Monday, March 31, 2014

How Syracuse University Changed My Life

People have a lot of different reasons to love their alma mater. Some of their memories are tied up in sporting events they watched and teams they continue to follow. Others remember the professors who reached out and helped them understand their world.
For me, it's much more crucial. Syracuse University changed my life in a way that was total. I entered there with an uncertain academic future and emerged with a PhD and an assistant professorship. Along the way, one man in particular helped me grow and provided support, above and beyond what I ever should have expected.
Because my father died when I was seven, my mother and her three sons lived on social security. When I was 15 I left the snows of Syracuse and hitchhiked to Florida. I knew I had to come back in order to become something so I returned to my upper middle class high school and they promptly transferred me to the downtown high school, which luckily had African American students who were friendly and where I wasn't the poorest kid in the school. In the process of my runaway, my grades were terrible, so Senior year I got in the 90s on my Regents Exams and 99% on my SATs, which let Syracuse take a chance on me.
The man who so influenced me had been an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma at the time the school was forced to admit one African American student. For four years he would pick up that brave student's meal in the cafeteria and sit with him while he ate in a separate room. This was his work study job and it was one no other student wanted. After he became Vice Chancellor of Syracuse he would always have time for me and I felt his caring every time we talked. He later became Vice President of Northwestern. His name was Jim G. Carleton and he was the finest man I ever met. Every time I had to stand for something in life, I couldn't back down because he had shown me how a good person is supposed to behave.
Although I eventually received my PhD from Syracuse's Maxwell School, I took time out after my masters to cover presidential candidates for a wire service. When I returned Jim Carleton made me the Advisor to Student Publications. I finished my doctorate having only paid $800 in tuition to Syracuse for all those years.
If I hadn't grown up there, I would have stayed at Syracuse forever. I love everything about that University. It's the only true refuge I've ever found and its lessons  fill me with pride and determination on the darkest days.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Putin and HUBRIS

If you got a liberal arts education in college you learned about the word HUBRIS. This came up when the gods started  believing their own press releases and pushed their arrogance and absolute belief in their own infallibility to dangerous heights. The Greeks would then show how this brought the god down and humiliated him or her.
You come away from studying this to conclude when people have absurd ideas about their own invincibility they will pay.
This sounded great in college, but isn't so true in life.
Yes, Hitler died in his bunker as Germany collapsed around him. But Stalin killed his generals in the late 30s and still won World War II. Mao practically destroyed China with the cultural revolution and passed away in peace. Steve Cohen built a fortune on insider trading and sits in his big office and laughs at the federal government.
So if you're waiting for Putin's downfall, don't put any money on it. To inflict real pain on Russia, Europe would have to let its citizens freeze to death by not using Russian fossil fuels to fill their gas tanks or heat their homes.
Lately the major energy companies and their Republican lackeys are suggesting we should ship our natural gas to Europe, which would make them a lot of money. We had planned to keep our newly found fossil fuels to make American industry competitive with the rest of the world. If you're waiting for Exxon to be brought down with HUBRIS, I suggest it's time for you to go live on another planet.
Somehow between those classics courses and today, reality arose. Which is why classicists don't run countries.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Avoid These Three Mistakes

There are three things to avoid right now if you want to do well this year:
1.Don't fly a second rate airline. I don't just mean avoid Malaysian Air Lines, but don't hurry up and fly Air Venezuela, Syrian Air Lines or Air Libya. If they can't run a country what makes you think they maintain their planes or know what kinds of people are flying them. Historically Malaysia (in different periods) included Singapore, but the Muslims are in Malaysia and Singapore is a separate country run well by ethnic Chinese. Their airline is one of the finest in the world.
2. Don't trust a banker. Recent articles have pointed out that regulators have figured out that Wall Street doesn't just have a few bad apples, but that the entire system is corrupt. Let's not ask how come it took them so long to figure this out.
3. Don't harbor the hope that Obama is good for the Democratic party. In today's New York Times they go into detail about how many Democrats are running away from him. Only 41 percent of the people have a favorable opinion of him. Including a primary, I voted for him three times, but I don't feel delusional anymore. I just hope before the midterm election he doesn't draw anymore lines in the sand and then run away and hide.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Know You Think Classical Music is Crap, but Asia Doesn't

The idea that well educated people would have an understanding of classical music was in vogue before the 70's when the SAT stopped being an IQ test for white Americans. Today anyone who expected someone with a PhD to understand the difference between Bach and Beethoven would be living in cloud cuckoo land. Classical CD sales are less than one percent of overall sales (that's if
CDs still exist, mine are all on Icloud).
A few years ago I went to a violin competition for elementary school children. Every child was Asian-American. Many of the best classical musicians now come out of Asia. The only discussions about classical music I've had in the last few years have been with Chinese doctoral candidates with whom I was having language exchanges
My daughter, who is in every way the most wonderful person I know, hates classical music, and it was always on at home as she was growing up.
China wasn't always involved in classical music. There's a great movie in which a dentist's son is sent to live in the mountains during the cultural revolution. At first the peasants try to destroy his violin until he plays for them a piece he calls "Mozart's Ode to Chairman Mao."
At one point I heard the "Yellow River Symphony," that was allegedly written by the orchestra.
If Mao couldn't have absolute obedience, he set out to destroy China and his vehicle was the Cultural Revolution. But even madness eventually passes away, and China began to warm to Schumann and Vivaldi.
If you have any interest in learning about classical music, here are some suggestions:
Beethoven's 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th Symphonies.
Brahms First Symphony, the Double Concerto, and his Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Schubert's Fiorellen (Trout) Quintet
Bach's Anna Katerina Notebook
Vivaldi's Four Seasons played on a koto and sakuhachi in a a Japanese recording
Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto
Good luck, but don't worry, you can just discourse on where the word "heavy metal," came from and how the Who changed the world.

Friday, March 7, 2014

In California the Best Way to Obtain Water is to Steal It

In California the best way for a city to obtain drinking water is to steal it. If you've seen Chinatown you know that the water rights in the Owens Valley near the Sierras were surreptitiously acquired by agents of Los Angeles. At the same time the family that owned the Los Angeles Times and other members of the elite California Club bought, on the cheap, land in the San Fernando Valley. When the Owens Valley aqueduct delivered the water to Los Angeles, the city incorporated the San Fernando Valley into the city and the land became valuable overnight. Soon the Valley was home to the smell of orange blossoms. Today, however, the Valley is home to smog from the idling automobiles of hungry real estate agents.
In 1923 a dam was completed on the Tuolomne River, within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park, and a smaller, but equally as  beautiful Valley  as Yosemite itself, called the Hetch Hetchy, was flooded to provide water for the city of San Francisco. It is said that this broke the heart of California's most famous environmentalist, John Muir.
At least a decade ago Santa Barbara built a desalination plant to provide the city with water. Unfortunately, water was plentiful for a while, and eventually the equipment was sold off and the plant mothballed. A Los Angeles Times reporter went to visit the abandoned plant. He heaped derision on the city fathers who had chosen to obtain water in this manner.
I'm sure this will not be an easy years for the citizens of Santa Barbara as they attempt to get water during California's historic drought.
As for us in L A, we have the greenest lawns and we take showers that can last for a while.
We don't care about the rest of California. Those people should have thought ahead and stolen their water when they had the chance.