Friday, 30 April 2010

Twentieth Century "Saints"

As Richard Hawkins and Christopher Hitchens loudly blare their “faith” in secularism, a retired fishing family in Brittany perhaps shows by silent example what being “saintly” entails in our era. Their inspiring story was told by Fred Eckhard, lately Kofi Annan’s spokesman, who recently retired with his wife Kathryn after thirty years UN service in New York in Brittany, northwest France.(“85 Euros and a Bicycle,” IHT, 3/3/10, p.7.)

Brittany has more stone manors per square kilometer than any other part of France: It came from their profitable linen weavers who supplied sailing ships for centuries with the raw materials for sails (including, tradition had it, those of the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina.) Came the steamship in the nineteenth century, and there were suddenly many empty manors, one of which is now inhabited by the Eckhards.

She was a Scot, with a deep curiosity about Brittany, so in 2005, they settled in a small fishing village, Plourhan, where they met Gilberte and Jean-Claude Saint Cant, recently retired from a local lifetime of fishing. Jean-Claude had once also served in the French Merchant Marine. Jean-Claude used to take Gilberte to Djibooti, one of the hottest places on earth, where they would sleep buck naked on the tile floor, with overhead fan, until dawn, when they’d take running dives into the Red Sea. They dug Africa, those lower class, high class Britts!

Ten years ago a priest from Koudougou, Burkina Faso (at 100,000 plus and growing, the third largest city in the second poorest state in Africa).Pere Albert Kabore and Gilberte set up an NGO to finance girls in secondary school there. At first they begged bikes, fridges, and clothing from village friends and sent the stuff by container ship. One girl named Souli was an inspiration. She made very popular cakes. For 85 Euros and a bike she started a successful year around business. She put two younger brothers through school. Now she’s married to a shopkeeper, has one child and a thriving cake biz!

But the 2002-4 Ivory Coast Civil War cut off landlocked Burkino Faso’s access to container ships, so Gilberte shifted to Euros. Pere Kabore happily took home her last collection of 7000 Euros(she sells her fabulous chocolates over Xmas and throws a fund- raising Xmas luncheon). That will pay tuition for 45 girls. Not everything is working.

Many girls are forced to stay at home to help with chores. And some girls miss 3 to 4 days a month because they can’t afford sanitary napkins during menstrual periods. But their little NGO is still gogo! It suggests a career pattern for pre-retired in our crazy Casino Capitalism: Pick a missionary and ask her how you and your friends could help! And even our secular media are beginning to think and act that way.

CNN now runs an annual Hero’s Race, in which a dozen or so such global “saints” are described and viewers are urged to vote for their favorite—and emulate her/him/them in a fresh way. Let’s call them People Plebiscites. Recently it has been argued that the sudden decline in liberal arts majors is explained by a massive transfer to business majors where the Big Bucks allegedly are. Mebbe so.

All the more reason to tout generosity as an essential compensatory attribute in Casino Capitalism. The generosities of, say the Gates Foundation as well as those of George Soros and Warren Buffett are necessary to balance the distortions of the Bigger and Bigger Bonus Bums! Where are our comedians mocking the Bejeesus out of Harvard MBA’s ruining capitalism by their juvenile shenanigans. Becoming a Billionaire is a very shallow aspiration!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Priestly Sexual Abuse

Thom Nickels is an excellent historian, but still only a so-so theologian.

As an altar boy at eight and minor seminarian at 14 (1940), I was totally innocent sexually until the turbulent ’60s, when that tsunami blew apart my “innocent” marriage. And while I commend his praise of the traditional mass (Gregorian chant still vies with jazz as my ear’s love), “eternal hellfire” as a merciful God’s punishment for an ignorant moral life no longer computes for me.

Ratzinger is a wimpy Rottweiler when it comes to his flunkies’ abuse of children.

Patrick D.Hazard
Weimar, Germany
March 31, 2010

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Am-Bushed in Chinatown

It just goes to show you how full of serendipities the Bay Area is. I was on my way to get my passport out of my safe deposit box at Chinatown San Francisco Federal Savings, when my ears were assaulted by a wail of police motorcycles. When I asked one cop who was guarding an intersection what all the hoopla was about, he curtly replied, intent on his walkie talkie, "The Vice President," an ambiguous answer under our circumstances. "Bush," he clarified.

Ho-hum as a Detroit-bred New-Deal Depression-Democrat, I yawned impolitely, and threaded my way delicately through the throngs lining Grant and Jackson (what a historically oriented Michael Pritchard could make of that intersection). Duly repassported for my impending trip to Japan, I sauntered back towards the San Francisco Business Journal to turn in a story.

But the clot of oriental Republicans was reaching terminal gridlock, and besides, two Dragon dancers were being drummed down Jackson. I took out my reporter's notebook, brandished my zoom lensed Nikon--the better to simulate a credentialed journalist, and jockeyed for better shooting position.

As it happened, Mr. Bush pressed the flesh along my line, and suddenly I found my calloused Democratic hand being briefly massaged by his Yalie pinkies. Oddzooks, my mind raced to a verbal confrontation. "Are you going to kick more ass in San Francisco, today, Mr. Vice President?" I maliciously queried.

Flashing an orthodontically perfect set of Ivy League choppers at me, he demotically intoned, "All Right," you know the all-purpose, yuppieish, affirmative, with double accent, and a stringing out of the "Right." He had bitten for my cheap taunt. "Glad to see you," he added, simulating Nelson Rockefeller's old de-billionaireizing tag, "Hi Ya Fella."

So Mr. Bush hadn't learned a thing since he first "kicked ass" with a longshoreman several days before. He still fakes locker room rhetoric to garner the macho vote. How sad. How unvicepresidential. How stupid, to try to conquer that way by stooping.

My curiosity aroused, I decided to try to slink by the Secret Service without benefit of dangling computer-checked credential (after all, I was on the computer anyway from having interviewed President Carter in 1980 at the National Educational Association convention in Detroit).

I must say I look completely harmless anyway, in any case. No Hinkley me. Well, they ogled me each and every one of them, the SWAT guys with their carbines at the ready, a Naval Full Lieutenant (How the hell does he get off sea duty?), and phalanxes of Secret Service persons, enough to keep a hearing aid rehabbing center in full operation for a year.

Into the Grand Palace I waltzed, wherein my nose picked up the unmistakable scent of Dim Sum. I may be dim at sums, but I know I could never afford to eat here on my pension, so I fell by the press table and gorged myself. (I must say the median piggery of the American media operatives is not a sight to inspire credibility in their nobility and higher worldliness.)

I almost was too busy gnoshing to attend to the elegant and eloquent paeans of one Mr. John Fang, who was described by a local newsperson (properly credentialed, and not stacked bad either, come to think of it) as Mr. GOP/Chinatown.

Mr. Fang laid a sweet and sour short history of SF/Chinatown as the largest, oldest, most culturally hip Chinese center outside China. (From my recent two visits to the Mainland I'm willing to argue, "in the world"--but then I haven't been to Taiwan yet.) Mr. Fang then asserted that Chinese food in SF is the best in the world, and my mouth was too full of goodies to object, if I could have, and given the taste of it all, I wouldn't have.

Mr. Fang, however, then made the mistake of praising George Bush for speaking Mandarin to him when the Veep last deplaned at SFO. This born again China-lover flinched a foot, blushed, and in many other minor ways revealed that he is not always the macho man we have come to expect him to be! What were the Mandarin phrases that moved Mr. Fang to his praise of Mr. Bush's linguistic expertise? "Ni Hau, Ma?" Which is to say, "How are you?." Last year I spent a month in Shanghai at their Foreign Language Institute studying Mandarin and we learned that and "Thank You" (chi-chi) in our first high class lesson.

It's the Captain Kangaroo maneuver. But then maybe the Veep is a slow learner. (I have been getting aisle-rolling laughs out of my Chinese hosts when toward the end of the month of studying Mandarin I mock-seriously complained that their language was so difficult that I had only learned to master three words in the entire month.) "Which three words?" they invariably replied, cocking their slanted eyebrows at an even more puzzled angle. "Wo bu dong" ("I not understand"), at which they roll over in hilarity at my witty sally.

The Chinese, unlike their high-tech, tight-ass neighbors, the Japanese, are gregarious and fun-loving. They are always ready for a laugh. Which is what they must have been ready to do, when Vice President Bush, fatigued from an excess of oohing and aahing at the serial Chinese barbecue he had just subjected himself to, brought up the touchy matter of the state of his Mandarin. ("How long was he our Ambassador to Peking?" I asked a studious-looking credentialed national reporter. "A year and a half," was his cynical reply.) Eighteen months and "Ni-Hau-Ma?" is the best he can do? I don't know how good Geraldine Ferraro is at language study, but I hope she's more studious than her competitor.

Monolingual Americanism is, of course, one of our principal debilities, both in diplomacy and commerce, but it is embarrassing to see the disparity between Bush's "Me thinks he protesteth too much" level of fulsome praise about Chinese culture, and his evident sloth about really linguistically possessing the riches of Chinese culture. It reminds me of President Reagan's rhetoric about inaugurating a renaissance in American education while limiting his own pursuit of literature to what he can find fits on a 3 x 5 card. These dark thoughts moiled in what passes for my mind, as I wended my stuffed body over to Sacramento and Kearny, huffing and puffing from an excess of some dim sums.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Maoist Tiger's Stripes

The terrible debacle in Tiananmen Square reminded me vividly of my conclusion about China after two trips there six years ago--that the Maoist Tiger wasn't going to lose its stripes easily or soon.

My first post-retirement adventure was to go to Shanghai to study Mandarin at their Foreign Language Institute. Our hosts were friendly, the exotica were enchanting. But the traces of the disaster of the Cultural Revolution were everywhere.

To prove to us that they really were changing, the Institute staged an "open forum" before our final going-away party. My suspicions about how open it was to be began with their request that we submit questions in writing in advance of the "forum." The panel of "distinguished" senior faculty who were to answer our "no-holds-barred" questions included one customer whose specialty was "Ethics and the History of the Chinese Communist Party." Right.

I have never been so insulted by such a farcical parody of an open forum. A few of the least contentious questions were translated into Chinese, answered in Chinese, then rendered into English--even though at the after-party the professors who hid in that fog of Mandarin seemed articulate enough in English. The longueurs of the procedure made the worst academic committee meeting seem lively in comparison.

The reason for the charade: These senior faculty were the intellectual thugs who had risen to their eminence by subverting their betters during the Cultural Revolution. China's bureaucracies are rotten with this intellectually and morally dead wood. To prune them could trigger another Cultural Revolution.

Another episode stemmed from a Sunday morning visit in Shanghai's Hyde Park, a downtown gathering place so-called because people go there to fine-tune their English (and, when the wind is blowing right, their ideas). A young man adopted us as a guide to wherever we wanted to go with the taxi we hired. At the Catholic Cathedral a French-speaking Jesuit recapped for us the misery of the last decades for him and his fellows. At a Protestant Church we could barely squeeze into the back door, it was so packed.

While we topped off our day with a visit to Shanghai's excellent zoo and its first new hotel since Liberation, our guide dropped out but made Anne and me promise to come to dinner two days hence so we could meet his fiancee. Since his father was a college accounting teacher, the family had been rusticated to Nanking during the Cultural Revolution. The young man had spent six years switching railroad cars for "re-education." But his father surreptitiously taught him English, so that he had qualified to teach middle-school English after he was rehabilitated.

His fiancee was an elementary school teacher. Both their parents were professional who had already split--one to Hong Kong, one to L.A. They were not going to return from their honeymoon, they told us in confidence. Such is the foolish way ideologues drain brains. It was inevitable that we would contrast the thugs on the fake "open forum" with these victims who couldn't get out of Red China fast enough.

When the class was given the bonus of a trip to Beijing after the Mandarin class closed, I diverted from the group tour of the Great Wall to interview one of the editors at the English-language China Daily. Strictly speaking, it wasn't a newspaper at all, because every feature story and reported item carried a covert political agenda. I called it a "views" paper.

Still, they were about to open a New York edition, and ultimately they were more interested in doing market research through me than to explain the relations between ideology and news budget. ("Should we run more sports in New York?") Beneath every Maoist jacket beats the heart of a Chinese businessman. But I saw then and there that expanding business had no connection with expanding freedom.

It was the same thing at Panda Books (paperbacks--the Chinese equivalent of Penguin!) and New World Press. What will go in the American market? Would I like samples to show to American publishers?

Only at the editorial offices of the quarterly Chinese Literature did I find more interest in ideas than in bottom lines. The venerable editor wanted to talk about Walt Whitman, the American writer whom Lu Xun, the so-called Thomas Jefferson of the Long March, had popularized.

Lu had also been the proponent of the woodcut as the genre of the Long March, a medium you could engage in with a minimum of support. The Fine Arts Publishing House of Shanghai was just publishing a splendid golden jubilee gathering of the art in honor of the anniversary of Lu Xun's death. The editors there were also interested in how an American edition would go.

I had gone to Shanghai more interested in their art museum's treasures than in learning Mandarin (they were about the travel to San Francisco). The museum was located in a recycled Art Deco bank! There had been no public museums before the Revolution, so it was just getting up to speed. But they took me to the reproduction workshop and explained their elaborate plans to finance expansion by selling a lot of high-quality reproductions.

Every time I glance at a the wall hanging I had mailed from the museum. I ruminate about how much easier it is to package traditional art than to create the infrastructure for a libertarian society. I don't doubt that down the road China will purge itself of Maoist shackles. But it won't be in our generation. Once lost, freedom is very hard to retrieve.

from Welcomat: After Dark, 1989

Monday, 26 April 2010

Taking on Giants

Aris Mardirossian is my kind of mensch.

When the 7-11 convenience store chain canceled a contract for a franchise on property he owns in Gaithersburg, MD, the 35-year old Armenian immigrant (1965) started his own chain--dubbing it 6-Twelve. Needless to say down in Dallas the Southland Goliath was not amused by the slingshot humor of this upwardly mobile David.

Shortly after he signed the contract for a third 6-Twelve store, their attorney wrote the feisty entrepreneur on a roll that it was Southland's belief that Mardirossian's perkily parodic name "was adopted for the purpose of falsely suggesting some sort of affiliation with Southland's national 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores." Huffily, the Big S down in the Biggest D called upon this pipsqueak promoter "to terminate all usages of the expression 6-Twelve."

No way, Jose. Aris took up his trusty slingshot once more and fielded a series of full-page ads in suburban newspaper with an all out aggressive headline booming, "REASONS WHY 6-TWELVE IS BETTER THAN 7-ELEVEN." When the Armenian-American (he took out citizenship!) approached big time lawyers in Washington, New York and Boston for counsel in his suit with Southland, they advised him to cave in--no way he could ever win a tussle with such a giant. "I don't like to hear I can't do something," Ari recalled. "I remembered that MCI took on AT&T, so I called MCI's lawyers in Chicago, and they said we had a good case."

So the indomitable Armenian took on Southland, and with minor cosmetic changes of his testing logo, the kingpin of convenience stores did the caving in--even paying Ari an undisclosed amount for his pains. "No where else but in the U.S. could you go against the grain, take on a big company and win," exults Ari. "The whole story of America is the spirit of competition, the spirit of determination, the spirit of fairness." And his first two stores are winners: each grosses $1.5 to 2 million a year, with a profit margin of 9 to 10 percent. Now Ari dreams of taking on Southland all across his newly adopted country: he's been getting about twenty calls a month from interested franchises.

Are his stores really better? Check it out the next time you pass through Gaithersburg. It's easy to find--right across the street from, ahem, a 7-Eleven! He and his co-owning brother contend they serve better food than they do, have a faster checkout (computer scanners!), and have a wider selection of food. The mechanical engineer (a master's from the University of Maryland) is a dropout from Potomac Electric Power Co. and got his retail feet wet owning a restaurant.

He has a weird personnel training policy. Ari marches new employees through 7-Eleven across the street, insisting after their disorientation tour: "We don't want to be like this. We want to be better." (Carl Horwitz, Inquirer, June 26, 1986, 13D.) He wants them to be cleaner, bigger, more community-oriented, and less expensive than the Southland clones. It's the Armenian-American way. The puckish wit scheduled the opening of a third 6-Twelve (in Olney, east of Gaithersburg) for July 11 (get it? 7/11!).

Which reminds me how pitiful and counterproductive a countervailing trend in major American cities is at the moment. I mean the efforts to "discipline" street vendors, allegedly because they create a public nuisance of themselves, getting in the way of the affluent consumers who want unimpeded access to the big department stores. If they're not paying their sales tax, or vendors fees, that's one thing.

But it's on the edge of absurd trying to suppress this tradition of peddlers a century after the Statue of Liberty was lighting their ways to the best street corner locations. Scratch any third generation department store scion and you'll find a peddler or two hanging in that family's tree! Starting from scratch is what made this country relatively free of graft.

It has befallen no less an institution than the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital to bring this sweep our street clean mentality to the edge of the absurd. Any sunny working day the TJUH is benignly encircled with fast food vendors, catering for the most part to the institution's own workers.

Lately, the hospital's brass has been muscling City Council to outlaw the freely enterprising caterers on the grounds that the elderly wealthy sick find the gauntlet of hot dogs intimidating, and in the growingly competitive market for your unpoor, overtired and definitely unhuddled masses of fee-paying ill, a hospital has to watch out for its bottom lines. Or at least paying customers trying to get through them.

Come on fellas. Such an exclusionary policy might be appropriate at a John D. Rockefeller Hospital or and Imelda Marcos Podiatry Clinic, but Thomas Jefferson?? You ought to be ashamed. And you ought to cheer on the next Fourth of July for the Aris Mardirossians of this immigrant ridden country who bring their tremendous energy, their considerable gall, and their unrestricted understanding of their adopted country's traditions to their making it in America. "When you get me mad," Aris warns, "I get competitive."

Amen. Let Aris have the last word. "The challenge of making money is what drives me." Heh, in America, any boy and girl can grow up to be a millionaire peddler. Aris, we needed that reminder! And Southland, please go to the blackboard and write this message to your corporate selves: "I will not lose my sense of humor." 100 times, please. For Lady Liberty.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Ugliest Acronym on Earth

CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations) has that undistinction, just awarded after reading Jonathan Franzen Foer’s (1977-) ”Eating Animals” (Penguin, $31.99). With a Princeton degree (Philosophy and Literature) and two successful novels, ”Everything Is Illuminated”(2002) and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (2005), he took three years off to research a nonfiction book on “Eating Animals” (2009). To influence his own children—although he was a now and again Veggie in his own youth. His conclusions are devastating!

Take this stat. “All told, farmed animals in the U.S. produce. . . roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second.” Smithfield, the largest pork producer, makes as much fecal waste as the entire populations of California and Texas combined. Since there is no waste infrastructure provided, our rivers are polluted with dangerous elements and a dangerous fecal mist envelopes the adjacent population.

A UN report (2006) established that these eliminations put more climate changing materials into the atmosphere than all forms of our transport combined. And it’s wasteful. Even industrial fishing has what they call “bycatch”—80-90% is thrown back in the sea.

Industry flacks describe hens as free range when in fact there is a single hatch, mostly closed. “Cage free” translates to tens of thousands birds unmoving, debeaked, and drugged. The industrial processes involved in disassembling large animals is a trip through the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno, especially to the many who don’t lose consciousness during the process.

Broiler chickens, laying hens, turkeys, and pigs are over 90% factory farmed. Beef cows are only 78.2 percent. Dairy cows, 60.16. But They have to remain pregnant to give milk, and live only four to six years. Their calves are caged within 24 hours, away from their—and swiftly “vealed”!

Foer philosophizes from three premises. 1. We don’t need to act this way. And the American Dietetic Association has long since proven that vegetables are better than meats which lead to cancer and heart disease. 2. Factory farming institutionalizes unimaginable suffering. 3. Factory farming is accelerating catastrophic environmental damage. There are moral and prudential reasons for doing away with CAFO.

But such ideals are rarely contemplated in Casino Capitalism. The toxic bonds of factory farming are every bit as lethal as phony mortgages. The damage is physical rather than fiscal.

Foer is right to warn his children. Politicians today are trying to create careers over federal debt. At long and fancy Congressional lunches they ignore the real threats to our “advanced” industrial civilization! Food, of course Foer concedes, is not rational: ”Food is culture, habit, identity.” Slow Food may decelerate our madness. Public schools should make Diet required, as they ban snack foods.

It is as important in a democracy of abundance to teach children how to eat as how to vote. Vote Good Eats! Good for Foer’s kids. May in their generation everything important be illumined as he teaches extremely loud and incredibly close! CAFO. Ugh!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

"The Effects of Mass Communication"

Most humanists derive their images of mass communications less from direct experience than from media novels such as Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust. From such a perspective, the central issue is the defects, not the effects, of mass communication. Their net effect, indeed, it is assumed, is to keep or render man defective by civilized standards.

According to Klapper's book, however, such surrealistic fiction is more strained than the truths of sociological observation will allow. This book summarizes and attempts to integrate into a valid and reliable theory more than 270 studies "of disciplined social research dealing with effects of mass communication in certain specific areas."

There are chapters on the author's own "phenomenistic" (essentially multiple causation) approach; on reinforcement, minor change and related phenomena; on the creation of opinion on new issues; on conversion; on the roles different media and audience images of them play; on the effects of crime and violence in the media; on the effects of escapist media material; on the effect of adult TV fare on child audiences (perhaps the freshest and most interesting); and on media attendance and audience passivity.

In general, Klapper reports that the chief effect of a generation of media research  is to displace the concept of hypodermic effect (single message, simple effect) with an "inexhaustible fount of variables" extremely basic generalizations on selective exposure, selective perception, selective retention and opinion leadership probably ought to be part of the mental equipment of every civilized person; they merit reading. The problems of vicarious violence, escapism and passivity are related enough to the literary experience to attract the curious.

But Klapper's frankness to admit the difficulty of long-range effects analysis, his explicit warning about the current "tendency to go overboard in blindly minimizing the effects and potentialities of mass communication," and his worried admission that what research there is probably applies within a "relatively stable social situation" and not to crucial issues at times of massive political upheaval leaves one with a lively sense of the limitations of this way of gauging media effects and defects.

If Nathanael West goes too far with too little fact, Joseph Klapper doesn't go far enough to clarify the necessary choices the new media have themselves imposed on us. Even a so-so novel, like Gerald Green's The Heartless Light (Scribner's, 1961) about press irresponsibility in a kidnapping, poses the moral and aesthetic alternatives more forcefully than this meticulous and completely responsible scientific performance. Perhaps the point is that being half sure about major issues is in the last analysis more important than being absolutely certain of a minor truth or of no truth at all.

"The Effects of Mass Communication" xviii, 302 pp. Free Press, 1960

Patrick D. Hazard, University of Hawaii

Friday, 23 April 2010

Marsalis: Father of a Jazz Dynasty

Ellis Marsalis is breeding a generation of jazz talent.

Mellon Jazz time reminds me of my astonishment and elation during the 1987 running of the festival at experiencing Wynton and Branford Marsalis on successive nights at the Academy of Music and Irvine Auditorium. I vowed that some day I'd try to take a good look at their dad, Ellis, who has surely earned the honorific, "First Father of American Jazz."

So imagine my delight last December, when attending the Modern Language Association in New Orleans, to find a feature in the Times-Picayune on Marsalis's "homecoming" concert that night at the Storyville Jazz Hall.

"Homecoming" because the University of New Orleans--activated by Virginia Commonwealth University's making Ellis a visiting professor of jazz--was just announcing a new jazz department for fall 1989, to be chaired by the First Father. Bright Moments, the jazz packaging firm handling the concert, said sure, come along to the sound check at three and we'll get you an interview.

Ellis is a hulking bear of a man, reticent, giving off a quiet, scholarly air emphasized by his black horn rims. Sound checks, by the way, are a marvelous way to psyche out the persona of a jazz performer. The formalities of the actual concert in abeyance, the star relates to his peers on a down-to-earth level that reveals his personality.

The easy give and take was disrupted only once, when Ellis begged the soundman to turn down the volume--"You're making us sound like a rock group." Later, he added disgustedly that sound engineers were "frying their brains" with that high-tech noise, and it was hard to wean them away from their decibels.

For 11 years Ellis had taught music at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), and the move to Richmond he found stimulating because he was working in an entirely different curriculum and getting a good line on his home town for the first time.

There is no mystery about why the new academic status is satisfying to him. He's got six children and a wife to deal with, and in his late 50s he was finding the entrepreneurial sides of jazz performance a bit of a drag.

As he told the Times-Picayune: "At a certain time in your life you have to move forward if you have more to do, or face the concept of retirement, whatever that is. I was dealing with all of those things when I was here, and I was feeling rather stymied. I don't think it was because there wasn't anything to do here. I just couldn't see what was here to be done beyond the situation I was in."

The father / prophet was without honor in his own county, and it took the fear of Richmond's larceny to get the city and county of New Orleans off its musicological duff.

Of course I wondered how a man in the same business deals with the possibly eclipsing stardom of his two sons. It's kind of the Oedipal flap turned inside out. The answer is: very, very equably. He glows over them, and he has two more sons coming along--Jason and Delfayo.

Imagine what a faculty he'll have performing when they get up to speed on drums and trombone. But he doesn't play favorites. At the moment, he seemed proudest of Ellis III, who had just graduated from New York University with a double major in history and photography: "He's doing whatever reserve second lieutenants do at Fort Benning."

And it is a measure of the humanist in the man that when he spoke about his son Mboya, he minced no words. "That's autistic, not artistic."

Needless to say, his opinions on the state of jazz possess the same measured gravity. He resents the fact that promotion has more to do with the size of a jazz audience than does the quality of performance. (The Storyville concert that night was SRO, not just because it was New Year's Eve but because the locals missed him.) And he said he hopes that as a jazz educator he can clear up some of the confusion that exists in the bewildering maze of what jazz has been, is, and can become.

Because the audience is personality-oriented, their attention span leaves something to be desired. He recalled a peculiarly egregious instance of inattention at Bradley's in New York when Tommy Flanagan's luminous performance on a "big, beautiful Baldwin" was simply drowned out by foolish jabbering. On the other hand, recently in New Orleans, he remembered, the audience stayed with his group for 35 minutes as they put "Cherokee" through every key imaginable.

You can bet your gene pool that Ellis hopes his curriculum at the University of New Orleans will in the long haul leaven the lumpishness of the underattentive jazz listener.

His getting a professorship in his home town is yet another example of how America is finally--however dilatorily--joining the rest of the civilized world in paying the homage of careful attention to the country's most original contribution to world culture.

And as Mellon 1989 strikes up the pandemonium June 20th at the Academy of Music with Nancy Wilson and Joe Williams, it's right to be grateful for how that once-staid banking institution is making a wise investment in the city's long-term vitality.

I know I was grateful, as I walked up to Canal Street after the New Orleans concert, to the Mellon stimulus of 1987 that made me wonder what kind of dad could engender such wunderkinder. They didn't fall far at all from a mighty oak of a man. Ellis, we can hardly wait to hear Jason and Delfayo.

from Welcomat: After Dark, June 14, 1989

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Daniel Boorstin chided

"The Responsibilities of American Advertising," by Otis Pease, xvi 232 pp. Yale University Press, 1958. $5.00.

Daniel Boorstin chided his fellow historians for over-investigating minor works of American literature to the neglect of major educational institutions. The same imbalance of investment in scholarly energies applies a fortiori to "mass institutions" more recent in origin than education. For in spite of their admitted influence on the quality of American life, we know next to nothing about the emergence of mass production and distribution, and the related information-entertainment complex of mass communication.

But if the groundbreaking is long overdue, it is reassuring to see Mr. Pease turn so clean a first furrow in his study of the advertisers' stumbling, hesitant steps towards self-discipline in the public interest between the World Wars. His brilliant bibliographical essay not only charts a jungle of new data for the intellectual historian but it also persuasively presents a schedule of important research.

He wisely limits himself to national advertising in major print media. The advertising industry first had to elaborate the ethics of consumption, a doctrine subversive of the old Puritan ethos of tight-fisted diligence. As the tempo of competition increased, businessmen sought to restrain the advertising excesses of their least responsible colleagues; this instinct for survival, rather than concern for the public interest, brought what little measure of effective policing there was.

Attempted regulation by the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission had ambiguous results at best: it was too easy for copywriters to move from easily disputable verbal copy to less precise (and more effective) pictorial ads. Mr. Pease clearly presents the complex tensions between advertisers, agencies, publishers and trade associations on the one hand and government, professionals (e.g., doctors and dentists) and the consumer movement on the other. And he shows the industry's growing dependence on the social sciences for better "weapons of persuasion."

In short, substantively the book is full of important details to be assimilated quickly into the mainstream of social and intellectual history; methodologically, it provides an excellent model for doctoral candidates in search of significant ways to investigate significant institutions.

Patrick D. Hazard, University of Pennsylvania

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

E.O. Wilson's Trailhead

I found this "fiction” fascinating, but puzzled to see it characterized as narrative. I even Googled to see if there was another writer named E.O. Wilson. There isn’t! It was the complexity of this minuscule society that had me goggled.

I had also just finished reading about the Penn Museum’s Patrick McGovern who is a (What?) bio-molecular archaeologist! Using new high tech methods, he can tell you what the folks who buried King Midas drank at his burial many moons ago. He proves to my satisfaction, in addition, that brewing beer antedates baking bread in the human panorama. That in fact our ancestor first stumbled upon the exhilarating effects of alcohol, munching, say, on figs which were decomposing.

As a retired professor of English deep in the throes of determining why the English major is disappearing, I hypothesized that the adventurous spirits of E.O Wilson and Patrick McGovern recently got buried in a junk heap of nitwit lit crit theories that turned off potential English majors. What these nonhumanist scientists were wittily doing was redefining Humanism for our times. If I were 23 instead 83 once more, I’d follow the ants and delightedly investigate the prehistory of brewing.

Theirs is the New Humanism. As we bury J.D. Salinger, let us wonder at how he turned zillions of Teens inward for generations when the sciences should have engaged them in efforts to control the complexities of globalization.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A Santa Rosa Muse

D.L. Emblen, "Under the Oaks: Selected Poems of Place," 1960-1982. Santa Rosa Junior College, 1982. $3.00.

Civilized countries appoint poet laureates because we've come to know that societies need such help to keep their memories (and thus their identities) sharply in focus. Flourishing institutions profit as well from being celebrated in choosy words; indeed, they thrive beyond mere surviving when their collective experiences are so clarified. The Greek word from which "poetry" derives means "to give form to chaos." It's one of the blind spots of our culture that we regard poetry as a frill, lace doilies a rough and tumble society can do without.

Santa Rosa Junior College has less reason than most institutions of higher learning to take the muse too lightly. For since 1959 it has had an unofficial laureate in the person of English instructor Don Emblen. Here we have the author's own choice of 100 of the almost 2,000 he has been moved to write in his past twenty-three years there. They are "attempts to express the strong, sustaining (sometimes confining) sense of place that pervades this campus, a sense that has always seemed to me to nurture both conflict and communion and to show how the local can be a means of both understanding and misunderstanding the universal."

As a reader who has been privileged to share only one of those richly productive years with the writer, I have found relishing them a double pleasure: for reminding me of why I enjoyed my year out of time in Santa Rosa, and for letting me vicariously live in those other twenty-two years with an ever-deepening sense of place. I cannot doubt that old grads as well as longtime colleagues will find this collection a continuing source of joyful recollection on their share in Emblen's finely tuned memories.

What especially appeals to me is the exemplary ecumenical humanism of his muse. In the thirty years I taught literature, I heard a lot of loose talk about how the "humanities" civilized us all, inside and outside English departments. Needless to rue, the realities were often closer to mean-spiritedness and petty inter- and intra-departmental backbiting. How marvelous, then, to read his tribute to a phys. ed. teacher who was also a Sunday painter: "The muscle that leans into those strokes / brings different strengths to bear / than those he earns his living by."

. . .
But there is artistry in his way
of showing boys how to move like men,
to put their weight where their words are,
to find a balance in themselves
that could, if held beyond the playing field,
so tilt the listing world
there would be time and place for Sunday seeing,
daffodils and all.

No news to those old Greeks and Romans, with their sound mind / sound body Ideal, but how easily we fail to see the old verities in our own local places.

No venue is beyond his far-ranging muse. In a biology lab, scrutinizing Vesalius's treatise on dissecting the human body, Emblen is an anatomist of words with a line like "When you are stripped of dignity of flesh / that makes a frown possible . . . "

When all is tared and ticketed
In search of soul to save us all,
When all is torn and taken from you
But the fundamental sticks and skull
And clever wires that hold you up,
You skinny, shiny skeleton,
You lean on a sexton's slender spade
And crack your speechless mouth awry
In some dry mock of vengefulness
And point with palm-less hand--
How large the lunar landscape vaguely looms!

Under his benign eye, cadaverous illustration escalates to spiritual illumination.

But above all this is the documentary of a teacher who has worked wisely and well with a generation of fortunate students. Especially moving is an interior monologue of his being interrupted by an Uruguayan student who wants a tape recorder to play back a taped letter from home. It has been a tacky semester, and he's coping with his sense of failure by composing a bitch of a final exam. The girl's luminous spirit, unreeling to love thousands of miles distant, shames his black bile away:

. . .
She left, at last, and so did I, the test
unfinished on the floor where the janitor
could clear it off with all the other small,
discouraging debris--the scattered ashes,
paper clips, a rubber band--the products of
my day until that girl came in and brought
an untranslated joy to test my heart.

Emblen passes such perennial "finals" summa cum laude.

Other poems witness his sharing his students' sense of outrage at the Cambodian "incursion," needling well-dressed defenders of "dress codes" who have slovenly souls, siding with a beleaguered colleague defending a controversial film on campus, channeling his contempt for our ancestors' treatment of California Indians after hearing a scholarly paper on the subject read by a colleague, observing a Swedish poet visiting campus come to terms with the transcendence of Armstrong Grove. It's a moral history of our times.

But it's his own biography as well. What we too cavalierly call "occasional" poems are the stock-in-trade of the laureate, local and universal. (Perhaps only "occasionally" we can muster the force needed to shape language into valid poems.) Emblen fixes moments of high transition in the amber of his gaze--deaths of colleagues or their children, and births of theirs as well. (He beguilingly dedicates the book to his daughters, "Cirre and Clovis, who, like me, did much of their growing up in this place.") He quickens the truths frozen beneath copybook maxims--he sees his life and the lives around him steadily and as parts of a meaningful whole--whether he's dealing with the retirement of a janitor who loves to fish, or a colleague's perishing in the Jonestown debacle (fond elegy for a trapped idealist: "Better that fiery glimpse / than no vision at all, then dull eyes fastened / on the square end of a tube / and a long safe life in a cold blue haze.")

For reading Emblen, we realize what ails American poetry--its cruel polarization between "Sunday poets," who foolishly try to console themselves with lollypop cliches, and Seminar Poets, who daily (and, alas, dully) reach for eternity without bothering to stop by the here and now: between poetasting so trite it's given the craft a bad name and attitudinizing so cosmically cryptic even the intelligent turn to sci fi in despair. Emblen's no great poet (God save us from the GP's of this generation). He's merely a man who has chosen to bless his local place the best ways he knows how--from the same de-metropolitanizing spirit that makes Robert Bly brag about living in Madison, Minnesota, as far from Madison Avenue as it's possible to be.

When you talk roots in Santa Rosa, you talk oak roots. And when you teach at Santa Rosa Junior College, you write poems occasioned by headlines from the student paper, "The Oak Leaf:"

'Oak Tree Falls Due to Rain'

Due to old age
lack of restraint
excess of leaning
excess of bird-weight
too much growing of leaves
and losing them
inordinate throwing down of shadows
and acorns
greedy clasping of suns
moons stars in bare branches
indulgence of thirst
(the drunkard)
all these years
sopping it up
like a huge, black, bent straw
that finally crumples
with that obscene little noise
at the bottom of the glass.

This jovial jeu de tree is the elfin spirit of Santa Rosa's muse. The final (and newest, 1982) poem in the book, "Working," also about an oak, is his less flip side, a Whitman purged of Brooklyn bloat:

The black cat watches the weather--
that's its job.
That is how it came to be black,
from standing up through all that night,
not countable nights, just nightness,
darkness, undifferentiated black,
a main ingredient in cold
and also used by the wind
to convince us something's going on out there.
The job wears off on whoever does it,
(what do you do for a living?)
already has rusted his leaves,
and this only October,
with all the winter storms still to come
and spring and the demand for new leaves
as insensitive as fashion,
and summer crying for shade,
and hundreds of skies to account for . . .

It defies the demonology of Academe that this poem, somber and deeply appreciative, was written for the academic vice-president of the institution, a man who has paid his local dues by staying rooted there four years longer than the poet.

And it is an emblem of the poet's ample humanism that he sees in the newest building on a campus begun in 1918 the metaphor of hope and community, not facile Luddite gloom and doom. (The building, by the way, is a jewel of contemporary architecture, its shapely, concrete forms already being humanized by the horticultural magicians who keep Luther Burbank's memory green.) Emblen does for oaks what Frost did for birches. One could do worse than be a savorer of such limbs.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Praising not the Hedgehog but the Fox

Hartmann's literary adventures are fascinating, and I regret that my interdisciplinary provincialism in American Civilization kept me from knowing his work. Turning 80, I decided to explore my much less distinguished odyssey as a man abandoned by his father at three, who spent the next ten years in a Catholic boarding school followed by three in a minor seminary, Naval service, three years at a Jesuit University and graduate school Marxism somewhat mellowed by Commonweal McLuhanism.

As I have come to consider the horrorific disparity between humanist hypertheorizing and the imminent collapse of our public school system, I have concluded that the grossest failures of the American clerisy was not their Depression era Marxism but their failure to intellectually energize the public schools. I'm reminded of the Daedalus Conference on Mass Culture in the Poconos in 1961.

Someone had to say something positive about the mass society, and I, as Gilbert Seldes' gofer at the then new Annenberg School at Penn, was the ritual sacrifice. My message was the median: As a Carnegie postdoctoral fellow at Penn, I was charged with creating a new course on "The Mass Society". I urged that we identify creativity in the new institutions--Paddy Chayesky and Edward R.Murrow on television for example. And the likes of Victor Gruen, Albert Kahn, and Saul Bass in the man made landscape. Encourage students from grade one onwards to identify and relish the first class from the trash and hope that the best would create more of the best for the next generation. It was just the old Arnoldian best that was thought and said applied to mass culture.

I was already finishing graduate school when I discovered Raymond Williams, who added the part all my humanist mentors had that fresh ideas could be brought to bear on the problems of industrial civilization. So simple to state, so easy for the hyperverbal to avoid. The conference actually ended with Randall Jarrell waggling his prophet's beard at me and intoning: "Mr. Hazard, you're the man of the future, and I am glad I'm not going to be there." Creative humanist thinking.

We, alas, didn't know then how soon he would excuse himself from the crudities of the world he didn't want to deal with any longer. It later gave a painful poignancy to my teaching his poems, which I had always relished. Jefferson believed a democracy could never be any greater than its common schools. Not the few Andovers and Grotons where the aspiring humanist could make a deal to enter the Ivies. But common schools, the ones failing now in my hometown of Philadelphia where the great great grandchildren of slaves are shooting each other in witless anger.

Tell me, if the humanists are not responsible, then who are? They have gone off half cocked to their postmodernist moon, never even acknowledging their responsibilities on the ground. I remember flinching when Norman Podhoretz mocked Paddy Chavesky's work as kitchen sink drama.He should have done half as well in his biased journalism, creating the cadre of New York intellectuals who betrayed the Jeffersonian ideal with their hubris.

Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar Germany.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

All Race Relations are not Equal

Last night at the Newark Airport I had the most disconcerting experience. I had flown in from Atlanta where I had attended the 25th running of the Lillian Smith Awards, given each year by the Southern Regional Council to writers in the tradition of her 1944 novel, "Strange Fruit," an astonishingly frank (even today) appraisal of cross-race sex (a poor black woman and a doctor's son in a small Georgia town).

It had been a very satisfying experience, meeting the pioneers in racial integration like Harry Ashmore who won a Pulitzer for the Arkansas Gazette's coverage of the Central High School integration in Little Rock in 1956, and J.L. Chestnut, the black lawyer from Selma who organized the crucial March that forced Lyndon Johnson's hand to address a joint session of Congress for a Civil Rights bill in 1965 (Inquirer reporter Julia Cross collaborated with Chestnut on these political memoirs.)

Filled with euphoria, I was waiting for Dave's Limousine to whisk me back to Philly. As I stood on the curb with my luggage, I noticed a car boxed in by a white Lincoln Town Car which was not responding to their flashed lights or horn. I hollered at the driver to wake him up so he'd move a few feet and release the trapped couple. Finally, he did move ahead after much delay, and the liberated couple drove off. I began to daydream about what I had learned when suddenly a very angry black man of about sixty years confronted me in a rage, feinting punches at me and my gear, unleashing a tirade of non-sequiturs. "You mind your own business," pointing at my luggage, "and I'll mind mine." "Nobody calls me boy: you understand?"

I didn't because I hadn't even known he was black until he started to harass me. And I've never call a black "boy" in my life. If anything I tend to over-respect blacks, occult compensation for the dishings I figure their lives have been full of. I had actually only seen the back of someone's head in the total darkness of the Town Car. He railed on and on, never giving me the chance to say how far off base he was on all counts. I waited for him to calm down when I would tell him that far from being a racist, I had just returned from meeting with one of the groups which has done most to advance race relations in the South.

Then it dawned on me that I had seen this man before. Gaunt, face bashed from too much booze and bar fighting, mean and bitter looking: he was a dead ringer for the "colored" boy who swept the floors at the Lincoln/Mercury plant where I worked for college tuition money the summer of 1950. He is of a type, too old to be a rapper, or even to have been moved by the liberation movements of the sixties. Just a man who had led one hell of a life, constantly on the edge; but he had learned one thing: he could harangue Whitey with impunity.

I began to look for a policeman out of the corner of my eye, pushing my luggage away from what seemed to me to be an imminent violent incident. He went back to his car, but then returned again. His arriving passenger was a grandmotherly old woman of the kind that fought only her own sense of despair throughout a long working life. Mother and son, two generations separated by a short interlude of time but, psychologically centuries apart.

Curiously, at the Hot Springs Arkansas Greyhound stop last month, I fell into conversation with a retired black high school principal, who was putting his ninety-two year-old mother on the same bus I was taking to Little Rock. She was also a retired teacher and a Baptist lay person. She was on her way to their annual convention.

The same two generations, but what a difference a region makes. He told me easily and fully how they had survived the integrating of the schools some years after Little Rock gained national attention with Elizabeth Eckford and her black classmates. He was clearly a fighter, as was his sweet nonagenarian mother. But they were totally free of the bitterness consuming the Town Car illiberal at Terminal A / Newark.

Strangely, on the plane up from Atlanta I had been telling my seatmate who happened to be black how different the racial situation was in Atlanta compared with Philly. In the two days of the conference I didn't run into a single solitary hostile black. And I consciously sought out a spectrum of interviewees at bus stops, mainly construction workers, and on the subway may black women with children, obviously not single mothers, I should say a representative cross-section of Atlantans.

With the possible exception of some teenagers in gang-like gear, I never experienced the kind of pervasive dread I experienced on the Market Street subway. On the bus to the brilliant new Atlanta History Center, I was asking the black driver which was the closest stop. (Coincidentally he had been schmoozing the entire twenty minutes with a white woman in her sixties who had common work friends; their banter was a paragon of civility.) At the stop a twenty-something black woman volunteered she'd show me the way, gently counseling me on the jaywalking dangers of a peculiar intersection.

Later that day, standing outside the stunning new Michael Graves designed Emory University art museum, I fell into conversation with a 39 year-old black construction worker from Baton Rouge. He had experienced unfriendliness, from both blacks and whites since his recent arrival. Then he said something that I truly believe gets to the heart of America's racial dilemmas. He said, "You know I don't thing it's a matter of color as much as of class." Bingo! Amherst English professor Benjamin DeMott wrote two years ago a terribly neglected book, "The Imperial Middle Class" in which he explains the high costs of the American illusion of classlessness. The very fact that so few picked up on merely confirms this dangerous and debilitating myopia we have about class differences.

And J.L. Chestnut, the collaborator and subject of Julia Cass's "Black in Selma" made the most telling point of the whole conference with his notion of "strategic silences" in American political life. He told the story, new to me, that Lyndon Johnson invited the black leadership to the White House after he got a public accommodations act passed in 1964 and told them to cool it. "The public won't take any more for a while, Boys." J.L. Chestnut, the leading black lawyer in Selma, was not listening to L.B.J.'s condescending "Boys" talk. He went right back to Selma and organized the March which forced Johnson to go back two months later before a joint session of Congress to demand a Civil Rights Act. Johnson concluded his appeal by attempting to co-opt his heretofore enemies by using their familiar invocation, "We Shall Overcome."

I remember a "strategic silence" closer to home. In 1959 when Leon Sullivan was my neighbor in Greenbelt Knoll and I was a professor in the then new Annenberg School of Communications, we were lolling in the pool one Saturday afternoon when he said, "Pat, I don't believe all that crap about the Annenberg School's raising standards in the media; we've had a black ministers' boycott of Tastee Cake going for weeks and we can't get a stick of print in either the Bulletin or the Inquirer."

Bright and early Monday morning I was in Walter's office on the thirteenth floor of 400 N. Broad St. (having been frisked by the elevator operator--a new experience for me!). Annenberg was so puzzled that a lowly, 32-year-old untenured assistant professor would have the chutzpah to beard him in his own den that he turned me over to his legal counsel, Joe First. First sent for E.Z. Dimmitman, the paper's executive editor, who (I'm not making this up) said they had hired a "colored" copy boy the summer before, "but he hadn't worked out."

I countered by saying what the hell has that got to do with blatantly managing the news. He sputtered and beat a hasty retreat. I told Joe that "The Reporter" magazine was about the break a story and that if they had any decency they'd start covering the black community's concerns honestly. Then I took the bus back to Penn "to raise media standards" in the students taking my History of Communications course.

There was a marvelous epiphany at the conference between Cass, Chestnut and the audience. Chestnut had chided Cass for always wanting to make the book tougher ("assuaging liberal guilt, maybe," he teased her) while realist/activist Chestnut knew that Whitey would take only so much truth at one time, deformed as his mentality was by the Strategic Silence tactic of our "National Literature." (Chestnut shrewdly contends that all our media, from serious poetry to fiction right down to the sleaziest supermarket tab, are hobbled to lesser and greater degrees by this tradition of "strategic silence.") I myself have noted, for example, that only after the French planners had gone home after the Aesthetic Summit at the Bellevue did the Inky editorials begin to stress the crucial need to revitalize the neighborhoods if Philly is to be Beaubourged.

My own feeling is, after attending the Drexel University follow-up to the Summit, is that Ed Bacon (who trashed the memory of Louis Kahn disgracefully in his megalomaniacal remarks) is responsible for the "strategic silences" about our neighborhoods. He is so greedy to do down in history as the man who made Philadelphia's Center City a new Florence that he simply cut off the larger debate when he was city planner. And don't kid yourself: there is and was gobs of covert racism among the Preservationists and Center City centrists. I remember resigning in disgust from membership in the Franklin Inn Club in the 1960's at the racist remarks of Charles Peterson on getting the poor people out of Society Hill so they could make it nice again. ("Those people actually stored their coal in their bathtubs," was his brilliant put down.)

Which brings me back to the violent black man who couldn't see my new "Jazz: the Original American Art Form" T-shirt under my Chicago Institute of Art sweatshirt I had bought at the Atlanta History Center hours before our encounter. Nor could he know that I pioneered black studies courses at Beaver College in the 1960's, went to black studies seminars in Brooklyn and Atlanta, traveled to Africa and the Caribbean to get a better handle on the emerging subject. No, to him, I was just a guy who hollered "Boy" at oppressed blacks. Boy, is he fooling himself. A slave.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Health Care Crisis

Today’s tawdry spectacle of our time-serving Earmarkers squabbling over Obama’s Health Care Bill attests to the sad intellectual state our Congressional reps have sunken to. Jefferson and Madison would blush at the squalor of it all.

If only they would listen now to Dr. Peter J. Pronovost, 45, medical director of the Quality and Safety Research Group at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. (See Claudia Dreifus,”Doctor Leads Quest for Safer Ways to Care for Patients,” IHT (3/11/10, p.10.) His father died of cancer at 50. He was diagnosed with leukemia. Pronovost was a first year med student at Hopkins when he asked for a second opinion. That second opinion brought the sad news that it was too late to cure his father’s lymphoma with a bone marrow transplant!

Some years later, after he won a Ph.D. on Hospital Safety, he encountered Sorrel King whose 18 month old daughter Josie had just died at Hopkins from infection and dehydration after a catheter insertion. Both mother and nurses knew something was wrong, but the doctors in charge wouldn’t take their counsel.

So you had the painful paradox of a child dying from a Third World disease in one of the world’s best hospitals! What gives? Pronovost decided it was dysfunctional teamwork deriving from an exceedingly hierarchical culture. He set out to break their dystemic stranglehold. An early victory:In 1965, checking out his checklist’s efficacy, in 18 months he saved 1500 lives and the state of Michigan $100 million!

He later found himself as anaesthetician in an operation where the patient was having latex allergy from the surgeon’s gloves. He wouldn’t budge when Pronovost warned him was happening. So he asked the scrub nurse to call the dean who he knew would back him. Before the call went through, the surgeon cursed his adviser and changed gloves!

And thus he persevered in establishing his operation checklist, with simple rules like washing hands, which simple responsibility rose from a disgraceful 30% to a still disgracefully iatrogenic 70%!So he perseveres in his commonsense checklist to keep on track busy professionals who assume,”I’m right. I’m more senior than you. Don’t tell me what to do.”

His persistence earned him a MacArthur grant to institutionalize his common sense program throughout the world’s hospitals. And “Time” added in 2008 to his clout by listing him as one of the most important 100 world citizens. The fullest story is in his new book, “Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals: How One Doctor’s Checklist Can Help Us Change Health Care from the Inside Out”, written with Eric Vohr. Simple, but oh so sensible!

That story was so enchanting to this narrow-minded, under-informed humanist that it moved me to Wikipediate one of his predecessors, the Hungarian medic Ignatz Semmelweiss. In 19th century Vienna there were two maternity hospitals serving the public, mainly illegitimate births/infanticides, including prostitutes.

One trained premed students; Two, midwives. Oddly the first had far more incidents of puerperal fever. Ignatz speculated (it was long before Pasteur discovered bacteria) that the autopsies the premeds performed somehow poisoned them. So he insisted they used a chlorine bleach to cleanse themselves of cadaver contamination. It worked! Within a half year there were no deaths in One from puerperal fever.

The medical establishment of that day, however, could not be engaged in thoughtful discourse on the issue. (What gives this pushy Hunky the gall to tell us how to run our birth clinics!) Eventually he was forced into an insane asylum where he died, possibly by his own hand. It would still be a hard slog to establish standards of cleanliness among “well-educated” medicos!

Friday, 16 April 2010

How Dead is Detroit?

For most Americans, this is an abstract issue; for me, it’s existential. My interim life there --1930-50 was at the apex of its climb.( I moved from Battle Creek at age three, then left for graduate school as a just married at 23, never to live there again.) I remember the race riots of 1943 and 1967 as threatening turning points downward.

When I buried my mother there in Mt. Olivet cemetery in 1982, I still recall the hostile atmosphere on the Gratiot Avenue bus back downtown for the Greyhound to return to Philadelphia. The sullen black teens who verbally harassed me then could never respond to the fact that I started Black American Lit university courses, or that I grew up cutting high school to see “colored” orchestras at the Paradise Theatre in downtown Woodward Avenue. Or that I integrated the University of Detroit Senior Prom at the lily white Eastwood Gardens for the first time in 1949-- by double dating with a “colored” couple. (The collective grumbling at me at the urinal there attested to how far even a Catholic university had yet to mature on racial issues.)

Every time I see a photo of the abandoned once grand Michigan Central depot, my heart skips a beat.(I used take the train there three times a year to go to Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City. And now the newly installed mayor (his predecessor is in jail on perjury charges) argues that Detroit must shrink even more physically. It was almost 2 million when I left in 1950, and now it’s 900,000 and still declining. All my relatives have fled to the suburbs.

That is why Toby Barlow lightens my spirits! Rarely has any advertising executive done that. “One night,” he began, ”a little over a year ago, crossing Woodward Avenue, I crashed my bicycle. As I flew head over heels across Detroit’s main boulevard, I thought, well, in any other town, I’d be hitting a car right about now. But this being the Motor City, the street was deserted, completely motor-free.” (“Bike Among the Ruins,” New York Times July 5, 2009).

He argues that in most American cities bikers have to fight for their rights on the streets. Detroit bids fare to “become a new bicycle utopia.” He contends that “with well less than half its peak population, and free of anything resembling a hill, the city and its miles and miles of streets lie open and empty, beckoning. And lately, whether it’s because of the economy or the price of gas or just because it’s a nice thing to do, there a lot more bikers out riding.” Talk about making lemonade out of your unasked for lemons!

This new bike culture also has an expanding economic side. He has noted that his friends Kelli and Karen started two years ago what they dubbed the Wheelhouse, down on the Detroit River waterfront only three hundred yards from GM’s HQ! “One might think,” Toby muses,” that starting a business in the D makes as much sense as stepping on a nail, but Kelli and Karen’s shop is thriving; their profits in May were double what they were a year ago.” As yet, neither K has taken a salary from their shop. And Kelli keeps his job as a bartender and Karen still works for a community organization. But that’s not all there is in the newly emerging biker culture.

Along the Cass Corridor, another bike shop has opened: The Hub has a storeroom full of old bikes that they’ll refurbish for you. Their Back Alley Bikes program trains young people in bike repair and customer service, Technically The Hub is a nonprofit, even though it’s doing well financially. "Biking in the D,” Toby declares, "is the transportation equivalent of the Slow Food Movement, offering a perspective completely lost to those zooming in on the Lodge Freeway and I-75, those great superhighways that, once upon a time in the name of progress, were sliced deep into the heart of the city, only to bleed it dry.”

And with a wit sharpened by his years with J. Walter Thompson, he reminded Detroiters of the future that in 1896 when Charles B. King steered Detroit’s first automobile along its cobbled streets, Henry Ford was observed assessing the new machine’s progress—aboard a bicycle! Toby proposes bike hikes to still luminous neighborhoods like Indian Village, or the newly refurbished Frank Lloyd Wright out on 8 Mile Road (How did I miss that one!)

And for the new Slow Food Movement types, he reports of fresh food community gardens just carved out of newly abandoned neighborhoods! Hop on your bike and check them out. And explore abandoned houses going for $100.

Toby or not Toby, perhaps that’s the last best hope for a dying Detroit.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Two Wrights can Make a Wrong: Guggenheim at Fifty

Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward (Skira/Rizzoli, 2009, $75.) Weighing 2.5 kilos, it’s the heaviest take yet on the uppity Wisconsin lad who dropped out of the University of Wisconsin at 20 after two years, to be anointed chief draftsman at the top Chicago firm, Adler-Sullivan.

Six years later he founded his own firm, and American architecture has never been the same, and rarely better. My ultimate ambivalence about Wright was set in stone by a formidable serendipity: the day he died in 1959, I had scheduled the first big speaker for my new Penn course on “The Mass Society”: Lewis Mumford. He was clearly moved: he abandoned his prepared text for an ad lib obit which expressed his regret that Wright was an adolescent who never fulfilled his great potential, especially in New York City.

(This formidable volume commemorates the 50th anniversary of the still contentious Guggenheim Museum.) The noun “Project” dominates this celebratory book’s contents, up to and including his 1959 plans for the cultural center of Baghdad. Mumford argued Wright was bid on concepts, less so on follow through. (And he cheated clients! His Bartlesville, OK, building, was originally conceived as St. Mark’s in the Bowery in Greenwich Village! Abandoned by his businessman admirer, it tried to be a hotel and then a University of Oklahoma architecture Center!)

I love the Goog, more and more, the more I once more submit to its unfunctional wiles. One of my more serendipitous memories was finding myself gawking on opening day alongside Adlai Stevenson. As much as I despise celebrity cults (and as much as I admired him), I asked playfully if he’d let me take a photo to tease my GOP Penn students. His wit was instantaneous: “O.K.—but nothing more far out than a Cezanne!” (A week later, I read in the New York Times how his Soho pals had been trying to esthetically upgrade the Governor by showing off the post Cezanne stuff to the artistically too old fashioned Illinoisan.)

The only equivalent thrill the Big G has given me was 21 years later when I came to the press preview of George Costakis’s superb collection of Russian Modernists. The house photographer didn’t show up so my Contaflex subbed at their scheduled proletarian fashion show. When the exhibition moved to Indianapolis their “Star” published my first (and only!) color spread. It gave me courage to abandon Academe a few months later.

The only imaginative gimmick I devised in 20 years of teaching American Lit was to require a term paper on a great American building. To turn them on, I took them on a tour of Wright’s Beth Shalom in nearby Elkins Park. They were always wowed (as was I, no matter how many times) except for one middle-aged mother who complained. "This place is great—except when the roof leaks at your daughter’s wedding!” Nitpicking. Well so did I when I went to Taliesin West to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Wisconsin Taliesin. Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer took me around since I was then writing for Connoisseur.

I was puzzled by some concrete structures painted redwood! He explained that when Wright first visited Scottsdale he was dazzled by the way the redwood irrigation sluices gleamed when the water gushed through them. Alas, when there was no water, redwood evanesced into the hot sun! How was he to know?

Fallingwater, of course, is my all time all Wright structure. That luminous June 1980 lark in my new Honda from Philly to Cincinnati (where the AIA was holding its annual convention) remains a high point of my life. My guides at Fallingwater were the sweetest young Chicago couple ordinarily working for the late Bertrand Goldberg, my favorite American architect of all our eras. (He was humble, principled, and inventive!) And nearby in Pittsburgh the Carnegie was displaying the visual magic of my favorite artist, Sonia Delaunay, a.k.a Sophie Terks from Odessa. I parked my Honda in their Greyhound garage and slept soundly until the driver dropped me off at that Art Deco jewel of Cincy’s Union Station.

And who do you suppose was there at that ungodly hour, no less than architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, then of the New York Times. Committed Serendippie that I am, I was radiant—until I discovered that he not only wouldn’t let me hitchhike back to the convention hotel with him, he wouldn’t even say hello! Wow. Not that you have to be civilized to write great criticism.

But I had recently sloughed off Roman Catholicism for the easier faith of Architecture with a capital A. (I console myself to this day by looking for serious errors in his crits. DAMN, but he’s good. Too good for my own sake!) And there were oodles of friendly architects at the Hilton where I gouged on my New Dogma until it was time to snooze back to my new sleeping Honda, whereupon I fondly Hondaed back to Philly, full of grace. Thinking about Fallingwater. And its venial sins.

First of all, no six footer me (5’8”), still I had to bow down to get through FLW’s doors. Damn. That arrogant squirt (who shamelessly used a Porkpie hat on his tiny top as well as High Heels on his dinky feet to simulate the giant he construed himself to be!) was making himself the module! Frank, really!

And although I concede that the HEARTH should be the HEART of the home, I was seriously upset by the fact that his giant pot for heating food was too big to ever get hot enough to cook! (Call it his Crackpot.) And what is less, the crane designed to swing the pot over the piddling fire didn’t swing!

Then I remember telling my students at Beth Shalom that his client Edgar Kaufmann had asked Wright when presented with those glorious drawings in 1934 if he ought to have his engineers check out the math for the cantilevered rooms. Frank blew his top. (You don’t ask a genius to have his math checked!) Unfortunately, those cantilevered bits of Fallingwater are about to fall into the water of Bear Run. And as a Pennsylvania taxpayer I flinch at the estimated repair costs—from 11 to 23 millions!

So Lewis Mumford and that bride’s mother were right, Frank. And the $75 volume the Guggies have assembled to praise their half century of custodianship is much too lenient on their undisciplined genius. In a cultural democracy every taxpayer has a vote. This book is much too self-congratulatory. My wife has filched my favorite Latinate TV shirt which reads, ERRARE HUMANUM EST. Right, Frank? That’s what our architects need to remember.

That great Finn humanist, Alvar Aalto, said as much as the epigraph to his centennial retrospective in Helsinki: “Never forget: Architects make mistakes.”

A version of this article has been published by Broad Street Review.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Lunar Tides

Diana Huntress, Master of the Fontainebleau School

my womb
and your moon
pull together, strangely--
emptying my Fundy monthly.
while you daily dally
with tides of earthlings
neither pills
nor Apollo missions
can escape the gravity
of your unerring arrows

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Dear Mr. Giridharadas

Dear Mr. Giridharadas: Please tell me how to pronounce your name so I can recommend you verbally to my friends and associates. (And since I'm an etymologist ignorant of Hindi, please tell me what it means, OP-ED-wallah!)

I look forward to your promised book, unless of course it's entitled "Awakening from the American Dream: The End of American Exceptionalism" which would mean you had beaten me to it! Googling doesn't reveal your birthdate and birthplace.

Not that it matters with the matter at hand, but on an around the whirl flight in 1988, I spent several interesting days in pre-Mumbai. I relished your Art Deco aquarium. And at my airport motel I watched a man teach his teen how to swim. He turned out to be the King of Bombay Soap Opera. He introduced me to some idiosyncratic local media types. I also had an enlightening pit stop at the Nehru Institute.

Alas, Air India's computer was down so I couldn't visit other Indian venues, like Mother Teresa's Calcutta and R.K.Narayan's hometown. (The Michigan State Press published him while I was there in the 1950's finishing my course work for a Ph.D. in Am Lit.) I flitted in and out of Delhi, New and other, on my way back to Philadelphia.

I live in Weimar, Germany now, studying the Bauhaus and other Teutonic aberrations.

Patrick D. Hazard, Seifengasse 10, Weimar 99423.

Monday, 12 April 2010

My Longest, Sweetest, Saddest Weekend (Yet!)

The recent publication of the first biography ever of John Beecher, the most neglected poet in the history of American Lit, reminded me of the longest, sweetest, saddest weekend in my life (so far!). It began early Friday 7 December 1975 when John Bigby, my favorite Annenberg student, now head of the Media Department, Santa Rosa Community College, drove me out to the tiny local airport to hop a puddle jumper to San Francisco International.

There I nervously awaited a former Philly pal, Alice Mazurie, who had beguiled me as Lucy in the Charles Schultz romp, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown!” Recently divorced, I invited the graduated senior to join me blissfully at my Louie Kahn manor in Greenbelt Knoll in Northeast Philadelphia. Eventually my old-fashioned mores grew restless as she sat around the house, sizing up Villanova as the place to start her stage career, anomalous as that was for a sociology major! She soon split, acerbically!

Meanwhile Bigby had talked me into spending the Philly Bicentennial Year as an Andreini Fellow, a plum, honoring a recently retired professor.

The idea of sharing my chosen city (I was a migrant from Detroit) with goofy colonial wannabees motivated me to move. What a lively decision! Before you could say “Ezra Pound” I had a weekly radio hour dubbed “Muse Room West” and dedicated to Pound’s injunction that “Literature is News that stays News!”

It would lead to such serendipities as an evening with my homebody date, Mary Mueller, at Dizzy Gillepsie’s table while he performed at the Great American Musical Hall, and reminisced between takes with Kermit Scott, a fine tenor who had gotten Diz his first date at Minton’s 52nd St, thus beginning his jazz career. Kermit had retired to the dependable retirement as an Oakland port worker. (Oddly Diz got this date because some gal in the San Francisco Unified School District who wanted to leave administering for performing got Diz a federally financed gig to motivate Lowell High School seniors to jazz induced better mathematics scores.)

Lowell, the Harvard of high schools, needed motivation as badly as Nobel Laureates need more coffee breaks. Thus the arcane underworld of earmarks! Kermit still had his chops and Diz was a superb interviewee! But Dolly had better stick to education. “MuseRoom” was my ticket to Valhalla. If it wasn’t the jazz duo Jackie and Roy, it was the imminent Charles Schultz world premiere of “Snoopy”, his followup to “Charlie Brown”.

My first encounter with Schultz had not been salubrious. I had decided to inaugurate my new “Media” class with Bigby’s tapes of Schultz TV, and phoned Charles to invite him to bless the opening. He went berserk right on the phone. “Who gave you permission to play my copyrights?” What I didn’t know was that Snoopy’s master was paranoid about being ripped off as he had been by his first cartoon syndicator! I apologized profusely and pleaded total ignorance—and asked for an interview over “Snoopy” on opening night. He conceded.

So there I was at United waiting for Alice in Wanderland’s flight from Philly! She arrived in all her blonde glory, clad in a black cashmere sweater set off by the boldly colored abstract wraparound skirt I had sent her as an early xmas bribe to fly by! No longer believing in Heaven with a capital “H”, I scrambled unsuccessfully for a metaphor. We bussed to the premiere.

Hooray! Later at the staff AFTER Party at the Barbary Coast we schmoozed with the great cartoonist, who grandly inscribed a new book to her. (Googling nostalgically recently I sadly discovered that she is selling that inscribed book for $3,000—it was personalized, so the tot declaimed, with unusual power and the truths of our relationship was covered by a false story with me as her professor (she was never my student, but she did teach me a lot, looking back!) Add to that price, the $900 plus I popped for her flight to and back and stay at the Mark Twain Hotel.

After the Barbary Coast I took her to my favorite place of all in the Bay, Top of the Mark! Timothy Pfleuger, that self taught German immigrant became the greatest architect in the region after the First World War. A tour of his masterpieces I had saved for Saturday—The Oakland Paramount, Pacific Tel And Tel, TransBay Terminal, George Washington High, and the Top of the Mark, which saved that hotel from bankruptcy by its magic.

Alas, all my sad salesmanship led to her disconsolate plea: “I wanna go home!” We retired glumly to the carefully chosen Mark Twain never the word “chased” morph so swiftly and completely to “chaste”. United didn’t help my malaise by a sudden strike, so I scrambled to find an early Sunday morning flight back East. The saddest part was over.

She would never know the sweetest second chapter planned for eleven a.m. Sunday at the First Unitarian Church: the return of John Beecher to his job at San Francisco State. The liturgy was strictly William Blake and Walt Whitman. At the height of the McCarthy scare, John refused to, as he said “give in to a loyalty oath passed by a used car salesman in Sacramento”.

His whole professional life had been a testament of loyalty to American values and he wasn’t going to suck up to such a slob. So the theme of John’s sermon that morning was Trust the Constitution, but get another job! For two decades he crisscrossed the country rather than succumb to unpatriotic blather. He ended his life teaching at SF State, dragging an oxygen tank on his back to keep alive.

When his inspiring sermon on how the California Supreme Court rejected the oath was over, I introduced myself, a Philly pal of Jake McGoldrick who knew his third wife Barbara. I told him tomorrow was Emily Dickinson’s 145th birthday and I was throwing a Birthday Party Readout up North in Santa Rose. Would he join us? “For Emily, I’d drive a thousand miles,” he smiled. He came. And did he ever conquer that rock n roll mob. A few of his own and a few favorites from ED! He’s great with strangers. As I would later confirm, when I visited him at his home in Burnsville, N.C.

Heh, if it took 70 years to publish ED’S collected works (from her death in 1886 to Thomas Johnson’s Harvard edition in 1955) then maybe Beecher will get the readers he deserves in due time. It’s up to US! Before Alice sells “our” book?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Left and Right in Chile

Steve Cohen’s explanation of Chile’s mixed political system is exemplary. I envy my German wife’s and son’s health coverage. Too much of our public health “debate” is mindless wrangling, belying our foolish boasts about being the greatest nation on earth.

Bismarck’s insistence on universal values such as social security and health insurance was pioneering of universal significance— to be emulated by all thoughtful regimes ever since.

Our Congress should grow up and walk the walk, not foolish talk false talk.

March 8, 2010

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Social Responsibility of the Press

J. EDWARD GERALD. The Social Responsibility of the Press. Pp. vii, 214. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963. $5.00.

There are few problems in the emerging institutions of mass communications more important than the professionalization of their elites. And the present author, professor at a major journalism school in the mid-West and specialist in the interplay between constitutionalism and the press, is well qualified to comment on issues which are essentially about how media, governmental agencies, and publics define freedom and self-restraint as they variously participate in the production and consumption of news.

Professor Gerald divides his book into seven sometimes overlapping chapters: the nature of mass communication-containing an amazingly succinct sketch of press history; journalism as big business-where the role of advertising is graphically portrayed through the rise of Wanamaker's department store; the natural habitat of the press-where the pressure to expand is brilliantly revealed in a career profile of a hypothetical publisher, the best single thing in the book; the proprietorship role-basic economic trends; mass communication content-"passive non-involvement in critical problems is journalism's outstanding quality"; freedom's new community-the ethical stake of the press in meeting the community's new problem; and professional organization of mass communicators-the nurture of the professional intra and extra muros. There is no bibliography to this long, sometimes too rambling essay, but the full footnotes at the back of the book strike a note of heterogeneousness, as Gerald cites from trade papers, scholarly journals, speeches, law cases, and secondary sources. The Index is limited.

My chief complaint is a lack of focus, which I believe comes from inadequate organizing concepts. This seems evident to me on the important question of the role of the journalism school in catalyzing professionalism in the media. In Chapter IV, for example, Gerald cites from an unidentified issue of Journalism Quarterly that 105 journalism schools enrolled 11,766 in 1959, 11 per cent being graduate students. Picking up the same theme in the last chapter, the year cited is 1958, with an enrollment of 11,263 in 100 institutions, but 23.7 per cent are graduate students. One is curious about such a fluctuation.

These figures do not really mean much either, unless some effort is made to distinguish among the several traditions in journalism education. Much of the economic data did not seem to explain a great deal to me either. And I believe that the book is too skewed to print media, especially newspapers, to get at the slippery question of how you prod people constantly sweating over deadlines to become more philosophical about their social roles. The best technique I have seen so far is a book that remains quite superior, Wilbur Schramm's Responsibility in Mass Communication.

In that book Schramm cites a number of case histories which are crises for the professional's conscience. This combines an authenticity dear to the journalist with an inductive kind of moralizing or philosophizing that he can assimilate as part of his experience. Better one vividly articulated conflict for the professional to analyze than pages of high-level abstractions about the need for press improvement. A series of such incidents carefully analyzed leads to a predisposition to respond in a certain way; predispositions over time become traditions; traditions provide institutionalized self-control. And that is what we are after, if we can get there fast enough.

Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 353, City Bosses and Political Machines (May, 1964), pp. 144-145 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Friday, 9 April 2010

On Mass-Market Epiphany

by Ross Douthat
Surely glossalia is the last thing needed in a a world values-befuddled enough in conflicted discourse among its often incoherent indigenous languages.

How about expanding the only mnemonically useful 40 days of Lent to 365 days of creatively useful tithing for those 2/3 thirds of the world's humans still living precariously on the edge?

How about honoring God's greatest gift to mankind--human reason--by using it to generously share with others the glory of the daily miracle of mere existence. Therese Lisieux and her cretinous followers have had their psychopathic daze.

I aim in my ethical future to follow the counsel of secular solons like Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sharon. Surely reducing the endemic scandals of unnecessary maternal mortality or human trafficking trumps navel gazing, no matter how idiosyncratically thrilling it may be.

If such use of His Gift of human reason and charity doesn't please God, He doesn't please me enough to worship Him for his setting such a Bad Example.

Patrick D. Hazard, Weimar Germany.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Deep in the Heart of Texas Darkness

When Kelly visits Texas, she drives till it Hertz. My first taste of Texas was as a swabbie learning aviation electronics at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in 1945, with mostly liberties in San Anton, Houston and Austin. The furniture has changed, but the small-town attitude toward outsiders remains the same: cool imperturbability.

In the interim I've cruised its widest open spaces innumerable times and ogled all the places Kelly went, except for Crawford. But I was mainly interested in museums and architecture. So I also ran into a lot more civilized people than she did.

I think she makes the mistake of diabolizing the Lone Star State--all the caveman ideology she horrifies herself with can be found in South Philadelphia and in the Bobo Burbs.

We remain a schizophrenic people--in all 50 states--and we must do our damnedest to drag the First Simpleton and his Dubyiously undoubting supporters into the late 20th century. Whining, however elegant and articulate, won't do.

Jim Hightower and Molly Ivins never whine. They both have a brilliant instinct for the jocular jugular. We must teach him to expand that nervous smirk into a belly laugh.


Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Two Pulitzers Better Than One

Serendipity is the mother of insight. Saturday night my son took me to see the new Pulitzer Prize playwright August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" at St. Paul's Penumbra Theater in the Martin Luther King Cultural Center. I had already planned to view Charles Fuller's TV version of Ernest Gaines' "A Gathering of Old Men" on CBS-TV.

(Fuller lives across the street from me in Philadelphia and I've been an eager student of his work ever since he taught his PBS video of Gaines' story, "The Sky is Gray" in my college film class. To see Wilson on Saturday and Fuller on Sunday provided with a tremendous surge of insight into the greatest "secret" of the black experience in America: the terrible burden of hatred blacks have for whites because of the strategic but nonetheless gratuitous violence inflicted on the minority by a ruling class obtuse about the continuing damage they do American blacks by their suppressive behavior.

There are two set pieces in Wilson's "Ma Rainey" that terrify the largely white audience (seven blacks in an audience of almost 200--there were more blacks on the stage than there were on the other side of the footlights). The first is by Levee, the young liberated black who aspires to compose and arrange music as an artist--to be more than a "jug band" performer, as in fact they are in effect doing backup music for Ma Rainey's recording session.

His hatred of the white man's God stems from his experience as an eight year-old in a Mississippi cracker-dominated town defending his mother from a white rapist by slashing himself with a knife as his mother is being assaulted. His honor is prematurely intact, and he despises a divine authority who would permit such abominations with impunity. Levee screams at God with foulmouthed invective to strike him dead if he is wrong to refuse to kowtow to a God who lets white racism not only endure but prevail, to twist Faulkner's famous Nobel formulation.

Cutler, the typical good colored man whose obsessively passive Christianity has enabled him to survive in the pre-Civil Rights era, is moved to violence against Levee for his confrontational desecration of his God. As in Fuller's "A Solder's Play," the ultimate black tragedy in America is that endemic plague of black on black violence. Sergeant Waters harasses the guitar picking Southern nigger because his easygoing ways tend to confirm the white establishment's putdown of Waters in his career ploy of being whiter than a white man in his life style. The pathos is more than painful: Colored folks pick on each other--it is so dangerous to threaten their real enemy together.

And the most harrowing point in Wilson's play is when Levee's courageous anger aimed at the White God liberates Cutler's long-suppressed nightmare: his preacher, having missed a train connection to a funeral, is trapped in town where the local toughs harass him without provocation--simply for kicks. Cutler has been unwilling, probably unable, to face their terrorizing of a black man of God--until Levee's liberating anger frees him too. He screams at the audience the perfidy of a dominant majority that abuses even a black preacher. They had forced the old man to dance for their sick amusement.

All of this goes on as the side play of a recording session where Ma continuously asserts her dignity by demanding that the white producer who is interested only in her sales curves and her white agent who is wholly insensitive to her needs as a creative do it her way in many minute particulars--by going out and getting her the Coke she dotes on during sessions; by insisting that her stuttering nephew introduce her no matter how many takes are involved.

Ma doesn't hassle the Almighty like Levee. As an autonomous artist, she is already liberated. Ma's integrity is literally an inspiration to all who come under her field of force. Charlie doesn't master her. She goes her own way, the grace of the blues being a crucial religious if not theological experience. It is thrilling to realize in the afterglow of the luminous performance that Wilson sees himself in the same light. His bluesy drama engenders the same epiphanies in the white audience that Ma triggered among the blacks who bought her race records from Birmingham to Brooklyn. Art at its best exorcises evil. There has been a long and painful but ultimately positive journey between 1927 when the Chicago recording session took place and in 1987 in St. Paul when the ofays filed into the black theatre to be educated out of their sins of omission and commission.

Fuller's teleplay of Gaines' novel on the other hand takes place in the post Civil Rights era. Only yesterday so to speak. And it's set on the kind of Southwestern Louisiana sugar plantation that the 54-year-old novelist left as a fifteen-year-old outmigrant to Oakland, California in the early 1950's before things heated up North or South .A young liberated black has killed the notorious racist bully Beau Bouton with a shotgun after being harassed.

Mathu, a seventy-year-old black man who has been passed over by the Civil Rights revolution decides to finally justify his uncommitted life by pretending he killed Bouton. The plantation heiress Candy Marshall is horrified that "her charge" will be arrested. She rounds up all the other old men who have never made a stand against the white barbarians either and has them gather en masse with freshly discharged twelve gauge shotguns, number 5 shells. It's a kind of parody of a civil rights jail filling tactic.

Sheriff Mapes is understandingly puzzled by this unorthodox stand-in for justice. The longer he delays incarcerating Mathu, the angrier Beau's friends become in threatening to take the law into their own hands. First the old men dismiss the presumptuous Candy. They no longer need her to stand up for them. They take their own fate into their own hands. As Gaines told St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch interviewer Noel Holston from Lafayette, Louisiana where he teaches at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, he was going to call his novel "A Dream of Old Men." "They feel: I failed one day in my life. I didn't do something right, and I would just hope that I could redo it."

All these men didn't do right, submitting to the power of the white man. "Maybe God won't give them another chance," Gaines concludes, "but I will." Like Ma Rainey and August Wilson, Gaines and Fuller are using the secular church of the theatre to bestow amazing graces. Art will heal what man has put asunder. To see two plays in quick succession is to be doubly aware of how blessed we are to have black writers explain our common malaise so clearly and eloquently.