Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 11, 2007

Weekend Reading

With a nod to Mother’s Day, we offer a small sampling of what COMMENTARY has had to say over the years about the role of the family and of mothers in particular—a subject on which the magazine has marshaled some of America’s best thinkers.

The Origins of Human Bonds
Selma Fraiberg – December 1967

The Rediscovery of the Family
Nathan Glazer – March 1978

ABC and Me
Jessica Gress-Wright – January, 1990

Why Mothers Should Stay Home
David Gelernter – February 1996

Bringing Up Parents
Kay Hymowitz – June 2003

With a nod to Mother’s Day, we offer a small sampling of what COMMENTARY has had to say over the years about the role of the family and of mothers in particular—a subject on which the magazine has marshaled some of America’s best thinkers.

The Origins of Human Bonds
Selma Fraiberg – December 1967

The Rediscovery of the Family
Nathan Glazer – March 1978

ABC and Me
Jessica Gress-Wright – January, 1990

Why Mothers Should Stay Home
David Gelernter – February 1996

Bringing Up Parents
Kay Hymowitz – June 2003

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Bush the “Madman”

Back in April 2004, Tony Blair and George Bush had a chat about the war in Iraq. In the course of it, Bush reportedly suggested bombing the Arab broadcasting station Al Jazeera, headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The White House has adamantly denied that such a proposal was ever made, calling the accusation “outlandish and inconceivable.”

But a British diplomatic communication about their conversation, marked “Secret-Personal,” evidently says otherwise—the subject may indeed have been broached, but possibly only in jest. Addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, the document began: “This letter is extremely sensitive. It must not be copied further and must be seen only by those with a need to know.”

We know about this document because a British cryptographer by the name of David Keogh, responsible for handling British diplomatic cable traffic, passed it on to an anti-war member of parliament who then disclosed its contents to the press. His objective, Keogh has frankly explained, was to intervene in America’s elections, helping John Kerry’s presidential bid by making George W. Bush appear to be a “madman.”

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Back in April 2004, Tony Blair and George Bush had a chat about the war in Iraq. In the course of it, Bush reportedly suggested bombing the Arab broadcasting station Al Jazeera, headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The White House has adamantly denied that such a proposal was ever made, calling the accusation “outlandish and inconceivable.”

But a British diplomatic communication about their conversation, marked “Secret-Personal,” evidently says otherwise—the subject may indeed have been broached, but possibly only in jest. Addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, the document began: “This letter is extremely sensitive. It must not be copied further and must be seen only by those with a need to know.”

We know about this document because a British cryptographer by the name of David Keogh, responsible for handling British diplomatic cable traffic, passed it on to an anti-war member of parliament who then disclosed its contents to the press. His objective, Keogh has frankly explained, was to intervene in America’s elections, helping John Kerry’s presidential bid by making George W. Bush appear to be a “madman.”

Such behavior is profoundly undemocratic. A civil servant in a technical position took upon himself a responsibility reserved for elected officials: namely, running British foreign policy.

Here in the United States such conduct would be called a “leak,” and the leaker would be celebrated in some quarters as a “whistleblower.” His actions would be lauded by the press, which would in turn circle the wagons to keep the whistleblower from being apprehended. Pulitzer prizes might even be won (as they were by the New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Licthblau in the NSA terrorist surveillance case) for transmitting information from the leaker to the public about the hidden workings of government.

But T.S. Ellis, III, the federal judge who presided over the trial of the Pentagon official Lawrence Franklin for passing classified information to two employees of AIPAC, has a different view—and it is the correct one.

One can have all sorts of legitimate reservations about the Franklin and AIPAC prosecutions, and how they came about, and their highly selective nature—I have expressed my own doubts about them here and in the Los Angeles Times, and Dorothy Rabinowitz has persuasively done so in the Wall Street Journal. Nonetheless, in sentencing Franklin to more than twelve years in prison, Ellis had one very compelling point:

What this case is truly significant for is the rule of law. The law says what it says. The merits of the law really are committed to Congress. If it’s not sensible, it ought to be changed. But they’re—that’s the body that changes it. . . .

There is a law that says that if you have authorized possession of national defense information, you can’t disclose it to unauthorized people. . . .

It doesn’t matter that you think that you were really helping. That’s arrogating to yourself the decision of whether to adhere to a statute passed by Congress or not. And we can’t do that in this country. . . .

And it doesn’t matter who you disclosed it to. It doesn’t matter whether you disclose it to a newspaper. It doesn’t matter whether you disclose it to people who are fierce American patriots, or anything else. It doesn’t matter. It can’t be disclosed. That’s the rule of law.

The British courts agree. Calling David Keogh’s actions “reckless and irresponsible,” a judge on Wednesday sentenced him to six months in jail for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

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Hantaï and Savall, Beyond “Authenticity”

Time was when music journalists were obsessed with the fashion for “original instruments” or the “authentic approach” in early music. Now that this trend is (fortunately) losing steam, musicians can be judged on how directly and memorably they communicate, regardless of their or their instruments’ so-called “authenticity.” In a concert at the Metropolitan Museum on Wednesday May 9, some remarkable early music specialists performed, including the French harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï and Jordi Savall, the Catalan player of the viola da gamba.

The lean, bespectacled Hantaï (b. 1964) physically resembles a young Rudolf Serkin. His performances of excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Second English Suite made trills into microcosmic explosions in a way unmatched among contemporary harpsichordists; he probably has no equal other than his mentor, the Dutch legend Gustav Leonhardt. His recital partner, Savall—a veteran musician and mainstay of Europe’s concert circuit—played quirky, characterful works by baroque oddballs like Tobias Hume, a British-born professional soldier. In Hume’s strangely vehement A Souldiers Resolution, Savall’s pizzicatti flowed softly and naturally. A bearded, grave figure, Savall has the stage presence of a seasoned actor and is clearly willing to take any technical risk to convey the meaning of the oft-neglected music that he performs.

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Time was when music journalists were obsessed with the fashion for “original instruments” or the “authentic approach” in early music. Now that this trend is (fortunately) losing steam, musicians can be judged on how directly and memorably they communicate, regardless of their or their instruments’ so-called “authenticity.” In a concert at the Metropolitan Museum on Wednesday May 9, some remarkable early music specialists performed, including the French harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï and Jordi Savall, the Catalan player of the viola da gamba.

The lean, bespectacled Hantaï (b. 1964) physically resembles a young Rudolf Serkin. His performances of excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Second English Suite made trills into microcosmic explosions in a way unmatched among contemporary harpsichordists; he probably has no equal other than his mentor, the Dutch legend Gustav Leonhardt. His recital partner, Savall—a veteran musician and mainstay of Europe’s concert circuit—played quirky, characterful works by baroque oddballs like Tobias Hume, a British-born professional soldier. In Hume’s strangely vehement A Souldiers Resolution, Savall’s pizzicatti flowed softly and naturally. A bearded, grave figure, Savall has the stage presence of a seasoned actor and is clearly willing to take any technical risk to convey the meaning of the oft-neglected music that he performs.

To seek further insights into this kind of artistry, I tagged along the day after the concert on Hantaï’s visit to the Metropolitan Museum’s fabled instrument collection. There, Hantaï tried his hand on such rarities as a 1720 fortepiano made by the Florentine craftsman Bartolomeo Cristofori. (Hantaï is a master technician, as well as a harpsichordist: he spent most of the intermission on May 9 onstage, bent over the harpsichord rented for the occasion by the Museum, fervently trying to tune it, leaning in deeply to hear the subtle variations in tone.) As Hantaï raced through chunks of demanding pieces like Bach’s Italian Concerto and Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, museum visitors stopped with their jaws agape, as if Bach himself was playing the Metropolitan’s old instruments.

Performers like Savall and Hantaï, idiosyncratic though they are, offer needed, insightful views into the essence of Baroque music. Hantaï has recorded a dozen of the best CD’s of harpsichord music by Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Georg Telemann, and many others, most recently for the excellent small label Mirare; Savall has recorded works by Marin Marais and François Couperin, as well as an excellent anthology of early European music. The old question of authenticity becomes completely irrelevant when confronted by musicianship of this quality.

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Lost in Translation

One of the biggest deficiencies exposed by the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is the lack of language and cultural knowledge within the ranks of federal employees—especially among men and women in uniform. It’s hard to win a war for hearts and minds if the only way you can communicate with locals is through translators, who may not always be around and whose work varies in quality.

It’s a mystery to me why, since 9/11, we haven’t launched a crash program to teach thousands of young people Near Eastern languages. Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, Farsi—all these languages are tremendously important in the global war on terrorism. We should look for inspiration to the early days of the cold war, when we ramped up programs to teach Russian and Chinese.

The Defense Department, belatedly, is taking some small steps in the right direction. On Tuesday, the Pentagon issued press releases announcing a pair of initiatives—the ROTC Language and Culture Project and the Pilot Language Corps. Under the former program, four grants (totaling $2 million) have been awarded to Indiana University, San Diego State University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Texas at Austin. This money will pay for the instruction of ROTC cadets in Arabic, Russian, Azeri, Kazakh, Pashto, Tajik, Turkmen, Uyghur, and Uzbek. Under the latter program, 1,000 linguists from across the country will agree to serve the government for a certain number of days per year, and will be available for call-up in an emergency—just like military reservists.

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One of the biggest deficiencies exposed by the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is the lack of language and cultural knowledge within the ranks of federal employees—especially among men and women in uniform. It’s hard to win a war for hearts and minds if the only way you can communicate with locals is through translators, who may not always be around and whose work varies in quality.

It’s a mystery to me why, since 9/11, we haven’t launched a crash program to teach thousands of young people Near Eastern languages. Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, Farsi—all these languages are tremendously important in the global war on terrorism. We should look for inspiration to the early days of the cold war, when we ramped up programs to teach Russian and Chinese.

The Defense Department, belatedly, is taking some small steps in the right direction. On Tuesday, the Pentagon issued press releases announcing a pair of initiatives—the ROTC Language and Culture Project and the Pilot Language Corps. Under the former program, four grants (totaling $2 million) have been awarded to Indiana University, San Diego State University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Texas at Austin. This money will pay for the instruction of ROTC cadets in Arabic, Russian, Azeri, Kazakh, Pashto, Tajik, Turkmen, Uyghur, and Uzbek. Under the latter program, 1,000 linguists from across the country will agree to serve the government for a certain number of days per year, and will be available for call-up in an emergency—just like military reservists.

Good ideas, both, but they don’t go nearly far enough. Two million dollars is a laughably small amount by Pentagon standards—roughly equivalent to what we spend on the Iraq war every two hours. The entire defense budget, after all, is well over $500 billion a year; advanced fighter aircraft, like the F-22, cost over $250 million each. The Pentagon tells us what its priorities are by the way it allocates cash. And at the moment, building such aircraft (which are nearly useless for fighting the global war on terrorism) is clearly a much higher priority than developing the language skills we so desperately need.

We should be doing much, much more. We should start by requiring all graduates of the nation’s military academies to spend a year of study abroad—and preferably not in Western Europe. We should be sending thousands of additional military personnel to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and to other facilities where they can spend a year or more in intensive, full-time study of strategic languages. We should also reward and promote currently serving personnel who have attained advanced knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. We won’t close our knowledge gap until a Foreign Area Officer—an officer who has dedicated much of his career to understanding a particular region—gets at least as much respect within his service as a tank commander or fighter pilot.

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