Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Microsoft's Loss is Humanity's Gain

Is worker burnout always a loss? Not in the case of John Wood, a Microsoft exec who took a long needed break by hiking in Nepal and the Himalayas. There he met a Nepalese “Education Resource Officer” who invited him to visit a school in a neighboring village. He was stunned by its poverty. In that dilapidated classroom he inspected “their library”! The few books there included not only a Danielle Steele romance and a Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia, but the tiny collection was kept under lock and key-to protect them from the children! 

As John left the village, his guide exclaimed sadly: “Perhaps, Sir, you will come back with books.” Did he ever! He emailed his friends asking for donations. Within two months he had collected over 3,000 books! The following year John and his father returned with eight book-bearing donkeys. 

The looks on the faces of the Nepalese children moved him to quit Microsoft, and in 1999 he founded an NGO called “Room to Read”. This Andrew Carnegie of the developing world had a new career! Starting in Nepal with his local partner Dinesh Shrestha they started helping rural communities build schools (“School Room”) and give them effective libraries (Reading Room).

They soon realized that many girls in developing nations were ignored because of long held prejudices. In 2000 “Room to Read” became the “Girls’ Education” program. It targets young girls with a long-term commitment to their education.In 2001 Erin Ganju joined the duo as chief operating officer and helped “Room to Read” expand into Vietnam: in 2002 Erin and John added Cambodia and India in 2003. 

Because children’s books in local languages were very hard to find they launched Local Language Publishing. Colorful books by local authors and illustrators joined the international books.In 2004 they opened their 1000th library in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Later that same year after the December 24th Asia tsunami they decided to expand to Sri Lanka and help the community rebuild!

Room to Read” has its headquarters in San Francisco at 111 Sutter Street, 94104,16th floor. Voice, 1-415 839 4400. FAX, 415 591 0580. Info@roomtoread.org. Anyone anywhere is encouraged to help the expansion. No less than the future of the human race is at risk. In the two years (2012/3) “The Global Journal” has been listing the world’s Top NGOs, Room to Read has made the prized list, 26th in the world in 2013. 

Never in so complicated a complex of problems has so simple a solution appeared. Microsoft’s loss is definitely humanity’s gain. Google “Room to Read” and learn how easy it is to lend a hand! May such “social businesses” (named by Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen bank for the poor) flourish as humanity grapples one by one with its most discouraging complexities.

Another version of this essay is published at Broad Street Review.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

My Crush on USA Today

When “USA TODAY” started publication in August, 1982, another world shattering event was fixing to complicate global alternative journalism: I walked away from a tenured full professorship as English chairman at Beaver College (renamed Arcadia University.). Most who observed these simultaneous moves believed both developments were foolish. That very month a new conservative association revolted against the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia.

I too was in a revolting mood —against new $100,000 English professorships exploiting their peon associates who had no health insurance and had to work at multiple jobs just to finish their Ph.D.’s. It was disgraceful and inhumane. The extant press mocked the innovative newspaper and complacent professors sneered at my idealism. I remembered these contradictions yesterday as I dropped into the Hotel Elefant, the only place in Weimar to buy “USA TODAY”. Dropping the twelve pages of Sports and Entertainment in a waste paperbasket, I scanned the twelve pages for news and opinion. BINGO!

Its Editorial Board grilled Muhammad Yunus about his 1976 founding in Bangladesh of the Grameen Bank, the first bank to save the poor from loan sharks by giving them access for the first time to financial services, and especially to women. The scheme was to give them $30-35 loans to start an income generating service. Instead of waiting for jobs, they created their own, one by one. "They find out their niche,” as Yunus puts it.

Each loan cycle is one year. Today there are 8.5 million borrowers, investing bit by bit $11 billions! If they pay their $35 loan back, they can raise as much ad $10,000. Repayment rates are an astonishing 99% plus! “We don’t take any donor money: We don’t take any money from the government. We take deposits and then lend to the poor. The bulk of the deposits come from the poor themselves.Every borrower is required to save a small of what they make each week,Today the balance of these deposits for all borrowers reaches to about $1 billion. So out of the $i.5 billions that loaned out, $1 billion is their own money.”

Why do earlier banks focus so much on men? They not only wouldn’t lend to any women, even rich ones. Yunus decided that half his patrons must be women, even though most asked that their money be given to their husbands! His task was to get a few women to overcome their traditional fears—so that more and more females would borrow. It took six years to reach a 50-50 level, female and male. Finally Yunus discovered women were reliable! Today out of his 8.5 million borrowers, 97% are women! They told women who raised chickens all the time to feed their own families could invest in a few more and sell them to others!

Would it work in America? Grameen Bank started in New York City in 2008. Now they have six branches and over 12,000 borrowers. They brought women from Bangladesh to New York to run Grameen the same way. The average loan is about $1500 and the repayment rate so far has been above 99%. After two and a half years, they invited Omaha, then Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and now Charlotte.

Once they had started lending in Bangladesh they found new problems: children’s education, housing, toilets, cooking stove problems. They decided to try to solve one crisis: night blindness among children. The solution was “simple”: they needed vitamin A. They needed to eat vegetables. Yumus started selling one-penny packets of vegetable seeds. They became the largest seed seller in the country! Night blindness disappeared from the country.

Which gave Yunus another idea. He vowed to create business to solve problems, not make money. He called the social businesses, non-dividend companies focused on solving human problems. Other countries got involved. Yumus started joint companies—first with Dannon, the yogurt company. They were fighting malnutrition! 46% of Bangladesh children suffer malnutrition. Dannon conceived a cheap but effective yogurt—just to cover the business costs. Dannon promised not to profit, just get their investment back. Yumus is busy with Intel and Adidas to devise equally effective schemes.

Strangely, I’d followed this story as CNN reported on the collapse of an eight story building housing bank and two garment makers: over 300 deaths .Outside Dacha, Bangladesh. Let Yumus loose. He’ll have a scheme by noon.

Other stories cover Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz plotting on the next moves for his 18,000 coffee bars in 62 countries, a sociological analysis of the West, Texas fertilizer fire, and an analysis of teenager reactions to Islamic terror. My coeval alternator is still going strong after 31 years. So I hope do I!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Viewing Van de Velde/Analyzing Behrens

The exhibition at Weimar’s New Museum celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Belgian genius who has blessed this city’s with its greatest architecture. The Art school he designed in the early twentieth century (currently Bauhaus University’s HQ) makes me feel that I’m reentering my favorite building in the entire world, Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. It’s Jugendstil curves are irresistible. But you have to look at its private history to explain the thrills.

Start with the first industrial world’s fair, London, 1851. What I call the Crystal Palace Syndrome , inappropriate use of energy wasting glass, patinophobic concrete, and rustable iron led to modern architecture’s first errors. At the turn of the 20th century, Germany felt way behind in this global race to be modern. So much that the Prussian HQ sent a famous architect, Hermann Muthesius, to their London Embassy to spy, esthetically!

And so for nine years he scouted about to pocket ideas that would help Germany catch up in the race to be best in industrial and architecture. Alas, he fell in love with the Arts and Crafts movement that followed William Morris fear of mass production. Instead of reporting the breakthrough of the first industrial designer, a former Victorian decorater Christopher Dresser, he came home and wrote a series of books touting Morris’s villas!

Meanwhile, Jena University (the city next to Weimar) had given Dresser an honorary doctorate in 1858 for his book on Victorian design just after he graduated from Glasgow University. Actually Dresser’s real breakthrough, to be hailed retroactively as the first industrial designer, took place Philadelphia in 1976 at the World’s Fair celebrating the U.S, Centennial. He gave a series of four lectures at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Then he made an astonishing sweep through Japan looking at their popular art. Upon his return, he declared, “I went to Japan a mere decorator; I returned a designer!” And How!

I read about his book 13 years ago. But I had never seen his “famous” industrial designs, in metal and glass—until this exhibition. Van de Velde was on to it! He was a late designer, relishing his first loves of painting and music until he was 34. But then he lived to be 94! Designing everything in sight! A train’s interior, a men’s barber shop, furniture for every need, and of course buildings, large, medium and small. All over Weimar. All over the state of Thuringia. In fact, the tourist agencies here have created handy, colorful maps to make it easy to relish his visual charms. There are many diverse guides to be Googled.

Now, unlike Multhesius’s blowing it in his assignment to scout Germany’s design competitors, Weimar’s Duke William Ernst’s program to bring Weimar up to date was extremely successful! Harry Graf Kessler was an early Euro cultural diplomat. He wandered the continent bringing fresh ideas back to the capital of Thuringia. Van de Velde was one of his great finds. Indeed, if there had been no World War I, he wouldn’t have become an an enemy alien asked to leave in 1916. And No Gropius and his Bauhaus. Because the Belgian nominated Gropius to follow him as direct of the extant Art School when he was banished.

The second great exhibition this spring is about another self-taught architect, Peter Behrens. He came from a wealthy Hamburg family and they supported his whim to become a painter. (Unlike Van de Velde, whose father was a successful druggist and wanted his son to follow his career.) It happened that another Duke, Ludwig of Hesse, wanted his dukedom to do better than its competitors. So he founded in 1998, an Artists Colony, in Darmstadt, the state capital. Behrens accepted his invitation and built a completely original house and furnished it entirely with his own designs. It’s the visual treat still enticing crowds to Darmstadt.

But Behrens was on another tack of originality. And in 1908 he founded an architectural office out-side Berlin. My eyes blink every time I remember who his four young aides were: Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Gropius—and the man who would become his secret partner, Adolf Meyer.The most fatal thing for German architecture that developed there was bluecollar mason’s son Mies having to report to upperclass Gropius. It crippled Mies into always striving for functionless forms so he could become famous and first class!

Fate had it that AEG, the electricity corporation, asked Peter if he would become artistic advisor. Did he ever. He designed first one of the great buildings of modern Germany, the Turbine Factory. Then he proceeded to design everything connected with the new domestic electricity business: fans, heaters, advertisements for their sale.

And the clever director of Erfurt’s Art Hall had devised a small handheld numbered guide to every part of the exhibition. I’ve never been so satisfied in comprehending the significance of highly diverse creations. Ask for it before you take one look! There’s also a brilliant pictorial catalog in English and German.

May I suggest a long weekend to see the two? Together, they make even more sense of a crucial episode in architectural development. Public transportation is so simple, it’s better than renting a car. Both architects would be impressed!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

At Last, the Bauhaus Myth is Rejected by a German Critic

As a homeless kid in Depression Detroit (1930-45, when I joined the Navy as an aviation electronics mate), architectural education was shamefully neglected in Catholic grade school and a B.A. in philosophy at the Jesuit University of Detroit. In graduate school I took an interdisciplinary Ph.D in American Studies, specializing in literature but with one prelim in American art and architecture. So when I read Nicholas Pevsner’pioneer book on modern architecture in graduate school, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the German Walter Gropius founded an art school in 1919 to bring good design to the working classes.

Our first married house in 1954 was a National Home prefab (Lafayette, Indiana) designed by Charles Goodman, a marvelous Cape Cod built on what had been the fall before a corn field. $4000, $400 down, $40 a month! (Gropius’s prefab General Panel Corporation had been a total flop which I will explain in due course.) We’d still be there had I not won a Ford Grant in New York City in 1954-55 to mingle with TV brass (and especially with my first academic hero, Marshall McLuhan, whose first book had just published his popular culture essays I had already read in “Commonweal” the lay Catholic weekly— was a visiting professor at TC, Columbia.) 

I had already invented a monthly column for “The English Journal” making it easier for high school teachers to assign outstanding TV programs for class discussion. Bill Boutwell asked me to become the radio TV editor of “Scholastic Teacher” which I did for six years until an appointment as the first director of the Institute of American Studies at Honolulu new East-West Center in 1961 made contacts with continental media impractical.

My Ford year was intellectually stimulating, but I was puzzled by a paradox: my humanities peers thought my stooping to conquer media was degrading. For example, my doctoral committee rejected my proposal to write a dissertation on Marshall McLuhan! But Pat Weaver, the creative head of NBC TV spent two hours with me, reacting to my innovative educational program, putting me in touch with all the relevant NBC personnel.

When I read in the New York Times that there would be an educational convention in D.C. that weekend, I invited myself! As I entered the convention HQ I saw Ralph Bunche speaking with great intensity with a man I knew not. As the pushy Julien Sorel of East Lansing, Michigan, I orated “I’m Pat Hazard and I’m on a Ford grant to improve high school students responses to the Newer Media.” The anonymous one replied, “Well, how’s it going?) “Lousey,” I replied, explaining how Pat Weaver’s secretary was getting more and more unfriendly the more I called for an interview.

Mr. Anon identified himself, ”Well I’m the publisher of “Time” and I’m on the board of the Ford Foundation that gave your grant, and I like what you’re doing. Would an office in “Time” help?” “ GULP!” He handed me his card and told me to call Monday. I called Weaver’s office from “Time”, and his secretary was suddenly very, very amicable! A half hour later I was in Pat’s office, wondering if he always received guests on a bongo board! I was treated like an ambassador at “Time”. He sent me around the country to better understand their national nature. One exciting afternoon I and the son of the founder of “Der Spiegel” (Germany’s “Time”) watched the main editor and his photography chief plan the next issue of “Life”!

Not all the Humanists were media snobs. At the Freshman English teachers annual convention in May I gave a media plea, “Liberace and the Future of Cultural Criticism”. Three tough looking cookies asked after my lecture if I’d like to give that spiel in their blue collar commuter college, Trenton State?! I said yes, hoping it would give me time enough to finish my dissertation on John Fiske, a popularizer of Herbert Spencer in America.(I finished it, thinking all the time I was letting Marshall down.) It actually turned out all right—Penn gave me a two year Carnegie Post Doctoral grant to create the first two semester course on “Mass Culture” in America .I was being to fear that all my good luck would run out!

Not yet, TV Guide publisher Walter Annenberg gave Penn 2 million dollars to found a graduate school of communication at Penn. And, faute de mieux, I became the university’s gofer: to travel around the USA telling media brass and graduate J school deans how different and good we were going to become! I convinced the brass that the Philly boy who first turned me on to media studies, one Gilbert Seldes, “The Seven Lively Arts” (1924), should be the first dean! He was, and I became his gofer, a unique experience!

I taught media history at the new Annenberg School of Communication! Meanwhile, my commitment to architecture became bigger and bigger, I MC’ed a TV series on it at Walter Annenberg’s TV station. The most memorable hour was devoted to Louie Kahn’s maquette for his new Biological Center in La Jolla, CA. In 1959 we had bought an almost new (1956) Kahn in Greenbelt Knoll an experiment in racial integration in North East Philadelphia. (We had only been able to buy it because the wife of the first owner didn’t feel comfortable with all those blacks!) 

By the way, we had lived for three years in Levittown. The great sociologist Herbert J. Gans who wrote the classic book on the positive values of “The Levittowners” while most humanist snobs mocked the genre. He came to Penn the same year I did, and I learned a lot about mass housing from him. I sadly sold “My Kahn” in 2009, to buy a flat in a 1782 villa in Weimar. Fifty years in a Kahn is a blessing. And 18th century German architecture can be regal!

So as the years passed, I saw all our greats’ works, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louie Sullivan, Kahn,the Saarinens, Albert Kahn ,Bertrand Goldberg, and Timothy Pflueger.I spent 30 years teaching English, followed by thirty years roaming the world to comment on it in alternative journalism. I was ready for Weimar! In 1999 it was the Cultural Capital of Europe, so I was finally ready to be thrilled. It has on the contrary been the greatest disappointment of my cultural life. See if you agree with me why?

Gropius had a great heart, but not much follow through. And he wasn’t much of an architect. He complained in letters to his mother that “I can’t draw! I can’t draw!” I was puzzled about his diffidence until I visited the great Berlin museum named after his great uncle, Martin Gropius. He was the second most respected premodern Berlin architect. Gropius covered his fears by hiring a silent partner, Adolf Meyer.

Further the wastefulness of World War I, where he was a cavalry officer, had made him a leftie—whose Denkmal for the victims of the Kapp Putsch (1923) in the Weimar Cemetary haunted him because the Weimar legislature was drifting inexorably rightist. They bounced the Bauhaus in 1924. Dessau, a more industrial city where Junker Aviation dominated welcomed him. At first they “flourished” until you realize there was no architecture course until 1927. He was being hassled by a headline hunting journalist for “double dipping”, i.e. taking his director’s salary as well as adviser’s pay for working on the Törten worker’s suburb. And in 1928 he quit in a huff and suddenly went to Berlin to build Siemenstadt!

That suddenness was reckless enough, but he made the Swiss Communist Hannes Meyer director. That was Bauhaus suicide. When Mies van der Rohe became the third director, he rented an abandoned telephone factory and fired all the Communist students! That was not enough because he too was a leftie. His first work (1926) was a Denkmal for the founders of the German Communist Party, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg! Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler’s propaganda chief, grilled him about that aberration. He became a Nice Nazi, trying unsuccessfully until 1938 to get commissions from Hitler’s architect. No go! Until Gropius got him a commission for a millionaire’s summer home in Yellowstone, he was just spinning wheels in Germany.

Here is where serendipity helped me understand Mies. The Chicago Jew Bertrand Goldberg was in the last 1933 Bauhaus class. When that folded, he became Mies’s Azubi in Berlin until he fled to Paris to avoid Hitler. In 1970, as I was visiting my mother in Detroit from Philadelphia, I stopped in Chicago to take part in the their Film Festival. (I had been advising TV tycoon Charles Benton on what NBC TV he should buy for rental in the schools.) At a film festival afterparty I buttonholed Goldberg by teasing him I was quitting teaching to sell dope at his Marina City complex-- so I could afford to live there. Luckily he got my joke, and invited me to an architects visit the next day to his new Women’s Hospital for Northwestern University. It was a pivotal day in my life.

He became my most influential mentor (Studs Terkel was the other).From then on, every pitstop en route to Detroit was a spontaneous Goldberg lecture on the streets of Chicago. The first time I walked his dogs as he explicated his Chicago. Never in architectural history was canine urination so intellectually stimulating.

Our last meeting in 1895 I’ll never forget. I was showing a sweet social worker from Leipzig her first USA visit. Bertrand picked us up in his sports car and whisked us to his private club, high in a skyscraper overlooking his greatest work, Marina City. We were in a solemn mood because the day before Timothy Dwight had blown up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Bert was sad that Gropius had abandoned his blue collar idealism .He insisted that he never had. 

Then is when we talked so frankly about Mies’s Nice Nazi reputation in the 1930’s. Goldberg is the greatest architect by far to come out of the Bauhaus, including the overpraised Mies. It is a scandal that Goldberg has never had an exhibition there! My hunch is that his social idealism embarrasses the Baushustling Triad (Weimar, Dessau, Berlin) because they can’t be bothered with Pius’s blue collar ideals as they build Upper Middleclass Tourism--and search for legislative grants!

My increasingly impatient frustration over their refusal to discuss our disagreements honestly and honorably has been very upsetting. Their pathetically anti-intellectual reaction has been to drop me from their press lists. A weasel tactic that would never be employed by American scholars. If Mies diminished his seriousness by his becoming a Nice Nazi, I regard this fascist evasion of serious thinking as Nasty Nazism! I was ready to abandon this nondiscourse until three months ago.

Thomas Hass, a retired chemist from Munich, daily reads the international press with me at the Anna Amalia student center. He excitedly discovered an essay in “Die Welt” by a well-regarded journalist, Dr. Dankwart Gutratsch. (He has been honored for his journalism on Denkmals.) But in the essay that renewed my faith in German seriousness about the Bauhaus, he argues, for example, that Modern German architecture ended in 1918—the year before the Bauhaus began!

He argues convincingly that their obsession with flat roofs, concrete walls and excessive glass made energy wasting a major failure demanding correction. How he proposes to achieve this correction of failed Modernoid (my neologism) by 1919, the 100th anniversary is the subject of my next essay. (He mocks their 90th and other irregular celebration times.) Those false anniversaries turn out to be motivated by tourism and fund raising for bigger, better museums! How glad I am that I didn’t give up the critical debate over Bauhaus ideals before stumbling on Guratsch’s brilliant essay.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Re: Self Taught Architects

Amazingly there was no architecture course at the Bauhaus until 1927! And that was taught by the Swiss Communist Hannes Maeier. Gropius quit in disgust and frustration in 1928, knowing full well that the rightward drifting Dessau Mayor would reject the Bauhaus. 

Mies in Berlin had the problem that his first work (1926) was a Denkmal for the founders of the German Communist party. And Betrand Goldberg who was in the last Bauhaus class (1933) became Mies's Azubi and told me in our last meeting in 1995 that Mies had no credible answer to Hitler's propaganda minster, other than becoming a Nice Nazi, begging for commissions until 1937 when Gropius got him a commission for a Millionaire's summer place in Yellowstone.

We really need an honest bio of Mies who is an overrated architect who never got over his resentment at being a mason's son, resenting that he had to report to upper class Gropius when they both were Azubis for Peter Behrens in 1910. Goldberg was easily the greatest architect with a Bauhaus past. He never had a German retrospective! Nor did Marianne Brandt. 

Bauhaus historiography is distorted by guilt over the Nazi interlude. In my opinion! I came to Weimar because as a homeless kid in Depression Detroit (1930-45) I was thrilled to discover in graduate school that Gropius had created an art school to bring good design to the working classes. His leftist past (his Denkmal for the victims of the Kapp Putsch (1923) in Weimar Friedhof was destroyed by the Nazis) haunted him as it did Mies, as the Weimar Republic succumbed to Hilter's plans. 

The current Bauhaus Triad (Weimar, Dessau, Berlin) ignores Pius's original working class leftist ideals, reducing that ideal to upper middle class Tourism: more museums, less ideals! I call them Bauhustlers! 

I still believe in his original idealism. Only Omar Akbar did and stlll does. My interpretation of  Bauhaus history so upsets the Triad that they have all banned me from their press lists! What Mies did as a Nice Nazi in search of commissions is not nearly as culpable as the Triad's Nasty Nazi tactic of keeping me off their press list. Thanks for hearing my harangue!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Denise Denied

When the Penn Professor Robert Venturi was offered the Pritzker Prize in 1991, he did his darnedness trying to get his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown included in the award. Venturi decided to deny the award but his wife argued their financial situation was too critical to walk away from the hundred thousand dollars the award included. So he stood alone.

Unlike their cooperative revisionism. They did everything architectural together. They believed that modernism had sadly frozen into rectangular clichés. They hungered for freshness and diversity, like Saintsbury Wing of the National on London’s Trafalgar Square. Their postmodernist classics, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” (1966) and "Learning from Las Vegas”(1972), urged their students to break the boredom of classic, first generation modernism, and seek freshness. 

I loved the Saintsbury but blasted the Las Vegas celebration in a Welcomat review because I had such hateful experiences there. (I still despise its hysterically obsessive entertainment ethos!!) But my objectivity disappeared because my father ran off with his secretary to Las Vegas when I was three, condemning me to ten years of isolation in Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City, MI! (Fifty years later, I was less angry, accepting $150 G’s when he died as a wealthy real estate czar! It funded my second career of thirty years as a global alternative journalist!)

Still, Denise definitively got the short end of her architectural career with Venturi. Her secondclassedness started early, long before she met him at a Penn faculty meeting. As a youth in South Africa, her family pooh poohed her architectural aspirations. Indeed she was one of just five women in an architecture class of sixty-five students. Indeed she signed all her architectural drawings with her full name so all viewers would the men realize they were looking at the work of a woman! 

Later in London she recalls accompanying five men to an internship interview. When the architect Egon Riss finished dealing with male applicants, he turned to her and explained,”I am very sorry but I can’t pay you as much as the men because then the secretaries in my office would object if I did.”
Denise came to America in 1958 where she met Robert at Penn where they both taught. They swapped reading lists and grew deeper together. 

She joined his firm in 1967, the year they tied the knot. Two years later she was a partner in Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. Denise wrote an essay “Sexism and the Star System in Architecture” in which she described how her hubbie became a guru and she receded to a footnote. They tried hard to explain they were partners in the deepest sense, only to have their audience allude to Venturi’s “work”. 

She complained “They can’t get that out of their heads. Whatever you say to them, they say, 'Well, she must be something else. Maybe a planner, maybe a typist, maybe she takes photographs. It has to be something else.'” (Gareth Cook,”“What about Denise?” The New Yorker, April 22, 2013.)

Philip C. Johnson who founded the architecture department at MOMA and corrupted the entire twentieth century American professional conversation on architecture threw black-tie dinners for his acolytes at the men only Century Club. (He got the first Pritzker in 1979!) His intense gay convictions didn’t extend to female freedom! 

 The Pritzker executive secretary, Martha Thorne, is eager to support British students who have started a global petition to add to the sole female Pritzker, Zaha Hadid, an Iranian who grew up in Bahgdad. Denise is 81. So we hope Ms. Thorne gets busy!

Another version of this essay is published by Broad Street Review.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

To Him, Whitman was More than a Bridge

Today in Weimar, Germany, I heard the sad news (over my Internet WHYY) that my favorite Philadelphia poet, Dan Hoffman, had died just short of his 90th birthday. Dan was the kind of poet that Walt Whitman asked Americans to cherish.

In 1973, when I was chairman of the Beaver College English Department, my girl and I were driving back from celebrating her birthday in Cape May when she suddenly asked, as we approached the Walt Whitman Bridge, if I had ever visited his mausoleum. I hadn’t, and I was so ashamed to admit it that I nearly crashed getting us off the bridge in the direction of Harleigh Cemetery.

To our surprise, we found the Whitman memorial falling apart. Luckily, the annual National Council of Teachers of English convention was scheduled to meet in Philadelphia that Thanksgiving. So I asked the brass if I could prowl the aisles with an appeal, “A BUCK FOR THE BARD’S BONES” on my front and “SAVE WALT’S VAULT” from behind.

If I dropped the shabby rhetoric, I was allowed to raise the cash. Those tightfisted English teachers chipped in $838. (Buckminster Fuller later gave me a check for $100.)

So we repaired the 1892 structure and celebrated Whitman’s muse together on his birthday in 1974. I still remember with pride that National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” covered our rite, the high point of which was Dan Hoffman reading my favorite Hoffman poem, On Crossing Walt Whitman Bridge, which mocked lazy Philadelphians who stay at the Walt Whitman Hotel in Camden and buy their booze at a Whitman store, all the while ignorant of the great poet’s work.

Dan appreciated what Walt Whitman was all about. Had Whitman been here, I think he would have returned the compliment.

This memory first appeared in Broad Street Review

Monday, 1 April 2013

Papal Infallibilty

--> On Being Catholic:

As an ex-Catholic who was misled by ten years at a Catholic Boarding School, three years of minor seminary, and a Ph.B in philosophy from a Jesuit university, I hypothesize that papal infalliblity was a belated effort to undermine emerging faith in science, a really divine gift. 

Live by what it teaches!