The cost of high culture in music has long troubled audiences. High ticket prices can discourage a much-needed spirit of adventure in concert programming by inducing managers to restrict performers to familiar, crowd-pleasing work. Music lovers sometimes feel themselves doomed to hear the same Beethoven cycles by the same arthritic pianists and string quartets, or the same Dvořák concerto by a cellist who played it better a quarter-century ago.
Happily, there is a splendid alternative awaiting anyone with a bit of time and an appetite for the unexpected: the free recitals and performances offered by students at conservatories like Juilliard, Mannes, and the Manhattan School of Music, as well as the CUNY Graduate Center. Many of these performers are top-level talents who, because of the vagaries of the classical music business, may disappear into a regional or foreign orchestra and rarely be heard again in solo recitals here; very few will have major recording careers. Failing to hear them now, at the peak of their training and youthful ambition, means possibly never hearing them again. So here are a choice few of these upcoming events, all free:
• On May 17 at Juilliard’s Morse Hall a concert will be given by the Manitoba-born cellist Victoria Bass, who specializes in music by modern masters such as György Ligeti and Witold Lutosławski, but also performs her own arrangements of Handel and Bach. She is a member of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, whose website announces that as a girl in Manitoba, Bass would “go out into the fields and tip over sleeping cows.” (Thanks to Juilliard, Bass’s concert is as free as her spirit.)
Do supporters of al Qaeda make up only a tiny fraction of the Muslim world? This is what we want to believe and what American leaders, from President Bush on down, have insisted since 9/11. So we have strained to ignore the Osama bin Laden T-shirts and other anecdotal evidence suggesting that the story might not be so simple. Now there are disquieting data from a survey released last month by the respected Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.
The survey covered four Muslim countries—Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia—that are closely allied with the U.S. and that are, on average, slightly more liberal politically than the mean of Muslim countries. Many aspects of the poll’s findings are fascinating, starting with what it reveals about support for al Qaeda. (Please note, all numbers below are rounded.)
Respondents were given three choices by which to describe their feelings about al Qaeda. At one end they could say that they “oppose its attacks on Americans and do not share its attitudes toward the U.S.” At the opposite end they could say that they “support its attacks on Americans and share its attitudes toward the U.S.” Or they could chose a middle option, namely to say that they “oppose its attacks on Americans but share many of its attitudes toward the U.S.”
In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.
As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.
A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.
One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses. Read More
Two stories in the past two weeks have raised the specter of the re-emergence of eugenics. In Britain, the government has authorized fertility clinics to destroy embryos produced by IVF if they are found to carry a genetic condition called congenital fibrosis of the extramacular muscles. The condition is in no way life-threatening; in most respects, it hardly limits those living with it. The issue arose because two parents who suffer from the condition asked a fertility clinician to help them weed out embryos that share it.
The doctor who agreed to this—and received government permission to proceed—told the Daily Telegraph that he thinks the selective elimination of embryos for minor genetic conditions is perfectly appropriate:
When asked if he would screen embryos for factors like hair color, he said: “If there is a cosmetic aspect to an individual case, I would assess it on its merits. [Hair color] can be a cause of bullying, which can lead to suicide. With the agreement of the HFEA, I would do it. If a parent suffered from asthma, and it was possible to detect the genetic factor for this, I would do it. It all depends on the family’s distress.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the New York Times reported last week that in recent years roughly “90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.”
In an interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned that
almost nobody in the West wants to understand that Islam’s problems are structural. Contemporary Islam hardly exists. Islam stopped thinking in the year 900 and has stood still for more than a thousand years. Western Muslims, however, live in an environment where you can think independently without your head being chopped off by somebody.
Hirsi Ali knows better than anyone else, of course, how precarious that freedom of thought can be—even in her former Dutch homeland, whence she was eventually forced to flee to the United States. Things may be bad in the Netherlands, but the threat there comes from a militant Muslim minority. How much more precarious must free speech be in Turkey, where the secular consensus instituted nearly a century ago by Kemal Atatürk is now being eroded by an Islamist government that enjoys majority support?
In a recent article in Die Welt, Hirsi Ali analyzes the efforts of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to Islamicize Turkey. Rather than mount a direct attack on Atatürk’s secular legacy, which the Turkish military has defended by repeated military coups, they and other leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) work in subtler ways, presenting themselves as “moderate” Islamists while appealing to the need for direct democracy in Turkey. (Michel Gurfinkiel, writing in the March 2007 issue of COMMENTARY, looks at the AKP more optimistically.)