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
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.”
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.
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.