Monday, October 23, 2017

Sex in the Press


I’m not obsessed with sex. And never was, even at a much younger age. Moreover, I never paid much attention to the ingredient of sex in news stories. That has changed, per forza, since I now get my news via the internet, including from the NYTimes, making for a different kind of reading. Given those reports, I am truly astonished at the role sex plays in American politics. It’s not just that there are the big cases, like that of Harvey Weinstein, but there are, just about daily, a great many more mundane ones. My point here is to get you to look at what is available to you—if you do indeed look.
   Conduct an experiment. Read your news account on the internet—in my case mostly the on-line NYTimes—and “censor” the story of the portion of the account devoted to some aspect of sex. I bet you will have significantly thinned out your reading material.
   Yes, sex makes the world go ‘round, but not everywhere to the same degree. It’s my guess that accounts in the US will beat out reportage in the countries of Western Europe. It by no means follows that couples in US beds are friskier than those in other lands. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Private and the Public
“The Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University has announced that it is revoking an honor it gave Harvey Weinstein in 2014. He had been awarded the Du Bois Medal for contributions to African-American culture. In the last several weeks, Weinstein has been revealed to have been sexually harassing women for years, and some women have also come forward to accuse him of rape.”

I find it difficult to say what I am about to put forward, but I believe I must say it. To be utterly clear, I find the recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual behavior to be unqualifiedly reprehensible. I wouldn’t have him to dinner, if that were a possibility. But what does that have to do with his role as a movie mogul or his support of liberal politicians? Benvenuto Cellini was a murderer, Richard Wagner was a virulent anti-Semite. Just to name two cultural heroes of the past.
   When there is enough temporal distance, sins are not so much forgiven, but ignored. Alas (for Harvey) , his return to grace—his resurrection, so to speak—will come after he is dead. There is something to be said in support of the view that distinguishes between a person’s private life and his public accomplishments, if any.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sex In America

I'm puzzled about something that should be obvious. I read the NYTimes and very little else about what’s going on. I find that these reports about doings in the US are most frequently about sex, even before Weinstein, but emphatically since. then. I’ve concluded that sexual activities are a big topic in the American ethos (no news). Not remotely as much as in that of Western Europe. Even conceding that I don’t hear the “worst” about Europe in what I read, there don’t seem to be any Weinsteins to talk about. What accounts for the difference, assuming I got that right? A feeble answer is that that European scene includes far less of that “primitive” protestant reaction to modernity, witness the fact that there is much less of a reaction there to Darwin’s account of the story of mankind.   

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

PS

Just to be clear, Harvey Weinstein is also Jewish. He makes it into the papers, these days, as a serial sex offender. Beware of statements like  “All Jews are x.”

Jews and Nobel Awards

Nobel Winners Who are Jews

“Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 887 individuals, of whom 195 were people of Jewish descent, although people of Jewish descent comprise less than 0.2% of the world's population. As of 2013, people of Jewish descent constituted 41% of economics, 28% of medicine, 26% of physics, 19% of chemistry, 13% of literature and 9% of all peace awards.”
   When I found out that the current winner of the Nobel-equivalent in Economics was Jewish (he doesn’t look Jewish!), I decided to do a minimal amount of research. The lines above tell you what I found. Pretty astonishing. I don’t talk much about it, but I am very aware of who is and isn’t Jewish. It’s built into my heritage, having spent the first dozen years of my life in a Germany that became Nazi when I was in third grade.
   I’ve thought a lot, really a lot, about what is the cause of this special status (and it is that), but have never come up with a satisfactory answer. I still think about it, but I no longer have what it takes to deal with the issue in a scholarly fashion..
   Somebody, somewhere may have plausible answers. But I’ll let others dig them up. Let me hear from you.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My Presidents, II

My Presidents, II

  Just a couple of presidents left, but because they are closer, they loom larger, much larger. Bill Clinton: I was favorably disposed toward him when he became president and was somewhat taken aback when my best Pittsburgh friend, John Craig, retired as the boss of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, spoke very reprovingly of Clinton’s sexual escapades. That made me conscious of the need to distinguish the public persona from the private one. Historians routinely do that; why not contemporary commentators as well? It may all come down to the fact that titillating news sells, whereas it gets buried in historical accounts unless truly flamboyant or in some other way significant.
   I think of Clinton as a president who coped with an increasingly bifurcated country; in my view he leaned to the right more often than he had need to in order to survive. His sexual escapades that led to an absurd impeachment “trial” is another example of Americans’ preoccupation with sex. I have some idea of the historical roots of my fellow-citizen’s allegiance to a gun culture comes from, but I am puzzled about how earlier religious injunctions have survived to this day.
   Next came George W. Bush, whom I rashly labeled as our worst president ever. He lost that title in favor of today’s incumbent, Donald Trump. I won’t comment here on the current scene except to hope that the pendulum will swing back.
   To conclude this excessively breezy overview. I mostly agreed with Obama’s actions and proposals and think of him as one of our best presidents. His successor, Donald Trump, is undoing much of Obama’s good works. Trump’s successor, I am quite sure (think of the swing of the pendulum) will revive Obama’s measures, as having only been sleeping, not permanently killed. Call me an optimist.

    

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My Presidents, I

My Presidents, I
   I’ve just come to realize that Donald Trump may well be the last president of my life. That’s something of a shock, but plausible, alas. I’ll be 94 when he steps down, assuming, as I hope, he doesn’t run for a second term or doesn’t achieve it if he does.  Therefore, the odds are that Trump will be “my” worst president, even beating George W. Bush, though that may be not giving enough significance to the war with Iraq.
   On the whole, I’ve been pretty fortunate with my presidents. I arrived in America in 1939 (age 12) and really didn’t become aware of FDR until that Sunday in December 1941, when he announced that his response to Pearl Harbor would bring the US into the WW II.
   My second president was the first one I voted for; by then I was politically quite alert. It was not until I was in the voting both that I decided to cast my vote for Harry Truman. My alternative was not Dewey---I have never voted for a Republican—but Norman Thomas, the Socialist. I had eliminated Wallace as being in the pocket of Stalinists; my views were liberal or even to the Left of that, but I was never attracted to communism with its Marxist’s doctrine. But not voting for Truman would have been throwing away my vote, making this an occasion where I opted for what I took to be the realistic rather than the ideal solution. A purist I ain’t.
   Next came Eisenhower. I was, like many intellectuals, enamored of his opponent, Adlai Stevenson’s, eloquence; I twice voted for him, but the country thought otherwise. I was not a fan of Kennedy before he became president, but of course much regretted his murder. Of the next batch, only two stand out in my memory: Reagan and Nixon. I disliked both, with Reagan already in my sights when he was governor of California and a meddler in the affairs of the State Colleges, when I was active on the faculty of San Francisco State. I underestimated his accomplishments in foreign policy, but probably correctly disapproved much of his domestic policy.
  Nixon is the complicated one in the role of my presidents. It was de rigueur for us liberals to detest him, with me aboard. In retrospect, however, I have become more favorably disposed. There is not only China, but the two Endowments—of Arts and Humanities—and other good things, most of them probably initiated for purely political reasons. Perhaps I did not take his Watergate sins seriously enough—see my comments about President Clinton in the next installment.
  

    


  

Friday, September 29, 2017

Trump's Press

Trump’s Negative Press?

Perhaps the NYTimes is not a typical example of the US press about reports about President Trump’s doings, but if not, it is still an important contribution to the media’s view of him. There are two things to note, both important. First, the Times articles, both reports and opinion pieces, are almost all of them negative, with some of the latter, quite vehemently so. I don’t recall ever seeing such strong—negative!—language used about someone of the stature of an American president.
   On the other side, however, there is very little reaction to this bad press and apparently no effort to combat it. I considered a number of reasons for this reticence. First, Trump doesn’t respond to it, because he doesn’t read or even peruse what the Times or, say, the Washington Post have to say about him. Those papers are not part of his homework.
   Second, his various underlings are surely aware of what I am pointing to and more. But they have no motive to bring this “bad news” to the attention of their boss. No motive, no action.
   A third possibility is that Trump is fully aware of the “bad” press he is getting. But it bothers him not at all. Rather, he accepts it as part of the persona he wants to present to the public.

   How this plays out with the American public remains to be seen. The likes of the NYTimes do not represent them. It probably won’t be known until the midterm elections, if then.   

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sex in the US: an Observation
   I call it an observation, because I could say a lot more (and don’t feel like it) and of course endless volumes have dealt with the subject—which I have not consulted. But start by opening this NYTimes article.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/18/arts/design/new-gallery-to-emphasize-female-artists-and-collections.html?emc=eta1&_r=0  The picture is of the owner of a New York art gallery. Now tell me, what is her leg doing there? Read the article again; maybe you can find a reason that I failed to find. And that leg is in the NYTimes, not in the Daily News!
   I mostly don’t read any paper other than the Times and certainly no German or French ones, so I wonder whether stories similar to those I read are to be found in the European press or whether what I note is actually an American phenomenon.
   I am talking about sex. Are European adolescents and young adults different from German or British ones? Not likely. Surely they share all the same drives. But I read endlessly of sex on US college and university campuses and not analogous ones about Heidelberg and Göttingen or Paris and Lyon. Are our mores so different from English or Scottish ones that they give rise to the much-discussed scenes on American campuses and not the equivalent where there are actually campuses, such as in Oxford or Edinburg? There are deep questions here; the role of the press is surely a partial answer.
   Take another example. The papers—for me, as I said, that’s the Times—are full of stories about complaints and law suits by women in various roles and professions that they have been sexually molested by co-workers or bosses—from having to put up with unwanted touches to being raped. A lawyer who takes only such cases could, it would seem, make a good living.
    I don’t read about such incidents in connection with European companies and organizations. Are European men less demanding of sexual relations of their female employees and coworkers or are those women more uncomplainingly compliant? I’m doubtful about both of these alternatives, though perhaps there are some differences in degree.
   It will certainly take more knowledge or interest to sort out all these interconnected issues, but one of them is surely the role of the American press. I don’t claim that these goings-on are prompted by the fact that they will be covered in the papers. They do, however, “teach” protagonists on how to behave and how not to behave.
   Perhaps most in important, the almost daily appearance of such accounts about sex in American society fosters the belief that such activities are a normal part of American life, to be regretted, to be sure. But that attempts to eliminate them have to be regarded as futile. If true, sad.
Perhaps I will later have more to say on this subject; perhaps not.







Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Corny Intermezzo: an Old Jewish Mother Joke
   For his birthday, the Jewish Mother brings has son two ties. One is red in its dominant color, the other one is blue. The next morning the son comes down to breakfast wearing the new blue tie.
   Mother: "What’s the matter, you don’t like the other one?" 


Friday, September 15, 2017

In and Out

Warning: the blog post to follow talks about quite indelicate matters

      While I’ve been blessed with a pretty healthy life, when I did have problems, they mostly pertained to intake, with ulcers the main candidate, putting constraints on what I could eat and drink. My problems in old age are of the opposite kind: outtake, to use a polite word. There are two loci here: liquids come out in front and solids come out in the rear. I have problems with both and I don’t know how much they are a function of my advanced age. I leave research to a younger generation.
  The front I turn to first, which it also did temporally. A few years ago, my bladder went on strike and stopped functioning. Not good! The first remedial action was to have me insert you know where— with considerable frequency—a tube that would facilitate things to flow in a more or less normal fashion. It worked for a while, but not for all that long.
   The next move was more drastic, but it has been most successful—at least so far, he said cautiously. I hole was “drilled”—with appropriate local anesthesia—just above the pubic bone straight to the bladder, bypassing the long route via the penis. That has worked well so far and, I hope, will for the short number of years, if any, that may be left to me. The system requires me to strap a bag onto my leg that I need to empty about five times in a 24 hour period, requiring me to get up twice a night, on the average. I also need to visit the urologist every three weeks to check on things and renew all the equipment. The sole virtue of this malarkey is that it works.
   The problem in the rear that started only very recently affects my behavior much more seriously and remains unsolved. Its dual characteristics are seriously annoying and are ongoing. I have very frequent urges to defecate that cannot be controlled by my muscles. At this point the unhappy but  effective but sole solution is an adult diaper. The second symptom consists of frequent jabs of a sharp pain, resembling the stabbing of a knife. So far the recommendations of the proctologist I have consulted a couple of days ago have not solved either problem. I remain hopeful—do I have a choice?—but I am confined to the house for however long these symptoms last; they are both active as I now sit at my desk to type this blog post.

    

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Met and Me

   Reading about the change of leadership at New York’s Metropolitan Museum reminded me of my own brief encounter with the head of that institution. I had resigned from my Northwestern deanship—that’s another story—and had some thoughts of moving into the world of art museums. And then there was an ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education for persons interested to be vice president (the title as I recall it) for education of the Met. To say that the ad in that paper, not being for a job in an institution of higher education, was unusual is an understatement.
   But it offered a position in the world of art that very much fit with my post NU-dean ambitions. I thought that I was a relevant candidate, given that I had spent years building up two art departments, a standard “theoretical” one and an art practice group doing their thing.
  So I was asked to come to be interviewed by the Met’s big boss, Philippe de Montebello. A free trip to New York: I had nothing to lose. Our conversation took place late in the afternoon, just de Montebello plus a mostly silent lawyer side-kick and I. It became clear very soon that I was in the wrong place.
   The questions were about my ideas about educating elementary students visiting the museum, while my thoughts were about involving young adults. We did not hit it off: their one-time desire to recruit from a higher education population did not mean that they were interested in the expertise of that class. I got nowhere with my talk about internships and aids to publication. What were my ideas about sixth graders visiting the Met, for which I had a bumbling few responses.
   The interview ended in a friendly way and de Montebello soon afterwards appointed the education vice president at the Art Institute, ending the experiment to go outside their normal category of candidates.
   I have no idea about what the Met has done in the intervening years about its education mission. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1987 when our conversation took place.   

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Comments on Times Articles

   I’m surprised how literate most of the comments are that are to be found in response to articles in the New York Times. Sometimes there are more than a thousand of them, occasionally even far more. Mind you I only read a small sample of them and have wondered how many readers go beyond taking in just a few. No doubt the practice would not exist if the Times could not rely on the fact that a portion of its readers desire to be heard.
   Yes, the comments are edited before they are published, a necessity when you think about it for a minute, but I don’t think that the editing converts dumb remarks into clever ones. And on the whole, what is published is, if not strictly speaking clever comments, mostly intelligent and relevant.

   I am encouraged by that entire phenomenon. No, I don’t think that these commentators are average Americans, although that is as much because I don’t know just what average Americans are like.  But they are representative of my fellow citizens, as much or, rather, more than those who make it into the marriage columns of your local paper.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Itching

Itching
   I want to talk briefly about itching in what will be a lowfalutin blog post. Itching has been a problem of mine, it seems forever, and has anything but abated in my old age. I’ve always had skin problems of which itching is the one that never gets talked about. So now I’ll break into that silence, though I’ll keep down the volume.
   I’ll start out by saying that it’s annoying to be itching. It’s not on the level of sharp pain, but it competes with the sort of dull pain one tends to call “nagging.” It certainly doesn’t get credit for that; it is even on occasion thought to be a source of humor. Well, that may be true for the little doves I watch on a ledge outside my window, with beaks constantly busy as if they were dealing itching under their feathers.
   Of the itching to which I am subjected, there seem to be too varieties. One is a gentle itch spread over an area of perhaps several inches where you can neither feel or see something on the skin. The other is focused on a quite small area and sports either a low bump or has the skin roughed up to some degree. These are not medical descriptions (I ain’t no doctor no-ways); call the differences (and their labels) phenomenal, for want of a less fancy label.
   Both kinds are annoying or worse, though in my case the latter are by far the greater evil. What makes a lesser or greater evil is a combination of the degrees to which the phenomena are bothersome, a matter that is closely tied to the relative ease or difficulty to which they are relieved, not to mention gotten rid of.
   In my case—I remind the reader that these remarks are not medical talk, but merely a small chunk of autobiography. In my case, the invisible itch that affects a small area of the skin is mostly assuaged, if you can reach the spot, by gentle rubbing—sometimes permanently, with no guarantee that its like won’t show up elsewhere.
   The much tougher type is the pointed bump/roughed skin variety. It needs real scratching or vigorous rubbing; that’s the type that backscratchers are made for. I have often thought of buying such a contraption, but have refrained from doing so, convinced that I would scratch myself bloody on more than one spot on my back.
   As it is, I rub those itches vigorously with a rough towel of Turkish cloth after coming out of the shower. I have some ointment for those Type II itches that I can reach, but haven’t found  it to help very much.

   In short itching will be with me, a condition more or less equivalent to a dull pain, if not as celebrated.
  







Friday, August 18, 2017

Pence the Reactionary

Mike Pence for President?

   I have been writing a lot about President Donald Trump and  hope in future to be able to reduce my comments about that erratic, uninformed nut. In multiple ways, he is unique in the story of America; even I know enough history to assert that. So my thoughts have been, get rid of the nut—somehow.
   But I have changed my mind. Better near-chaos than the wrong kind of order. Remember that order is not what Hitler’s Germany lacked.
  Mike Pence (Michael Richard was the name his parents gave him) is an unalloyed reactionary on any issue you might look at; I’ll let you check that out.

   Pence  would become president. Worse, he would be in tune—or they with him—with Republican members of Congress who call themselves conservatives. Many of them are not that, but reactionaries. But that term has essentially been dropped from use. A pity, because a big difference is being ignored. Conclusion: better a nut than a sane unalloyed reactionary.  I cross my fingers when I say all that. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Decline of Trump?

   This is an expression of an intuition,  with all the hazards pertaining thereto. Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville “unrest”* will be a turning point in his career. No longer will his supporters be able to point unambiguously to the views, however eccentric, of an oddball president. He waffled (how did this baked good get into such bad company?)  It’s not that he has changed his mind; rather that he has come out about the fuzz that is in his mind. Yes, Trump is the president. But that calls only for my attention, but not, unfortunately, for my respect.
   I am not the only person with those views. I only wonder when things get to the point when a majority notes that the Emperor is in his underwear. It will be interesting to see what happens then—if it happens.


   *https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/14/us/politics/trump-charlottesville-protest.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=a-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Impeach Trump

A Proposal of Preventive Impeachment
   Donald Trump, president of the United States, alas, is now on the way of descending to the level of North Korea. So we have America and North Korea vying for supremacy. What could be more absurd? But the absurd is not necessarily impossible. Will an ill-tempered Tweet pull us into a war? There is no sign that Trump’s sidekicks are willing, not to mention able, to try to reign him in.
   This unprecedented situation calls for a similarly novel solution: Preventive Impeachment. Let the sane Republicans, if there are any, conspire to stop their president from Tweeting us into a devastating war. Prevention is better than a cure, more especially when the possible cure is dubious at best.
Addendum for August 12
   Today I am ninety-and-a-half years old. I don't celebrate half birthdays of course, but for a variety of reasons I always take note of it.
  








Sunday, August 6, 2017

From Book to Book
   I went to lie down after lunch, dividing my time between looking out of the window at the trees I think of as Gipfel and Wipfel and reading Breen’s Washington book. It is short, since he sticks pretty closely to the first president’s two trips early in his presidency, the first to the north the second to the south. So I came to the end fairly soon. The relatively low percentage (the way Kindle tells you where you are, rather than giving page numbers) was misleading, since the text was followed by a whole series of illustrations. (Pictures are not a Kindle strong suit, to say the least.)
   Since I had already decided to read next a very recent biography of Jefferson by John B. Boles, I didn’t bother to get up, clicked to go to the Kindle Store, and conjured the book into my Kindle. I don’t know where it came from, but I was here in Mexico City and the text reached me very quickly. So, within minutes, I went from Washington to Jefferson and started to read the book’s introduction. When, a bit later, I went back to my computer, I found an email that told me what was charged to my credit card for Jefferson’s biography.

   I know that I have orated before about the miracle—as it looks to me—of getting books to this off the beaten past location virtually instantly. But miracle deserve to be praised.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

On the Creation of the United States

T.H. Breen’s Washington’s Journey
   I’m now reading a book on a quite different subject. I was prompted to conjure it into my Kindle by a  favorable review of it in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books. But two matters were much more important: the author, T.H. Breen (known as Tim) and I had been colleagues at Northwestern and the book, George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, is on an important subject about which I was completely, shamefully, ignorant.
   While I am basically an historical ignoramus, I knew a little about the revolutionary war, the fighting that took place free the states of the new world from the rule by Great Britain, located on the European continent three thousand miles away. I knew that the states on the American continent got together in a federation to throw off the British yoke, but I never gave a thought that states who collaborated to accomplish that single goal would have to “come together” in a quite different and considerably more significant way than by agreeing on a constitution—supremely important, to be sure, but only if it were actually adhered to. Washington’s Journey gives an account of an important chapter in the story of how thirteen states became the United States.
   (I might add, parenthetically, the book I am referring to gives an account of an early chapter of this process.  In my view, the final chapter about the unification of the—now 50—states has not yet been written.)    

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mooch

Scaramucci
   Donald Trump, our president, has a record of acting impulsively. He has now appointed someone who outdoes even him at that game. (Game? Surely not.) Anthony Scaramucci, just made Communications Director, has stepped in with both feet, if without a head, and threatened to fire everyone in sight for leaking. True or false about those alleged leakers—and in most cases that’s not been established—it’s not what the country needs. Another lightweight full of ideas about what not to do, without a glimpse of what should be done.
   Trump’s latest appointment appears to be as incompetent as his boss, just different in the way he manifests it. Even more noisily, using a language that has not been heard coming from the office of any president. There is one thing that is good about all this. The appointment  of Scaramucci makes it very clear who Donald Trump is, to anyone who still had illusions.
   As for the future, Der Krug geht zum Brunnen bis a bricht, a favorite saying of my mother. The pitcher goes to the well until it breaks.




Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Arturo Toscanini

Some Comments about a  Recent Biography of Toscanini

   I heard Toscanini once in person. The music appreciation club of my high school, Brooklyn Tech, got tickets to the NBC Symphony, where we heard Toscanini conducting Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony in Studio 8H. I found out a  great many years later—or thought I did— that Shosty (as we called him) had not at all liked that performance. But now know that this report of the composer’s opinion in Solomon Volkov’s Testimony was actually quite suspect.
   I can’t say that this early NBC Symphony experience played a role in my getting to read the recent Harvey Sachs mega-biography of Toscanini, whom one might well call the paradigmatic conductor of the 20th century. I just finished that big book—on Kindle where, lacking page numbers, you can never find out just how big a book—and now want to make a number of remarks about it—reactions that in no way add up to a review.
   The first considerable chunk of Toscanini’s conducting career had him almost exclusively conducting operas. While I was aware of this fact, I had no idea of the role opera played in those years before radio not to mention television. Large audiences expressed themselves by shouting, clapping, stamping their feet. But still, I was more aware of that involvement than I was of the actual operas that engaged these audiences.  Of course, there were the operas of Verdi and then Puccini, but there were numerous operas that I had never heard of and, more shockingly, I was totally unaware of the existence many of their composers. Toscanini’s involvement was not only deep, touching on all aspects of the music and singing, but also broad, in that he was often concerned with various aspects of an opera’s staging.
  Another news-to-me item was the revelation of the breadth of Toscanini’s repertory of orchestral music. It is true that that he never cottoned on to atonal music (he made very negative remarks about Alban Berg’s Lulu)—nor did perform music influenced by Schönberg, his repertory was much broader than the works of Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner to which, to be sure, he turned again and again.
   My final comments pertain what was for me the most revealing aspect of this biography. Toscanini’s political views were much more deep-seated than is suggested by the labels “anti-fascist” and “liberal” that have correctly been given to him. Both Mussolini and Hitler wrote wooing letters to him, reproduced in the book, to no avail whatever. He not only rejected all such approaches, but self-consciously shifted his career as a performer to make sure that he did not in any way support such ideologies. Moreover, he donated considerable sums of money to “anti” causes and actively and financially supported victims of fascist and Nazi persecution. In short, the Maestro put his money where his mouth is, distinguishing himself from many of his non-Jewish conductor-confreres.

   The Harvey Sachs biography is detailed and consistently interesting. If you are interested in learning about the long and distinguished career of a musical giant, read his Toscanini: Musician of Conscience.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Interim Report

   I have nearly finished reading the recently published mega-biography of Toscanini by Harvey Sachs. I plan to do a piece on it, though certainly not a review. A good article about Toscanini by David Denby can be found in the July 10 and 17 New Yorker, together with a GREAT picture of the conductor. Stay tuned.
   Nor do I think that I’ll do any writing during the next few days. Mark (son) will be my welcome visitor  tomorrow, staying a few days. We will spend our time talking and eating and maybe go to a museum—if it’s of interest to him. Daughter Ellie is out of town and so are the grandchildren—who are children no more. When that visit is over I’ll try to post more interesting stuff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Press on Trump

The Press Stays Calm
   I want to congratulate the press—or at least the small (mostly NYTimes) portion that I read—for giving a fair shake to President Trump without criticism or sarcasm. Maybe that’s what it takes to stay in business, but it is something of an achievement to remain calm and “objective” in a piece like this “Trump Says He Has Signed More Bills Than Any President, Ever. He Hasn’t.”* This is a long and respectful article that shows that the President of the United States—Our president—is ignorant about the history that he cites, brags about accomplishments that he didn’t accomplish, and just plain lies.
  Why am I congratulating the press—specifically the NYTimes for producing an article such as this? Because the authors (Michael D. Shear and Karen Yourish) and their editors have resisted the temptation, surely great, to be sarcastic, censorious, hectoring, or in other ways grandstanding. Neither they nor I have experienced a president about whom such a report could (truthfully) be written.
   But they are right to make their report straight. Those of us who are appalled by the president we have acquired don’t need journalists to express any, not to say vehement, feelings in their reporting. Those others—and there are many, since under prevailing rules, Trump was fairly elected, would only be annoyed if the likes of the Times were in such a way implicitly censoring them for having done what they did. That’s what editorials and “commentaries” are for, not news  reports. I do think, to repeat, that such virtuous journalists should be given credit for sticking to the facts, in the face of temptations to express their own opinions.

   *ttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/us/politics/trump-laws-bills.html?hp&action=click&pgtype           

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Life--Again

How I Spent My Life
   This will be the beginning of a piece on a topic that might generate a much longer essay and perhaps will one day. When you get old, it is well established, your thoughts turn more often to the past—probably in part because, having retired from an active career, there is less to engage the mind contemporaneously. So it has been with me, at ninety years, to the point that at night, during spells of wakedness, I recite to myself German songs—or at least their opening lines—which I have not sung since after the age of twelve, when we left Germany for America.
   But there are less trivial ways in which the past creeps into my present mind. I think about what I have done with my life—not in a weighty sense that reflects on accomplishments and failures, but in the quite casual sense as to how I have spent my time, though I won’t take up activities pertaining to family nor recreational and just plain living activities.
   First, there is reading and writing of philosophy. That’s first, because I think that I am mostly identified as a retired professor of  philosophy. Second there is my involvement with higher education as something of a commentator and as an administrator. Third is a long career as a woodworker. Fourth is my involvement with music, mostly passive, as a “serious” listener, and active as a member of various choruses over the years.
   Woodwork came early. I took to Laubsägen (jigsaw) when I was maybe ten and never abandoned my engagement with wood. I “discovered” music when about fourteen and took advantage of New York’s concert scene, while my high school chorus was the first of many to follow. Philosophy was the result of a casual encounter. I had taken a number of undergraduate philosophy courses (there were no majors at Columbia in my day), so when I returned from a fellowship year in Europe and a job in evaluation in the Voice of America was not funded, my undergraduate mentor, then chairman of Columbia’s philosophy department, said: “So, you might as well sign up as a philosophy graduate student” and promptly arranged for a small scholarship. Finally, after a series of department chairmanships, I let my name run in a search for dean of arts and sciences at Northwestern, which made me an administrator, but also led to my writings on higher education, in books and articles.

   There’s an outline. As suggested at the outset, I may flesh this out at a later time.