The Earth and Those Who Dwell Therein

March 21, 2011 at 10:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(1) In the March 21 New Yorker there’s a stimulating article by Ian Frazier about the return of seals to New York. Frazier is a fine writer and I enjoyed learning all about the seals that are swimming around New York, sunning themselves in our harbors, etc.

However, the opening of the article got my attention more than the seals did. In it, Frazier describes driving over to Staten Island from New Jersey in his search for seals. He writes:

“Potholes, which rule the roads these days, opened before me suddenly in a wicked row on the ramp for the Outerbridge Crossing, popping my left front tire….I changed the tire in a lot in Perth Amboy and got to Staten Island just after sunrise…Hylan Boulevard, the only surface road that goes from one end of the island to the other, is a pothole  festival now. I slalomed among some real beauts to the boulevard’s end, parked, and slid on the snow crust down to the beach along the Arthur Kill…” (p. 34).

The remarkable thing about this side commentary is that Frazier never complains about the Staten Island pothole festival. It’s just the way things are. No use being upset.

This reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with Anne Hope, a South African Grail member, during one of her visits to the US. Anne allowed as how she was always amazed by the number of signs along the roads in this country. In Africa, they could never have so many signs, she said. The roads were full of potholes and you had to keep your eyes on them all the time or you’d be in real trouble. I have begun to think of Staten Island as a borough in very far West Africa.

(2) Many people have said many things about the recent catastrophes in Japan. I will not add to these often deeply moving commentaries. I was struck, however, by the number of times newspeople spoke with apparent relief of the radiation “blowing out to sea” and not towards Tokyo. God know, if the radiation had blown toward Tokyo, it would have been truly disastrous. But is it not disastrous that the radiation is blowing out over the Pacific? Is the ocean a place of dead matter such that its radiation is irrelevant? I have not researched what radiation does to the seas as yet–stay tuned–but surely the creatures in the sea matter too? The only indirect comment I have heard about this as yet was one from a Japanese woman on NPR this morning who said she has decided to stop eating fish. Indeed.

(3) NPR this morning also reported that Tom Corbett, the governor of Pennsylvania, as part of his effort to solve the state’s funding crisis, has proposed to cut the budget of the state system of higher education by more than half, or $625 million. This grabbed my attention because I am a double graduate (BA and Ph.D.) of one of those institutions, Temple University. One of the reasons I was able to afford to get a Ph.D. is that the tuition at Temple was reasonable. I knew very well that it would be insanity to borrow money to get a Ph.D., in the humanities–in Religion, in my case–because teaching in the humanities pays badly. So I got an assistantship, paid in-state tuition, and depended on the generosity of my husband, the Baptist minister.

I have always been amazed that someone like me, whose father dropped out of high school during the Great Depression, would have the privilege of becoming a professor and publishing books. My generation of Americans may turn out to have been the most privileged generation of human beings in the history of the world. Now that I hear about Corbett’s effort to destroy the state universities in Pennsylvania I think it even more. I wonder if any of Corbett’s kids are enrolled at Temple, or at Cheney University, the majority African-American state-related institution south of Philadelphia?

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