Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tree Hugger

“It is nothing short of a crime to deny our coal mining communities the best possible protection from accidents and the repercussions of strip mining.” Jeff Biggers

Columnist Jeff Manes, who has written about the beauty of the Kankakee Marsh, likes to call himself a tree hugger.  Opponents of progressive Indiana Congressman Jim Jontz used the phrase pejoratively when he fought western logging interests who claimed he couldn’t see the forest for the trees, i.e., the big picture.  Some environmentalists have literally chained themselves to trees in order to prevent economic predators from killing them.  Starting in 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill lived for 738 days in a fifteen hundred year-old redwood in order to prevent Pacific Lumber from cutting it down.  The company eventually agreed not to harvest the tree.

Corey Hagelberg and Samuel A. Love joined me for lunch IUN’s Little Redhawk Café.  Corey and Kate’s first artist in resident next month will be 51 year-old environmentalist Jeff Biggers, author of “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland” and the pro-immigrant “State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream.”  Corey said that Jeff, also a playwright and performance artist, wants a secluded place to think and work on a couple projects.  They met at a Calumet Heritage Project event. When Corey told him about the dunes, Biggers, the grandson of a Southern Illinois coal miner, was sold.
above, Jeff Biggers; below, Jim East

Community organizer Samuel A. Love, involved in several Gary projects, recalled Voodoo Chili gigs at various area dives as well as one at IUN’s Moraine Student Union where he won a limbo contest.  He still has the prize, a Voodoo Chili t-shirt.  At Mark O’s, when Big Voodoo Daddy’s teenage daughter Missy was singing with the band, David would wish her a Happy Twenty-first birthday because she shouldn’t have been allowed in the joint.   Whenever Sam attended a show, Dave would invite him to sing a Ramones song, usually “I Wanna Be Sedated” or “Blitzkrieg Bop.”  Sam’s high school American history teacher was legendary Merrillville coach Jim East, winner of more than 650 basketball games.

A letter from Reverend Doctor John E. Johnson thanking me for my Gary book starts out: “Grace, Mercy, and Peace be unto you!”  It ends: “God bless you and may God keep you.”  Even though I’m an agnostic, it’s nice to hear such sentiments.  I told my Amish friend Suzanna Murphy that someone’s praying for me.  “I’m praying for you, too,” she replied.

In Nicole Anslover’s class after Spring Break I’ll talk about tennis great Billie Jean King, winner of 39 Grand Slam titles and the first women Sports Illustrated “Sportsperson of the Year.”  Her most famous match was against Bobby Riggs, at age 55 some 26 years her senior, before 30,000 spectators at Houston’s Astrodome and a rapt TV audience of 50 million.  Riggs had previously defeated Margaret Court and claimed women didn’t deserve as much tournament money as men.  She made a laughing stock of the male chauvinist, winning in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, but he laughed all the way to the bank, cashing in on his sudden fame.

In the first issue of Ms. magazine King allowed her name to appear on a list of 53 well-known women who admitted to having had an abortion.  In 1981, after a former lover filed a palimony suit, Billie Jean admitted to being a lesbian, the first prominent athlete to do so.  As a result, she lost all her endorsements and the displeasure of Martina Navratilova, who thought it would hurt women’s tennis, but Billie Jean became a heroine to others struggling to come out of the closet.  It took Billie Jean so long because she knew her parents would disapprove.  In 2009 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2014 President Obama named her to represent the United States at the Sochi winter Olympics.
NWI Times photo by John Luke

Next year IUN will cease offering courses in the Portage University Center due to low enrollment. Not enough students want to go to a location just for one class, and the range of offerings is too small to make it sustainable.   It’s too bad because the present Center is a first-rate building.  Some want to house the Portage police there instead of paying for a new building.  Others believe that would have an unsettling effect on students.  I hated seeing ROTC units doing drills and calisthenics on campus but haven’t seen that in years, don’t know why.  Fourteen years ago, I taught at a site near Ridge and Willowcreek on the morning of 9/11. 

Making light of an unconscionable letter 47 Republican Senators sent to Iran’s leaders warning them that any agreement with Obama would be rejected by Congress, New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz wrote facetiously that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has offered to mediate talks between Republicans and Obama.  Shame on John McCain for signing the letter, which is in violation of the Logan Act.  At least Indiana’s Senator Dan Coats did the right thing and refused to do so.  I bet former Senator Dick Lugar influenced his decision or he was smart enough to realize there’d be a backlash against such a grandstanding stunt.  In the Daily Banter Michael Luciano wrote:

Just when you thought congressional Republicans couldn’t look any more like a troupe of treacherous clowns hellbent on circus-ifying anything President Obama tries to do, they pull another bag of tricks from the trunk of their tiny car.

The weirdest thing about the letter — other than the fact that it was written in the first place — is that it doesn’t address anything specific regarding Iran’s nuclear program. It advances no alternative proposals, it elucidates no conditions under which the GOP would assent to a deal of any kind, and thus, it offers no hope of resolving one of the biggest U.S. foreign policy challenges of the last 35 years.
  Other Andy Borowitz witticisms include: “Hillary releases 20,000 Spam emails from Old Navy,” “Boehner invites man who hated Obama in high school to address Congress,” and “Kim Jong-un feels snubbed by absence of letter from Republicans.”  My favorite: “Joe Biden releases both emails written while Vice-President.”  That article, referring to Hillary’s having used a private server while Secretary of State, goes on to claim that Vice President Joe Biden, who apparently eschews modern gadgets, “took pride in announcing that he had sent both messages from his official government e-mail address, adding, ‘I have nothing to hide.’”

 back of Terry Kegebein's jacket

At Cressmoor Lanes, with a knee throbbing and back aching, I struggled with my delivery for eight frames and had my worst game in memory, then rebounded with a 169 despite only one strike.  Personable opponent Terry Kegebein of D’s Pro Shop said that against our team he couldn’t use age as an excuse.  He mentioned just missing several perfect games before finally rolling one despite three errant balls.  Terry’s teammate Frank Beshears, coming off a hernia operation, bowled a 625 series despite being in obvious pain the entire time.  Afterwards, he said he needed a couple stiff whiskeys.

Journalist Michele Weldon, author of “I Closed My Eyes,” a 1999 memoir about surviving spousal abuse, was keynote speaker at IUN’s Women’s and Gender Studies conference.  Her topic was “Not a Fair Fight: Voices Heard in the Media and Beyond.” She mentioned Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist critic of misogynistic video game culture, and Gamergate, where a person using that moniker threatened to shoot Sarkeesian and others if she went through with a speaking engagement at Utah State University.  She cancelled the appearance after learning that a state law prevented university authorities from banning hand guns at the event.
above, Anita Sarkeesian; below, Michele Weldon

During her talk 56 year-old Weldon said she enjoyed playing roller derby.  Afterwards, I told her how popular the sport is becoming in Northwest Indiana and asked what her nickname was.  “Mish the Masher,” she replied, adding that her team is called the Chicago Outfit, the name for the Windy City's organized crime syndicate.  Clever.  I told her that one of last year’s speakers, Alyssa Black is on the local newcomers squad.  “Fresh meat,” she said, using a phrase I’d also heard from Alyssa.

I couldn’t bring myself to attend the student sessions because of sad memories of Anne Balay’s unjustly being denied tenure.  One of Monica Solinas-Saunders’ students spoke on “Mentally Ill Women and Incarceration.”  I was pleased Ausra Buzenas, still keeping the faith, sponsored a discussion by Kaden Alexander, Teri Schumacher, Eli Weathersby and Landon Rosa on “Questions You Always Wanted to Ask about LGBTs.”  Balay’s Gender Studies course answered most of my misconceptions about transgendered people.
 Elton John performing New Year's Eve, 2014

On the ride home I heard “Philadelphia Freedom,” which Elton John wrote for Billie Jean King’s pro tennis franchise.  Elton came out of the closet in a 1976 Rolling Stone interview when he said, “There’s nothing wrong with going to bed with someone of your own sex.”  His record sales subsequently plummeted.  At home I put on a “Greatest Hits” CD to hear Elton’s “Rocket Man” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”  After dinner Miranda arrived; she’s taking a Gender Studies course at Grand Valley State taught by an F to M transgendered guy.
Signs of spring; photos by Steve Spicer (above) and Samuel A. Love
Only a few traces of snow remain, and the first signs of spring flowers are popping up from the ground.  Deer in Marquette Park are partly camouflaged by brown undergrowth.

I dedicated volume 44 to the late, great IUN teachers Aline Fernandez, Bill May, Terry Lukas, Bob Lovely, and Garret Cope.  In my fantasy Garrett, still alive, invites Balay to speak on “Steel Closets” at his Glen Park Conversation and it goes so well Chancellor Lowe appoints her Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies.  Finest reactions to my new issue so far are by Hollis Donald (who vowed to keep showing me his poems), Mary Lee (“best one yet,” she said and gave me a hug), and Anne Balay, who commented, “I especially love the way it ends!!!!!”  The last paragraph reads, “Putting her best face forward about a trying time in her life, Anne noted:

“2014 was a transition year for me.  I hope to be settled into a new plan before 2015 ends, but I also want to honor the process, and the people it brings me.  Thank you all for sharing this wacky, wonderful journey with me.”

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