Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Something Old, Something New

For first visitors, some background:

This website picks up where Leon’s Op-Ed left off when Mac closed down its website services a couple of years ago. The previous website was established soon after September 11, 2001 with the operational input of a computer expert, nephew Fred Taub of Seattle, who contributed all the technical know-how to keep it going. There were numerous postings over the years, and many of the commentaries written after 9/11 and during the first years of the second Iraq War were compiled in a book published in 2003.

This reincarnated website provides the tools with which even an amateur can run the whole thing, and that’s what I’m now doing.  As before, my themes will vary: current events, books, music, movies and some personal reflections on a long life — probably in that order. If I don’t change my mind, topics on the near horizon are drones, my reaction to Ian McEwan’s latest book, Sweet Tooth, and a beautiful movie, The Sessions.

For now, it’s two short items: about a statue on Treasure Island, San Francisco, and an email exchange of opinions about Harry Truman.

On Treasure Island, there is a huge and marvelous statue of a dancing woman. It’s called “Bliss”. It has been there since 2010, but we saw it for the first time recently and were bowled over by its beauty, size, spirit and imaginative design. We went over to the hangar where it was created and where different artists are working on very large sculptures of various kinds. Our luck was to find the creator of  “Bliss”, Marco Cochrane, in his work place. He’s a great person. He told us all about his work and his model for “Bliss.”  He told us of the life experiences that shaped his strong social conscience and his perception of women. He celebrates women’s capacity to overcome against age-old constraints and, for very many, personal encounters with extreme brutality. If you haven’t been to Treasure Island, the view of San Francisco and the Bay is one of a kind. And “Bliss is not to be missed.

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Here’s a comment a friend emailed to me about Harry Truman and my comment in response:

Dear Leon,

I’ve been reading David McCullough’s biography of Truman and now have new respect for Truman.
Here’s a portion that really interested me.  It is just after the end of the war.  Speaking of Truman it says:  “His troubles had begun with his first postwar message to Congress, only days after the Japanese surrender ceremonies.  Sent to the Hill on Sept. 6, the message was 16,000 words in length and presented a 21-point domestic program that included increased unemployment compensation, an immediate increase in the minimum wage, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee, tax reform, crop insurance for farmers, a full year’s extension of the War Powers and Stabilization Act, meaning the government would keep control over business and federal aid to housing to make possible a million new homes a year.”  And Truman added “We must go on.  We must widen our horizon further.  We must consider the redevelopment of large areas of the blighted and slum sections of our cities so that in the truly American way they may be remade to accommodate families not only of low-income groups as heretofore, but every income group.”

A couple of pages further, there is this:  “For those Republicans and conservative Democrats who had been happily claiming that the New Deal was as good as dead, that the “Roosevelt nonsense” was over at last, because they “knew” Harry Truman, it was a rude awakening.  Not even FDR had ever asked for so much  “at one sitting,” complained House Minority Leader Joe Martin, and many of Truman’s own party in Congress were equally distressed, equally disinclined to go along with him.  The same conservative coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats that had stymied Roosevelt since 1937 stood ready now to block his successor.  The House Ways and Means Committee, with 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans, voted to reject the unemployment compensation proposal, and shelved any further consideration of aid to the jobless.”

Sound familiar?

J. R.

Dear J.R.

I've just read what I wrote in the paragraphs below in answer to your comments on Truman. I fear I'm in my new blogging mode, thinking a little more of some abstract general audience rather than carrying on a conversation with you. Writing op-eds is something I like to do, but a face-to-face talk would be a lot more comfortable.

Relying on my memory (not very good, especially when pushed back some 65 years), I think there is a strong parallel between Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Both took on the presidency suddenly and unexpectedly. Both were conservative Democrats and both surprised everyone by championing significant domestic policies in the New Deal tradition. Although both were Southerners and neither had previously been considered unfriendly to the racist Dixiecrats, both were associated with important reforms that seriously challenged Jim Crow, and it was Truman who banned official segregation of the US military. Truman's embrace of liberal domestic policies became particularly pronounced in the 1948 election campaign in response to Henry Wallace's challenge from the left. 

Lyndon Johnson's presidency ended in dismal failure because his administration became defined by its stubborn commitment to the Vietnam War, its "anti-communist" rationale and false domino theory. However, Truman's reputation as a successful president has actually been embellished over time, even though he did things in the name of "anti-Communism" that should never be forgotten or, in my opinion, forgiven. We can't know what was uppermost in his mind when he ordered the atomic cremation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How much weight was given to preventing the potential loss of American lives (in exchange for masses of destroyed Japanese civilian lives)? How much was political, acting before the Soviets could join in an invasion of Japan and stake a claim to a significant role in post-war arrangements? Whatever... to justify the use of the atomic bomb back then would be to suggest that there may be circumstances that justify the use of nuclear weapons in the future.
With the beginning of the Cold War, which both sides fueled, Truman's Administration ushered in the National Security Act of 1947 and the Attorney General's list of "subversive" organizations. This was the beginning of the far-flung "red scare" that did so much damage to civil liberties and reached its peak in McCarthyism. 1947 was also the year of enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act, which set the foundation for the union-busting crusade that reaches new extremes to this day. Truman opposed Taft-Hartley and it passed over his veto, but he used it twelve times as President.

As you see, I can't cheer for Truman. But life is complicated. Somehow we're compelled to get our heads around the fact that some presidents, political leaders and even movements may do some good things and some horrible things as well. 



Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Blog is Back

After a long lay-off, I've decided to go back to blogging on a more or less regular basis. I need something to challenge me in my 10th decade. Since I'm not an artist or a poet and I can't sew or make quilts, blogging will have to do. Please bear with with me as I fiddle around for a while trying to make this website a bit more attractive and interesting. I hope that as the new blogs start appearing, my friends and others will sign in, comment on my comments, and send in some suggestions.

Ladies of the Lake
To begin with today, I want to learn to insert photos now and then. Here's a try...
This past Friday there was a ribbon cutting ceremony for the big upgrading project around Lake Merritt in Oakland. Highlighting the celebration was a fleet of boats - dragon boats, kayaks, a gondola and two surf boats from the Oakland Women's Rowing Club. At stroke, in the front facing the camera, is my wife, Gail Weininger. The bond-funded project is making Oakland strikingly beautiful and a first-class people's park area. It has also provided jobs and a good example of public policy for the rest of the country.

Now, changing the subject, I want to remember Leon Taub, my brother-in-law, who died last month. He was a beautiful character, gentle and kind, exemplifying shared ideals of social justice in the way he lived his 87 years. His obit appears at the end of this blog. Here is a picture of him with Roz, my wife of many years, who died in 2009:

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To include some politics in this experimental post, Julie Mandel, Leon's loving companion for the last twelve years of his life. wrote to me after listening to Rubio's GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union speech:
I just finished reading Paul Krugman’s column today about Rubio’s speech the other night, and about the path the Republicans seem to be taking.  I’m really puzzled.  The Republicans can’t be that stupid.  Why don’t they seem to learn from their mistakes?  Didn’t the last election tell them anything?  I really don’t understand why they don’t change their tune.  Do they really think the American public is that stupid?
I tried to come up with an answer to Julie's question:

I had just finished reading the Krugman column when I opened my email to find your note...As usual, I agree with Krugman. As for Rubio and the Republicans, the main faction seems to think that by tinkering a bit to soften the GOP image on a few social issues (immigration, gays, etc.), they can become more acceptable while not giving an inch on their economic ideology. Unfortunately, there still are an awful lot of Americans whom they've convinced that government debt and spending are our biggest problems.

Why won't they give ground on the economic front?  I can think of a few reasons: 1) Their bottom line really is their absolute commitment to the "free enterprise" system of inequality where the rich get richer, no matter the consequences for the rest of society. 2) They see the great recession as their best opportunity to dismantle the social programs (sneeringly labeled  "entitlements") which the GOP and the plutocrats have hated and fought since the beginning years of the New Deal. For this purpose, blaming "big government" and busting trade unions are crucial. 3) They are afraid that if they compromise on the debt and budget front, the Tea Party  caucus will explode and split the GOP beyond repair.

It's interesting that the election results and the demographic changes in the country have convinced some GOP pundits to try to appear a bit more reasonable on some social issues, while they hold fast to their "austerity" mantra. After all, the recession hasn't hurt the 1%, far from it, as profits exceed all-time highs; nor has it altered the insatiable greed that's in Wall Street's DNA.

You ask whether the Republicans "really think the American public is that stupid."
Who can tell when so much that's irrational is pumped out by the highly financed right-wing  propaganda media? At least the elections gave ground for hope that things may be moving toward a more rational course. Before the elections, I had a more negative feeling about the probable outcome than Leon and you. Thank goodness, the "public" proved that I was too pessimistic."

Future blogs will not be so long — just experimenting.


Leon Taub died after a short illness on Thursday, January 17, 2013. He was 87.

Leon was an engineer, a teacher, and a musician. He never retired, remaining fully engaged until the short illness that took his life. He had a deep lifelong commitment to civil rights, equality and social justice. He was lovingly devoted to family, not only his own, but extended by his warm and remarkably wide outreach.

Leon was born in the Bronx, the son of Chaim and Mollie Taub.  His parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland, laboring long hours in a small tailor shop while caring for Leon and his older sister, Rosalind. They instilled in both children a love of learning and a rich appreciation of music.

Leon was a graduate of the High School of Music and Art, where he formed lifelong friendships and met his future wife, Rena. He also studied at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1950, he became the first Music Editor of Sing Out Magazine, which was a major promoter of the upsurge in folk music that became so vital a part of the emerging civil rights and peace movements. Leon composed songs over the years, even more in the last years of his life. He put poems that he loved to music, translated some to Yiddish, a language he became increasingly fond of. He wrote music to accompany the publication of children’s poetry and art of Helen Webber, a friend since they were students at the High School of Music and Art. Leon left a beautiful memento of his music and of his own sweet self in a website:

Leon graduated from CCNY (now CUNY) with an engineering degree. During World War II, he served four year in the US Navy. After the war, he got a Master’s Degree in Engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology.  For many years, he was Chief Engineer designing air conditioners for the Welbilt Company. He gave up work in private industry in 1978, preferring to take a job he loved, teaching mechanical engineering at SUNY Farmingdale. Until his death he was still active as Professor of Engineering at Farmingdale and his students were devoted to him. His textbook, based on the courses he taught at Farmingdale, was published in 2012.

After leaving the Navy, Leon married Rena Richter, an artist and children’s therapist. They had two sons, Paul, now a music professor and flutist, and Fred, a computer specialist, both living with their families in Seattle. Rena died in 1998. Leon leaves a grandchild, Dana, daughter of Fred and Beth.

Leon was a resident of Valley Stream, Long Island since 1957. He was President of the Valley Stream Board of Education during the tumultuous late sixties and early seventies.

During his last twelve years, Julie Mandel Dachs has been Leon’s loving companion. Julie is a composer, and they enriched each other’s lives in musical projects and in every way, including the shared embrace of family and friends.

Listing facts doesn’t tell the whole story. Some things about Leon were special almost to the point of being unique. To appreciate him fully, you would have to have seen him with children. In his presence, they would be laughing and joyful, immediately responsive to his interest in them, his gentleness, playfulness, humor and whimsy.

Beneath Leon’s self-effacing ways, there was also an unusual measure of personal courage and perseverance.  He kept his trademark optimism despite political disappointments and personal ordeals. He never accepted gloom and doom, not when McCarthyism reigned nor when the Tea Party raged. Colon and prostate cancers and two open-heart surgeries did not keep him down. Moreover, he won a struggle with depression when he was a young adult and never turned back. He attributed his success in that battle to help he sought out from psychologist Alfred Adler. Leon and Rena became active in the Adler Institute, and contributed original papers at its conferences.

Few people can keep going strong, not slowing down, until death at 87. Few people gave and received more love in a long and admirable lifetime.