No sooner was the London car-bomb disaster averted, seemingly by poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers, than the spinning began. The New York Times, ever vigilant to explain the news in ways that comport with its editorial line, takes the lead.
“The idea of a multiple attack using car bombs,” reports Alan Cowell on the paper’s front page, has “raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.”
“Imported tactics more familiar in Iraq”? In other words, what the Times is telling us, citing experts it declines to identify, is that this attempt to cause carnage in the heart of London is just more blowback from the American-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.
Is there anything to this?
Whether you consider Rudolph Giuliani a visionary or a failure, it cannot be denied that he left an indelible mark on New York City. His record as mayor has come under close scrutiny as Giuliani begins his run for the Republican nomination, with pundits and campaign watchers searching for hints of what kind of candidate-or President-he might be. He has proved to be just as controversial a subject now as he was during the years he headed and transformed the city’s government. For this weekend’s reading we offer our best articles on Giuliani’s tenure as mayor.
Fred Siegel—January 2002
Giuliani and After
Dan Seligman—November 2000
The War on the War on Crime
Arch Puddington—May 1999
Can Giuliani Save New York?
Irwin M. Stelzer—December 1995
The Making of the Mayor 1989
Scott McConnell—February 1990
At midnight, July 1, it will have been exactly a decade since the great city of Hong Kong passed from one sovereign to another. One moment it was a British Dependent Territory of the United Kingdom; the next it was a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. (Why the fancy terminology? Neither London nor Beijing, apparently, liked using the word “colony.”)
Colony or not, Hong Kong was handed from a democracy to an authoritarian regime. It was a disgraceful exercise of state power for both countries involved. This was not the mere transfer of a “barren rock,” as Hong Kong was once known. The city had become, by the late 90’s, a major international center for trade, finance, and culture. More than six million citizens woke up on July 1, 1997 as subjects of a new regime—without their electoral consent. It was clear that, had there been an election, the people of Hong Kong would have voted not to return to the motherland. So it’s no surprise that the city’s Chinese rulers, who do not believe in elections (especially those held among uncontrollable populaces), have blocked the development of democratic institutions in Hong Kong for the past decade.
Ray Bowyer, a captain on Aurigny airlines, which services the British Channel Islands, has been flying commercial aircraft for 20 years. He’s a man who knows the skies. Last week, while flying over the channel, he spotted an enormous cigar-shaped object through his cockpit window. He told a British newspaper, the Sun, that “it was a sharp, thin yellow object with a green area. It was 2,000 feet up, stationary, and approximately 40 miles from us. It could have been as much as a mile wide.” This report has set the worldwide aviation community talking about what the Unidentified Flying Object might have been.
Not all that far away, at approximately the same time, Jimmy Carter was addressing a human-rights conference in Dublin, Ireland, where he branded the Bush administration’s refusal to accept Hamas’s 2006 election victory as “criminal.” The United States and Israel, he continued, “decided to punish all the people in Palestine and did everything they could to deter a compromise between Hamas and Fatah.”
Investor’s Business Daily called Carter’s statement “nutzpah” and “so malevolent and illogical as to border on insane.” But is there another possible explanation for the former President’s increasingly bizarre conduct, one connected to the cigar-shaped object in the sky over the channel?
The New York media have paid scant attention to the passing of the Czech-born Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007), who died this month at 90. One of Canada’s few internationally known composers, Morawetz wrote in an accessibly melodic style and disputed the notion that contemporary classical music needed to be abstruse, famously saying “I can’t agree with these people who say you have to listen to a work ten to fifteen times to understand it; if I don’t like a piece of food, I don’t eat it ten more times to persuade myself that I do.”
The most widely known recording of Morawetz’s music is undoubtedly Glenn Gould’s recording of his dynamic, urban, and humorous Fantasy for piano on Sony/ BMG. The Fantasy is very Czech in spirit, recalling the writings of Karel Čapek or Jaroslav Hašek. And Gould’s recording is very enjoyable, although Morawetz carped at the liberties in tempo and dynamics Gould took, causing the pianist to exclaim: “The trouble with you, Oskar, is you don’t understand your own music!”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas for documents concerning the legal basis of the Bush administration’s terrorist-surveillance program. The New York Times calls it “the most aggressive move yet by lawmakers to investigate the wiretapping program since the Democrats gained control of Congress this year.”
The program enabled the National Security Agency to monitor telephone calls and emails of persons in the United States, including U.S. citizens, whom the agency believed were linked to al Qaeda. The interception of such calls is the very core of counterterrorism. If our intelligence agencies are to connect the dots that will prevent another 9/11, these calls and emails constitute the critical dots.
The program was already damaged, if not completely compromised, when its existence was disclosed by the New York Times in December 2005. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and other allies of the Times on Capitol Hill are now coming in for the kill.
Good news from Iran. The Associated Press reports that “Iranians smashed shop windows and set fire to a dozen gas stations in the capital Wednesday, angered by the sudden start of a fuel rationing system that threatens to further increase the unpopularity of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Why is this good news? Because it reveals the unpopularity of the theocratic dictatorship in Tehran, and its vulnerability to pressure.
As the AP article goes on to note: “The rationing is part of a government attempt to reduce the $10 billion it spends each year to import fuel that is then sold to Iranian drivers at less than cost, to keep prices low. Iran is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but it doesn’t have enough refineries, so it must import more than 50 percent of the gasoline its people use.”
That’s a point of leverage that various analysts have suggested exploiting. In the pages of COMMENTARY, Arthur Herman argued for (among other things) imposing a naval blockade to stop the gasoline imports and oil exports that are the lifeblood of the Iranian economy. In USA Today this week, Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution suggested not only imposing a blockade, but also counterfeiting Iranian currency to drive its economy deeper into crisis.
Senator Richard Lugar is winning encomia from all the predictable quarters—e.g., Joe Conason in the New York Observer—for his supposed wisdom and independence in declaring the surge a failure before it has barely begun.
Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared in a widely covered speech that he doesn’t think “that the current ‘surge’ strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President” and that we should therefore “downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq.” Interestingly, Lugar does “not doubt the assessments of military commanders that there has been some progress in security” as a result of the surge. He just doesn’t think that the surge will succeed in the long run because “three factors—the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process—are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.”
Why did the CIA botch its Iraq-WMD estimate so badly? One factor was appalling tradecraft, some of it touched on in George Tenet’s memoir and all of it explored thoroughly by the Silberman-Robb commission.
Another factor was the unexpected behavior of Saddam himself. Saddam, to state the obvious, knew that he had no WMD program or stocks of any note. He also knew that we suspected him of having them and that we were threatening to take action against him on those very grounds. He also knew that if he cooperated fully with the UN inspectors, they would find next to nothing. But instead of cooperating, he chose a very different course.
Saddam, it would seem, wanted to appear to have the WMD. He evidently did not want hostile powers, like Iran or the U.S., to think that military action against him would go unpunished. It was thus a matter of keeping up appearances. Bluffing was a means of deterrence.
The CIA was surprised by this. Should it have been?
President Bush and his Russian counterpart have not yet met in Kennebunkport, but Lou Dobbs has already figured out what will happen this coming Sunday and Monday in Maine. A few weeks ago, the CNN anchor had this to say about the upcoming summit between the American leader and Vladimir Putin: “A meeting in which I’m sure both men will look deeply into one another’s eyes and come up with the architecture of a brilliant geopolitical relationship between the two countries.”
Who can blame Dobbs for sounding so cynical and sarcastic? He has, after all, identified the one thing that will not happen during the upcoming talks. Bush and Putin will undoubtedly trade many fine words during their session in the sun, but they will not do much to improve ties between America and Russia.
Moscow, unfortunately, now has an agenda that clashes with ours. The Kremlin no longer feels itself tethered to America—or even to Europe. “Until recently, Russia saw itself as Pluto in the Western solar system, very far from the center but still fundamentally a part of it,” wrote Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center last year. “Now it has left that orbit entirely.”
Readers of contentions interested in learning more about current military operations in Iraq than what they get from the headlines (which invariably focus on casualties, not on why or how they were incurred) would be well advised to read two Internet postings. The first is a report by Kimberly Kagan, an independent military historian and analyst, on the website of her think tank, the Institute for the Study of War. The second is a blog post written by David Kilcullen, a former officer in the Australian army with a Ph.D. in anthropology who has been serving as General David Petraeus’s chief counterinsurgency adviser. Kilcullen’s item is especially interesting because for the past few months he has had an insider’s perspective on the operations conducted and planned by U.S. forces in Iraq; in fact, he has been helping to shape the very operations that he explains here.
I have little to add except to note the cognitive dissonance I feel reading Kilcullen’s report alongside the news media accounts. The former conveys a sense of purpose and planning behind current operations, while the latter present the news from Iraq as a senseless parade of mayhem. The reality, of course, lies somewhere in between—there is only so much that even the most astute military commanders can control in the heat of battle, and much of what happens is outside their design. But it is important to realize that what we’re seeing in Iraq is not just random, meaningless violence. Both sides—coalition and Iraqi forces, as well as the Sunni and Shiite extremists—put a lot of thought into what they do. This is a war, even if a very decentralized one, and needs to be understood as such. Kilcullen’s post furthers that crucial understanding.
A study published last Friday in the journal Science reopens the heated debate over environmental (as opposed to genetic) effects on intelligence. An enormous survey of sibling IQ scores in Norway found that firstborn sons had IQ scores about three points higher than second-born sons, and four points higher than the third-born (the study looked only at men, because it was based on IQ tests given to newly-drafted Norwegian soldiers in the 1960′s and 70′s.)
At first glance, this birth order effect would seem to suggest a biological cause—having to do perhaps with the higher levels of immune antibodies in the womb after a first pregnancy. But the study also looked at second-born siblings whose older brothers died in infancy, and found that in terms of IQ scores and relation to younger siblings, they belonged with the firstborns, not the second-borns. In other words, the cause seems more likely to have to do with how parents (or others) treat the oldest brother. (For Joseph Epstein’s meditations on birth-order theory, read his 1997 article O, Brother.)
But as large-scale as this study is (it examined almost a quarter million men), it still acts to highlight just how little we understand about intelligence and its relation to genetics and environment, and how prone we are to over-read and misread statistical data on intelligence.
What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”
How can the Qassam rockets be countered?
Do I really teach at America’s best liberal arts college? Absolutely, according to the annual college ranking system published by the U.S. News and World Report, which assesses academic quality by looking at such factors as class size, graduation rate, and student SAT scores. For those of us on whom the list smiles, it seems to have the finely calibrated authority of an astronomical instrument. For those further down the list, it seems on the order of goat entrails, or something even less innocent. To be sure, a slight change of position on the list—especially one into or out of the top ten—can have dire consequences for student applications, institutional morale, and even the job security of administrators.
Now a revolt against the ranking system is in full swing. Last week, a meeting of college presidents and administrators in Annapolis discussed a boycott of the questionnaire the magazine uses to compile its annual ranking. Although a total boycott was rejected, most colleges represented at the meeting pledged that they will cease cooperating with the most controversial aspect of the magazine’s ranking, its “peer assessment score.” Whether this will make the ranking a better or worse proxy of academic quality remains to be seen.
Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?
We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?
After the German invasion of France in 1940, a so-called “renewal” began at the Paris Conservatory with the firing of all Jewish teachers. Among the five professors eliminated were the eminent piano teacher Lazare Lévy and the harmony professor André Bloch. Messiaen, returning early and in good health from the prison camp at Görlitz, was handed the job of teaching Bloch’s harmony class.
Odette Gartenlaub (b. 1922), the noted pianist, professor, and composer, was one of the students in Messiaen’s first class in May, 1941. (Despite her historical closeness to the composer, she has generally been ignored in the Messiaen literature.) When Bloch was fired, Gartenlaub knew that her future was imperiled because she too was Jewish. Yet she remained at the Conservatory because she enjoyed Messiaen’s unorthodox and wide-ranging lectures.
Did a 2002 story in the Los Angeles Times contribute to Iran’s detention of four Americans as spies? I raised that question in two previous postings here and here, taking the newspaper to task for endangering fellow citizens and jeopardizing an ongoing intelligence operation against a critical target.
Based on what we know so far, it is not yet possible to posit a definitive link between the story and the arrests. There is more digging to be done. I have not yet been able to check the Iranian press for references to the Los Angeles Times story when it first came out; how it was treated might shed light on current developments. When and if the ayatollahs are toppled from power, there will also be archives to scour—but that could be a long-time coming.
Meanwhile, how has the Los Angeles Times responded?
The French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) is one of modern music’s most prominent figures. Although he died in 1992, Messiaen’s CD’s are sold in the classical music section of most stores, instead of the less commercially viable contemporary music bins. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written in 1940-41 for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (and dedicated to the Angel of the Apocalypse) has become particularly popular for its spirituality and accessible tonal style. There are currently seventeen versions of the Quartet in print, of which the most fervent remains the one by pianist Peter Serkin and the chamber group Tashi on RCA Victor. Likewise infused with Messiaen’s ardent Catholic piety, his Twenty Gazes at Baby Jesus (Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus) has been brilliantly recorded by Serkin on RCA and with stark conviction by the gifted Norwegian virtuoso Håkon Austbø on Naxos.
Recently Messiaen has been the subject of a flood of books, including For the End of Time: the Story of the Messiaen Quartet by Rebecca Rischin (Cornell University Press); Messiaen by Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press); and The Life of Messiaen by Christopher Dingle (Cambridge University Press). These books reveal a long-overlooked shadow on the composer’s history: his ambiguous relationship with the Nazi occupiers of his native country.