Friday, January 29, 2016

Concert Audiences in Mexico City and Pittsburgh

Concert Audiences in Mexico City
   Recently, a friend and I went to hear the Orquesta Filamamónica de la UNAM. But while that abbreviation stands for National Autonomous University of Mexico, the orchestra is not a student ensemble but a full-size symphony orchestra made up of professional musicians. They perform regularly in the Sala Nezahuacóyotl on the university’s campus, a large modern concert hall with excellent aoustics, seating listeners not only on a sizeable bank of rows sloping down to the stage, but also in substantial rows rising upwards from the entering level on the left and right and center, plus a substantial bank quite high behind the orchestra. While on a previous visit to the hall, that last set of seats was filled by the chorus that sang Schoenberg’s Gurre Lieder, this time those rows were fully occupied by audience, as were all the seats in all directions, making a large house sold out, as far as I could tell. Not that this enriched the university, since the tickets cost between $5.50 and $13, not to mention those of us who had free passes secured from a friend who is a member of the orchestra. 
   It was a nice program, if not a particularly adventurous one, opening with the Brahms Haydn variations, followed by Rachmaninoff’s take on that Paganini caprice, competently played by a Korean pianist. The work after the intermission was Dvorak’s New World Symphony, now numbered ninth, though in my younger years it was just number 5. But while that numbering change acknowledges the existence of earlier works, alas, that recognition is about all that the composer gets out of this change. None of those earlier works seem to get performed. Some of us who agitate now and then to have orchestras perform works by composers that tend to be neglected altogether, might also put in a word for music that is rarely, if ever, to be found on concert programs, while other works by their composers are played again and again. The fact is that vastly more worthwhile music has been written than can be programmed on any finite set of concerts.
   My friends at the Pittsburgh Symphony would turn green with envy if they saw the packed houses at Mexico City’s orchestras. Yes, the plural is correct: there are three additional ones, all putting on regular seasons. I’ve attended concerts of two of the others, and frequently that of the Orquesta Sinfònica Nacional (OSN) of which my daughter Eleanor has been principal clarinet since 1990. The orchestra plays in the Palacio des Bellas Artes, a French-inspired edifice built in fits and starts early-ish in the 20th century. If the envy were focused on the number of concert goers, it would of course be misplaced, given that Mexico City at nine million is about thirty times more populous than the city where, at more than five hundred feet, the Cathedral of Learning harbors a significant chunk of the University of Pittsburgh.
   What they would—or should—envy is the composition of that audience. They don’t look like the audiences we see in the States: they are not the oldies without whose patronage most American orchestras would have to fold. Rather, they are of all ages, indeed, more younger than older. While they clearly care about their appearance—a mark of this capital city—that does not call for formality in dress, even less for men than for women.
   I asked my friend and companion, what accounts for this broad participation as audience. I did not expect the answer I was given. No, it was not music education in the public schools—about which he was not very enthusiastic. Rather, was  his answer, it is that kids from a young age on are simply exposed to music, by having a variety of groups perform mini-concerts with students of all ages being the audience.
   For me that was quite a revelation. I had never separated in my mind education and exposure, mostly by focusing on the tasks of education and taking exposure for granted. But when you think of it, there is quite a difference between the two.  One can learn a great deal about music—and I would spell out some of that except I am afraid of boring my readers—without ever being “exposed” (there is that word again) to particular works. And even when you are brought to listen (via recordings) to a selected set of works of music, it may well be, in this “educational” context, that the point of listening is to be able to identify important compositions in the repertory: that’s the Eroica, now comes the Jupiter and this is the Symphonie fantastique. Nothing at all wrong with doing that; but it’s work of sorts that has a goal beyond just listening; it is not the same as “exposure” that merely asks you to listen and, one hopes, to enjoy what is to be heard.
   I can easily see that if kids are in this way “exposed” to music, repeatedly and from early on, that they come to think of the experience as part of their lives—at least for a healthy fraction of those listeners—a role they will want to continue to enjoy, beyond their schooling. One way they can do that is by attending, often or now and then, concerts by one of the several orchestras readily accessible in their city. It’s a plausible story.
   There is very little difference between this Filarmonica de la Unam experience and my frequent attendance of concerts by the OSN in Bellas Artes, a building that is a splendid take-off of a major French concert hall.  The atmosphere there is a bit more formal, but not by much.  Groups of late adolescents in jeans come every time; super well-behaved! As for the rest of the audience, I’ll simply say that I see more men wearing ties, but not as many as on half of them in the audience.
   As far as I can tell, the audiences I have observed here seem truly representative, in their age distribution, of the general population. In that way they differ quite sharply from American concert audiences which are notably skewed toward the older portion of the population. I’ll hesitantly account for that by citing three traits to be found in Mexico and to a much lesser degree, if at all, in the US. First, attending concerts in this city is vastly cheaper than it is north of the border—a situation that depends in turn on the fact that in Mexico most of the musical organizations are funded by one arm or another of the state, while their American counterparts largely depend on private funding. As a result, almost anyone—certainly any member of the middle class—can afford to attend. Second, the apparently wide-spread practice of exposing impressionable youngsters to repeated experiences of classical music inculcates in a fraction of them the desire to listen to such music in their lives after school. Third and most important is the belief, widespread though far from universal, that an appreciation of music is a component of living a civilized life. That this cultural trait distinguishes Mexico from the United States, at least in degree and why that should be so is a topic for another time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A 2007 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette OpEd: Germans and Jews Today

Sunday Forum: Germans and Jews today
The relationship is complicated and RUDOLPH H. WEINGARTNER finds that nostalgia is part of it
Sunday, August 19, 2007
In 1995 I returned to Heidelberg, invited by the city as one of its former Jewish inhabitants. On the Friday evening, the arranged program took us to a service at the then newly built synagogue, at considerable distance from the center of town where the old one had stood. (That building, having been burned down on Crystal Night, is now reduced to a well-kept empty lot hosting a memorial plaque.)

Rudolph H. Weingartner ( is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. His latest book is "A Sixty-Year Ride Through the World of Education" (Hamilton/Rowman & Littlefield).

Given that the new synagogue is quite large and expensively detailed, I asked a (non-Jewish) Heidelberg acquaintance, why so? -- given that the Jewish congregation was quite small.
"The state," she replied with a wicked smile, "was willing to contribute substantially to the building, provided the synagogue would be quite impressive."
The state clearly wanted to make a statement; but what is it they wanted to say? At the time, I did not think much about it and simply assumed it was yet another instance of expiation of past guilt. But further observations, a more recent visit to Germany, and some reflection led me to think that things are more complicated.
The last Germans who might actually have been guilty vis-a-vis Jews are the grandparents of the current generation, a cadre that is rapidly disappearing. Many members of subsequent generations, agreeing that some of their forebears (especially if they were dead) were guilty of heinous crimes, question that they should also bear the burden of that guilt.
As individuals, they are surely right, in spite of the Biblical dictum, "the sins of the fathers ..." German society, however, a continuous quasi-organism, of which these individuals are "components," does have obligations. (Just as ours does, recent Supreme Court decisions to the contrary notwithstanding, toward the descendents of those whom our ancestors enslaved.)
The state of Baden-Wurtemberg was no doubt acting in behalf of German society, as do other states and cities in the erection of numerous memorials to Jews throughout Germany.
But there is much more to the current relationship of Germans toward Jews and Judaism. To begin with, enough time has passed since the period before Germany became a Nazi state, for there to be a historical awareness of what had transpired during the century before then. In that period Jews in Germany never numbered more than about half a million out of a population of about 65 million at the end of this pre-Hitler period.
Nevertheless, members of that tiny fraction made signal and recognized contributions in a large range of activities, as jurists, physicians, journalists, academics -- from the humanities to the sciences -- and as leading members in other professions and, of course, in commerce. These folks are now missed.
But the prominence of Jews in additional domains suggests another dimension of current German attitudes: Jews were active in music and the arts, in theater and film, as popular writers, and as entertainers of various kinds.
In a country that was culturally very homogeneous -- and thus very unlike America -- Jews provided a kind of spice, an interesting exotic element, while remaining essentially middle class, seldom venturing outside the bounds of gentility and the broad framework of German culture. It was a case of having your cake and eating it too, if for a period of less than a century.
One component, as I see it, in the current German attitude toward Jews is a nostalgia for a complex condition that, in effect, few if any alive today had themselves actually encountered. And no doubt this experiential gap adds a mythic element to the object of this nostalgia.
Evidence? On my 2006 trip to Heidelberg, we were asked to speak to high school students about our families' lives before emigration. I never taught a class that was so attentive and as active with questions, an experience equaled by my colleagues.
Further, besides those many modest monuments and memorials dotted throughout Germany, the number of Berlin streets bearing the names of Jews, famous and not so, is astonishing. Then there are the different types of schools of Jewish studies that have been established in Germany, capable of serving a far larger student body than there are eligible Jews living in Germany. Non-Jews attend.
One of these institutions, Abraham Geiger College attracted national and, indeed, international, attention when, last fall, it ordained its first three graduates as liberal (reform) rabbis --the first in 60 years in Germany. More to the point I want to bring out, that ceremony was attended by none other than Horst Kohler, president of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland!
Many in Germany -- and many surely not: there is also anti-Semitism -- want the German cake leavened by Jews who once made such a contribution. But the German Jews who played that role are dying out: I was 12 when I left there in 1939 and am 80 now.
The largest number of Jews living in Germany now came there from Russia and, if my small sampling gives me an accurate reading, a large proportion of these immigrants mostly keep to themselves, living apart from German society. No doubt, to a significant degree that is their own doing. We know from our own history here that the first generation of newcomers bands together, venturing as little as possible into "established" society.
But then I suspect that not enough is done by Germans to counteract such isolationism. I surmise, further, that specifically Jews that had been brought up in Germany are the object of the nostalgia I detect, Jews that had already been domesticated. Well, that process of integration, such as it was, took several centuries and depended on its success, such as it was, on the actions of Germans -- just as those Germans were able to nullify it in a thrice.
Nostalgia, in the end, can never be gratified, since the past cannot be brought into the present. If Germans desire to add Jewish seasoning to their culture, they will have to make major efforts to reach out to those Jews who live there and they will have to accept the new flavors that future integration will bring. To paraphrase our recently resigned secretary of defense, "You make do with the Jews you have."
First published at PG NOW on August 17, 2007 at 9:34 pm

Friday, January 15, 2016

Candidates for the Presidency Must be Qualified to Hold that Office

Two Leading Candidates, Trump and Cruz, are Not

   My first vote was for Truman in 1948. I voted in every presidential election since then, a  few times with enthusiasm—as for Adlai Stevenson—but at times just faut de mieux. Voting Republican, even in their better days, was never an option for me. However, as best as I recollect, I did  believe that during those years the GOP candidates were qualified to be president, even if I much preferred the policies proposed by the Democrat.
   Here are the two main opponents in the elections I voted.  Check them out and you will see that they were all of them experienced as governors or in national office. Most of them knew what it meant to govern, with, interestingly, Obama closest to being a novice.

1948 Truman, Dem v Dewey, Rep
1952 Stevenson, Dem v Eisenhower, Rep
1956 Stevenson, Dem v Eisenhower, Rep
1960 Kennedy, Dem v Nixon, Rep
1964 Johnson, Dem v Goldwater, Rep
1968 Humphrey, Dem v Nixon, Rep
1972 McGovern, Dem v Nixon, Rep
1976 Carter, Dem v Ford, Rep
1980 Carter, Dem v Reagan, Rep
1984 Mondale, Dem v Reagan, Rep
1988 Dukakis, Dem v  Bush, 1st, Rep
1992 Clinton, Dem v Bush, 2nd, Rep
1996 Clinton, Dem v Dole, Rep
2000 Gore, Dem v Bush,2nd , Rep
2004 Kerry, Dem v Bush,2nd, Rep
2008 Obama, Dem v McCain, Rep
2012 Obama, Dem v Romney, Rep

   But times have changed. Barring unforeseen events, the Democratic candidate has been de facto determined, debates and primaries to come notwithstanding. Hillary Clinton, well qualified, is the likely Democratic candidate for president in the coming election.
   Matters on the Republican side are considerably more complicated. Twelve candidates “have been listed in five or more major independent nationwide polls, participated in at least one authorized debate, and are presently on the ballot in at least seven primaries.” Of that group, I generously count six aspirants as possibly making it—a guess, of course. They are, in alphabetical order, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubico, and Donald Trump.
   In my view, this is not a remarkable group of people; not one of them can boast of significant accomplishments. But three of the group are conspicuously unqualified to be president of our country: Carson, Cruz, and Trump, with Trump and Cruz, most remarkably, front runners in Iowa polls, the first primay state.
   What’s shocking about this is that that the Republican, “conservative” voters are prepared to entrust the leadership of the country to persons who lack the knowledge and experience or even temperament considered to be necessary for that job. At best, they are rank amateurs; and I mean “at best.” There is nothing conservative about entrusting the role of United States presidency to either of them. 
   While much has been written about the bollixed nature of current politics in our country not enough has been said about the rejection by a significant portion of the electorate of knowledge, experience, and a grasp of basic issues by candidates they will support. If either Trump or Cruz is the Republican candidate, either of them would be sharply distinguished from their predecessors.1 This is perhaps the deepest difference between politics during Obama’s second term and (at least) recent history.
   Very well, you say, noted. But as a Democrat, don’t you wish that either of these jokers will get the nomination, since it is highly probable that neither could be elected?
   My answer to this interjection is to reluctantly reject it. Yes, I, too, believe that the country won’t go for such distorted conservatism. But the system is very leaky. A lot can go wrong. Between now and next November upheavals may preclude Clinton’s election; goofs or worse may sink Hillary‘s ship.  In effect, the game isn’t over until it’s over. And that will be midnight of November 8, 2016. That’s ten months from now; much can happen in the interim.
   Accordingly, over and above my liberal partisanship is my desire to have the next election put into office a competent leader of the United States of America.  That rules out Trump and Cruz.
1I won’t here defend this claim and hope that most of those who have followed the discussions about this race will agree. As it turns out, a devastating piece about Trump just appeared in the NYTimes:


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The New Republic--Again

  ? Et Resurrexit ?
Herewith an overview of the fate of the venerable (100+ year old) publication. The New York Times has just reported that Chris Hughes, a Facebook millionaire, who bought the TNR three years ago, spent three years or so making a mess of it, is now looking for a purchaser, having gotten tired of playing with his toy. The first piece, below, is the Times article. Next, an excellent, extensive New Yorker account of Hughes’ TNR mucking by Ryan Lizza,  

Finally, I am reprinting my December post in which I announce that I am ending my subscription to TNR after about fifty years of reading it regularly. Ruth Bader Ginsburg who had proposed a toast at the festivities celebrating TNR’s 100th birthday canceled her subscription as well. Let’s hope that the next owner will act so as to tempt us back into the fold and that Chris Hughes comes to play with another toy that does no harm to the commonweal. 

The New Republic Is for Sale Again
Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who bought The New Republic in 2012 and prompted a revolt among staff members and contributors when he tried to remake it, said on Monday that he had decided to put the magazine up for sale.
“I bought this company nearly four years ago to ensure its survival and give it the financial runway to experiment with new business models in a time of immense change in media,” he said in a letter to his staff that he also posted on the website Medium. “After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic.”
When Mr. Hughes bought the magazine in 2012, many were optimistic about his Silicon Valley experience combining with the publication’s reputation. Shortly after he took over, he rehired Franklin Foer, a well-regarded former editor.
But by late 2014, because of tension between Mr. Foer and a new chief executive Mr. Hughes brought to the magazine, Mr. Hughes decided to replace Mr. Foer. When word got out, Mr. Foer resigned and was followed by a dozen outraged staff employees and dozens of contributing editors. The walkout forced the magazine to cancel an issue.

Sunday, December 7, 2014
The Death of The New Republic
   I’ve subscribed to the New Republic give or take for fifty years. It certainly had its ups and downs during that long stretch, but its Gestalt has essentially remained the same. It purveyed intelligent political and literary commentary that was up to date, but not “mod;” it was seldom doctrinaire, if not always rigorously liberal. I never hesitated to renew my subscription.
   The cast of characters that wrote for the TNR, not to mention the people who guided TNR’s ability to bring out a very worthwhile publication, were a squadron of writers and editors, performing a considerable variety of tasks—and at a very high level of both competence and imagination.
   Thanks to the astonishing ineptitude of Chris Hughes, the late-adolescent new owner of TNR, they are all gone!  But perhaps it was not at all ineptitude, since the proposed changes included a move from Washington to New York; and surely the new “management” could not have expected that a dozen or so people would uproot themselves and their families to follow so insecure a trumpet.
   But if not ineptitude, what has happened was willful destruction. Why do I say that? Because now nothing, yes nothing is left of TNR; the issue “celebrating” its 100 years of publishing will be the last. Again, why do I say that? Because in the five or so pieces I have read about the changes at TNR, not a single sentence appeared about the envisaged substance of the new publication; the entire stress has been on form—on process, with some high falutin’ terms freely slung around. The brains of the outfit, including a number of very distinguished authors were in effect fired, since the circumstances that were created required the resignation of anyone with a modicum of self-respect.
   Who will their successors be? Where will the new brains of the outfit come from? Which of the brethren of the departing will want to take their place? Has the new “management” thought that through and identified the TNR of the future. I am very very doubtful, since it would have been to their great advantage to regale the public with their substantive vision of the future.
   Maybe 100 years is an age that even most publications cannot outlive. Money will keep this one propped up for a while, but I envisage that it won’t be long before it becomes appropriate to recite the mourner’s Kaddish: Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'mei rabbaw (Amen)bB'allmaw dee v'raw chir'usei . . . .

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not Your Huddled Masses: a 2011 Pittsburgh Post Gazette Op Ed

[This op ed was written less than a decade ago, during a very different period from today's on the subject of immigration. Asad's father had Syria,firmly in his grip. The civil war that produced millions of refugees was still in the future.  ISIS had not yet come into existence. Illegal immigration from Mexico was ongoing, but had not yet reached the critical mass that split US politicians into maintaining two irreconcilable positions, creating paralysis. The piece here reprinted was written by a liberal middle class immigrant to the United States, published by the liberal Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I was grateful to them.] 


The importance of immigration
America gets the able and ambitious, not the huddled masses
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
By Rudolph H. Weingartner
As part of MSNBC's "Lean Forward" branding, talk-show host Lawrence O'Donnell solemnly intones that "immigration is an added value" and an "invaluable energy infusion" for America -- that it has always been so and remains so today. This is demonstrated superbly in a 1969 volume, "Intellectual Migration: Europe and America, 1930-1960," edited by Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn.
The first half of this span was of course that extraordinary period during which Adolf Hitler became the greatest benefactor of America's intellectual life as he sent refugees fleeing from Europe.
Among many examples were the emigre scientists who created the atomic age at Los Alamos, game theory and survey research. American architecture and so many other fields were deeply influenced by Bauhaus refugees. The book's appendix devotes a paragraph to each of "300 notable emigres," many of whom would be recognized by reasonably alert laypersons.
Almost all of these arrivals were notable or on the way to becoming so before they got here. Not so the group studied by Gerhard Sonnert and Gerald Holton for their book "What Happened to the Children Who Fled Nazi Persecution" (2006).
These immigrants were born in central Europe between 1918 and 1935 and came to America between 1933 and 1945. The largest number were teenagers or younger (I was just 12 when my family reached New York.) A fraction had graduated from the equivalent of high school in Europe or even begun university careers, but a large majority were primarily educated in the United States (I started here in sixth grade).
The authors supplement their study with many additional research reports, yielding a text replete with tables and notes. Their book is not as absorbing to read as the one about the big shots, but some of their conclusions are quite startling.
For instance, approximately "15 times as many former young refugees [are] in the pages of 'Who's Who' than one would expect from the size of the group." This measure is useful, the authors point out, because of the large size of the "Who's Who" database and the fact that it reports on accomplished people in every major field, while making it impossible to buy one's way in.
The authors also found the educational achievements of the men of this group -- the women had fewer opportunities -- to be downright "amazing." By 1970, just under 50 percent had completed four or more years of higher education and over 30 percent went beyond that level. These figures were far higher than the average for those born in the same years.
Can there be any doubt that both of these sets of immigrants "added value" to the United States?
Nevertheless, skeptics about MSNBC's branding -- perhaps those now enforcing Alabama's new immigration limitations -- are likely to say that immigration around the world wars of the 20th century was different from that which occurred before and after that time. Indeed, the immigrants discussed in these two books were emphatically middle class, with the attendant level of affluence and education.
But let's consider the Emma Lazarus poem mounted in the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me ...
Many skeptics may say we can very well do without that wretched refuse!
But the Lazarus poem is misleading.
Yes, the immigrants she wrote about came from Irish farms, from Eastern European shtetls, from impoverished towns in Calabria, from the Mexican countryside and as railroad laborers or escapees from wars in the Far East. Tempest-tossed, some; yearning to breathe free, others. But also people who had the imagination to envisage a future elsewhere, the guts and organizational skill to make a trek that was mostly long and arduous. Once here, they had the wit and energy to stay alive and, often, thrive in a strange -- indeed, foreign -- environment.
Peace, Emma: Then, as now, it is the huddled masses who were left behind, while America got those who distinguish themselves from the crowd.
Of course, the many millions who have migrated here have benefited from the fact that in America ability and ambition are the major forces upward. And that must not end. Nor must the belief that immigration is indeed an added value and a valuable infusion of energy.
Rudolph H. Weingartner is professor emeritus of philosophy and a former provost of the University of Pittsburgh ( The second edition of his "Fitting Form to Function: A Primer on the Organization of Academic Institutions" was recently published.

First published on October 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Here a Billion, There a Billion

Loose Talk, Very Loose Talk

    Here is a quotation from a January 3 NY Times Book Review. Check it out,1 if you care to, but I am just putting forward (the phrase in italics) as a sample of a very frequent form of loose talk:

Using the improved detection capacity of genetic sequencing techniques, scientists have                  discovered that 100 trillion microscopic creatures live in and on the body, influencing everything from the intensity of our immune responses and our moods to our dietary preferences and propensity to gain weight.

   Let me write out that number (and I hope I got it right): 100,000,000,000,000—one thousand times one billion. I’m not a cell biologist, to paraphrase many Republicans’ response to climate change, but I am skeptical about the meaningfulness of so huge and rounded off a number. Physics is probably capable of coming up with precise measurements up there somewhere, though not even physics gets into that numerical stratosphere.
   Surely no one counted those “microscopic creatures”—how could one? That makes  statements like these “loose talk,” because that huge (but misleadingly precise) number really stands for “an awful lot” or, in more picturesque language, “a more humongous” number of those very little creatures.
   If I am right, apparent precision: an actual number is in effect a masked way of engaging in loose talk.