Thursday, July 28, 2016

My Two Emigrations

 From Germany to the United States and Much Later From There to Mexico

   I’ve emigrated twice in my life, the first time when I was 12 years old and the second when I was 85. The fact that I came to live in another country—from Germany to the United States and 73 years later from the US to Mexico—is about all those two occasions have in common.
   For the entire Weingartner family, that first departure was not voluntary. Years before the Holocaust, Hitler was progressively making life ever more difficult for Jews. We were very fortunate to have gotten out, with my brother and I young enough to receive an American education followed by careers in American institutions of higher education. People say that I have retained some European characteristic; maybe so, I can’t tell. I did retain an accent-free German, though I have to struggle some to write grammatically in that language. I don’t believe that I speak English with a German accent, as occasionally someone claims—if only after having found out that I was born in Heidelberg. For what it’s worth, the verdict of a speech test that we Columbia College sophomores were required to take was that I had something of a New York accent. So much about that first emigration; more can be found here.1
   My subject now is that second one. It occurred in 2012 and was prompted, if that’s the right word, by the breakup of my second marriage, of which (since I do autobiography) I have given an account.2  It is obviously not a similar “flight,” though it is equally permanent. My interest now is to describe just one ingredient in my adjustment to my current (and, I hope) final destination—at least final on this earth. I expect to write more about my life in Mexico City, especially about the people in whose midst I am flourishing. I now mention them briefly before going on to what are perhaps unexpected ingredients in my adjustment.
   I would not be here, were it not for the fact that my daughter, Eleanor has been principal clarinet of Mexico City’s Sinfonica Nacional since 1990, while Miguel, her husband (they were married in our house in Pittsburgh), is now principal oboe of the Querétaro Filarmónica. Max, the older of their children, will shortly start his third year at the Rhode Island School of Design, while this coming August Eva will take off for Chicago to begin her studies at the School of the Art Institute. We will miss the two of them. Then there is Patrik, a genial Belgian musician, long resident in Mexico, who takes walks with me and is most helpful to me in many more ways. In a later blog post I will have more to say about the wonderful way I have been received by that whole bunch.
   Now I want to turn to three non-human items—for want of a better label—that have made this second immigration so felicitous. The first is the computer on which I  am composing these remarks. I turn it on as soon as I am out of bed in the morning and off before I go to sleep at night. Much of the day’s first portion is devoted to the New York Times, whose excellent website is a good substitute for the paper copy I read all my life, starting with my daily trek on what was then the GG train from Roosevelt Avenue in Queens to within a couple of blocks of Brooklyn Tech, my high school.
   Of course I have much more use for my Mac. It is the backbone of my only serious occupation, the blog you are reading now. But even though I am at best a most amateurish internet user, I turn to it all the time for information of every which kind. I don’t think I need to elaborate, since most of my readers are likely to be more extensive and sophisticated users of computers. However, I want to state emphatically that the computer has significantly facilitated my cheerful  adjustment to this second emigration.
  On a par in importance is the second “gimmick” I want to cite: email. Here I am, many miles from my (mostly) US friends. While I can think of three ways of communicating with them, two of them have serious limitations. If I had to write letters, there would be very few of them and most of them would be short.  And I doubt that many of my correspondents would do much better. In sum, there would be infrequent and succinct (to use a misleadingly flattering adjective) exchanges.              
   I realize that for many people long telephone chats are normal. Long distance fees from here are very reasonable, so that’s not a bar. But long phone conversations have never been my practice and I make an exception now primarily for (son) Mark in Los Angeles. For the rest, if telephone were the only mode of communicating, it is likely that there would not be all that many calls. Moreover, telephone is intrusive in ways mail and email are not. The phone rings and you gotto answer. So I would not initiate a phone call without a good reason.
   Email, for starters, is not pushy; read it when you want to; respond if you feel like it. You want to send a ten-word message? OK. You want to send the chapter of a book, OK, if best as an attachment. The medium is open to a great variety of possibilities and it is much the most important way I have of my staying in touch with my El Norte friends.
   The third gimmick that is significant in the adjustment to my transplantation is the Kindle. While I’m not an avid, nonstop reader, nor a particularly fast one, I’m always reading something. Seldom fiction, but history, biography, politics, whatever pops into my consciousness, prompted by reviews or ads in the New Yorker or the New York Review of Books, to which I have subscribed since its first issue. But how to get those books? Surely not from the English books sold in stores near the center of town. Why on earth would they stock a biography of Schubert published a couple of decades ago? My reading habits were not catered to by bookstores in Pittsburgh, so why expect that here? While I could order them from, that’s expensive and, given Mexican mail service, unsure.
   The answer to my problem, and an astonishingly good one, is the Kindle. The Kindle store has a phenomenal inventory of books, from classics to the latest. Their cost goes from nothing at all to somewhat less than that of a paper copy of a recent publications.
   There is something well-nigh miraculous about getting the text of a new book into your gadget. Press a button and, unseen, the book flies in, 100 pages or 1000. The cost is simultaneously posted on my credit card. Is there a limit to the number of books I can store on my Kindle? I asked when I started out. I need not have, since the system automatically sends texts to a site in the sky, easily retrieved when needed.
   These three modes of communication allow me to be in touch with the world at large as well as with my own friends and acquaintances. They also save me from what would be a huge handicap, the need to cope with a foreign language. My brain was too old to pick up a new language when I arrived here and, given the fact that the people in my immediate environment are bilingual, I could not see making the very strenuous effort needed to go beyond a very halting grasp of the local Umgangssprache. Not ideal, but what do you want from someone in his late eighties?
1Mostly About Me: A Path Through Different Wolds, my autobiography of 2003. See

2 Mostly About Me: A Path Through Different Worlds Continued Herewith. This chapter, I call it the postultimate one, is not published. If you ask for it, I will send it to you as a Word document.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Some Moral Issues in Determining Faculty Salaries

Herewith a small excerpt from my 1999 book, The Moral Dimensions of Academic Administration1. It was written at the request of Steven M. Cahn, the editor of the series, Issues in Academic Ethics. I accepted the charge before finding out that nothing had been written on the subject of the ethics of academic administration and found myself inventing the subject as I went along. The piece below is from the section entitled “Some Moral Dimensions of the Determination of Faculty Salaries,” specifically from pp 107-108. It is unfortunately prescient regarding the use of nonregular faculty, a very much larger issue today even than it was in the late nineties of the last century.

   The difference in salaries that tend to be paid to regular (tenure track) faculty and to various types of nonregular instructors are considerable. . . . And it is to save money that many nonregular faculty are employed. Within limits, appropriately so, since for certain teaching roles the use of nonregular faculty is compatible with the effective achievement of institutional goals. . . . [But] it is to save money that many of the nonregular faculty are employed. . . . [However,] it is not necessarily right to do what the market permits. . . .
   A second comment pertains to those nonregular faculty members who are teaching full time. One might have clever debates about just what constitutes a full-time job, but in the end it comes down to the hours a competent, conscientious person is at work—in class, conferring with students, preparing for class, grading tests and papers. When those hours add up to eight and more, when it becomes less and less plausible that someone could, in an ongoing way, take on additional work, that measure has been reached. And when that happens, the compensation must be high enough to amount to a living wage—modest, perhaps, but sufficient for a reasonable living, as that is measured by salaries elsewhere in the community.
   A reply might be made that even when full time, these nonregular faculty positions are only temporary and should  thus not be compared with normal jobs  that one has and keeps to earn one’s livelihood. Such a response stands a strong chance of being sophistical. In many cases, these nonregular jobs are temporary solely because the institution will commit itself only for a year at a time. Temporary by fiat, in other words, and often merely de jure, since many people are appointed to do the same work year after year. . . . Thus, the classification of these positions as temporary is a legalism that does not itself justify reduced compensation.
   There is thus a further point to be made, in addition to the matter of paying a living wage. IHEs [Institutions of Higher Education] have an obligation to make the lives of many of their nonregular faculty more predictable and secure. Since institutions can foresee many of their needs, at least for a few years, and are thus able to provide security for a sizeable fraction of their nonregular faculty by issuing multiyear contracts, they ought to do so. In several ways, to sum up, many nonregular faculty members are treated inequitably by the institutions that engage them And it is precisely because they are variously exploited that their employment is economically so advantageous that their numbers have become so large. Accordingly, were one to follow more closely the dictates of morality, the economic benefits would decrease and this cadre would undoubtedly shrink. This would leave IHEs with a healthier mix of regular and nonregular faculty.


Friday, July 22, 2016

November 8, 2016

   The Republican convention is  now over. The party did what they were too inept to avoid. So now we have to listen to Trump until November 8 or exercise self control and refrain from listening. 
   I greatly hope that this chapter then comes to an end.
   We would get a mediocre president in Hillary Clinton. But never have I been so fervently in favor of mediocrity.

Rudolph H. Weingartner

Sunday, July 17, 2016

When My Mind Jumps Back

Ach du lieber Augustin
Augustin, Augustin * Ach du lieber Augustin alles ist hin. * Frau ist weg, Kind is weg, * Blah, blaba Blah blaba . . . . That’s one of the songs, tune and all,  that pops into my head when I wake up during the night or first thing in the morning before I get out of bed. The text doesn’t roll out further because I don’t think I ever knew how it went on, not remotely to the whole song that is to be found on the internet.
   I think of this as just one example of  the way an old mind jumps back to its youthful origins. (This did not happen to me until fairly recently, hence the diagnosis of this as a symptom of advanced age.) Lots of those popups are in German which I spoke with my parents even after we lived in the US for years. More of those German songs below.
   But one very persistent visitor from the past is in English, the advertising jingle for Pepsi Cola. WQXR, the “good music (radio) station” to which I mostly listened had a policy of not broadcasting the words of the standard advertising jingles of the day. But they did play the tune of the Pepsi Cola jingle on the xylophone, as I recall it. The words had to be learned  from other sources, of which there were plenty. I certainly was acquainted with them, so I here recite the full text. I could also supply the melody and if need be would write it down, but it can probably be found on the internet. Here is the full text, punctuation courtesy of yours truly:
                                    Pepsi Cola hits the spot.
                                    Twelve full ounces that’s a lot.
                                    Twice as much for a nickel too,
                                    Pepsi Cola is the drink for you.
   But that’s just about the only piece in English that wells up. Here are the beginnings of some of the other German ones. Indeed, most of these visitors from the past are limited to their opening lines. There is
                                    Hänschen klein
                                    Ging allein
                                    In die weite Welt hinein
                                    Kopf und Hut
                                    Stehn ihm gut . . . .
That one had a special meaning since that Hänschen is the diminutive of Hans, the name of my younger brother, now deceased.
   Another emergent from the past is a quasi-military one:
                                    Ich hat einen Kameraden
                                    Einen besser’n finds du nicht.
                                    Er luf an meiner Seite,
                                    Im gleichen Schritt und Tritt . . . .
That one became very popular during the Nazi period, while the next one, that now and then haunts me, was actually banned by the Nazis, if I remember correctly:
                                    Die Gedanken sind frei
                                    Wer kann sie erraten.
                                    Sie fliegen vorbei
                                    Wie nächtliche Schatten.
                                    Kein Mensch kann sie wissen,
                                    Kein Jäger erschiessen . . . and back to die Gedanken sind frei.
There are a few others, but none goes beyond the opening lines. Of course I know the melodies for all of them and would write them down and translate them into English, but most of what I take up here is likely to be found on the infinitely stocked internet.
   One popup of somewhat more recent vintage, plus a final anecdote. First the inimitable Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel:
                                    Ich bin von Kopf zu Fuß
                                    Zur Liebe eingestellt
                                    . . . .
                                    Die Männer flitten um mich
                                    Wie Motten um das Licht.
                                    Und wenn sie dann verbrennen,
                                    Dafür kann ich gaaaaarnichts.
Finally, another remembered and recurring tune, a line from Old Man River:
                                    Tired of livin’ and afeared of dying. . . .
And that reminds me of an exchange I had with Henrietta Smith, a good friend, who was chairperson of the department of psychology when I was at Vassar:
            I am not, said Henrietta with some emphasis, an African-American. I’m a Negro!
Well, for some purposes at least, the once common noun of Negro has to stay alive after all. Do you want to call Old Man River an African-American spiritual? Brrrr, it’s a Negro Spiritual.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Trump Stands Alone

What’s Truly Unique about Donald J. Trump

   “With his bombastic swagger, changing policy positions and larger-than-life persona, Mr. Trump has proved to be an irresistible subject for writers and political satirists,” thus in the New York Times of July 4. That’s a partial explanation for the endless stories that are being written about him, sometimes as many as three or four in the same issue of the Times. I, too, am essentially hooked and read most writings that I come across about The Donald.
   Trump is indeed unique, no doubt about it. But when you come down to it, only somewhat “more so” than anyone else. (The scare quotes because you can’t be more or less unique; there are no degrees of uniqueness.) To bore you some more, every human being is, strictly speaking unique, meaning that everyone has a combination of traits—a specific bundle of attributes (and not just of secondary characteristics such as location in time and space) that together are not to be found in anyone else, with perhaps some identical twins as close as you can get to an exception.
   Without losing sight of the little lesson in the paragraph above, we must look at what one might call the significance of a person’s uniqueness. If Joe is unique because he has a peculiar shade of red hair together with an unusually long nose, that, in the scheme of things, does not make Joe significantly unique, to make up another label. Well, Trump, with his bundle of weighty characteristics, is, for sure, significantly unique.
  Others have inherited tons of money from their parents. Others have developed hotels, golf courses and much more; others have succeeded in showbiz on TV. How many have done all of the above? Only very few, if anyone. Clearly I’m piling up traits that attest to the ways Trump is distinguishable from everyone else, and probably enough of them.
   I’m no historian, but I have no doubt that many another candidate for high office has been an oddball, if not like The Donald, then in his or her own particular way. Moreover, there have surely been aspirants for important offices, including the presidency, who did not have the qualifications to serve successfully in the positions they sought.
   And Trump is clearly not qualified to be president of the United States. He lacks the temperament, he lacks both the experience required to be a president and he lacks the knowledge of issues that a president has to deal with. All this and more has been widely discussed. Indeed, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a rare political comment for a Supreme Court Justice, refreshingly expressed her dismay at the candidacy of one so unqualified. Still, all this makes Trump’s uniqueness significant, while he is surely not alone as a candidate for a job for which he (most of the time “he”) is not qualified.
   But there is still another and very important way in which Trump is unique. As an unqualified candidate, Donald Trump has attracted the support of voters in the recent primaries to beat off more than a dozen others who aimed to become the presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency. I don’t know how many others can tell the same story, but I do believe that it is quite remarkable.
   A recent very long and excellent article in the New Yorker1 (among many other accounts) gives a good description of the people who are fervent Trump supporters. Their enthusiasm has them ignore the issue of qualification—not in the sense that they discount it, but in that they don’t think about it in the first place. Moreover, their support of Trump is not so much rooted in a set of beliefs, such as his proposed policies on immigration or what he proposes to do about international trade, etc. Rather, his supporters are jazzed by sound bytes, to conclude with language of yore.
   I don’t think that Trump will win the election on November 8, but that is by no means a sure thing. Justice Ginsburg has, jokingly, threatened to move to New Zealand, were he to become president. I don’t have to pull up stakes to get out from under a Trump presidency, since I’ve already absconded and live with my daughter and family in Mexico. But for all of our sakes, I hope he remains a private citizen and his comet-like appearance goes the way of all comets.

1 George Saunders, “Trump Days,” The New Yorker, July 11 & 18, 2016.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Immigration Again

These are Not Your Huddled Masses

   In January of this year I posted a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op ed of mine about the importance of immigration to the US. That op ed was prompted by a book, then just published, about the series of young people who came to America in flight from Hitler.  It had as its theme that this cadre of immigrants succeeded—in education, careers, distinctions, etc.—far beyond statistical expectations and well beyond their “native” brethren. While I’m not obsessed with the topic of immigration, I’ve long been interested in it, no doubt because I am an immigrant myself.
   The topic came to mind again prompted by the long lead article in the Summer 2016 issue of the Columbia Magazine: “Meet the Girl with the NUP214-ABL1 Gene.” The article was most interesting, though I did not read it carefully enough to get everything in it. But I do want to say, by way of digression, that I was impressed by the great improvement of that publication, one that I have received since forever.
   The girl, Myrrah Shapoo—a smiling photo on the cover and many more inside—daughter of middle class Indians is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and winds up at the Columbia Medical School’s Pediatric Oncology Center. The complicated and quite extensive story has a happy end: her cancer is cured with the standard proviso that even “cured” cancers can recur.
   OK, good story, what now? What does this have to do with immigration? Let me begin by listing the group of physicians and scientists who worked on this path breaking project:
            Andrew Kung
            Prakash Satwani
            Maria Luisa Solis
            Alberto Ambesi-Impiombato
            Adolfo Ferrando
            Susan Hsiao
            Mahesh Mansukhani
   Now granted that except for Native Americans, everyone else on this continent is an immigrant, a curious convention has it that only people who arrived here starting in the latter part of the 19th century are actually called immigrants. Now look at the above list of members of the Pediatric Oncology Center. Their names and their status in a top university research center suggest that they came into this country on special visas for experts of various kinds that are wanted by institutions such as their Columbia employer. Perhaps one or another of them is the immediate offspring of such a person. These are not the huddled masses yearning to be free of Lazarus’s poem; rather, they are brought here—induced to come—so that they will take on roles for which there not a sufficient number of locally available candidates.

   This brand of immigration gives a quite different meaning to the characterization of America as the land of opportunity. That time-honored phrase refers to a country that while it does not block the paths to success to newcomers, the people who have newly arrived must identify such a path and have the ability and energy to pursue it toward a worthwhile accomplishment. By way of contrast, for the group now under consideration, the opportunities pre-existed their coming to this country and they are invited to pursue the goals of which the opportunity is constituted because they have been identified as persons who have the training, the skills, the temperament to pursue the goals of which the opportunity is constituted.
   Numerically, these special immigrants are a small minority of those who come here day after day But they are an important ingredient of the liberal ideology in support of immigration.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

It Was Not Always Thus

An Op-Ed Of Yore
Wednesday June 22, 2011

By Rudolph Weingartner
Congress appears to be almost wholly polarized, with liberals on one side and conservatives on the other. But many suspect, sometimes backed up by one poll or another, that the rest of the country is not so bifurcated, that countless citizens have not been captured by one or another ideology but merely lean this way or that, everywhere harboring reservations.
Rather than try to compete with pollsters by also counting noses, I've devised a simple test that might help readers know just where they stand on the political continuum and, by inference, others of our countrymen. Answering my questions may tell you what you already know, but you also might learn something about yourself that had been veiled, obscured.
First, two cautions. I am not dealing here with contentious cultural or social issues, such as abortion, but only economic ones. And my little test is crude; the reader must judge whether it is better than nothing.
Let me begin by describing a fictional, utopian United States where [a] everyone who wants to work and is able to do so has a job; [b] everyone has access to competent health care; [c] the elderly and the handicapped are not left destitute; [d] the country's budget is usually in balance.
My test is aimed at those who agree that each of these four conditions constitutes a good thing, even if they doubt that they are attainable. You are now invited to state what you are willing or not willing to have the government do to bring us closer to such a desirable society.
Regarding [a], jobs, give yourself three points if you think the government should create public jobs to keep down unemployment; two points if the government should spend money to stimulate the economy; one point if the market should be left to solve employment problems.
Regarding [b], health care, three points for a single-payer system like Canada's; two points for government to subsidize health insurance as needed; one point for government to provide, at most, vouchers for private health care.
Regarding [c], Social Security, three points for raising the payroll tax to preserve the retirement disability system; two points for increasing the age of eligibility; one point for privatization.
Regarding [d], the budget, three points for raising taxes to balance it; two points for raising taxes and cutting government spending; one point for reducing spending only.
The highest score possible is 12 points, representing dyed-in-the-wool liberals, strong believers in an active government. The lowest score possible is three points, representing staunch conservatives who believe in the smallest government possible.
Now note that there remains a considerable range of nine steps between the poles. Indeed, while I have always thought of myself as a committed liberal, my position turns out not to be that pure.
For jobs, I get two points for government stimulus. For health care, I would be happy with subsidies, another two points. For Social Security, I'm for some tax increase together with upping the age of eligibility, giving me two and a half points. Finally, to balance the budget, I also take the middle ground: both raise taxes and reduce spending, for another two points. That comes to eight and a half points -- a wishy-washy liberal, far from a pure liberal's 12.
What's true of me might well be true of you; indeed, a sizable fraction of the voting population likely hold positions far from either extreme. Let's let Congress know.
Rudolph Weingartner is a University of Pittsburgh professor emeritus of philosophy

Friday, July 1, 2016

What’s the News That’s Fit to Print?

The Language of The New York Times 
   In 1897, Adolph S. Ochs, the owner of The New York Times, created the slogan "All the News That's Fit to Print," which still appears today on the masthead of the paper. For Ochs, the main point of the slogan was to declare that the news would be reported impartially, in contrast to the practice of competing sensationalist tabloids.
   But there is also a second meaning, one that asserts that the paper will report only the news that’s fit to print, perhaps also in contrast to tabloids that have stepped over the boundaries of good taste.  This is how I have understood the Times motto all these years, taking it that nothing in the paper would resemble the notorious Page Four of the New York Daily News—or worse.
   That “worse” refers to what is euphemistically (and, strictly speaking, misleadingly) called “explicit” language, meaning that a word such as “penis” would not appear in the Times’s pages. A story by Jan Hoffman, in the June 30 edition is entitled, “Most Women Prefer to Go Bare, Citing Hygiene (and Baffling Doctors).”1 If that title is a bit obscure, the article itself is perfectly clear: its subject is the (surprising) practice of women, especially younger ones, of ridding themselves of their pubic hair by various methods—e.g. shaving or waxing. The fact that the story drew 1091 comments on the Times website, by the evening of its publication is alone confirmation of the viability of the relaxation of Times policy of yore. Additional support comes from the comments themselves, though I only sampled them; my scholarly bent did not extend to perusing the entire thousand.
   The comments (no doubt monitored), like the article, use the “scientific” (Latinate) vocabulary of female sexual equipment, with not a hint of the Anglo-Saxon equivalents that are vastly more common in general use. However, many of the ones I sampled simply refer to that region “down there.”
   The article is interesting enough, if not transcendently so. I bring it up, because it goes about as far toward in linguistic “modernity” as the New York Times has gone.
   What to conclude? The Times has come a long way. I’m doubtful that it will go much further—but who knows? It would be interesting to see an account of the stages the Times underwent from its most proper past to the linguistic freedom it has now reached. Perhaps some institutional historian will tell that story.