Wednesday, 30 January 2013

America’s Indian Wars

Re “Whites vs. Indians: A better way,” by Dan Rottenberg
     
I must concede that Dan’s analysis of the British/French options to deal with the Indians is not only plausible but also convincing. It may even explain why Canada is a more civilized country than ours.
    
Yet the grim realities of today’s reservation-poor Indians and the crippled relatives of only semi-liberated black slaves remain to haunt us. And the grim realities of the disappearance of the white middle class bodes ill for all of us.
    
We have made this rueful history. Now we must redeem it— hardly with the pathetic performance of a Congress apparently ignorant of how badly our ancestors have treated the reds and the blacks, and simultaneously corrupted our better ideals.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Busting Ads: An Idealist's CV

Vancouver has always been my favorite Canadian city, stunningly beautiful landscape matched by a lively cultural scene. And every time it breaks into my consciousness, I remember I hadn’t yet checked out the Adbusters phenomenon: Ignorance no longer—Its considerable share in the OCCUPY WALL STREET movement made me check it out!

What a man is Kalle Lasn, born in Tallinn in 1942, his family fled Soviet troops in 1944 to a German refugee camp for five year; moved to Australia and Japan for twenty years (1949-69), followed by visits to Japan and Canada , where for twenty years of he made films for PBS and CBC, finetuning his critique of our advertising culture, if can call it that. He founded “Adbusters” in 1989, where he devised shrewd mocks like the TV Turnoff Week, when enticed millions to ignore their bad TV habits for seven days, kind of a shortened Lent. 

Adbusters became most renowned for culture-jamming, or “subvertising” or creating spoofs of well-known adverts. Out of such quirky maneuver was born the Occupy Wall Street movement, for which Lasn was the first to register a movement website.Never solemn, always searching for strategies which will enable the masses to understand how often advertising offends while pretending to please them. 

What really thrills Lasn is a minirevolt like the one that took place in November, 2011 when 70 Harvard economics students walk out of a lecture by their faculty head, Greg Mankiv—to end up joining the march of Occupy Boston. They want to know why all those Harvard faculty brains couldn’t predict the 2008 collapse. Worse, why the brass doesn’t complain that no guilty bankers don’t go to jail! (I was always nervous about how President Obama surrounded himself with such errant brass!)

Lasn is no born again Marxist. “For the past 15-20 years, we at Adbusters have been saying we have to jump over the dead body of the old left. I’m not all that interested in the political left, unless it’s the new horizontal left that’s coming out of Occupy.” And he assumes that Harvard students—and faculty!—should be meliorists: guarding against abuse of the common 99 by the rampant 1 %! Maybe there is a bad Harvard gene that blinds the best minds of the next generation to improving the ethics of the system.

In his latest book, “Meme Wars—The Creative Destruction of Neo-Classical Economics,” “I want,” Lasn asserts,”to light a fire under the economic students around the world. I can imagine a few of them asking: how come we are still being taught the old economics? Why did not even one in a hundred of you professors see the meltdown coming? It’s an invitation to the students who get wind of the book to create a bit of ruckus within the university.” Remember his ploy of subverting ads? In this fresh, cheeky textbook, he teaches you at sneer at economic nonsense. “Darling! Reads a subverted image of two 50s lovers.” Let’s get deeply in debt.”

Lasn finds three weaknesses in conventional economics textbooks: Orthodox economics has brought to the brink of Economic ruin. They foster a consumer culture that has turned humanity into a selfish, anxious race .It fetishes economic growth even though it is evident that such growth is ultimately destructive, since it not only makes us unhappy but it places unsustainable pressures on natural resources. “This is one of the most fatal flaws in neo-classical economics.” Lasn concludes,” We cannot keep selling off our natural capital and calling it income. It’s the most stupid mistake of all. . . When they measure growth, they don’t measure real progress.”(Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian, 11/5/2012.) 

Heh, get ready for the next Occupy march nearest. And bug your professors for fresher takes on our shakey global economy! Remember, you’re the generation that will suffer the most from their smug blindness. Don’t be afraid of Big Names. The bigger they are, the faster and farther they can fall—on you and yours! Life is a Lottery only for fools who don’t think! Kalle Lasn never stops thinking. Bust Ads!! They’re aimed at you—and yours.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Where's Yer Fist, Chimp?

My youthful “education” was so corrupted by fatuous “miracles” like the Immaculate Conception that my senility thrills to the eradication of such fatuous “wisdom”. A truely human miracle, of course, is the capacity of all human couples to “create” new lives together and nurture them to maturity. 

Celibacy is allegedly and falsely esteemed as a more moral human option, the greatest “offering” a man can make to an observing God, when in fact it almost inevitably has led to the horrors of child abuse. Thus it is intellectually thrilling to me to observe the “miracle” of two biologists at the University of Utah, Michael Morgan and David Carrier, carefully observe the miniscule differences between the climbing hands of our relatives, the chimpanzee, and our ever developing selves. (“Journal of Experimental Biology,” cited in The Economist, December 22, 2012.)

Peculiarly, the same organ has two names: use it to hold something and it’s a hand; use it to strike someone and it’s a fist! But this second use is almost unknown among other primates. It is thrilling to see those two curious biologists use the greatest and everyday miracle of disciplined consciousness to determine the crucial differences between our human hand/fist and their mere climbing aid! The primate’s hand, they observe, has long fingers and palm; their human relatives have short palms and fingers and long thumbs, which are useless for climbing. 

But they do make it easier for the human hand to grip things in two different ways: the precision grip in which an object is held between the pads of the first and second fingers and the pad of the thumb; the power grip on the other hand all the fingers and thumb wrap around the thing held. These two deployment are essential to tool-crafting skills, one of “homo sapiens” essential skills.

But our two biologists contend that the hand’s exact geometry seems to have derived more from the hand’s destructive (fist) than constructive (hand) use. Animals have other natural weapons: teeth, claws, antlers, horns. But the multiple purpose human hand only becomes a weapon when a fist is formed. They observed that when the fist presents knuckles first, making the force of a blow much greater than an open hand. But our searching duo wanted more evidence so they asked ten athletes (a mix of boxers and other martial artists) to have their fists carefully observed in action and reaction.

The test was to strike a punching bag as hard as they could with both open hand and closed fists, with diverse aims—forward, sidewise, or overhead. They noted how much power an accelerometer attached to the punching bag was recorded. They also used pistons to measure the stiffness of diverse hand shapes: fully clenched fist, a semi-fist with the fingers curled but the thumb pointed outwards, and a poorly formed fist in which the fingers were folded over the palm and the thumb pointing outwards. (The last was the closest a Chimp could get to a real fist!) 

The accelerometer recorded that a side swipe made with a closed fist delivered 15% more power than an open-handed strike. Thus they decided the power derived more from the geometry of the bones, especially the closed together knuckles(one quarter the space of an open hand.) Crucial was the way the fingers curled back on themselves. And the buttressing effect of the thumb. With such measurements Morgan and Carter determined that the human fist was four times as rigid as the Chimp effort to make a fist. When a chimp curls up its fingers , it leaves a gap in the middle of the hand with no buttressing thumb.

Our duo decided that the human fist and its parallel tool making skill were two distinct cases of natural selection. “Which,” they concluded, ”makes perfect sense, for it has long been the case that the species is divided between those who prosper by making things with their hands, and those who rely on their fists, or the threat of them, to take what the makers have made.” 

How pathetic Divine Design curricula such as those made mandatory in the State Of Texas look in the light of this kind of science. Such Chimps in the Austin legislature can only wield feeble fists. They can’t climb the tree of Natural Science. We must all learn to cherish the everyday miracle of rational consciousness. Otherwise we are probably doomed to eventual extinction.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Samuel Colt's Revolver

Regarding guns: As a Ph.D. in American Studies, I am ashamed to be so ignorant of esoteric but still equally significant details about such crucial matters as comparative weaponry and survival techniques. That the multiple musketry gave British soldiers an imperial advantage surprised me as much as the nimble Indian’s multiple arrows putting the one-shot white man at risk.
    
The Indians’ ignorance of horticulture and animal raising was a serious weakness against the eventual triumph of 9 million farmers, savvy enough to bypass the overused Eastern lands for the richness of the Mississippi basin. It was an exciting exercise in History 101.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Bill Bryson Writes the History of his House


Can you imagine any subject more boring than writing the history of your own house? Well that’s because you haven’t read his “At Home: A Short History of Private Life” Black Swan, 2011. I had heard about his prolific pen (17 books on obscure sounding subjects like language history, popularization of science, and his unceasing world travels.) If you’re skeptical, go to your local library and read 5 pages (27-32) on how the architect/utopian Joseph Paxton organized the creation of London’s Crystal Palace for the world’s first industrial world’s fair. 
 
And then turn back to page 17, when he starts to examine his “new” house (actually an old abandoned rectory) with the just retired archaeologist of Norfolk County, England. Bill asks his informant why their church has “sunken” three feet. The answer is the surroundings have “risen” three feet! About 250 people inhabit this small parish (there were 1000 such before the Black Death cut it back to a mere 659!) That’s still more than all the parishes in modern England. An average of 250 people comes out to 1000 adult deaths a century plus a few thousand more who don’t live to maturity, and you’re talking about 20,000 burials over the centuries the church has existed. 

The archie explains to our stunned Iowan that during his tenure locals have discovered 27,000 old finds in the earth around the parish! Bill is, suddenly in an historical mood: He will “dig” historical details out of every room in the rectory: the hall (entry),the kitchen, the scullery and lander, the fusebox, the drawing room, the dining room, the cellar, the passage, the study, the garden, the plum room, the stairs, the bedroom, the bathroom, the nursery, the attic! In each genre he finds fascinating details of changes in living. His gift for language spices the story with how the changing “things” are referred to. I’m going to arouse your appetite by describing how this history worked out in the kitchen!

The main problem facing the kitchen was keeping the accessible food from going rotten. Bryson introduces the kitchen chapter with an anecdote. In the summer of 1662, Samuel Pepys, 29, a rising young naval officer invited his commander to his London home for dinner. Alas when his plate of sturgeon was laid before him, it had “many little worms creeping” in it! And folks not only had to worry about such rotten food, but dangerous maneuvers to keep it from looking rotten! Food adulterers ran rampant! Sugar and others expensive ingredients were often “stretched” with gypsum, plaster of Paris, sand, dust and other forms of “daft”, as such additives were called. Tallow and lard bulked out expensive butter. A tea drinker might unwittingly swallow powdered sheep dung or sawdust. 

One closely inspected shipment of tea turned out to be only half tea, the rest was sand and dirt. Sulphuric acid gave vinegar an extra sharpness! Conmen added chalk to milk and turpentine to gin. You could make vegetables look greener with arsenite of copper and jellies glisten.”There was hardly any foodstuff, it seems, that couldn’t be improved or made more economical to the retailer through a little deceptive manipulation.” (p.107.) Tobias Smollett reported that cherries could be made to looked fresher by being rolled around in another mouth!

Bread was especially corruptible. Smollett charged that London bread was a poisonous compound of chalk, alum, and bone-ashes, "insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution.” And bread was central to the English diet through the nineteenth century. Up to 80 percent of household income was spent on food, and up to 80 percent of that on bread. It was so important that severe laws punished the miscreants. For a time, transportation to Australia was considered as punishment. 

Not all of this pollution was planned. A parliamentary investigation of bakeries in 1826 found them “filled with cob webs, weighed down with flour dust that had accumulated on them, and hanging in strips ready to drop into any passing pot or tray. Insects and vermin scurried along walls and countertops.” (p. 110.) Filthy bread was not the only problem! Smollett describes how milk was carried in open pails in London into which “plopped spittle, snot and tobacco-quids from foot passengers, overflowing from mud carts, spatterings from coach wheels, dirt and trash chucked into it by roguish boys.” (p.111.)

Infected and rotten meat was a special problem. Animals driven from afar arrived tired and sick, many covered with sores. Smithfield, London’s principal meat market had a word for such damaged food, cag-mag, translated as “cheap crap”. What was needed was some technique that would keep foods safe and fresh for longer than Nature allowed. A Frenchman named Francois Appert had a fresh idea in the late eighteenth century: seal food in glass jars and then heat them slowly. Alas, his jars sometimes leaked air. Since you couldn’t depend on his jars, the concept flopped. 
 
The next breakthrough was ice! Huge slabs of ice from a lake outside Boston. Thus in the summer of 1844, the Wenham Lake Company hired premises on the Strand in London. Queen Victoria and Prince signed on! The huge blocks were so big patrons got off on reading a local newspaper through the ice! Wenham ice was talked about more than used. When a ship arrived in London with 300 tons of ice, they didn’t know what to do with it for so long that it melted away! In the 1850’s Norway saw an opportunity and took it. Gradually the ice industry built an infrastructure: Chicago was ideally placed to support refrigerated railways cars transporting all kinds of food great distances.

The next breakthrough was the Mason jar, with a screw on metal cap, designed in 1859 by an an American named John Landis Mason. At first the caps were wrought iron, too heavy to handle. Next came canning, invented by a Brit named Bryan Donkin between 1810 and 1820. But transformation of agriculture made interchanging food over all the world. Kansas wheat, Argentinian beef, and New Zealand lamb. The McCormick reaper industrialized farming. A table was set for all the developed countries. The world invaded our kitchens. That is an example of how one room in his house responded to modernization. The remaining rooms are equally fascinating. 

Bryson is one of the contemporary world’s greatest storytellers. Look him up in the Wikipedia to see how became a unique global teacher.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

One of America's Greatest Traditions

It was the kind of experience you never forget: Newly appointed full professor and chairman of Beaver College’s English department, alone in my new Louie Kahn home (the kids were in school and my wife was teaching), I thrilled at JFK’s newest tradition: appointing a poet to celebrate his inauguration—with the greatest possible candidate: Robert Frost! The President was dragging a poetry impoverished people kicking and screaming into the twentieth century.

Bill Clinton seconded the tradition, choosing black Maya Angelou to bless his beginning and Miller Williams his second inaugural: Obama revived this sadly neglected new tradition by appointing black Princeton professor Elizabeth Alexander. Whom would he honor next? Surprise, one Richard Blanco, a Cuban-American poet unknown to me—and gay! Continuing Obama’s ideology of equality of all Americans.

What a beguiling surprise! He introduced us to his lively sense of humor by revealing that he was “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States”. I flinched when I learned that his given name honored his father’s regard for President Nixon’s opposition to Fidel Castro. Some hyper-perceptive reporter noticed that Blanco was chosen a day after the 100th anniversary of Nixon’s birth. He was not only the first Latino and gay Inaugural Poet but, at 44, the youngest. 

But there was a deeper reason according to Addie Whisenant, the inaugural committee’s spokeswoman: Obama chose him because “his deeply personal poems are rooted in the idea of what it means to be an American.” (Check out his caliber.) When asked whether he considered himself a Cuban writer, he replied: "I am a writer who happens to be Cuban, but I reserve the right to write about anything I want, not just my cultural identity. Aesthetically and politically, I don’t exclusively align myself myself with any one particular group—Latino, Cuban, gay, or ‘white’—but I embrace them all. Good writing is good writing. I like what I like.” I sense that his training as a civil engineer at Florida International University has given a clarity to his aesthetic!

One of the most interesting details of his biography is his beloved grandmother bugging him for sounding too “feminine.” He learned the hard way how to insist on his identity while still loving his grandmother. That long tussle is brilliantly revealed is his converting his family from their traditional pork at Thanksgiving dinner to turkey! Celebrate his convictions by reading his tutoring his family to become more American in five stanza poem, “America”. 

AMÉRICA

I.
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter--
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer--
Mamà never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
II.
There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day--pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted--
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything--"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.
III.
By seven I had grown suspicious--we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parent's didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marsha;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either--
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
IV.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.
V.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY", Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly--"esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie--
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered--
it was 1970 and 46 degrees--
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.

You’ll be checking out his collections as I have.

Watch his Inaugural poem, "One Today."

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Diversity of Architecture

My obsession about humanizing contemporary architecture, I’ve just discovered, is a very limited perspective, indeed even destructively narrow. My German brother-in-law Martin runs a university bookstore in Halle/Saale, and his Christmas gift to me, was a polite demand for me to look more and think deeply! His weapon was a two DVD BBC-TV program, “Fascinating Architecture Adventures”(2008). Our guide there is Dan Cruickshank, a 63 year old art historian. If he turns you on as he has me, check out his masterwork ,”Architecture: The Critic’s Choice, 150 masterpieces of Western Architecture”(Aurun Press,2000.)

But let me begin where he does—helping an Eskimo build an igloo, from the frozen ground up! He reminds us this structure is the world’s first genre of architecture—providing the recently evolved hunter-gatherer a place to store his finds as well as protect himself from animals who have just been doing their own hunting! It starts with the Eskimo and Dan chopping out of the piles of frozen snow 50 well-designed chunks to put the igloo together. We watch the Eskimo thoughtfully chop off those chunks—with Dan’s helpful commentary. 
The filming is superbly revealing, for as the oval dome is carefully hoisted in place, we see clearly how the juncture points are translucent. As they melt, they gradually turn the melting into frozen joints! The igloo is a unified piece of architecture. I’ll never forget the way this pair chomped and chiseled themselves a perfect Arctic home. To dramatize the conclusion, an Eskimo hunter, leading a batch of huskies, turns up with a recently deceased polar bear. He’s ready to cook it!

Cruickshank is more than a well informed art historian, he’s a sort of favorite uncle taking you on a fascinating half-day trip of discovery. When he’s showing you the inside of a Turkish drinking establishment, for example, he slowly fades away, contentedly sucking the glass pipe. It’s a shtick, but it arrests and maintains attention. 35 other very disparate examples cover the globe. 

One especially interesting episode explains how the San Francisco locals learned earthquake defenses by analyzing their 1906 disaster. His visit to Brasilia is not as profound as it could be about life and art of Oscar Niemeyer, who just died at 104. Oscar did not think that architecture could humanize man. He was just appalled, as a rich man’s son, at how cruelly the poor were treated in his country. And his love of the glorious curves of nature (mountains, flowers, women et alia) moved him to reject the slavelike rectification of early modern architecture.

He is closer to the truth when he explicates Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. No matter how idealistic was the Quaker philosophy that motivated this colossal failure, it damaged the prisoners who were isolated from each other—so they could think about their failures. The episode on Rockefeller Center stressed the idealism of the wealthy family who took a chance in the middle of the 1930’s Depression. But their tight corporate ass motivated them to destroy one of Diego Rivera’s greatest panels because it contained an image of Lenin! Having spent a lot of time in and around this complex, it was amusing to read about the multiplication of corner offices to give the bosses a higher self-esteem.

But some of the most interesting examples score for their revelation about the ideals or practices of cultures very diverse from ours. I giggled at learning that Queen Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg had fiestas like its cross-dressing contests that led to rich people’s idiocies. We learn about what went on in many architectural stops more than the singular clarity of the igloo explication. 

I learned about the temple in India which specializes in physical love the same week the New Delhi mass rape hit the headlines. I don’t shock easily, but you can infer that a culture with such imageries is not safe for women! So, alas, we’re back with my obsession with making architecture that fits the needs of all the kinds of people there are, not just the idle rich. 
 
But putting that desire in a global concept is a useful beginning. When will we begin to judge a civilization by it mutual behaviours, not its museums. In France, I just noticed, the Louvre has opened a regional outlet in an abandoned industrial city. That’s putting the hearse before the horse.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Derek Davis

Re: "On Throwing Stuff out"--Derek Davis is a once in a lifetime idiosyncrat. He put up so generously with my unpredictable aberrations that I’m eternally grateful for his freestyle editing me in the Welcomat.
    
I secretly envied his flight to the woods. Except that distant fire protection and just plain absent water are truly invaluable irreplaceable commodities.
    
My heart goes out to his wife Linda, whose unique art was consumed by the fire. But both are unique souls who deserve each other’s humanism. May their luck improve in the woods.
    
P.S. I’ve been reading swatches of Derek’s oughtobiography for the past several months. It will be a smash affirmation of intellectual freedom when it’s done. The sooner, the better.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Two Geezers in Search of their Common Past

One of the unexpected joys of octogenarianism is the serendipitous replay of a brief life together. My first contact with him since leaving Penn in 1961 was my BSR review of his 13th book,”Imagining America in 2033”!That just happened to me, born 8 February 1927 in Battle Creek, Michigan, and Herbert J. Gans born 7 May,1927 in Cologne, Germany. (I used to tease him as being older and wiser than him!)As Fate would have it, we both landed, newly crowned Ph.D.’s at the University of Pennsylvania in 1957, he to study urban planning under Martin Meyerson, me, as a lucky Carnegie Post-Doctoral Fellow, to create a new course in Mass Culture for the Department of American Studies. 

My young family was based in Levittown, PA, he in Levittown, N.J. later named Willingsboro- to take away the sting of racism. (Herb was already at work on his classic, “The Levittowners,” which was to reject the snooty consensus of the misled American clerisy that those mass-produced communities were pisspots of mediocrity. Their fatuous contempt was embodied in new terminology. 

First was the pioneer touter of Americal Literature, Van wyck Brooks, “highbrow” and “lowbrow”, crudely politicized by Dwight MacDonald’s “mass culture”, “middlebrow culture” and “high culture”. Herb, the refugee from Nazi Germany in 1940, was the least snooty man I ever met (Gilbert Seldes and Studs Terkel were two other Jews almost as open-hearted mentors of mine!) Two or three categories were not enough for his classifying the multi-class America. He spoke of class cultures, each a summarizer of the humane potentials of different classes. But they were all deductive.

Mine was inductive. I had finished my Western Reserve University doctoral credits at Michigan State because my GI bill had run out at the University of Detroit and it was cheaper than out of state tuition. I even became the janitor of the East Lansing State Bank to finance my young family. In 1952 I started teaching English at East Lansing High, across the street from State. I had read Marshall McLuhan in Commonweal, the lay Catholic weekly mag, at the U a D. In fact his first book appeared there as chapters. 

And I was eager to apply his inductive style: find the best that was being created in the new institutions of Mass Culture (print, photography, broadcasting; industrial design, architecture, and urban planning) and persuade the consumers of the future that it was their responsibility to patronize the best and aspire to create more high quality human institutions. That meant Paddy Chayefsky, Gore Vidal and Edward R. Murrow for my 10th graders, and Maurice Evans in “Macbeth” on TV for mytwelfth grade students.

Indeed, since Armand Hunter, across the boulevard at Michigan State, was inaugurating a UHF TV station we asked him if my students could stage a weekly series on Sunday afternoons called “Everyman Is a Critic” where their leisure activities was the subject matter, theme by theme each week, from TV to autos. The students loved it, and they also got used to writing overnight themes on assigned plays. I wrote this up as “Everyman Is a Critic” and Scholastic Teacher published it. That got me a Ford Foundation grant in 1955-56 to go to New York and see if I could nationalize “Everyman” critiques. And Bill Boutwell, editor of ST, asked me to do what I had been doing in East Lansing nationally. 

Their great humanist publisher Maury Robinson gave our aspirations total support. I kept that job until 1961 when the sociologist recommended I’d be appointed the first director of the Institute of American Studies at the East-West Center in Honolulu. Our job was to explain America t o Asian students and let them relieve US of our ignorances of Asia! It was the most stimulating job I ever had! (But “Variety” our media bible could never reach us in time.) Incidentally, I gave a talk that spring to the Freshman English convention in New York, whistling my only tune, “Liberace and the Future of Critical Criticism” ( Cherish the fresh, snoot the mediocre!) Three tough looking cookies asked me if if I wanted to whistle that tune at their blue collar commuter college, Trenton State College. 

Why not? I finished my dissertation, and applied for a Carnegie. Got it, and suddenly I was Gans-ing it up with Herb at Penn. Gilbert Seldes’s “The Seven Lively Arts” (1924) turned me on to the inductive approach to mass culture. He was the high IQ kid of a Jewish radical who had emigrated from Russia to set up an agricultural collective in New Jersey, but ended up running a drug store in Philly. He aced Boys Central, got an invitation to Harvard where he excelled, ending up editing the avant-garde journal, “The Dial” where he published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922 and supported other new writers. But his approach to mass culture was that it was not all a mess. It had its innovations, and he praised the good whenever it appeared. He made me an inductive critic, rejecting all the deductees like Brooks and Macdonald, not to forget the broadminded deductee Herb. I chide him to this day that the index to “Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste (Perseus Books, 1974, 1999) does not carry the words “Gilbert Seldes.”

My next lucky break after the Carnegie was Walter Annenberg’s gift of 2 millions to found what became in 1959 the Annenberg School of Communication. Since Walter was something of an intellectual thug, we clashed at will.  Faute de mieux, I became President Harnwell’s “gofer”, criss-crossing the country telling the media brass and tired J school heavies how different and great we were going to be. At one leading Midwestern J School, I was told that in the 30’s William Randolph Hearst had tried to do a Walter A cash deal and they laughed him all the way to his San Simeon estate. Their meaning? Get lost, Hazard! Not the least advantage of having Harnwell’s prexy ear wa that I could praise Seldes to the skies. Bingo. I won that race. And suddenly I was Gilbert’s gofer. I ended up teaching media history at Annenberg.

The most disappointing times came when Gilbertz palmed off an assignment he didn’t want. For example, the FCC was holdinh a small conference on revising application forms for station renewals. There was little assistant professor without tenure discussing state matters with the heavy social science brass like Bernard Berelson and Ithiel de sola Pool. As the day developed it became increasingly evident to me that the Big Three hadn’t the vaguest idea that most broadcasters promised the world on their reapplication forms, then totally ignored them until the next renewal time. Total Ignorance. Herb would have been ashamed. I knew because after doing two TV series for WFIL-TV, Tom Jones urged me to shoot TV essays for Temple Gene Roberts weekend news slots. I loved it, and learned what went on in broadcasters’ minds, if you can call theirs that. As we were about to disperse, FCC honcho Newton Minow opened the door to thank us for our indispensable help. BLAH! Blip.

Finally, Gilbert asked me to take his 1959 slot at the Daedalus conference on mass culture in the Poconos. I did my usual inductive spree.The usual in-group of blind inductees reconfirming the collective ignorance of mass culture deductees. The conference literally ended with an internationally renowned poet intoning: “You’re the Man of the Future, Mr. Hazard, and I’m glad I won’t be there. He wasn’t. He soon committed suicide. I was sad because I used to cherish teaching the lyric about his life as a bomber belly machine gunner.

You can relive the whole farce in the Daedalus 1960 issue. The Humanist Clerisy lost themselves in polysyllabic European “philosophy” in the following generation. They were busy getting promotion and tenure instead of cultivating an inductive undereducated mass citizens. Their absence is the single most damaging failure of the clerisy that gave us morons like Rush Lamebough. I can still feel the cheerless fatuity of Norman Podhoretz’ putdown of me there by sneering aloud the Chayeksky and Vidal were kitchen sink dramatists. What useless,destructive hubris.

I guess Herb still wonders why I junked my academic career when I had made tenure and full professor/chair (1962) seven years after that invitation to Trenton. It’s because I’d rather be edited as a freelancer by an oddball naïf like Derek S.B. Davis than smugly connive with the academic upper class so that they can earn $100,000 while their 99 “associates” are peonized. For Shame.

I don’t mean in any way to associate Herb with this corrupt clerisy. He earned his Robert Merton professorship at Columbia with his indefatigable scholarship on behalf of the little guys and gals. Would that more free souls like him headed the American Sociological Society. When I asked him recently what his 14th book would be, he replied that he was more interesting in answering questions than writing more books. He set a high standard, and convinced that his peers needn’t be ignorant like the FCC advisers I stumbled upon.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

American's Suicidal Obsession with Exceptionalism

The average American has been blinded by the myth that God has blessed his country as the greatest example for mankind. There have been just enough special examples to mislead US to dangerous overgeneralization. The Peace Corps, for example. Or the Marshall Plan Or exemplary philanthropists line Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller,Jr., Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Ted Turner. At its rare best, America has indeed been exemplary.

But beginning with John Winthrop’s primary formulation in Puritan New England. Begun as a place where Church of England deviants could practice their religion free of British royal interference, those very freedom fighters rejected Roger Williams’ variant by kicking him out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A very strange way to support religious freedom! Not to forget that the same Puritans also inaugurated the suppression of the native Amerinds. An ominous foreshadowing of the equally egregious behavior of the next century—the establishment of black slavery in the cotton growing Southern states. Using a religious metaphor, you might even conclude that these were two American “original sins”. Alas, two of our beloved Founding Fathers, Washington and Jefferson, were slaveholders. Indeed, the “more thoughtful” of the two even had a black mistress! No wonder that Americans are, you might say, constitutionally confused about their moral behavior.

That moral confusion is even deeper in contemporary America: 2 million prisoners, mainly poor and too often black. Far more than any other country in the world. “Justice for all?” consider the tacky CV of George W. Bush: DUI as a teenager, unpunished; AWOL during the Vietnam War, even though ordinary citizens paid a million dollars to train him to be a pilot in the so-called Champaign Squadron (so-called, because it was designed to give the sons of the rich and powerful a pass on the real war);a serial bankrupt in the oil business in Texas, until he betrayed his investors the fourth time by insider trading, with a mere semantic SEC slap on his now rich wrist! 
 
How could God’s America elect such a moral moron to be President? He even used his loot to become a baseball millionaire, with the City of Arlington picking up the tab for the new stadium! And our jails are now full of young blacks who sold drugs to the very suburban whites like Bush 42 who drugged with impunity! To cut brush on his spread in Crawford. How can we been complacent about such injustice. A main reason is the nefarious influence of American Exceptionalist rhetoric.
 
And our official injustice didn’t stop at our shores. The myth that America is not imperial is as vicious as our sad history of mistreating Indians and black slaves. As soon as trade in the Pacific grew attractive, our naval vessels brought American soldiers and entrepeneurs to eventually take over Hawaii. Mark Twain and William Dean Howells complained bitterly about the hypocrisy involved—to no avail! In the next generation after the Filipinos defeated Spain, we muscled in and beat the indigines.

Ditto, the next century with Woodrow Wilson (the Virginia racist who headed Princeton) sent the Marines into the Caribbean to rule as many of their roosts as possible! (That’s the Wilson who tried to make Europe safe for democracy, while he put our first great labor union organizer, Eugene Victor Debs, in federal prison for ten years! Why? Because he was a pacifist, like Wilson until 1917!) We blather every Fourth of July about the likes of Wilson, when he betrayed our better ideals with his belated Virginia First ideology. These tacky contradictions makes US liable to the Exceptionalist scorn of non-Americans.

If we really want to live up to our best ideals (I do!), we must purge the Exceptionalist rhetoric which has thrived because it pretended to excuse (or ignore) our Original Sins of Indian suppression and black slavery. Actually, America has had great opportunities. We have been exceptionally sinful. If we ever shape up, we could retrieve the pseudo-ideals and turn them to real idealistic behavior. 

That change won’t be easy. But without positive change, we run the probable risk of disintegrating. Just look today at the travesty of our Congress. Its manifest failures mainly derive by lying to ourselves about our confused past. That is the true tragedy of a country that allows Rush Limbaugh and his ilk to be our unofficial historian. An Exceptional blunder!


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Massacre in Connecticut

Re "The Connecticut shooting: Symptoms and causes," by Maria Thompson Corley—
     America’s scandalous global reputation as a gun-happy video game derives from the militarization of our society. Our pathetic ideology of exceptionalism merely makes our societal blindness inaccessible to rational discourse. Eisenhower warned us, but we were too busy taking over the world to see how evil we have become. Please read Tom Engelhardt’s The United States of Fear to see how we got ourselves in such a mess.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Pope Benedict's Revisionist Christmas

The True Story of The First Christmas” (Financial Times, 12/24/12, p.6) is of all things a commentary on Benedict XVI’s criticism of falsehoods that have seeped into our Christian folklore over the centuries. He deals with those major distortions in his new book, “Jesus of Nazareth”. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” The real news is that Joseph was no simple shepherd, but a person well off enough to have a second house in Bethlehem! And dress him more upper-class! He had to go to the capital to register that second dwelling.
 
And our pious Pope conjectures that the First Family overnighted in a cave, not in an unlikely wooden stable! As for all those rural animals? Forget them. Shepherds there may have been because they dominated the population at that time. But assembled by the angels. Un huh, the traditionally Infallible One conjectures humbly. 

FT continues its explication: ”the book is not an attack on traditions which are either inaccurate in the inception or which have grown fanciful in the retelling.” In short this is a tacit admission from the Vatican that Christmas is bigger than Jesus! Benedict describes the traditional crib scene but requests no changes. In the Christmas spirit he is noticeably very, very Merry.

Well what about those three kings of Orient? (My attention suddenly deepened: my son Daniel Patrick Moynihan Hazard, just turned 6, had his dramatic debut last week as the King with gold to present to Jesus, in his Kindergarten’s annual play in the leading Weimar Hotel Leonardo, as in De Vinci, latterly the Weimar Hilton.) The Pope speculates (!) that the confluence of Saturn and Jupiter “could well have pointed astronomers from the Babylonian-Person region toward the land of the Jews.” 

Jesus retroactively gives Benedict an A+ for eschewing dogma at this point in the story. He further speculates that the adoration of the Magi could be “an invention of Matthew based on a theological idea”. Ever the tireless tutor, Benny (if I may replicate his relaxed friendliness) asserts it doesn’t matter at all since it has no bearing upon “any essential aspect of our faith”. Oy, but this Kraut sleeks around very carefully in the logic department. 

Good news accrues: “The Epiphany is therefore a matter of taste.” Holey Moley. Could this guy pass Religion 101 at the Holy Rosary Academy (Bay City, MI) of my ten years of 30’s captivity, imprisoned by the certainties of my German Dominican nuns. Sister Felicia, my sweet kindergarten teacher and substitute mother would have had Benny 16 to be sitting in the Dummies Corner!

And how about his new view of those oh so humble shepherds? Should they set an example of the Christlike simple life. Uh huh. "It seems to me that we should not read too much into this. Jesus was born outside the city in an area surrounded by grazing grounds where shepherds would pasture their flocks." His ideal seems to be Simplify, Simplify! He also argues that the angels there were not “singing” but that that their words expressed “all the glory of the great joy they proclaim.” 

Humph! I agree with the FT’s secular skepticism. "That sounds like a big improvement: would-be characters in a Broadway musical have now been officially upgraded to the vanguard of the Almighty.”

Whew! Benny squeezed through that debate. He’s no raging Ratzinger hund. He’s a pussy cat –at least at Xmas time.