Tarek Heggy is an Egyptian businessman and intellectual, perhaps the most prolific liberal writer in the Arab world. He is a no-holds-barred advocate of political and economic freedom, delivering, as Brookings Institution senior fellow Shibley Telhami has put it, a “refreshing message of self-reliance that challenges the prevailing sense that regional ills are largely made abroad.”
But currently Heggy, for a change, is broadcasting a message of dire alarm at an impending regional catastrophe that, if not made abroad, would be catalyzed from abroad. His worry? The likely consequences of an American flight from Iraq.
• “For God’s sake, don’t fill the paper with Bach in B minor,” one of George Bernard Shaw’s editors warned him back in the days when he was writing music criticism. I sympathize, but sometimes you can’t get around it, which may explain why I’ve never read a good book about Bach that was fully accessible to non-musicians. The problem is that we know a fair amount about the details of Bach’s life but very little about his personality, since he left behind no diary and next to no correspondence. Like Shakespeare, we can only “know” him through his art, which is hard to talk about intelligibly (much less intelligently) without at least some resort to the kind of technical language against which Shaw’s editor warned him.
Martin Geck’s Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work (Harcourt, 738 pp., $40) is unapologetically written for musicians, but laymen will be able to make sense of most of it, and I commend it to anyone in search of a deeper understanding of Bach and his world. Geck does an admirable job of summarizing what is known about Bach’s life without overstating the extent to which it sheds light on his music: “Whichever way we turn in hopes of discovering more intimate, ‘personal’ information about Bach, we encounter obstacles, because few opportunities existed for expressing the private life of a kapellmeister and cantor in the first half of the eighteenth century . . . Bach no more composed for us than he lived for us. His music comes from far away; it speaks a language that we understand yet in which we hear echoes of another language, outside our expressive range.” That’s well said, as is the rest of this fine book. Don’t let the musical examples throw you—Johann Sebastian Bach is full of good things from start to finish.
How, if at all, should we govern new developments in human biotechnology? In many cases, decisions will be made best by the individuals involved. In others, legislation and government action will be required to prevent genuinely serious abuses. Telling one type of case from the other is not always simple, and requires a lot of argument and give and take.
We have already seen the early skirmishes surrounding issues like human cloning, “fetal farming,” embryo-destructive research, and some forms of assisted reproduction. In some instances, laws have been passed. In others, the advocates of unrestricted choice have carried the day. That’s how we make decisions in a democracy.
But to some, this seems like no way to approach such momentous and difficult issues. Surely, they argue, a detached body of experts would do a better job, case by case. This, at any rate, is the argument for a new structure of regulation for biotechnology, an argument that has carried the day in Britain (and to some extent in Canada) and whose most prominent American exponent is Francis Fukuyama.
As Ron Bailey reports in Reason Magazine, Fukuyama has just produced a 400-page report calling for the creation of a new regulatory agency to make decisions about the appropriate uses of human biotechnology. The report emerged from the work of a study group convened by Fukuyama at Johns Hopkins University. Though I was a member of the group, I did not sign on to the report, since I disagreed with its conclusions.