Monday, October 23, 2017

Sex in the Press

I’m not obsessed with sex. And never was, even at a much younger age. Moreover, I never paid much attention to the ingredient of sex in news stories. That has changed, per forza, since I now get my news via the internet, including from the NYTimes, making for a different kind of reading. Given those reports, I am truly astonished at the role sex plays in American politics. It’s not just that there are the big cases, like that of Harvey Weinstein, but there are, just about daily, a great many more mundane ones. My point here is to get you to look at what is available to you—if you do indeed look.
   Conduct an experiment. Read your news account on the internet—in my case mostly the on-line NYTimes—and “censor” the story of the portion of the account devoted to some aspect of sex. I bet you will have significantly thinned out your reading material.
   Yes, sex makes the world go ‘round, but not everywhere to the same degree. It’s my guess that accounts in the US will beat out reportage in the countries of Western Europe. It by no means follows that couples in US beds are friskier than those in other lands. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Private and the Public
“The Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University has announced that it is revoking an honor it gave Harvey Weinstein in 2014. He had been awarded the Du Bois Medal for contributions to African-American culture. In the last several weeks, Weinstein has been revealed to have been sexually harassing women for years, and some women have also come forward to accuse him of rape.”

I find it difficult to say what I am about to put forward, but I believe I must say it. To be utterly clear, I find the recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual behavior to be unqualifiedly reprehensible. I wouldn’t have him to dinner, if that were a possibility. But what does that have to do with his role as a movie mogul or his support of liberal politicians? Benvenuto Cellini was a murderer, Richard Wagner was a virulent anti-Semite. Just to name two cultural heroes of the past.
   When there is enough temporal distance, sins are not so much forgiven, but ignored. Alas (for Harvey) , his return to grace—his resurrection, so to speak—will come after he is dead. There is something to be said in support of the view that distinguishes between a person’s private life and his public accomplishments, if any.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sex In America

I'm puzzled about something that should be obvious. I read the NYTimes and very little else about what’s going on. I find that these reports about doings in the US are most frequently about sex, even before Weinstein, but emphatically since. then. I’ve concluded that sexual activities are a big topic in the American ethos (no news). Not remotely as much as in that of Western Europe. Even conceding that I don’t hear the “worst” about Europe in what I read, there don’t seem to be any Weinsteins to talk about. What accounts for the difference, assuming I got that right? A feeble answer is that that European scene includes far less of that “primitive” protestant reaction to modernity, witness the fact that there is much less of a reaction there to Darwin’s account of the story of mankind.   

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Just to be clear, Harvey Weinstein is also Jewish. He makes it into the papers, these days, as a serial sex offender. Beware of statements like  “All Jews are x.”

Jews and Nobel Awards

Nobel Winners Who are Jews

“Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 887 individuals, of whom 195 were people of Jewish descent, although people of Jewish descent comprise less than 0.2% of the world's population. As of 2013, people of Jewish descent constituted 41% of economics, 28% of medicine, 26% of physics, 19% of chemistry, 13% of literature and 9% of all peace awards.”
   When I found out that the current winner of the Nobel-equivalent in Economics was Jewish (he doesn’t look Jewish!), I decided to do a minimal amount of research. The lines above tell you what I found. Pretty astonishing. I don’t talk much about it, but I am very aware of who is and isn’t Jewish. It’s built into my heritage, having spent the first dozen years of my life in a Germany that became Nazi when I was in third grade.
   I’ve thought a lot, really a lot, about what is the cause of this special status (and it is that), but have never come up with a satisfactory answer. I still think about it, but I no longer have what it takes to deal with the issue in a scholarly fashion..
   Somebody, somewhere may have plausible answers. But I’ll let others dig them up. Let me hear from you.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My Presidents, II

My Presidents, II

  Just a couple of presidents left, but because they are closer, they loom larger, much larger. Bill Clinton: I was favorably disposed toward him when he became president and was somewhat taken aback when my best Pittsburgh friend, John Craig, retired as the boss of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, spoke very reprovingly of Clinton’s sexual escapades. That made me conscious of the need to distinguish the public persona from the private one. Historians routinely do that; why not contemporary commentators as well? It may all come down to the fact that titillating news sells, whereas it gets buried in historical accounts unless truly flamboyant or in some other way significant.
   I think of Clinton as a president who coped with an increasingly bifurcated country; in my view he leaned to the right more often than he had need to in order to survive. His sexual escapades that led to an absurd impeachment “trial” is another example of Americans’ preoccupation with sex. I have some idea of the historical roots of my fellow-citizen’s allegiance to a gun culture comes from, but I am puzzled about how earlier religious injunctions have survived to this day.
   Next came George W. Bush, whom I rashly labeled as our worst president ever. He lost that title in favor of today’s incumbent, Donald Trump. I won’t comment here on the current scene except to hope that the pendulum will swing back.
   To conclude this excessively breezy overview. I mostly agreed with Obama’s actions and proposals and think of him as one of our best presidents. His successor, Donald Trump, is undoing much of Obama’s good works. Trump’s successor, I am quite sure (think of the swing of the pendulum) will revive Obama’s measures, as having only been sleeping, not permanently killed. Call me an optimist.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My Presidents, I

My Presidents, I
   I’ve just come to realize that Donald Trump may well be the last president of my life. That’s something of a shock, but plausible, alas. I’ll be 94 when he steps down, assuming, as I hope, he doesn’t run for a second term or doesn’t achieve it if he does.  Therefore, the odds are that Trump will be “my” worst president, even beating George W. Bush, though that may be not giving enough significance to the war with Iraq.
   On the whole, I’ve been pretty fortunate with my presidents. I arrived in America in 1939 (age 12) and really didn’t become aware of FDR until that Sunday in December 1941, when he announced that his response to Pearl Harbor would bring the US into the WW II.
   My second president was the first one I voted for; by then I was politically quite alert. It was not until I was in the voting both that I decided to cast my vote for Harry Truman. My alternative was not Dewey---I have never voted for a Republican—but Norman Thomas, the Socialist. I had eliminated Wallace as being in the pocket of Stalinists; my views were liberal or even to the Left of that, but I was never attracted to communism with its Marxist’s doctrine. But not voting for Truman would have been throwing away my vote, making this an occasion where I opted for what I took to be the realistic rather than the ideal solution. A purist I ain’t.
   Next came Eisenhower. I was, like many intellectuals, enamored of his opponent, Adlai Stevenson’s, eloquence; I twice voted for him, but the country thought otherwise. I was not a fan of Kennedy before he became president, but of course much regretted his murder. Of the next batch, only two stand out in my memory: Reagan and Nixon. I disliked both, with Reagan already in my sights when he was governor of California and a meddler in the affairs of the State Colleges, when I was active on the faculty of San Francisco State. I underestimated his accomplishments in foreign policy, but probably correctly disapproved much of his domestic policy.
  Nixon is the complicated one in the role of my presidents. It was de rigueur for us liberals to detest him, with me aboard. In retrospect, however, I have become more favorably disposed. There is not only China, but the two Endowments—of Arts and Humanities—and other good things, most of them probably initiated for purely political reasons. Perhaps I did not take his Watergate sins seriously enough—see my comments about President Clinton in the next installment.