Thursday, March 31, 2016

Black Tie: the Cinematographers Convene

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
First Person / Hanging out with movie people
March 31, 2012 12:00 am

By Rudolph H. Weingartner 

Have Tux; Did Travel
The plan was for me to spend my 85th birthday in Los Angeles with son Mark, who works in that city's No. 1 industry, the "moo'n' pitchers," as pronounced in Brooklyn, where I went to high school.
After the plan was in place, Mark, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, received an invitation to the annual bash of the American Society of Cinematographers, who had the nerve to do their thing on my (and Lincoln's) birthday.

"But ... but ... " sputtered Mark, "that's my dad's birthday and he's flying out here for the occasion."
"No problem," was the response, "I will invite your father as well."
"OK by me" was my reaction, to continue in the same Brooklyn argot, followed by a quick inspection that showed tux and shirt -- last worn singing Beethoven's Ninth in the Mendelssohn choir -- were still in usable shape, ready to be packed.

The venue was a mega-sized room in a complex called Hollywood & Highland, after the intersection where it stands. The room sported a stage and four large screens that enabled all 1,200 people, arrayed around tables for 10, to follow the goings-on. Drinks were served outdoors on a patio in front of the hall's entrances, with enough time allotted before the festivities to network, however dubiously that noun parades as a verb.

With some exceptions, we males were in de rigueur penguin garb, with many, if minor, stylistic variations, while the women -- who were in a distinct minority -- were dressed at various levels of fanciness, with the depth of decolletage roughly inversely proportional to the wearer's age.
A final sartorial observation: I was truly impressed not just by the variety of the men's hair styles, but by the care -- and, presumably, expense -- with which they were fashioned. For me, that tonsorial splendor was the most convincing evidence that I was not in Pittsburgh, but in the land of showbiz.
For a while we ate; it was surf and turf, accompanied by wine and quiet table conversation. But with dessert, the 26th Annual ASC Award ceremony began.

The proceedings were managed smoothly and seriously; no Billy Crystal equivalent. An effort obviously had been made to maximize the number of participants, in that a different person introduced each of the presenters of award nominees, who were divided into nine categories -- such as Half-Hour Series/Pilot, Television Motion Picture/Miniseries and Theatrical Release -- plus several awards for distinction and achievement.
Two traits of the goings-on were noteworthy. First, the ASC, like the Masons, is a masculine society. All 22 officers and other board members are men and so were all 25 nominees for awards. Women seem not to have made much headway in the craft.

Second, the group takes great pride in the vital contribution cinematographers make to the production of films. The handsome book that all of us found on our chairs features numerous pictures of crews setting up difficult shots and wielding complex equipment. Throughout the evening, it was clear, without it having been said in so many words, that cinematographers are the essential right arms of directors.

Directors rely on cinematographers to select cameras and lenses and ancillary equipment -- of which there is a great variety, conventional and esoteric. Cinematographers bring to the table the know-how and ingenuity to set up and use all that gear for shots under water, out of moving vehicles and in tricky terrain of every kind, to photograph moving objects and still, so as finally to create a movie that is pleasing to look at or interesting or both.
From category to category, clips of the nominees' work were shown and the winners introduced and given the opportunity to say a few words. Some did just that, others went on a bit long. All conveyed the flavor of their craft.

Near the end of the evening came the society's Board of Governors Award and the audience was treated to the presence of Harrison Ford, at nearly 70 erect and distinguished looking, who made an eloquent little speech in praise of the cinematographers he had worked with through the years.

The bar outside the hall had been dismantled. But that was just as well, since it was getting late. So, after a bit more conversation, most of us wended our way homeward.
For me, it had been an enlightening glimpse into another world, a world of serious, high-powered professionals who work behind the scenes to entertain us.

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.
* * * * * * *
   I have barely begun to write a fairly ambitious piece--it's not even thought through as yet--on the lugubrious subject of dying and death. While I am working on that essay, readers of this blog will be entertained (I hope) by oldies such as the one above or by short pieces that might occur to me.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Academic Administration: Ethical Issues

   At some time in the mid nineties, Steven Cahn, the editor of Issues in Academic Ethics and an old friend asked me to do a book on the ethics of academic administration. Nothing had been written on that subject, as far as I could find, so I wrote reams that made it into the wastepaper basket before I found an entry into the subject. My conceptual model in The Moral Dimensions of Academic Administration (1999) thus became the hospital, with the relationship of institution to patients that of professional and client, rather than that of vendor and customer. The book received a number of favorable reviews but certainly not a lot of sales.
   Below are some excerpts from the Postscript that looks—“glances” would be more accurate—ahead to today, about two decades after the months during which I wrote the book.
* * * * * * *
   Everything that was said about institutional collaboration with student consumerism is heightened to the maximum degree where a college or university exists to make a profit. Indeed, the “logic” of student consumerism points to profit making; for why should an institution not reap a benefit if it supplies wares for which purchasers exist? The notion of professional service to a client is replaced by the conception of a vendor of products that are wanted in the marketplace. Such an institution will be profitable to the degree to which its administration can determine what the market wants and maintain a faculty that works to satisfy those demands . . . .Administrators become full-time managers of employees who perform desired services, and faculty members become employees who serve.
* * * * * * *
   The consumer appetite for less rigorous is nowhere more evident than in the University of Phoenix, a profit-making school that shuns traditional scholarship and offers a curriculum that critics compare it to a drive-through restaurant . . . . That makes the word “university” a homonym, with a quite different meaning when place before “of Pennsylvania” or in front of “of Phoenix.”

* * * * * * *
   . . . . [S]ome boards of trustees of private IHEs [Institutions of Higher Education] . . . have eagerly talked of imposing the corporate model on the academic institutions they oversee. . . . [They] regard their academic institution’s president as its chief executive officer . . . . They pine for the efficiency that is induced by an ever-present need to be concerned about the bottom line.

* * * * * * *
   In order truly to rethink the role of academic administrators as corporate executives and managers, on the one hand, and faculty members as their employees, on the other, they must find some IHE equivalent to a product . . . and a quantifiable bottom line . . . .

* * * * * * *
      But the push to impose the corporate model requires making sure that the performance of administrators remains measurable, since accountability is thought to depend on that fact. When the push is hard enough and, to a degree, successful, the result is a hierarchical organization, rather than a collaborative one, with administrators directing the faculty. . . . The judgment of the educator must largely yield to that of the vendor.

   I next briefly discuss the effects of  the formation of unions in Institutions of Higher Education. I will conclude these selections from the book’s Postscript with short excerpt from the final paragraph.

   Some of the trends here sketched out are more with us than others, but none lof them is mere alarmist fiction. Moreover, where any of these tendencies is actualized . . . : Academic administration becomes management so that its moral dimensions are covered in discussions of business ethics. . . . [More important, if these trends] were to become widespread, they would bring about the demise of traditional colleges and universities . . . .

   See the piece I posted in this blog on December 5, 2015, entitled “The Dubious Future of the American University.” Whoever might be tempted to look at the entire book, Amazon offers quite a number of very inexpensive “new and used” copies of The Moral Dimensions of Academic Administration. As always, comments are very welcome.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Physical Therapy: Pittsburgh, 2008 and Mexico City, 2016

I was a spry 81 in Pittsburgh when a stupid accident led to an emergency operation on my stricken knee. I recovered completely from that, though it took some months to get back to normal. I was a considerably creakier 89, by then living in Mexico City, when I was again launched into physical therapy, some of it still ongoing. About today, see a brief account below. But first, the 2008 Post-Gazette oped.

First Person: The 11th floor: Back at home after rehab

Saturday, June 07, 2008

By Rudolph H. Weingartner

Some weeks ago, I walked out of my front door to go to the bank. Four houses up I caught the bottom of my foot on a piece of protruding sidewalk and fell hard on my left knee, smashing it pretty badly. That is how, a week later -- after a tricky operation from which I emerged with my left leg in a harness, ankle to groin -- I wound up in one of the beds of the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research on the 11th floor of Montefiore Hospital.
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).
Magic Mountain it wasn't; this was practical America, not an upscale Swiss sanatorium in the early years of the last century. But it nevertheless had something of the enclosed, self-sufficient characteristics of the establishment Thomas Mann described.

The point of the place, at least as I saw it from my supine perspective, is to bring people from their handicapped condition -- brought on by disease, an operation or a traumatic event, such as a stroke or an accident -- to a state that allows them to function at least semi-independently at home.

Such an enterprise cannot accomplish its tasks without having its workforce deployed in a systematic way. The need for order is heightened because the 11th floor is both a rehab establishment and a hospital. We inmates were both hospital patients and rehab clients.

The rooms are standard hospital rooms, including motorized beds. But they also sport a small bulletin board on which, each morning, the patient's schedule for the day is inscribed by a therapy aide wearing a white shirt or blouse. Indeed, the color or dress coding of the diversified personnel testifies both to the complexity and the orderliness of the people who attend to our needs.

The earliest to show up, maybe as soon as 5 a.m., were nurses' aides, in flowery blouses if women, or in some shade of blue if men, with "vital signs" the first order of business. Like everyone else, always friendly, it didn't take them long to determine blood pressure, temperature, pulse and oxygen level.

Often the physicians came next, even before breakfast, in long white smocks on which their names were embroidered. The nurse of the day, wearing some kind of light-colored clothing, came to put a fresh dressing on the stapled seam across my knee. Medicine was brought by nurse or aide, accompanied by a laser scanning of my wristband, by way of receipt.

The working day begins at 9, when I was wheeled (and later self-propelled) either to occupational therapy or to physical therapy. Aside from the fact that the occupational therapists wore green tops and light pants and the physical therapists wore blue tops, what is the difference between these two genres?

Indeed, when I first found out that I would go to occupational therapy, I was puzzled, since, long retired, I don't have an occupation. But what "OT" usefully means is activities everyone engages in at home.

There was just plain standing, on one foot, holding on to the walker. In that pose, I played checkers and other table games with other patients until I got too tired to stand. Though I'm not much of a cook at home, I went through the paces of making a grilled cheese sandwich, rummaging in the refrigerator and handling a frying pan.

There were also arm-strengthening exercises to compensate for compromised legs, and there were such useful experiments as determining how high a seat would have to be for me to be able to get up on it with the aid only of a walker. Our grandest experiment came when my OT therapist wheeled me to the front entrance of the hospital, where we found that I could indeed get into a car.

Physical therapy was more strenuous. Leg exercises, of course, and walks with the walker. At first that meant hopping on one leg, but later I was given permission to put down half my body-weight. When I asked the surgeon how I could gauge that amount, he referred me to physical therapy.

And rightly so. Some clever inventor has devised a gadget that sent a signal from a special shoe on my left foot to a small receiver that had been set at 90 pounds. Whenever my left foot touched the ground, an LED signal showed the number of pounds and a beep would sound censoriously if I exceeded the permitted weight. I practiced a good deal with that gadget, so as to get a feel for what was and was not allowed.

A poignant indication that I was in a hospital consisted of signs everywhere urging hand washing, as well as much-used dispensers of Purell disinfectant. If its stock is doing well, the product likely is performing the imperative service of fending off infections.

I'm less convinced that the widespread production of certain tools, such as the snips that removed my staples, which were declared single-use in six languages, are much more than opportunistic money-making. Better multiple-use tools have been available all these years; they need only to be consigned to an autoclave after each use. It has always been such.

I benefited greatly from my stint on the 11th floor of Montefiore, a complex and smoothly operating little magic mountain. I am certainly doing much better at home for having been there. Now I am waiting to get the harness off my leg so as to take my first hot shower since forever.

First published on June 7, 2008 at 12:00 am
* * * * * * * * 

Physical Therapy, Mexico City, 2016
   I have been visited two or three times a week by two therapists, using very different techniques to combat very different ailments. The first of these is wholly voluntary. I have had "knee problems" for quite some time evidenced by the fact that I need the help of pushing hands to get up from a chair. Moreover, my balance, just walking, has gotten quite wobbly, especially given the botched operation on my left foot. I've had a couple of falls and am anxious to avoid additional ones. Marcela, the daughter of a physician specializing in what I call Ancients, whom I've been seeing recently, has me do a great variety of exercises to combat my lassitude. Marcela chats non-stop in very good English during the entire time we are together. It's helping, I think, though progress is hard to measure.
  My second therapist's name is Gabriela and she was sent by another physician; her job is to help alleviate a sharp pain on my back--said to be a muscle and perhaps caused by a fall. Gabriela, more high tech but with less English, works vigorously on my back with her electronic tools plus a massage. Finally--I wish it were the end!--I've had a series of injections to tame my back. All this has only yielded modest success in relieving the pain--not amusing. It's there as I write this. 
   For just about everything that's wrong with me, I blame my age, if only because that account doesn't require me to do something. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Two Bits of Autobiography

[I] My Varied Marital Statuses

   I have lead a fairly even-going life, with no genuinely dramatic turns after the one that brought me and my family from Heidelberg where I was born to New York. That was in 1939, six years after the election of Hitler and the systematic persecution of Jews. After attending school and a  year’s stint in the Navy (the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima while I was in boot camp) I went to on to graduate school, but well before getting my doctorate I married Fannia, so that after twenty-five years as a single person, I attained the of being married.
   But that was only the beginning. Short of forty-two years of our mostly happy marriage, Fannia succumbed to the results of bleeding after what was supposed to be a “routine” operation. (Useless wisdom gained: there is no such thing as a routine operation.) Suddenly, my status changed from married to being widowed.
  For a few years I returned to an unadventurous bachelorhood—there ought to be a name for that status—that ended when I married Gissa, whom I had come to know as a friend of Fannia. That made me the husband of a second marriage.
   We had a pleasant life for some years and did some stimulating traveling, but it nevertheless came to fray. I can’t say whether the fact that I was fourteen years older than Gissa played a role. In any case, after an incident, I invoked the relevant clause in the pre-nup agreement we both had signed and required Gissa to move out. That gave me the new status that of being separated.
   Not all so long after reaching that new stage, I attained what was surely to be the last: Gissa and I amicably agreed to be divorced.
   While I have always thought of myself as having led a fairly quiet life, this account casts doubt on that claim.

[II] Philosophy and After

    Mostly, I think, because I had some prestigious mentors, I was the recipient of two significant fellowships. The fist was a Guggenheim and the second, a few years later, was from the American Council of Learned Societies. Both applications were for work on a book in the philosophy of history; each gave me a year free of teaching; each enabled me to take the whole family away from my campus at the time. I was teaching at San Francisco State when I was awarded the Guggenheim that permitted us to spend the year in Florence, Italy, mostly because I liked the city and the country. Six years later I was teaching at Vassar, with the fellowship year spent at Oxford where a scientist relative of Fannia secured us a berth at Linacre, his college.
   The conditions were favorable to getting work done, in the case of Florence, aided by a couple of cartons of books to compensate for the (correctly expected) paucity there of English works in philosophy. On both these occasions we settled down quite comfortably and while the schooling of the kids was quite different, it was at least adequate. Fannia continued to work on her editing, but took more advantage of what the environments had to offer than I did. That’s because I took my role seriously and spent many hours at my desk, writing.
   Both grants were for essentially the same project--the second grant updated. My diligence produced many pages—but pages that ultimately did not add up to a book. I had failed to think through my task  in requisite detail and was counting on the writing itself to generate the structure that makes a book a book. On both of these fellowship occasions I also wrote some articles that were published in a number of journals, but the residue of most of my writing is a great many pages that I never adequately dealt with after my return.
   There are a number of books on my resume and (of course) far more articles. Many are on a variety of topics in philosophy, but at least as many or more are on themes pertaining to higher education. Indeed, in my view, the latter are the better bunch, with partial evidence given by the fact that one of them received a fairly prestigious prize and regarding another, the publisher asked me to produce a second edition. I also wrote quite a bit about myself, including some considerably larger autobiographical chunks than are to be found on this blog.
   The fact is that not long after our return from Oxford to Vassar I successfully competed for the deanship of Northwestern University’s College of Arts and Science, a job I held for thirteen years. I had enjoyed teaching philosophy and while I was no star, I was pretty good at it. But I enjoyed being dean even more and managed to accomplish a lot in the performance of that role, with quite a few of my innovations still in place, more than a quarter of a century later.
   Perhaps this story of two careers has its origin in a brief moment after my return from a year on a traveling fellowship awarded by Columbia College. The chairman of the philosophy department—from whom I had taken some courses—welcomed me back with a cheerful greeting and told me that if my lot was now to earn my keep by shelving books in the library, I’d be better off doing graduate work in philosophy. He backed that up by getting me a small fellowship. I had applied for a government job that was never funded, so I started graduate courses a week or two later: faute de mieux.    

Sunday, March 13, 2016

More Trump Stories Than We Need

Incidental Intelligence: NY Times Trump Stories

   Do you feel over-TRUMPED? I certainly do. I mostly read the New York Times on the internet and began to feel that wherever I looked there was a story about Donald Trump. (No way could he, though immensely rich, pay for that publicity.) So today, March 13, I decided to check on my impression of what I would call overkill.
   March 13 is a Sunday, so the Times is big, BIG, sporting eleven separate sections from Front Page to Real Estate, leaving out Corrections, which was blank that day. For simplicity’s sake (and to save a huge amount of time) I only counted an article that had TRUMP in its title and not articles that mention TRUMP in their text.
   So how many such articles are there, would you guess, considering that on this day there were no reports of notable debates nor actual primary votes that would have to feature a leading Republican candidate like Donald John Trump?
   Trump stories showed up in four different sections of that Sunday Times: Front Page, National—with two stories each—plus one each in New York and Sunday Review. That makes six TRUMP stories altogether. That on a quiet, not particularly political Sunday. Who will join me in thinking that this is more than we need?

PS The internet version of the  NYTimes of March 15 included five stories with "Trump" in the title, spread over three sections: Front Page, National, and Editorials. Fear not, this is the lasst time I count Trump stories.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Problematic Future of the Republican Party

US Politics After the 2016 Presidential Election

   I try to stop myself from reading the endless articles on the ongoing primary campaigns—mostly on the internet version of the NYTimes—but the best I can do is not actually finish reading all of them to their inordinate length. The prose tries (not too hard) to create suspense, though there really isn’t much of that. With Rubio on the ropes and cranky Cruz’s so-called conservatism limited in its appeal, Trump seems headed for the Republican nomination, even though the elders of that party want him like a hole in the head.
   Given where we are today, makes it likely that next November voters will have to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
   Not ideal candidates—either of them, but as candidates for the presidency, the distance between them is huge. So, if my gut’s signal is right, that makes Hillary our next president. We could do better (in a world that ain’t) and we have done considerably worse.
   That puts the Democrats into the saddle, especially if they also capture the Senate. That’s at least possible, while a Democratic House majority is out of reach. Moreover, given the prevalence of gerrymandering, the Republicans will dominate the House for the foreseeable future.
   One conclusion to  this picture is that for the Democrats it will be politics as usual. But not at all “as usual” for the Republicans! The fact is, they will have to reinvent themselves with, in broad terms, two choices. One is to revert back to the long party tradition of moderate conservatism, coupled with a willingness to make deals, to compromise, to get the governing of the country done.
   The alternative crew that may snatch the leadership after the election of 2016 consists of what are misleadingly called conservatives, but are more correctly characterized as ideologues of the radical right. 
   If the first of these alternatives comes to be, we’re back to normal, with a two-party political system, the norm for the country for a long time. It extends the Montesquieu-recommended system of checks and balances beyond the tripartite governmental structure of executive, legislature, and judicial governmental departments to the dynamics of daily politics. This combination of branches of government has served the country well.
   If the second alternative emerges out of the 2016 Republican disarray, it is difficult to predict what would become a new norm, if a norm of any kind actually comes to be. Most likely that will not be as effective a structure as the two party system of most of the 20th century. Comments?

Rereading this before posting it, makes me resolve to abstain, henceforth, from commenting on the primaries, except in the unlikely event that I have something to say that is not being said elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Multiplicity of Talents of Warren Buffett

A 2009 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette OpEd about Warren Buffet--still relevant 

Sunday Forum: How Warren Buffett got rich
Rudolph H. Weingartner has a few thoughts on how to get from here to there
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Reading the wonderful biography of Warren Buffett by Alice Schroeder, "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life," got me to thinking about the different ways in which people have become really, really rich and how unusual Mr. Buffett is in that category.
The norm among the mega rich (let me pretend that there is such a norm) is that, above all, such a specimen knows one thing superbly well -- Rockefeller, oil; Carnegie, steel; Walton, retail; Gates, software -- on which his fortune rests. I am taking stick-to-it-ive-ness and luck for granted.
What this Buffett biography reveals is that its protagonist would never have made it into the firmament of the richest men of all time if he had lacked just one trait of quite a few that were necessary to his phenomenal success.
Let me state briefly of what Mr. Buffett's wealth consists: his dominant interest in a company, Berkshire Hathaway. While that outfit began life as a textile manufacturer, that activity has long since moved to other lands. Instead, B-H is a holding company that owns or has a significant stake in roughly four score companies, ranging from those that write insurance to others selling jewelry. Since Mr. Buffett took over B-H, it has gained flamboyantly in value and, until the recent time of troubles, its stock was always significantly ahead of the market. What Bernard Madoff falsely claimed, Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, did.
OK, that's the achievement. What did it take to accomplish it? Start with two gut traits, necessary for so much success. The first I call nose. It's my term for informed intuition, the ability to smell out what is plausible or more. Necessary but certainly not sufficient. Plausibility is not basis enough for the investment of millions. Needed for that is a trait that is in many ways antithetical to the immediacy of insight, namely analytical savviness, a certain brand of brain power. Antithetical because the exercise of that power takes a great deal of time and patience. On many occasions, the biographer Schroeder reports, the application of that ability converted Mr. Buffett into a virtual hermit, shut up in an office, reading and calculating.
This is not a trivial point. In general, if not inevitably, people who are brilliantly intuitive tend to go by the seat of their pants, hit or miss and, if good at it, hit more than miss. But Warren Buffett is not one to think that a major investment decision can be left to the gut, however much it may be the starting point. Laboriously, it is necessary to determine its actual value, a measure that is not revealed by the price of its stock, by gross sales or even by the profit its activities bring in. That value has to be dug out by delving deeply into its operations and assessment of its assets, together with a calculation as to what the company can become if its practices were modified. That's work, even drudgery; it requires plowing through irrelevancies to get to what is relevant. The intuitive Mr. Buffett is capable of squelching his gut and doing the work.
OK, again. What's next? Intuition acknowledged, laborious homework done, what does it take to act, where acting means allocating millions? This calls for that second gut trait: grit, the courage to go after an envisaged goal, obstacles and uncertainties to the contrary notwithstanding. Now taking risks is not a characteristic conventionally associated with the patient analysis of endless prose and numbers. The ability to act decisively is seldom found together with professorial studiousness. But what heightens the tension in Mr. Buffett's enterprise is that his findings are inevitably in conflict with conventional wisdom. Were that not so, the Oracle of Omaha would be just one of many bidding for a large slice of a company. Grit must take him to go against the grain.
The writing of a big check is not the end of the story. With his investment, Mr. Buffett gains authority, a power that must now be put to use. Since it has been determined that much more is possible for this company than it has so far been able to actualize -- promising an increased future value -- it must now change its ways. Almost always that requires that new people be put in charge, a crucial and possibly wrenching change. To effect such a transformation calls for two aptitudes, neither of which can be expected from a person who had locked himself up to delve into the books of the enterprise just garnered: the ability to fire -- not the most endearing trait and one that Mr. Buffett exercises with reluctance -- and the ability to hire. This crucial move calls for the knack of sizing up people for their skills and character, preceded by the humdrum work of surveying who's out there. How many people do you know who are good at either of those tasks, even where the stakes are much lower?
Finally, consider the context within which Mr. Buffett operates. You rub my back and I'll rub yours is one maxim that applies. But serving as the basis of all transactions, including relations with powerful governmental agencies, is trust. Mr. Buffett would not be one of the richest men on the globe if he were not universally regarded as truthful and honorable. In the long run, that reputation can be earned only by someone who actually is honest and upright.
It is not a mystery, looking at the traits and abilities that Warren Buffett possesses to a superlative degree, that he should have achieved so much. But as is true for so many outstanding players in history, it is a mystery how such a fortuitous bundle was packed into a single person.

Rudolph H. Weingartner is a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh (

Friday, March 4, 2016

Our System of Two Parties?

The Non-Electibility of Current Republican Candidates
In my view, none of the current Republican candidates for the presidency is electable. How that party could have fallen so low, I leave to others to explain. What has not been noted, to my knowledge, is that the good old GOP is no more. From Mitch McConnell up (or down!) the Republicans are no longer participating in the running of the country, but are mostly abstaining (polite word) from doing what they were elected to do.
   Will that change? Not bloody likely. The remaining Republican candidates for the highest office are not impressive (to say the least). Trump—successful while spurned by the GOP establishment—may sail to victory and that will be that: no chance of getting elected. Rubio is a paradicmatic light weight and Ted Cruz is  a right wing crank that is not going far beyond Texas.
   You’d think that as a life-long Democrat  I’d appreciate this nadir of the Republican party. But the fact is that I don’t.  I strongly blieve in the Two Party System and that is not what we are getting now.  One party goes about its business and the Republicans don’t play. This will no doubt go on until the presidential election and if current predictions are valid, well beyond.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Republicans’ Refusal to Consider an Obama Nomine to the Supreme Court

   Antonin Scalia was not yet buried when the relevant Republican Senators, under the “leadership” of Mitch McConnell, have declared that they will not even consider for confirmation or rejection, any candidate for the Supreme Court whom President Obama submits to the Senate. Their alleged reason for this unprecedented move is that “the people” should have a “say” about such an appointment, via the election of the next president.
   Let me begin by noting that, as Garry Wills has shown persuasively and in detail, that the Constitution and recorded views by the Founders are quite clear that the people should not have a direct say about appointments to the highest court.1 McConnell & Co will not loose any sleep on account of going against mere law and history.
   I note, further, that the odds are considerably better than 50-50 that the next president will be Hillary Clinton. This is not esoteric information available to me, but an opinion quite widely held by people better informed than I am about the future of politics in our country. And if this is so, the new (Democratic) president will make a nomination with much more oomph behind it, given her success in a recent election.
   What to conclude? Since I believe that the Republicans are at least as good as I am in gazing into the future, the “we want people to have a say” is not only wrong, but it is bullshit. The real McConnell motive is to oppose Obama, as an end in itself. McConnell is white, Obama is not: how dare he run the country for two presidential terms?
   And very well, too. In my view, he has been an excellent president in exceedingly difficult times. Unfortunately for him, schmoozing has become a value—not Obama’s forte.  That never used to be an issue, but it is now.
   The next president—presumably Hillary—should appoint Obama to the Supreme Court, when there is another opening—soon to happen. Obama may first want to make some money, but I hope that he will end his career as a Justice of the Supreme Court.