Wednesday, January 31, 2007

January 31, 2007--It's Pakistan Stupid

If we want to be concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is a good idea, instead of focusing so exclusively on North Korea and obsessing about Iran, perhaps itching for a pretext to go to war with them, we should pay a lot more attention to Pakistan.

Because they already have nuclear weapons. Quiet a few of them. According to the best estimates from the Natural Resources Defense Council Pakistan has between 24 and 48 made from Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU).

We may think we do not have to worry about this because Pakistan is our ally in the War Against Terror. But, if that’s the case, we should probably do some thinking-again.

I wrote recently about how high level military and intelligence officials in Pakistan are actively and openly assisting the Taliban. How these services are deeply penetrated by Islamists. There is also growing opposition to President Mousharef and an increase in bombings in Islamabad and elsewhere, most likely by these radical opposition groups. (See linked NY Times article.)

While we are worrying about North Korea in a fit of madness launching nuclear-tipped missiles against Japan or selling its technology to extremists in the Middle East and while agonizing about what it will mean when Iran has atomic weapons of its own, what will happen when Mousharef passes from the scene, in one way or another, and his regime is potentially replaced by one that is aggressively Islamist? Won’t that new regime instantly have its hands on dozens of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them?

Pakistan began to develop atomic weapons way back in 1972 to counter the fact that India had a successful program of its own—they felt the need to be able to deter a preemptive strike by their larger neighbor over disputed borders.

Sort of fine—this mirrored what we were up to in regard to the Soviet threat. We didn’t like it, but it sounded familiar to us. Sort of a Sub-Continent version of our own MAD strategy: a standoff assured by the notion of Mutally-Assured-Distruction.

That was then but now there is a very different kind of threat—that these hideous weapons might very well fall into the hands of people who might preemptively use them against us.

So why don’t we hear anything about this from the Bush administration or Congress?

Postscript—While this threat is being ignored, even in the blogosphere there is more traffic about whether or not President Mousharef wears a toupee than about his weapons of mass destruction. I’m not making this up—Google Mousharef and see for yourself.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

January 30, 2007--Enough Was Enough

Over coffee this morning much of the talk was about Barbaro. Some of it was about equine physiology and why horses, when they break a leg, are normally “put down.” Seth said it has something to do with the way horses’ circulatory systems work—unless they can stand on all four feet and keep in motion their circulation doesn’t work well enough for them to survive.
But most of the talk was considerably more emotional, even a tear or two appeared to have been shed—not by Seth I hasten to add.

Even the front page article in the NY Times about Barbaro’s “battle” was ladened with more emotion and medical detail than one finds when, say, an Art Buchwald loses a battle with something incurable. The Times reports that--

In recent weeks, Barbaro’s ailments had become overwhelming: complications with his left hind leg lingered, an abscess in his right hind heel was discovered last week and, finally, a new case of the painful and often fatal condition called laminitis developed in both front feet. [Article linked below.]

And so he was euthanized. The veterinarian said, "Enough was enough."

I’m not a horseman, I don’t really follow horse racing, and only occasionally do some trail riding. And yet, I too was emotionally gripped by Barbaro’s struggle to beat the odds and live on. Some of the tears that welled this morning were mine.

So, when walking to the office, Rona and I attempted to understand why we and so many others were so deeply affected. After all, to put it indelicately, we’re talking about a horse—not a friend of family loved one.

Harvey Araton, a sports columnist for the Times wrote today—

Maybe Barbaro, as the fallen champion, was reminiscent of a country that was seriously wounded on 9/11 and has been wobbly ever since. Maybe the horse’s medical roller coaster struck a chord at a time when a great American city, ravaged by nature and neglect, still can’t stand up. Maybe only in such context can we rationalize such widespread passion for the health of a horse that has exceeded that for any single American soldier killed or wounded in Iraq.

Could be, but I recall other examples of popular horses “breaking down” in public view and needing to be euthanized—how hard, impossible it is to say “killed.” There was a popular and charismatic filly, whose name I’ve forgotten, who broke a leg some years ago at Aqueduct and had to be . . . , which elicited a great outpouring of feeling that bordered on grief and mourning.

Horses are not pets, they are not anthropomorphically warm and cuddly and friendly like dogs and cats; it’s even hard to discern in them anything resembling “personality.” So beyond thinking about how Barbaro might represent a ravaged American city that “still can’t stand up,” what has been moving us so?

Horses are archetypal animals—for millennia they have been essential to the birth of civilizations and man’s ability to engage in warfare. In this country, without horses there would have been no exploration of the West as we know it—no cowboys and Indians. And on another level, there is something almost metaphysical about “girls and horses.”

Then perhaps, our reaction to Barbaro may also have to do with the strength and force of beauty which is simultaneously so fleeting, so fragile, so mutable. Just like life itself.

Monday, January 29, 2007

January 29, 2007--The Little Woman

Just when it looks as if we’ve come a long way, something happens that reveals that we are not quite there yet. In this case, that something has to do with shopping. For pocketbooks and other such expensive items.

The NY Times reported recently about Shalla Azizian. For a splurge, she bought herself a Chanel bag that cost $2,000. She owns a successful boutique in New York City and earns enough from it to be financially independent; but she paid cash for the Chanel bag so that it wouldn’t show up on her credit card bill and upset her husband who, she says, does not have “tastes as expensive as mine and he doesn’t understand the need to have so many pricey things.”

Let’s take this one thing at a time—

First, in the year 2007, wouldn’t you expect financially-independent Mrs. Azizian to have credit cards in her own name? And wouldn’t she have her own checking account with which to pay her credit card bills?

Then, if she does have her own credit cards and checking account, how would Mr. Azizian know how much she spent on whatever? Does he open her mail? Does she show her bills to him?

And what about the need, her need for pricey things? She doesn’t say anything about the need for something special, beautiful, or well-made. Just about the bag’s priceyness. I’m not a good enough psychologist or sociologist to understand the intrinsic need to buy something just because its pricey—though I have a friend, who is a shopper, but gets pleasure from shopping only when she pays full price for something. She hates and avoids sales. She’d rather not have that Prada bag, which she could afford when on sale, unless she can buy it at list price. Go figure.

I know Mrs. Azizian may not be that typical and I suspect that some of you, like me, when seeing her name, Shalla Azizian may be suspecting that there might be something cultural going on that explains why she hides from her husband how much she spends; but if you read the full article linked below, you’ll see that this practice may be pervasive across ethnic and demographic borders.

But then there is the case of my Aunt Madeline. Yes, if she were still alive she would be about 100 and you might think she is therefore of that older, unliberated generation. Yes and no. She worked all her life as a high-level and tyrannical office manager and was such a good saver that she amassed quite a lot of money—not a fortune but enough to be as independent and Mrs. Azizian; and like her she was quite capable of paying the equivalent of $2,000 for a Chanel bag. But she was very frugal, and I’m not even sure she had a pocketbook. Any pocketbook.

When she married for the third time, after disposing of the first two husbands in ways that I prefer here not to describe (though the statute of limitations must have run out by now), she married Harry for love and passion.

He was a high-liver and, though he did not have much money of his own, was able to persuade Aunt Madeline to spend some of her hard-earned money on romantic cruises and even trips to Las Vegas where they, yes, even gambled. And on these junkets, while on his arm, he wanted her to look spiffy. So he pressed her to open up her wallet and buy some fancy things.

So here’s what she did: She was in truth incapable of spending what to her was a lot of money on dresses and shoes and such. Therefore, when she went to Macy’s or A&S or Bloomingdales, she shopped exclusively from the remainder racks where things were on sale at deep discounts. And, since she knew Harry would examine the price tags, she would steal labels from dresses and shoes not on sale, which she would then attach to the things she bought, thereby hiding from him what she actually paid.

Harry would in fact check the price tags and, as the result of her subterfuge, feel satisfied that she had treated herself well.

And of course, to him, she looked very glamorous and sexy!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

January 27, 2007--The Passive Voice--Part Five

In Part Four, covering less than two months, Lloyd Zazlo, the newly appointed assistant director of the Collegiate Opportunity Program, interviewed and hired six “anchor” faculty members. First was a husband and wife team—the Haskins, Sam, for math, and the bodacious Carolyn for American History. Then, Juan Loperena, to teach French and Spanish. After graduating from City College, Juan spent five years upstate in Attica Prison, after killing a fellow Crip gang member who raped his kid sister. Zazlo thought that since it was a crime of honor and Juan was self-described as totally “rehabilitated,” he would make a good role model for COP students, many of whom the program’s director, Joe Murphy, a former cop, said would also be ex cons. Then for art history he hired a successful working artist, Benny Anderson, who grew up dirt poor in hardscrabble rural Georgia, one of ten children, the son of a sharecropper. Joining them was Margaret Williams, a Queens native and poet in what she called “the Maya Angelou mode,” who Lloyd penciled-in to anchor the Composition and Literature staff. And finally there was Dr. Roberto Santos, for sociology, out of Luling in south-central Texas, Yale and Harvard trained, on a fast-track to a stellar academic career, but wanting to cash all that in to teach in Queens as a way to find out if his credentials, resume, and trust fund (oil was discovered on the family’s 1,000 acres) was “all there is.” So it was time for another faculty meeting—very different, of course from the one described in Parts Two and Three.

Thus, in Part Five, Zazlo . . .

Zazlo thought it appropriate, and even a little ironic, that the only room that was available and large enough to accommodate the Collegiate Opportunity Program’s first faculty meeting was the very same one where he had endured his last English Department conclave.

When everyone had assembled, Joe Murphy pushed back his chair with a scrape, got up, and cleared his throat to command everyone’s attention. Zazlo noticed that he was wearing his best suit. And in his most educated-sounding voice Joe said, “I’m Murphy. Joe Murphy, your director. Welcome to Queens College and to the COP Program.” He coughed out a laugh at the acronym. “Did Zazlo tell you that I was a cop in my former life?” No one responded. “Well, I guess he didn’t. But that’s what I was, a cop. And then later a detective. So you see I’m not much of a scholar, but that’s OK since that’s what we hired you for.” He looked around at his new staff, seeking some response. They continued to either look blankly back at him or at the linoleum tiled floor. Zazlo thought they might be feeling a little nervous about embarking on the new enterprise. He certainly was. “But I bet Zazlo told you that I did some work for Bobby Kennedy. Senator Kennedy, God rest his soul. We’re both Irish.” Still no reaction. “So he didn’t tell you that either, huh? Well, we’ll all get to know each other before too long. Maybe over drinks.”

Margaret Williams raised her hand and asked in a voice full of timbre, “Do you think, Mr. Murphy, that we might make a circle?”

“A what? And by the way, I’m Joe. Just Joe. And who are you?”

“I’m Mrs. Williams, Margaret Williams. I meant a circle of chairs, Mr. Murphy. For what we are here to do that seems appropriate.”

“Sure, sure, Marge. Great idea. Should have thought of it myself. Go right ahead. By all means.”

Juan Loperena raised his had after the circle had been formed. Joe nodded to recognize him. “Do you think it might be a good idea if we introduced ourselves? Maybe even say a word or two about our backgrounds and why we’re here?”

“Sure, sure,” Joe said. “But I thought you’re all here because you needed the job. Heh, heh, heh.” No one even smiled. “Well, I sort of began. So maybe it’s the rest of your turns. So why don’t you start,” he was looking at Juan, “And then when you’re all done, I want to tell you a little more what we’re faced with here. OK?”

And then in turn, with Juan Loperena leading off, each of the core faculty members said a few words about themselves. Juan set the tone by carefully not mentioning why Lloyd was thinking about him as a role model—keeping it bland he simply recited the bare bones of his resume: born in PR, grew up uptown, went to City College, taught in a dropout-prevention program, that sort of thing; Sam Haskins spoke briefly about his work in the Delta with the Algebra Project and how important it was, and is, to find ways to make abstract subjects such as math accessible to students who had been “stereotyped” and for whom there were “low expectations” and thus the entire experience is “stigmatizing”—he used all of those words; then Roberto Santos, in a surprisingly confessional mode, told about growing up “wealthy and privileged,” yet still looked upon, in spite of his “success,” as still a “person of color” (Lloyd saw that he was in fact nut brown) and that he “resonated’ to what Sam had said about how that makes one feel and how painful it was to be stigmatized—“don’t be fooled by all of this,” he said, pointing to his jacket and tie, “in the eyes of the world, I’m still a Spic” (Zazlo noticed that one of Joe Murphy’s legs began to vibrate involuntarily); Carolyn Haskins did not mention that she was Sam’s wife but did talk extensively about her research—about the process of discovering slave narratives and how important it was for people of color (this was a phrase new to Zazlo who made a mental note to use it liberally when future situations warranted) to “encounter the truth of their pasts in order to free themselves from being complicitous in their own subjugation”—she then connected this to her own aspirations as an instructor: “I plan to have my students write their personal family histories, to uncover that truth, as part my teaching” (both of Joe’s legs were now vibrating and it looked as if they would propel him out of his chair); next to last was Margaret Williams—she spoke about how poetry had been “liberating” for her, how it “opened spaces” in her mind into which she “trepidatiously” entered and how, once there, she was then able finally to move about freely in the world: “even though for me that world has always been just right here in Queens”; and finally it was Benny Anderson’s turn: picking up on the testimonial tone that had been set he told about his first experience at the Art Institute—“When I saw that Seurat at the top of the stairs, you know, the Grand Jette, a whole new world of possibilities opened up and I realized I was not any longer going to be that barefoot Georgia boy; I was to become of the city, of the world; and that’s what I’m going to be doing here with the rest of you”-- in turn he let his artist’s eye rest for long moments on each of his new colleagues as if to formalize the bond that was, between them, in the process of being forged.

“Well that’s enough of that,” Joe Murphy said with perhaps more force than he intended. So to acknowledge that he quickly added, “I mean, of course, what all of you said is fine with me. That’s why we signed you up. Right Zazlo?” Lloyd didn’t meet Joe’s eye, thinking a simple nod would suffice.

“But what about you, Lloyd? You haven’t said much. What’s happenin’ here for you?” This from Sam.

Lloyd looked over at Joe to see if it was all right for him to say something. He thought he had to. He even felt he wanted to. Joe, though, didn’t respond nor did he take up where he had broken off. He remained standing next to Sam, silently but restlessly at the head of the circle. So Zazlo attempted to say something appropriate, “Well, I, I, I mean, I think this is a very good opportunity here. For all of us. I mean, of course, for the students.” He wondered if that was enough. But considering the intensity of what everyone else had shared, and realizing more might be expected of the assistant director, he pushed himself to add, “You may not know it, but I too grew up lower-middle-class,” a couple of his new colleagues chuckled at that euphemism, “It wasn’t easy for me either. I mean, it wasn’t anything like what Benny experienced. I acknowledged that. Or probably what any of the rest of you had to deal with—even Roberto, I mean Robert. I’m Jewish and knew a lot of people who were killed just because of who they were. And I knew survivors too who lived in my neighborhood.” Was that enough he wondered? Thinking not, he said, with what he thought was sufficient sincerity, “I suppose I’m a survivor too.” He looked around the room, “Is that OK? Is it enough?” No one was looking across at him, but they all nodded.

“We’re getting’ a little short on time here,” Joe said, looking up at the clock on the wall, “So let me begin to bring this to a closure.” He paced around the outside of their circle. “What you all said was pretty impressive and moving. I think Zazlo did a damn good job rounding up you guys. I’m proud of what he accomplished. And I hope to be proud of all of you. I’m sure you know that we are not here at the invitation of the faculty. If you want to know the truth, they’re all a bunch of . . . . Better I don’t say since we’re in mixed company.” He chuckled at his own joke. “But suffice it to say that it will not be a friendly environment here. But, and here’s the point,” he leaned in toward them, “What I mean is that if you do your job right these kids will succeed and prove to the rest of them,” he pointed out the window as if at the college itself, “to those, forgive me, scumbags,” he spat that, “because, sorry, that’s what they are, in that way you’ll be showing those bastards that there’s some pretty smart folks among your people.” He paused to allow what he said to sink in--Zazlo noticed perhaps not as well as Joe might have hoped.

“One more thing—you talked about being stereotyped and stigmatized, things of that kind. Well I know about that too. From first hand. When I came up, a hundred years ago it feels like,” he snorted, “I got that treatment too. I wasn’t to-the-manor-born, if you get my drift, my people also came over here on boats. Not chained up, that I’ll admit, but in steerage, with not a pot to pee in. You’re your people, I know about that, many of them didn’t make it and more back home were dying like flies. From starvation. You know about that? But I was one of the lucky ones—we made it here to this wonderful Land of Opportunity,” his sarcasm did have its effect, “to the wonderful U. S of A. where my father croaked one afternoon while shoveling coal fourteen hours a day, six days a week; and my mother took in laundry from the rich folks so we could have shoes that fit.”

Joe now stood behind Sam Haskins, in his shadow, with his meaty hands gripping the back of the chair. Shifting from one foot to the other, almost inaudibly, under his breath he said, “Once a Mick always a Mick.”

“But enough of that too,” Joe quickly recovered from what he ha been feeling and, sounding more his jaunty Irish-cop self, said, “We’ve got work to do. Class dismissed. Can I buy anyone a drink?”

* * *

Before anyone knew it, it was the middle of the spring semester.

The core faculty Zazlo hired had found others to join them so a full faculty contingent had been assembled. Zazlo came up with what he thought was an efficient interlocking schedule of courses that assured the maximum use of the few classrooms the college had allocated to accommodate the 200 students Joe Murphy had recruited. He had tapped into all of his old political and police and parole department sources and came up with busloads of, as promised, ex cons and gangbangers—mainly Crips but a smattering of Bloods as well, saying, “We got to figure out how to get them to stop knocking each other off. I’m bettin’ on a good education to do the trick.”

Zazlo had his doubts as he observed them eyeing each other hostilely from separate tables in the student dining commons—the Hispanic Crips with their signature blue “tags” while the Bloods, mainly blacks, made sure to wear something red to mark their identity and territory. But otherwise, for the first time in quite a while, Zazlo felt good about himself. He was getting such universal praise for the ingenuity of his master schedule of courses and the students seemed so uniformly pleased with the faculty he had hired that he began to feel he had discovered a new professional path for himself—university administrator. He thought that if he could make a success of this, he might be able to free himself from the pressure to complete his foundering dissertation—William Blake and the Four Zoas could wait—and an academic life of either publishing or perishing. All he needed to do, he thought, was keep the faculty happy by getting the audio-visual equipment to their classrooms when requested, making sure their photocopying was done on time and delivered to their offices, and continuing to be sure to produce each term as good a schedule of courses as he had for the COP Program’s initial year. All the signals suggested that he was on a promising trajectory. It appeared that he had at last found his calling.

Zazlo also knew that the ultimate success of the program and his own destiny were inextricably linked, and that both would depend on how the students fared in the classroom. And so on occasion he would sit in on classes to see for himself. But he was equally eager to hear from the faculty anecdotes and stories about what their students were accomplishing.

True to her word, Carolyn Haskins had her students research and write about the histories of their families. She reported that this was going very well. In asking students to search for the often hidden past, as she put it, to “exhume truths essential to self-awareness and empowerment” was an “essential prelude to their awakening.” She told Lloyd that often students’ parents and grandparents resisted telling these stories as if they were something about which to be ashamed; but as her students pressed them, many began for the first time to talk “authentically” about the past in ways that proved to be liberating for them as well as for their children. One student, Sara Brown, had even managed to convince her grandmother to show her the diary that was kept by her own great grandmother who had been a house slave on the Comer Plantation in Barbour County, Alabama. A diary so vividly tragic that Carolyn felt certain her publisher would include it in her soon-to-be-published series of slave narratives.

Over lunch one day, Margaret Williams excitedly told Zazlo about Herb Kemp, a student in her Comp and Lit class who had spent ten years in Sing Sing for armed robbery. And how, while there, he began to stutter so severely that it rendered him virtually incomprehendible. It was an understandable and effective way, she speculated, for someone as sensitive as him to seal himself off from the horrors of prison life. But nurtured by her, he began to write short plays about his early life in central Brooklyn, plays so potent in their emotional charge that Margaret had gotten him to agree to allow one of them to be presented at the library where she ran her Friday evening poetry workshop. On the evening on which it was scheduled the lead actor showed up with laryngitis so severe that Herb, who was seated in the back, came forward, literally walking into his own play. And spoke all the lines without a stammer. He didn’t come to class all the next week and Margaret was fearful that something terrible had happened over the weekend—perhaps something that was a consequence of his performance. But when he did return, she noticed that his stuttering was less pronounced and she was feeling hopeful that perhaps with time he would “recover his full voice.”

And then Roberto Santos was pleased to report to Zazlo that his sociology classes were also going well. He was particularly impressed by the way in which students were so “naturally able” to connect the theoretical work to their own lives. A group of his students, for example, who had gone to the same middle school, were working together on a project about how teachers’ expectations for their students effected how well they performed. It was called by scholars The Pygmalion Effect, where high- or, more typically in the kinds of schools they attended, low-expectations get sadly fulfilled. Santos said that the work they were producing was at least comparable to best of his Harvard students’ field research. In fact, perhaps it was even better because of the “lived-intensity” his Queens students brought to the subject.

But then there was Sam Haskins’ report about an incident he witnessed after class one afternoon on the Number 7 subway line as he was heading back to the city. He was standing at the far end of the car, hanging onto the strap when a ruckus broke out at the other end. To him it looked like the beginning of a rumble between some COP Program Crips, who he recognized, and a few Bloods who had crossed between cars while the train was in motion. They too were carrying Queens College notebooks and thus he assumed that they also were COP students. At first there was some taunting and then some pushing and shoving before one of the Latino Crip’s kids pulled a knife and with it began slashing the air. Sam was tempted to intercede, thinking his being a faculty member might help calm the situation; but when he saw more knives flashing he thought better of it. Luckily, he told a dumb-struck Zazlo, the train rumbled into the Junction Boulevard station and all of the students tumbled off, some rolling on the ground entangled in each other’s arms. Sam was relieved to see two policemen racing down the platform and, as the doors closed, he saw them already beginning to pull the students apart. The next day there was a brief story about it in the Daily News, but no one was arrested and neither the college nor the Cop Program was mentioned. As Sam put it with a weak smile, “I guess we got lucky.”

All in all, though, things were going so well that the director and his assistant were able to slip away for long lunches together at the Shamrock, washing down the daily Blue Plate Specials with long draughts of Guinness. Lloyd couldn’t get enough of Joe’s stories about his days on the beat when he and his partner busted Colombian smuggling gangs out at JFK Airport, and about the things they “confiscated,” and all the Kennedy gossip Joe was more and more willing to share as the lunches lengthened into the afternoon and the alcohol took full effect. Lloyd, whose social and off-campus life had dissolved to more-or-less nothing, couldn’t get enough vicarious details about how “the Kennedy boys worked their way through every Broadway cast.”

But then things began to get more complicated. Zazlo rudely came to understand that being a university administrator during the tumultuous 70s required much more savvy and political skill than he was acquiring either over drinks with Joe or when fighting around with the staff in Reprographics.

The first campus to explode was up at City College. A coalition of Black and Latino students, encouraged, some said manipulated, by “radical” faculty seized control of the student center and issued a long list of “non-negotiable demands.” These included a call for the hiring of more minority faculty; the appointment of more minority administrators; more open admission policies to enable more “children of the oppressed classes” to enroll; stipends to make college affordable; the elimination of the R.O.T.C. program; no “pigs” were to be allowed on campus to strong-arm “striking” students to end their “occupation”; a guarantee had to be provided to assure that all students would not be prosecuted; and striking students were to be given passing grades in all the courses they were taking but could not attend due to the fact that they were “seeking justice” while walled up behind barricades.

All the local media raced to the scene and student and faculty spokespersons quickly emerged, becoming overnight celebrities as their images flickered on TV screens every night as the demonstrations stretched on. These leaders, realizing they had the public’s attention and the administration of City College, realizing they were in an impossible situation—they did not want to appear to be unsympathetic to the demands of minorities, considering who lived in the communities surrounding the college, nor did they wish to stumble into a public relations disaster of the kind that toppled their colleague administrators not long ago just south of them at Columbia—these conflicting impulses assured that this confrontation between the powerless and their oppressor would develop into a struggle of epic proportions, or at least turn into a conflated local conflict that produced good TV footage. There was nothing very dramatic going on at the time in the sports or weather news so the heated rhetoric and the periodic rumors that the students had “torched” the student center pushed everything else off the air.

And so inevitably, fueled by the blaring headlines and the palpitating TV reports, the conflict spread from City University campus to campus, until at last it crossed the East River and, as if it had to crawl along the traffic-clogged Long Island Expressway, finally reached the hitherto sequestered campus of sleepy Queens College.

Joe and Lloyd were on their third pint when the call from the dean’s office reached them in the Shamrock. Sean, the bartender called Joe over to the phone; and even from where he remained sitting, at their distant regular corner table, through the smoke and murmuring of the other denizens, Zazlo could hear the panic-stricken voice of Dean Hartley, the widely-published authority on 18th century French history, Lloyd could overheard Hartley scream—“Get your fucking ass over here Murphy. Now! Those bastards have seized my office. I have a small Corot behind my desk and if they touch it, I’ll fire you so fast that you’ll be back in that squad car by next week. I don’t care who your patron is.”

“Promise me, Dan,” Zazlo heard Joe say calmly to the Dean of the College, “Promise me that you won’t call the police. Let me get there before doing anything. I know how to handle them. I made a career out of that.” He shook his head two or three times while listening to his dean—Zazlo could not hear what was being said. “I told you I’d take care of things OK. And yes you can set yourself up in my office. I’ll bunk with Zazlo.” He winked toward Lloyd who was quickly realizing that the ground on which his new administrative career was being built was shifting.

Joe held the phone away from his ear so that Lloyd could now hear the dean say, “I’ll hold off but promise me you’ll get them to keep their filthy hands off my Corot.”

Joe said, sounding annoyed, “Yeah, yeah, that too.”

He hung up and turned to Zazlo and from across the bar said to him, “Let’s get the hell over there. He’s about to bust a gut.” And as they pushed through the door, with a shrug, Joe said, “All he keeps talking about are his carrots. Whatever the hell that is. To tell you the truth, I think he’s crackin’ up.”

As they raced toward the car, with his hand at the side of his head Joe made a circling motion, “I think he’s turned himself into a nut case.”

Zazlo thought, my parents were right—I should after all have gone to medical school.

* * *

Back at the campus everyone who wanted to enter had to show IDs to the police who had cordoned off all the gates. When they saw Joe, though, their former colleague, they simply waved him and Zazlo through, rolling their eyes up in the air as if to say, “Can you believe this crap?” Joe muttered to himself, “I thought that fruit dean told me he’d hold off on the cops. He’s only making things worse.”

He swerved toward his parking space in the staff lot, turned off the engine, and sat for a moment, rhythmically beating his hands against the steering wheel. Without turning to him, Murphy said, “Zazlo,” Lloyd knew something was up because Joe hadn’t called him that in months, “I’ve been thinkin’. I don’t really know these people. They’re your people—you hired them. I know they’re my faculty, but in this circumstance I know they won’t see it that way. Actually, seeing it that way would make things worse. As my faculty.”

Zazlo knew where this was leading and attempted to preempt Murphy. He said, before Joe could continue, “I know what you’re about to say; but before you do I want to say I think you’re wrong. I may have hired them and come up with schedules for them and helped them with various things—insignificant things to tell you the truth—but I think in this circumstance, I’ve been reading about the situation up at City College and all over, and watching TV, and I think you could handle things much better than me. I mean, they respect you and,” as his trump card Zazlo added, “and you were even a cop. That will count for something.”

Joe wheeled toward him. He throbbing, muscular face no more than six inches from Zazlo’s, “So far you’ve learned nothin’. Nothing!" He spat at Zazlo. I’ve been tryin’ to teach you a few things about the world, and you still act like the fag that you are.” Lloyd had slid as imperceptibly as he could toward his door and inched his hand up to the handle. Murphy reached across him and violently slammed home the door lock. Zazlo resigned himself to meet his fate—whatever that might be—since, he realized, he had little choice.

“Look, I’ll say it to you one last time—we’re at war. This is not about admissions or money or any of the usual faculty bullshit. They want us out of the way. Gone. It’s as simple as that. We see this place as ours and they see it as theirs. It couldn’t be any simpler. When I was commin’ up, we saw the world the same way and we tried to take what was ours. Do you think we negotiated it? ‘Will do this if you give us that’? No way José. I told you about all that. You Jews think the Irish had it easy because we’re white and Catholics. You should only know what we suffered. Al we wanted was a little piece of our own here. But what did we get? Neither shit nor Shineola. All we got was a crack on the head and worse, and so we just took what we saw to be ours. It was simple as that.

“So that’s what’s goin’ on right now, up there in that prick Hartley’s office and, if you want to know the truth, all over the fuckin’ country. They don’t want a couple more teachin’ slots. No, no. They want this campus for themselves. They want his office. Everything. Everything that we fought for and which is rightfully ours. If you think it’s about anything else, you’ll be the first one they shove intothe ovens.”

However terrified Zazlo was, not matter how much he disagreed with Murphy’s view of the world, and there was he realized a vast chasm between them—he had up to then overlooked Joe’s various biases because he was riding his coattails to his own advantage and was titillated by his experience and stories. He also knew that if he were ever to make his own way here or in the larger world it was time now, right now to speak out. To declare himself. More—to do something.

So, in spite of his fear and the risks he knew he would be confronting, Zazlo said, “You’re right. You can’t go in there. They don’t respect you. In fact they hate your fucking Irish guts and all that you stand for. About that I know you’re right, but I suspect you don’t see it that way. So I’m gonna get out of this car right now,” he reached around behind him and popped the lock, “And I’m gonna go into that building and, even if it takes me all night, I’m gonna talk with them, find out what’s going on, and make a deal with them that you and Hartley will honor. And if you don’t,” he added quickly since he felt Murphy tensing, “I promise you I’ll blow the whistle on you and tell those TV guys over there what a bunch of racists you and everyone else here are. And even if I don’t have all my facts straight, I know it will make a good enough story so they’ll still put it on the air and the front page of the News and Times.”

Opening the door, he said one final thing to Joe, “Remember, I know about good stories. I used to write them.”

And with that he got out of the car, slammed the door, and strode toward the front entrance of the Administration Building. Though he remained in his car, Joe yelled at Zazlo’s back, “Once a Kike always a Kike!

Not pausing or turning to answer, Zazlo smiled to himself, remembering where ironically, a scant ten months ago, he had overheard Murphy say something quite similar about himself.

He had to pee and only hoped he could get to a men’s room before wetting his pants. That would not contribute to his making a forceful impression when he got up to the twelfth floor where his faculty and his students were occupying the dean’s office. He thought that if Benny Anderson was there he probably was telling the students about Corot and how, though he was a son of a successful merchant, young Jean-Baptiste-Camille also had to do battle with his father in order to become an artist.

To be concluded next week . . .

Friday, January 26, 2007

January 26, 2007--Fanaticism LXXXII--Silo and Roy Redux

About a year and a half ago, the world was astir about the end of an affair. Some saw it to be a good thing; others were sad.

It was late summer, before the leaves had even begun to change in New York’s Central Park, and lovers could still be spotted embracing on the Great Lawn. But all was not well in the Penguin House, where for seven years Silo and Roy had been a devoted couple with, how to put this, an active sex life. They had even contentedly raised a baby called Tango. But then, into their lives, came the legendary “other woman”; and Silo strayed, abandoning Roy, who was left to spend long nights alone, in the corner of their chilly world, staring at the wall.

There are of course a million stories of this kind in the Big Town, but what made this one so special was that Silo and Roy were both male and thus they had been engaged in a homosexual affair. What controversies this unleashed, in part because the penguin-keepers apparently played a matchmaker role, and thus in straightening Silo out.

Did this have implications for humans? Did this suggest that gayness is a choice rather than biologically determined? At a time when Americans were beginning to need to be distracted from bad war news, Silo and Roy’s plight was just what the doctor, or our government, ordered.

So it’s not surprising to note that, in even greater need of distraction, here we go again! This time we’re talking about sheep.

A researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University has been studying homosexuality among sheep and recently reported that up to 8 percent of rams have sex exclusively with other rams, eschewing ewes. This sort of thing has of course been observed in other species of animals, but it has not stifled the nature-nurture arguments. This is much contested territory and has proven to be a very effective political wedge-issue: since to be gay is to choose to be gay, Evangelicals contend, gays should either just stop it or, if they choose not to, give up on any idea of, for example, getting permission to marry.

Thus, the fact that Dr. Charles Roselli, the sheep researcher, appears to be saying, from an examination of the brains of the gay sheep he kills in order to do his research (more about that in a moment) that since there might be a way to determine, in vitro, which rams will turn out to be gay, then perhaps there might also be some way to surgically or medically “cure” them so that they’ll pop out straight and as a result be better breeders and barnyard citizens. (See linked NY Times article.)

This interest in producing more and better livestock may be what the good doctor is up to; but to gay rights folks there is concern that if you extrapolate his findings to humans it might encourage conservative, eugenics-minded people to want to support research to discover ways to do the same kind of thing to human fetuses—to the “unborn.”

And then the PETA folks, when Dr. Roselli’s findings were published, launched a massive email campaign directed at him and his university. Some called him “a worthless animal killer” who “should be shot”—which I suppose is a call for a form of worthwhile animal killing because he, after all, like his sheep, is also an animal.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

January 25, 2007--Rats

These are a unique sub-genus of Rats.

For Rats with which we are familiar, Neotoma Cinerea, when things look threatening to them, they simply abandon ship in an attempt to save themselves. In effect, these Rats take responsibility for their own survival.

But for these new mutated Rats, Neotoma Hypocrita, when they find themselves in danger, though they are still known to abandon ship, they are also discovered by Rodentologists to have a tendency to turn on and devour each other as well as toss each other overboard. In their case, they do everything possible to avoid taking any responsibility whatsoever.

Take Scooter Libby for example—he was an old-fashioned Rat (Cinerea) who worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week to take care of his boss, our Vice President. He sat there listening to his ravings, did his bidding, and when necessary his dirty work. But when Scooter himself got into trouble while doing some of this bidding, winding up perhaps, out of loyalty, lying to the grand jury to protect his mentor, what happened to him? Vice President Hypocrita, without much thought, tossed him overboard to protect an even bigger Rat’s right hand man, I mean Brain—Karl (Sub-Genus Hypocrita) Rove. (See NY Times article linked below.)

And of course that Pack of Rats in Congress and their Neo-Con Rodent Consigliores, rather than simply abandoning ship to protect their political lives, are busy turning on each other in a cannibalistic feeding frenzy when all they really need to do to save themselves is what any self-respecting Neotoma Cinerea would do—abandon ship.

Recall, this crowd rode triumphantly into office by railing against the previous administration’s failure to take responsibility for the consequences of their own behavior. Remember what they had to say about “I didn’t inhale”? And, “I never had sexual relations with that woman”?

They promised that they would be different. And so they have turned out to be.

We should have known what to expect of them from their own personal histories of having avoided taking responsibility for anything. When these future leaders of ours were asked by their country to serve, they used connections to sort-of serve, as in the National Guard; or, if they didn’t have those kinds of connections, they manipulated the system to secure, for example, five deferments.

No problem, though, sending other people’s kids off to death and mutilation.

Or for that matter, doing the same to each other.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

January 24, 2007--"I So Good At Math"

Many college and university faculty and administrators these days refer to Asian students as the “new Jews.” They may or may not be attempting to pay them a compliment; but by this, they sort of mean that Asians are now their best, highest-achieving students. Just the way Jews used to be.

The other side of this acknowledgement, also just as it used to be applied to Jews, is the ugly fact of the Asian-admissions quota.

This first came to widespread attention when various extra-highly-selective University of California campuses were overwhelmed by too, too many extra-highly-qualified Asian applicants. So many with perfect high school GPAs and SAT scores that if they had admitted all who were “qualified,” there would have been less and less room in their freshman classes for Anglo students. Thus, it was demonstrated by Asian rights groups, these colleges set limits on the percentage of Asian students they would admit—a sort of affirmative action program in reverse for the benefit of white students.

Asians are already disproportionately represented at most of the nation’s most selective institutions—though they make up just 5 percent of the population, at Harvard 18 percent are Asian, at Stanford 24 percent, and at the University of California at Berkeley they comprise fully 46 percent of all undergraduates.

At Princeton, where 14 percent are Asian, there is a controversy currently raging about alleged bias against them in admissions practices. Jian Li claims that though he was an easily-admissible candidate he was rejected because he is Asian, and he has filed a high-profile discrimination suit against the university. (He is currently attending Yale.)

Things became even more heated when the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, published an article that its editors claim was a parody in which an Asian student is quoted as writing—

Hi Princeton! Remember me? I so good at math and science. Perfect 2400 SAT score. Ring bells? Just in cases, let me refresh your memories. I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me. What is wrong with you no color people? Yellow people make the world go round.

And so on.

As reported in the NY Times, the editor, Chanakya Sethi, who is of Indian descent, responded—

We embraced racist language in order to strangle it. At its worst, the column was a bad joke; at its best, it provoked serious thought about issues of race, fairness and diversity.

Provoke it did. But I wonder if someone like Mr. Sethi, with I assume his perfect SAT scores, might have been able to find other ways to engender “discourse” (a favorite word on campus). For example, through an examination of Princeton’s history of setting racial, religious, and ethnic quotas; and how his college is likely doing the same now with applicants from the very same continent where his parents were born.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

January 23, 2007--The Gulf of Zwerling

Maybe global warming isn't such a bad thing after all.

I'm not just talking about how, when the last of the ice cap melts, some of us will have valuable waterfront property--though that's nothing to be sneezed at. I'm thinking about the various other new ways to make a buck off of this inconvenient truth.

But wouldn’t you know it, the German's are already ahead of us in this regard, and so I write now to alert Americans to the fact that we may already have a Global Warming Gap.

You've probably been hearing about some of the El Niño-caused storms that are lashing northern Europe. One such report from the NY Times is linked below. For example, last week, again in Germany, a storm meteorologists named Kyrill generated hurricane-force winds of up to 125 m.p.h. and rain so heavy that many roads were flooded and rivers overflowed their banks.

Though that is news enough to report, especially since it forced Condoleezza Rice to cut short a visit with Chancellor Angela Merkel—I suppose a plan for Iraq will have to wait until the winds calm down--what I took note of was how the German weather folks came up with Kyrill as the name for the storm. Did they, as we in the U.S., have an alphabetic list of names prepared in advance so that when they got to the K Storm they whipped out Kyrill?

Actually, no. They have a much, much better method.

In Germany, for a price, you can have a storm named for you.

Here’s how it works, for just $256 (don’t ask me how much that is in Euros) they will name a low-pressure storm system after you. And, here’s the real brilliance, for a little more, $385, you can give a name to a fair-weather high-pressure system. (The storm names are cheaper because with El Niño and other forms of climatic crises powerful low-pressure systems come around more frequently these days—it’s a simple matter of supply-and-demand.)

All right, the German’s are a step ahead of us with this. But with good-old American know-how we can close the gap in a nanosecond and really cash in. Here are a few suggestions (I assume you might have some more of your own):

So all the glaciers on Greenland melt and sea level is now ten feet higher. That means in, say, New York City, my apartment on 9th Street and Broadway is waterfront since the levels of the East and Hudson Rivers have risen. The new bodies of water are much too wide to anymore call them rivers. They are more like gulfs or estuaries. So we’ll need to come up with new names for them. And, since I assume you’re following my thinking, we can put a price tag on that.

How much should we think about charging to name The Gulf of the Upper East Side (we’ll obviously also need these kinds of more formal geographic names)? Clearly more than for The Gulf of the Lower East Side.

Since I like the sound of The Gulf of Zwerling, here’s my bid of . . .

Monday, January 22, 2007

January 22, 2007--Connect These Dots

Dot Number One:

An insufficiently-noticed article appeared in Sunday’s NY Times about Pakistan’s role in supporting the recent “Taliban surge in Afghanistan.” (Linked below.)

We are not talking about President Bush’s version of a surge, which most military, diplomatic, and political leaders oppose because they see it doomed to failure. The Taliban version, however, appears to be working—the same military, diplomatic, and political leaders are seeing increasing evidence that the Taliban are regaining control of more and more of the country. Opium production is way up, and the money derived from it is helping to fund their efforts.

What is not so well-known is how directly and significantly helpful our “ally” in the region, Pakistan, is in helping our “common enemy.” Carlotta Gall, the Times reporter, spend two intrepid weeks on both sides of the border, somehow managing to get Pakistani commanders and members of the all-powerful and dreaded Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence Agency to talk with her about what is really happening in this contested, most-dangerous part of the region.

She reports that her direct observations and deeply-off-the-record interviews with both Pakistani military and intelligence operatives reveals that “Pakistani authorities are encouraging the insurgents, if not sponsoring them.”

Dot Number Two:

Also on the front page of the Sunday Times is a report about the “rebuilding” of New Orleans—about a year and a half after Katrina, in spite of what public officials are claiming about how completely life as it was will be revived, most economists and demographers are coming to conclude that the city “will top out at about half its prestorm population. To quote one, the repopulation “based on what we know, will be a trickle.”

Dot Number Three:

The Times reported that this past weekend in Iraq was one of the deadliest for U.S. forces—more than a dozen were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter was shot down and an additional dozen were killed in Baghdad and Anbar Province. Twenty-seven in all. Some of the insurgents disguised themselves by wearing American military uniforms. And this week, the first contingent of 1,300 new troops, the vanguard of our surge, are set to arrive; and it is expected that they will be fully operational by the end of the month.

Final Dot:

“Four Pakistani plainclothesmen raided my hotel room, using a key card to open the door and then breaking through the chain that I had locked from the inside. They seized a computer, notebooks, and a cell phone. One agent punched me twice in the face and knocked me to the floor.”

Thus wrote the same Carlotta Gall of the NY Times. She continued, “All the people I interviewed were subsequently visited by intelligence agents, and local journalists who helped me were later questioned by the Inter-Services Agency.”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

January 20, 2007--Saturday Story: The Passive Voice--Part Four

In Part Three, the meeting of the English Department continued, moving from memorials for three deceased colleagues to a discussion about a proposed new course on the great works of John Milton. What should have been routine discourse, actually a quick unanimous vote followed by a motion to adjourn to the waiting sherry and cheese reception, turned into a full-fledged conflagration. The department’s Great Man, Mr. John Bell precipitated it all by calling into question both the course content and the “doggerel” in which the description was written. All the while, just outside the meeting room, our hero, Lloyd Zazlo became aware of another kind of memorial ceremony—one to mark the anniversary of the murders of three Civil Rights workers, one a graduate of Queens College. Demoralized and depressed, Zazlo skipped the sherry for double Scotches at the Shamrock Bar, a local watering hole, where, while drafting a letter of resignation, he fell into the hands of a very different kind of colleague, a former cop and political operative, who persuaded Lloyd that it was time to move on to the next stage in his life and come join him as assistant director of a new program at the college for “Coloreds.”

Part Three ended with Lloyd completing his letter of resignation; and in Part Four . . .

Before the end of July, Zazlo had hired six faculty members for the COP Program—all were black and Hispanic.

The first was Sam Haskins. Lloyd had read about him in the New York Times. He was mentioned in an article about the Algebra Project, an apparently new and effective way to teach math to Black kids who lived in rural towns in the Mississippi Delta. Haskins came from Coahoma in the Delta and, after graduating from Howard University, as the Times quoted him, he did not want to enter his “Daddy’s business” but did want “to give something back.” He was the son of an undertaker, an ultimately successful family enterprise started by his self-trained great-grandfather shortly after Emancipation. After joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participating in numerous sit-ins across Mississippi, at least twice winding up in the hospital as he found the police in his county less committed than SNCC to non-violence, Sam, thus inspired, among other things by his “battle scars,” said he aspired to “work with his mind and not with his skull.”

Zazlo tracked him down through the Algebra project office in Atlanta, and they agreed to meet to talk about teaching at Queens College over coffee at Café Figaro in Manhattan where Sam was living. Tall and straight as a reed, Sam sat at a corner table, wreathed in cigarette smoke and a halo-sized Afro. Lloyd felt flattered that Sam greeted him with a Black Power handshake. Being welcomed that way was virtually enough for Zazlo, on the spot, to want to offer him a position at the college. But he managed to restrain himself until they were on their third cappuccino.

In spite of the implications of the handshake, Sam remained more skeptical than Lloyd. He wanted to know not only about the college but about Queens itself. “Forgive me for putting it this way,” Sam said, “but I understand that it’s a place full of Crackers.” Lloyd was able to maintain eye contact but didn’t respond. “I mean there are lots of brothers and sisters living there, but from what I hear things are not so different from my hometown.” His eyes probed Lloyd’s for any signs of reaction. Lloyd surprised himself by being able to maintain his cool. “And if that’s so, setting up this program at the college ain’t gonna be no picnic.” Here he slipped into dialect, which Lloyd also liked, perceiving it as a sign of growing comfort—maybe, he thought, my being so cool is working. “I’ve been there and done that and have the scars to prove it.” With that he lowered his head and separated two fistfuls of thick hair to show Lloyd what was indeed a still-raw scar. “I don’t need anymore of these.”

He paused and in a quiet voice asked, “But what about you white boy? Are you ready for some?” Lloyd’s eyes wavered for the first time. “Because I can promise you one thing—you’re gonna come out of this whole thing at Queens College with some well-earned scar tissue.”

Lloyd slowly raised his eyes and looked back at him, feeling as though Sam had reversed things around and was interviewing him. He thought for a moment about what Sam had said and then admitted, “I know this is gonna sound strange to you--I know what might happen; and a part of me hopes it will.”

And with that, as Lloyd had made his deal with Joe Murphy, they shook hands to seal a very different one of their own.

* * *

Next Zazlo hired Carolyn Haskins, Sam’s wife. She was not part of the deal, arrangements that were common in academia where offering a job to a spouse was often necessary, but because she was as attractive a candidate as Sam. In fact, she was a beautiful candidate. So much so that when Lloyd met her, at Sam’s suggestion, also at Figaro, it wasn’t until he had downed two cappuccinos that he was able to concentrate on what she was saying and could more or less stop focusing so exclusively on her looks. Where Sam was hard and straight, the image of a warrior in Lloyd’s mind, she was, again in his imagining, a princess, no, a sub-Saharan queen, a voluptuous one, in full tribal robes and a magnificently wrapped head. Zazlo had never been in the presence of anyone who so literally took his breath away. In fact, it was only the caffeine in that second cappuccino that kept him from feeling faint.

But with her as with Sam, Lloyd was able somehow to maintain a semblance of his cool and got her to talk about her life, actually to finally concentrate on it, and her interest in American History, the subject he was in his mind penciling her in to teach.

She was from Atlanta, from what she called “a fine family.” He father had gone to Oberlin and was a physician, and her mother a high school English teacher. Carolyn graduated from Spellman College and then went on to Howard where she met Sam and where she was in the final stages of completing her doctorate. Her dissertation was on the slave narratives of woman in 19th century Alabama. She had been discovering these in hidden away places, including in the attics of family friends who had kept them from view as they attempted to integrate themselves into the post-Jim Crow south by obliterating the past.

Carolyn already had a publisher interested in these narratives as well as her thesis, and it was clear to Lloyd that this would help launch her academic career. He thought she would have no difficulty securing a tenure-track position and thus wondered why she was even interested in considering his new program. He tried to find out about that indirectly by wondering out loud, “This is very fascinating,” by this he meant as much that she was very fascinating, “and of course important. If I were working on something this significant, I wonder what kind of faculty position I might be looking for. After all . . .”

But before he could complete what would have inevitably turned out to be a truncated and tortured sentence, she cut him off and, leaning so close to him that her sumptuous robe almost dipped into his coffee cup, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” He felt he had just begun to talk. “Look at yourself. What do you see?” He thought, well, not very much. “Well I see someone, a man, who went to an Ivy League college and probably the same kind of graduate school. And I see this too,” she touched her silken face, actually her skin, “This, which is the opposite of what you see here on me.” She stroked her skin as if it were fabric, a commodity and not radiant flesh. “So you can think about anything. About any possibility.”

He thought he understood and attempted to interrupt her, “But I meant that . . .”

“I know what you meant. I know what you see here,” and now she touched her skin in a way to emphasize her beauty. “And here,” she touched her breasts.

“I didn’t mean that,” he stammered.

“Maybe not. Time alone will tell. But be prepared to be surprised. Remember, I have been studying our mutual history,” that he did not understand, “and it is full of the expected.”

He was confused, “You mean the unexpected, don’t you?’

With a deep laugh as beautiful as the rest of her, she said, “You heard what I said.”

Two days later she called to say she wanted to teach in the program. “It’s exactly where I want to be because I know that your folks,” by that she meant the students, “also have attics full of secrets.”

* * *

Third hired was Juan Loperena. Zazlo had learned about him from his Columbia College roommate who taught with Juan in an uptown storefront academy for high school dropouts. Born in Puerto Rico, when he was ten, Juan moved with just his younger sister, Gloria, to New York to live with his grandmother and grew up on East 118th Street in Spanish Harlem. When he met with Lloyd, this time in his makeshift office at the college, he referred to his neighborhood the Barrio and emphasized that when he said he grew up on 118th Street he meant just that--on the street itself. He had been what Joe Murphy called a gangbanger, a founding member of the Crips; and, though they and he had been involved in what Juan called “the drug trade” and periodic territorial wars with the Bloods, he placed equal emphasis on what he claimed were the gang’s “social programs,” their work with street kids who they encouraged to stay in school, even while running drugs for gang members. He had taken his own advice and after graduating from Roosevelt High School went on to the City College of New York where he completed a double major—in Spanish, which he said was “a piece of cake,” and French, which he acknowledged was “a killer.”

Acknowledging it that way, as a killer, brought a wry smile to Juan’s face because he felt he needed to tell Lloyd, before they got too much further, that he had spent five years, after CCNY, “upstate,” which was his shorthand for Attica State Prison. He had been sent there after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter. He had tracked down, shot, and killed a fellow Crip who had, in the hallway of the building where they lived, raped fifteen year-old Gloria.

Sensing Lloyd’s concern about bringing a murderer onto the Queens College faculty, Juan grinned at him; and to allay his fears, said with a wink, “Don’t worry. They do good rehabilitation work up there.” Still sensing doubt, he added, “But to tell you the truth, in my case they didn’t have to do any of that. I promise not to have to kill anyone else. Get me?”

Lloyd in fact was beginning to; and even thought that since, as Murphy had said, the new students were likely to come from backgrounds similar to Juan’s, he would probably be able to relate to them much better than anyone else he was likely to hire. So he said that he would like him, if he was willing, to teach both French and Spanish so the program’s students could have two ways of satisfying the college’s language requirement.

“I’m flattered that you want me; but before I give you an answer,” Juan insisted that Lloyd return his hot gaze, “I have something to ask you.” Lloyd nodded that it was all right to do so, “Tell me what you would have done.” Zazlo returned a puzzled look. “I mean if you were me and it had happened to you.” He saw that Lloyd was not comprehending, “I mean to your sister. If someone had fucked your kid sister.”

Stunned by this, Lloyd stuttered, “B-b-ut I don’t have one.”

“Lucky for you.”

In his head Zazlo had worked out a schedule for Juan—French Tuesdays and Thursdays and Spanish Mondays and Wednesdays. He thought that would work.

* * *

And then there was Benny Anderson. Zazlo needed someone to teach the required art history course but didn’t want it to be the traditional Parthenon-to-Picasso version that used Janson’s ten-pound History of Art as the text. He felt that the kinds of students Joe Murphy envisioned recruiting might respond better to something different. So when he stumbled onto an exhibit of Anderson’s paintings at the Forum Gallery in the city, he knew from the subject matter—expressionistically rendered figures in iconic poses set in urban landscapes—that he was classically trained and thus could bring a working artist’s perspective to art history. And it was also apparent from the images that Anderson was Black. Since Lloyd was keeping an appropriate version of Joe Murphy’s challenge in mind, to hire “a bunch of Coloreds and Spics,” he was instantly interested in meeting with Anderson. Which Samantha Solomon, the gallery owner was pleased to offer to arrange.

What she arranged was a meeting the following Saturday in her office at the gallery. She alerted Zazlo to the fact that Anderson had serious doubts about trekking all the way out to Queens, she quoted Benny—to White Bread Land, from his studio on the Bowery where he lived and worked; and that if Lloyd wanted to recruit him he should be prepared to offer Benny, in her words, “a very attractive package.” She was beginning “to move” his work and thus, she was suggesting, he did not need the work and thus would likely not sign on for a traditional instructor’s paltry salary.

As it turned out he did need the work. Ironically, precisely because she was doing so well moving his work.

Without much of an introduction, and without the need of any prompting from Lloyd, Anderson told his story—He grew up “dirt poor,” one of ten children. The son of a sharecropper in Morgan County, Georgia. Though from an early age he needed to work the fields with his brothers and “daddy,” his father insisted that he walk the two miles to the one-room school house every day, even during planting season. He wanted his son to “get schooled” so that he could lead a different kind of life. He was a self-confessed “mess-up,” barely learning to read and write and was frequently, because he was so frail, “whooped on” by the local bullies as he walked barefoot back and forth. With a hardly audible chuckle, Benny said, “I was a walking cliché right out of an Uncle Remus tale. The only thing missing was a stalk of grass stickin’ out of my mouth. But I had the overalls!”

He might not have been much of a reader but from early on the one thing he could do was draw. He could draw anything and make it look real--in three dimensions and subtle shading. Their house, the land, workers in the field, anything. So at his father’s insistence he continued his education at Burney High School, and somehow became the first member of his family ever to graduate; and with the help of a 4-H Club scholarship, he enrolled at Fort Valley State College where he took the only art course they offered--six times. “Can you believe it, six times,” he exclaimed. “They had such low expectations for us Picaninnies that no one cared what we took. Even in a college that was just for Negroes where all the teachers were Colored. My, my.” Lloyd thought he saw tears forming in Benny’s eyes as he recalled those years.

“Well then,” he continued, “the college arranged a trip for some us up to Chicago. To go to the theater and eat in a restaurant. Things of that kind that were thought at that time to be good for Colored boys. But I slipped away and went off to the Art Institute. I had never been to a museum before and when I walked through that door and up those steps and saw all those paintings I knew why I had taken that art course so many times and what I needed to do.” He paused again, “In truth, after seeing those pictures, I never went home again. Not in the same way. Yes I spent another year at Fort Valley but messed up so much that I didn’t graduate. So I enlisted in the Army to get the GI Bill money, and when I was discharged I used that money to take courses at the Chicago Art Institute.

“It’s a long story,” he checked his watch, “but all you need to know is that I did OK there, came to New York, worked in restaurant kitchens, and here you find me.” He swept his hands in a grand gesture to take in the sweep of the gallery and the city beyond.

And with that he got up and left Lloyd and Samantha in her office. Alone, he walked into the rooms where the whitewashed walls were covered with his vivid work. Zazlo watched him through the open door as he stood with his arms folded across his thin chest with his head cocked to one side as if he was seeking a fresh perspective on his work. But to Lloyd, even here in his fancy New York gallery, Benny still looked as youthful and wiry as he must have been back in his early days in Morgan County.

After what felt like an endless two or three minutes, Lloyd joined him, standing silently at Benny’s side. And, while the two of them looked at the powerful Homesick Blues, inspired by Duke Ellington, Anderson said, as if ignoring Lloyd and addressing the painting, “You know why I want to trek out there don’t you?” Zazlo did not respond, “Because I know there’s some skinny kid in South Jamaica who didn’t learn to read and do his numbers and as a result thinks he ain’t worth shit. But he can draw like a mother. Like I could.”

He paused as if to look back through time at himself many years earlier. “I know Samantha,” who remained in her chair behind her Lucite desk, “I know she probably told you that you’d have to offer me some sort of sweet deal to come all the way out to Queens. It’s true that she’s doing a good job for me now, but she doesn’t begin to know me. What I’m about. Where I’ve been. Where I’m going. She never will. So all you need to do is offer me the job. Just the job. Whatever it pays, whenever the courses are scheduled and I’ll show up.”

Zazlo immediately began to think about what that schedule might look like—maybe it would be good to package Anderson’s sections with Juan Loperena’s. Art History right after Spanish sounded to him like a good idea.

But as he was running the combinations and possible permutations of the block program in his head, Benny turned his back to him and said, just loud enough for Lloyd to overhear, “Nor will you. Nor will you.”

* * *

To anchor the Composition and Literature faculty, Zazlo next hired Margaret Williams, a fifty year-old woman, for woman she truly was, who had been teaching individual courses here and there around the city for almost three decades. She was a Queens native, born and raised and still living in Ozone Park, where she had raised and largely supported three sons, all of whom had graduated from college. One was an electrical engineer and worked for NASA in Houston; her middle son was a high school Phys Ed teacher and coach of the school’s well-regarded football team (every year at least two graduates went on to Division I colleges on full athletic scholarship—and she was quick to point out almost all graduated within five years); while her “baby” was the catering manager at the five-star Garden City on Long Island.

She was a published poet, “in the manner of Maya Angelou” she suggested; and if Lloyd saw fit to hire her, she hoped that she could teach her students expository writing in the same manner in which she taught her poetry classes at the main branch of the Queens public library—in workshop format (which caused Zazlo a momentary flutter as he recalled his own fateful days as faculty advisor at Brooklyn College), a technique she said that depended on lots of in-class “free writing” in order to help break down students’ fear of the blank page.

Her life story, the fact that she was from and of the borough, her ideas about teaching composition, which were similar to his, and above all her solid maturity and maternal bulk convinced him that she would be his ideal Comp and Lit anchor. So he offered her a teaching load of three sections a semester, and she accepted even before they could get to a second cup of office coffee.

* * *

And finally there was Roberto Santos, a third-generation Mexican-American who had grown up in San Antonio before coming east to take a doctorate at Harvard. He was the first Chicano to earn a Ph.D. there in sociology. He had done so well that he had also been on a tenure-track position and it was looking as if he was certain to get it—his dissertation on Hispanic assimilation patterns had been published by Princeton University Press and was already considered a minor classic. And he was well on his way to completing a second book on the role colleges and universities play in reproducing social stratification. So it was quite a surprise to Zazlo when he got a call from Dr. Santos in which he indicated that he was interested in being considered for a teaching position in the Collegiate Opportunity Program. He had read something in the Chronicle of Higher Education about its expansion—he had joked on the phone that its acronym suggested it would be a good COP--and thought they might be needing faculty.

Thus they arranged to meet at Santos’ club—the Harvard Club in Manhattan. “Let me buy you lunch,” he had offered, “The food’s respectable and it’s a good place to get to know each other and do business.”

With some trepidation, Lloyd had never been to any kind of university club much less one this exclusive, he found his way to the Lexington Avenue line and, while on the subway into the City, from his experience hiring the first five core faculty members, he tried to imagine why someone with Santos’ background and professional potential would even be thinking about teaching ex-cons and gangbangers in improvised quarters in Queens. There must be a reason--Could it be that he had plagiarized his dissertation and Harvard was going to strip him of his doctorate? Or, he thought, perhaps it had recently come to light that back in Texas Santos too had killed someone--and in his case, since it wasn’t to avenge a sister’s honor, that would make him a true murderer and therefore unacceptable even in the COP program. They were seeking role models as faculty, not criminals of Santos’ type.

But he quickly learned, over chilled Chablis in the extravagantly fretted oak dining room, from the bespoke suit Roberto Santos was wearing and the extra-deferential way in which the waiters hovered around him, that he did not need a job in Queens, up in Cambridge, or for that matter anywhere.

Dr. Santos, who insisted on being called Robert, told his story quickly. His great grandfather came as a boy from Morales, Mexico and with his parents and brothers and sisters settled in south-central Texas. Somehow over time, parcel by parcel, he managed to amass a thousand acres of land which, in Robert’s words, “was not much good for anything; but he owned it. It was in Luling. Ever hear of it? I suspect not. Though the folks there liked to refer to Luling ‘the toughest town in Texas.’ And there was lots of competition for that title.” Robert mused, “Though his son, my grandfather, struggled to support his family by growing cotton, that was hit or miss depending on the drought cycle. Those were hard times. But during the 1920s, wouldn’t you know it, oil was discovered there. About a gusher per acre. The family ranch was right smack in the middle of the Oil Patch. And the rest is history—end of story.”

At least it was the end of that part of the story. The rest, as it pertained to Roberto, Robert, he recounted in bulleted form over the chilled lobster salad with Remoulade sauce and a second bottle of Chablis: Private Catholic boarding school for his early years of schooling—Prep school up in Putney, Vermont—Four uneventful years at Yale—No Skull and Bones, but he did edit the school paper, the Yale Daily News—Harvard next—Doctorate, “which you know about”—An assistant professorship—First book published—Married: “she’s a psychiatrist”—Moved to New York--Commuted to Boston—There for my two classes Tuesdays to Thursdays—Second book in final stages—First child on the way—no money problems “thanks to granddad’s trust”--Perfect life--

“But then one day,” he moved from bullets to prose, “I asked that famous Peggy Lee question—‘Is that all there is?’” He looked at Lloyd as if he was hoping he might have a good answer. Which, since he didn’t, Zazlo looked blankly back at him.

“That’s what I thought,” Robert continued with a sardonic laugh, “You don’t know any better than I. That’s OK. But I do know I’m not going to find the answer up in Cambridge or on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or for that matter back in Texas.” Lloyd had nothing to suggest. “But my instincts tell me that I’ll have a better chance to find an answer out in Queens.”

He tipped his head in the direction of where he thought Queens to be. But though Zazlo noted that this nod was toward the west, whereas the college was east across the East River, he decided to offer the position to him anyway. Feeling that maybe together they might be able to figure it out.

* * *

So with his lead faculty selected and formally on the payroll, all had filled out stacks of forms, including without protest the required Loyalty Oath, Zazlo took Joe Murphy out to lunch to fill him in about each of them. Joe seemed to like what Lloyd described (he was careful not say too much about where Juan Loperena had spent those five years after CCNY, but he did tell Joe a great deal about Robert Santos’ background), and Joe indicated that he would like to meet with them since, ultimately, they were his faculty; and the success of the program, he reminded Lloyd with an arm lazily draped around his back, would depend more on the six of them and the others they would subsequently hire, than on the director and his assistant—the two of them.

Being thus relegated to the administrative background did not please Zazlo; but pleased he was that Joe was pleased, and he suggested they all meet the following Thursday.

Joe thought that a good idea and ordered them a couple of more Guinnesses.

To be continued . . .

Friday, January 19, 2007

January 19, 2007--Fanaticism LXXXI--A Jew Not a Zionist

Ironically, the ultra-orthodox Hassidic groups in Israel, who frequently have a controlling voice in the Knesset, do not believe in or recognize the very state of Israel. So much so that they are exempt from military service. Yet many live there and serve in the parliament where they often use their swing votes to select and influence the Prime Minister.

In other words—they are Jews but not Zionists.

But in spite of this, without their political influence, there would be no fence or settlements in the “occupied territories or such strong resistance to even the idea of a Palestinian state.

This inconsistency (some might consider it hypocrisy—having things both ways) not only plays out in the Middle East but also right here at home.

In what might seem like a detour, let me take you back to last month when in Iran President Ahmadinejad hosted a conference on the Holocaust. In effect, to bring together “scholars” who deny it ever existed. Among them was Ku Klux Clan leader David Duke. Much was made about that. But overlooked in the crowd was a Hassidic rabbi from New York. One Yisroel Dovid Weiss. The NY Times spotted him there but made only scant reference to his presence and only in the New York-Metro section. (Article linked below.)

What pray tell was he up to at this so-called conference?

Some would claim, in a perverted way, being consistent with Hassidic anti-Zionism. Others, most, including the Brooklyn Hassids, have such a different view of him and what he did that they have made his life miserable.

Rabbi Weiss says that his presence in Tehran was to emphasize the point that that Holocaust has been exploited to justify the case in support of the state of Israel.

No Holocaust, no Israel? Is that what he and his followers were saying? Actually not—he and they acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred—in fact his grandparents and many of his aunts and uncles were slaughtered in concentration camps—he was there to indicate to Muslims that Jews are not their enemies and that the fact of the Holocaust should be uncoupled from any rationale for Israel’s right to exist as a governmental entity.

Behind all this, not matter how clumsy the rabbi’s role in Iran was, is the Hassidic belief, including among those in Israel, that there should be no State of Israel until the Messiah appears. And since he hasn’t yet appeared, there should be no such governmental entity.

Back home Rabbi Weiss has been vilified, mainly by other Hassids, who are living comfortably in Brooklyn and in various suburban communities. He has even been denied service in kosher stores and protestors have hounded him and his family in their home. The goal, to quote Mordechai Levy, national director of the Jewish Defense Organization, is to “run him and his followers out of town and out of America.”

Sound familiar?

So, again, it’s all about the Messiah. For Evangelical Christians, for whom the Messiah already appeared, it is all about the Second Coming and doing what they claim was prophesized to be necessary to bring about the conditions for that—which includes the requirement that all Jews, all, return to and occupy Greater Israel (from the Nile to the Euphrates). Muslims too are awaiting the Messiah, who also is expected to appear in the Holy Land. And then of course orthodox Jews have their own things to do to prepare for him, again believing that he will come to the very same piece of Middle Eastern real estate as the other two Religions of the Book.

So yet again it’s all about location, location, location.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

January 18, 2007--Looking For Love

Did I wake up this morning in a version of media-induced trance after all the excited talk about Senator Barack Obama forming a “presidential exploratory committee”? In a form of such deep celebrity-infatuation that I found myself on automatic pilot logging onto his Website and, like an addict, zapping him a $200 contribution?

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

So I downed a double espresso and after the caffeine took effect had a little talk with myself. Here I am, day-after-day, writing stuff about how we place ourselves in peril when we distract ourselves from harsh realities through various kinds of fanaticisms--be they elevating and then tearing down sport and entertainment and political celebrities; seeking to lose ourselves in various indulgences and belief systems, eager to overload our senses and thereby ironically numb ourselves into insensitivity; or plunging into cults of many kinds that bring us comfort and security by telling us what to believe and how to act.

Is Barack Obama just another fantasy? Another intoxicant?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. But my $200 is a bet on “no”—that he may, just may turn out to be the real-deal . . . and electable.

More than that, if he does turn out to fulfill his promise, he may be just what the U.S. and world so desperately right now need.

I know that his every utterance and every vote will be scrutinized, as they should be, and the pundits in the media and blogisphere will parse and analyze his every action to see if he is drifting left to appeal to the Democrat base who vote disproportionately in the primaries or is embracing the middle in the knowledge that to be elected he must appeal to the vast majority of voters who are more moderate. We will be speculating about what he thinks about not funding the troop escalation in Iraq and where he stands on immigration and abortion and gays and . . . you know the list. (See linked NY Times article for glance at how he is being received.)

And while I care about all of these issues and many more (education, health care, agricultural policy, trade, outsourcing . . . you know the list), right now I care about other, very different kinds of things. First among them, our position in the world—how we are perceived by our former allies and those who wish us harm. It seems essential to figure out how to again connect ourselves to those with whom we share obvious common interests and how to talk to and, yes, make deals with others who are currently viewed to be our adversaries.

Who better to send out into the world on that latter mission of healing and reconciliation than someone like Barack Obama? And here I emphasize the someone-like part. He appears to be a living, breathing example of what America is supposed to be about, and when we calm down enough to stop beating on each other over all sorts of cultural wedge-issues, what we are really about: diverse, polyglot, tolerant, smart, ambitious, practical, self-made, brash, not fully-formed, generous, and above all hopeful.

He is the literal face of the America of this still-young century, and by the time he is 60 will even more so represent what we will inevitably become.
Of course these characteristics are also his political weakness—for those who fear the "other" or need to place blame on those who are different to explain and deny their own failures and frustrations, for them he too is the perfect face.

But of course the big question is who he really is. Is he as authentic as he appears? Or is he just another hollow political self-creation? Does he have the stamina, courage, and vision to be a fine, maybe even a great leader?

It’s good to have him in the race so early so he can be tested and we will have the time to find out. Infatuations sometimes turn to love. Other times they come crashing down and we turn on those who lured us.

My $200 is looking for love.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

January 17, 2007--Supermodels

Call me an old fogie, guilty as charged, but for the life of me I don’t get Supermodels.

Why such a fetish about them? Why all the interest in their private lives? What are they known for and what do they actually do? Obviously, they have a certain kind of extraterrestrial look, they live life in the fast lane, and titillatingly and thankfully for the schaudenfreudian-minded get themselves into all sorts of delicious trouble. But all they do for a living is prance around in public in outrageous clothes, clothing no normal person could possibly think of wearing. So what’s the big deal?

Ultimately, what’s so special, really, about Kate Moss? Why then do we care about what kinds of recreational drugs she uses? And then there is Naomi Campbell who is constantly in the headlines for assaulting her various maids and assistants. Her weapon of choice? A cell phone. Shades of Russell Crowe.

In New York yesterday, Ms. Campbell pleaded guilty to opening the skull of her maid when she “accidentally” hit her with a hurled Blackberry. When asked by the judge if she threw that phone “recklessly,” she said, “Yeah.” And when he asked if she was pleading guilty of her “own free will,” she again said, “Yeah.” Doesn’t sound like that much of a confession to me.

She was fined $363.32 in hospital costs for the four staples required to close the gash. Cheap if you ask me--the last time I was in the emergency room at Lenox Hill it cost a lot more than that. And, according to the NY Times, she was sentenced to five days of community service. Maybe because she doesn’t want to be photographed in an orange jumpsuit sweeping the streets a là Boy George of Culture Club fame, her lawyer arranged for her to do this service indoors because, he said, she was concerned about her security. (Article linked below.)

He also said about his client, via a double-negative, that—“Even though she’s been called terrible things . . . that doesn’t mean she’s not a nice person.”

The fact that this story has been so extensively covered in the Gray Lady New York Times, and, I admit, the fact that I am taking the time to write about this (and maybe why even you have read this far and not by now hit the delete key) is convincing evidence that we have this unfathomable thing about Supermodels. It’s far from just a male thing since I suspect that they evince very little lust. And why women less than 5-10 who weigh more than 115 pounds would also find them so endlessly fascinating is also puzzling.

Enough of this. What after all will Naomi be doing for her community service? Tell, tell. Maybe she’ll be assigned to take 911 calls? They use land line and not cell phones.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

January 16, 2007--Bagelea

Just when we bought our dream place on Mallorca, right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean, it is looking as if we made a bad real estate deal. We thought that we would not only like it there but also that it would prove to be a good long-term investment.

However, it now appears that it will not turn out to be such a smart investment. It seems that the Mediterranean is scheduled to disappear. Literally.

But there is some good news, if there can be in such a scenario--it will take a while before this happens. About 250 million years. So we should have plenty of time to enjoy it there, sell it, and maybe even turn a profit.

You may be surprised to learn that the fate of the Mediterranean is not another one of Al Gore's inconvenient truths. If anything, according to Al Gore, after all the Arctic ice melts the Mediterranean should swell to the size of the Pacific Ocean and our flat on Mallorca, as well as our New York City apartment, should become waterfront property, and thus much more valuable.

The end of the Mediterranean, however, will be the result of another, even more powerful geological phenomenon--continental compression. It is scheduled to happen not because of global warming but because of shifting plate tectonics. (NY Times story linked below.)

About 200 million years ago, all six of our current continents were fused together into a single land mass call Pangea. Then Pangea began to break up into separate land masses, each floating about on its own tectonic plate so that by just 100 million years ago North America, Europe, and Asia became pretty much a continent of their own; South America and Africa were still semi-attached with only a narrow body of water between them—the early Atlantic Ocean; and India was drifting north on its own plate, heading for what we now think of as Asia where it eventually slammed so hard that the force of that collision caused the Himalayas to rise to their current towering majesty.

But before we get too comfortable with the current map of the globe, and our various deeds and property lines, using new models to spec out the future of the earth, scientists are uncovering evidence that today’s continents are about to make a U Turn: During the next 250 million years they will drift back toward each other and eventually crash into one another, re-forming a single land mass.

Some are calling this Pangea Ultima; others, since it appears that the new landmass will encircle what is now the Indian Ocean, prefer to refer to it, because of this water hole, as Donutea or Bagelea.

I suspect you know my preference.

But ultimately there is another piece of good news—with the continents separated as they are at present, it takes about 11 hours to get from here to Mallorca; and if we use frequent-flier miles we have to cash in about 80,000 miles each. With all the continents bunched together as they will be, New York and Palma, Mallorca will be so close together that it probably will take only about two hours to get there.

And on Jet Blue it will cost a mere $65 each way, in today’s dollars. So we won’t even need to use frequent-flier miles.

Monday, January 15, 2007

January 15, 2007--Rush to Condi

It’s never a good thing to have to depend on Rush Limbaugh to rush to your defense. Especially when he is acting as a “feminist.” It’s even more desperate when he speaks from his high horse as if he were a defender of racial tolerance.

But that’s exactly what we saw at the end of last week when Rush raced to the defense of Condoleezza Rice.

He intervened in what some in the press called a “personal” attack on Condi by Senator Barbara Boxer during the Secretary of State’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In case you missed the flap, Boxer confronted Rice about who is paying the personal price for the war in Iraq. She acknowledged that she isn’t—her children, she said, are too old to be in the army and her grandchildren too young. She then got into trouble in the blogisphere and elsewhere when she said to Rice, “You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.” (See NY Times article linked below.)

Interviewed later by the Times, implying Boxer had set back the feminist cause, Condi said, “I thought it was O.K. to be single . . . to not have children.” And then a very agitated Rush sputtered, “Here you have a rich white chick with a huge, big mouth, trying to lynch an African-American woman, right before Martin Luther King Day, hitting below the ovaries.”

Putting aside his calling Boxer a chick and his crack about lynching and ovaries, from what they both said, this pseudo-feminist and his protectee, it is clear that neither one of them gets it.

No one wants to take responsibility for this war—politically, historically, or personally. Very few in Congress are directly or emotionally affected, and thus what our administration and congressional leaders have brought down upon us, debated, supported or opposed, has a clear air of the abstract about it. With a volunteer army, which assures that the vast majority of those who sign up come from low-income backgrounds, privileged folks like Boxer and Rice and Limbaugh and me do not have any close family members or friends with their lives and limbs at risk.

So Senator Boxer’s admission about her own lack of direct involvement and her assertion about Secretary Rice’s similar isolation was not only true but "gendered" in the best sense. It was a stunning and important example of why it is essential to have women in powerful positions. What man among us would have brought this war home so personally, and appropriately?

Condi Rice and her knight in shining armor, Rush Limbaugh, are so busy trying to be muy macho that they haven’t a clue.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

January 13, 2007--Saturday Story: "The Passive Voice"--Part Three

In Part Two, bathed in sunlight, Lloyd Zazlo found himself slumped in a chair in the last row of seats at his new college’s English Department’s final meeting of the academic year. It began with a series of eulogies for colleagues who were no longer “with” them—to quote the esteemed chairman, Hiram Greef. Remembrances for three who had moved on to, how to put this, their Final Sabbaticals—the department’s Chaucerian, Wordsworthian, and Medievalist. From this high mortality rate among scholars Lloyd wondered if perhaps he had gotten himself into a very dangerous situation.

So in Part Three, let us see if . . .

While musing about the life and times of the departed Lichtenstein, and his own place in the scheme of things, Zazlo was called back to the present by Chairman Greef’s rapid shift in tone, and the report of his gavel as he struck the podium to summon his colleagues back to the profane from the sacred--the former the more dominant side of a chairman’s bifurcated life at the college. “As is the case each year,” he began in his departmental voice, “it is now time to deal with proposed new courses. But before we proceed--Zazlo,” he snapped his fingers toward the rear of the room, “yes, sitting there way in the back,” Lloyd sprang to anxious attention in his chair nearly rendering himself sterile in the process by slamming his loins into the stiffly attached laminated writing tablet. “Though I know it is hot in here, would you please close the window? There is that racket outside on the steps of the library. It is impossible for me to hear myself think.”

Zazlo had been unaware of that racket, he had been so absorbed in thoughts about mortality, but did as he was told, glancing out at what appeared to be a large demonstration. People seemed to be singing something, which he heard drifting in even through the now closed window—

We shall all be free, we shall all be free,
We shall all be free some day.

Dr. Greef said, “Much better. Thank you. Also better, I am pleased to report, that unlike last year, when we had four new courses to deal with, which took nearly an hour to discuss, this year there is only one. And it appears quite uncontroversial—you have the text, a copy was placed on your seat.” There was the sound of rustled movement as some discovered that they had been sitting on it. “Professor Nichols is proposing an elective in Milton. One which he refreshingly suggests will give equal weight to major works other than Paradise Lost. Nothing very upsetting about that I told him, and so I think we will be able to vote quickly on it and then adjourn to our sherry reception. And after that it will be off to our sabbaticals—at least those of you who managed to convince me to approve them.”

He winked exaggeratedly at Margaret Blank, the department’s only tenured female member who was eager to be off to Amherst where she was planning to spend a year engaged in Dickenson studies. One day when they both found themselves at the card catalogue she had told Lazlo of her particular interest in the Belle of Amherst’s punctuation patterns, claiming that through the years her editors had largely eliminated most of the hyphens she employed. Professor Blank’s thesis was that this was to excessively feminize Emily Dickenson—that hyphens to her exclusively male editors represented too much “masculine-like thrusting.” That was Dr, Blank’s phrase and word.

And Dr. Greef directed a second but equivalent theatrical wink (his own specialty was Jacobean theater) toward the department’s only Lit-Crit specialist, Marcel Boyer, who was equally eager to be off to, in his case, Paris where for his leave-with-pay he had arranged to study with the already-legendary Jean-Francois Lyotard whose Postmodernist theorizing was beginning to lure American scholars away from their almost total dependence on the tools of the “outmoded,” Boyer’s word, New Criticism.

Boyer, who like Zazlo was born in Brooklyn, had taken his junior colleague aside one winter afternoon to rail against the limitations of that New Criticism, established, he asserted, by the regressive “ultra-bourgeois,” his phrase, “so-called” Fugitive Poets—Ransom, Tate, Brooks, and, “ugh” (his “ugh”), Robert Penn Warren—he had literally spat out all three of his names. These “crypto-Fascists” theories still held sway, he said, over almost all Lit programs, “including ours right here in working-class Queens,” with their “elitist ideas” about Art, “with a capital A,” ideas which hold that Art is an “autonomous, self-contained universe of discourse,” when in truth (though Boyer didn’t believe in “truth”), as Lyotard affirmed, the “grand narrative” has, “thank God” (needless to say Boyer saw “truth” and “god” in the same disbelieving way), finally “collapsed.” Renaissance modernism and notions of historical and scientific progress are thankfully over, “fini, kaput” (clearly in Germany as well as in France). Objectivity is an “illusion”; everything therefore is subjective. “Subjectif. You understand, no?” Lloyd noted that Marcel was already making good progress with his French.

And though he knew that Zazlo was as yet untutored in these Postmodern matters, he also knew Lloyd had been to Paris as recently as last summer; and so he asked if he knew about the four-star Hôtel Pont Royal where he would be staying. “Sur la Rive Gauche, bien sûr.” Lloyd said that he knew it because he had walked by it frequently to get from the Metro to the Eugenie, where he had stayed, a very nice two-star hotel in the same 7ème arrondissement.

Zazlo was brought back from the memories of these rare and fleeting encounters with his colleagues by Professor Nichols’ monotone reading of the text of his new Milton course—his strategy through the year had been to say little, keep his head down, shut windows when directed to, and thereby perhaps slip though unnoticed, unscathed, and unanimously recommended for tenure.

Dr. Nichols raced along through the course description. Sherry awaited:

. . . Through a study of the major poetry and prose of John Milton, focusing on Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes the course considers Milton in terms of the literary and historical forces that affected his work and continue to affect his reputation. . . .

Professor Greef, even before Nichols reached the end, again using his gavel, said, “All those in favor indicate so by saying aye. All those opposed . . .”

“I rise for a point of clarification, Mr. Chairman. A point of clarification.” It was ancient and doddering Professor John Graham Bell, the department’s esteemed Rhetoritician octogenarian, who in his age and bulk and tweeds was unable to hoist himself from his seat, as Robert’s Rules required of someone raising such a point. But considering that he was the only Rhetoritician left on any English Department faculty in all of Greater New York—Columbia’s had retired or passed on nearly a decade ago—and in spite of the fact that his course in the Rhetorical Analysis of Cultural Artifacts invariably failed to attract any enrollments whatsoever, various rules were waved for the Great Man and he was thus still allowed to collect his salary. Thus, it was not much of an exception to waive for him even Robert’s Rules.

“Yes, Mr. Bell,” Greef said—referring to a colleague as a Mister, as at Oxbridge, rather than either Doctor or Professor was considered to be the ultimate sign of academic respect. Especially in America. “You have a point of clarification?”

Zalzo thought he heard--

We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace some day.

“I indeed do.” His voice quivered from both his years and the extent of his concern. “It is about that piece of description of Professor Nichols’.” He emphasized the “professor” by pronouncing it as if it was made up of four, not three syllables.”

“Not a problem, I hope.” Dr. Greef was thinking anxiously about the sherry and cheese.

“Well, yes, I have two or three.”

All members of the department strained forward in their confining seats, careful not to do any anatomical damage, to enable them to hear more clearly the potentially delicious details of this unusual challenge—for certain Harvey Nichols had not adequately done his political homework to have anyone, especially Mr. Bell, raise any questions, much less points of clarification. But what he might have offered in return for Bell’s support was not easy to fathom—Mr. Graham Bell never had any new course to propose; the ones he offered never ran; and so in many ways he was on a version of permanent sabbatical—so there was nothing political that Professor Nichols could be held before him as bait.

“And the problems are?”

“I will ignore the giving equal weight matter. Is that the metaphor he employed?” he asked of no one in particular, placing extra weight on the “he.”

“That, in fact was me. Not Professor Nichols.” Everyone appeared shocked that their chairman had so quickly accepted responsibility. He was a legend for assigning it to others.

“Well, that was unfortunate. Both the idea and its expression. I would have thought that someone trained at, where was it again, the University of Michigan, not that bad place at all,” it was where Nichols had taken his doctorate, “anyone trained there would have thought more about this. But I will let that pass.”

Zazlo felt a collective sigh of disappointment—no one much liked old Harvey: he came from a wealthy Boston family and with his trust fund was able to live in a nine-room apartment high up on West End Avenue, in the midst of the Partisan Review crowd, while the rest of them, including those with tenure, had to make do with one- or two-bedroom places in, at best, the West Village, with not even enough space for their books.

“I’m not at all sure about giving much weight to the Agonistes,” Mr. Bell continued—weight was emerging as a theme, “but as I previously indicated, I will let that pass.” Too bad, everyone continued to feel. Considerable juice was being drained from the fun the confrontation promised. “But what is certainly not acceptable in an English department, and here I stress the English, is a course description that is more doggerel than anything resembling even American English. And here I stress the American.” At that there was muttering and some muted chuckling.

While Zazlo heard—

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe . . .

“I say,” it was Nichols, now roused and himself sounding very Oxbridge. The Agonistes we can debate, but doggerel indeed!” Turning to Dr. Greer, he said, “I propose we call the question, or I may be forced to raise a point of personal privilege.”

“I am not sure we have a motion before us.” This from Professor Baliban who had slept through the eulogies but was now palpably excited by the discourse.

“I so move.” This from Dr. Alexander Fassle, the department’s expert on 18th century prose.

“Move what?” snapped Associate Professor Zito, who taught the department’s only popular courses—the year-long Shakespeare sequence.

“Nichols’ course description, of course. I move that." Things were becoming heated. Even reopening the window would provide no relief. "Is there a second?” This from Assistant Professor Dawson Hawkins, the department’s diffident specialist in Anglo-Irish literature, whose diffidence it was anticipated would cost him his chance to be gaining tenure next year. He had made the fatal error of displaying this aspect of his personality before rather than after being awarded the certainty of lifetime employment. Diffidence after, of course, would present no problems. In fact, in later years it might contribute as much to his chances to be promoted as his publications.

But to his motion, nonetheless, there were an immediate three seconds. The chairman did not move to correct that slight parliamentary breech—only one was required.

Calmly in the face of this brewing academic storm, intensifying less from schaudenfreudian impulses than by the thought of the wine that would be warming and cheese that would be curdling, in spite of this Mr. Bell still pressed on, “I do believe I still have the floor—for my points of clarification. Do I not Professor Greef?”

“Yes, you do,” the chair ruled. “Please continue.”

“Well, I object.” This again from Professor Nichols.

“Overruled. Please continue Mr. Bell. I hope you will be brief,” he urged, showing the beginnings of annoyance

“I will indeed. All I need to do is draw to your attention one especially offensive clause, and then I will be seated.” Everyone noted that he indeed already was and that there was little likelihood that he was capable of doing otherwise.”


Zazlo heard—

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
We shall overcome some day.

“I can barely make myself speak it; but if you insist, it is--the course considers Milton in terms of the literary and historical forces that affected his work.” He paused to allow the effect to gather; and when he sensed it had, he delivered what he assumed would be the death blow—“I do not recall ever hearing about a course doing any considering.” And with that he sat. Actually, sat back, nearly toppling the fragile chair.

And then without any pause, the chairman intoned, “All those in favor?” There was a unanimous mumbling of aye. Mr. Bell did not offer a nay. “In that case I will entertain a motion to adjourn until the fall, when hopefully we have no one further to remember or recall.”

To that there was a hearty chorus of “Here-here’s.”

Then turning to Mr. Bell, Dr. Greef said, Professor Bell, can I help you to the sherry?”
* * *

Alone in the room, Zazlo lingered in his seat and looked out the window toward the demonstrators. He noticed a sign that indicated they were gathered to remember the anniversary of the deaths of three Civil Rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, a Queens College student, all of whom had been murdered June 21, 1964 in Meridian, Mississippi. In Neshoba County.

* * *

Dear Professor Greef, Ph.D.: [Lloyd Zazlo wrote while balanced on a bar stool in the Shamrock Bar in Flushing where he had gone after the faculty meeting, bypassing the sherry and cheese reception] You know, sir, how much I appreciated your offering me the non-tenure-track instructorship after I resigned my assistant professorship at Brooklyn College. And I hope you know how much I have enjoyed the academic year among you and your colleagues. They have welcomed me [here he was exaggerating] and mentored me [here he was simply lying] and I have benefited greatly from both [back to exaggerating]. I have even been inspired by them to return to research and scholarship—my first love [he tried using here one of Emily Dickenson’s thrusting hyphens, feeling it might cover the fact that this last statement was beyond lying, particularly the “first love” part].

But I have begun to doubt my own commitment to a life of teaching and scholarship [perhaps, he thought, it might be better to reverse this to “scholarship and teaching,” which might capture better the department’s culture and values—a sensitivity to that subjectivity might also offer the right Postmodern]. Might this then suggest [Mr. Bell would likely have problems with this syntax if Chairman Greef were to share this with him—not much likelihood of that after the Milton debacle; but Zazlo felt its Latinateness was sort of Oxbridge] that I should reconsider my decision to come to Queens and my life plans [he knew the entire department membership would hate this human-potential kind of rhetorical solipsism; but didn’t cross it out, not yet at least—this was a first draft written on a cocktail napkin and he wanted to include at least in this version how he really felt—to be subjective, like a Postmodern, if you will, even if it sounded soppy]. I may regret this in the morning [he thought maybe this should begin a new and final paragraph but was interrupted by the bartender who asked if he would like another double Scotch—he nodded that he did—and after it was placed in front of him he did in fact indent to indicate he was coming to the end—to the action statement], though I may regret this tomorrow and I have no clear prospects or plans for the next stage in my life [even he hated that one], I have come to conclude that . . .

“Well Zazlo, funny to find you here among us Micks.” Someone embraced him from behind in a bear hug so robust that it almost toppled him onto the sawdust piled on the floor around the bar. “Relax, relax, it’s just me, your old pal Joe Murphy.”

Joe was a university rarity—for twenty years he had been a beat cop and detective in Queens, and he had been a precinct captain for Bobby Kennedy when he ran for the Senate from New York. Joe did so well at that, including he loved to tell, arranging for late-night “dates” for the candidate and some of the hard-working staffers, that after Kennedy was elected, as part of Joe’s “payoff,” he unashamedly called it that, in spite of the fact that he had barely managed to sneak through high school, and a GED degree was his sole credential, he was given a patronage job at the college—to run a special degree program for what at the time were called “returning women,” women who had not gone to college in lock-step but rather later in life “returned” (even though they had never left) to work on their degrees. Joe had taken to this program like the good cop he had been; and he was especially pleased to be able to recruit to this second-chance opportunity many of the same women he had previously recruited for other forms of service.

“Just the guy I’ve been wantin’ to see. And here you are right in my old neighborhood local. What the hell you doin’ here and what’s that stuff you’re drinking? Looks like a Jew drink to me.” He bellowed loud enough for all the regulars, clearly his pals, to hear; and they roared back at him. “Can I buy you a real drink, a beer? Harp if you insist on bein’ a sissy or a Guinness, which is good for you, if you’ve got anything hidden away in them pants.” More laughter. “Jimmy, give my friend here a pint. I think he can handle it. If he can’t, we’ll pack him off back to Brooklyn and drop him off at his rabbi’s or wherever.”

Joe ignored the considerable chatter his presence and joshing had evoked, though Lloyd was a bit concerned about all the Jewish references—Joe was all right, he knew him to be good natured, even in his veiled anti-Semitism, but he wasn’t so sure about the other guys. Joe, sensing this, slid his stool over to him as if to serve as a sort of shield. And since the Scotches were also doing a good job, Lloyd felt protected and calmed down.

Joe Murphy stretched his beefy arm around behind Lloyd and said, “Like I told you, I was meanin’ to get in touch with you.” He leaned so near to Zazlo that he could feel hot breath in his ear. Everyone in the bar hushed up, attempting to listen in on what Joe was saying to this unlikely stranger. So Joe squeezed even closer, signaling what he had to say was important, and for Lloyd only.

“You know this program I’m running? The one for women that I tried to get you to teach in but you said you couldn’t work into your schedule? Well, the dean wants me to expand it. To take in a whole bunch of Colored folks. From South Jamacia. There aren’t any at the college. Well, maybe a handful, but the administration is feelin’ some heat from community leaders who are sayin’ that Queens College is a’ racist institution.’ Who am I to say yes or no. That’s neither here or there. But what I know is that for whatever reason they want more of them on campus. But not in the regular programs of course. The scumbag faculty, a lot of fags if you want my opinion--and I know what I’m talking about from my NYPD days—they don’t want to touch them with a ten-foot pole, or with anything else, assuming they have anything else to touch them with.” He jabbed Lloyd in the ribs at that crack, again almost knocking him off the stool. Zazlo kept sucking on his Guinness, getting used to the taste, as Joe continued.

“So if this expansion happens, and I know for sure it will, Bobby even got ‘em some government money to help pay for it. I told you about what I used to do for him, right? Yeah, yeah, I remember I did. What a pisser he is. In any case, I need you to work for me. To be my assistant director. We’re gonna run courses of our own, you know, since these students will be needin’ special attention, at least that’s what them racist bastards think. But who am I to turn down the free money to hire our own faculty. That’s what I want you to do—figure out what courses to teach and hire the faculty to do it. Anyone you want. They don’t even need to have Ph-whatevers. But make sure there are no fags. We already have enough of those around.”

This he said loud enough for all to hear; and one of the burliest of the patrons, thinking Joe was referring to him, needed to be restrained from taking a swing at him. “Calm down, Sean,” Joe said, I was talking about them fruit teachers at the college, not any of you real-men-among-boys types.” With that assurance, accompanied by a roar of lecherous laughter, Sean told Jimmy to send Joe Murphy and his “faggot pal” another round.

“We’ll, Joe,” Lloyd finally broke into Joe’s pitch, “I just finished my first year here and am hoping to get onto the tenure track, maybe even by next fall,” Joe had used the napkin on which Lloyd had been drafting his next-stage letter to mop the sweat that gushed unrelentingly from his totally bald head. It was as if that had not only served to dry off Joe but had also obliterated Lloyd’s first draft thoughts about his bold plans for self-actualization. “And to be honest with you I’m not sure this would be a good thing for me.” Had the Scotch plus the Guinness already removed the starch from his resolve? “I mean, it’s very generous of you to be offering this to me. I’m really flattered that you would think of me for this,” Joe shrugged that off, “but I don’t see how this would work out in the long term. I mean, if I left the department . . .”

At its mention images of Greef and Boyer and Blank and Fussle and Hawkins and Nichols and Baliban and the formidable Bell flashed kaleidoscopically before him and he, in momentary dread, saw himself one day, if he managed somehow to be successful here among them, he saw himself either leading the remembrances of those who had left them or being one of the rememberees, struck down before his time while rattling around on sabbatical chasing after William Blake’s mad visions in his garden in Felpham.

And so he sucked it up and asked Joe, “So it would be what exactly that I would be doing?” He knew this syntactical monstrosity, if he had been there to hear it, would have caused the leonine Mr. Bell or Professor Bell to have a coronary occlusion. But in spite of that he pushed on, “Make up courses? Hire faculty? Exactly what kind of faculty?”

Joe said, “I already told you who not to hire. But if I was you I would hire a whole crew of Coloreds and Spics.” Zazlo cringed and Joe, noticing that, to reassure him said, in a whisper, being sure no one else heard him, “You know how I talk, right? But you also know what I’m about and what I really stand for.” He gestured dismissively toward the other guys in the bar, “I was born and raised here, right. This is my Borough. Queens. All races have gotten along pretty good here, at least until all those agitators showed up to make trouble. Outside ones. Really from the outside. Don’t forget, I know this whole city and where everyone comes from. And I don’t mean where they live; I mean where they come from, if you get my drift. What they’re really about. And I’m not just talking about from their Rap Sheets. I know who’s for real, and I know the bull shiters.”

He twisted Lloyd’s stool around so that they were face-to-face. “If we could pull this off, if you could hire the right teachers, we could really make a difference here. I mean a big one. Big. Right here in Archie Bunker Land. So what do you say pal? Do we have a deal?”

With all the Scotch and Guinness in him, and with some of the starch restored to his spine, Lloyd reached out his right hand to his pal Joe Murphy, took Joe’s in his, and said, “Deal!”

They shook on it. And in a voice all could hear, with a flamboyant gesture, Lloyd sang out to Jimmy the bartender, “Pints all around. This time on me.” With that the whole room burst into applause. And as Jimmy slid the pints along the bar, Zazlo worried that he didn’t have enough cash to pay for them.

* * *

When he got home Lloyd redrafted that letter to Chairman Greef, leaving out all the Maslowian life-stage bullshit. He simply said—Thanks for the chance to serve among you this past year blah blah; an administrative opportunity has presented itself to me [fuck the syntax issue], and I plan to accept the offer; it will be right here at Queens College blah blah; in a program called the Adult Collegiate Program and since we in that way will remain colleagues I hope we will blah, blah, and blah.

He chose, of course, not to announce that he would be searching to hire a bunch of Coloreds and Spics to teach in the ACP. None of whom would be fags. That would become evident before too long.

To be continued . . .