Thursday, September 1, 2016


“The Crusades – the most signal and durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation.” David Hume, “History of England”

I’ve been reading “The Crusades” (2002) by Jonathan Phillips in preparation for auditing David Parnell’s class.  Pope Urban II, who came from the French nobility and launched the First Crusade, had numerous motives, including finding an outlet for knightly violence.  As Phillips put it, these fighting men “could carry on doing what they did best, yet still receive a spiritual benefit” by “directing their energies against the infidel, rather than the Church and people of France.” Pope Urban (depicted below) promised volunteers penance for all their sins.

Parnell’s class was a delight. After summarizing what he covered the previous week, he started a lively discussion by asking students to compare and contrast accounts by a monk and a warrior of Pope Urban II’s 1095 sermon at the Council of Clermont calling for a war to liberate Jerusalem and the so-called Holy Land.  “Deus vult” – “God wills it” became the battle cry.  Totally at ease with students, David explained terms such as penitent and ascetic with felicity and gratefully accepted advice on how to expand writing on the screen so everyone could read Pope Urban’s gory description of alleged Muslim atrocities.  

Before the First Crusade got officially underway, I learned, a wild, unwashed holy man called Peter the Hermit led tens of thousands of pilgrims on a People’s Crusade through Germany (where followers committed atrocities against Jews) and the kingdom of Hungary (where rioters slaughtered thousands of Zemun townsmen) to Constantinople (whose Emperor Alexius was eager to be rid of them), and ultimately to Nicaea, where most were slaughtered by Turks at Civetot.  Meanwhile, in what some have labeled the First Holocaust, Count Emicho of Leiningen attacked Jewish ghettos in towns along the Rhine River before his forces were annihilated upon entering Hungary by troops revenging Zemun.  David Parnell was especially insightful describing the appeal of fanatics like Peter the Hermit and the difficulties feeding and provisioning thousands on foreign territory.  No Walmarts, as David actually said.

Like recent wars on drugs and terrorism the Crusades seems a tragic example of ignorance and intolerance, resulting in waste and ruined lives. Interestingly, Middle East strongmen Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Hafez-al-Assad all admired Saladin, the most effective adversary of the Crusaders and defender of Muslim civilization.

In Steve McShane’s class I described the  oral history assignment: to interview someone who lived in Lake or Porter County during the 1990s.  Passing out free copies of my latest Steel Shavings, I noted that Coach Carson Cunningham and Gary Council member Ragen Hatcher, mentioned in the opening pages, were teenagers then.  I read articles from my 1990s issue, “Shards and Midden Heaps,” by Rachel Stevens of Porter and Sandra Avila of Hammond about the joys and traumas of teenage life back before I-Pads, I-Phones, and Facebook.  Rachel’s high school highlight was being on Chesterton’s state champion color guard team.  An eighth grader in 1993, Sandra wrote about hiding the fact that she had a boyfriend from her parents and graduating from Hammond Eggers:
  All the girls got formal dresses and their hair done for graduation.  Guys got dressed in nice suits and some even had canes.  Five of us went shopping for our dresses.  I was so mad because I could not fit into any of the junior sizes.  I was still wearing clothes from the children’s section.  I had to pick out a dress, then have it made.

At Toni’s yoga class in Miller a woman was wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt.  In July 2014, Eric Garner was selling “loosies” (single cigarettes) when confronted by an NYPD policeman who used a chokehold while pinning him face down on the ground.  According to witnesses, Garner repeatedly pleaded, “I can’t breathe” and subsequently died.  Athletes on several NBA teams, including Lebron James of the Cavaliers and Deron Williams of the Nets, wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts during warmups to protest police treatment of unarmed African Americans.  Nobody was indicted, but the City of New York agreed to pay the Garner family $5.9 million.
above, Deron Williams; below Colin Kaepernick
  San Francisco 49er QB Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the playing of the National Anthem prior to an NFL exhibition game has caused fans to burn his jersey.  Donald Trump has recommended that he leave the country.  Kaepernick risks losing millions in endorsements and possibly even his job unless he acts contrite. Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar support Kaepernick’s right to do wat he did.  A half-century ago, both star athletes defended Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving a clenched fist salute during the playing of the national Anthem during a medal ceremony.

In “Jackson 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America” veteran journalist Calvin Trillin discusses such travesties of justice as the killing by Seattle police in 1975 of Joseph Herbert, a young black man, and the 30-year sentence meted out to Houston black militant Lee Otis Johnson for giving away a single marijuana cigarette to a government informant (Johnson, now a minister, steadfastly denies it).  Herbert, a robbery suspect, ran from police after they stopped his vehicle and an officer who claimed (incorrectly) that he thought Herbert was armed with a gun shot him in the back.  Active in SNCC, Johnson had led student demonstrations at Texas Southern University.  He was set free after four years.  One positive crusade – the most important of our time – was the civil rights movement.

At IUN Chris Young’s wife Myriam told me that her family’s move to Munster has been going smoothly.  The kids can ride their bikes to school and neighbors have brought over dessert and home-grown cucumbers.  At 5 p.m. the Gary Shakespeare Company performed MacBeth outside Moraine Student Center with Performing Arts professor Mark Baer in the title role.  Last Saturday the company performed outdoors in Miller.
 Alexander Bonner (as MacDuff) and Mark Baer; NWI Times photo by Joseph Pete

HBO has started airing “The Danish Girl,” taking place during the “Roaring Twenties” and based on a true story.  The scenes between the young artists Gerda and Einar (Lili after sex change surgery) are very sensuous.  The shots of Copenhagen reminded me of the day Toni and I spent by the water in that historic city.  Not mentioned in the film: Gerda Wegener became famous for her lesbian erotica.
I began bowling season auspiciously with a 457 series despite a paucity of strikes.  I picked up two splits, the 6-10 and 5-7, as well as the even more difficult 1-3-6-8-10, one of just four times I missed the head pin after remembering to keep my right arm close to my body.  The league changed its name from Rob Tucker to Mel Guth, who died over the summer.  One the alleys next to us was a new team that included Delia’s Uncle Phil Vera.  His daughter Emily Rose took a photo of him with his granddaughter with my team in the background.

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