Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Upside of Peddling Drugs

Twenty-one-year-old South African Sizwe Nzima knew early on how difficult it was to purchase drugs outside big cities. His maternal grandparents took care of him while his mother worked by the day in Johannesburg. 

To buy drugs they needed as they aged, they needed to walk up to five hours to the newest hospital, and wait God knows how long in a monstrously long queue. And then hike home in exhaustion, hardly the best formula for restoring health!

Nzima thought a lot about this incredibly complex situation, especially in his courses at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepeneurial Development. He speculated how to simplify the process of getting needed drugs every month. (He didn’t need a bachelor’s degree to decide that a bike would expedite his service. 

Forbes, the business magazine, has an annual competition for 5 Africans under 30.In 2013 Nzima won one of the Rand 10,000(10R to a U.S. dollar) Award which he used to buy two bikes to beat the distance problem to the two hospitals with 6-7000 patients who needed drugs every month. Soon Nzima had 250 customers! He called his service THE SIZWE NZIMA EXPRESS/MEDICINE ON WHEELS. (Richard Atkinson, BBC 8/20/13.)
The SAB Foundation for Social Innovation expanded their drug delivery scheme of Nzima and a new associate Iyeza by awarding them a Rand 100,000 seed grant to expand their business. Their TRASH BACK scheme means they don’t have to waste their return journey after the drugs have been delivered: recycling trash earns them food and clothing vouchers. This association also “recycles” ex-cons for a second chance. 

The American idealists who want to reform the horrendous hyperincarceration of the past four decades might well look into this down to earth business innovations. Maybe Forbes could stimulate some at home problems. Some “impossible” social problems like getting drugs to people homebound are only a bright young kid’s bike away!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Disputin' Putin

Having read the New York Times daily since I entered graduate school in 1950, I must admit that Vladimir Putin as a (h)Op (h)Ed) critic was a surly prize. Especially since his indictment of American Exceptionalism has been the basic theme of my courses in American Studies and journalism for the past sixty years. Except, unlike Putin, I want us to ask forgiveness for our abuse of the Indian, the black, and (alas, more and more) the poor.

The uppity 1% astonishes itself (and US) by rewarding itself 500 X’s the rest of US. Exceptionally greedy I would call it! And of course Putin is correct in deploring how that “hot” money has been scooped up in Hawaii, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and God knows where next. And most of the world’s armaments are made in America, a dilemma that Dwight Eisenhower warned US about—after winning the Good War he led against Germany and Japan.

I had made my students restless as I explained the singular nature of American Lit (false theology in the 17th century, politics in the eighteenth, and no belles lettres to speak of until writers like Emerson, Whitman and Mark Twain showed up in the middle of the nineteenth.) The false Puritan theology contending we were God’s special people was the worse falsehood America ever subscribed to. What the undereducated Putin doesn’t recognize is that almost all the European powers followed the same shabby faith as they expanded to rule the underdeveloped world: Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, Germany all exploited the Third Worlders. Russia itself was on such a prowl at least since Peter the Great.

In America this Exceptionalism foolishly “legitimized” our destruction of the indigenous Indians, doomed if they survived to the incarceration of the evil innovation of the reservation. The same foul foolishness “justified” the enslavement of four million African slaves so we could create a Cotton Kingdom in the South to supply the factories of the North (i.e. when they weren’t busy shipping slaves to Southern ports. Most of those slowly “liberated” slaves remain at the bottom of the allegedly open ladder to American success. And after a brief blooming of white families into the middle class, the robber bankers were federally bailed out to the 1% that now rides roughshod over the 99%, 500 to 1. How  pathetic. Three centuries of internal exploitation!

Putin has already forgotten the Exceptionalism that Karl Marx wished on European culture that only Russia followed recklessly for three generations, say, 1919 to the Falling of the Berlin Wall. Asian and Eastern Europeans are still trying to follow Putin’s Exceptionalism, except that mostly their efforts are a flop, like the horrifying Assad suicide we’re observing in Syria. These slow suicides have been corrupting the world since its human beginnings. Only today’s means are infinitely more damaging.

Think. In 1492, Spanish Catholics were killing Jews if they wouldn’t fake Christianization.  Now the Jews regard themselves as the most Exceptionalist of all God’s creature. So much so that they once released a thousand Palestinian prisoners when a single Israeli was released. Could any non-Jew ever be so arrogant? Now Netanyahoo violates their two state agreement by building Jewish settlement after settlement on Palestinian land. They bombed Syria when they feared an atom bomb. They fantasize about doing the same against Iran. 

In such a hectic century we must congratulate both Russia and America for reducing their atomic hoards. Exceptionally civilized, I’d say. We need more of such responsible discourse. It makes you want to believe we will survive if Exceptionalism is finally passé.

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

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Philly by Foot

It is astonishing, at the peak of the “Stop and Frisk” scandal, to learn that my old hometown for over fifty years has a murder rate four times of that New York City! (“Policing Philadelphia: Boots on the Street: How foot patrols keep tough neighborhoods safer,” The Economist, August 24th, 2013.) 

Of course we had eased into Philly, prefixing our tenure there with three years in the new burb of Levittown, PA, which dishonored its innovative honor by keeping Philly’s Negroes out. (They were shamefully shifted to Levittown, N.J. And we could only move into Morris Milgrim’s Greenbelt Knoll in 1959 (Philly’s first experiment in racial integration, 1956) because one wife felt uncomfortable in this neighborhood! 

Imagine, neighbors like the nationally famous furniture designer Jim Camp, the first black congressman Robert N.C. Nix, the contentious Baptist preacher Leon Sullivan whose name is famous in South Africa because his idealism motivated their rejection of apartheid, and the first black Fire Station chief Roosevelt Barlow. 

A video about Greenbelt Knoll

Nor shall I forget our founder’s canny seizure of a plot of 100 year old trees marvelously sited between the sideline railroad track to a local Shopping Mall and a swatch of World War II worker housing. We rarely experienced Philly’s urban dangers except when, say, returning from a late night Penn or Temple university assignment.

Indeed, the notoriously tough 22nd police district included Temple University where my then wife Mary taught. The secret was to send a pair of cops patrolling the streets. One policeman driving a cruiser swiftly up and down the same streets is no way as effective as two rookies on foot in the same troubled neighborhood. Soon the locals know them, and they know the locals. Surprises soon trained one pair, Mike Farrell and Brian Nolan, to investigate: They ran into a small brown horse munching on thorn bushes in a corner lot. A passerby informed them where the owner lived nearby. His grandmother owned the corral, and they insisted that horse gets fresh water. A potential crisis disappears!

Farrell and Nolan, blue collar Irish, easily got friendly with the locals. Their turf is no picnic: a four square mile of densely packed terrace houses and public housing projects. Last year there were 35 murders and many robberies, assaults and crack deals.” The pavement is littered with broken glass, crack baggies and ketchup packets Hip-hop and soul blast out of open windows and parked cars.The streetscape is punctuated by barbers’ shops, storefront churches, kerbside cookouts, card games under gazebos, makeshift basketball backboards nailed to telephone poles and burned out, abandoned homes.” (p.36.)

They generate trust by palavering with the locals. “Jazz the Barber” digs them. ”They makes the area safer.” He expounds in his salon.” There used to be lots of robberies and home invasions around here.But now the police are seen, as opposed to when they’re just driving past. I think it’s cool.” White cops in black neighborhoods soon feel at home. They kick ball with the kids, shoot the bull with families on their front steps, or rouse drunks from the steps of boarded up shops. Sergeant Bisarat Worede who has been in charge of foot patrols since late 2010 , says walking the beat is revealing rookies, especially because it shows them there are also good people in bad neighborhoods.

Best of all are the statistics: In 2013 there had been 7 homicides in the 22nd, compare with 20 at that point last year. Burglaries had dropped from 352 to 283, 55 people shot instead of 77! The new strategy was based on a Temple U study in 2009. In targeted areas, violent crime decreased 23 percent. But statistics have been reducing everywhere. People are older. Private security has boomed: more cameras, burglar alarms, and car immobilizers.

Jerry Ratcliffe, Director of Temple’s Centre for Security and Crime Science, believes patrolling is most effective if the pair revisits several times each shift. Foot patrols work best in dense neighborhoods where they can’t afford air-conditioning and gather outside to socialize. Alas, drunken disagreements generate violence. “Half the people shot in Philadelphia are shot within two blocks of their address,” observes Ratcliffe.

Not all the locals dig the walking cops. Nasi Brown, sitting on the curb, observes when our pair passes by, "They walk around with attitude. They’re attacking the wrong issues. Don’t nobody in the ghetto manufactures drugs.” But others, like Kennan Jones disagrees with the naysayers: "Well, me and you can talk right here right now without no gunshots going off.” Pairing off doesn’t solve all the problems. But it sure helps.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Two Great Humans Die at 74

I’m a celeb hater at heart, except when two such exit on successive days: Seamus Heaney, followed by David Frost. I was teaching in London the summer of 1968 when I thought I could expand my International English shtick by going to the Belfast Festival and taping the North Ireland poems who were recently hot. I was thinking of Paul Muldoon and James Simmons. The BF manager generously provided a poet to tape with the Uher NPR had lent me to supply national art stories. We waited for the door to open. Suddenly, a very rural looking guy (I swear I sniffed cowshit on his boots!) identified himself as Seamus Heaney. 

Who? I paranoidly believed I might be getting a Nobody, Who, (as Emily Dickinson averred in her too many isolated minutes). He started with a Paul Muldoon and then a James Simmons. Poetic enough, but hardly smashing the students who awaited my tape back in London. Then he knocked me out with “Digging”, since that very minute to this one were sharing, it’s my alltime Number One. 

It praises the ecological skill of his father’s and grandfather’s spades. He vows to make a poet’s pencil his digging utensil. The word “serendipity” immediately became my favorite experience. He was 38, me 41. I bonded instanter. It became clear in our exchange of letters that he would soon be musing at Harvard and Berkeley. I had recently returned from Juarez with a cheap Mexican divorce, inflicted on my humbled soul by my X-wife, who wanted to avoid an expensive PA divorce based on mutual adultery.

I talked Seamus into spending a week along the Eastern Seaboard en route to the National Council of Teachers annual convention in Atlanta. Our first stop was Trenton State where a goofy Irishman named Fred Kiley had replaced me when I went to Penn. It was a knockout read. The next day I showed him the Cultural Highlights of Philly, ending at the Jewish Cultural Center where I had arranged the Belfast TV documentary on “The Troubles”, “starring” Seamus. Bright and early the next day, we trained to D.C. where he was enrolled in the Poetry Center at the Library of Congress. He demanded to gawk next door at the architectural glories of our Supreme Court. He goggled joyously. Suddenly in a quiet voice almost too almost too soft to comprehend, “Is this where they decided about equal education?” He was my pal for life!

Next day, we flew to Columbia, S.C. where he wanted to interrogate the recently hot new poet, James Dickey. To his eternal shame, he declined to comply. No matter, my recent Penn colleague, Morse Peckham, was now their University’s highest prize. He led the almost all gay English professors to a party he would never forget. Up at the crack of dawn bus to us to Atlanta. I booked him into the prestige hotel, the Peachtree Plaza, even had dinner with him and an old girlfriend, in case he craved company. Then he read to the NCTE folks, fit audience though few. The next day he flew to San Francisco, where his new prestige there would inevitably lead to his Nobel in 1995. What a sweet week!

The day after Seamus died, Sir David Frost folded. Strangely, I had just discovered his weekly TV program on Al Jazeera. He was no longer the kid I had met on “That Was The Week That Was”’s NBC set. But his Saturday morning became a ”must see”. I swear, those hour long conversations should end up in the Library of Congress. Add his Nixon confrontations and you’ve got classics in both TV and cultural history. 

I had been harassing John Fisher’s Modern Language Association in 1967 for its ignorance about the place of the newer media on their scholarly agenda. I talked them into having a seminar on satire, backed by 9 (the muse’s magic number) of professors. The nine “TWAS 3” freaks would eat in General Sarnoff’s office (he was the NBC CEO) while we watched that week’s “TWAS 3”. After the show, all the talent would rise to our heights and palaver the night away. (I confess I had intentions upon their jazz singer, Nancy Ames, but it came to lesser than Naught!) 

Incidentally, there was scuttlebutt that the only color TV set that worked in all America was his! Before I could say Webster Three, David was hair-assing Philip Gove, W3 editor for letting “fuck” and other too worldly words into the third edition. Now Gove was one of those 9 Musers, and he wasn’t about to take insults from a run of the mill entertainer—so they miffed and they muffed until fatigue or too much of the General’s booze incapacitated them! I had trouble finding my Hilton suite across Sixth Avenue from NBC HQ. Whoosh. What one won’t do in the name of scholarship!

Which brings us to the next summer when I was teaching in London. Frost invited me to his club, where he duly apologized for being so ignorantly know-it-all. But I was in the middle of my conviction that Beatles were going to be the leaders into a civilized egalitarianism. (Honestly! I didn’t hold it very long!) 

Indeed, Mary and I planned a perfect Xmas jaunt into Paris. Notre Dame, Mont St. Michel, Versailles. As Mary and I were about to make a new cultural maneuver, the teenies revolted. They HAD to be in London for a film they couldn’t miss. Desolately, we returned the rented car and sadly awaited the next ferry. The film? “A Hard Day’s Night” The twerps were right! And so it goes!

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

Friday, 13 September 2013

Hopper on the Block

Re “Keeping an Eakins, selling a Hopper,” by Robert Zaller—

Our 1%/99% cashocracy is culture vultures running rampant. Albert Barnes was no one-percenter. His colored workers were more important to him than T.S. Eliot, that snobbish St. Louis immigrant who could only feel happy if he could feel regal. And college English departments basked in Eliot’s Anglicanized “New” criticism for a generation.

People who hoard their farm grants while planning to cut back eating for the poor is the Tea Party’s latest brilliant idea. We are decivilizing ourselves every new day now. Who cares about a single painting?

Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
September 5, 2013

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Al Jazeera

Re Celebrities Be Gone--

My Internet radio has newly provided me with several alternatives to ratings-oriented American TV/radio. I first tried their Al Jazeera service, fearing it would be full of anti-Islamist, Arab Middle East foreboding. How wrong I was. It’s an honest-to-God alternative to BBC radio/TV.
I’m eager to discover how softball Larry King will prove, but a great deal of Russian TV is also enlightening, especially when you’re aware of their official tics.

Antidotes for Black Violence

This is an eloquent appeal for Americans of all colors to heal the wounds of three centuries of racial exploitation.
Russian TV recently ran a film on a middle-aged farmer who just got the bright idea of adopting truants to work on his farm. He fathered the losers and has in a small way nurtured delinquent boys to a more productive life.

Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
September 7, 2013

Sunday, 8 September 2013

German Kindergarten Media

As I stumble day by day to speak and read German, I noticed more and more in our daily “Thuringen Allgemeine“ a page reserved for almost illiterate kids. Like me! Upper left corner, a place for sounding off. In lower right corner, an 8 or 9 year-old’s idea of humor! I usually get it, with some vocabulary help from my wife. In between are staff-written stories aimed to attract “their” kid-level attention.

Now imagine me on a six hour train trip from the Baltic Sea (known hereabouts by the compass as the Ost See. I notice a gramma across the aisle reading today’s edition of the OstSeeZeitung. Finally, she stuffs the paper in the pocket of the seat ahead of her. I politely ask if I can read it. She genially reaches the paper across the aisle.

The front page features a fascinating essay on the tradition of giving students about to enter the first grade a tall slim bag of goodies they’ll need as they enter school. It’s called a Zuckertüte, with accent on the “zücker” (sugar!) This custom alerts the new students (including our almost 7 year old Danny) to the seriousness of their new adventure. The essay explores the 200 year old custom. By making a party of this collective gift-giving, the solemn Germans make their kids smile broadly at the start of an important part of their lives.

The second last page is entitled KIDZ, “Kinder in Die Zeitung”. (Think OZ!) Two mini-editorials: one celebrates a new singer’s success, the other advises how to dress outside when it’s hot. Both are clear. (That is, I understand them!) Under them is an implausible editorial entitled /Ach so,”Wer weiss es: Stroh oder Heu”? ( Who knows if it’s straw or hay?) Heh, for an urban kid like me that’s a serious question! The first hint: “Both are dry. Both are needed by many farmers. Both are similar but they are not the same. Do you know the difference? Hay is dry grass. It is cut in the field and left to dry in the sun. The farmers need it later to feed their animals. Straw on the other hand are the dry stalks of the grain that must be thrashed . They can be used as fertilizer on the fields. Or strewn in the stalls.” Guess what? They’ve started learning!

Next below is the “Witzig”corner, as in “Funny, ha!ha!”

Klaus came home filthy from football. His mother points without a word to the door of the bathroom. Klaus replies: ”That doesn’t make any sense-- because we have a return match in a week.” 
At the bottom of the page is a color drawing of a zillion images, with next to it the same image with nine tiny changes. Yikes, I could only find two! My seven-year-old year did much better.

But the Big Story on Action News is a cultural essay on the Dwarf, as in 25 million of them in German Gardens. “Art or Kitsch?” This year is the Year of the Garden Dwarfs. Kitschy koo! But the historical essay about this growth of this phenomenon is artfully rendered! I awarded myself C- on translation (My wife would have flunked me!)

After I had returned the newspaper to Gramma, the man across from me (who turned out to be a professor of mathematics at Griefswald University) started a fascinating conversation on the reason for these kiddie pages: they are afraid the trashy newer media will undermine the printed and are devising methods for hooking the next generation on print! (Oh, and the good looking blonde next to him turned out to be a journalist for the OZ Zeitung! She writes a piece of her choice every day, and does part-time journalism for a church weekly! A happy couple that shortened my trip back to Weimar.

And a few days ago I stumbled across a page full of high school essays written for the FAZ by about to graduate teenagers, in the egghead’s daily out of Frankfurt. When those Germans get serious, they cover all the details—of keeping alive the next generation of newspaper readers. Rather than further expand our comics section, we should do some things equally intellectual!

(At the opening meeting of Walter Annenberg and the president of Penn, Gaylord Harnwell, to discuss the founding of a communications graduate school we were awaiting the arrival of more brass. The day before Annenberg’s daily “The Inquirer” had vastly expanded its comics section. To kill time, I teased the billionaire: “Is that what you mean by raising journalistic standards in your graduate school?” His mouth dropped open, speechless—puzzled by the gall of a newly appointed assistant professor without tenure! Harnwell looked like he was about to piss his pants! I had my first insight into the university’s craven style before donors. My first disgust led over twenty years to my preference of writing for “The Welcomat” rather than sucking up to rich thugs!)

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