Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Many Years of Smoking Cigarettes

12 February 1946 [my 19th birthday]
Hello you all (we’re steadily going South),
   As usual there’s not much that’s new. We have 106 Jap civilians aboard & are now in the middle of our trip to Sasebo. Thursday morning we are to get there.
   As usual I’m busy – washing, besides my work & watches (the laundry is for dungarees only) plus eating and sleeping easily fill 24 hours a day.
   The course we’re on now was plotted by me & another fellow, & I’m catching on to a good part of the work now. The mail situation is still zero – Shanghai it is, not sooner!
   Out of monotony and to stuff something into that cigarette holder (carved bone) I bought for two packs of cigarettes I bought in Shanghai, I’ve started to smoke a little – but nothing to get alarmed about. Anyway: if I should smoke I guarantee a pipe. That should look good with the beard I’m growing – very slow work, incidentally. I almost thought I’d have to consider myself defeated, when I got a fine rash on my chin, but in sick-bay they gave me a little zinc-oxide (Desitin) which fixed it up nicely – so it’s up to time now.
   Besides a little reading, and an occasional card game my occupations have been listed. I’m sure I’d have a lot to write about, if I had some mail to answer – but: not yet. I would also appreciate greatly if you would send occasional P.M.’s to give me a faint idea anyway of what’s going on. I surely haven’t the slightest idea. I miss music a lot out here – there is no one to even talk about it with – so I’ve started to write again – no piano, no nothing – on watch & a note every half hour. But at least it looks good!
   I hope I don’t have to keep explaining, that when a ship is underway, it can’t drop mail, so that lapses will keep right on occurring. Sometimes we’ll make short trips sometimes long ones, some times mail will be dropped right near an airfield, sometimes it has to go aboard another ship first & and will take god knows how long to get places. You see . . . . . The weather’s still been good & we’ve been riding marvelously for an [sentence unfinished]
   Tonite in the shower I’ve made the observation that I’m getting fat! You see, chow on here isn’t bad and there’s as much as you want! Just now for instance I’m munching on a tremendous slice of coffee cake that was put out just a while back since they had some left over from this morning, when I had an even tremendouser slice! Perhaps I’ll go on a diet – just leaving out potatoes & eating more of whatever else they have.   I I I I  With the change in ink it became the 13th – the night before our arrival in Sasebo – that’ll be at 0800 tomorrow morning. I want this letter to go off with the first batch – if they are taking letters off, so I’ll close now.
   Everything’s OK in China – as a matter of fact Japan! So

   It was an innocuous beginning: “I’ve started to smoke a little – but nothing to get alarmed about.” Wrong. It was over twenty-seven years later that I finally quit, after a career of smoking vastly more than “a little.” Herewith a brief account of a story that has but a single moral: don’t start smoking in the first place. If my original incentive was the carved bone cigarette holder I had bought (I was always attracted to bits of craftsmanship), smoking on watch in the wheelhouse, especially at night when there was nothing to do, was first just whiling away the time and then, inevitably, it became a habit. A pack of cigarettes cost a nickel aboard ship, even then not a big deal. And I was certainly not aware of health reasons why one should not smoke.
   And so it went. In college, many fellow students smoked. And so did my best friend Carl. One just did it (as many of our instructors did); it was not really noted. A pack a day and creeping up. “Creeping” because there was a total lack of self-awareness that smoking had become a serious habit. While my mother had always objected in a friendly sort of way to my father’s cigar smoking, it was solely because she didn’t like the smell of the smoke.  
   And so, as I said, it went. Writing, of which I did a lot, called for increased concentration which in turn led to more continuous smoking. It came close to lighting the next cigarette with the one just burned down. Three packs a day was not unusual. I didn’t feel guilty: it was not an expensive habit and it was not widely disapproved. Until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the serious health effects of smoking.
    At first, that “news” did not make much of a dent. It impinged gradually, much boosted by the fact Mark and Ellie, then in elementary school, started to come home with anti-smoking  propaganda, starting at breakfast. It finally sank in: smoking was bad, really bad, for your health. And that led to a protracted period of efforts to quit.
   My first go at abstinence lasted a full year. It ended when I thought that, having been weaned, I could enjoy a single cigarette after dinner. How wrong! Soon I was again smoking full time. Not much later I tried again. This stint lasted two and a half years.  But it too ended, though I do not recall how or why.

   I finally concluded that the saga had to come to a real end. So, in July 1973, more than a quarter of a century after my first puff, I became really determined to call it quits. And I did quit, with the usual agony. But by now I had learned from my past and became a member, so to speak, of nicotine anonymous: I’ve never again had a single puff.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This Too is Mexico

   I start with a screwed up syllogism:

                        Most old people fall at one time or another
                        I am an old person 
                        About ten days ago I fell on my way home from an errand
   I was walking home on Holbein, a close-by familiar street I have used frequently and fell not very far from the house. I have no idea what got me to wind up on the ground.  I probably caught my foot on one of the irregularities in the sidewalk. I was wholly disoriented, for all practical purposes, unconscious, I don’t know for how long.
   The next thing I knew were (son-in-law) Miguel and (granddaughter) Eva picking me up, soon joined by (daugher) Ellie. I was next loaded into the car and Miguel drove to the very modern Hospital Español. It was Saturday afternoon and the Emergency Room seemed not to be very busy. At any rate, a crew of medics proceeded to take an inordinate number of X-rays of my chest. They also scanned my head, which had a bloody bump. Besides a few additional scrapes that remained unremarked, the verdict was that there was no harm to my head—at least not to its inside—but that two of my ribs were cracked. It was noted, as well, that my right hearing aid was gone.
   For what I trust were sound medical reasons, my ribs were not taped. Upon my request I was given two Tylenols, which helped if nowhere near enough. I had heard that broken ribs hurt (I suppose there are a lot of nerves, in this case on the back.) The rumors were correct. Gingerly, I stretched out in my bed; there were not a lot of alternatives. Of course, the restaurant lunch that had been planned became a home-made meal.
   Now go back to the scene of that mega-mishap. How did my family come to rescue me? And by all accounts quite quickly. It turned out that a passer-by who  saw me go down, fished the cell phone out of my pocket, where she found the telephone number of the house on Atlanta. She called it and the family promptly showed up. I never actually saw my savior and thus did not thank her. My family assured me that of course they did.
   While things did not quickly return to normal for me—as I said, the rumors about broken ribs are accurate—I could get a check to Ellie so that she could order a replacement for the missing hearing aid from Costco, which had been their source. It would arrive in a week or so and would promptly be programmed so that I could use it. But then . . . .
   The next Saturday, a week after the event, Ellie suggested I get a bit of exercise by accompanying her to their dry cleaner, down the street on Holbein. She proposed that I stay out in the pleasant sun, while she went inside to get her clothes. Almost immediately after she emerged from the store, one of the dry-cleaning people also came out into the street. He saw me and also noted that I was related to his long-time customer.  Further, he saw that I was the guy who fell somewhere near there and quickly realized that the hearing aid he had picked up on the scene of the accident belonged to me.  So, quite unexpectedly, I got my second hearing aid back. Now we have to see whether Costco is willing to cancel the order for its replacement and refund the payment therefor.

   My recovery may not be fast, but it is ongoing. However, since I don’t really know just how I came to fall, I’m also quite unsure, alas, how to avoid in the future the fate predicted by that nasty syllogism.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In Praise of Email

   I was dean of arts and sciences at Northwestern University when I was asked, in the mid-eighties, whether I wanted to have email installed on my computer which I primarily used for word processing. My fairly quick response was “no, thank you; I don’t need another channel by means of which people can communicate with me.” My college consisted of about four hundred faculty members, a population not known to be shy about letting their dean know what they think and what they want. Nor did I look on this new facility as a way in which I might communicate with them; the fact is, I did not then really grasp its two-way potential.
   It was essentially left at that until I retired a few years later from being the University of Pittsburgh provost, losing the competent secretarial help which I had had for a decade and a half. A Pitt philosophy colleague was the departmental computer guru and came over to our house to set things up. It was he who gave me my user name—e-christened me, so to speak—and advised on passwords.  When he left the house I was ready to go, initially, as I recall, with Compuserve.
   My use of email began slowly, as I suppose it did for most people. Unless one made a deliberate effort, which I did not, to build up a cadre of email partners, this list accumulated by fits and starts, but that address book—or those “contacts”—did build up and continues to do so.
   It did not take all that long for me to become an avid emailer, though not what I’d call a typical one. The form of the messages I send is hardly different, if at all, from those I did and would write in a letter. (Writing letters and notes, after all, is what I did most of my life—though hardly any more.) Thus, I’ve taken neither to what have become email shorthand expressions nor to the symbols that have come into use. I can make out most of these, but have no active grasp of them. They are, at most, a part of my passive e-vocabulary. It helps that I type pretty fast, a skill acquired in typewriter days, so that is one transition I did not have to make.
   By now, emailing has become by far the most important and most used method for me to be in communication with other people. While of course I have been using the telephone just about all my life and use it for business—and, like it or not, put up with time consuming conversations with computers—I have never acquired the habit of frequently engaging in prolonged phone conversations with friends and family—though of course there have been such. As for the mail, now derogatively referred to as “snail mail,” what I send out is minimal and, more often than not, ceremonial greetings of various kinds, and what comes in is over 90% commercial: advertisements and solicitation for funds. It is clear that email—which is emphatically also not free of commercial communications—has replaced most of the communicating we used to do on paper.

   Now, I’ve entitled these remarks, “In Praise of Email,” so what’s so good about it? Let me start with a characteristic that is extrinsic, so to speak, to the way email is used—and one that I haven’t seen remarked upon. Assuming an emailer would in any case use a computer or other device and pay for internet or phone access, the use of email is free, costing nothing. One might think of the email system as a communication utility that enables the user to send messages to and receive communications from most places on the globe without forking out a cent. To my knowledge, there exists no other utility that costs nothing to its users.1 If they thought about it, my teenage acquaintances would say, “awesome,” as well they should.
   Let me now turn to recite some of the peculiar advantages and conveniences of communication by email. [1] For starters, anyone minimally literate can make use of it. While that is of course also true of telephoning and letter writing, sending email messages has one signal advantage over telephoning: you can fiddle with your message until you get it the way you want to send it and, when that point is reached, click “send.” And while you can also rewrite a letter until you achieve want you want to convey, you either produce a scrawl with much crossing out or you waste a lot of paper and time redrafting your message.
   [2] My second advantage may seem like a minor thing, but I think of it as a great convenience; and if you think about it, you may as well. Unlike the use of the telephone where timing is dictated by a variety of schedules and customs (don’t call your mother-in-law at 3 am), you can send and accept messages whenever you want during the 24-hour day. As for letter writing, when you write is your choice, when you send is not.
   [3} Another aspect of that same discretionary possibility is much more important. Because sending an email message is not invasive, meaning that the recipient doesn’t have to read it, it frees the sender to shoot off what he or she has in mind without worrying too much whether the recipient wants to hear that. While I wouldn’t dream of calling up an old acquaintance to impart a bit of trivial information, nor bother to write a letter conveying it, I don’t hesitate to send an email, knowing it is readily ignored (and deleted) if not of interest. In several ways, then, emailing has probably increased the number of communications by which people inform each other about their thoughts. Too many? Maybe; but no one I know is staggering under their weight. Long live DELETE.
   Finally, a couple of remarks about what has been put forward as a disadvantage of emails as a system of communication. Until they came into existence, communications (not including telephone calls that were not recorded nor face-to-face conversations, ditto) were preserved on what have come to be called hard copies. Emails, on the other hand, are ephemeral: poof and they are gone. Efforts can of course be made to preserve: “The largest batch of Mrs. Clinton’s emails to date—some 7,000 pages—was released by the State Department Monday night . . . .” Still, what might have been a record of the past will not be available to future historians. Certainly a loss, an issue thoughtful historians should address and probably have.
   I conclude with a personal note. Three years ago I moved to Mexico City, while most of my friends and acquaintances, as well as the outfits with which I have business relations, reside in the US or even elsewhere on the globe. Email keeps me in touch, virtually without effort. A great boon: long live email!   
1Of course, much money is made on the internet by a multitude of companies and individuals, but I, as a user of, pay nothing for possessing that service nor for the messages I send or receive by means of it—nor would I if I subscribed to gmail’s competitors.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Almost But Not Quite: Finalist for Three Presidencies
   I wasn’t exactly restless and continued to like my job, but there was a period while I was dean of arts and sciences at Northwestern when I was a candidate for quite a few other positions. I don’t know myself how seriously I took them; since I was a finalist for number of them, I was able to enjoy visiting other campuses and mostly found interacting with the people I met there to be interesting and often even fun. The jobs for which I was thus inspected were all nominally “more significant” than the one I had: some were provostships—vice presidencies for academic affairs—and three were for the top job, for presidencies. I only became provost of the University of Pittsburgh after I had stepped down as NU dean;1 I was not offered any of the ones for which I was a candidate while dean, several times, I was told, for reasons that had nothing to do with me. I might also add that I even though I was attracted to a few of these positions—especially one to be discussed below—I was never even close to being distressed by these rejections. More evidence, if indirect, that I liked the job I had. 
   I wouldn’t want to rehearse all of my search adventures, even if I could better recall them. Instead, I want to give brief accounts of the three presidential searches for which I was a finalist and make some comments from the distance of thirty years and more in the future of those events.
   The last of them was for the presidency of the University of Oregon. I don’t recall what led to my candidacy there; I do know that I was not brimming with enthusiasm, given Eugene, Oregon’s distance from familiar territory and especially from Fannia’s personal and professional loci. But in effect I got quite far with them. The last step in the process was to meet with relevant members of the Oregon legislature for their final approval. But instead of being anointed, they told me that because the university was facing serious budget cuts, they had decided to have an old hand in charge, the Oregon provost, whom they had not considered for the presidency because of his age. OK by me, as they used to say in Brooklyn.
   Next, earlier, was the contest (probably not the wrong word) for the presidency of Brandeis University. Somewhat surprisingly, I was a candidate. How things happen: the daughter of a Vassar faculty friend was the secretary of a lawyer who was involved in the search for the Brandeis presidency. She prodded her boss and that got me into that act.
   I almost didn’t make it to the meeting that made me a finalist. Fannia and I were then at the chamber music concerts at Marlboro in Vermont. It was easy enough to drive down to Boston for the meeting I was invited to, but getting to the right place in Boston was another matter. I would never have made it through that maze had not some kind soul said to me, “follow me.”
   After Boston I became one of three finalists and was invited to Brandeis for The Decision. The last hurdle was a large group with whom I had a lively exchange that actually concluded with some applause. And the next morning I had breakfast with Abram Sacher, the founding president of Brandeis. After all that, Evelyn Handler was picked to be the university’s next president.   
   No one of course tells you why you were not selected; all you get are thanks for allowing yourself to be considered. But I got an inkling many years later, though I don’t recall the source and can’t attest to its reliability. I was not Jewish enough, it was thought. Well, the subject of my Jewishness never came up in the questions I was asked at that plenary meeting, so, my responses didn’t call for that. I was ready, had it been relevant, to talk about my role in the synagogue choir and would have been ready to sing for them my favorite melody of V’shomru, which most of them probably didn’t even know. Still, many years after I was given that reason for my rejection, it occurred to me that my status as a Yekke2, a German Jew, may have influenced that final decision.
   Amusingly, if I can trust the gossip that reached me, Ms. Handler was later fired because she had authorized the serving of shrimp—which are emphatically not kosher—in the Brandeis cafeteria. I don’t think I would have done that: too high risk for too little gain.
   The third presidency for which I was a finalist—and the one that interested me most—was that of Oberlin College. Not only was I more familiar with the issues that pertained to a liberal arts college, but for a passionate lover of music, the Oberlin Conservatory was of course an extra attraction. The path toward my becoming a finalist and my ultimate loss to Frederick Starr was not without its incidents. The first of these was instigated by a member of the search committee among those who interviewed me at the Stanhope Hotel on Fifth Avenue. She was, if I remember correctly, a professor of psychology in a Boston-area institution. She noted, she said, that the women on the search committee participated much less in the discussion than the men: was there something about me that discouraged them?
   Well, when the committee went into a huddle after having seen all their candidates and considered making me a finalist, a small delegation was sent to the Northwestern campus to investigate my role with women on my home base. I had no contact with these visitors who proceeded to interview a number of women faculty members, including a couple of outspoken feminists. I never had feedback from the NU faculty or from the Oberlin visitors, but I must have passed the test, since I shortly became one of two finalists for the job.
   That meant visiting the campus and, for two days, meeting with a variety of individuals and groups, as well as touring the campus. My daughter Ellie was then an Oberlin senior, though my appearance on “her” campus was hardly a fatherly visit. As it became clear that I was not papabile, I thought of two things that probably negatively distinguished me from the successful candidate. While I don’t think that the first had much on an effect on the outcome, the second most likely made a serious—and negative—difference.
   When Fred Starr, the successful candidate, met with the student committee he tossed around a football with them. I was not that chummy, but had what I thought was a good, but serious, discussion with the group. My positive feeling about that was later confirmed when the daughter of an acquaintance who had been involved gave me what now would be called positive feedback.
   I am quite sure that in the second encounter, with an important faculty group, I goofed, though of course no one tells you such a thing. My recollection is not sharp, but here it is in outline. I was asked (approximately) what I thought the role of the president was vis-à-vis the curriculum.  My answer, as I recall it, was that while the president had no say in what the curriculum—requirements, whatever—should be, he did have a role to convene relevant faculty units when he thought aspects of the curriculum needed attention. From the unspoken reactions of the group I came to realize (though not right away) that the “correct” answer regarding the president’s role concerning the curriculum was NONE.           
   When I was told that I would not be chosen I was urged by several people to withdraw my candidacy, so I did just that. In retrospect, I wish I had not let myself be talked into engaging in that awkward charade: what, after all, is wrong with being the runner up for the Oberlin presidency?
   A second, more serious speculative reflection pertained to the role of Oberlin president itself. But while Fannia didn’t really think that a city with a population fewer than a million was the sort of place she wanted to live in, she had adjusted to and thrived in small and inelegant Poughkeepsie. She surely would have done so in Oberlin, Ohio. But what about me, moving from dean to president? To begin with, I am sure that I could have done the job—perhaps not brilliantly, but competently. I had the requisite knowledge via my previous experience and I had the needed personality traits, from being able to listen and to persuade. And since I adapt quite easily to new situations, I probably would have liked the job. Anyway, well enough.
   But would I really have liked it? About that I’m not at all sure: fundraising, much traveling, endless meetings. I suspect that I’d come to feel that my days are composed of second rate  activities, with a great many out of my control. Would I have coped? I am certain that I would have, but I might well have become nostalgic about my former role as dean.
   Vartan Gregorian (look him up) of whom I saw a lot when he too was a dean, knew something of my search shenanigans and their lack of success. “Rudy,” he once said, “you are too honest.” By that he surely did not mean that I should have fibbed or dissembled. What I do take him to have meant is “Rudy, you are two academic”—both in the unflattering sense and with the positive meaning. And I think he was right.
1What I really wanted to do after I had stepped down as dean was head some small art museum. Two knowledgeable people however discouraged me from pursuing that goal at length. Jim Wood, then head of the Art Institute, was most friendly but skeptical. “For such a job you should really have a doctorate in art history.” The other was an officer of a major search firm with whom I had been friendly. She said (this was in 1987) that no museum search committee would consider me unless they had failed at least twice to land a more standard candidate for their job. Neither thought it made any difference that as dean I had brought both an art history department and a department of studio art from below nowhere into a top rank.
2That term, derived from the German, “Jacke,” (Jacket) refers to German Jews (who tended to wear more formal clothes), with special attention to their excessive punctilious attention to detail.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Chess in My Life

13-14 January 1946
Hello again,
   That double date is no joke – neither is it midnight. Had I written yesterday, I would have been uncertain of today – now I am unsure of the day! I haven’t begun to adhere to a new hindu [?] philosophy – it’s the truth. About two hours ago we crossed the international dateline (180°) so now it’s a combination of Sunday and Monday. Yesterday was Saturday – tomorrow is Tuesday!
   Nothing at all out of the way has happened lately – we’re sailing along, but still have plenty to go. I played chess with the doctor the last two nights – I won four out of six – and am again getting into  the game after quite a rest.
   We’ve been working, moving, eating & sleeping since the other side [of the sheet] was written – but nothing much of anything else has happened. They’ve finally decided to pay us five bucks, so that we have at least a little money in our pockets. That will keep us pretty busy – making out lists and stuff.
   It’s been calm – so even the sea had no excitement to offer.
   When we get to Shanghai, I want to send home a nice part of my sea bag – there’s a lot of stuff in it that I don’t need! This way it just adds to all the things I have to carry around. Hope I get the chance! I’ve been taking a few pictures – but nothing came out very well – experiments – shooting from the moving train etc. – I’ll send those too, as soon as I get the chance. That’s about all I can think of for tonite----------. Bye Rudy

 * * * * * * * * * *

   Throughout the Navy letters my chess playing is mentioned on and off. I had a pocket set—and still have it—with my last name over-boldly stamped on its blue cover; it was in use from boot camp days until I was discharged. I don’t remember just how I got started on chess, though I do recall that my father taught me, an extended interaction with him that was quite rare. I started playing (and don’t remember with whom) and then joined the chess club at Brooklyn Tech, one of my few extra-curricular activities in high school.
   I don’t recall that chess played much of a role during my studying years, though I vividly remember one occasion. A good college friend, Douglas Davis, a balletomane, came to Fannia’s and my house (in the late fifties), for us all to go to dinner and then to a performance of the City Ballet. Fannia, having just come from work, took a shower, so I asked Doug, of whom I vaguely knew he played, whether he wanted to play a game of chess. He demurred, but gave in when I pleaded.  I was mated very fast, never knowing what hit me.
   I played on for many more years and enjoyed it, but never studied chess, not even reading an article now and then. Not surprisingly, I never got any better. When, a few years later, I joined the faculty of San Francisco State, I found a chess partner at my level, another SF State newcomer, Daniel Gerould, a professor of comparative literature who later became quite distinguished. We played so often that, craftsman that I then was, I made a chess table for our use—still extant and now standing to the right of the desk on which this is being written.

   That time, now more than half a century ago, was the last period when I played more than now and then with this partner or that. Fairly recently I taught the game to my grandson Max and found a very nice set for him. But to date it didn’t “take,” so with him chess has not reached the amateur level. But he is young; it still might.