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?

A Prediction Fulfilled

February 20, 2010 at 10:58 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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I frequently make predictions about the future. This is a no-fee activity, aimed primarily at my long-suffering spouse. “Keith, mark my words,” I announce. “One of these days…”

One such prediction of the future occurred during our extended stay in California. Non-Californians may not grasp that the initiative system there makes public life extremely challenging, not to say impossible. Groups of citizens funded by God knows who can, by collecting a certain number of signatures, place an initiative on the ballot. And if this initiative is  passed, it becomes law and can be reversed only by another initiative. Doing so takes mucho time and money.

One such initiative was Prop 13. Passed in 1978, it reduced property taxes by 57% and put rigid limits on future property tax increases except when properties change hands. The California public school system (a significant part of which was supported by property taxes) was third in the nation in 1978. Now it’s forty-seventh.

One day I was looking out the window at the street on which we lived in Berkeley and thinking about Prop 13 and general attitudes toward taxes in California. “Keith,” I said, “At the rate things are going, there will be a pothole in the street in front of this house, and the good people of California will say ‘That’s your pothole. You fix it.'”

Well, it’s happened. More or less; we no longer live in California, and the fulfillment of my prediction occurred in yet another state, but these are mere details. Thanks to a Colorado law that requires any tax in any municipality to be approved by voters, the good citizens of Colorado Springs have of late been rejecting the taxes  proposed by city leaders  to remedy looming budget deficits. The result: massive cuts in public services. This includes a zero budget allotment to the agency that maintains and repairs streets.  

My advice to you, dear reader, is to get yourself a shovel and start  stockpiling  asphalt. The Tea Party loons are massing even as we speak. The pothole you fall into may be your own.  (Thanks, Flannery.)

Tomorrow: a prediction about the Vatican and those in “persistent vegetative states.”

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