Sunday, April 27, 2014

May Day - By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

Recently, letters to the Wallkill Valley Times discussed the attitude that should be taken toward people like Pete Seeger, leftist political activist and musician who died this January, people who were sympathetic in one sense or another to Communism. We rightly condemn those sympathetic to Nazism and totalitarianism of various forms and shun even those favoring somewhat less odious practices. Choices have consequences.

In the scholarly Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression [originally published in France in 1997], the death toll from this ideology is estimated to have been 85-100 million, including 25 million in Russia, 65 million in China, eclipsing a “mere” 2 million in Cambodia‘s killing fields. I am not sure whether it includes the over 5 million Ukrainians killed by the program of deliberate mass starvation undertaken to break the resistance to collectivization of the independent farmers, the kulaks. It does not include the loss of life due to Communist China’s enforcement of a “one-child” policy.

The joy of the people finally released from Communist rule twenty-five years ago speaks volumes about such governments. Those in America who wanted to know the truth about life under Communism could do so through the works of Solzhenitsyn, Djilas, Conquest, Medvedev, et al. Except for the elite, such countries are prisons.

As the Venona papers documenting Communist infiltration and spying activities here in America demonstrated: Communists in the U.S. were not imaginary “witches,” but real people, who– among other things– helped the U.S.S.R. obtain the technical expertise to build the atomic bombs and the hydrogen bombs that placed the West at risk of being devastated in a nuclear war. Their political influence was also often used against America’s interests.

May 1st, celebrated by the Communists as “May Day” and by some of the rest of us as a day honoring workers, is a good day to reconsider Marxism, which sounds appealing to some, and judge it by its fruits, not its slogans. It has been proposed to have this day be used to recognize the victims of Communism.

Decades ago, I would have rather lived in West Germany than Communist East Germany before the Wall came down. Today, I would rather live in South Korea than Communist North Korea, wouldn’t you?



Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“What are you reading, Tess?” Rick asked.

Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.”

“I’ve heard about it. Never read it. She was about your age when her family spent two years hiding from the Nazis during World War II in a secret little annex to an office building.”

“Right, Rick. The Dutch people helped them hide, with another family, the Van Daans.

“I can’t imagine it.”

“The book makes it real. She writes to her ‘Dear Kitty,’ about her life, her hopes, her problems, her opinions. She isn’t always nice, but she seems honest. I would have liked her.”

“What happened to her?” Rick asked.

“The family was betrayed, sent to concentration camps, and all but the father died there. When he came back to where they had hidden, he found Anne’s diary. He published a famous version of her diary, keeping some things private.”

“Did she have thoughts a lot like your own?”

“Yes. That’s what made it especially interesting for me. The revised new edition we read has a lot about her friends, her interest in boys, and about some friction with her family and the people she was hiding out with.”

“Do you think I would like it?”

“Probably not, although it is a classic. More of a girl-thing.”

Rick was quiet for a minute or two. “Sad story. Terrible the way it turns out. I remember that she wrote, ‘Paper is patient,’ suggesting her annoyances with those who were not patient. Do you have a diary?”

“Yes, but I keep it locked up and hidden. It’s personal.”

“Are you ever going to let me read yours?”

“No way. Keep out!”

“Somehow, guys rarely have diaries. I wonder why not.”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know what Anne Frank meant by ‘Paper is patient’?”

“Yes. I know that when I write in my own diary, I don’t feel rushed. It listens to me patiently. I can say what I mean. It doesn’t judge me. I can write frankly.”

“Anne Frankly?” Rick couldn’t resist the pun.

“Right.” Tess rolled her eyes.


One of our series of fifty short, instructional stories for "middle-grade readers."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Our Last Year Together? Cornell, 1963-64


Forbidding Mourning

I have saved all Tina’s letters to me, as she has saved the Chanel No. 5 perfumed powder I gave her almost fifty years ago. More foreshadowing?

We knew we might only have our three semesters at Cornell to be together. Near the end of the second of these, that fall semester, for my birthday in December, 1963, she wrote:

Dearest Doug,
You asked me what I would think of these sixteen months a few years from now. My reply –now, after one year, after fifty years:
[She then quoted much of John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” including the following lines]
Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined
That ourselves know not what it is,
Interassured of the mind,
Care less eyes, lips, and hands to miss.”
Happy birthday, darling.
Love, Tina

Donne’s “Valediction” is a favorite of mine, but a poem I haven’t read for many years. I recently found my copy of Donne’s collected poetry. “Valediction” is there among scores of others, including some other favorites of mine, but its page was the only dog-eared one. I had read it to Tina at our wedding in June of 1984.

Toward the middle of the poem, Donne likens the connection between separated lovers’ souls to “gold to airy thinness beat.” The thin gold foil may lengthen and attenuate, but it never breaks apart. He ends with the metaphor of a circle-drawing compass, with its moving foot representing the lover who must travel away, while the central “fixed foot” always leans and “hearkens after it.” The poem ends, in our case prophetically,

Thy firmness makes my circle just,

And makes me end where I begun.
As Helen Keller wrote: “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we have loved deeply becomes a part of us.”

Phi Epsilon Pi

I have on my bedroom bookcase a group photograph labeled “Phi Epsilon Pi Spring Weekend May 1964.” Among two-score college students in various stages of inebriation, Tina and I are present, dressed somewhat more formally than the average. Tina is in a Chinese high-collared dress, and I am in a white shirt and tie, the tie thrown over my shoulder, in an attempt to look less formal. We are obviously happy, even though we were due to be separated within a month.

We were at Phi Ep through the hospitality of the fraternity brothers. During freshman year, the fraternities and sororities “rush” the newcomers, inviting a selected subset to their houses to hear why they should join, “pledge” the group, then selecting, from those still interested, the students they would invite to join.

I think there were fifty-odd such organizations at Cornell. So far, so good. Not so good was that they were fairly distinctly divided into Christian and Jewish houses, each perhaps having a token few of the other, “minority,” members. Phi Ep was almost wholly Jewish, as were my roommate at 5406 University Halls, Jerry Baker, and another friend and fellow debate-team member, Al Berkeley. Only a few fraternities showed an interest in me, and I preferred Phi Ep partly because this pair would be in it and partly because I did not want to pledge a non-Jewish fraternity, on principle. Quickly into the post-pledge period, I realized I had neither the money nor the interest in alcohol that would make joining appropriate. The fraternity brothers took my withdrawal graciously, and I attended an occasional party at Phi Ep, when no longer a member.

Why Not Marry?

Why didn’t Tina and I get engaged, in 1964, or even get married? Lately, half of Asian Americans (second generation or later generations) marry Caucasians. In 1964 such marriages were much rarer, if only because there were so few Asian Americans. In the 1960s, some states still had laws against interracial marriage, anti-miscegenation statutes. While the occasional stare did not bother us, we believed that our children would have “marginal man” status in America, not accepted fully by some members of either race. The racial mix might have produced the loveliness of a Nancy Kwan or a child with a combination of our personal strengths, but there was no guarantee.

We were 20 and 21 years of age, too young to marry with confidence, though a long engagement might have been feasible.

Both sets of parents were against such a pairing, for reasons ranging from the practical to the ethnocentric. Tina was an obedient Chinese daughter. I was less obedient, but I did value my parents’ wisdom and greater experience. A marriage would have caused much family discontent.

In this period in America, more so than today, interfaith or interracial marriage was often discouraged. As Tina’s dear friend Deanne Gitner tells it (see more of her contribution in “Tributes”), a dutiful Jewish girl, too, was expected to find a Jewish man to marry:

Tina met Doug in her freshman year, but Tina told us (her corridor mates) that she needed to find a six-foot-tall man from China, from northern China, to keep her parents happy. We felt we understood her problem, as we were all told to find a Jewish boy and that our parents would give us trouble if we did not.
There were only two Asian women in our class in 1962, one of whom was Tina. Tina’s parents sent her away for her junior year to London to study and, probably, to get her away from Doug.

Another question troubled me: Would Tina and I have remained good to each other in the future if external forces became oppressive? I had read Orwell’s 1984 and was convinced and saddened by the protagonist’s capitulation: Winston loved Julia, but broke under torture. They were to continue with him or turn to her. “Do it to Julia,” he croaked. Love was not enough. It was too believable that one would blame the other if the conditions became very unpleasant. I’d like to think we wouldn’t succumb, but I was by no means sure.

If marriage to a successful Chinese professional who loved her would be better for Tina and eventually better for any children she would have, it would be selfish of me to stand in the way. Tina felt the same about me and my best interests. We left it that if neither had married someone else in five years, we would feel free to marry each other. I meant it. Tina suspected that this was a polite refusal. We had a communications failure.

As I have mentioned, Tina’s siblings, Gene and Irene are both married to Caucasians, as is Irene’s elder daughter. The more recent the marriage, the less the controversy it aroused, if any.



Tina’s Diary, June 1964

Tina twenty years later extracted the following from her diary, written at the time of our separation:

June 8, 1964
Can’t even begin to say what this year has meant to me–only, for now, that it has been the most wonderful, truly wonderful year of my life. I am a different person in many ways and have gone through experiences I never imagined would happen.
At present I am trying my best to alleviate the pain that fills my whole being: Doug and I parted last Saturday, after he met Mom and Dad, and he has not written yet. I know he thinks it is best, and rationally I think it is best. However, it is not easy to erase the memory of a person most dear....
He became my reason for being. He has influenced my thoughts and actions to a great degree. I have matured because of him and have learned so much .... It was the most beautiful thing–the most sincere, earnest, appreciative, trying, fulfilling, happiest experience....
The pain comes and goes. It is not as persistent as two days ago. It is a painful price that I gladly pay in memory of the past.
Whatever the outcome, I admire him most deeply–his spirit, his strength, his kindness. I will always. He has given me so much.

I had been Tina’s first love.


Excerpt from TING AND I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion,
published in 2011 by Outskirts Press, available in paperback and ebook formats from Outskirts and from

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Doing What Comes Naturally," a #Middlegrade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Tim, how did the game go?” Eric asked his brother about the church-league basketball game Tim played in earlier that Saturday afternoon. Eric had refereed a fourth-and-fifth-grader game earlier, but didn’t ref the one his brother played in.

“We lost, by a point.”

“That’s too bad. Still, it was a close game, not a wipe-out. How did you do?”

“Not good. I played OK except for missing all four of my foul shots. If I made a couple, we would have won.”

“That’s a shame. The neat thing about foul shots is that you can become pretty good just with practice, and nobody can block your shot. You figure to get to shoot a few in most league games with a ref.”


“Shall I show you what I was taught? I’m not as good as Tess, but I know how to do it.”


They got their ball and went to the small paved area with the basketball hoop that their dad had set up behind their house. The foul shot line was marked with a foot-long stripe of white paint. Rick took the ball and shot about ten foul shots, making more than he missed, but not a lot more.

“Tim, I’m only so-so at these, but I know what I am supposed to do. Put my feet an inch behind the line. Bounce the ball the same number of times every time. I do it three times. Take a deep breath. Bend my knees. Support the ball with my left hand. Keep my right arm with the elbow tucked in, pointing straight down. Exhale slowly. Unbend my knees, while pushing the ball toward the hoop with my fingers, not my palm. Like this.” Fortunately for Rick, this one went in.

“That’s a lot to remember.”

“Yes, and you have got to do the same set of things over and over, so it becomes like a habit. Our coach called it ‘muscle memory.’ Try it a few times.”

Tim worked with Rick for a dozen or so shots, making a few.

“I’m tired.”

“Sure. That’s enough for now, Tim. You did make a few, and I think you will continue to improve. As you grow, you will get stronger and that will make it easier, too.”


Rick served as an assistant coach for Tim’s after-school soccer team. Tim was easily the best player on the team, and this was a good time to remind him of it.

“You and I and Tess all like to play basketball, but it is not my best sport and may not be yours. You’re the best player on your soccer team, better than either Tess or I was at your age, too. You may decide to focus more on your soccer skills when you get older. Some things just come more naturally to each of us than others.”

As time went on, Tim did become better at shooting free throws, though he did not become particularly good.

Tim continued to excel at soccer, though, and eventually became the star and captain of his high school soccer team. He took advantage his soccer-playing abilities, doing what came naturally.


One of our series of 50 short stories with messages.