I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when Labor Unions not only had power in this country but also, generally, had respect . Times change, history changes things. In 2020 “organized labor” is almost extinct --- with the exception of several still-powerful unions: the United Auto Workers, AFSCME (Federal, State, County, Municipal workers), the Teachers Union (NEA/UFT) and police unions/”benevolent associations.” These groups have retained political power because they have a national network that can not only muster financial $upport for candidates but can also mobilize hundreds and thousands of “boots on the ground” volunteers to help elect people. What I want to examine here are the similarities between the Teachers Union (which I am intimately familiar with) and the Police Union (writ large, as Police are locally or regionally organized and there isn’t one overarching hierarchy calling the shots). In particular, both organizations tend to place protecting their members above the public interest.
Let’s first look at the NEA/UFT, the AFL-CIO affiliates who count over 3 million teachers in their membership (about 76% of teachers, nationally). In my 42 years as an educator, about half of that time was as a member of the New York State/City United Teachers union (the United Federation of Teachers/UFT). Organized by Albert Shanker in 1960, the UFT’s stated goals were: Dignity and respect. Professionalism and due process. Competitive wages and benefits. (UFT website – uft.org) By the time I became a professional teacher in 1973, the UFT had gained significant political power in New York City & State, “protecting” members from unfair labor practices and ensuring them of fair wages and benefits! That’s great, of course, particularly if you’re a 24 year old starting out but there’s a downside to being organized as a labor union and that became more apparent to me as my career progressed.
Unlike doctors and lawyers, who organized professionally as “associations” and certified their members by creating a national board examination, thereby regulating and controlling their profession, teachers organized as a labor union, meaning its members would be certified by the State and, thereby were no different than any other labor union: carpenters, plumbers, electricians, et al. Labor unions, as we know, are focused on wages, hours, working conditions, and benefits --- a natural result of having worked for predatory capitalist owners/management, particularly starting in the late 19th century. The problem for teachers, though, is not that they do not deserve to be treated fairly and with respect (as professionals)but by not organizing professionally, like doctors and lawyers, they are not seen or treated as professionals but as laborers. The larger problem this introduces --- and I saw this more than once --- is that clearly deficient or blatantly incompetent people are protected by the Teachers Union. And this is where the comparison to police unions/associations intersects with teachers. The protection of union members supersedes the public good --- period.
When I worked as a Teacher-educator at Brown (and Yale) University for 13 years I actively counseled people out of the profession because it was clear they should not be certified to teach children. Similarly, when the Lovely Carol Marie worked as a school administrator (Vice-Principal), she would do whatever she could to, at the very least, minimize the interactions poor or incompetent teachers had with students. Early in my career I watched David Schein, my first principal, do the same thing at Blind Brook Jr./Sr. High School --- setting up situations where poor or incompetent teachers would do minimal damage to the growth and progress of young people. The point here is that the public good has been entrusted to teachers and, professionally, we, as teachers, need to ensure that those who are not competent, those who might damage the educational growth or progress of students, need to be removed from the profession. However, because there is a need for thousands and thousands of teachers, and because “the State” certifies teachers the same way it certifies plumbers and electricians, the quality control needed to ensure the legitimacy of the profession (what the Law Boards and Med Boards provide for lawyers and doctors) is not in the hands of professional teachers. This leads to the larger problem of the Teacher Union operating like a labor union and only protecting its members (rather than protecting the professionalism of teaching) and policing itself so that those members who are deficient receive assistance and those who are incompetent are “encouraged” to move on to another line of work.
And that’s where Teacher Unions and Police Organizations intersect. If you have seen or heard Patrick Lynch, the President of the 25,000 member Police Benevolent Association of New York City, you know that his only purpose is to protect his members --- even at the cost of public safety, social justice, and equity. Lynch’s defense of the officers in the Eric Garner murder, his attack on Teacher Union President Michael Mulgrew for supporting the end of stop-and-frisk, and his current stand against the repeal of “50a,” the New York law that keeps police personnel records sealed, not allowing the public to know if there have been (repeated/numerous) incidents of violence against civilians, illustrates how the police union refuses to police itself --- just like the Teachers Union.
Until the organizations that protect their members over the good of the public, we will not be able to work with these groups in productive ways. As much as I was a committed member of NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) during my years as a classroom teachers, I actively worked at trying to reform my profession, raising questions about how we were monitoring our profession. Needless to say, this often fell on deaf ears --- just as it does with Police Unions/Associations/Organizations. The we/they, us/them mentality that exists between these organizations and not only their “management” (School Boards, City Councils, et al) but also, and most importantly, their constituents, is damaging to all of us and needs reform. That does not mean “defunding” but re-allocation of resources. Teachers and Police have been asked to assume too many roles in our complex society. Issues regarding mental & physical health, housing and welfare, and a raft of other social issues have fallen into the lap of teachers and police. It is incumbent upon political leaders to not only provide adequate preparation of teachers and police but to also create more equitable work responsibilities for these professions That is the conversation we needed to have over the past 50 years and it is certainly the conversation we need to have right now.
Stay home, Wash your hands. Stay safe.
Our Harpers Ferry Moment?
If I mention the name of John Brown my guess is that your reaction might be some vague recollection of a “madman” who attempted to lead a Slave Rebellion at the Federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859 --- one of the final sparks that led to the Civil War. Folks who fancy themselves “history buffs” will recall that Brown’s attempt at insurrection was put down by a Union Army complement led by one Robert E. Lee (which is true). What I would recommend is that you read James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me --- not only to gain a more realistic perspective on John Brown but on all of American History, since most people’s view of the subject comes from mass-produced high school textbooks which, as Loewen clearly elucidates, give a piss-poor rendition of their subject.
I won’t go off the rails here complaining about the textbook industry in this country but suffice it to say that when it comes to United States History, the goal of the publishers is to create a book which is the least offensive to the most buyers, and presents a “narrative” that attempts to be “multicultural” while still hewing to the basic white, male patriarchal narratives we all know. Sure, there are sidebars and inserts to “recognize the achievements” of Blacks, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinx people, women, various immigrant groups and, now, the LGBTQ community --- but the driving narrative in textbooks is the story of the straight white men who “built” America. In examining the handling of John Brown, Loewen writes: “textbooks treat slavery without racism, they treat abolitionism without much idealism.” Loewen’s extensive review of U.S. History books notes: “From 1890 to 1970, John Brown was insane. Before 1890 he was perfectly sane, and after 1970 he has slowly been regaining his sanity.” This shifting narrative was always adjusted to fit a broader cultural goal. Nowhere in our textbooks do we find any mention of John Brown’s adherence to racial idealism --- a genuine and sincere belief that Blacks and Whites should be treated equally as children of God. Nowhere do we find him characterized heroically as a White Person who supported Black people and was willing to die to move American society toward its declared goal of “all men” being “created equal.” Nonetheless, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry had an impact of seismic proportion and may well be the historical touchstone we should look to in 2020, as the George Floyd murder continues to bring protestors out in the street.
In 1859, after his capture, John Brown was asked about “race relations” in the United States. His response: “this question is still to be settled.” Indeed. As Loewen notes in Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Brown’s ideological influence in the month before his hanging, and continuing after his death, was immense. He moved the boundary of acceptable thoughts and deeds regarding slavery . . . In his 1859 trial he captured the attention of the nation like no other abolitionist or slave owner before or since. . . . Brown argued ‘Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, it would have been all right. . . Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done.’ Brown’s willingness to go to the gallows for what he thought was right had a moral force of its own. . . . Henry David Thoreau observed in a eulogy in Boston. ‘These men, in teaching us how to die, have at the same time, taught us how to live.’” (bold, mine)
Looking at this example, doesn’t it seem that George Floyd’s death is, indeed, our John Brown/Harpers Ferry moment? Floyd’s death has “moved the boundary of acceptable thoughts and deeds” to not only levels of protest we haven’t seen in a generation but also created a legitimate challenge to the white-privileged system we have never seen before. And it is here that I will bring our narrative back to Ignatiev’s and Garvey’s Race Traitor. In 1996 they said:
The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender, or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a determinant of behavior will set off tremors that will lead to its collapse. (p.10)
We are now seeing that increasing numbers of “defectors” may well be creating those “tremors” of change.
A quarter-century ago Ignatiev and Garvey also presciently predicted our current moment. Here’s what they wrote:
It is our faith --- and with those who do not share it we shall not argue --- that the majority of so-called whites in this country are neither deeply nor consciously committed to white supremacy; like most human beings in most times and places, they would do the right thing, if it were convenient. As did their counterparts before the Civil War, most go along with a system that disturbs them, because the consequences of challenging it are terrifying. They close their eyes to what is happening around them, because it is easier not to know.
At rare moments their nervous peace is shattered, their certainty is shaken, and they are compelled to question the common sense by which they normally live. One such moment was in the days immediately following the Rodney King verdict, when a majority of white Americans were willing to admit to polltakers that black people had good reasons to rebel, and some joined them. (bold, mine)
If we substitute “George Floyd” for “Rodney King” --- and consider how cell-phone videos have, time and again, shown everyone the violence Black (and other non-white Americans) are confronted with on a regular basis --- we can better understand the current moment. Again, as Race Traitor said in 1996:
The moments when the routine assumptions of race break down are the seismic promise that somewhere in the tectonic flow a new fault is building up pressure, a new Harpers Ferry is being prepared. Its nature and timing cannot be predicted but of its coming we have no doubt. When it comes it will set off a series of tremors that will lead to the disintegration of the white race. (bold, mine)
Black Lives Matter has lately gained majority acceptance and it makes the weak attempts at claiming “All Lives Matter” (a given, and a lame counterpoint) or “Blue Lives Matter” (were the police ever endangered?) all the more toothless. If we put what’s going on in more of a “Big Picture” context --- looking back to the 19th century --- George Floyd’s murder does seem to be our “Harpers Ferry” moment. Starting with 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education school de-segregation ruling, the first thread of white supremacy and white privilege was pulled. Over the next 66 years we have inexorably moved toward our current situation. Just as the Abolitionist movement began to gain serious momentum with William Lloyd Garrison’s publishing The Liberator in 1831, the path to racial justice takes a generation (or two) to move forward (All Northern states had abolished slavery by 1804). In the 19th century conflicts between North and South became more and more intense between 1831 and 1861 --- leading to the Compromise of 1850, “Bloody Kansas” and the Dred Scott decision (which ruled Blacks could never be citizens of the United States) and culminating with the raid on Harpers Ferry (1859) and the assault on Fort Sumter (1861), igniting the Civil War.
Since Brown v. Board of Education, we have watched Martin Luther King, Jr. issue his “I Have a Dream” speech, Lyndon Johnson commandeer passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts (gutted by the Roberts Court), and predictable, periodic “uprisings” demanding equal justice (like the Los Angeles riots in 1992, after the Rodney King/police verdict). We have watched police departments become more and more militarized in the last 30 years, with increased criminalization of Black and Brown people under the guise of a “war on drugs” or decreasing “gang” (thug) activity. The advent of smartphone video has revealed to all of America what Black people have been decrying for generations --- there is systemic police (and vigilante) violence wrought upon people-of-color. George Floyd’s brutal killing might finally be the straw that breaks the back of the white-privilege camel. We can only hope that these “tremors” (which Ignatiev and Garvey anticipated) are the beginning of a movement, not a “moment,” signaling the end of the “white race” and a move toward all of us joining a united Human Race.
Is George Floyd Our Harper’s Ferry Moment?
The national (and international) protests incited by the murder of George Floyd over the past two weeks seem a radical departure from all the Black Lives Matter actions since the Ferguson, Missouri inception of that group. The sustained energy of the civil disobedience --- combined with the violence from protestors (some with ulterior motives, we’re discovering) and the police --- “feels” different, particularly because of the diversity of citizens participating, as well as the public statements of support from universities, tech firms, political organizations, and even the NFL (too little, too late, of course). To put this in some kind of useful perspective, I think a look at our history --- clearly delineating how systemic racism, and its opposition, evolved since 1619 --- and how the George Floyd protests may well be our “Harper’s Ferry” moment.
We should clarify some terms first, since they are being bandied about and have brought confusion to the discussion at hand. It seems that some people confuse the term systemic racism with the concept of systematic. While racism in some parts of the country may have been systematic (“done or acting according to a fixed plan or system; methodical”), racism in this country is engrained in our basic social, cultural, and political systems --- and have been since the first Africans landed in Virginia in 1619. We need only look at our Constitution to see how slavery was institutionalized, how it was embedded in our system of government from its very inception. The 3/5th’s Compromise, required by Southern states to guarantee the ratification of the Constitution, gauged a slave’s worth as only that of three-fifths of a White Person (and only for counting slaves as part of the Southern states’ population to increase their number of Representatives in Congress). The South, of course, from 1619 until 1789, when the Constitution was ratified, had already instituted a rash of laws that de-humanized Black slaves and criminalized the race in a wide variety of ways. Combined with pseudo-science claiming Blacks (and other non-whites) were provably “less than” Whites intellectually and morally --- and then supporting these claims with citations from the Old Testament that seemingly endorsed slavery --- we can see how a system of racist behavior was embedded in the consciousness of White Americans. And that leads to another term that needs clarification: white privilege.
Too often those who try to dispel the concept of white privilege note that “they” are not “privileged” at all. Their narrow worldview (and definition) considers “privilege” to mean people who are “spoiled” or “well-off” and they (rightly) see themselves as “common” folk, “working-class” people --- therefore: not privileged. White privilege, however, is far more complex a concept. It begins with understanding that the “white race” is a socially constructed notion --- that “white” people really didn’t exist in the English lexicon until Black slavery was an integral part of Colonial American culture. We know that biologically, beyond melanin concentrations, humans are humans. Therefore, white/black/yellow/brown/red people were classifications created by those who controlled the society (white men). As noted in Race Traitor (edited by Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey – Routledge Press, 1996):
The white race is a club that enrolls certain people at birth, without their consent, and brings them up according to its rules. For the most part the members go through life accepting the benefits of membership, without thinking about the costs. When individuals question the rules, the officers are quick to remind them of all they owe to the club and warn them of the dangers if they leave it. (p. 10)
Because racial segregation --- particularly in neighborhoods and housing --- has been so pervasive, the “club” has been able to teach generation after generation of white people to “appreciate” their membership in this club --- and to buy into the prevailing systemic beliefs about the inferiority (intellectually, morally, etc.) of non-White people.
In 1984 James Baldwin wrote “No one was white before he/she came to America.” (“On Being White,” Essence, April 1984). In fact, “whiteness” needs to be reproduced with each new generation and we need look no further than the historical “assimilation” of immigrant groups to see how “whiteness” is reinforced culturally, politically, and socially --- at the expense of Black people. Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White is the most extensive description of how one immigrant group established their “white” citizenship, but we can see, time and again, in immigrant stories how a variety of Europeans (particularly Italians, Greeks, Armenians, Turks, et al), Russians, and Jews were “assimilated” into “American” society and became “white” citizens. And the entry to that “white club” provided those immigrants with privileges denied to Black citizens (even though those Black people are descendants of Africans who came to America long before many of the European, Russian, Jewish immigrants!).
One of the greatest privileges white people are granted, of course, is how they are treated by police. (I must note here that I am NOT “anti-police.” I could never bring myself to refer to police as “pigs” during the late-Sixties because I believed it was inappropriate and de-humanizing --- and still believe that. My father was a policeman for several years and I have had two New York City police cousins, a former student I am extremely proud of how is now on the NYPD, and one of my best friends in Rhode Island had been a police officer. This does not mean I don’t believe police can be racist and I do believe there is systemic racism in police departments.) Let me share another story from 1996’s Race Traitor:
Recently, one of our editors, unfamiliar with New York City traffic laws, made an illegal right turn there on a red light. He was stopped by two cops in a patrol car. After examining his license, they released him with a courteous admonition. Had he been Black, they probably would have ticketed him, and might even have taken him down to the station. A lot of history was embodied in that small exchange: the cops treated the miscreant leniently at least in part because they assumed, looking at him, that he was white and therefore loyal. Their courtesy was a habit meant to both reward good conduct and induce further cooperation.
Had the driver cursed them, or displayed a bumper sticker that said, “Black Lives Matter” (note: original text said “Avenge Rodney King”), the cops might have reacted differently. . . . if enough of those who looked white broke the rules of the club to make the cops doubt their ability to recognize a white person merely by looking at him or her, how would it affect the cops behavior? (pp. 12-13)
And this is where our story moves back to George Floyd and our Harper’s Ferry moment --- but that requires more context, which I’ll provide tomorrow. The point here is that the Protestors in the last two weeks have been a diverse lot, with many, many White people not acting like they belong to “the club” --- and often being treated accordingly by the police! And this is where we may now find ourselves, on the cusp of a tectonic shift historically. If more and more White people begin to act like “Race Traitors” and adopt the motto “Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity” we may actually begin to unravel the centuries of embedded, systemic racism that has been United States History.
And a bit more historic context may convince more people that it is time, indeed, to declare our Loyalty to Humanity.
“A Few Bad Apples”
I haven’t published The Blast since May 21st, when we were still only concerned with the global pandemic. Since Memorial Day, of course, the news has been dominated by the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police force --- almost to the exclusion of covering the pandemic. Not that the Floyd story, and its subsequent protests should not be covered extensively --- I only question whether it should be covered exclusively, particularly while “sheltering” protocols are being eased and there is serious danger of a second surge of this First Phase of the virus. But that’s a different story about the media and I want to focus on an aspect of the Floyd case that I don’t believe is being shown by the media for what it is. On Sunday, May 31st, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien was on Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union” and claimed he did not believe there was “systemic racism” in the United States. Worse, he used the lame excuse that it is a “few bad apples” who are giving “99.9%” of law enforcement officers a bad name.
We have heard this “few bad apples” excuse since time immemorial and it still doesn’t hold water. What I find particularly interesting, though, is that no one thinks to claim that when violent rioting, vandalism, and illegal looting occur --- even though it is clearly by a small percentage of the tens of thousands of peaceful protestors --- NO ONE claims these rioters, vandals, and looters are “a few bad apples.” Indeed, the Media --- which has conveniently stopped covering the pandemic for the higher ratings of 24/7 protest coverage --- never even suggests that the rioters/vandals/looters are simply “a few bad apples.” So, while Robert O’Brien claims 99.9% of law enforcement officers are not part of a systemic racist system, NO ONE is noting that 99.9% of the protestors are peaceful and demanding equal rights for ALL Americans. Isn’t that simply an extension of the institutional, systemic racism that is our culture?
I have not written about the George Floyd murder because I believe my views are predictable, given that I have written about this issue so many times and in so many ways. This is NOT a new story --- it is only the latest that White America has witnessed in the last decade, since cell phone cameras and police body-cams have provided only the slightest insight into the terrorism that besets people of color on a daily basis in this nation --- and has for centuries! I won’t belabor the arguments I have presented time and again. Suffice it to say that we do not have a “Black Person Problem” in the United States --- we have a White Person Problem. A culture and society that, from its start in 1619, was designed to benefit one group over another --- at the expense of “the Other,” at the criminalization of “the Other.” We know that the myth that was --- and is --- sold to poor Whites is: “at least you’re not a N****r.” As waves of immigrants came to this country over the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century, they were instructed to “assimilate,” so they could be considered “White,” if they played the game correctly --- and accepted the racist principle that they see Black and Red and Brown and Yellow People as “less than,” as “dangerous,” as “savage,” as “untrustworthy.” THAT’S what Systemic Racism is about. It is not the blatant racism of Skinheads or Neo-Nazis --- it is the subtle, insidious curse that is inbred --- that leads “liberal” white people to (at the very least) cross the street when they see a young Black man (or men) coming toward them at night. It is the system that leads a young White woman to believe that she can use “trigger” terms calling 911 and claiming a bird-watching Black man is threatening her. THAT’S SYSTEMIC RACISM --- and we are ALL victims of it.
And the Media does not help in changing the system! Melanye Price noted in today’s New York Times:
These videos are fodder for ratings, clicks and increased trauma as much as rage. What is the efficacy of rampant sharing? These images have not resulted in substantial changes to police culture or policy. A vast majority of offending officers are not convicted. It seems as though the only penalties for false 911 reports are doled out by #BlackTwitter and private employers. These videos have not resulted in the development of new policing strategies that make people of color feel safe. Nor have they persuaded most white viewers that these horrific experiences are routine in minority communities.
We have watched Eric Garner gasp “I can’t breathe,” we have seen Philando Castile shot to death in his car. In the past few weeks we saw Ahmaud Arbery hunted down by self-appointed White “neighborhood watchmen.” Seeing what is going on doesn’t seem to make a difference. Jamil Smith wrote in The New Republic:
It seems sickly fitting that those killed by police today are no longer transformed into the anointed or the condemned, but, thanks to more advanced and available technology, they become hashtags. With a flood of more videotaped killings, a hashtag seems a brutally meager epitaph, a mere declaration that a victim of police violence was once alive, human, and didn't merit having her or his life stolen.
Unfortunately, the increased visibility of trauma and death at the hands of cops isn't doing as much as it should be. The legacy of our increased exposure to black death has merely been the deadening of our collective senses.
The SYSTEM needs to change --- a cry that has rung out for over half a century. These latest protests have once again trained a spotlight on the issues that were clearly articulated in the Kerner Commission Report of 1968. It is not that we don’t know the system is racist. It’s not even that we don’t know what it would take to begin to rectify the myriad problems (there are “policy proposals” galore, dating back to the late 1960’s). What is lacking is the political will --- the acceptance by a majority of White people to admit that the system is, indeed, institutionally racist. We need to create a legitimate and powerful Peace and Reconciliation Movement that elicits sustained political, social, and cultural energy before we ever see any genuine changes.
Enough with the “few bad apples,” be they police or rioters/vandals/looters. There is an orchard that is befouled here and needs prolonged, serious attention.
The question for each of us is: what are you willing to do to genuinely make a difference?
The "New Normal"
I've already written about my concerns with referring to "the new normal." Nonetheless, here's a graphic depiction of how I'm seeing it.
Stay home. Stay Safe.
First, I want to thank everyone who sent Birthday wishes yesterday --- each and every one was greatly appreciated. I only wish I had the time to correspond at length with each person who sent a birthday greeting. Maybe, over the course of this year I'll find a way to touch base with all the lovely and considerate souls who reached out. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you.
As for today's BLAST, we're looking at how sheltering-in-place has resulted in a variety Unintended Consequences. Here are just a few.
Stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands!
One of the unique shifts in our daily lives during this pandemic has been the creation of "Senior Hours" by local grocery stores. Because we Seniors are among the "most vulnerable," the thought is that by providing "special hours" in the store, it will help protect Seniors from contamination. No doubt a good idea. However, Stop and Shop, our personal (nearby and favorite) grocery store, used to open at 7:00 a.m. now, in consideration of "Seniors," they have instituted "special hours" for those 60 years old and above: from 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.
For about 6 weeks now I have going to the Wilton and Norwalk Stop and Shops, starting at 6:00 a..m. on Monday or Tuesday mornings, availing myself of the "Senior Hours." As the pandemic isolation has dragged on, I have found that I'm in the store with fewer and fewerSeniors. AND, recently, I believe I have observed some, at best, borderline "Seniors" shopping in the Norwalk store! Have they no shame?
Having gotten used to a "relaxed" rise-and-shine schedule since retiring (sleeping until 8 or even 9:00 a.m.), this shift back to the 5:30 a.m. alarm has been a little unsettling, to be sure, but having relatively free rein in the grocery store has been (almost) fun and, except for the shortage of certain products (disinfectants, paper products, etc.), I realize that what used to be a daily routine (picking up groceries) can be done once a week and, aside from the "sticker shock," is actually quite practical. Not being able to run to the store for an impulse buy or to pick up something you may not really need has provided some new insights into my own behavior --- and probably for the better.
Stay home. Stay safe. Enjoy the weekend.
p.s. - for those Billy Joel fans, I apologize but please note: aside from "New York State of Mind," I am distinctly not a fan of America's Paul McCartney" (who I am also not a big fan of!).....
The 1969-70 academic year was 50years ago --- a half century. And we have been celebrating various “landmark” days this Spring (Earth Day, the Kent State killings, etc.). I have already chronicled the May Day weekend in New Haven, but what I would like to do today is selectively revisit my 1969-1970 year at Yale. As members of Morse residential College, most of my friends and I had single rooms --- a unique situation for college students in that era. Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges were mirror images of one another, designed by the brilliant Eero Saarinen (The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Dulles Airport in D.C., theTWA Terminal at JFK Airport in NYC, as well as Ingalls Rink --- the “Yale Whale” --- in New Haven). Saarinen’s take was Modernist (sometimes called "Brutalist") and unique. Yale architecture requires BLAST of its own to do Saarinen and his creations justice. For today, in order to introduce the Tales of the Pandemic graphic art, I am only going to share a few memories of that year in Morse College.
The Fall of 1969 saw an epochal change at Yale University: women were now members of the undergraduate student body. 250 “transfers” had been admitted from colleges all around the nation to join the Classes of 1971 and 1972 and the incoming Class of 1973 admitted 250 women among their 1200+ Freshmen (creating a ratio of about 4000 to 500! These were not only smart but also very tough young women). The Freshmen women were all housed in Vanderbilt Hall on the Old Campus (a building that had been the Freshmen dorm for me and some of my closest friends --- all members of Morse and Stiles Colleges). The archway into Vanderbilt (above right) was “retro-fitted” with glass walls and doorways to “protect” the young women, with a Security Guard sitting there to admit visitors (the Upper Class women were assigned to “entryways” in the various Residential Colleges). Needless to say, there was a steady stream of upper-class men/boys to Vanderbilt Hall, causing my close friend, future house-mate, and philosophy major Karl Pavlovic, to note: “I’ll wait until the dust clears” before acquainting himself with any of our new school-mates.
As significant for me that Fall was finding an abandoned brindle mutt on York Street, just outside Hungry Charlie’s, our burger-joint hang-out. I “adopted” the puppy, thinking if his owner saw me walking him around New Haven he would reclaim the dog. No one did. I was now faced with naming the pup. It happened that early-on in my ownership of the stray, a group of us were summoned to John Lissauer’s room because he had, magically, acquired a pre-release reel-to-reel tape recording of what would become The Beatles White album (John, of course, would go on to produce Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, as well as many other artists). Several of us jammed into John’s room and listened as the new Beatle creations emanated from his speakers and, suddenly, there was Maxwell’s Silver Hammer --- and my new dog had his name! We all agreed: Maxwell it was --- and he continued to be my dog until his untimely passing (on the Hutchinson River Parkway) in 1974.
It was also in the Spring of 1970, as the politics in New Haven were heating up, that a group of us were sitting around, “shooting the breeze” (as my Dad used to call it), when I opined: “Maybe I’ll get into politics after we graduate.” The room fell silent. Then, Jim Moyer (“Moyers,” as we referred to him), looked at me and, in his wonderfully measured tones --- which I’m sure he used more than once as a Federal Magistrate years later ---said: “Your life wouldn’t stand scrutiny.” Moyers had briefly been my roommate during our sophomore year (as we waited to be assigned single rooms) and was well aware of my sketchy “dating” life and my excursions into psychedelia. He was, of course, quite correct. And that leads to today’s BLAST. In these days of “sheltering-in-place,” where we are living in 24/7 close quarters with each other, we are under closer scrutiny than ever before --- with some comic results.
Hope you enjoy this take on scrutiny. Stay home, stay safe.
Many of us are experiencing extreme ups and downs during this pandemic --- understandably. Today's graphics attempt to capture those feelings in four panels.
Stay home. Stay safe. Enjoy the ride.
"The Future Ain't What It Used to Be"
Today would have been Yogi Berra's 95th birthday and it's hard to believe Yogi passed away almost five full years ago (Sept. 22, 2015). The quote above is one of his famous "Yogi-isms" and, while those quotes often lead people to believe Yogi was not the brightest guy in the world, I'd argue the contrary. Like his mentor, Casey Stengel, Berra had a brilliant mind for baseball and the Yogi-isms (like "Stengelese," Casey's obfuscated dialect for news reporters) distracted people from Berra's astute mind for the game. Aside from winning 10 World Series rings and three Most Valuable Player awards, Berra took both the Yankees (1964) and the Mets (1973) to the Series as a Manager. A Hall of Famer, Yogi was a character, to be certain, but also one of the greats in New York Yankees history.
The Tuesday BLAST is not about Yogi Berra. It is about "the future ain't what it used to be," though. As we continue the Siege of Covid-19, the Tales of the Pandemic move on, too. Today's examines how living in proximity for extended periods of time --- without breaks for art classes, tennis matches, interacting with children and grandchildren --- can lead to "interesting" interactions. None of these Tales are autobiographical, of course. The graphic content is based on watching TV, talking to friends, and stories overheard during Senior Hours at the grocery store.
Stay home, stay safe, and enjoy the Tales of the Pandemic.