Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Richard Wagner on Music by Jews

Richard Wagner, “Das Judentum in der Musik”

   Richard Wagner wrote the essay with the above title, which the English translator renders as “Jewishness in Music,” but might also be translated as “Judaism in Music.” I had read it eons ago without remembering much of it. So I conjured it into my Kindle and reread it, if not exactly carefully, and was immensely disappointed in a way I will make clear below; however, I can say up front that the piece—mercifully short—is not very interesting, so feel free to stop right here reading my account.           
   But first let me say  that I think that Wagner has created a series of masterpieces which deserve to be ranked with the operas of Mozart—my idea of the zenith of the genre—however different they are from them.  When I was in high school, molti anni fa, I became an aficionado of the Zauberflöte and the Ring and  saw both at the Met (then on 38th Street) when I was a sophomore or junior, in 1942 or ‘43. I’ve seen quite a few other Wagner performances in a number of different houses, most notably several additional Ring cycles, of which the Bayreuth set was not the best.
   Wagner was a great composer. That he was a mediocre poet, as revealed in the texts that he wrote for all of his operas—somehow, one hesitates to call them librettos. If I am right about that, it is not of the utmost importance, since in the real world of performances the audience gets to understand only a fraction of the words that are being sung.
   My admiration for Wagner as composer, especially of his later works, is unqualified. That high regard does not spill over into my assessment of Wagner’s person as reflected in his opinions and writings. Not a nice man! He is not alone among great artists who combined outstanding creativity in their domains with personal characteristics that are far from sterling. Benvenuto Cellini was a murderer, Voltaire was a fervent anti-Semite, and Dostoevsky was no angel, to pull out a few names from my not very well-stocked memory. So with Wagner who had dubious relationships with a quite large cast of characters, even, as an older man, he turned with fury on his wife Cosima whom he had wooed away from her first husband, Hans von Bülow, who nevertheless remained a faithful conductor of Wagner’s music, most notably conducting the first performance of Tristan und Isolde.
   Wagner was also what today we call an intellectual and wrote an immense amount of stuff, short pieces and quite long ones; if you are interested, look at this impressive list: http://users.utu.fi/hansalmi/appen.html. That makes his Judentum essay particularly disappointing.  I expected a clever account of how music written by Jews differed from music by gentiles. However perverse, that might really have been interesting. But not so. There are brief bits about Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, of whose Paris success he was envious and whose name Wagner never actually mentions, plus a coda on Heinrich Heine. But most of the piece is generic 19th century anti-Semitic talk.
   The language is, to put it succinctly, vile. Wagner never says Jewish this or that, but speaks incessantly about The Jew, a kind of generic figure of his (and his fellow anti-Semites’) construction. He divides this personage into two sub-types, the (in his view) uneducated Yiddish speaking Shtetl Jew and the cultured, educated, presumably German Jew. Though for Wagner, the latter doesn’t really get beyond his presumed origin. As for music, the Jew does not transcend his synagogue music, and is incapable of understanding “our” music.
   Since this is all generic talk, the fact never comes up that perhaps Wagner’s most trusted conductor, who among other duties conducted the first performance of Parsifal, was Hermann Levi, the son of a rabbi.
   As for Mendelssohn, he acknowledges his great natural gifts, but notes that his oratorios lack the “content” of Bach’s. He is clearly not in the class of the Germans, Mozart and Beethoven. What else is new? He does not mention,of course, that he, Richard Wagner doesn’t quite make  it into that class either. The brief paragraphs on Meyerbeer of whose success in Paris he was probably jealous) accuses him of catering to popular taste and in a couple of paragraphs we find out that Heinrich Heine does not measure up to Goethe and Schiller. Surprise.
   Rereading that essay was not edifying, but what was particularly disappointing is that Wagner the great composer, has really nothing to say about what makes the music composed by The Jew, Jewish music.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

All the Best

Greetings of the Season
A Pleasant Holiday—while it lasts
And a Happy New Year
which lasts a great deal longer:
a happy and healthy 2016
to add an important objective trait to the subjective one.

Prosit! A la votre! Salud! Cheers!

Me, I’m enjoying life with Ellie’s family in Mexico City, minus some not life-threatening but thoroughly annoying medical problems. Further, I will soon face a second act of Empty Nest: (grandson) Max has been thriving during his first year away at RISD, while (granddaughter) Eva will leave for college (yet to be determined) after this, her senior, year at the American Schhool. Aside from reading, my main occupation is my blog. I get a fair number of so-called pageviews, but just about no comments. Cat got your tongues?

Friday, December 18, 2015

What is Being a Genius: the Example of Mozart

I am grateful to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for publishing so long and highbrow a piece.

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The Next Page: The Full Mozart

Genius: What is it good for? Absolutely everything. Rudolph H. Weingartner has been immersing himself in the entire output of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth. He is more awestruck than ever ...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

By Rudolph H. Weingartner
I recently bought the box that holds 170 compact discs on which all the
compact discs on which all the works that Mozart wrote are recorded. That is how I am celebrating this Mozart year, the 250th anniversary of his birth. The contents of that foot-long box are astonishing, mind-boggling. It contains more than 170 hours of music: over seven days' worth if you play them around the clock; more than 21 days of music if you listen daily for eight hours -- no break for lunch.

Stacy Innerst, Post-Gazette

Bob Dylan?Frank Gehry?
Mozart did not have a great deal of time to perform this feat. He was just 35 when he died. Moreover, consider what's involved in composing music. Anthony Burgess put it bluntly. While he was a writer, best known for "A Clockwork Orange," he started out as a composer, a pursuit he never wholly abandoned. To write a minute's worth of music, he wryly noted, you have to write any number of separate lines: four for a string quartet, a dozen for a chamber orchestra, two dozen and more for a full-blown symphony or opera. To write a novel, you need to produce only a single line of prose. That's why, he says, he chose the more efficient metier as his main career.
Note that those numerous hours of Mozart's music include 22 operas -- a few of which are really music for theatrical pieces and all of which are being performed this year at the Salzburg Festival; 41 symphonies -- the last three of which, arguably, the greatest, were written during less than seven weeks in 1788; and 27 concertos for piano and orchestra. Since this is no place to produce an endless list, I forgo mentioning the large number of every kind of works of chamber music, the many choral works, concert arias and much more. Mozart's last position was that of Kammermusicus at the court of Emperor Joseph II, requiring him to write dances for court balls -- a not very demanding job, leaving him free to write much else. The catalog of his work lists more than 626 compositions.
Mozart, in short, was immensely prolific. But does that make him a genius?
Other composers have been remarkably productive. Take Antonio Vivaldi from the early 18th century, for example. He wrote no fewer than 40 operas and, hold your hat, more than 450 concertos for a variety of solo instruments, one at a time, or several in combination -- all with orchestra, of course. Attending to Anthony Burgess' concern, each of these calls for quite a few lines of music, if not as many as Richard Strauss had to set down for one of his tone poems.
And yet, pleasant though his music is, I would not call the very talented Vivaldi a genius. Indeed, I am somewhat sympathetic to the wag who maintained that rather than writing all these hundreds of concertos, Vivaldi wrote the same concerto several hundred times.
If Vivaldi is not a genius, but Mozart is, what is the difference between them? Mozart is not primarily an innovator of musical forms. That is the role of his Vienna successor, Beethoven, who by the end of his career had broken practically every rule in the composition manual. That is why Robert Schauffler gave his Beethoven biography the subtitle "The Man Who Freed Music." Mozart, in contrast, mostly poured wine into old bottles, or into bottles the shape of which he had only tweaked.
But what wine! It is in that nectar that we must locate Mozart's genius. Pursuing that theme courts the danger of becoming inarticulate, if not downright tongue-tied. Genius brings into the world something that is unprecedented -- not just novel, but significant and, using a common metaphor, something that is deep or, in the more respectable latinate, profound.

urely that is true of the work of Albert Einstein, the most uncontroversial example of genius.
In 1905, the 26-year-old Einstein published five papers that became the foundation of physics for the rest of the century and beyond. It was both of the physics of the very large (relativity theory) and very small (quantum mechanics). Much later, these achievements prompted Time magazine to honor Einstein as Man of the Century, while in 2005, the centenary of Einstein's "Miraculous Year" was widely celebrated. Both these recent events were, so to speak, obvious. By then, scientists fully understood what Einstein had put forth and were able to build on his work. And even ordinary folk had learned that his achievement had innumerable practical consequences -- from the building of the atom bomb to the invention of the transistor.
But in 1905 and for some years after, not all that many were able to follow Einstein. What he put forward was radically new, overthrowing theories unquestioned since Newton set them down two centuries before.
All the marks of genius are there. One of them, however, has so far remained unexpressed. Consider when we call someone's action or insight "a stroke of genius." Are we thereby conferring on the author of that stroke the mantle of "genius"? Other things being equal, I think not. One swallow does not make a summer. To be a genius, it is not enough to have performed an ingenious act or two. There must be the capacity to perform such acts so that, by virtue of being a genius, many actions and creations -- as was true of Einstein -- are characterized by that trait.
That surely does not raise any problems for Mozart. He literally produced hundreds of works that bear the mark of genius. Although there are some uncertainties about precise timing, during Mozart's 26th year, to pick the counterpart of Einstein's annus mirabiles, he wrote three piano concertos (Nos. 11, 12 and 13), the "Haffner" Symphony, and the "Abduction from the Seraglio" (an opera radically different from one written about a year before, "Idomeneo") plus a bushel of wonderful chamber music.
But nothing has been said about just what traits characterize Mozart's works as that of a genius. What is the new wine he poured into those bottles? I am tempted to say, as one is often driven when trying to talk about music: "For Pete's sake, just listen and if you have ears, you will hear!" I will try to do better, if, alas, by not much. To start with, in spite of those old bottles, Mozart is just about never predictable; compare that with Vivaldi. At every turn he surprises you, defying expectations. But when the surprise comes, the listener instantly believes that what was just heard was inevitable.
Needless to say, melodies and harmony are always inventive, never just routine. Then, even more important, there is the emotional content of his music. Before the era of Sturm und Drang and without vast orchestral forces, Mozart is capable of investing in his music feelings of great complexity: happiness modified by worry, triumph that has an undercurrent of fear, love that is mixed with regret. These are not Mozart's emotions, as most of the "Pathetique" Symphony surely expresses Tchaikovsky's. They are the emotions of Figaro or the Count, or Blondchen or Tamina. When listening to Mozart operas, we have a good idea what protagonists think and feel without understanding the words. In instrumental music, these complex emotions are "simply" embedded in the texture of a symphony or piano concerto or in those sublime 50 minutes during which just three string instruments (in the Divertimento in E-flat, K. 563) reach our ears and minds and hearts. For such reasons and more, there is very little music by Mozart that a reasonably practiced listener will not recognize, almost instantly, as having been composed by Amadeus, beloved of God.

his last long paragraph also holds the secret, I believe, why there are many decent and even good Mozart performances, but not many truly outstanding ones. There are surely more pianists who can brilliantly perform the very difficult Rachmaninoff concertos than there are those who can put across with real conviction the vastly "easier" works of Mozart. Numerous conductors, today, can make Mahler come alive, as they also successfully "manage" his gigantic orchestra. Yet far fewer can perform Mozart in a way that captures most of what he put into his compositions. (The greatest Mozartians, I believe, are no longer with us; among them are two Britons, the pianist Clifford Curzon and the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.)
These shortcomings, where they exist, are not the kind that might have been overcome at the conservatory. They are not technical, strictly speaking; they are emotional. The true Mozartian will somehow grasp, intuit, the emotions embedded in Mozart's compositions -- in the notes that are on the paper in front of the performer -- and, having grasped, succeed in expressing them and in conveying them to the audience. That is harder than, and calls for abilities very different from, playing Lisztian double octaves at breakneck speed.

Mozart, I hesitantly venture, is not a musical genius, but the musical genius -- hesitantly, because I really love a great variety of music. Still, if I were ever stranded on that desert island, I would want to have with me that 12-inch box of 170 compact discs by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
But fortunately, I am still here, together with the readers of this piece. Mozart's genius enriches all of our lives, as do many others, from Shakespeare to Moliere to Eugene O'Neill, from Velasquez to Cezanne to Picasso. Geniuses such as these entertain us, in the sense that they give us pleasure as they hold our attention. They don't, however, merely entertain us, whiling our time away like a good detective story or a well-crafted Hollywood romance. They enlighten and even inspire as they entertain. They move us as they reveal aspects and corners of the worlds of mind and heart that we would not come to apprehend without the work of those who have the spark of genius.

(Rudolph H. Weingartner, a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, is a former board member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (rudywein@pitt.edu). )


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Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Irresponsible Leadership of the House Committee on Science and Technology

“More than 350 years after the Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo, Pope John Paul II is poised to rectify one of the Church's most infamous wrongs -- the persecution of the Italian astronomer and physicist for proving the Earth moves around the Sun. With a formal statement at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Saturday, Vatican officials said the Pope will formally close a 13-year investigation into the Church's condemnation of Galileo in 1633. The condemnation, which forced the astronomer and physicist to recant his discoveries, led to Galileo's house arrest for eight years before his death in 1642 at the age of 77.”

   Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose. While it took the church more than three centuries to concede that they were not scientists, many leading members of the Republican party now say that of themselves with what I consider quite phony modesty. “I’m not a scientist” is phony, because they don’t take their non-scientific status as a profession of ignorance of climate science, but as the grounds for not accepting the conclusions reached by a broad consensus of relevant and qualified researchers: that significant global warming is ongoing, that it is caused by human activities, and that it will have disastrous results if not reined in.
   Lamar Smith, the chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology is not so modest. On the one hand, “[i]n2014, Smith got more money from fossil fuels than he did from any other industry.” On the other hand, “Smith is publicly skeptic of global warming. Under his leadership, the House Science committee has held hearings that feature the views of skeptics, subpoenaed the records and communications of scientists who published papers that Smith disapproved of, and attempted to cut NASA's earth sciences budget. He has been criticized for conducting "witch hunts" against climate scientists. In his capacity as Chair of his committee, “Smith issued more subpoenas in his first three years than the committee had for its entire 54 year history.”
   That the “skeptical” Congressman Smith has no scientific training—he is a lawyer—has been stated in more than one news article I have come across, tacitly attributing his skepticism to ignorance. That is not, however, the full story and not the most important part of it. Those news stories—at least the ones that I have read—do not also inform its readers that Mr. Smith is a Christian Scientist.
   That brings his rejection of climate science much closer to the Church’s rejection of Galileo’s heliocentric position. The earth is at the center of the universe, was the Church’s doctrine and not the sun. “Sickness is a mental error,” declared Mary Baker Eddy, and is cured by thought and prayer and not by physicians. The deepest skepticism vis-à-vis the medical establishment, indeed its rejection, is the correct attitude.
   It seems to me to be downright scandalous that the leadership of the United States House of Representatives entrusts the leadership of an important committee to someone who is not merely ignorant of its central concern—that has surely happened before—but actually committed to be hostile to it.

   If the Church could take 350 years to admit its error; the science of astronomy developed without its blessing. We cannot wait even a small fraction of such a period for the officers of our government to own up to the reality of global warming so as to abstain from actions that would reduce the probability of disastrous damage to the globe.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Dubious Future of the American University

   The so-called adjunct faculty at the University of Southern California has initiated steps to unionize. Adjunct faculty members are those who are neither tenured nor on their way there—that is, they are not “tenure track,” here to be referred to as the regular faculty . No doubt the USC adjuncts will become unionized teachers in higher education, sooner, in my view, or later.
   What do I, a died in the wool liberal, think? I believe that they are making the right move, while I also strongly think that there should never have been such numbers of adjuncts that makes unionization plausible. Indeed, this bifurcation of the university faculty into regular and adjunct will have far-reaching consequences.
   When I was dean of Northwestern’s College of Arts and Sciences for thirteen years ending in 1987, we had adjunct faculty members, but not a great many. The largest single bunch were the teachers in our writing program—some actually former high school teachers who were talented in performing a very necessary job that the professoriate of the English Department found to be beneath its dignity. In addition, there was a modest variety of folks whose main occupation was not in the academy, but who taught a course or two, bringing their expertise to the students of the college.
   While I don’t know today’s Northwestern statistics, I do know that there are enough of them to warrant the fulltime attention of an associate dean. A recent article by Dan Edmonds1 offers an insight into this issue for the entire world of American higher education: “Nearly three-quarters of American professors are contingent faculty, with “contingent faculty” a synonym for “adjunct.”    These big numbers have in effect already significantly changed the university, if only because the two classes of faculty perform quite different functions. Oversimplifying somewhat (but not much), the adjuncts teach undergraduates, especially in the liberal arts subjects broadly understood, while the regulars primarily teach graduate students.
   Yet there is an even deeper difference between these two classes. The regular faculty is expected to engage in research and to publish the results of their labors, with their teaching duties designed to give them time and energy to do perform these tasks. No one will stop adjuncts from writing for publication, but their teaching work load mostly does not give them the time to do so, nor are they rewarded for their efforts if they publish.
   Adjuncts are hired to teach. The regulars are hired to enhance the reputation of their departments and their university by means of the renown of their publications. (The tenure tracked become tenured because they have provided evidence that they can do so or are dismissed if they fail to show that they are likely to have a successful research career.) Their success in publishing, together with competition among institutions, gives the regulars the clout to get their compensation improved. Professorial salaries have risen markedly since my day, while most adjuncts have to struggle to sustain themselves and their family; the push for unionization as a means to get their lot improved is one of the results.
   What’s going on at USC  will surely spread. The odds are pretty good that USC’s adjuncts will, over time, benefit from having formed a union, making it very likely that adjuncts at other universities will follow in the USC’s wake, having learned from changes at a large and prestigious private university.
   It is worth noting parenthetically, not only that professorial salaries have notably gone up in recent decades, but salaries of administrators in higher education have shot up remarkably. That is one component of the general trend of what I have called the corporization of the university. Board members, the majority of them successful citizens of the business world, have a tendency to treat universities in the way they have learned in the companies of which they are high level members. Indeed, the presidents they appoint are no longer inevitably former faculty members, but are in effect professional administrators.
   In 2004 Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard, wrote that “Many of the very best institutions pay their presidents between $300,000 and $400,000, and most of the recipients would probably serve for less.”2 By way of contrast, in 2013, “E. Gordon Gee, former president of Ohio State University made more than $6 million in 2012-13,”3 while [t]he president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Shirley Ann Jackson, was the nation’s highest-paid president of a private college in 2012, with total compensation of $7,143,312 . . . according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual survey.”4
      The traditional American university consisted of at most two classes of citizens, the professoriate and administrators—and I say “at most,” because in some, such as in the Harvard of Bok’s day professors and academic administrators—deans, not e.g. bursars—regarded themselves as colleagues with different jobs, with almost all of such administrators being former faculty members. Just about all such universities today are made up of three sharply different classes of citizens because the tasks they are hired to perform are so notably different from each other.
   The difference of assignments of regular faculty and adjuncts, will ultimately lead to quite different ways in which they are educated. It now takes a decade, give or take, to obtain a doctorate in the humanities, say in history or philosophy. What accounts for such a long stretch of time are first, the “comprehensive” examinations of an entire field that must be passed, a hurdle that calls for studies in addition to the required courses. Second, and mostly the most time-consuming component of doctoral study, there is the work required to produce a competent doctoral dissertation. All that work is justified or mostly so, because that doctorate is designed to produce competent researchers in their chosen field and, as such, as teachers who will pass on the torch to the next generation.
   But what if one were only training teachers who are ready to pass on what has been learned in their field to undergraduates who are to be trained to become knowledgeable in a particular subject matter, but mostly not to themselves becoming experts. Teachers of such students must indeed be thoroughly knowledgeable of their subject and capable of communicating it to novices, but there is no need for them to be creators of novel contributions. In short, there is little point for them to spend years working on a doctoral dissertations, designed to be a portal to membership in the regular faculty. Indeed, a vastly more compact exercise can readily devised to help these graduate students to become effective teachers.
   There will of course be graduate students whose goal is to be a member of the regular faculty and work for a PhD as it now exists. Many others, however, will look at the economics of what the university now is or is becoming and see that there are far more openings for adjuncts than for regulars. Moreover, if my predictions make sense and more and more and more adjuncts become members of unions, it is also likely that eventualy they will make a reasonable living, as is not now the case, to be sure, earning far less than successful professors.
   I can see that in the new world I have sketched out many people who are attracted to the academic world might opt for the lower risk, lower gain alternative and sign up for what I would call the teaching doctorate.
   It will be a brave new world here envisaged, not in Shakespeare’s sense, but in Huxley’s.  It is not at all progress to sever teaching from research and to essentially do away with the already ever-threatened collegiality of the American university. I am hopeful that the person is right who noted that change only comes slowly to American universities. And perhaps some of the changes I have predicted will happily not come about at all.

For Corroboration, see: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-university-of-chicago-union-vote-1210-biz-20151209-story.html
1 http://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/
2 http://www.baylorfans.com/forums/showthread.php?t=55353
3 http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/6128172-74/university-gee-president#axzz3stM5fCEF

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Vintage Op Ed from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Jewish History in Berlin

Pittsburgh, Pa.
Monday, Sept. 25, 2006

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Weekend Perspectives: Berlin's surprising model
Jewish history is honored in the German capital
Saturday, July 22, 2006
By Rudolph H. Weingartner
A recent visit to Berlin prompts me to make a statement that I had never expected to utter: With respect to Jews, the Berliners got something right -- on a matter, moreover, about which we here in the United States might think a bit more clearly. Jews are represented, so to speak, by two formidable Berlin sites.

Rudolph H. Weingartner and his family came to the United States in 1939 as Jewish refugees from Germany. He lives in Squirrel Hill (rudywein@pitt.edu).

The most recently completed (May 2005) is Peter Eisenman's Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, placed in the very center of the city, next to the Brandenburger Tor and not far from the Reichstag. The other is Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, which opened in 2001 in a residential area of Berlin.
The paths toward the erection of these two works were anything but smooth. In particular, the squabbling, sometimes fierce, about every aspect of the Memorial -- design, materials, cost, location and even just what it was to commemorate -- lasted for more than a decade and a half. In a sense, it continues to this day since by no means all of those who disapprove of the design or even of its purpose are reconciled to its existence.
But I am by no means alone in my admiration of Mr. Eisenman's achievement. Heinrich Wefing, a leading German architectural critic, refers to it as a beautiful abstraction "that does not dictate what its observer should think or experience, but is nonetheless thoughtful and moving," while The New York Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote "how abstraction can be the most powerful tool for conveying the complexity of human emotion."
What must not be ignored is the sheer scope of the memorial: 2,711 steles of different heights spread over an expanse measured in the most ur-American way, as having the size of two football fields. If the paradigmatic individual memorial is the simple tombstone, Mr. Eisenman's expanse of slabs is an appropriate cenotaph for 6 million.
The motto of the Jüdische Museum Berlin across town calls for "two millennia of German-Jewish History." And in a somewhat cluttered way, it emphatically lives up to that slogan. Its numerous displays convey a wealth of information about the many and changing roles that Jews have played in Germany.
As one descends from the starting point at the top of Mr. Libeskind's edifice, one moves forward in time until one reaches the lowest floor where information is provided both about the Holocaust and the emigration of Jews to other lands, reinforced by the Garden of Exile and Emigration just outside.
In two significant ways, Berlin got it right, even if it took years of controversy and argument to get there. First, by placing the account of the Shoah at the end of an elaborate overview of those 2,000 years of the intertwining of German and Jewish societies that basement exhibit is not one of mere victimhood but is reached by museum visitors after having been elaborately informed as to who those victims were.
This horrendous period of history is shown to have been both a murderous destruction of human lives and an attempt to eradicate a significant part of human civilization. It takes a Jewish museum to show that, rather than a Holocaust museum.
The second way in which Berlin got it right is that it was sensitive to the tension between the institutional goal of providing knowledge and that of fostering commemoration.
The didactic goal is indefinitely complex. Museums use displays and documents, film clips and computer screens, earphones and loudspeakers and ever more modes of communication to cram masses of information and impressions into the heads of their patrons.
Alert visitors -- moving this way and that, looking and listening here and there -- take in a lot. With luck, they will remember a goodly fraction of what they have experienced, and with even more luck, they will later reflect on what they have found out.
When all the stars are properly aligned, then, the absorbed stream of information may lead to retrospective contemplation. But a monument like Mr. Eisenman's has the power to do that on the spot. Inducement to reflection and meditation is focused, monolithic, immediate. By pressing different buttons from those multifaceted didactic ones, a thoughtful monument evokes thought, then and there.
That, finally, brings me to our own practices in the United States. To a degree, Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum serves both the didactic and the memorial function, though in the latter role not as successfully as Israel's Yad Vashem.
But if we leave aside these major establishments of world capitals, accounts about the United States are not encouraging. The Israel Science and Technology Homepage reports that to this date, we have created 23 Holocaust museums, not counting our little one in Pittsburgh that didn't make it onto the list. If you put aside actual Shoah sites, such as Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, that is more than in all of the rest of the world together.
By way of contrast, the same source of information show there to be 24 Jewish museums in our land, while there are 57 in the rest of the world, not counting numerous museums in Israel.
Ours is the wrong ratio, a wrong view of history, the wrong way to present the contributions of the Jewish people to the world's history and the wrong way to commemorate the Shoah. We must hold on to an inclusive meaning of Never Forget. Forget not what they did, but remember, too, who they were to whom they did it. Let's stop building Holocaust museums and create Jewish museums instead.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015


   I say to all, whatever your faith or absence of one, whatever your country, since the holiday does not commemorate an American political event. It probably originated as thankstiving for the harvest, but is today noteworthy as a holiday at which families get together, boosting all branches of the transportation industry, just as the day after, Black Friday, is a shot in the arm of department stores and any other outlet that sells consumer goods. Thanksgiving is also the cause of the sale of zillions of turkeys, since that bird has long since become the traditional center of the day’s festive dinner. Through the years, my family has occasionally deviated by serving a goose instead, fatter, of course, but perhaps even tastier. 

Regular posts will resume next week, today I merely append the blurb for my Navy Letters.

Not very long ago I looked into a box that had been in my mother’s apartment when she passed away and found there a considerable batch of letters I had written to my parents during the year I spent in the Navy almost three quarters of a century ago. They have now been transcribed and put together as an ebook entitled, A Sailor Writes Home from His Time in the U.S. Navy: Letters of 1945-1946, Aftermath of World War II—from training at Great Lakes, to the wheelhouse of “my” LST in the China Sea, to the decommissioning in the Puget Sound—including of some photos of those days. The letters are not great letters nor are they profound, but they cover a lot of subjects, are surprisingly literate and often quite amusing. Because then my parents’ English was not at all fluent—we had emigrated from Germany only six years earlier—some chunks of those letters are in German, in the book of course immediately followed by translations into English.
To get this ebook, go to the Kindle Store or to Amazon books and type in the title:
A Sailor Writes Home from His Time in the U.S. Navy.
The price is $2.50. If, after you have looked at the letters and you feel benign, consider sending a Customer Review to Amazon. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Oh to be a Syrian Refugee

Why It Takes Two Years for Syrian Refugees to Enter the U.S.
1. Registration with the United Nations.
2. Interview with the United Nations.
3. Refugee status granted by the United Nations.
4. Referral for resettlement in the United States.
The United Nations decides if the person fits the definition of a refugee and whether to refer the person to a country for resettlement. Only the most vulnerable are referred, accounting for fewer than 1 percent of refugees worldwide. Some people spend years waiting in refugee camps.
5. Interview with State Department contractors. 

6. First background check.
7. Higher-level background check for some.
8. Another background check.
The refugee’s name is run through law enforcement and intelligence databases for terrorist or criminal history. Some go through a higher-level clearance before they can continue. A third background check was introduced in 2008 for Iraqis but has since been expanded to all refugees ages 14 to 65.
9. First fingerprint screening; photo taken.
10. Second fingerprint screening.
11. Third fingerprint screening.
The refugee’s fingerprints are screened against F.B.I. and Homeland Security databases, which contain watch list information and past immigration encounters, including if the refugee previously applied for a visa at a United States embassy. Fingerprints are also checked against those collected by the Defense Department during operations in Iraq.
12. Case reviewed at United States immigration headquarters.
13. Some cases referred for additional review.
Syrian applicants must undergo these two additional steps. Each is reviewed by a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services refugee specialist. Cases with “national security indicators” are given to the Homeland Security Department’s fraud detection unit.
14. Extensive, in-person interview with Homeland Security officer.
Most of the interviews with Syrians have been done in Jordan and Turkey.
15. Homeland Security approval is required.
If the House bill becomes law, the director of the F.B.I., the Homeland Security secretary and the director of national intelligence would be required to confirm that the applicant poses no threat.
16. Screening for contagious diseases.
17. Cultural orientation class.
18. Matched with an American resettlement agency.
19. Multi-agency security check before leaving for the United States.
Because of the long amount of time between the initial screening and departure, officials conduct a final check before the refugee leaves for the United States.
20. Final security check at an American airport.

Note: If such rules had been in force when my family and I immigrated to America from Germany in 1939, I would have been murdered in Auschwitz a few years later.  ----RHW
New York Times Insider, November 23, 2015