Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2007

Crunching Freedom’s Numbers

Yesterday I reported on how the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung managed to spin the release of Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2007 as an anti-Bush story. Here are some of the interesting points that the survey highlights when read without DeYoung’s intensely ideological spectacles.

Freedom House notes that 90 countries qualify as “free,” which is 47 percent of the world’s 193 independent states. As for the remainder, 30 percent are “partly free” and 23 percent are “not free.” The percentage of “free” countries has not increased appreciably over nine years, leading Freedom House to comment that the progress of freedom is “stagnating.”

Perhaps. But Freedom House also reports that 30 years ago the number of “free” countries was a mere 42, or 26 percent of the total, and that the number of “not free” countries stood at 68, or 43 percent of the total. Compare these two sets of numbers, and the degree of transformation is startling. The number of “free” countries has more than doubled, while the number of “not free” has decreased by more than one-third. To put it another way, a mere 30 years ago, “not free” countries outnumbered the “free” ones by more than 50 percent. Today, there are fully twice as many “free” countries as “not free” ones.

In addition to its freedom scale, Freedom House also counts “electoral democracies.” This number includes all of the “free” countries plus some of those ranked “partly free,” i.e., countries where the government has been elected in an honest multiparty contest but where some of the other attributes of freedom, like a reliable court system, are lacking. The number of countries governed by rulers chosen by the people has reached 123, or 64 percent. We have, in sum, witnessed a revolution in the norms of governance in the past thirty years. Most (but not all) of this is due to the West’s triumph in the cold war. That this steep curve has flattened out over the last few years might be called “stagnation.” But it might just as well be termed a period of consolidation amidst rapid, epochal change.

A noteworthy P.S.: Only eight countries scored a worst-possible 7 on Freedom House’s numerical scores. These are Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. (Iraq was not, as DeYoung erroneously claimed, among them.)

Yesterday I reported on how the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung managed to spin the release of Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2007 as an anti-Bush story. Here are some of the interesting points that the survey highlights when read without DeYoung’s intensely ideological spectacles.

Freedom House notes that 90 countries qualify as “free,” which is 47 percent of the world’s 193 independent states. As for the remainder, 30 percent are “partly free” and 23 percent are “not free.” The percentage of “free” countries has not increased appreciably over nine years, leading Freedom House to comment that the progress of freedom is “stagnating.”

Perhaps. But Freedom House also reports that 30 years ago the number of “free” countries was a mere 42, or 26 percent of the total, and that the number of “not free” countries stood at 68, or 43 percent of the total. Compare these two sets of numbers, and the degree of transformation is startling. The number of “free” countries has more than doubled, while the number of “not free” has decreased by more than one-third. To put it another way, a mere 30 years ago, “not free” countries outnumbered the “free” ones by more than 50 percent. Today, there are fully twice as many “free” countries as “not free” ones.

In addition to its freedom scale, Freedom House also counts “electoral democracies.” This number includes all of the “free” countries plus some of those ranked “partly free,” i.e., countries where the government has been elected in an honest multiparty contest but where some of the other attributes of freedom, like a reliable court system, are lacking. The number of countries governed by rulers chosen by the people has reached 123, or 64 percent. We have, in sum, witnessed a revolution in the norms of governance in the past thirty years. Most (but not all) of this is due to the West’s triumph in the cold war. That this steep curve has flattened out over the last few years might be called “stagnation.” But it might just as well be termed a period of consolidation amidst rapid, epochal change.

A noteworthy P.S.: Only eight countries scored a worst-possible 7 on Freedom House’s numerical scores. These are Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. (Iraq was not, as DeYoung erroneously claimed, among them.)

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Missing Sharon

I was thinking this morning of Ariel Sharon, who has just finished his first year in a coma at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. It’s a funny thing. One misses him, wishes he still were prime minister, almost physically longs for the broad, unflappable bulk of him to protect Israel from its current political unraveling—and knows he is to blame for a good part of it.

It was Sharon, after all, who threw a bomb, called “the big bang” by political commentators, into Israel’s political scene by bolting the Likud and creating a new centrist party, Kadima, that went on, after his stroke, to win the March 2006 elections under the leadership of Ehud Olmert.

New centrist parties in Israel indeed have a long record of starting with a bang and ending, being ex nihilo creations with no political infrastructure, with a whoosh of escaping air. This is almost certain to happen to Kadima too, especially if Olmert is forced to resign on corruption charges in the coming months—the difference being that this time, precisely because of Kadima’s electoral victory, unprecedented for a first-time-around party, its blow-out will leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Israeli political scene. A veteran politician like Ariel Sharon should have known better.

He also should have known better than to found Kadima as a single-issue party, with unilateral disengagement as the only real plank in its platform. Unilateral disengagement is now dead in the water, killed by last summer’s unsuccessful war against Hizbullah and the specter of a Lebanon-like West Bank, and Kadima has been a rudderless ship ever since. And although the outbreak and conduct of the war in Lebanon can’t be pinned on Sharon, the years of Hizbullah’s build-up in the Lebanese south after Israel’s withdrawal from there in 2000 took place entirely on his watch. So did the lack of coherent military planning for a major confrontation with Hizbullah that was the main reason for last summer’s botched campaign, which has now resulted in chief of staff Dan Halutz’s resignation. An old general like Sharon should have known better, too.

One wishes he were back. There’s no other Israeli politician large enough to make up for his blunders.

I was thinking this morning of Ariel Sharon, who has just finished his first year in a coma at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. It’s a funny thing. One misses him, wishes he still were prime minister, almost physically longs for the broad, unflappable bulk of him to protect Israel from its current political unraveling—and knows he is to blame for a good part of it.

It was Sharon, after all, who threw a bomb, called “the big bang” by political commentators, into Israel’s political scene by bolting the Likud and creating a new centrist party, Kadima, that went on, after his stroke, to win the March 2006 elections under the leadership of Ehud Olmert.

New centrist parties in Israel indeed have a long record of starting with a bang and ending, being ex nihilo creations with no political infrastructure, with a whoosh of escaping air. This is almost certain to happen to Kadima too, especially if Olmert is forced to resign on corruption charges in the coming months—the difference being that this time, precisely because of Kadima’s electoral victory, unprecedented for a first-time-around party, its blow-out will leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Israeli political scene. A veteran politician like Ariel Sharon should have known better.

He also should have known better than to found Kadima as a single-issue party, with unilateral disengagement as the only real plank in its platform. Unilateral disengagement is now dead in the water, killed by last summer’s unsuccessful war against Hizbullah and the specter of a Lebanon-like West Bank, and Kadima has been a rudderless ship ever since. And although the outbreak and conduct of the war in Lebanon can’t be pinned on Sharon, the years of Hizbullah’s build-up in the Lebanese south after Israel’s withdrawal from there in 2000 took place entirely on his watch. So did the lack of coherent military planning for a major confrontation with Hizbullah that was the main reason for last summer’s botched campaign, which has now resulted in chief of staff Dan Halutz’s resignation. An old general like Sharon should have known better, too.

One wishes he were back. There’s no other Israeli politician large enough to make up for his blunders.

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Freedom Stagnation?

Freedom House has just released Freedom in the World 2007, the latest installment of its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, covering the year 2006. These annual studies are the most essential resource we have for gauging the state of world politics. This year’s gloss is that the global progress of freedom has reached a plateau over the past decade. The new report calls this a potential “freedom stagnation.”

This was seized on by the Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung, a reporter long noted for letting her leftish ideological slip show. Assigned to report on the release of the survey, she spun the story as a rebuke to President Bush. DeYoung’s lead? “If ‘freedom is on the march,’ as President Bush often says, it reversed course or at least took a break last year, according to the administration’s favored arbiter of political rights and civil liberties.”

Note the snideness of the last phrase. Although Freedom House’s key officers are Democrats, the survey is “the administration’s favor[ite]” for the simple reason that it is the only comprehensive assessment of its kind. If you want to get a reading on the overall state of freedom in the world, there is simply nowhere else to go. As for DeYoung’s claim that the trajectory of freedom has “reversed course,” this is sheer concoction. The report says nothing of the kind. It does speak of a plateau stretching back over the past nine years, i.e., a plateau starting three years before Bush took office.

DeYoung is in such a rush to score debater’s points against Bush that she apparently didn’t stop to acquire even cursory familiarity with the data. “Iraq,” she writes tellingly, “garnered a worst possible rating of 6 (on a scale of 1 to 6).” As anyone who has ever glanced at the survey knows, its scale is 1 to 7, in which 7 is the worst. Iraq’s 6 was certainly a poor score, but there were seventeen other states that rated 6.5 or 7.

I’ll report on the real highlights of the 2007 survey in this space tomorrow.

Freedom House has just released Freedom in the World 2007, the latest installment of its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, covering the year 2006. These annual studies are the most essential resource we have for gauging the state of world politics. This year’s gloss is that the global progress of freedom has reached a plateau over the past decade. The new report calls this a potential “freedom stagnation.”

This was seized on by the Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung, a reporter long noted for letting her leftish ideological slip show. Assigned to report on the release of the survey, she spun the story as a rebuke to President Bush. DeYoung’s lead? “If ‘freedom is on the march,’ as President Bush often says, it reversed course or at least took a break last year, according to the administration’s favored arbiter of political rights and civil liberties.”

Note the snideness of the last phrase. Although Freedom House’s key officers are Democrats, the survey is “the administration’s favor[ite]” for the simple reason that it is the only comprehensive assessment of its kind. If you want to get a reading on the overall state of freedom in the world, there is simply nowhere else to go. As for DeYoung’s claim that the trajectory of freedom has “reversed course,” this is sheer concoction. The report says nothing of the kind. It does speak of a plateau stretching back over the past nine years, i.e., a plateau starting three years before Bush took office.

DeYoung is in such a rush to score debater’s points against Bush that she apparently didn’t stop to acquire even cursory familiarity with the data. “Iraq,” she writes tellingly, “garnered a worst possible rating of 6 (on a scale of 1 to 6).” As anyone who has ever glanced at the survey knows, its scale is 1 to 7, in which 7 is the worst. Iraq’s 6 was certainly a poor score, but there were seventeen other states that rated 6.5 or 7.

I’ll report on the real highlights of the 2007 survey in this space tomorrow.

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News from the Continent: Victor’s Justice

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

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Gross Misconduct

The battle over Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic (1875) has ended happily. Last November, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University sold the painting for $68 million—the highest price ever paid for an American work of art—to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the newly established Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Founded by Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress, the Crystal Bridges Museum is being built in Bentonville, Arkansas.) In deference to local sensibilities, however, Jefferson offered the work to Philadelphia institutions if they could match the purchase price within 45 days. In a cliffhanger of the sort not common in the art world, the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, working together, just made the December 26 deadline, having raised about half of the purchase price and borrowing the rest.

Today recognized as the summit of American realism, The Gross Clinic was once viewed as indecent. In 1876 the Centennial Exhibition rejected it as too brutal for public display, and it was relegated to the U.S. Army Hospital exhibition. Its subject is indeed brutal: Samuel D. Gross, Jefferson University’s brilliant surgeon, removes a diseased bone from a young eye and pauses dramatically in mid-action, bloody scalpel in hand. As his assembled students observe with forensic detachment, the boy’s mother cringes beside Gross, in palpable torment. Here is the most forceful depiction imaginable of the intellectual culture of Philadelphia, whose tradition of artistic and scientific empiricism reaches back to its Quaker foundation. For this reason alone, it is deeply satisfying that the painting remain in its native city.

Still, nagging questions remain. One is the involvement of the National Gallery, which might be expected to defend the cause of American art as a whole, and not to act as a predatory corporation, aggrandizing itself at the cost of the cultural patrimony of another city. Another is the increasing tendency of private institutions to sell their cultural assets, declaring them, on the basis of narrowly formulated mission statements, to be “outside the scope of our central mission.” Such was the case two years ago when the New York Public Library sold Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849), the iconic Hudson River School landscape, to the Crystal Bridges Museum. And finally, there is the Philadelphia Art Museum itself, which has eloquently defended the idea that the physical location of a work of art has much to do with its aesthetic force and social significance; it is striking that this is the same museum that has worked so assiduously to pry the collection of the Barnes Foundation from the building and site that have given it its meaning for three quarters of a century.

Such are the lingering qualms, but they should not prevent one from marveling at The Gross Clinic, now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until March 4.

The battle over Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic (1875) has ended happily. Last November, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University sold the painting for $68 million—the highest price ever paid for an American work of art—to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the newly established Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Founded by Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress, the Crystal Bridges Museum is being built in Bentonville, Arkansas.) In deference to local sensibilities, however, Jefferson offered the work to Philadelphia institutions if they could match the purchase price within 45 days. In a cliffhanger of the sort not common in the art world, the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, working together, just made the December 26 deadline, having raised about half of the purchase price and borrowing the rest.

Today recognized as the summit of American realism, The Gross Clinic was once viewed as indecent. In 1876 the Centennial Exhibition rejected it as too brutal for public display, and it was relegated to the U.S. Army Hospital exhibition. Its subject is indeed brutal: Samuel D. Gross, Jefferson University’s brilliant surgeon, removes a diseased bone from a young eye and pauses dramatically in mid-action, bloody scalpel in hand. As his assembled students observe with forensic detachment, the boy’s mother cringes beside Gross, in palpable torment. Here is the most forceful depiction imaginable of the intellectual culture of Philadelphia, whose tradition of artistic and scientific empiricism reaches back to its Quaker foundation. For this reason alone, it is deeply satisfying that the painting remain in its native city.

Still, nagging questions remain. One is the involvement of the National Gallery, which might be expected to defend the cause of American art as a whole, and not to act as a predatory corporation, aggrandizing itself at the cost of the cultural patrimony of another city. Another is the increasing tendency of private institutions to sell their cultural assets, declaring them, on the basis of narrowly formulated mission statements, to be “outside the scope of our central mission.” Such was the case two years ago when the New York Public Library sold Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849), the iconic Hudson River School landscape, to the Crystal Bridges Museum. And finally, there is the Philadelphia Art Museum itself, which has eloquently defended the idea that the physical location of a work of art has much to do with its aesthetic force and social significance; it is striking that this is the same museum that has worked so assiduously to pry the collection of the Barnes Foundation from the building and site that have given it its meaning for three quarters of a century.

Such are the lingering qualms, but they should not prevent one from marveling at The Gross Clinic, now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until March 4.

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A Great Step Back for Feminism?

Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent criticism of Condoleezza Rice—that the Secretary of State, as a single woman, would not pay a “personal price” for the President’s proposal to send yet more American sons and daughters to war in Iraq—has been denounced by White House spokesman Tony Snow as “a great step back for feminism.” Rice herself endorsed this view in her reply to Boxer: “Gee, I thought that single women had come further than that.”

Senator Boxer’s criticism is unfair and indeed spiteful, but not, as Snow and Rice claim, anti-feminist. What Boxer was really getting at, it seems to me, was not just Rice’s position as a childless and unmarried woman. It was what she saw as Rice’s lack of solidarity with her sex. A true feminist (so runs the subtext) would not have supported this proposal, because women do not approve of war in general, and foreign wars in particular. The feminist view is that women always pay the price for male violence, which can only ever be justified in self-defense, and even then must never be encouraged or glorified.

This view underlies, I would argue, the dissatisfaction and even hostility with which ideological feminists have usually treated women who are elected to public office. They hated Margaret Thatcher for precisely the reason that many men admired her: because she was at once feminine and manly. The “Iron Lady”—a nickname conferred upon her by one of her male counterparts—was loathed by feminists who assumed that any female prime minister would share their repugnance for the masculine virtues. When Mrs. Thatcher did the opposite, they saw her as a traitor. Many of them, apparently, see Condoleezza Rice in the same light.

In what Harvey Mansfield’s cunningly counter-cultural book Manliness calls “the gender-neutral society,” there is no place for these masculine virtues, and hence no place either for women who value them. Condoleezza Rice deserves to be defended not merely as a woman who has chosen to remain single, but also as a woman who expects men to be prepared to die for their country. Without such women, men are unlikely to make that sacrifice.

 

Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent criticism of Condoleezza Rice—that the Secretary of State, as a single woman, would not pay a “personal price” for the President’s proposal to send yet more American sons and daughters to war in Iraq—has been denounced by White House spokesman Tony Snow as “a great step back for feminism.” Rice herself endorsed this view in her reply to Boxer: “Gee, I thought that single women had come further than that.”

Senator Boxer’s criticism is unfair and indeed spiteful, but not, as Snow and Rice claim, anti-feminist. What Boxer was really getting at, it seems to me, was not just Rice’s position as a childless and unmarried woman. It was what she saw as Rice’s lack of solidarity with her sex. A true feminist (so runs the subtext) would not have supported this proposal, because women do not approve of war in general, and foreign wars in particular. The feminist view is that women always pay the price for male violence, which can only ever be justified in self-defense, and even then must never be encouraged or glorified.

This view underlies, I would argue, the dissatisfaction and even hostility with which ideological feminists have usually treated women who are elected to public office. They hated Margaret Thatcher for precisely the reason that many men admired her: because she was at once feminine and manly. The “Iron Lady”—a nickname conferred upon her by one of her male counterparts—was loathed by feminists who assumed that any female prime minister would share their repugnance for the masculine virtues. When Mrs. Thatcher did the opposite, they saw her as a traitor. Many of them, apparently, see Condoleezza Rice in the same light.

In what Harvey Mansfield’s cunningly counter-cultural book Manliness calls “the gender-neutral society,” there is no place for these masculine virtues, and hence no place either for women who value them. Condoleezza Rice deserves to be defended not merely as a woman who has chosen to remain single, but also as a woman who expects men to be prepared to die for their country. Without such women, men are unlikely to make that sacrifice.

 

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Broadening the Definition

According to a story in the January 16th New York Times, “Democratic congressional leaders say they are committed to governing from the center.” This newfound centrism focuses on social issues. Democrats are alarmed by 2004 exit surveys that showed that religious voters favored Bush by an overwhelming margin. Part of the response has been the creation of a “faith working group,” led by Representative James Clyburn, the new House majority whip. This group, according to the story, aims to “broaden . . . the definition of values-related issues . . . to include economic issues like raising the minimum wage, assisting low-income children with health insurance, and shoring up Social Security.” “That’s Old Testament Bible, taking care of widows and orphans,” says Clyburn.

This is the social-issues version of Michael Dukakis’s memorable ride atop a tank during his 1988 presidential campaign. He was trying to show voters that he was strong on defense, but the photo op backfired because many voters understood that if the Democrats, inveterate critics of defense spending, had had their way, there would have been no tank.

Back then, aside from riding on tanks, the Democrats tried to persuade voters that they were not weak on national security by seeking to “broaden the definition” of national security to include these very same social insurance policies that today they are claiming are “values” issues.

Whatever the merits of the minimum wage, Medicare, and social security, they are of little avail against foreign enemies or terrorists. And whatever they may do for your body, they do little for your soul. They make poor substitutes for ethics, self-discipline, and other traditional virtues that churchgoing voters presumably prize.

The Democrats’ problem for the past thirty-odd years has been that they are much more liberal than the electorate. Senator Lieberman was their one leader who was conspicuously devout. He also happened to be deeply serious about national security, so they hastened to chuck him out. In thinking they can solve their problem through semantic games, the Democrats are showing their contempt for the voters. Notwithstanding the anomalous results in 2006, the voters will continue to return the compliment.

According to a story in the January 16th New York Times, “Democratic congressional leaders say they are committed to governing from the center.” This newfound centrism focuses on social issues. Democrats are alarmed by 2004 exit surveys that showed that religious voters favored Bush by an overwhelming margin. Part of the response has been the creation of a “faith working group,” led by Representative James Clyburn, the new House majority whip. This group, according to the story, aims to “broaden . . . the definition of values-related issues . . . to include economic issues like raising the minimum wage, assisting low-income children with health insurance, and shoring up Social Security.” “That’s Old Testament Bible, taking care of widows and orphans,” says Clyburn.

This is the social-issues version of Michael Dukakis’s memorable ride atop a tank during his 1988 presidential campaign. He was trying to show voters that he was strong on defense, but the photo op backfired because many voters understood that if the Democrats, inveterate critics of defense spending, had had their way, there would have been no tank.

Back then, aside from riding on tanks, the Democrats tried to persuade voters that they were not weak on national security by seeking to “broaden the definition” of national security to include these very same social insurance policies that today they are claiming are “values” issues.

Whatever the merits of the minimum wage, Medicare, and social security, they are of little avail against foreign enemies or terrorists. And whatever they may do for your body, they do little for your soul. They make poor substitutes for ethics, self-discipline, and other traditional virtues that churchgoing voters presumably prize.

The Democrats’ problem for the past thirty-odd years has been that they are much more liberal than the electorate. Senator Lieberman was their one leader who was conspicuously devout. He also happened to be deeply serious about national security, so they hastened to chuck him out. In thinking they can solve their problem through semantic games, the Democrats are showing their contempt for the voters. Notwithstanding the anomalous results in 2006, the voters will continue to return the compliment.

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Bookshelf

• Sometimes I wish I had a rubber stamp made especially for use when reviewing biographies: TOO MANY FACTS, NOT ENOUGH STYLE. Howard Pollack’s George Gershwin: His Life and Work (University of California, 884 pp., $39.95) fits that dreary bill perfectly. I read the galleys of Pollack’s book at the same time that I was working on the essay about Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney biography that ran in the January issue of COMMENTARY, and at times I found it hard to tell the two books apart. Pollack wrote a big fat biography of Aaron Copland in 2001, and this book, like that one, is too long, too earnest, and pedestrian in the extreme. It’s also organized thematically rather than chronologically, making it even less pleasing to read.

Alas, Pollack has done his homework with a vengeance, and George Gershwin contains everything you could possibly want to know about the composer of Porgy and Bess, much of it newly discovered. As a result, it’s unlikely that anyone will write another Gershwin biography for at least another decade, so if you’re interested in Gershwin—and you should be—you’ll have to slog through this one, grumbling all the way.

Incidentally, Pollack is a professor of music at the University of Houston. No surprise there, needless to say. Does writing well threaten your chances of getting tenure? I’m starting to wonder…

• I rarely write blurbs, but I made an exception for Amanda Vaill’s Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins (Broadway Books, 675 pp., $40) because I know the author and read the book in manuscript, meaning that I can’t review it. I can, however, tell you what the blurb said: “I can’t think of a better full-length portrait of an American choreographer or director, and I can’t imagine a better book about Robbins ever being written.” I know whereof I speak. I wrote a lot about Robbins while he was alive (including two essays for COMMENTARY, one of which is reprinted in A Terry Teachout Reader) and at one time gave serious thought to writing a biography of my own, but I decided to pick another subject when I heard that Vaill was working on this book, because I knew she’d do a first-rate job, which she did.

Stylistically speaking, Somewhere is everything that George Gershwin isn’t, and it’s thorough and intelligent to boot. Yes, it’s long, but not absurdly so, and it’s so well written that you don’t care. Gabriel Fauré was once asked about the correct tempo for “Aprés un rêve,” his most popular song. He’s supposed to have replied, “If the singer is bad—very fast!” That’s how I feel about Somewhere. Me, I would have written it shorter, but when a book is as good as this one, I’m happy to keep on reading.

• Sometimes I wish I had a rubber stamp made especially for use when reviewing biographies: TOO MANY FACTS, NOT ENOUGH STYLE. Howard Pollack’s George Gershwin: His Life and Work (University of California, 884 pp., $39.95) fits that dreary bill perfectly. I read the galleys of Pollack’s book at the same time that I was working on the essay about Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney biography that ran in the January issue of COMMENTARY, and at times I found it hard to tell the two books apart. Pollack wrote a big fat biography of Aaron Copland in 2001, and this book, like that one, is too long, too earnest, and pedestrian in the extreme. It’s also organized thematically rather than chronologically, making it even less pleasing to read.

Alas, Pollack has done his homework with a vengeance, and George Gershwin contains everything you could possibly want to know about the composer of Porgy and Bess, much of it newly discovered. As a result, it’s unlikely that anyone will write another Gershwin biography for at least another decade, so if you’re interested in Gershwin—and you should be—you’ll have to slog through this one, grumbling all the way.

Incidentally, Pollack is a professor of music at the University of Houston. No surprise there, needless to say. Does writing well threaten your chances of getting tenure? I’m starting to wonder…

• I rarely write blurbs, but I made an exception for Amanda Vaill’s Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins (Broadway Books, 675 pp., $40) because I know the author and read the book in manuscript, meaning that I can’t review it. I can, however, tell you what the blurb said: “I can’t think of a better full-length portrait of an American choreographer or director, and I can’t imagine a better book about Robbins ever being written.” I know whereof I speak. I wrote a lot about Robbins while he was alive (including two essays for COMMENTARY, one of which is reprinted in A Terry Teachout Reader) and at one time gave serious thought to writing a biography of my own, but I decided to pick another subject when I heard that Vaill was working on this book, because I knew she’d do a first-rate job, which she did.

Stylistically speaking, Somewhere is everything that George Gershwin isn’t, and it’s thorough and intelligent to boot. Yes, it’s long, but not absurdly so, and it’s so well written that you don’t care. Gabriel Fauré was once asked about the correct tempo for “Aprés un rêve,” his most popular song. He’s supposed to have replied, “If the singer is bad—very fast!” That’s how I feel about Somewhere. Me, I would have written it shorter, but when a book is as good as this one, I’m happy to keep on reading.

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Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison, one of Israel’s most respected legal intellectuals, is said to owe her failure to be appointed to Israel’s supreme court to two main things: her opposition to the judicial activism of the 1995-2006 Barak court and her strong affirmation of Zionist values in an increasingly post-Zionist age.

And so when someone like Gavison, in a newly published position paper entitled “The Necessity of Strategic Thinking: A Constitutive Vision for Israel and Its Implications,” suggests fundamental changes in Israel’s Law of Return, which guarantees Israeli citizenship to any Jew wishing to live in the Jewish state, you have to sit up and take note.

Until now, amending this law has been the agenda of post- and anti-Zionists, who claim—quite correctly—that it discriminates in favor of Jews. Now along comes Gavison and says in effect that it doesn’t discriminate enough, because it has been taken advantage of by too many people who—although they are Jews according to Jewish religious or Israeli secular law, such as Russians with a single Jewish grandparent or Ethiopians whose ancestors converted to Christianity—have “no interest in Jewish life.” Such immigrants, says Gavison, have often ended up being a cultural and/or economic burden on Israel, which has had great difficulty integrating them successfully.

One can’t deny that this difficulty has been real. And yet Gavison’s proposal could only result in a legal, political, and bureaucratic nightmare. Who, exactly, would decide what an “interest in Jewish life” is? Who would decide who does or doesn’t have it? Would screening committees be set up for tens of thousands of potential immigrants with the power to decide in each case whether such an “interest” exists?

Although the Law of Return has indeed become more and more problematic with time, sweeping changes in it are only likely to cause greater problems. One would think that a conservative jurist like Ruth Gavison would be the first to understand this.

Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison, one of Israel’s most respected legal intellectuals, is said to owe her failure to be appointed to Israel’s supreme court to two main things: her opposition to the judicial activism of the 1995-2006 Barak court and her strong affirmation of Zionist values in an increasingly post-Zionist age.

And so when someone like Gavison, in a newly published position paper entitled “The Necessity of Strategic Thinking: A Constitutive Vision for Israel and Its Implications,” suggests fundamental changes in Israel’s Law of Return, which guarantees Israeli citizenship to any Jew wishing to live in the Jewish state, you have to sit up and take note.

Until now, amending this law has been the agenda of post- and anti-Zionists, who claim—quite correctly—that it discriminates in favor of Jews. Now along comes Gavison and says in effect that it doesn’t discriminate enough, because it has been taken advantage of by too many people who—although they are Jews according to Jewish religious or Israeli secular law, such as Russians with a single Jewish grandparent or Ethiopians whose ancestors converted to Christianity—have “no interest in Jewish life.” Such immigrants, says Gavison, have often ended up being a cultural and/or economic burden on Israel, which has had great difficulty integrating them successfully.

One can’t deny that this difficulty has been real. And yet Gavison’s proposal could only result in a legal, political, and bureaucratic nightmare. Who, exactly, would decide what an “interest in Jewish life” is? Who would decide who does or doesn’t have it? Would screening committees be set up for tens of thousands of potential immigrants with the power to decide in each case whether such an “interest” exists?

Although the Law of Return has indeed become more and more problematic with time, sweeping changes in it are only likely to cause greater problems. One would think that a conservative jurist like Ruth Gavison would be the first to understand this.

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Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960′s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960′s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

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By far the grandest Islamic place of worship in Britain is the London Central Mosque. At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Winston Churchill offered the site of this splendid building as a gift from the British people to its Muslim citizens. For more than half a century its gleaming golden dome has nestled among the whitewashed Nash terraces in Regent’s Park, whose residents include, among others, the U.S. ambassador. Up to 5,000 people go there for Friday prayers—far more than worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Many of the faithful visit the mosque’s bookshop, where they might well pick up DVD’s by those listed on the mosque’s website as its “famous visitors.”

One of these is the American Muslim preacher Sheikh Khalid Yasin, director of the Islamic teaching institute. But Sheikh Yasin is a Wahhabi extremist. His DVD’s denounce the “delusion” of equality for women and demand the death penalty for homosexuals. He accuses the World Health Organization and Christian missionaries of a “conspiracy” to create the AIDS epidemic in Africa and denies that 9/11 had anything to do with “the so-called al Qaeda.”

Another celebrity imam whose DVD’s are on sale at the mosque is Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, who preaches at the Global Islamic Youth Center in Liverpool, New South Wales. Notorious in Australia for his claim that women who are raped “have nobody to blame but themselves,” Sheikh Feiz is seen in one of his DVD’s imitating a pig: “This creature will say, ‘Oh Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.’ They [the Jews] will be [he makes snorting noises]. All of them. Every single one of them.”

These remarks are similar to those of a third “famous visitor,” the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known al-Jazeera commentator: “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [judgment day]. At that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

The former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, resigned as a trustee of the London Central Mosque in 1996 because he felt it had been taken over by Wahhabism, backed by Saudi money. But a mega-mosque for up to 70,000 worshippers to be built in the East End of London will dwarf the one in Regent’s Park. The London Markaz, funded by the Saudi-backed organization Tablighi Jamaat, will be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. If Wahhabi ideology has already taken over the most prestigious mosque in Britain, why is Tony Blair’s government allowing the same thing to happen again on a much bigger scale? As the largest mosque in Europe arises in London, Muslims could be forgiven for supposing that the conversion of Britain to Wahhabi Islam is only a matter of time.

By far the grandest Islamic place of worship in Britain is the London Central Mosque. At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Winston Churchill offered the site of this splendid building as a gift from the British people to its Muslim citizens. For more than half a century its gleaming golden dome has nestled among the whitewashed Nash terraces in Regent’s Park, whose residents include, among others, the U.S. ambassador. Up to 5,000 people go there for Friday prayers—far more than worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Many of the faithful visit the mosque’s bookshop, where they might well pick up DVD’s by those listed on the mosque’s website as its “famous visitors.”

One of these is the American Muslim preacher Sheikh Khalid Yasin, director of the Islamic teaching institute. But Sheikh Yasin is a Wahhabi extremist. His DVD’s denounce the “delusion” of equality for women and demand the death penalty for homosexuals. He accuses the World Health Organization and Christian missionaries of a “conspiracy” to create the AIDS epidemic in Africa and denies that 9/11 had anything to do with “the so-called al Qaeda.”

Another celebrity imam whose DVD’s are on sale at the mosque is Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, who preaches at the Global Islamic Youth Center in Liverpool, New South Wales. Notorious in Australia for his claim that women who are raped “have nobody to blame but themselves,” Sheikh Feiz is seen in one of his DVD’s imitating a pig: “This creature will say, ‘Oh Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.’ They [the Jews] will be [he makes snorting noises]. All of them. Every single one of them.”

These remarks are similar to those of a third “famous visitor,” the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known al-Jazeera commentator: “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [judgment day]. At that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

The former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, resigned as a trustee of the London Central Mosque in 1996 because he felt it had been taken over by Wahhabism, backed by Saudi money. But a mega-mosque for up to 70,000 worshippers to be built in the East End of London will dwarf the one in Regent’s Park. The London Markaz, funded by the Saudi-backed organization Tablighi Jamaat, will be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. If Wahhabi ideology has already taken over the most prestigious mosque in Britain, why is Tony Blair’s government allowing the same thing to happen again on a much bigger scale? As the largest mosque in Europe arises in London, Muslims could be forgiven for supposing that the conversion of Britain to Wahhabi Islam is only a matter of time.

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