Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Activities of My Life

What Did I Do

   I’m awake a lot during the night. Since I’m not sick and since these periods don’t bother me, I chalk these intervals up to age. And that is certainly true about what often happens during these periods: I think about my past. Not brooding about it, not celebrating it, just remembering, ruminating about what happened to me at some point in the past or what I then did.
   A few times I listed, so to speak, all the activities that I had engaged in during my life, leaving out, of course, the ordinary activities of living. On several occasions I found myself speculating about which of these I had spent the most time.
   I came up with a number of categories, such as reading and writing philosophy, which officially became my profession: I am a professor of philosophy emeritus. Then there was just reading. I’ve read all my life, though I was never an avid reader, nor a fast one. I’ve read fiction, but except for a brief period when Fannia and I devoured detective stories, reading novels never became a big occupation. Properly educated people would rightly look down at me in that domain.
   I once wrote a piece about reading and writing and confessed to be partial to the latter, explaining it (if that’s what it was) as a preference for being active rather than passive. So write a lot, I did, in support of jobs I held, with a quite a few papers on topics in higher education. And I write a lot about my favorite subject: me.
   Of course you would be right if you attributed that last fact to a kind of egoism, though that wouldn’t tell the full story. The basic desire—impulse, if you like—was to write. And there I was one subject I could write about without having to bother with doing research. In short, impulses to act are dragged down by laziness.
   When I started this piece, I had more activities in mind. I still do, but will continue on this theme on a future post. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Before Oberlin

The media are full of discussions about sexual relations in the US. I was some sort of administrator for a great many years, as dean and provost and three stints as philosophy department chair at three different institutions. While I aimed always to be “correct” and conform to the procedures pertaining to a job, I never hesitated to assert my authority within the rules that governed that job.
   Given the practices of most of those years, my male dominance was never challenged—at least not in a way that came to my attention.
   Except once.
   I was a candidate for the presidency of Oberlin and to become a finalist I had to pass scrutiny by a large committee. All seemed to go well with them, except when one committee member noted that no woman had participated in the lengthy discussion that had taken place. Was my personality quietly but distinctly anti-women?
   The decision, sensible, before making a recommendation about the Oberlin presidency, was to have some committee members interview women who had been “subject” to my authority.
   To my subsequent pleasure, that female bunch of my constituently mostly wondered what the fuss was all about and, in effect, sent them on with an unhesitating OK.
   To be sure, I nevertheless did not become Oberlin’s president; the other finalist, Frederick Starr  was the chosen one. I have speculated about what eliminated me and have come to a conclusion—a guess, to be sure.

   When interviewed by a faculty committee, I no doubt variously orated about requirements and the like. Well, the faculty rightly thought that these deanish ideas were inappropriate for a president and voted for Fred Starr.  Maybe I was born to be a dean, but not a president.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Headline

Maybe Trump Is Not Mentally Ill. Maybe He’s Just a Jerk.--New York Times, Jan. 12, 2018

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Zionism of Yore

Emboldened Israeli Right Presses Moves to Doom 2-State Solution
After President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party has seized momentum to strengthen Israel’s rule of the West Bank.  NYTimes, Jan. 2, 2018

   This article reminded me of a cover of a 1946 or 47 NYTimes magazine, depicting members of the Haganah marching diagonally across the entire page. Especially, I remember my reaction to it: apalled. I had been a Zionist since I belonged to the Habonim when still in Heidelberg, so that was not it. But I had not expected a Jewish Palestine to be a military state. What I there saw did not cohere with the kind of Zionist I was.
   Later on I acted on my convictions. When Begin and the Likud became the Israeli establishment, I stopped making donations to Israeli causes that were involved with its government. Now, alas, very much alas, even the organizations I had supported have become “patriotic” in ways I disapprove. So, the end of the year didn’t see my small contributions to Israeli causes. That action may mean nothing to them, but it means something to me.
   My Zionism did not have Netanyahu in mind, but I still hope that Israel can rise above the ways of nations (not a flattering tag), but if not, Jews will have achieved one goal many have been after: to be like everone else. Not my ambition, but I recognize it as legitimate. Emboldened Israeli Right Presses Moves to Doom 2-State Solution
After President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party has seized momentum to strengthen Israel’s rule of the West Bank.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Friday, December 29, 2017

Trump and the Press

Trump as President and the Press
    I’m not much of an historian, but given my  limited knowledge, Donald Trump is unique as president of the United States. Unique, alas, not in his sterling characteristics, but in the multiple ways in which he is unpresidental.
   This observation is hardly original, but serves as the introduction to the point I want to make. It is refreshing—though that’s not quite the word—that the press is so very frank about their views of Donald Trump. To put it succinctly, he is treated, day after day, by numerous writers, even in the sedate New York Times, with almost brutal frankness, stressing his unpresidential actions and pronouncements.
   In short, Trump’s unpresidential behavior has also led commentators to abandon the conventional deference to the highest American officer. Leadership can pull you up; but it can also pull you down. The mid-term elections will show whether Trumpism, supported by Republican whimpishness, is the country’s future or whether we return to boring bi-partisan conventions.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Road to Acapulco

From Mexico City to Acapulco

   We live in Mexico City, over 7300 ft above sea level. That’s quite a descent during the 5+ hours down to Acapulco at the Pacific Ocean. Given the efficiency of cars, it doesn’t take any longer going up all that distance, though I am sure that much more gas is consumed on the return to Ciudad Mexico.
   It’s a great road, four lanes, divided, going through quite rugged country—hence multiply curved—with mostly trees on both sides. But by no means only trees. Many, many sections have high walls on one or both sides, indicating clearly that the road was cut deeply into a rough terrain.
   The walls are so high—or, more accurately, the road is down so deep—that, mostly, they could not be left them untouched after the excavating machinery produced them. Without some treatment, dirt and stones would continuously, or at least sporadically, bombard the road, making it dangerous to the point of being wholly unsafe.
   In short, those almost sheerly vertical expanses must be treated to make the road safe or even just passable. And treated they are, in a great variety of ways, with often special walls on the side of the road preventing stones an dirt spilling into the passage for speeding automobiles.
   How treated?  I took no notes, much less take pictures, but a lot  of ingenuity was lavished the ways that these monumental walls are kept stable. Complex configurations of wires, hold in some expanses, what looked like plastic sheets contain others. Everywhere fist-sized stones are inserted in rows and rows of plastic pipes emerge from the walls, presumably to relieve water pressure in weather not as benign as we had.
   In a few spots workers were visible on those walls, held by ropes to prevent them from sliding disastrously down into the roadbed. They were a small sample of the hundreds of skilled operators that covered these “walls” in the first place.
   I am not knowledgeable about important roads of the world, but this one from Mexico City to Acapulco should be counted as one of them. I was surprised that the internet did not mark it as being as unusual as I found it to be.