Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 9, 2007

Bravo, EMI

When were you last tempted, in a music store or online, by one of those massive sets of classical recordings on CD, presenting all the Bach “your family will ever need”—sets in which quantity threatens to outweigh quality? All too often, the so-called “greatest performances ever” turn out to be marketing ploys for the latest—and least—among new recording artists who happen to be under contract to a given company. Not to mention the 20-CD sets from Delta Entertainment such as Passion—the Most Famous Orchestral Spectaculars or A Little Night Music—the Ultimate Mozart Collection, better designed for heaving at the hapless gift-giver than for actually listening.

But three recent releases from EMI Classics, offered by their Encore imprint, deftly sidestep this pitfall. These fifty-CD sets of archival recordings—in good sound—are devoted to the music of Schubert, Beethoven, and Mozart. And, mirabile dictu, quality and a sense of serendipity are present in them, as well.

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When were you last tempted, in a music store or online, by one of those massive sets of classical recordings on CD, presenting all the Bach “your family will ever need”—sets in which quantity threatens to outweigh quality? All too often, the so-called “greatest performances ever” turn out to be marketing ploys for the latest—and least—among new recording artists who happen to be under contract to a given company. Not to mention the 20-CD sets from Delta Entertainment such as Passion—the Most Famous Orchestral Spectaculars or A Little Night Music—the Ultimate Mozart Collection, better designed for heaving at the hapless gift-giver than for actually listening.

But three recent releases from EMI Classics, offered by their Encore imprint, deftly sidestep this pitfall. These fifty-CD sets of archival recordings—in good sound—are devoted to the music of Schubert, Beethoven, and Mozart. And, mirabile dictu, quality and a sense of serendipity are present in them, as well.

The original recordings were made in the 1960’s, and—especially for the Schubert and Beethoven sets—include much worthy and long-neglected material. Some anonymous compiler with real musical taste, that rarest commodity, must have been at work, burrowed deep in the EMI offices. Among the recordings unearthed are a cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by André Cluytens (1905-1967), a Belgian-born French conductor who possessed an acute understanding of the German repertory. A 1960’s cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets by the magisterial Hungarian String Quartet is complemented by a long-unavailable set of the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano from 1959 by the ardent French violinist Christian Ferras (1933-1982) and the vivacious, unjustly neglected French pianist Pierre Barbizet (1922-1990).

Sure, there are duds in the EMI Beethoven set, like a dry series of Beethoven piano sonatas by the French pianist Eric Heidsieck (b. 1936), an heir to a champagne fortune, whose performances are all too un-fizzy. And the Mozart set has its rough spots, as well: a series of symphonies unyieldingly conducted by Jeffrey Tate. But good recordings vastly outnumber the bad in both. The Mozart set also includes so many youthful performances by the pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim in both genres that it amounts to a kind of referendum on his talent. Then as now, Barenboim’s performances at the keyboard are more generally reliable than those at the podium.

And the Schubert set’s rate of success is, if anything, even better. The violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, a devoted Schubertian, conducts the composer’s symphonies with his own Menuhin Festival Orchestra—also known as the Bath Festival Orchestra—in fluent recordings dating from 1968-69. The Melos Ensemble of London deftly handles chamber works like Schubert’s Octet, while the Hungarian String Quartet excels once again in Schubert’s quartet repertory. The presence of the sensitive German pianist Christian Zacharias makes up for a fairly motley group of other pianists included here.

In short, the Schubert and Beethoven sets are must-haves, and often revelatory, while the Mozart is rather less so. But rarely, if ever, has marketing hype in classical music been so well-matched by actual quality of performance. Bravo, EMI.

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Mohammed Atta on September 10

If Mohammed Atta and members of his gang had been arrested on September 10, 2001, and their plot foiled, what would the media have been saying about them on September 11?

We can get a glimpse of the answer from the coverage of the New Jersey jihadists whose plot to kill as many U.S. soldiers as possible was foiled by a video-rental clerk.

Here is Newsweek:

On the one hand, it was a “frightening terror plot intended to inflict mass casualties.”

On the other hand, it does not “appear that any of the plotting ever got much beyond the talking stage.”

Andrew Sullivan has predictably chimed in: “If this is all we have to be afraid of, things really aren’t that bad. I mean: attacking a military base? They call themselves terrorists?”

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If Mohammed Atta and members of his gang had been arrested on September 10, 2001, and their plot foiled, what would the media have been saying about them on September 11?

We can get a glimpse of the answer from the coverage of the New Jersey jihadists whose plot to kill as many U.S. soldiers as possible was foiled by a video-rental clerk.

Here is Newsweek:

On the one hand, it was a “frightening terror plot intended to inflict mass casualties.”

On the other hand, it does not “appear that any of the plotting ever got much beyond the talking stage.”

Andrew Sullivan has predictably chimed in: “If this is all we have to be afraid of, things really aren’t that bad. I mean: attacking a military base? They call themselves terrorists?”

But according to Newsweek’s own reporting, the Jersey jihadists had “collected handguns, shotguns, and semiautomatic assault rifles, engaged in firearms training in the Pocono Mountains, undertook surveillance of several U.S. military facilities, and openly talked among themselves about how to carry off multiple spectacular attacks against U.S. military personnel.”

Does this really sound like the “talking stage”?

So back to Mohammed Atta and his gang after they were apprehended on September 10. Yes, they were a frightening gang, we can imagine Newsweek reporting, and perhaps they had some linkage to terrorists overseas, including al Qaeda, but the only bad thing any of them had ever done was to get a speeding ticket in Oklahoma. It is certainly not illegal in the United States to take flying lessons.

And here would be Andrew Sullivan predictably chiming in: “If this is all we have to be afraid of, things really aren’t that bad. I mean: carrying box-cutters? They call themselves terrorists?”

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Olmert’s House of Cards

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert survived three no-confidence motions in the Knesset: one after the Winograd Report (only the executive summary is available in English) pronounced him a failure, another after his second-in-command, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, called on him to resign, and a third after over 100,000 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to send him the same message.

Clearly, extreme unpopularity will not in itself induce Olmert to step down. He will only resign when forced to do so by the Knesset or by his own party, Kadima. His Kadima colleagues, at least for the time being, seem content to go down with Olmert’s ship. And Kadima’s coalition partners also would rather risk being tainted by Olmert than facing the voters in new elections.

And so the government continues to stand, like a house of cards waiting to fall. Or more specifically, waiting for the completion of the Winograd Report this summer. The current report covered the period between Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah’s deadly attack on July 12, 2006, as well as the first five days of the war. This was the period during which Olmert still had full public and even international support. But the report was scathing on his government’s complete lack of tactical and strategic planning, a lack that became rapidly evident from day one of the war.

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On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert survived three no-confidence motions in the Knesset: one after the Winograd Report (only the executive summary is available in English) pronounced him a failure, another after his second-in-command, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, called on him to resign, and a third after over 100,000 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to send him the same message.

Clearly, extreme unpopularity will not in itself induce Olmert to step down. He will only resign when forced to do so by the Knesset or by his own party, Kadima. His Kadima colleagues, at least for the time being, seem content to go down with Olmert’s ship. And Kadima’s coalition partners also would rather risk being tainted by Olmert than facing the voters in new elections.

And so the government continues to stand, like a house of cards waiting to fall. Or more specifically, waiting for the completion of the Winograd Report this summer. The current report covered the period between Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah’s deadly attack on July 12, 2006, as well as the first five days of the war. This was the period during which Olmert still had full public and even international support. But the report was scathing on his government’s complete lack of tactical and strategic planning, a lack that became rapidly evident from day one of the war.

The next part of the report will cover the even more problematic period when Israel’s military and political leadership created expectations it could not fulfill: destroying Hezbollah and ending the daily missile barrages against northern Israel. This second part is likely to be even more painful: it will make clear that a last-ditch ground offensive was ordered with no real military objective, but rather was aimed at restoring Israel’s collapsing position in the UN Security Council.

Worst of all for Olmert, Judge Winograd more than hinted that, unlike the interim report, the final document could well contain “personal recommendations”—a euphemism for a direct call for the prime minister to resign. In Israel’s political tradition, such a “recommendation” is more or less binding. (One forced Ariel Sharon to step down as defense minister after the 1982 war in Lebanon.)

The recent resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who bore the brunt of Winograd’s criticisms, has allowed his successor Gaby Ashkenazi to usher in a back-to-basics training regimen, so that the military is not caught flat-footed during the next crisis. And this is good news: when it comes to deterring Israel’s belligerent neighbors, the IDF’s readiness is the key factor. The bad news is that Olmert’s decision to postpone the inevitable and stay in office also delays similar, much-needed renewal and recovery in the political sphere.

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EEOC Meets CIA

John Lehman, secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, served on the 9/11 commission. He makes an important point about it in yesterday’s Washington Post, noting that its recommendation that we establish a secure system of identification cards—a vital measure of self-defense in view of how the 9/11 terrorists infiltrated our society—was enacted but remains unfulfilled.

Lehman goes on to say that the commission’s other 40 “nonpolitical and non-ideological” recommendations—some enacted, some not—“continue to stand the test of time.” All of them, he stresses, were and are “achievable in the real world.”

Forgive me, but I have serious doubts. Yes, all of the recommendations were achievable in the real world. That is precisely one of the problems. One new measure in particular—making the CIA director subordinate to a National Intelligence Director (NID) as Congress has in fact done—has only served to graft a new layer of bureaucracy over agencies, like the CIA itself and the FBI, that were dysfunctional in the first place and in need of fundamental reform if not outright reconception.

John Negroponte, our country’s first NID, and an immensely versatile and talented public servant, gave up this position to become Condoleezza Rice’s deputy, a significant step down. One can only wonder why. Since this past February, John McConnell has been wrestling with the job. One can only wish him well.

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John Lehman, secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, served on the 9/11 commission. He makes an important point about it in yesterday’s Washington Post, noting that its recommendation that we establish a secure system of identification cards—a vital measure of self-defense in view of how the 9/11 terrorists infiltrated our society—was enacted but remains unfulfilled.

Lehman goes on to say that the commission’s other 40 “nonpolitical and non-ideological” recommendations—some enacted, some not—“continue to stand the test of time.” All of them, he stresses, were and are “achievable in the real world.”

Forgive me, but I have serious doubts. Yes, all of the recommendations were achievable in the real world. That is precisely one of the problems. One new measure in particular—making the CIA director subordinate to a National Intelligence Director (NID) as Congress has in fact done—has only served to graft a new layer of bureaucracy over agencies, like the CIA itself and the FBI, that were dysfunctional in the first place and in need of fundamental reform if not outright reconception.

John Negroponte, our country’s first NID, and an immensely versatile and talented public servant, gave up this position to become Condoleezza Rice’s deputy, a significant step down. One can only wonder why. Since this past February, John McConnell has been wrestling with the job. One can only wish him well.

The 9/11 commission was certainly correct that the old order was profoundly flawed. Indeed a long line of CIA directors recognized the contradictory limitations of their position, which seemed to grant them control over the entire U.S. intelligence effort but actually did not. James Schlesinger, who ran the agency for a spell, noted way back in 1971, in a top-secret memo to Richard Nixon, that a series of Presidents had exhorted directors of the CIA “to play the role of [intelligence] community leader and coordinator, but [their] authority over the community has remained minimal.”

But the 9/11 commission’s remedy may well prove to be worse than the disease it was meant to cure. The staff of 1,500 or so employees who now report to the DNI are no doubt among the best and the brightest in the intelligence community. But is this a virtue or a vice? Top talent has been drawn away from the task of actually collecting and interpreting intelligence and into the job of bureaucratic coordination.

What is more, the office of the Director of National Intelligence—the ODNI—is inexorably taking on many of the dysfunctional characteristics of the agencies beneath it, including a seemingly ineradicable preoccupation with affirmative action. As DNI, Negroponte certainly had his hands full with this issue. Even while working tirelessly to avert a second 9/11, he also felt compelled to toil hand in glove with an interagency body called the Diversity Senior Advisory Panel for the Intelligence Community (DSAPIC) to understand “the causes of the under-representation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities” in the intelligence community. This body came up with a plan, Diversity: A National Security Imperative for the Intelligence Community, that made Negroponte confident that the intelligence community would reach its “goal of a work force that looks like America.”

Never mind that a far more urgent “national-security imperative” would be to have an intelligence community that looks not like America but like our key intelligence targets, including Iran or North Korea or Lebanon, where we are flailing around in the dark. Under John McConnell the mindless commitment to diversity evidently persists. It could not be an accident that on the ODNI’s organizational chart the “Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Officer” occupies one of the most prominent spots, positioned on the same line as the director himself.

One would have hoped that the top of the chart would have been occupied by a benignly titled slot like “director of special projects,” whose real job would be to think through how to identify and apprehend home-grown jihadists. A most important fact to bear in mind is that it was not the ODNI or the CIA or the FBI that broke the plot now brought to an end in New Jersey, but a sharp-eyed video-rental clerk.

To apply for a position at the ODNI, click here.

To fight terrorism, click here.

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A Most Superior Person

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. Read More

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. In 1999, two years after handing over the colony, Patten was parachuted into Brussels to take up the post of European commissioner for external relations. Despite bearing considerable responsibility for the European Union’s animus against the Bush administration during the period before and after the invasion of Iraq, Patten was not considered sufficiently anti-American by the French and the Germans, and so he failed in his bid for the presidency of the European Commission. On his return to England in 2004, he was rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords.

Thwarted in politics, Patten has carved out a new career for himself as the figurehead of one of the most famous universities in the world. In liberal donnish circles, he is fêted as a most superior spokesperson. And it was in this capacity that he spoke last Thursday.

In the course of his speech, which dealt with the alleged threat that what he called “identity politics” poses to Britain’s domestic peace, Patten compared the situation of British Muslims today with that of British Catholics during the IRA terrorist campaign between 1969 and 1998. But Patten, who authored the Patten Report on the policing of Northern Ireland, should know better than anyone how suspect this analogy is.

A few weeks before Patten’s speech, in fact, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, anticipated and deconstructed precisely this analogy, contrasting al Qaeda’s nature and methods with those of the IRA. He called the latter “a domestic campaign using conventional weaponry, carried out by terrorists in tightly knit networks who were desperate to avoid capture and certainly had no wish to die.” The threat from al Qaeda, on the other hand, “is global in origin, reach, and ambition. The networks are large, fluid, mobile, and incredibly resilient.” Suicide is normal. “There is no evidence of looking to restrict casualties. There are no warnings given. . . . [T]he intention is to kill as many people as possible. We have seen both conventional and unconventional weaponry, and to date . . . there has not been an obvious political agenda around which meaningful negotiations can be built.”

Patten’s analogy ignores another highly significant fact cited by Clarke. IRA terrorists were eventually forced to abandon “the armed struggle” because they enjoyed virtually no support from Catholics in mainland Britain. British Muslims, by contrast, appear reluctant to help the police to detect, arrest, and convict al-Qaeda terrorists. As Clarke put it bluntly: “Almost all of our prosecutions have their origins in intelligence that came from overseas, the intelligence agencies, or from technical means. Few have yet originated from what is sometimes called ‘community intelligence.’” For whatever reasons, British Muslims are not yet prepared to inform on other Muslims.

And as Patten’s wrongheaded comparison might suggest, he sees himself engaged in quite a different battle—not against European Islamists at all, but against American neoconservatives. In his latest book, Not Quite the Diplomat, he writes: “There is still, in America—in newspaper columns, think tanks, academia, Congress, and the administration—an intellectual battle to be won. Even the Iraq debacle has not permanently silenced all the sovereigntists and neoconservatives.” Lord Patten may fancy himself intellectually superior to these poor benighted neocons, but he deceives himself if he thinks the so-called realists have won. The only thing that would silence the neoconservatives—those who want to defeat the jihad rather than appease it or pretend it doesn’t exist—would be a final victory for the Islamists. And should that happen, I suspect Patten might find himself silenced as well.

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