Monday, March 28, 2011

It happened Today

“Out of deference, defiance, the choice
Closing on a promise after all I’ve done today
I have earned my voice.”
REM, “It Happened Today”

REM’s new album, “Collapse into Now,” has guest appearances by two of my favorites, Eddie Vedder and Patti Smith.

Made a final plea to the chancellor to reconsider an unjust decision adversely affecting the History department. Starting out “just between you and me and with malice toward none,” I proposed a scenario that might have saved the day and stated that nothing had given me more grief during my long association with the university than the way the matter had been handled. I concluded: “I thought long and hard before composing this email, and if I am out of line, I apologize.” His reply, as expected, didn’t change anything, but he did thank me for the message and added: “Please know that there is never a need to apologize for sincere advocacy in behalf of a colleague.”

I was fortunate to have been able to convert my PhD dissertation into a book and to carve out five articles from it in such journals as Maryland Historian and Social Service Review. I also adopted the gimmick of reading books of urban literature such as Piri Thomas’ “Down These Mean Streets” and Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the Promised Land,” taking notes about the author’s use of symbolism (the tree, for instance, in Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”), looking up info about them in “Book Review Digest,” and finding a suitable place to publish them (i.e., English Journal for Piri, American Negro Literature Forum for Claude). I even did one for a popular culture journal about Harold Robbins’ “A Stone for Danny Fisher.” Piece of cake.

My colleague Rhiman Rotz neither had a publishable dissertation nor the variety of journals available in which to submit articles. He did have an original insight about the Hanseatic League and spent five years traveling to Europe and perusing documents in medieval German. By the time he went up for tenure, a first-rate medieval journal had accepted his important. He was awarded tenure because P and T committee members trusted the History department – Fred Chary, John Haller, Bill Neil, Jim Newman – when they vouched for Rhiman’s scholarship. Rhiman went on to become a master teacher, founder of the History Club, and, after graduating from law school, adviser to prelaw students. Bruce Sawochka went to IUN while holding down a job thinking he wanted to be a lawyer, but in his senior year he was drawn to teaching. Rhiman told him that while there were plenty of good lawyers, there was a crying need for dedicated teachers. Bruce, like me, chose teaching and has never regretted it. Teaching World History, Rhiman became interested in the development of English Common law in the colony of Rhodesia, which became the independent African country of Zimbabwe. He traveled to London and (at great pains) to Harare (formerly Salisbury) and his research findings were truly original. Though small in number, his scholarly articles were far more important than mine. Rhiman was adviser to the campus Muslim organization, and his last words to me as he was dying of cancer shortly after the World Trade Center bombing was concern for his Muslim students. At his memorial service, the most eloquent speakers were students he had mentored.

Suzi Hummel sent me a YouTube segment on a spiral that’s a common phenomenon in nature and conforms to something known as Fibonacci’s Numbers (i.e., 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.), a sequence made by adding the last two numbers. A twelfth-century Italian mathematician studied under Arabic scholars and was responsible for much of Western Europe switching from Roman numerals to Hindu-Arabic numbers. Some see patterns based on the sequence in spirals found in everything from fingerprints and sand dollars to ocean waves and galaxies.

Sheriff Dominguez and I looked over the IU Press Author’s Questionnaire due at the end of the month. We filled out the form, which I will mail out. Recently the Mayor of East Chicago fired him from the library board in a political ploy that Roy is challenging in court. Hopefully the stupid move will backfire on the interim mayor, the successor to convicted felon George Pabey.

George Bodmer saw my blog entry on the “Forgotten Planet” documentary about Gary and Hashima and showed me a sketch he did about the abandoned Japanese community. Before Mitsubishi closed its coal mining operation, over 5,000 people lived on the tiny, 15-acre "Battleship Island."

I met Jackie Gipson for lunch at TGIF Friday. Since a kitchen grease fire in February, she and Floyd have been living in a motel suite. So far, she reports, the insurance company has been responsive to their needs. She likes Ragen Hatcher, my choice in the upcoming Gary mayoralty election, but is leaning toward attorney Karen Freeman-Wilson, a former Indiana attorney-general and city judge who has helped her in the past without expecting anything in return.

Despite the traumatic world events, the morning news shows extensively covered the death of actress Elizabeth Taylor, who seemed much older than just ten years my senior. One segment discussed her jewelry, another her eight marriages (she was a self-proclaimed serial monogamist) and friendship with Michael Jackson. I recall the fiasco surrounding the making of “Cleopatra” and her portrayal, opposite then-hubby Richard Burton, of a professor’s drunken wife in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Saturday Toni and I traveled to Grand Rapids for Phil’s forty-third birthday. Miranda was in Detroit as part of a leadership outing, but eight of us went out for Chinese food, including Alissa’s boyfriend Josh, a charming young man whom I met for the first time. He grew up in Indy a Pacers fan and is trying to woo Alissa into not rooting against Michigan, at least when they are not playing her alma mater Michigan State. Home in time to cheer on the Butler Bulldogs, who made it into the Final Four for the second year in a row.

The Times reported the resignation of Brad Cooper, an Indiana prosecutor who emailed Wisconsin governor Scott Walker suggesting he fake a physical attack on himself to discredit the public employee unions protesting his draconian anti-union agenda. Last month Hoosier Jeffrey Cox, a deputy attorney general, was fired after suggesting that live ammunition be used against the demonstrators.

Sunday:Five of us game-tested Evan Davies’ latest version of Air Lords (dubbed Zeta Beta by T. Wade), which he has been fine-tuning for over 15 years after Avalon Hill put out his game Air Baron. Tom, Dave, and I love the original version of Air Lords, but it involves lots of math, so Evan has been struggling to find a simplified modification. It went on for over two hours but was enjoyable. We had a few constructive suggestions. Tom made burgers and brats before a game of Ra that I won quite handily.

More upsets in the NCAA; in fact, for the first time ever no number one or two seeds made the Final Four. Eleven-ranked Virginia Commonwealth would not even have been in the tournament had the number of teams not been expanded to 68. During Kentucky’s win over the Tar Heels, I turned the sound down and played XTC “Nonsuch.”

RIP: Italian-American Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s 1984 running mate. The press raised questions about her husband’s finances and alleged mob connections. Debating V.P. George Bush, she chided her adversary for his patronizing attitude. In 2008 she supported Hillary and foolishly claimed that “If Obama were a white man, he would not be in this position.” Of course, had the three-term Congresswoman been a man, she wouldn’t have been on the ’84 ticket.

Monday: I thanked Suzi Hummel for informing me about the Fibonacci Sequence and said it would be fun to talk to our high school math teacher Ed Taddei about it. She wrote back: “Oh, I had such a crush on him!!” “Taddei-Laddie” was a spectacular teacher. I never could read Math textbooks but didn’t have to, he was so good. He taught us probability – i.e., what are the odds of drawing to an inside straight in poker or flipping heads five times in a row with a coin – and I still recall how to figure that stuff out. One time at the end of class, after I had said something insightful, he hugged me right in front of others as I was going out the door– what we call a “man hug” rather than anything sexual.

James has finished “Scat” and is now reading “The City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel about an underground city that is running out of power. Heavy.

Ron Cohen sent me a NY Times review of old Marylander friend David Goldfield’s “America Aflame.” The reviewer called it a masterly and provocative synthesis that blames the Civil War on both Southern and Northern evangelistic extremism.

I saw that Alan Barr was showing a Richard Gere movie, “Days of Heaven,” in his Film class, and George Bodmer said was his favorite movie, so I went and loved it. It is about three people who leave Chicago and end up harvesting wheat in America’s heartland. The question the class had to write essays about involved the director’s use of animals. While the movie is a morality play involving class against class as well as a romantic triangle, the plentiful animals – buffalo, pheasants, grasshoppers, rabbits – are amoral creatures in nature following their primal instincts – mainly to eat. At one point grasshoppers completely infest the fields and destroy the crop. There are some domesticated farm animals – cows and geese – and dogs frolic with farmhands bathing in a lake or hunt game with their master. There’s a great scene where a young girl is looking at a photo of dinosaurs and realizing there are phenomena beyond her imagination. Some of the animals are meant to be symbolic – buffalo herds, for example, that no longer would have been alongside a farm, even in the Texas panhandle. Just as there are three types of animals – pets, domesticated animals, and wild animals, so one might view human beings as seen by employers in that light. The farmer (Sam Shepard) who convinces the Chicago trio of Bill, Abby, and Linda to stay on after the harvest treats the girl like a pet, hopes that Abby will become more to him than a domesticated animal, and in the end comes to regard Bill (Richard Gere) as a wild animal who – like wolves or grasshoppers – needs to be eradicated. The movie takes place in 1916 – Woodrow Wilson’s campaign train comes to the prairie – at a time when horse-drawn vehicles and farm machinery are on the way out. Director Terence Malick’s most famous previous film was “Badlands,” about the crime spree of a character based on Charles Starkweather.

Got my toenails cut for five bucks at L.A. Nails. Near me two women were getting leg massages. When I tipped the full-breasted Asian woman two dollars, she said, “Thanks, honey.”

President Obama was on TV explaining his decision to attack Libya to prevent a bloodbath, distinguishing our limited action in conjunction with NATO with Bush’s regime-change policy in Iraq that involved ground troops and cost a trillion dollars. I came away impressed and convinced that we acted properly.

1 comment:

  1. hey Jimbo, just checking in before my massive work week. If James is at that reading level he may like the Artemis Fowl series - a 13 brilliant genius who gets together with the underground fairies to do good.
    Other really old but great - The Push Cart Wars - when the pushcarts foughtthe big trucks in NYC
    And the english series - The Borrowers - about the little people who live in your house and "borrow" your lost needles and spools for stuff to live on.
    Just some suggestions, later on "Sleeping Freshman never lie" is great - he's probably not ready for S**t my Dad Says