Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stories of the Street

“The stories of the street are mine, the Spanish voices laugh.
The Cadillacs go creeping now through the night and the poison gas . . .
The cities they are broke in half and the middle men are gone.
But let me ask you one more time, O children of the dusk,
All these hunters who are shrieking now, oh do they speak for us?”
         Leonard Cohen, “Stories of the Street”
Gary residents are contributing to a “Water for Flint” campaign coordinated by Roger Haywood (above) and sponsored by the Northwest Indiana Urban League.  Roger Haywood sent out a plea and offered to pick up any donations of bottled water or money to purchase the items.  Haywood is founder of a group called “It’s Gary’s Time” dedicated to rebuilding the city “one home, one block, one community, one life at a time.”  His group has been active in boarding up vacant properties.  Homeless at 13 and once a drug addict and criminal, Haywood has trained and employed former convicts, helping many to turn their lives around.

The origin of the Flint water tragedy lay in Michigan state officials assigning an incompetent emergency manager to run the bankrupt city.  In 2014, to save money, he arranged switching Flint’s water source from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River.  Within six months things were so bad that General Motors stopped using Flint River water because it was corroding engine parts.  Nonetheless, residents keep getting assurances, despite complaints of rashes and hair loss, that their water was safe to drink.  After Detroit offered to reconnect Flint to its water system at no cost, Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose overruled a city council proposal to do just that.  As late as September 2015, Republican Governor Rick Snyder, echoing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, claimed the water was safe and that problems having to do with high lead levels were due to faulty plumbing in individual homes.  Finally last month, Snyder declared a state of emergency and apologized for his administration’s negligence, stating: “No citizen of this great state should endure this kind of catastrophe.”  At least 10 people have died from a rare form of Legionnaires Disease, and the long-term effects of lead poisoning on children might indeed be cataclysmic.  Some have termed what happened an example of environmental racism.
 above, Skipper and Hester; below, Nakia Hester with photo of son, by Carmen McCullum
NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano
On his seventeenth birthday Kasreeyal Hester was inside his car near his home on the 800 block of Burr Street in Gary with a friend and football teammate at Hammond Morton Mark Skipper, 15, when someone shot both of them to death.  A police officer discovered them around 8:30 p.m.  At a vigil Hester’s friend Ronald Williams told Joyce Russell of the NWI Times: “He wasn’t in the streets.  He was trying to get good grades.  He was athletic.  He was trying to get out of Gary.  Things like this make it hard for us to make it out of Gary.”

At Hobart Lanes I bowled a 212, my first 200-game of the year, and a 501 series.  The Engineers would have swept except that opponent Gene Clifford rolled a 655 series. The former brick mason and Valpo High School bowling coach said he was related to Chad Clifford, my former student and Crawpuppies’ lead singer, but, oddly enough, on his mother’s side of the family.  Clifford opened game two with seven straight strikes; it ended in a tie when lefty Dick Maloney converted a seven-pin for a spare and then again left just the seven-pin on his extra ball.  
photo by Rachel Dabertin
After delivering volume 45 of Steel Shavings to Valerie Quadlin at Home Mountain Printing, I drove to Valparaiso University to locate the room where Anne Balay will be speaking next Thursday at VU’s Center for the Arts.  While there, I checked out IUN professor Neil Goodman’s sculpture exhibit at Brauer Museum of Art.  Entitled “So Small between the Stars, So Large against the Sky: Studies for a Monument,” – the title a line from the Leonard Cohen song “Stories of the Street” – the exhibit featured small abstract structures that are prototypes for major works similar to what Goodman designed for IUN’s “Shadows and Echoes” sculpture garden.  According to the program, the title is meant to address “the ambiguity of scale, how at once we are large and small, significant and insignificant.”

IU Hoosiers upset the number 4 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, remarkable considering that Yogi Ferrell had a poor game, making just two of 12 field goal attempts and dishing out only a handful of assists.  I fell asleep but caught the game next day on the Big Ten Network in a format that caught all the action but lasted just one hour, minus timeouts, halftime, and bringing the ball up court.  It reminded me of when Toni and I were visiting Pat and Ruth Tyler in Birmingham, England, and watched an NFL game cut down to 45 minutes.

Jeff Manes sent me a transcript of his 2009 SALT column for me to read with him at Portage Library.  Because it deals with the publication of my “Retirement Journal” (Steel Shavings, volume 40, 2009) I gave away copies to the first ten people purchasing Jeff’s book and wore the same shirt and tie I had on in the cover photo.  Here’s how the interview ends:
Manes: What’s on the cover of "Out to Pasture but Still Kickin’?"
Lane: A photo of me in front of Hawthorn Hall the day I retired.
Manes: Surely a somber shot of you shuffling through IUN’s parking lot for the last time with slumped shoulders, while dragging an ancient attaché case.
Lane: Actually, I’m standing in front of a microphone along with my son’s band Voodoo Chili while covering Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” And I’m really bringing it. We jammed for [what seemed like] hours. Earlier that day, IUN had a retirement ceremony for me. They gave me a clock, of all things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Flawed Justice

“It’s an old time tradition when they play their drums at night in Congo Square.” "Congo Square," Sonny Landreth, Mel Melton and Dave Ranson
 Congo Square sculpture by Nigerian Adewale Adenele
For Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) WXRT featured New Orleans music as a tribute to the celebrations taking place on the eve of the Lenten season.  I heard Sonny Landreth’s “Congo Square,” also the name of an area now within Louis Armstrong Park where slaves once gathered to sing and dance on Sundays, their lone day off from their labors as mandated by the 1724 Code Noir.  Congo Square is considered the birthplace of America’s most important indigenous music and dance traditions and for years the site of the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
 Robert and Carrie Blaszkiewicz celebrate Mardi Gras at Yats Cajun Creole in Valpo; 
below, Timmy Donald with mother Lillie
Willie T. “Timmy” Donald, 47, was recently released from prison 24 years after falsely convicted of carrying out robberies and a homicide in Glen Park.  After one of the victims was shown his photo, Donald was put into a police lineup and identified by two woman as the culprit. Later one recanted her testimony after seeing the actual killer near her home, but Donald’s defense team was not notified of this revelation.  Even though Donald had an alibi as to his whereabouts at the time of the robberies, the jury did not believe those testifying on his behalf.  Jerry Davich wrote: Three years ago, prosecutors offered to drop the robbery charge if Donald would drop his challenge to the murder charge. Donald rejected the offer, which would have set him free immediately.” Describing his decision to act on principle at the price of freedom, Donald, the nephew of IUN poet laureate and Physical Plant employee Hollis Donald, said, “I knew I was innocent and I have my faith in God.”  Last month, wrote Davich,  “Donald’s convictions were overturned, his charges, dropped, his name cleared.”  Defense attorney Thomas Vanes, Donald’s advocate for over 20 years, told Bill Dolan of the NWI Times: “These kind of victories are rare, and I savor them when they occur.”

When the Chicago Innocence Center announced on Facebook that Donald was free, hundreds replied with expressions of both thanks and outrage.  Nasuf Cunningham wrote: “It’s a shame how the system gets away with ruining a man’s life.  If I were him, I would sue the pants off the state.  I would have the state so broke that they would not be able to afford to lock up any more [innocent] black people.”

As expected, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won big in the New Hampshire primaries.  Republican John Kasich finished a strong second.  Chris Christie, who hurt Marco Rubio by calling him the “boy in the bubble” and ridiculing him in debate for repeating a canned comment about Obama four different times, finished sixth and suspended his campaign, as did Carly Fiorina.

In duplicate bridge Charlie and I finished at the top despite my blowing a slam bid of six Diamonds.  My hand consisted of six Diamonds (Ace, King, Queen, and three little ones), Ace spot of Clubs, one small Spade and Ace, Queen, Jack, spot of Hearts.  Charlie had Jack and two little Diamonds, two small Clubs, four Hearts to the Ten, and the Ace, Queen and two little spades.  Using a two-Club “steps” bid, I learned he had 7 to 9 points and then using Gerber found out that he had the fourth Ace.  Opening lead was a Diamond.  After a second round of trump I should have tried the Spade finesse, leading from my hand to the Queen, which would have worked.  Even had it failed, I could have thrown off my losing Club on the Spade Ace.  As it was, I first tried a Heart finesse, and when it failed and Rich Will, sitting to my left, led a small Spade, I panicked and put on the Ace rather than the Queen, leaving me with no chance to get rid of the losing Club trick.  That others also went down in six Diamonds was no consolation.  At home I set up the cards for Toni, and she played the hand properly.

My best bridge maneuver came holding only three high card points, a Queen and Jack of Hearts, part of a six-card suit.  When Charlie bid one Spade, I was void in that suit and passed, but after the person to my left bid two Diamonds and Charlie passed, I bid two Hearts.  Everyone passed, I took nine tricks, and we got top board. 

With gas at $1.25 a gallon, I filled up the Corolla for less than 12 bucks.  The price slump has saved American consumers billions and, hopefully, scuttled the Keystone Pipeline scheme.

I’m watching the seven-hour “Godfather Epic” on HBO, which edited the first two “Godfather” films into chronological order, adding scenes cut from the original movie versions.  As always, Brando is unbelievably compelling as Don Vito Corleone, both the ruthless patriarch and the doting grandfather.  Controlling judges, legislators, and police chiefs, mobsters like Corleone perverted he American justice system.

Monday, February 8, 2016


“You need a vanguard organization in order to overcome the dangerous potential brought about by the uneven development of class militancy and class consciousness,” Marxist theorist Ernest Mandel  (1923-1995)

Mandel’s point is still true: when workers lack class consciousness, political torpor sets in unless exploited people are stirred into action by vanguard leaders.  When I wrote about the United Steelworkers of America District 31 Women’s Caucus that arose during the 1970s as a result of discrimination against women entering the steel work force after the 1974 Consent Decree, I characterized it as a vanguard movement organized by veterans of leftist groups who had joined the labor force because they believed the path to fundamental change lay in strengthening rank-and-file militancy within industrial unions.  The Women’s Caucus not only succeeded in obtaining more palatable job conditions for women but also played a prominent role in other fights, including the Bailly Alliance, which prevented the building of a nuclear plant on the shore of Lake Michigan.
 James Oliphant
As a self-described democratic socialist, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is in the vanguard of what he hopes will lead to a political revolution.  I am fearful, however, that he will turn out, if nominated, to be, like George McGovern in 1972, an easy mark for lies and innuendos from rightwing forces.  Even so, he was pretty funny on Saturday Night Live in a skit with Larry David about being on the Titanic.
A Gardner Center exhibit, entitled “Vanguards: Moving ‘out here’ to Miller,” featured portraits by Chicagoan James Oliphant of African Americans who, beginning in 1964, moved to Gary’s previously all-white Miller district.  Accompanying the photos were brief excerpts of oral interviews covering where the subjects previously lived, reasons for their move, and reaction by both their old and new neighbors.  Marianita Porterfield sought better educational opportunities for her children; others wanted a safer environment.  One woman, disparaged as uppity by former neighbors, wished that more whites would have given integration a chance before moving away.  Some white realtors resisted serving black clients, but several “pioneers” praised Bruce Ayers for helping them.

There was a large crowd at the exhibit and good food (especially the deviled eggs).  I chatted with Nancy Cohen (about the Bulls), George Rogge (about a SALT column Jeff Manes wrote about him), and Cindy Frederick (about vanguard pioneers we both knew).  I told Judy Ayers that I enjoyed her Newsletter column about living in Hawaii around the same time as Toni and me; we both listened to Hawaiian music coming from nightclubs while on the beach and saw Don Ho (whose hit song “Tiny Bubbles” came out in 1966) at Duke Kahanamoku’s, named for an Olympic medalist and father of modern surfing. I arrived early and didn’t stay long because James was spending the night.  With Dave and Toni being in Oklahoma for Tamiya’s graduation from Basic Training, I had gladly volunteered to take him bowling. After he rolled a 455 series (above my average) we ate at Culver’s, joined by Becca and Angie.  At the library I picked up a Lucinda Williams CD and “Hooking Up” (2000) by Tom Wolfe.
 Don Ho and Duke Kahanamoku
Gloria Steinem, 81 years young, appeared on the Bill Maher Show to plug her new book, My Life on the Road,” dedicated to a British abortionist who, after the procedure, told her to go have a productive life.  Asked to explain why most young women were supporting Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton, Steinem answered that women, unlike men, get more liberal as they age.  Then she added that it was also because that’s where the young men are.  Maher blurted out, “Had I said that, you’d have slapped me.”  Steinem retorted, “Are you kidding?  I thought you knew me better than that.”

In “Andrew Jackson” Sean Wilentz makes the point that “Old Hickory” was very controversial in his own time, then accepted for many years as a champion of democracy, but recently has become a subject of controversy as a slaveowner and ruthless champion of Indian removal.  There’s even a movement afoot to remove his image from 20-dollar bills, perhaps in favor of a black woman or Native American.  Wilentz asks readers to judge Jackson by the standards of his time, not ours.  It is interesting how little historians know about exactly where Jackson was born (probably in frontier South Carolina but perhaps in nearby North Carolina) or about Jackson’s father, who died before Andrew was born, perhaps due to a fatal accident while clearing trees.  By all accounts “Young Hickory” was a drunken rake who’d brawl or duel at the drop of the hat and loved cards, horse racing, loose women.

I enjoyed “The Revenant” despite many gory spots.  Leonardo DiCaprio plays 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass, whose half-breed son pays the ultimate price for disregarding his advice to be invisible and keep his mouth shut because white people, “don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your face.”  The film portrayed Native Americans in a positive light, more in harmony with nature than the rapacious interlopers who slaughtered them with the connivance of federal officials, including Andrew Jackson.  Tom Hardy as villainous foil John Fitzgerald deserves an Oscar, as does Leonardo on this his sixth try, most recently for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Kawaan Short; NWI Times photo by John Luke
In the NWI Times Al Hamnik wrote about Carolina Panther all-star defensive lineman Kawaan Short and Chicago Bulls guard E’Traun Moore as goodwill ambassadors for their hometown East Chicago.  The article stated:
   Many outsiders think of East Chicago, once a proud, productive city of oil and steel, as crime-ridden and politically corrupt.
They're dead wrong.
Yes, there are problems, just like any other diverse city today. And here is where the torch is passed. East Chicago's youth will have a big say in its future by building a positive image.

Starring on East Chicago Central’s 2007 state championship basketball team and friends since childhood, Short and Moore often stopped at Columbus Drive Gyros after school for something to eat.  Owner John Troupis told them if they won state, he’d treat them to all they could eat.  Hamnik wrote: “E. C. Central prevailed, 87-83, against Indianapolis North Central, featuring high school phenom Eric Gordon.  It wasn’t long after when Moore and Short, holding the trophy, led the Cardinals into Columbus Drive Gyros and said: ‘We’re really hungry!”

At a Superbowl party hosted by Marianne Brush, I was rooting for Carolina but wanted Peyton Manning to do well.  He didn’t, but Denver’s defense overwhelmed Carolina’s QB Cam Newton.  The halftime show was spectacular but the commercials over-hyped and frankly pretty terrible, considering all the time and money wasted on them.  The worst one featured a creature that looked to be half monkey and half baby.  I did like one by a Doritos contest winner produced for a mere thousand dollars of dogs trying to sneak into a grocery.  One AM 670 sports jock claimed the highlight of the day was Lady Gaga singing the National Anthem.  He had a point.

Missy Brush arrived at the party with vinyl record albums from a Chicago record store by Lou Reed, Styx, Sex Pistols, and the Velvet Underground (with Andy Warhol’s banana on the cover).  I told Missy she could look through albums in our garage and take what she wanted; she eagerly took me up on the offer.  Our musical tastes are similar and in both cases, eclectic.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Masculine Studies

  “The ways of a superior man are threefold: virtuous, he is free from anxieties; wise, he is free from perplexities; bold, he is free from fear.”  Confucius

My review of Molly Geidel’s “Peace Corps Fantasies: How Development Shaped the Global Sixties” appeared in the February 2016 issue of Choice.  I wrote:
            This provocative, well-researched, theory-driven cultural history is on solid ground in asserting that Peace Corps volunteers were agents of a Cold War strategy designed to keep underdeveloped countries within the global capitalistic orbit but on shakier footing in attributing a motivation of US policy makers to gender anxieties and fantasies of masculine heroes achieving “homosocial intimacy” with indigenous protégés.  Exposing the impossibility of true brotherhood among unequals, Geidel quotes from Moritz Thomsen’s memoir “Living Poor” (1969).  When an Ecuadorian chicken farmer told Thomsen he should have more respect for local practices, the Peace Corps volunteer replied, “But that’s why I’m here.  To destroy your crazy customs.”  Disillusioned by the folly of the US imperialist venture in Vietnam, Peace Corps veterans belonging to the Committee of Returned Volunteers advocated abolishing the agency they once served.  In Bolivia, population control methods of sterilizing men and inserting IUDs in women led to the expulsion in 1971 of Peace Corps workers.  Though, in the eyes of many, exemplars of selfless US altruism, Peace Corps volunteers were mobilized, the author claims, under the rubric of a modernization agenda whose side effect was cultural eradication.  Recommended: for students of foreign policy, modernization theory, and masculine studies.

Geidel’s monograph is part of a growing genre of historic inquiry called Masculine Studies.  As Helena Gurfinkel has written:
            Masculinity Studies (or, as it is also often called, Men’s Studies) is many things, but one thing it is not: a rejoinder to, or repudiation of feminism. It owes to feminism an enormous intellectual and political debt. In fact, it would not have existed without feminism and its courage to question patriarchal power and privilege. Men’s Studies scholars do not say, as many expect them to, “Enough of those feminists; let’s say only good things about men from now on!” Instead, they collaborate with feminists and scholars of race, class, and sexuality in asking complex questions about the ways in which society constructs and controls us as sexed and gendered individuals.
On the Internet are numerous syllabi for courses on Masculinity.  Books frequently appearing on reading lists include R.W. Connell’s “Masculinities” (1995), C.J. Pascoe’s “Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School” (2007), and Sociologist Michael Kimmel’s “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men” (2008).  Kimmel has also co-edited with Michael A. Messner a reader entitled “Men’s Lives” (Eighth edition, 2010).  In his classes Kimmel often asks students to describe a “good man” and then a “real man.”  The contrasting responses are telling.  One wonders whether IUN’s Women’s Studies program evolves into Women and Men’s Studies like Black Studies became Minority Studies.  I hope not.

 Many universities offer classes dealing with masculinity in literature, film, television, and other aspects of popular culture as well as theoretical courses in the social sciences covering, among other things, changing perceptions of masculinity over time in various societies.  I’ve even come across one on "Gay Masculinities."  One of my favorite authors, bell hooks, has written “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity’ (2003), “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” (2004), and many other provocative volumes on race and gender.
Gwendolyn Brooks
The original “We Real Cool” was a 1959 Gwendolyn Brooks poem reminiscent of Langston Hughes in its simplicity and rhyming couplets, about seven dropouts at a pool hall rather than in school:

We real cool. We   
            Left school. We

            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We

            Sing sin. We   
            Thin gin. We

            Jazz June. We   
            Die soon.
Dave Lane and Tamiya Towns
Toni, Dave and fellow East Chicago Central grad Denzel Smith flew to Lawton, Oklahoma, for Tamiya Towns’ graduation from Basic Training at Fort Sill.  Years ago, her presence might have been threatening to male cohorts, but, hopefully, no more.  A Fort Sill “Graduation Dress Code and Etiquette” website warned family and friends not to come with noise-makers, confetti, firearms, fireworks, alcohol or cigarettes and recommended bringing binoculars, sunscreen, a hat and, finally, “respect, support, and love for your soldier and his or her big accomplishment.”

The first episode of FX network’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson” opens with footage of L.A. cops beating Rodney King in 1991 and rioting a year later after an all-white jury acquitted the officers who assaulted him.  It is director Ryan Murphy’s way of demonstrating how Americans, for the most part, viewed the “Trial of the Century” through the prism of race.  I still vividly recall watching the O.J. verdict announced on a TV in IUN’s student union, where black people cheered while most whites seemed visibly shaken.  Not me – I suspected a cocaine dealer.  Actors John Travolta and David Schwimmer assuming the roles of attorneys Robert Shapiro and Robert Kardashian reminded me of the “Bizarro Jerry” Seinfeld episode where Elaine starts hanging out with guys with an eerie resemblance to Jerry, George, Kramer, and Newman.  The two most interesting characters so far are defense attorney Johnnie Cochran (Courtney R. Vance) and prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson).
Slimy Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz finished first in the Iowa caucus by employing several dirty tricks, including spreading the rumor that Ben Carson was about to pull out of the race and sending out a mailer with the headline “VOTING VIOLATION,” claiming that people’s voting history is public record.  When Donald Trump cried Fraud, Cruz retorted: “We’re liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were President, would have nuked Denmark.”  Meanwhile Trump continues on a self-destructive path, employing the F word and the phrase “Don’t give a shit” in his latest rant and ridiculing Jeb Bush for dragging his 90 year-old mom out in the snow.

Mike Olszanski passed along this Indianapolis Star editorial:

   The General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence’s refusal to extend the state’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity continues to tarnish Indiana’s image and jeopardize long-term economic prosperity.
Last spring, after a firestorm from passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act blew up in their faces, lawmakers pledged to address legal protections for LGBT citizens in the next legislative session.
    But after meeting privately Tuesday, Senate Republican leaders decided to kill legislation that would have protected gay Hoosiers from discrimination. In doing so, they not only failed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers but also their families, friends, coworkers and anyone else in our state who values equality.
    Polls show that Indiana’s elected leaders don’t accurately represent the will of 70 percent of Hoosiers, who support adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the civil rights law. Lawmakers’ stubborn refusal to listen to the will of the people could come at a high cost in an election year.
    Indiana must be seen as a state that spurns intolerance and bigotry. Yet the failure of legislation this session means LGBT citizens can still be legally discriminated against in most of the state. Sexual orientation or gender identity can be the basis for a landlord to block housing, an employer to deny a job, or a business owner to refuse service. All of that is permissible under current law.

From California Paul Kern reported: “After a couple of mornings staring at our iPad and laptop at breakfast, we, old fossils that we are, decided we couldn’t get along without a newspaper and so we have taken out a two-month subscription to the Sacramento Bee.”
Learning that Assistant Director of Physical Plant Kevin Elmore (above) was leaving, Hollis Donald got several dozen IUN staff members to sign a card that wished him well and included this advice:
Life is a multitude of travels,
Arrows that point in many directions,
Starts and stops taking in many lessons.
The Engineers took all seven points from a team named We’re Here, and I had a 668 series despite fading to 134 in the final game.  Bob Robinson, back from a ten-day Caribbean cruise, barely broke 100 in game one but finished with a 178.  Opponent Jaime Rodriguez wore a t-shirt with “Amistad” on the front – the name of his former team as well as a two-masted schooner on which slaves led by Joseph Cinqué in 1839 successfully revolted against a Spanish crew.
La Amistad