Friday, August 18, 2017

Pence the Reactionary

Mike Pence for President?

   I have been writing a lot about President Donald Trump and  hope in future to be able to reduce my comments about that erratic, uninformed nut. In multiple ways, he is unique in the story of America; even I know enough history to assert that. So my thoughts have been, get rid of the nut—somehow.
   But I have changed my mind. Better near-chaos than the wrong kind of order. Remember that order is not what Hitler’s Germany lacked.
  Mike Pence (Michael Richard was the name his parents gave him) is an unalloyed reactionary on any issue you might look at; I’ll let you check that out.

   Pence  would become president. Worse, he would be in tune—or they with him—with Republican members of Congress who call themselves conservatives. Many of them are not that, but reactionaries. But that term has essentially been dropped from use. A pity, because a big difference is being ignored. Conclusion: better a nut than a sane unalloyed reactionary.  I cross my fingers when I say all that. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Decline of Trump?

   This is an expression of an intuition,  with all the hazards pertaining thereto. Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville “unrest”* will be a turning point in his career. No longer will his supporters be able to point unambiguously to the views, however eccentric, of an oddball president. He waffled (how did this baked good get into such bad company?)  It’s not that he has changed his mind; rather that he has come out about the fuzz that is in his mind. Yes, Trump is the president. But that calls only for my attention, but not, unfortunately, for my respect.
   I am not the only person with those views. I only wonder when things get to the point when a majority notes that the Emperor is in his underwear. It will be interesting to see what happens then—if it happens.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Impeach Trump

A Proposal of Preventive Impeachment
   Donald Trump, president of the United States, alas, is now on the way of descending to the level of North Korea. So we have America and North Korea vying for supremacy. What could be more absurd? But the absurd is not necessarily impossible. Will an ill-tempered Tweet pull us into a war? There is no sign that Trump’s sidekicks are willing, not to mention able, to try to reign him in.
   This unprecedented situation calls for a similarly novel solution: Preventive Impeachment. Let the sane Republicans, if there are any, conspire to stop their president from Tweeting us into a devastating war. Prevention is better than a cure, more especially when the possible cure is dubious at best.
Addendum for August 12
   Today I am ninety-and-a-half years old. I don't celebrate half birthdays of course, but for a variety of reasons I always take note of it.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

From Book to Book
   I went to lie down after lunch, dividing my time between looking out of the window at the trees I think of as Gipfel and Wipfel and reading Breen’s Washington book. It is short, since he sticks pretty closely to the first president’s two trips early in his presidency, the first to the north the second to the south. So I came to the end fairly soon. The relatively low percentage (the way Kindle tells you where you are, rather than giving page numbers) was misleading, since the text was followed by a whole series of illustrations. (Pictures are not a Kindle strong suit, to say the least.)
   Since I had already decided to read next a very recent biography of Jefferson by John B. Boles, I didn’t bother to get up, clicked to go to the Kindle Store, and conjured the book into my Kindle. I don’t know where it came from, but I was here in Mexico City and the text reached me very quickly. So, within minutes, I went from Washington to Jefferson and started to read the book’s introduction. When, a bit later, I went back to my computer, I found an email that told me what was charged to my credit card for Jefferson’s biography.

   I know that I have orated before about the miracle—as it looks to me—of getting books to this off the beaten past location virtually instantly. But miracle deserve to be praised.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

On the Creation of the United States

T.H. Breen’s Washington’s Journey
   I’m now reading a book on a quite different subject. I was prompted to conjure it into my Kindle by a  favorable review of it in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books. But two matters were much more important: the author, T.H. Breen (known as Tim) and I had been colleagues at Northwestern and the book, George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, is on an important subject about which I was completely, shamefully, ignorant.
   While I am basically an historical ignoramus, I knew a little about the revolutionary war, the fighting that took place free the states of the new world from the rule by Great Britain, located on the European continent three thousand miles away. I knew that the states on the American continent got together in a federation to throw off the British yoke, but I never gave a thought that states who collaborated to accomplish that single goal would have to “come together” in a quite different and considerably more significant way than by agreeing on a constitution—supremely important, to be sure, but only if it were actually adhered to. Washington’s Journey gives an account of an important chapter in the story of how thirteen states became the United States.
   (I might add, parenthetically, the book I am referring to gives an account of an early chapter of this process.  In my view, the final chapter about the unification of the—now 50—states has not yet been written.)    

Sunday, July 30, 2017


   Donald Trump, our president, has a record of acting impulsively. He has now appointed someone who outdoes even him at that game. (Game? Surely not.) Anthony Scaramucci, just made Communications Director, has stepped in with both feet, if without a head, and threatened to fire everyone in sight for leaking. True or false about those alleged leakers—and in most cases that’s not been established—it’s not what the country needs. Another lightweight full of ideas about what not to do, without a glimpse of what should be done.
   Trump’s latest appointment appears to be as incompetent as his boss, just different in the way he manifests it. Even more noisily, using a language that has not been heard coming from the office of any president. There is one thing that is good about all this. The appointment  of Scaramucci makes it very clear who Donald Trump is, to anyone who still had illusions.
   As for the future, Der Krug geht zum Brunnen bis a bricht, a favorite saying of my mother. The pitcher goes to the well until it breaks.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Arturo Toscanini

Some Comments about a  Recent Biography of Toscanini

   I heard Toscanini once in person. The music appreciation club of my high school, Brooklyn Tech, got tickets to the NBC Symphony, where we heard Toscanini conducting Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony in Studio 8H. I found out a  great many years later—or thought I did— that Shosty (as we called him) had not at all liked that performance. But now know that this report of the composer’s opinion in Solomon Volkov’s Testimony was actually quite suspect.
   I can’t say that this early NBC Symphony experience played a role in my getting to read the recent Harvey Sachs mega-biography of Toscanini, whom one might well call the paradigmatic conductor of the 20th century. I just finished that big book—on Kindle where, lacking page numbers, you can never find out just how big a book—and now want to make a number of remarks about it—reactions that in no way add up to a review.
   The first considerable chunk of Toscanini’s conducting career had him almost exclusively conducting operas. While I was aware of this fact, I had no idea of the role opera played in those years before radio not to mention television. Large audiences expressed themselves by shouting, clapping, stamping their feet. But still, I was more aware of that involvement than I was of the actual operas that engaged these audiences.  Of course, there were the operas of Verdi and then Puccini, but there were numerous operas that I had never heard of and, more shockingly, I was totally unaware of the existence many of their composers. Toscanini’s involvement was not only deep, touching on all aspects of the music and singing, but also broad, in that he was often concerned with various aspects of an opera’s staging.
  Another news-to-me item was the revelation of the breadth of Toscanini’s repertory of orchestral music. It is true that that he never cottoned on to atonal music (he made very negative remarks about Alban Berg’s Lulu)—nor did perform music influenced by Schönberg, his repertory was much broader than the works of Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner to which, to be sure, he turned again and again.
   My final comments pertain what was for me the most revealing aspect of this biography. Toscanini’s political views were much more deep-seated than is suggested by the labels “anti-fascist” and “liberal” that have correctly been given to him. Both Mussolini and Hitler wrote wooing letters to him, reproduced in the book, to no avail whatever. He not only rejected all such approaches, but self-consciously shifted his career as a performer to make sure that he did not in any way support such ideologies. Moreover, he donated considerable sums of money to “anti” causes and actively and financially supported victims of fascist and Nazi persecution. In short, the Maestro put his money where his mouth is, distinguishing himself from many of his non-Jewish conductor-confreres.

   The Harvey Sachs biography is detailed and consistently interesting. If you are interested in learning about the long and distinguished career of a musical giant, read his Toscanini: Musician of Conscience.