Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 8, 2007

Weekend Reading

“The news from Israel is of headache and annoyance, trouble and difficulty.” These words—written by Milton Himmelfarb in COMMENTARY just months after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War—have proved to be of timeless relevance. And never more relevant than today, on the fortieth anniversary of that war, when numerous observers have concluded that Israel’s smashing victory in that hair’s-breadth conflict led to nothing but decades of even worse “headache and annoyance, trouble and difficulty.”

But Himmefarb himself did not stop there. “The news from Israel is of headache and annoyance, trouble and difficulty,” he wrote, and then continued: “We have almost forgotten the joy of unbelievable victory.”

COMMENTARY devoted most of its August 1967 issue to the war. In his “Letter from the Sinai Front,” Amos Elon narrated the Israeli experience from the closest of perspectives. Widening the lens to the utmost, Theodore Draper explored the “peculiar combination of internal and external forces” in world politics that led to the war, while Walter Laqueur examined Israel’s radically changed place among the nations in its aftermath. As for the war’s impact on American Jews, Arthur Hertzberg argued that it had caused an “abrupt, radical, and possibly permanent change.”

And speaking of timelessly relevant words: only months later, Martin Peretz would be writing in COMMENTARY about the momentous turn of the American Left against the Jewish state. Thirty years later, on the occasion of a half-century of Jewish sovereignty, the great British historian Paul Johnson confidently predicted that Israel itself, the “product of more than 4,000 years of Jewish history,” fully deserved to be known forever, and to be celebrated forever, as a “Miracle.”

In that Johnsonian spirit, we offer all of these articles for your weekend’s reading.

“The news from Israel is of headache and annoyance, trouble and difficulty.” These words—written by Milton Himmelfarb in COMMENTARY just months after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War—have proved to be of timeless relevance. And never more relevant than today, on the fortieth anniversary of that war, when numerous observers have concluded that Israel’s smashing victory in that hair’s-breadth conflict led to nothing but decades of even worse “headache and annoyance, trouble and difficulty.”

But Himmefarb himself did not stop there. “The news from Israel is of headache and annoyance, trouble and difficulty,” he wrote, and then continued: “We have almost forgotten the joy of unbelievable victory.”

COMMENTARY devoted most of its August 1967 issue to the war. In his “Letter from the Sinai Front,” Amos Elon narrated the Israeli experience from the closest of perspectives. Widening the lens to the utmost, Theodore Draper explored the “peculiar combination of internal and external forces” in world politics that led to the war, while Walter Laqueur examined Israel’s radically changed place among the nations in its aftermath. As for the war’s impact on American Jews, Arthur Hertzberg argued that it had caused an “abrupt, radical, and possibly permanent change.”

And speaking of timelessly relevant words: only months later, Martin Peretz would be writing in COMMENTARY about the momentous turn of the American Left against the Jewish state. Thirty years later, on the occasion of a half-century of Jewish sovereignty, the great British historian Paul Johnson confidently predicted that Israel itself, the “product of more than 4,000 years of Jewish history,” fully deserved to be known forever, and to be celebrated forever, as a “Miracle.”

In that Johnsonian spirit, we offer all of these articles for your weekend’s reading.

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Vladimir the Sly

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised everyone by dropping his vociferous opposition to the U.S.-proposed missile defense system in Europe. The Pentagon had contemplated basing a newly developed radar system in the Czech Republic and ten interceptor missiles in Poland, which Putin opposed. But the Russian president, after days of public ranting, suddenly came up with a compromise, suggesting that the U.S. use an existing Soviet-era radar system in Azerbaijan. He also suggested using missiles carried by American Aegis cruisers, which could be linked to the Azerbaijan facility, currently leased to Russia.

It seems unlikely, however, that he has had an actual change of heart. Earlier this week he threatened to target Europe with his nukes if America went ahead with the original plan. He spoke of “retaliatory steps” and a new cold war, and said America’s notion of missile defense fundamentally threatened Russia.

What game is Putin playing? He can’t actually be worried that the Pentagon’s plan is secretly directed against Russia. The country’s missile arsenal can currently deliver more than 2,460 nuclear warheads to targets all over Western Europe. No extant missile-defense system—especially one with only ten interceptor missiles—can offer any protection against such a massive salvo. So it’s not immediately clear why the normally reserved Russian went (as it were) ballistic earlier this week. Pundits suggested that Putin did not want to see further American encroachment on Moscow’s traditional spheres of influence. But national leaders rarely threaten Armageddon in the course of policy statements. What vital nerve did Washington touch?

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Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised everyone by dropping his vociferous opposition to the U.S.-proposed missile defense system in Europe. The Pentagon had contemplated basing a newly developed radar system in the Czech Republic and ten interceptor missiles in Poland, which Putin opposed. But the Russian president, after days of public ranting, suddenly came up with a compromise, suggesting that the U.S. use an existing Soviet-era radar system in Azerbaijan. He also suggested using missiles carried by American Aegis cruisers, which could be linked to the Azerbaijan facility, currently leased to Russia.

It seems unlikely, however, that he has had an actual change of heart. Earlier this week he threatened to target Europe with his nukes if America went ahead with the original plan. He spoke of “retaliatory steps” and a new cold war, and said America’s notion of missile defense fundamentally threatened Russia.

What game is Putin playing? He can’t actually be worried that the Pentagon’s plan is secretly directed against Russia. The country’s missile arsenal can currently deliver more than 2,460 nuclear warheads to targets all over Western Europe. No extant missile-defense system—especially one with only ten interceptor missiles—can offer any protection against such a massive salvo. So it’s not immediately clear why the normally reserved Russian went (as it were) ballistic earlier this week. Pundits suggested that Putin did not want to see further American encroachment on Moscow’s traditional spheres of influence. But national leaders rarely threaten Armageddon in the course of policy statements. What vital nerve did Washington touch?

President Bush said that the proposed Czech and Polish missile-defense facilities were meant to protect Europe from “rogue” regimes. He was, of course, referring primarily to Iran. Tehran called his statement “the joke of the year,” and Putin agreed, denying the existence of an Iranian missile threat. Yet Tehran, with the help of North Korea, is in fact developing long-range missiles. (Putin knows this as well; he has set his country up in recent years as the primary major-power sponsor of Iran.) Tehran’s other major backer, China, also chimed in this week with a series of broadsides aimed at Washington. According to Beijing, Washington’s missile-defense plan “will affect strategic balance and stability,” “is not conducive to mutual trust between major countries,” and “may cause new proliferation problems.”

So Putin’s seemingly hysterical words need to be viewed in a broader strategic context. He is encouraging the Iranian mullahs, drawing the Chinese closer to his side, and helping the North Koreans (this week Beijing also complained about joint American-Japanese missile-defense plans, a definite thorn in Kim Jong Il’s side). And while President Bush initially reacted to Putin’s bluster with soothing words (“We don’t believe in a zero-sum world”) and signs of friendship (“I call him Vladimir”), he needs publicly to outline a less vacuous position before his July 1 summit with the Russian leader. Putin’s threats may be empty, but those posed by Iran are unquestionably real.

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Getting to Know Grieg

Some composers, such as Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) or Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), suffer from overexposure. Music lovers feel that they “get” these composers because of their obvious lyricism, and conclude that their works possess no further mystery. In fact, both Chopin and Grieg are profound composers: the more we study their music, the more it reveals. Since 1991, the Grieg Society of New York has done stalwart work on behalf of its namesake, with extra effort put into this year’s events commemorating the centenary of Grieg’s death in 1907.

On September 23 at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, the cellist Darrett Adkins will perform Grieg’s Cello Sonata as part of a program of Norwegian cello music. On October 26, the Norwegian violinist Ole Böhn will play Grieg’s complete violin sonatas at New York’s American-Scandinavian Foundation. And on December 9 at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, the society’s founder and president Per Brevig will conduct members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in a concert featuring Grieg’s beloved Holberg Suite.

Norwegian-born maestro Brevig is an apt representative of the diversity of Grieg’s musical legacy. After a legendary career from 1968 to 1994 as principal trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brevig became a conductor, currently serving as music director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, although his lyric grasp of the orchestral and operatic repertory should have led to invitations to the Met and New York City Opera years ago. (Fortunately, Norwegians seem to be gifted with a Lutheran sense of patience and stoicism.)

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Some composers, such as Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) or Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), suffer from overexposure. Music lovers feel that they “get” these composers because of their obvious lyricism, and conclude that their works possess no further mystery. In fact, both Chopin and Grieg are profound composers: the more we study their music, the more it reveals. Since 1991, the Grieg Society of New York has done stalwart work on behalf of its namesake, with extra effort put into this year’s events commemorating the centenary of Grieg’s death in 1907.

On September 23 at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, the cellist Darrett Adkins will perform Grieg’s Cello Sonata as part of a program of Norwegian cello music. On October 26, the Norwegian violinist Ole Böhn will play Grieg’s complete violin sonatas at New York’s American-Scandinavian Foundation. And on December 9 at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, the society’s founder and president Per Brevig will conduct members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in a concert featuring Grieg’s beloved Holberg Suite.

Norwegian-born maestro Brevig is an apt representative of the diversity of Grieg’s musical legacy. After a legendary career from 1968 to 1994 as principal trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brevig became a conductor, currently serving as music director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, although his lyric grasp of the orchestral and operatic repertory should have led to invitations to the Met and New York City Opera years ago. (Fortunately, Norwegians seem to be gifted with a Lutheran sense of patience and stoicism.)

The same is true of the scholars meticulously studying Grieg in this anniversary year. Tone N. Slotsvik, a graduate student in history at the University of Bergen, observes that Grieg was rightly acclaimed for his outrage at the persecution of Captain Alfred Dreyfus—even refusing an invitation to perform in Paris in 1899. When Dreyfus was unjustly convicted a second time by an anti-Semitic cabal, Grieg wrote to his French hosts, “I am so upset by the disdain of justice demonstrated in France that I don’t feel it possible to be in contact with the French public.” Loads of hate mail from France and elsewhere deluged Grieg, who did not waver in his beliefs. (Yet, as Slotsvik notes, Grieg was no philo-Semite either, repeatedly using the word “Jewish” in his correspondence in a pejorative sense.)

Grieg’s complexities and contradictions are fully expressed in his music, as some of the best available CD’s reveal. Grieg’s Lyric Pieces are played with spiky philosophical grace by the Norwegian pianist Haakon Austbö on a 3-CD set from Brilliant Classics. Glenn Gould gives a fresh viewpoint to Grieg’s Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 7 on SONY. Listeners who feel overfamiliar with Grieg’s Piano Concerto might sample the freewheeling, dynamic 1927 recording by Grieg’s friend the pianist Arthur De Greef on Pearl and Simax. Grieg himself made magical records in 1903, also reprinted on Simax, though marred by a good deal of surface noise.

Other must-hear interpreters of the Concerto include Benno Moiseiwitsch on Testament, as well as Dinu Lipatti, Sviatoslav Richter, and Leif Ove Andsnes on EMI. (Nothing played by musicians of this caliber seems hackneyed.) Likewise, Iona Brown’s conducting of Grieg’s Holberg Suite on Virgin Classics makes the work sound as vivacious as it doubtless will prove to be under Per Brevig’s baton at Zankel Hall in December.

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Torture at the New York Times

Working at the New York Times would seem to be one of the most glamorous jobs imaginable, what with consorting with legendary editors, rendezvousing with anonymous sources, occasionally making headlines and history, and bathing 24/7 in a jacuzzi of prestige.

But that is only the appearance. The reality is something else. Because what the public does not know, but Timesmen know all too well, is that if one works at the Times, one has to contend with what are known to all, and dreaded by all, as the Internal Consultants.

The Internal Consultants are the brainchild of Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the newspaper’s publisher. Their exact number and composition are closely guarded secrets, but they enforce certain organizational norms, especially regarding the all-important indicator of diversity.

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Working at the New York Times would seem to be one of the most glamorous jobs imaginable, what with consorting with legendary editors, rendezvousing with anonymous sources, occasionally making headlines and history, and bathing 24/7 in a jacuzzi of prestige.

But that is only the appearance. The reality is something else. Because what the public does not know, but Timesmen know all too well, is that if one works at the Times, one has to contend with what are known to all, and dreaded by all, as the Internal Consultants.

The Internal Consultants are the brainchild of Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the newspaper’s publisher. Their exact number and composition are closely guarded secrets, but they enforce certain organizational norms, especially regarding the all-important indicator of diversity.

The latest step in their program came yesterday in the form of a memo to the staff. A Times booster—and no, it is not my good friend Sam Tanenhaus; I would not want undue suspicion to fall on him—provided it to contentions in the name of the public good.

It seems that Timesmen both in New York and elsewhere have been “invited” by the Internal Consultants to attend a Diversity Awareness Series. As its name suggests,

the Diversity Awareness Series was developed to provide a forum for our employees and leaders to learn about the many facets of diversity.

One particular session will feature Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, “the first woman and openly lesbian individual to hold this important post.”

Managers must also attend Diversity Study Groups, “co-facilitated” by the Internal Consultants, and which include a “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: Diversity & Empathy Development” and a “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: Diversity & Power” session. This particular series is said by the memo to be very “popular”—which is unsurprising because “attendance is required.” More details are available “by clicking on the Diversity button on the Intranet homepage.”

For anyone attempting to understand the coverage of issues of sex and race by our country’s newspaper of record, it is not enough—as in the old days when studying the Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestia—to be skilled at reading between the lines; one also has to understand the humiliations, indeed, the torture, to which its reporters and editors are subjected by the Internal Consultants in the name of political correctness.

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