Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Dan's Game

I’m glad Dan’s experiences in football helped make him the unusually gifted writer and editor he became. But one man’s idiosyncratic bio should not make us doubt our larger perspective that the median athlete is no credible asset for the finer tuning of higher education.
I’ve noticed in Germany that streets are often named after philosophers, novelists, poets, painters and scientists. Ours, more often after movie stars, home run sluggers and TV comics. You picks your heroes and the culture adjusts upwards or downwards.
Our elementary schools are as feeble as they are partly because our universities value irrelevant human activities immaturely.

Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
August 24, 2013

Monday, 26 August 2013

China's Mr. Green

I never thought the day could come when I would write an encomium for a magazine’s obituaries column! But that was before I had read “The Economist” for a year, eventually making the obit a weekly ritual by beginning my read on its last page site. And Wu Dengming, China’s Mr. Green, is a great life to start with.

When I first spent six weeks in Shanghai in 1982, allegedly studying Mandarin, but really preparing my first scoop (I had just quit teaching, after 30 years) for the TV mag of San Francisco’s KQED-TV, the best (then and yet!) public television in America: Shanghai’s Art Museum was making its first foreign visit there. Naturally, as an art critic I wanted to interview the director esthetically. He wanted me to pick items which would be the most popular among San Franciscan visitors! He was a business man before he was an aesthete!

Similarly, when my fellow students stomped off on our Beijing visit to walk the Great Wall, I snuck away to interview the editors of the first international Chinese newspaper, “The China Daily”. Holy Moses. They didn’t want to talk media.(I had been writing Op Eds and art criticism for both Philadelphia dailies and the “Christian Science Monitor”.) They wanted to know how many columns of baseball coverage they should reserve! Was BUSINESS the most important goal of Mao’s followers. 
Strangely enough, on my midnight flight back to California, I snuck into the first class section to find a single executive-looking man eating off the fanciest table settings I’d seen in ages. When I teased him by chiding his first class manners with a playfully snide, “Is that how you ate on the Great March?” He, it turns out, had been there! “Why not eat better, after all that pain?” It turns out he had also been in the aerial battles over Burma. And he was now the chief executive in charge of buying planes for China’s airline! Another businessman!
In any case, Wu Dengming (just dead at 73) was no such busybody. He had begun as a farmer, served as an officer in Mao’s army, but retired at 57 as a security person at Chongqing University. Chongqing at 10 million population was China’s fastest growing city. He and his family lived in an old beaten up house full of environmental books, where his daughter pleaded for air-conditioning like in the adjacent skyscrapers. Their pitiful little fan simply didn’t cut it. But as a conservationist he was more interested in insuring that everyone in his city could turn their coolers to 26 Celsius and no lower!

When he retired at 57, his family expected more consideration. But he ran around the city and the region tracking down polluters of air, water or earth and reporting them to Beijing auithorities. He was almost never at home!”A row of shoes,many times mended,stood under his bed; most of them were still dirty from when he had sploshed around of the muddy banks of the Jialing or the Yangzi, pointing out to the world’s press where theb outlet from a battery factory had stained the rocks yellow, or where the pipeline from a chromium plant had killed all the vegetation.” (The Economist, August 10-16, p.70.)

His business card listed five titles and six awards. The most important title was “Founder, Chongqing Green Volunteer League, 1995 (Motto: “Action, not words.”) This was set up originally as a campus group that planted trees, picked up litter and lectured others on the green responsibilities. In 1998 he had taken a film crew to record illegal logging in the wild forests of Sichuan outside the city. It was such a sensation, logging there was banned.  
Over 15,000 students signed his petition to stop the Nu river dams. He was one of the few NGO’s that Beijing allowed; in 2011 for the first time a court admitted his suit against a factory that had dumped 5,000 tons of chromium waste in Yunnan province.

Greedy “socialist” entrepreneurs didn’t dig his interventions. In the Sichuan forest, the loggers smashed his film crew’s gear. Factory owners sent hoodlums to rough him up. His wife worried, but he assured her he had learned how to survive in Mao’s People’s Liberation Army. He even practice t’ai chi every day to calm his nerves! NGO’s rarely got government support, so he financed his work from his tiny pension, his savings and his grandson’s lottery winnings! 

He listened in horror at the sufferings of ordinary working class people and counseled on their woes .”As a farmer who had moved to the city himself, he spoke the language of the peasants forced from their plots by landslides, the fishermen whose stocks were dead, the weeping, terrified villagers whose livers had been enlarged by strontium in the river water.(Ibid.) 
In 1998 he led a group to Hongya County in West Sichuan Province, famous for its wealth of natural forests and abundance of 100 year-old trees. “What they found, broke their hearts: the original scenery had been completely transformed by deforestation, leaving bare hills and stumps everywhere.” Wu invited CCTV, China’s main TV programmer, to produce a documentary on this tragedy. Their first attempt flopped—hoods destroyed their TV equipment! The second time around, they succeeded! Both national and provincial authorizes banned such forestry.

Probe International announced that even five polluting enterprises that Wu Dengming had criticized sent reps to mourn and pay their respects at his funeral. And best of all, his daughter, after nagging her idealist father for ages, became a committed greenie! China, the most polluting state on earth, needs more and more such heroic greenies.

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

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Burning in Hell

On Prosecuting Evil:

Capital punishment remains in my opinion barbarous. Incarceration during which the guilty improve the human condition is preferable, a kind of secular purgatory.
Burning in hell for eternity is the expression of a barbarous hate, unworthy of any decent God, were there one. I learned to disbelieve in that reputed Him because of his egregious punishments. I’d rather spend eternity in hell than bend my knee to such a monstrous “Creator.”
If our human race survives another century as gratuitously evil as the 20th, it will be after we abolish poverty and gratuitous exploitations of all kinds. Sounds like a long shot to me, but no other aim is worthy of a more civilized humanity.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
August 18, 2013

Monday, 19 August 2013

Getting Into Germany

The more I study German, the language, to better understand Germany the country, the more valuable to me is their weekly, “Der Spiegel” (The Mirror). It’s often dubbed their “Time” magazine of Germany, but the German weekly has far outstripped its American antecedent in both size and significance. 

What made me realize this disparity is their monthly student magazine, “Uni-Spiegel”, which frankly is designed to keep students subscribing after they graduate. Three regular features work their magic: aspects of student life, first jobs of recent graduates, and finally, an outstanding professor profile.

Campus” in July, 2013 tells the story of Abusar Ahmadi, a 27 year old Afghani medical student who has joined 15 other students in living in a home for demented old men. Cheap rent (250 euros a month) is the main motivation. But soon these young men learn to savour contacts with the Golden Oldies. Five hours each week Abusar spends social time with an 88 year old Doctor. 

Every evening they take a 50 meter hike. And once a month he prepares an Afghani meal for all the students and their charges. They regularly share a Shuttlebus into town with four women who work in the house, one of whom is a poet. Abusar puts copies of her work in their mailboxes. Often evenings he goes into the TV room and watches a program with the Oldies. Once an old lady complained that he used all the water in the water cooler. But mainly they make friends of the old regulars.

This civilized interaction between old and old reminded me of how most Germans deal with the problem of jobs for the young. They hire workers to learn a new job well and pay them. Compare how German businessmen invite union leaders to participate in their deliberations for the future since both sides have a common fate.

Compare this with the union busting President Ronald began when he was elected. He had been an official during World War Two in a Hollywood union, when “lefties” hassled him. So he broke the airport flight supervision union. And encouraged auto companies to move their operations to Southern states where racial anxieties weakened their unions. And he started offshoring to Mexico and China which has effectively destroyed the American middle class and its dream of upward mobility. 

German businesses and union collaborate in protecting their middle class. We’re now afflicted with the vile 1%/99% America. Such official ignorance destroyed Detroit and damaged other cities. The Germans have had the good sense to protect business and unions. “Der Spiegel” teaches university students civilized alternatives.

Similarly they tout the unusual graduates under a column named “Bizarre Professions”. This month the oncologist Julia Baer describes how she protects nature in isolated North Sea island where she spends a year gathering data then moves to another isolated island. It is a strange but invaluable job.

Finally under the rubric of “Germany’s best professors” we read about psychiatrist Katharina Domschke and her research into the biggest puzzle of her country, “German Angst”. This tradition of protecting the common good is an asset every complex industrial culture needs. “Der Spiegel” has created a style that protects essential attitudes if a country is to survive the uncertainties of the future.

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

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Civilizing College Football?

Is it possible? Would it be worth the efforts? My old fashioned Humanism still prevails on this question: higher education is just that, anything that corrupts it is suspect. Now what could I learn from that contentious New Yorker genius, Malcolm Gladwell. I suspect that if someone other than my favorite journalist, the Indian American Fareed Zacharia, raised the question, I’d opt out. But his GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE (Sundays, 13:00 CET) is as required as Sunday Mass in my altar boy years. I was not disappointed. Four years ago Gladwell declared war against this brain concussion “sport” by comparing it to dog-fighting.

Let’s start our discussion closer to home—with the suicide by hanging of Penn’s co-captain Owen Thomas, aged 21, in April 2010. His missionary Allentown parents were shocked to discover that more deceased NFL players died by the same concussion induced brain disease that motivated Owen. Boston University doctors examined his brain tissue and discovered mild chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an Alzheimer’s like disease that impairs normal brain functions and eventually kills brain cells. Now researchers couldn’t definitively link his disease to his death, but they noted the pattern of suicidal behavior in CTE victims, including former NFL players Andre Waters and Terry Long.

Owen’s mother, Katherine Brearley, said on a BU video that her son didn’t have a big concussion “so I hope there is some research into what happens in a developing young person with a lot of little jolts to the brain.” In CTE a toxic protein builds in the brain, with early symptoms including memory impairment, instability, erratic behavior, depression and problems with impulse control. Dementia and death can follow. 

On their way home after signing “Gift of Life” papers, they got a call from Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football player and professional wrestler who retired at 24 because of multiple concussions. Co-founder of Sports Legacy Institute, he wrote “Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis From the NFL to Youth Leagues” (2006). Rev. Brearley gave Nowinski permission to examine Owen’s brain. Later Ann McKee, BU associate professor of neurology and pathology, revealed that her son’s brain had a disease associated with repeated head trauma. Penn expressed their sorrow but would only reduce practice seasons from five to two times a week!

Gladwell believes the head injury issue is what wiil reduce college football—fear of injury suits. But he also feels that only the Ivies can lead lesser U’s to minimize college football. Stanford in the heart of Silicon Valley has so upped football philanthropy that its influence now equals the Ivies.

It’s my belief that football infantilized our not so Higher Education. (Think of Joe Palermo as Penn State’s hero! He may be an ideal Grandpa, but he was a zero as an university ideal.) Not to forget the louts that suffered him.) Similarly Excessive TV has diminished the effectiveness of our primary and secondary education. Prepared only for a Higher Playpen.

European Universities have not been so distracted. Neither are those on the emerging continents. It’s a defect that America’s penchant for the playpen that has crippled our civilization. We played touch football at Holy Rosary Academy and Sacred Heart Seminary. No concussions and deeper conclusions. Bad habits are much easier to slide into than to escape. Gladwell is wise to keep tooting his warning horn, and Zacharia is thoughtful to give him a platform. Second only to the obliteration of our middle class by our greedy 1 percenters is the infantilizing of education as a destructive force in our common future. 100 yard penalties to all the glib fools that got our educational system in such a mess.

ALERT: the NFL has declared a concussion crisis. 

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

Friday, 16 August 2013

Maralyn Lois Polak

What a rush to see MLP back in harness, writing joyfully about her latest disappointment!

May her next cat be worthy of its mistress.

Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
July 24, 2013

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Re when Jews Cross Themselves

Once more, teasingly, Dan gives his eager audience a quick look at his upbringing. Would that he got to work systematically clarifying his origins. I hope he will be more revealing than his crossing himself. Jokes about such serious stuff? Maybe that’s his secret. Alas, negligible theology.
Think deeper, chief. Like Mel Brooks, the great comedian you started this aberration with!
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
August 3, 2013

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Letter on an Editor

Re “To emigrate or not,” by Dan Rottenberg—
Fascinating ought-to-biography. Would make a top notch musical. Except there’s no explanation of their patronym, Rottenberg. Maybe they were sneering silently at the defective mountain of their nearby Russian Orthodox neigh-boors.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
August 9, 2013

Editor’s comment: The Marianskys of Suwalki Gubernia in Russia were my maternal grandfather’s family. The Rottenbergs were Hungarians, with roots going back to the 13th Century German rabbi Meir of Rothenburg.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Rejecting the Tragic Hubris of American Exceptionalism

I had a strange experience 1 August when my Ossie Frau Hildegard marched me to her favorite Baltic restaurant in Zempin, where she spent her youthful summers. I always feel imprisoned there—separated from my internet radio where I daily monitor National Public Radio and BBC world news, with a crippled computer and no TV with my Sunday ritual of Fareed Zacharia  and his brilliant “Global Public Square” as well as “The State of the Union” and “Meet the Press”. Hungry for media, I scanned the restaurant’s choices.

My heart surged as I reacted to “Stern”’s cover: a rear view of a scruffy Uncle Sam, doublecrossing his fingers (for good luck, or to mock Europe?) and the title, “The False Friend: No Consideration, No Morals, Why America Betrays Freedom”. Suddenly I was back in a University classroom trying to persuade my students to purge themselves of the hubris that America was God’s special friend, giving a Good Example to the rest of the world. I explained to them that I had an multidisciplinary Ph.D. in “American Studies”.

It all began in 1936 when Harvard celebrated its tercentenary. American Lit was peculiar: in the seventeenth century it was theology (“Puritan ideology declared US sacred”), in the eighteenth, politics, and not honest to God “belle lettres” until the mid-nineteenth century of Emerson, Whitman, and Mark Twain. Until then we squirmed at the global sneer of “Who reads an American book etc.” The proper response was “No one who was serious”. Thus appeared in our intimidated  defense the hubris that we were very special. Unique in the world! It has crippled our relations with the rest of the emerging global world, especially Europe.

Alas, this overcompensating hubris legitimized both the threatened extinction of the indigenous Indians (think sadly of Andrew Jackson, our first commoner President, and his cruel “Vale of Tears”) and the monstrous contradiction of millions of ex-African slaves in a “free” country.  Alas even our great Thomas Jefferson had a black mistress. Only a hideous Civil War theoretically liberated the cotton plantation slaves.

But the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1976 was a “deal”: Federal troops no longer monitored “free” ex-slaves in the racist South. It wasn’t until JFK and LBJ that the “liberal” North freed those slaves. Compare this horrendous three centuries of Exceptionalist lies with the twelve years of Nazi-ism that the Germans have mostly purged themselves of. Even the racist Virginia-bred Princeton president  who vowed to lead Americans into World War One to make the “world safe for democracy” jailed the great railroad union leader Eugene Victor Debs for ten years because he opposed war!

Confusion in the White House didn’t start with the brain damaged George W. Bush. Exceptionalism made US ipso facto a confused participant in the emerging global culture. FDR’s presidencies put us on the right track to world participation.

Ronald Reagan smilingly re-confused US. He was a B actor with a D- intellect and an A+ smile that had been a Hollywood union official that lefties harassed. He got even by killing the aviation monitoring union. He also advised industry leaders to attend a seminar in Mexico that started offshoring and within his presidency had destroyed the emerging middle class.

The obscene result was a 1% earning 500 times their instantly impoverished 99%workers. The Supreme Court ruled that these newly rich could spend as much as  they wanted to-–to delay the greatly feared election when minorities would soon become the majority. Those millions persuaded former Members of Congress to become a lethal group that has destroyed our representative democracy.  The paralysis of Congress is their dirty work.

Finally, the scandalous wreckage that gun violence has inflicted on a confused America has rational if evil motives. When blacks aren’t killing each other with guns, wealthy Americans see the National Rifle Association as a guarantee that the blacks won’t start a second Civil War. So you see, Europeans, the American experience of upward mobility is disappearing as we speak. Your task is to disabuse Americans of the hubris of Exceptionalism before it kills US. 

P.S. John McCain and Lesley Graham’s recent joint lecture to the Egyptians on how difficult but essential it is to develop a democracy from scratch was an exemplary display of anti-Exceptionalism. I was pleasantly stunned by the South Carolina Senator’s confession that we didn’t let females vote nationally until the 1920’s, and that he never had a black schoolmate until the sixth grade—and that his state started that tragic first Civil War. Now if only those two GOP’s could begin to function so amiably back in D.C.

This essay is also published by Broad Street Review.


Monday, 5 August 2013

My Favorite Journalist: Nicholas D. Kristof

The world, at home and abroad, is such an unmitigated mess that my heart surges every time I see his byline, especially during his annual award to an aspiring American journalist to accompany him abroad.(The lucky student this year is Erin Luhmann of the University of Wisconsin; their goal this year is Danja, Niger, West Africa, where “young women find healing and hope.” He describes how “they straggle in by foot, donkey cart or bus: humiliated women and girls with their heads downcast, feeling ashamed and cursed, trailing stink and urine.” (NYTimes, 7/14/13.)

Married off at 12 or 13, they become pregnant before their malnourished bodies are ready. They have suffered a devastating childbirth called an obstetric injury that has left them “incontinent, leaking urine and sometimes feces through their vaginas. Most have been sent away by their husbands, and many have endured years of mockery and ostracism as well as painful sores on their legs from the steady trickle of urine.”

They had heard of the daily medical miracles performed at the Danja Fistula Center in Niger, West Africa. Proudly Kristof speaks of an earlier report of his that moved hundreds of “Times” readers to donate more than $500,000 to the Worldwide Fistula Fund so that two idealistic doctors could open their hospital. This year the first patient they helped was Hadiza Soulaye. She had never been to school and didn’t know her own birthdate. Her family married her off at 11 or 12. It was before she began to menstruate. She was not consulted but became the second wife of her own uncle. Within a year she was pregnant. She had no prenatal care and a traditional birth attendant couldn’t help when she endured three days of obstructed labor. By the time she was taken to a hospital for a Caesarean delivery, her baby was dead and she had suffered internal injuries including a hole, or fistula, between her bladder and vagina. Hadiza didn’t know what happened. “I just knew I couldn’t control my pee, and I started crying.”

Everybody shunned her. Her husband threw her out of “his” house; other villagers regarded her so unclean that they wouldn’t let her fetch water or prepare food. Her dress was constantly wet with urine and everybody mocked her. She suffered several years of this abandonment. (She didn’t realize she had joined a despairing world crowd of two million fistula sufferers.)

When she heard of the DFC, Hadiza wondered if they could help her. Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, a urologist from Michigan who had helped plan the center—and healed more fistulas than any other Americans—operated on her and fixed the damage.He warned her not to have sex for six months so that the repair could heal. (This operation usually costs $500 to $1000.) She returned to her village thrilled to be healed.

Alas, her husband ordered her to his bed. He tore open the fistula. She began leaking again. Her husband threw her out of the house again, where she vowed never to return. The DFC is conducting research to see how best to repair these wome. If they halve the operating process they double the number of women they can repair. Dr. Arrowsmith and Dr. Lewis Wall an obstetric professor from Washington University in St. Louis are partners with Serving in Mission, an American Christian charity with long experience in Danja. But they want the Africans to be in charge so Dr. Arrowsmith is training Dr.Itengre’ Ouedraogo to takeover.

Kristof concludes in an upbeat: “This fistula center continues to exist on a shoestring, struggling for operating funds. But the exuberance of the patients is contagious, and I wanted readers to know that your generosity has built a city of joy. (That’s right! Reach for your checkbook. 500 grand doesn’t last that long !) These women may arrive miserable and shamed, but they leave proud, heads held high. And in a complicated world of trouble, that’s a reason to celebrate.” 
Heh, maybe you’ll be the lucky companion next year. Write him at the “Times” for his rules! 

Another version of this essay is published by Broad Street Review