Monday, July 27, 2015

Hymn to the Egg
   I never ate a lot of eggs; nor did I pay much attention to them when I did. But now that I am ancient, my daughter and those who see to my welfare have prescribed an egg for breakfast every other day more or less. Whether that will slow down the loss of body mass I don’t know, but I’m sure that eating an egg is A Good Thing (as in 1066 and All That) whether it does that or not.
   My eggy experience of the last couple of months has led me to think about eggs, if not deeply or scientifically.  Herewith a few thoughts on the subject.  To begin with, a definition:  “An oval or round object laid by a female bird, reptile, fish, or invertebrate, usually containing a            developing embryo. The eggs of birds are enclosed in a chalky shell, while those of reptiles are in a leathery membrane.” That covers far more ground than the eggs I eat which are of the kind found in supermarkets under the rubric “Eggs,” and are oval, enclosed in a chalky shell,” and laid by chickens, reportedly under conditions analogous to Third World slums. (I fear, moreover, that eggs are not the only food we eat that has this kind of dubious history.)

   The eggs I get are mostly brown and weigh about two ounces. I like them soft-boiled, if not too runny, with a little salt and accompanied by a piece of bread, buttered. That, together with some grapefruit juice and a largish cup of black coffee, makes for me a most adequate breakfast.
   Adequate, certainly, given that an egg contains a remarkable array of proteins, vitamins, and trace metals, probably not found in any other natural product of its size. It also contains a goodly amount of cholesterol, which, luckily, is not a problem for me.
   I say “luckily,” because I am particularly fond of the taste and texture of the yolk, where that cholesterol resides. More generally, I like the mild (or, fancier: subtle) tastes to be encountered in a boiled egg, brought out by that sprinkle of salt and contrasted with an analogously mild-tasting piece of buttered baguette. Unlike most of my fellow residents in Mexico—native or imported—I emphatically do not want these understated flavors doused in sauces that are strong-tasting, not to mention spicy.
   If the breakfast I have described were a short piece of music, its tempo would vary just from andante to allegretto ma non troppo, its dynamics would go from pp to mf and while it would be written in a major key, it would resemble more the C-major of “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” than the C-major of the  Meistersinger overture. Not every meal has to be a feast. 

Your comments, positive or negative, are much appreciated.
For your convenience and mine use the email method, the last item in the column on  the right.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Opera Adventures in Chicago

   Here is an account of one of my most exciting experiences in Chicago—while in the Navy, no less. I reprint the whole letter and will have some comments afterwards.

October 20, 1945
Hello again,
   That I should write again on the same day must seem pretty unusual to you – well, it is, and so are the circumstances leading me to write.
   Quote: This afternoon, you know, I went to hear Parsifal. The performance was excellent – excepting perhaps the orchestra – and the sets & stage effects were superb, and far above anything the Met has ever had.
   Well, still dazed from the finish of the performance – and with no plans – I walk along the opera house and into the stage entrance – just to look around. After gabbing with a few people there, I walked out again, & fumbled with one of the doors which wouldn’t open. Someone yelled “This way, Sailor” and opened the other door which wasn’t locked. I said “thanks” & walked away. All of a sudden I said to myself: “I’ve seen that man before.” (He had an accent, too) and went back & told him so. He then told me that he just finished singing Amfortas and I immediately answered with his name: Martial Singher. He was in the process of catching a taxi to take him to Orchestra Hall for a rehearsal. We walked together a while – the name Weingartner appealed to him & got to talking. When the taxi did come, he asked me to come along, could I refuse?
   I then met the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Désiré Defauw when I stayed for the two man rehearsal. (All of that was in French) The next on the program was dinner. “The poor man is all alone in Chicago & said he would enjoy my company.” Anyway, the way he put it, I could not have refused!
   (The dinner was excellent.) The conversation was still more interesting. He is the son-in-law of Fritz Busch & knows, intimately everyone, (Schnabel, Serkin, Lehmann, Melchior Kipnis Peerce, etc. etc.) and told me a lot about them. He then walked back toward his hotel (on the way we both decided not to go to a movie after such a tiring thing as Parsifal (he only had to sing, I had to listen to it, so we went to his hotel room next.) In the lobby, I was introduced to Bidu Sayao and Nicola Moscona, but we soon went to his room! We talked a lot then & he sang some of Debussy’s opera & at 10:00 I left – with a hearty invitation to look him up when I go to Chicago – and promised rehearsals!
   How’s that for an afternoon?
This is my enrollment as a pupil of Onkel Alfred. [The musical guru of the family.]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

   I don’t remember all the operas I attended at the old (38th Street) Met while I was in high school (that is before my stint in the Navy), but I remember clearly seeing Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen in 1942 or 1943 and that I also saw the Zauberflöte as early as that. The Ring, about which I remember much more, had a cast of Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund and Siegfried) and Helen Traubel as Brünhilde. It also had Lotte Lehmann in her very last (or, possibly, next to last) Sieglinde.
   My seat was in the next to last row of the Family Circle, what seemed like a block away from the stage. Because I had also taken out the (miniature) scores of the operas, my attention to the stage was only intermittent. No great loss, as I recall, since the visual aspect of the performances—acting, sets, lighting—was pretty mundane. Not so the music! Still, I recall that I was indignant because only four harps—rather than the six I found in the score—portrayed the Rhine in Das Rheingold. (Remember that I was 15 or 16 years old at the time.)
   I actually saw my first opera in Heidelberg, age ten or so; it was Der Freischütz. (My mother, who was emphatically not a fan of opera, called it Der Schreifritz, The Screaming Fritz.) I was taken there by my piano teacher, who also took me to Edwin Fischer conducting a chamber orchestra and playing a Mozart piano concerto. These were my first experiences of professional performances.
   To come back to the Met, I saw several other operas while in high school, most notably Die Zauberflöte with Charles Kullman as Tamino (the only cast member whose name I remember). I single out the Magic Flute because it became a particular favorite of mine, in part because of the Beecham performance on the very first records I bought—two volumes of 78 rpms.
  I won’t go on with a recitation of operas I have seen, but I do want to make one point. Now and then people ask me whether I’m an opera fan, a question to which I can’t give a straight answer. What I tend to say is that I’m really a (classical) music lover. I like good voices well enough, but I don’t go after them, unless they are singing what I want to hear. Maybe more significant is the fact that Mozart and Wagner are at the top of my list—but also Alban Berg, among other composers, from Gluck to Schoenberg. But I pay very little attention to the likes of Bellini and Donizetti. I once sat through an opera by the latter (I don’t remember which) and was annoyed because I couldn’t stop myself from counting seemingly endless phrases of eight bars each.
   And I do have a candidate of what I think is the most perfect opera—the music, of course, but also all aspects of the libretto: the characters, the varied bunch of them, the plot, and the witty text:  Le Nozze di Figaro—which in English would be more correctly known as Figaro’s Wedding.  I’ve never heard the passage in which the Count asks the Countess to forgive him (Contessa perdono!)—just before the brief, cheerful finale—without getting tears in my eyes.

Your comments, positive or negative, are much appreciated.
For your convenience and mine use the email method, the last item in the column on  the right.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Modest Proposal
Swift’s was for Ireland. This one is for Greece.

   There can’t be many who are unaware of the deep hole into which Greece has fallen. They owe many billions of Euros to a number of European banks and financial establishments; debts and enforced austerity have seriously shrunk their economy, with unemployment high and the ATMs empty. Negotiations have not improved Greece’s lot; at best, the outcome to this point in the middle of July, just has not made it worse. The Germans, sternly righteous, have been particularly rigorous in their demands.
   But Germany may also be able to provide the solution for Greece, in such a way that the country will be pulled back to its feet. As by far the richest European nation they could afford to extend the helping hand that I propose.
   Among the contributions to the reduction of its debt that Greece is told to make is to sell properties and other assets owned by the state. Of course, I have no idea what these possessions are or how much they may be worth. Nothing I have read does more than sweepingly refer to assets. But I can think of some, such as the contents of the National Archeological Museum in Athens and other museums in the capital and others dotted around the country. Since so many of the objects to be found in these establishments are unique, many of them should fetch quite a decent price. If Francis Bacon’s studies of Lucian Freud can sell for $142+ million, a 5th-century BCE marble bust should also do pretty well. The amounts would add up.
   Yet this scheme has serious flaws. If Greek museums are denuded in this way, the entire country will be less attractive to tourists, seriously reducing a major source of income for Greece. In effect it would mean that a one-time contribution toward reducing the country’s debt would reduce the country's income, possibly forever. Worse, buyers around the world would only pick a small fraction of the available items for sale and, of course, the best of them. The result for the tourist industry would still be devastating, while the cost to the state of maintaining the museums would remain the same. Not a good deal for the Greeks.
   I can think, however, of a move that Greece might make that would bring in a truly huge sum of Euros with very little downside for them. Sell the Parthenon to Germany.         
   To begin with, the worst of downsides is not possible. Unlike the Elgin Marbles’ disappearance from the Acropolis to London, the Parthenon could not be shipped to Berlin. No matter how carefully done, disassembling the building and putting it together elsewhere would be so serious a threat to its health that no one in his right mind would attempt it. And just to ensure against a purchaser not in his right mind, leaving the building where it is should be part of the sales contract.
   Then, you ask, if they can’t take it home, why should Germany wish to purchase the Parthenon? To start with a subsidiary point, the Germans would get something for sure for the billions they have loaned to Greece—which is in no way a sure result of the recent agreement. But what, actually, would they get? The title, ownership, of what is arguably the most important and the most famous building on the globe! For the country that has (nearly) everything, that would make them unico as the Italians say, senza dubbio. And if these bragging rights are really priceless, they are surely worth a very large bucket full of Euros.
   Nor would things have to remain at this symbolic level. Right now, unless things have changed since I last visited the Acropolis, there is no charge to go up there and, gazing, to slowly circumnavigate the Parthenon. The new owners can change that and charge a fee—high enough to be meaningful, but not so high so as to scare off visitors. Where the Greeks—though mostly not directly the state itself—profit from the existence of the Parthenon (which will be there as it has been for a very long time) is in the facilities that serve the tourists: hotels, restaurants, and shops of every which kind. The change in ownership of the Parthenon would not change this source of income.
   For Germany and Greece, this sale of the Parthenon is a clear win-win transaction. The European and Greek officials who have been wrangling about the Greek debt and the Greek economy are no doubt smart and highly educated. One wishes they were also imaginative.    

Your comments, positive or negative, are much appreciated.

For your convenience and mine use the email method, the last item in the column on  the right.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Administering Northwestern’s College of Arts and Sciences

[I] Administration Then

   In August of 1973 I started as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Northwestern University—then usually referred to as CAS. I followed Hanna Gray who was off to Yale as president Kingman Brewster’s provost. Hanna, who was dean for only two years, had been preceded by a caretaker acting dean, who followed CAS dean Robert Strotz who, in 1970, was appointed president of the university.  Reorganizing the dean’s office was hardly on the top of Bob Strotz’s agenda, since during the four years of his deanship and beyond he was preoccupied by the considerable unrest on the NU campus, featuring student strikes and boycotts and more. As a result of this history, the dean’s office I found on my arrival was essentially as it had been under Simeon Leland, who had served as dean for twenty years (1946-1966) of what was then called the College of Liberal Arts.
   Indeed, this period of several cooks, each prevented by different circumstances from acting as a full-fledged leader, had also left the curriculum—requirements and programs, both—hiring and promotion procedures, college committee structure, and much more as they had been, as it were, in an era that was now truly past. It was both my privilege and my pleasure to introduce changes on all these fronts, leaving for my successor, after thirteen years as dean, a very different college from that which I found.1 Here, however, I only want to discuss the college’s administration—that is the CAS dean’s office.
   The reconstruction we are about to look at was that of my last year at NU.2 Except for one person—who lived in Developmentland—we were all housed in two largish adjacent former one-family homes on Sheridan Road, connected by a passageway in the back when they were taken over as CAS headquarters. Could we have housed additional people? Probably a couple, not more.
  Altogether there were nineteen persons in the CAS administration. Besides me, very much full-time, three senior faculty members served as not quite full-time associate deans, retaining a place in their departments and teaching a course or so. These colleagues divided up the college’s departments among them serving a supervisory role. Then there was versatile Steve Bates, an associate dean with many duties, including editing Arts & Sciences, the college’s highbrow alumni magazine.
   There was a full-time specialist to deal with the budget and an assistant dean concerned with issues pertaining to facilities and equipment; that person also made some of the arrangements for CAS social events. Major facilities issues---such as moving a scattered English department into University Hall was handled by the central administration. A full-time person handled the College’s daily business affairs.
   The Office of Studies, as we then called our student-related second building, was run by an associate dean and had two full-time persons to advise and handle student problems. Routine advising was done by faculty members in their own offices.
   Finally, there was an assistant to the dean, a couple of clerks with a variety of assignments and four secretaries. It was a modest crew of 19, hardworking but quite harmonious, that got the job done.
   It was also a very different office from the one I found, so I asked an economist friend to compare the office’s personnel costs of (I think) 1974-75 with those of the year I have just described. In pre-Google days one needed a specialist to compare the cost of the 1986 dean’s office personnel with that of 1974—a period, Google tells me now during  which the dollar inflated by 122%. I was pleased to find out, but not surprised, that the then current cost of the CAS administration was approximately the same as at the time of my arrival.

[2] Administration Now

   That was then; what about now? For one thing, there is no need to reconstruct or speculate. Splendid Northwestern websites tell all and very perspicuously so. For my assessment of the current state of affairs at the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, as it came to be called not long after I left, I chose its Directory by Function.3 There are sixteen of those functions, with anything from one to thirteen functionaries performing their assigned jobs. The three biggest are, not surprisingly, Information Technology (13), Undergraduate Studies (9) and Alumni and Development (8). Altogether sixty-one persons make up the current WCAS dean’s office. (Note that in these days of the computer none is a “mere” secretary, of which there 3 out of those 19, actually making for only 16 substantive administrators, with the three senior associate deans only serving part-time.) The current crew is of course not confined to those two houses on Sheridan Road. By way of comparison, the college administration is over three times bigger than it was some thirty-plus years earlier. This does not include twenty undergraduate advisors, a function that had been “professionalized” since my day. Not counting the 20 College advisors leaves a dean’s office of 61 which figure is 3.26 times bigger than 19 and almost 4 times larger if you omit the non-administrating secretaries.
   My first reaction was to suppose that WCAS has taken on tasks that used to be carried out by central administration offices. Maybe so, but it does not seem to be the case, since the office of the provost, that of the vice president for research, and that of the graduate dean have all grown since the days of Ray Mack, David Minzer, and Clarence Ver Steeg, that is, since the 70’s and mid-80’s.

[3] Who Was Served: Then and Now

   It is not easy to be precise about the number of students served by CAS/WCAS, then and now. The number of undergraduates enrolled in the college increased from about 3,750 in my last year as dean to about 4,175, an increase of a shade over 10%. During that period the population of all undergraduates increased by about 17%, with an effect, of course on the college which teaches various requirements and electives for non-CAS students. To be sure, these “outsiders” consume only a small portion of the college’s administrative prowess. I think one must look elsewhere to account for that considerable increase of administrative forces.

[4] Tuition: Then and Now

   The reader may be well aware of the steep rise of college tuition during the few decades and nevertheless be shocked by the numbers now to be revealed. In 1985-86 an undergraduate paying full tuition (or rather, her parents) plunked down $10,380 for the year. For 2014-15, the lucky parents shelled out $46,836 to have their offspring attend Northwestern’s WCAS. Of that phenomenal increase, the inflation of the US dollar accounts for approximately $22,000, leaving an increase of just under $25,000 to be accounted for in other ways. Many changes at universities and NU in particular account for this phenomenal increase in costs. Some of these changes were necessary, others amounted to improvements of the processes of education, but , alas, many of the changes have been neither necessitated by increased governmental demands nor by increased costs of providing education. It would be good to know what it achieved by this substantial increase in administration. I confess that I have my suspicions.

     1A summary of  many of these changes and more can be found in my “Twelve-Year Report to the Faculty,” dated September 15, 1986 and reprinted as Appendix 3, pp 488-521 in my 2003 autobiography, Mostly About Me: A Path Through Different Worlds.  

2 That reconstruction was actually accomplished by Steven Bates whom I brought into the office a couple of years after I came and who stayed on as an associate dean for many years after I left. Steve had the wit to consult the university’s archivist. He deserves my grateful thanks for doing this job which my sieve-like memory could never have managed.

Your comments, positive or negative, are much appreciated.
For your convenience and mine use the email method, the last item in the column on  the right.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

 A  Remarkable Coincidence or Going Back Seventy Years

   I spent most of last week in New York, probably my last visit to the place where, as a 12-year old, I began my life in the US on March 10, 1939. On this NY visit, (son) Mark and (daughter) Ellie, were together for the first time since forever, just by ourselves, sans familles.  One thing I wanted to do on that trip was to go to the house to which my family moved in 1941 and where I lived all through high school: 4037 77th Street, Jackson Heights. That was also the address to which my letters to my parents were sent during my year in the Navy. We had been the first tenants of our apartment (5D, I believe), since the building had just been completed. (That suited my mother who was not happy with the cockroaches in the elderly Manhattan building we had previously occupied.)
   From looking at the apartment house—not transcendently interesting—we went on to the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, not far away, though I didn’t remember it to be so close to our house. The building we found was correctly labeled, but quite different and more modern and much smaller than the one I remembered. I was puzzled and the three of us were talking when a couple came out and engaged us in conversation. It turned out that he was the president of the synagogue and told us that, with a congregation that had become much smaller, the original building had been sold and this more modern, small multi-purpose building replaced it.
   I told them that I was not only a member of the synagogue choir during my years in high school, but conducted it on Friday nights, when Felix Alt, the adult director, was playing the organ, facing away from the singers. I was more generally active in the Jewish Center and once actually wrote a long “refutation” of a sermon the Rabbi, Theodore Friedman,  had given.  I wish I still had a copy. Because Brooklyn Tech, my high school, was then all boys and because, as an all-city school the students came from many neighborhoods, near and far, the Jewish Center was the locus of my social life as well.
   Our conservation continued as we went inside the building, where we faced an impressive brass plaque listing a considerable number of members of the congregation who had served in World War II, with a star next to those who had fallen in the war. And there I was, in alphabetical order: WEINGARTNER, RUDOLPH H. in splendid raised letters in bronze, just under a half inch high. That plaque was probably put there sixty or more years ago—but knowledge of its existence only reached me a few days ago.
   Looking at the house I had moved into seventy years ago did not particularly affect me. The unexpected encounter with the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, however, most definitely made me ruminate about my many hours spent there very long ago.
Your comments, positive or negative, are much appreciated.
For your convenience and mine use the email method, the last item in the column on  the right.