George Dessart to Jesus College/ Cambridge blue collar Ph.D. Raymond Williams.

Danish pulled out all the stops, when I was teaching in London 1967-8, to help me organize a TV film series at the Royal College of Art, “Twenty Four Hours of Unseen American TV”, which Robert MacNeil and I kicked off on BBC-2’s “Late Night Lineup,” a marvelous innovation which featured a critical commentary on a particular TV event that evening. Needless to say, both Canada and England displayed more maturity in confronting the new medium than ours, even our PBS stations. I’ll never forget when an American filmmaker had to go to Japan to get financing for a film on Allen Ginsberg, with further backup from “Arte”, the German-French TV collaboration.

The U S Office of Education sent me to Europe to find out why even their commercial stations were doing better than our noncommercial ones on the arts. In Border TV in Carlisle, I encountered the Scots poet, Maurice Lindsay, producing prime time documentaries on Bobby Burns as well as Hugh Macdiarmid, whom I had never even heard of before—so blinkered were the New Critics with their covert Anglicanism.

And in Cardiff, the Welsh poet John Ormond showed me how BBC Wales was producing first class documentaries on their own poets. In Dublin, Telefis Eiran touted their new documentary on William Butler Yeats as if they were promoting a football match. It was no mystery why they were doing better than we were. The people running things knew and loved their own arts.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The First World Festival of Negro Arts

Heavily into African Lit in my International English Lit rubric, I felt it incumbent on me to visit the Darker Continent, and Leopold Senghor’s exercise in Negritude seemed an irresistible opportunity. I made it easier on my increasingly impatient wife by taking my 14 year old son Michael along with me. (She was teaching English at Temple University and finishing a Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr in Renaissance Studies, so dealing with Catherine, 12, and Timothy, 10, was no sinecure.) We flew over on Pan Am, which had not yet had its fiscal comeuppance. It was over Easter 1966, and it was my first encounter with international cultural exchange.

I was as ignorant of Africa, except for a little Anglophone Lit, as Michael. And I remember vividly our first joint epiphany: watching a Muslim in recumbent prayer outside our Dakar hotel. We both went to the Isle of Goree to see where a lot of American black slavery started. It is weird how trivial details caught my attention. For example, the same street that was called Avenue Jean Jaures as it passed the National Assembly morphed in Rue Jean XXIII as it ran by the Catholic Cathedral.

And I’ll never forget overhearing in the hotel bar Langston Hughes telling Wole Soyinka that he should look into the work of LeRoi Jones. (In my glib omniscience I had pegged Hughes as the “Louis Armstrong” of American Lit, meaning by that he was soft on race! And I was teaching African-American Lit!) Unhappily, I also ran into the young Nigerian novelist, Obi Egbuna, whose novel “Wind vs. Polygamy” was dramatized at the Festival.

I talked Marjorie Farmer of the Philadelphia School District into co-sponsoring Egbuna in a series of lectures at Beaver and in the local high schools. I’ll never forget our flight back from Manchester during which I tried without success to summarize the lectures he was scheduled to give on Nigerian fiction and W. African drama. Ha. He was immovable. As it turned out, all he would talk about was his preference for polygamy over straitlaced American monogamy. You can imagine what a hit that made at a women’s college

A more satisfying recollection was the reception for the Duke Ellington and his orchestra at the American Embassy. I passed several heady hours drinking with two of my musical heroes, Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney. Ellington’s concert at Liberty Stadium on Easter Sunday was easily the highpoint of the First World Negro Arts Festival. (And that includes the somewhat disappointing extemporaneous lecture President Leopold Senghor gave us assembled journalists on his favorite theme of Negritude. One chorus of Johnny Hodges eclipsed many polysyllabic paragraphs of the famous poet and literary critic!)

There was one serendipity in my booking the cheapest passage to England to pick up Egbuna via Manchester. In the seat next to me was the music critic of “High Fidelity” magazine who explained he was on his was to a premiere—oddly, he noted, a Catholic Requiem composed by a Jewish dentist for a socialist TV station! The next day was a Saturday and I arrived at Granada Television to find it almost abandoned. I did find out the name of the PR man who might swing me tickets for the premiere that evening.

As I walked across the parking lot I hailed a car leaving and asked the driver if he knew how to contact PR. He didn’t. When I repeated the question to a driver entering the parking lot, he asked me what I wanted to know. I repeated the Catholic Requiem/Jewish Dentist/Socialist TV paradigm, at which he smiled. He told me to appear at the Free Trade Hall (visions of John Bright dancing through my head) a half hour before performance and there would be a ticket there in my name.

Then is when my dumb Irish luck kicked in. I asked him how I could arrange an interview with the legendary managing director. “You’re talking to him!” he shyly and slyly replied! We chatted for a while about the increasingly complex interactions between the BBC and its commercial competitors, of which Granada was the perennial leader. (The Requiem by the way was no aural root canal, but it wasn’t Gregorian Chant either.)

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Re-Conning an Icon

Strictly speaking, I’m unqualified to review Pete Dexter’s new collection of “non-fiction” essays dubbed “Paper Trails: True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires, a Surprising Number of Which are Not About Marriage,” (Harper Collins, 2007). He used to hang out in Philly’s toughest bars, where inevitably he was ultimately really creamed.

I’ve never been in such a bar. Ever...Would you believe I’ve never been in a fist fight in my entire life! (Just a little bit of boxing in the Navy.) Blame Holy Rosary Academy and Sacred Heart Seminary. They turned me into a gutless Pacifist. My Ossi wife even calls me The Hopper, meaning a lily-livered bunny dedicated to avoid all physical confrontations. And she lived in a Police State for twenty-four years.

Except that I used to read Dexter religiously (like I do Steve Lopez these days, on www.latimes.com.) Especially because, I think, looking back. Pete often gave me a vicarious sense of danger in reading him in the Daily News. And I reviewed, very enthusiastically, both “Paris Trout” and “Deadwood” for the late and often lamented (by me) “Welcomat”. Indeed, what in my heart of hearts I regard as the high point in my very spotty journalistic career was noodling with legendary News editor Gil Spencer, as I started to contribute Op Ed pieces to that tabloid. (I think Rich Aregood was much less thrilled than I was!)

And I learned loads about jazz from Nels Nelson, hanging out at that paper... (Rubbing noses with such a tabbie gave me a demotic sense of being closer to Walt Whitman, the hero of my American Lit course at Beaver College.) I got much less buzz from writing for the Inky and the Bulletin, the Christian Science Monitor, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Oakland Tribune (in those days when I was getting tired of teaching). The Daily News was and remains my favorite newspaper. With Signe and Stu, and Elm and Smirk. And in the old days Chuck Stone. But Pete Dexter was the goofy muse who really set me up for that literary love.

And so it pains me to be picky, picky about this collection. Even Pete Hamill’s introduction sounds more than a canonization proposal than one news junkie blurbing another’s similar addictions. And the idiotic way he and the editor, Rob Fleder, tried to make the other guy decide on which pieces to leave out. And the titleless essays, helter skeltered into no discernible pattern.

I have been concurrently reading the new collection of I.F. Stone’s journalism, where Izzie tells you how he started his (in)famous Weekly (he had just lost his last job at the New York Compass), how he and Esther went out dancing twice a week, and loved to terp their high class way across the Atlantic on their Queen Mary vacations. Odd addiction for two life-long Socialists. Pete is always trying so damn hard to be funny. But Izzie just loved living, free and easy. No big deal about it. And his pieces are organized by theme and chronology. (That perhaps brings out the Ph.D.in me.)

Anyway, Pete has obsessive shticks, like always referring to his wife as Mrs.Dexter. So far as I can see, he’s only had one marriage, officially. As a running gag, it’s lower case Dexter. And that presumably saintly woman, the shit she must have begrudgingly put up with, like the time he stole her menstrual pads so he could tape his fists better for a bag workout at the gym, or when his daughter asked him how chickens and eggs worked, and he ended up dropping his visual aid down the back of Mrs. Dexter’s pants, with the “hilariously” sticky goo that ensued.

Or the feral crisis that ensued when a friend’s yard was invaded by a pushy swine from next door. But when he jokes about his wife’s tiny titties, I gorge. He doesn’t, God knows, have to be a perfect gentleman. But using the marital bed for cheap gags, well, makes me gag. One concludes that Pete never really perceived the boundary line between fiction and non-fiction. Or good and bad tastelessness for that matter. (I never ever had any such gripe about his honest to goodness fiction.)

When he creates the realities behind the police blotter, he does incomparable reporting. There was an aging Philly blue collar cop from the tough inner city who moves his young wife and new baby to the Greater Northeast to give his kid a better chance, but the local hoods gang up on him and kick him senseless.

Or the young working girl in Sacramento who picks her johns very, very carefully—until, pressed for cash, she lets a drug high young thug pick her up and he rapes her. Or an old boyfriend who breaks down the front door and clubs his ex-lover mercilessly while her young daughters watch, helplessly—and he gets away with it-- to Pete’s moral fury, through legal blather and a half-hour-long 911 response.

There is, needless to say, a softer sentimental side to Pete. When he’s talking about his Am Lit teacher at the University of South Dakota slowly catching on to his Cliff Notesiness, he’s a scream. When she later turns up with cancer, he’s no longer the tough guy. And if God ever gave an aspiring writer the gift of goofy relatives, he began with Pee Dee.

His Uncle Buck, who Caddied around North America with two pianos for his dual piano act, and ended up as Dave Garroway’s guest, when he got under the piano upside down and played “Mary Had a Little Lamb” like he was chinning himself. We worry a lot about deprived childhoods. Well, Pete transmuted his astonishingly long run of bad luck “at home” into lifelong running gags.

I always wondered why he didn’t go into syndication when he left the Daily News for Sacramento. This collection makes it clear why. That local “Bee” was always in his bonnet, when he wasn’t trying Mrs.Dexter’s angelic patience with his mutt McGuire, or complaining to his doctor about the cat his cable people taught to turn on the TV in the middle of the night, wrecking his sleep. Nuts.

But so was his You-knee-verse. One of a kind, too many say too casually. It fits PeTe to a capital T. (As I gave this book a final riffle, I noted its dedication: “For Millicent”.) Heh, come to think about it, with a name like that, I think I’d prefer “Mrs. Dexter”. My next book I will dedicate to Hilly, aka Hildegard.

Steve Lopez also is always talking about his wife and kids. But never for cheap guffaws. And his satire, like mocking the tightass Cardinal of L.A., Roger Mahoney, for his new expensive Cathedral--on skid row--as the Rog Mahal is pointed and to his point.

Lopez is an Icon you can’t con. Pete has made a career of cheap shots, not all of them very pertinent. He doesn’t grow on you the way Steve does. All this negative blather aside, I’m still sure I wouldn’t miss a Dexter piece—you never know when he’s going to hit a home run. So you put up with a lot of scratch singles, and even a few strike outs.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Imus in the Mourning

The I. Man’s tempest in a pisspot is a wake-up call for all Americans to blow the whistle on the deepening, spreading coarsening of our public discourse. Daily News thinker, Elmer Smith, hits a homer with his pun, discoarse. Our public discourse is altogether too coarse, in almost all the media all the time.

This week(18 April edition of the Philadelphia Weekly) Steve Volk’s excellent piece on the stupid cashiering of the Inky’s legendary TV columnist, Gail Shister, is headlined “Tube Tied”, a gratuitously gynecological allusion absolutely inappropriate. And Duane, editor at the competing “City Paper”(19 April) defaces his otherwise commendable fury over Philly street crudities as he squires a visiting Scottish crime novelist about town with neologisms like assholeteria and dipshits per square inch.

I know it may sound so 1950, but we all need to clean up our linguistic acts. (I apologize for using “pisspot” in the first sentence, and won’t do it again. Soon. We have long realized that our first using four letter words is a teeny bopper’s pretense at growing up.Learning how immature that tendency really is usually is the first dependable sign of maturity. As I look back on we liberals’ too quickly idolizing of potty mouths like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Talking tough is a fool’s substitute for thinking hard. In our eagerness to subvert Puritanism in American culture, we demeaned ourselves into a teenybopper culture.

You can parse IMUS as I’M US. That’s the problem. Using dirty, cheap language never leads to thoughtful analysis. It simply reveals an utter lack of thought, a triumph of a teeny, tiny vocabulary over developed thought processes. Alas, we really are all in this together. When black rappers flaunt their “nigger” talk about “ho’s” and such, they are simply showing what empty vessels they are creatively.

And the late Delores Tucker was absolutely right in presciently knocking such mindless lyrics as generate misogyny and amorality. She was derided as being sissy and uppity for her thoughtful critiques. It is not logic chopping to infer that there is a direct connection between such self-demeaning talk and the crime crisis in the black community.

We have indeed created unwittingly for ourselves a truly dangerous urban society with its Columbine’s and Virginia Tech’s. I asked my East German wife yesterday how many gun-related murders she thought there were in the United States last year. After pausing a minute or so, she replied: “Oh, about 300!” I ruefully had to inform her it was closer to 33,000. Think of it. That’s almost a hundred a day!

And yet most Americans pride themselves on living in a Christian society. Almost 90% say they believe in God and an afterlife. Europeans look at these disparities between our official Christian compassion talk and our actual behavior and shake their heads sadly. Global Warming may be the Next Big Crisis. But our scatological ways of talking about both ourselves and others is a global collapse of ethics, after which all sorts of unexpected calamities may ensue.

And Imus’ picking on the Rutgers basketball team is dangerous foolishness. The plight of the black women in general in America is monstrous. We should all be bending over backwards giving them a break. The National Urban League’s “The State of Black Americans 2007” is just out, and its details are horrifying. The black male is twice as likely to be unemployed as his white counterparts. And they make only 75% as much.

They are seven times more likely to be incarcerated, with ten month longer sentences for the same offenses. Among blacks between 15 and 34, they are nine times more likely to be victims of homicides than whites. In this demoralizing chaos, black females find it Sisyphean just to be normal, let alone superlative, like the Rutgers women. To mock them is truly blasphemous.