Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Muslims in America

The Fate of a Proposed  Muslim Cemetery in Dudley, Massachusetts
   When my wife Fannia and I were looking to buy a house in Evanston, after I had been appointed as dean at Northwestern, the real estate agent who drove us around, said of the house we wound up buying, “A few years ago you could not have bought it: 2112 Orrington Avenue was not to be sold to Jews.”
  That was in 1973, somewhat after the end of the pervasive anti-Semitism earlier in the century. It was certainly in full swing when we arrived in New York in 1939, only to wane notably after the end of World War II. (I mention this because I suspect that most of the readers of this blog do not know how far we have come from the time when in the US, anti-Semitism was widespread, even the norm.)
   Now, alas, it is the turn of the Muslims. A sad New York Times story1 gives an account of an unsuccessful attempt by Muslims to purchase a chunk of land near Dudley, Massachusetts to be able to create a Muslim cemetery, on about six to twelve acres of a much larger area of local farmland they were prepared to buy.
  I can’t think of a less intrusive use of land than as the place to bury one’s dead. Now and then a quiet ceremony and that’s it. That’s particularly true of Muslim rites which emphatically don’t go in for funereal show biz. The dead should be buried close to where they lived and promptly, if only to avoid embalming. Graves are to be simple, without monuments and internment is to be without elaborate ceremony. In short, if the citizens of Dudley had investigated Muslim funeral practices, they would have found them to be exceedingly unobtrusive. The annual six to ten burials that were envisaged would hardly have been noticed by the surrounding community.
   The Times article does not mention that inquiries were made about Muslim practices and it is highly probable that such information was not sought. The one townsman who is quoted no doubt spoke for many of his fellow citizens: “You want a Muslim cemetery? . . . Fine. Put it in your backyard. Not mine.”
   Note, parenthetically, that neither the Dudley Times story nor my references to Jews in America refer to such special causes of immigration as the Holocaust for Jews or the ISSIS-related events among Muslims. These remarks are meant to look at both groups as being in the long tradition of immigrants to America. 
   In one way this Massachusetts account can be taken as one of an untold number in which the previously arrived propose or engage in negative behavior, to use an hygienic term, toward more recent arrivals, especially from areas other than Western Europe. Such reactions were of course particularly provoked when the number of those who came during a relatively short period of time was large. Such as micks from Ireland,  dagos from Italy, chinks from China and quite a few others. There is a word for looking down on each segment of humanity that arrived in the US after the middle of the 19th century.
   And yet, my beginning this account with a reference to prejudice against Jews points to a closer analogy to those who sought to create a cemetery in the middle of New England. Those Irish micks fled the potato famine in their own country; what they had in common was the desire to escape hunger. Those dagos from Calabria and Sicily left their homes for analogous economic reasons. Since both these groups were largely Roman Catholics, they indeed were in America second class citizens for a long stretch of time. They were not, however, persecuted for their religion, either at their old or their new homes. Of course each of such populations had many other traits in common—language, of course, and the food they ate—cultural traits, rather than institutional ones.
   Jews and Muslims, on the other hand, are—each group—bound together by religious institutions that have their own quite visible practices that set them apart from the larger population surrounding them, most of which came to America before them.
   These are big topics and I have already said more than I intended—that is, more than I feel sure about. The “simple” point I want to make is that I see those New England Muslims as being treated  in ways Jews were dealt with not so long ago. Our similarities has me hope that Muslims will ultimately and successfully be integrated into American society as Jews have been, with their own institutions intact.                

1 “Muslims Seek New Burial Ground, and a Small Town Balks,” /2016/08/29/us/muslims-seek-new-burial-ground-and-a-small-town-balks.html?emc=eta1

Saturday, August 27, 2016


A Resolution
No Doubt Soon to be Broken

   Donald Trump is a kind of grizzly joke. He spouts off daily—coherently or not, in conformity with earlier statements of his or not, rantings of whatever comes to his mind, when not briefly interrupted by formal speeches produced by one or another of his handlers. The press—all  parts of it from mundane reporters to well paid pundits and highly placed columnists—pour out thousands of Trump-related words a day. It’s annoying, since quite repetitive, but I can’t blame those scribes. They have a subject the like of which hasn’t been around in my memory.
   But Trump, unfortunately, is a real person or at least a real phenomenon. Hard to believe, but true. Historians will have to do a lot of explaining about how a joker (“a person considered unworthy of repsect”) came to be the candidate for the United States presidency of one of the two major parties aiming at that ultimate goal. Bizarre.
   I am tempted to join the throng of commentators, but realize that I have nothing to add—other than yet more rhetoric.  That leaves me with my wobbly resolution to swear off on Trump comments.
   Let’s see how long it lasts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Another oldie from March 2007. My lousy record doesn't indicate whether the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ever printed it.

Sympathy and Empathy

            It’s a good thing, we’ll agree, when a person is capable of feeling sympathy for others and a good thing, as well, for someone to have the capacity for empathy.  But aside from the fact that the first of these terms goes way back, while the second was only coined in the 19th century, the laudable emotions they name have quite different consequences for the actions that might follow from them.  Were I to be brought to the emergency room badly banged up in an automobile accident, I would not look for an empathetic emergency physician whose eyes fill with tears because he feels my pain.
            “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’”  In providing meanings for these terms, especially for the older, with its complicated history, I’ll have to simplify.  When one person vicariously experiences the feelings of another—whether of joy or sorrow—we have an example of empathy.  On the other hand, I sympathize with the plight in which someone finds herself, an understanding that also implies a desire to alleviate that distress.  Compassion is a close synonym.
            Sympathy and empathy are important ingredients in the glue that holds society together.  That’s easy to see when we trot out their opposites.  He who lacks empathy is apathetic or unfeeling, while indifference or even callousness are antonyms of sympathy.  Competition would reign supreme in a population wholly endowed with those opposites, making for a Hobbesian world of war of all against all.  But note that both of these laudable traits are needed to have a functioning society; neither alone suffices.
            The tears of that physician will not get my wounds taken care of.  That doctor must not only know how to mend my injuries, but, above all, he must have the will to do so.  How often, as empathizing individuals, we feel badly—vicariously, to be sure—about the misfortune of another, without taking a single step to relieve the sufferings of a neighbor (and our much lesser ones, as well, since they are only vicarious).  And there are analogues on the level of a nation.  Read the newspapers, listen to officials and commentators on television, and hear how we empathize with the sufferings of the people of Dafur!  If the picture were not so grotesque, one might speak of hand wringing by much of the body politic.  Yet this shared feeling, these waves of empathy help no one in Dafur and relieves no suffering.  Basking in ones own emotions can be self-indulgent.  Is that what is going on here?  Empathy is not enough.
            The case of sympathy is more complex.  As noted, to be sympathetic includes wanting to help.  We would not call someone compassionate if she or he did not want to do something about the observed misery.  But while there is of course no general answer as to just what should be done in an untold number of afflictions that might need to be alleviated, there is a perspective that cuts through all the differences of particular cases: namely in the way in which we determine just how to remediate the wrongs that need to be righted.
            One method conforms to what a teacher of mine—in my college days going back nearly sixty years–called the Stalinoid Complex.  You’ve got problems, you are suffering.  We are sympathetic and we want to help.  What we will do is what we think is good for you.
            But an important alternative to Big Brother knows best is to ask what little brother thinks.  To find out what that is, does not require empathic insight, although such an insight would be of great help.  Having empathy constitutes a giant step toward understanding what form the mitigation might take of the suffering that is not ours, but someone else’s.
            Why and how we went to war in Iraq and how we have been and are conducting it continues to be endlessly discussed.  But even with respect to this topic there is a function for those twin characteristics of sympathy and empathy.  The chief reason given for embarking on the war was to avert a danger to our own safety and security.  A secondary one, however, was rooted in sympathy:  our goal was to rid the Iraqi people of a vicious dictator who was oppressing them.  But our sympathy was unaccompanied by empathy.  Our aim was to bring democracy to Iraq—shades of those Stalinoid solutions—without adequately determining what was desired by those with whom we sympathized and wanted to help.  Sympathy and empathy differ from each other, but both are needed on a small scale and large for human society to function.

Friday, August 19, 2016

PS As My Mind Jumps

                        Ich trag’ in meinem Ranzen der Stiefel zwei ja zwei,
                        Ein’ Kaputnen und ein Ganzen, heißah juchei.
                        Den Ganzen trag ich auf dem Dreck,
                        Den Kaputnen of dem trock’nen Fleck.
                        Ja so zieh’ ich durch die Welt,
                        Hei wie der Würfel fällt.

                        I carry two boots in my satchel,
                        A good one and a worn one.
                        I wear the good one in the dirt
                        And the worn one on dry spot.
                        That’s how I go through the world:

                        The way the die falls.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Clinton v. Trump

A few days after writing the piece below, and having read yet more articles about Trump's doings and sayings, as well as accounts of the failure of his "handlers" to rein him in I formed a new judgment about the entire Trump phenomenon. I now believe that Trump does not at all want to be president of the United States and is perfectly content to have Hillary Clinton assume that burden. His activities in this pre-election period will significantly enhance the Trump brand, with large additions to the coffers of Donald J. Trump.

Some Comments about the Campaign for the Presidency and an Evocation of Future Historians Who will Explain it All
   With the nomination of Donald Trump at the Republican convention at the end of July, we have entered a period in American politics of what I can only call wacky, near-surreal. Barring unforeseeable circumstances—and with three months to go, there is plenty of time for them—those 90 days are likely to end on November 8 with Hillary Clinton’s election to the presidency. While we are still at the beginning of this interesting period (as in the Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times) a pattern has clearly emerged. 
   Hillary is diligently going about the business of being a “standard” candidate: making speeches at rallies in states she needs to win. She prosaically sets forth her positions on various issues, interspersed with swipes at her opponent.
   Trump does two quite different things. Once in a while, he makes a formal speech on a specific topic, following the teleprompter and, presumably reading the prose produced by his writers. (I note that these policy speeches are always followed by a critical NYTimes editorial.) But most of the time in his campaigning, Trump shoots off his mouth on a miscellany of topics, with just about no support  or even detail given to any of them. The FactCheck teams have a field day; Trump does not get a high grade.
   How long will this go on, to start talking about the future? Mike Pence, Trump’s chosen candidate for vice president, has been urged to persuade him to withdraw his candidacy. That won’t happen; it’s not in Trump’s character. That nuttiness will go on to election day and may yet take forms that cannot be predicted.
   Turn now to consider what we get by way of accounts of the populations who support the two candidates for the presidency. To begin with there are two constantly cited ingredients in this battle. Hillary is regarded as highly experienced in the activities required of a president, but is also repeatedly characterized as dishonest, not trustworthy. As for Trump, the main point for his supporters is said to be that he does not walk on the paths of politics as usual, but comes to the scene from the perspective of something of an outsider. He is also regarded by many as simply unqualified to be president.
  But besides stating these reasons supporters and opponents have of the two candidates, we have frequent and detailed accounts of the classes of people who are for and against. By far the largest amount of prose on a discussion of the race is devoted to endless polls reporting who is for and against: younger white votes with (or without) a college education; African Americans living in the South; older women; men in certain income brackets and much, if not endlessly, more. Sometimes, but certainly not always, the polls also cite such reasons for the putative voters’ views as are given in the previous paragraph.
   What the journalists tell us in this period before the election, to sum up, is who (which class of people) is for whom—and that in some detail—and what reasons they give for supporting their candidate—and that in a quite cursory way.
   But note, most if not all that is thus written is descriptive and tells us, when true, what is the case. That, after all, is the main job of journalism: to give an accurate account of what is going on in the world, in greater or lesser detail. It tells us virtually nothing about why what is being reported is happening. For that we must mostly go beyond journalism to history.
   I grant that the distinction between the two pursuits is not as sharp as just stated: journalists also give accounts of why the events they report on have occurred and historians must of course tell the tale the course of which they propose to explain. Thus among the accounts one reads of these electoral goings-on are some stabs at explanations as to why, but the main burden of historical analysis will fall on the shoulders of historians of American politics and most probably on those practicing this craft a few decades after the event and more future still. 
   As I see it, there is a huge job ahead of those who will want to explain what has been going on since the end of the two conventions. What makes uneducated white voters go this way and African Americans that way? Those are issues best raised by those historians of the future.
   In the (too-long) interim, I follow the unprecedented and quite nutty course of the campaign for the presidency in 2016—with considerable distaste.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Le Plus Ça Change . . .

This piece was written in February 2003 and was intended to be an op ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The sloppy record in my computer does not tell whether or not it was used. (But to search in the morgue of the P-G is more of a nuisance than is warranted.)

Crashing Through the Looking Glass
Rudolph H. Weingartner

            We’ve moved into a topsy-tervy world Alice never dreamed of.  If living in it didn’t have such horrendous consequences, that tale would be even more amusing than those of Lewis Carroll.  Our betters—the people we have chosen to govern us—seem to have imbibed of a potion that has them turn our world upside down.
            The majority of the federal appeals court in St. Louis, to begin our journey, ruled the other day that a deranged prisoner may be forced to take a drug that will, while it functions, make him sufficiently sane to meet the Supreme Court’s sanity requirement for being executed.  That’s like forcibly attaching a prosthesis to a one-legged captive so that he can be made to jump from the frying pan into the fire.  The fact that the “restoration” of the prisoner’s sanity would lead to his execution was irrelevant, the court’s majority declared, to the appropriateness of compelling him to be sane, at least while he remains alive.
            This ruling affects but one person now and probably not many in the future, but is nevertheless a good example of the wackiness that resembles nothing so much as an infectuous disease.  Many have made fun of the nuttiness that has urged us to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect our houses from chemically or biologically polluted air.  But I’ve not seen comments about the magnitude of that project.  I calculateed that my comfortable middle class home would require 422 linear feet of duct tape plus 430 square feet of plastic.  Given that we are a population of 290 million and assuming that on the average four people live in a housing unit and, further, that my own commodious dwelling has four times the barricading requirements of the average, the country would need about 7.7 billion feet of tape and approximately 7.8 billion square feet of plastic to keep all of the US breathing easy—at least at home, since I haven’t included places of business.
            Probably, this Homeland Security recommendation was just another effect of the disease that has been spreading through governmental circles.  But when the exhortation to buy was followed by the injunction not actually to use this gear, it is easy to become suspicious that the real point was to give a boost to the homewares industry.
            We do, after all, know that the economy needs tending to, even if we don’t think it should be done in the way that our infected Washingtonians have in mind.  The massive tax reductions that have been proposed have been much discussed.  But that plan has not been clearly enough juxtaposed with the desperate straits in which our states and cities find themselves—the worst in more than half a century.  What are these states and cities doing to alleviate their fiscal woes?  Both Democratic and Republican governors and mayors expect to raise taxes in order to pay unavoidable bills, in the absence of adequate help from Washington.  Alice would have a clever verse to describe this nuttiness.  I can only fall back on two clichés: money is being taken from Peter to pay Paul and we know full well who is at what end of the stick.
            How Washington is infected by topsy-tervyness in international affairs has been consuming hours of television time and acres of newsprint.  Our betters come close to shirking their responsibility concerning a present danger while obsessively pursuing a future possible one.  North Korea actually possesses nuclear bombs plus the capacity to send them overseas, while Iraq, which we threaten with immanent war, has not yet managed to get that far.  Our government is rightly concerned about the lack of assurance that Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons have been destroyed.  No doubt, that lethal material is being stored in hard-to-detect bunkers.  Yet at the same time, a war is in preparation that, if it breaks out, will surely bring those weapons out of their hiding places—to be used on us and our friends.
            Our friends—that is, if we still have any.  Perhaps the deepest symptom of the upsidedown disease that has conquered Washington is its attitude toward the nations with which we share this planet.  Globalism is our policy Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  At bottom, there is but one economy, we insist, that transcends all national borders.  Togetherness is the watchword on those days of the week.  But when the occasion arises to do something together—prevent global warning, create a court that encompasses that globe, or prevent a vicious dictator from acting up, it is Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday.  On those days, Washington is for going it alone and unilateralism wins out. We are prepared to turn all of our friends into antagonists so as to avoid the compromises that are inevitably exacted by cooperation. This is a unilateralism that will isolated from all who matter on this globe for countless years to come.

            Reality is not where Washington sees it. We badly need an antidote that will reverse the disease that has gripped the city from which we are governed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Two Advertisements for Myself

On Being Flattered

   I have been casually flattered many times, as everyone is in the course of normal interchanges with friends and acquaintances. But two such occasions have meant a great deal to me. The later of the two is briefly stated and has had an important impact on my life. The earlier by many years was exceedingly gratifying in that it referred so positively to a most important period of my career.
   To begin with the more recent occasion, four plus years ago I told (daughter) Ellie that I was thinking of pulling up stakes in Pittsburgh and moving permanently to Mexico City where she had settled more than two decades before. As reported to me, this announcement led to a family dinner conversation, with the central theme as to whether I should live with them in their house or in a nearby apartment, easily rented. As I was subsequently told, my two grandchildren, Max, the older, and Eva were firmly in favor of having me live with them in the family’s home.            
   And that is what happened. I have a splendid room on the second floor, near their rooms, so that we have numerous casual interactions besides those of meal times and other family gatherings, in or out of the house. I have greatly enjoyed their company and to have gotten to know them much better than I had in briefer visits through the years. This surely would not have happened had it not been for Max’s and Eva’s flattering vote of welcome.
   As the saying has it, all good things come to an end. Max has now concluded two years in college, at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and is back home only when classes are not in session. Later this summer, Eva will leave Mexico City for Chicago and the next stage of her education at the school of the Art Institute. Great progress for them and deserving of congratulations, but their parents will now have that Empty Nest experience and for me, it will be the second such occasion. Thank goodness, there are vacations from classes, so that now and then we will see Eva and Max at home.
*  *  *  *  *  *  *
   Now to go back almost three decades, to May of 1987. I was at the end of my thirteen years as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Northwestern University, chairing my last meeting of the College faculty. There was no business of great importance, when Robert M. Coen, professor of economics, sometime associate dean and chair of his department asked for the floor to deliver what he called a Tribute to Dean Weingartner. What follows explains well why I have often said that the deanship at Northwestern role was much the best job I ever had. While Bob’s speech is fairly long, I did not edit it; skim when you are bored. Here goes, Bob Coen speaking.                                                                                                     

  This is the last meeting of the College faculty under the leadership of Rudy Weingartner, and I want to express for the record an appreciation of his years of tireless effort on behalf of the College. A Dean who serves as long and as ambitiously as Rudy has leaves an enduring imprint on the functioning and the spirit of the institution. He has reshaped and improved countless aspects of the College’s daily activities, and his guidance in academic planning and faculty development has always been inspired by the highest ideals.
   Rudy’s tangible legacy to the College is indeed extraordinary. Many of his accomplishments are already so well-entrenched that we take them for granted and could not now imagine life without them. Unique curricular programs, such as the Integrated Science Program and Mathematical Methods in the Social Science, were established and flourished under his leadership. He spearheaded a complete overhaul of our general education program, bringing a new sense of order and purpose to our distribution requirements, establishing a formal requirement in English composition and a program of instruction in basic writing to support it, and instituting a program of freshman seminars. More recently he has focused our attention on improving the senior-year experience through capstone seminars and the like. These are just a few of the significant curricular innovations that Rudy has either initiated or brought to fruition; the full list is much much longer.
   To effect these changes and to improve both the accessibility and the quality of advising more generally, he has established the Office of Studies in the Office of the Dean and took care to staff it with a rotating group of knowledgeable members of the regular faculty. He also revamped our procedures and institutions for curricular review and policy changes.
  Replacing the Divisional Councils, those large groups that met infrequently and hurriedly on such matters, we now have smaller, College-wide committees capable of carrying on sustained, informed discussions of curricular issues.
   He initiated major administrative changes in two other areas. First, as part of a broader effort to elevate the quality and integrity of the faculty promotions process, he created the Committee on Promotion and Tenure, a College-wide body specifically elected to advise him on these crucial matters. This advisory role had formerly been assigned to the unwieldy, parochial Divisional Councils. Second, he completely reorganized the Dean’s Office. The role of the Associate Deans has changed from one based on functional areas to one in which each Associate Dean is given wide responsibilities for a group of CAS Departments The Dean is thereby able to devote more attention to developmental efforts at expanding the financial base of the College. Rudy has put in place development activities in an effective professional manner, and he has brought into being the CAS Magazine and the CAS Visiting Committee, among other things, to make our work and our needs better known to potential supporters.
   With regard to faculty development, Rudy’s enormous influence is well-documented in the twelve-year report he made to the faculty last fall.
   Large numbers of us were hired or promoted by him, and in other less visible ways, he has nurtured so many of our careers. The character of many departments will be shaped by his personnel decisions for years to come.
   These are some of the most obvious and valuable elements of Rudy’s tangible legacy. But equally important, I thin, are the intangible qualities he brought to his office. These are perhaps best known to those of us who worked closely with him in the Dean’s Office. It is rare to find an academic administrator who is both a strong manager and an intellectual and spiritual leader. Rudy is one of the rare ones.
   In fall of the efforts I have referred to, and in many others as well, Rudy has always tried to develop in us, the faculty, a strong sense of the goals of the College as a whole and how we can further them. Division of our lives into departments and even into specialties within departments can easily cause us to loose sight of what brings us together as a faculty.
   Moreover, our extramural professional activities often overshadow our intramural activities; and well they should in many instances, for it is through  our scholarly activities that we bring prominence to the College—a point that
Rudy appreciates as much as any of us do. But there also has to be a glue that binds us, a sense of common purpose, a recognition that the whole can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts. Rudy has been unrelenting in trying to instill that spirit in us. He has been a guardian of the best ideals of the liberal arts tradition in undergraduate education, a steadfast supporter of academic freedom and integrity and an indefatigable proponent of collegiality.
   That Rudy’s hopes and dreams for the College—and ours—may not all have been realized can be blamed in part on the institutional and budgetary constraints within which he had to operate. But another check has been that that we have not always lived up to his expectations of us, to the high ideals that he would have us follow.

   I am sure that I reflect the sentiments of my colleagues in expressing gratitude to Rudy for this legacy, in wishing him every success in the challenges he will face as Provost at the University of Pittsburgh, and in wishing Rudy and Fannia much happiness in their new home.