Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 25, 2007

Piracy Bust

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

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Life in a Glass House

The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).
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The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).

After Long was murdered in 1935, Johnson became a staunch ally of Father Charles Coughlin (1891–1979), a Michigan priest who starred in weekly radio broadcasts featuring anti-Semitic praise of Hitler and Mussolini. Johnson helped with the printing of Social Justice, Coughlin’s publication, and organized a vast Chicago rally for the demagogue, even designing a now-iconic podium for Coughlin, modeled on the one that Hitler used at Potsdam.

In 1938, Johnson was invited by the German government to attend a special indoctrination course in Berlin, to learn about Nazi politics and hear Hitler speak at a giant Nuremberg rally. Johnson wrote a series of fascist articles for various American publications; he reviewed Hitler’s Mein Kampf favorably, pooh-poohing the notion that Hitler or his book were anti-Semitic. He went so far as to compare Hitler to Plato: “Reduced to plain terms, Hitler’s ‘racism’ is a perfectly simple though far-reaching idea. It is the myth of ‘we, the best,’ which we find, more or less fully developed, in all vigorous cultures. Thus Plato constructing the ideal State in his Republic assumed that it would be Greek.”

In a series of further articles, Johnson “explicitly attacked the Jews, depicting them as malicious invaders, comparing them to a plague, and finally lying about their condition in 1939 Germany and Poland,” as Varnelis details. Only when the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence began to take an interest in Johnson as a possible Nazi spy, did he finally drop politics to devote himself fully to architecture. The Glass House represents the culmination of Johnson’s politically-rehabilitated persona. And yet the public continues to ignore the full details of Johnson’s Nazi years.

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The Good News About Lebanon

First the good news. The United States, Britain, and France are asking the UN Security Council to instruct UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to find ways to stop weapons flowing into Lebanon. The text they are proposing also calls on Syria to do more to control its border with Lebanon and for Iran to abide by an arms embargo on shipments to Lebanon.

Here is the critical paragraph:

The Security Council, in this context, expresses grave concern at persistent reports of breaches of the arms embargo along the Lebanon-Syria border. It expresses deep concern about reports, which have not been refuted, that suspected armed Hizballah elements are alleged to be constructing new facilities in the Bekaa Valley. The Council takes note of the detailed information conveyed by the Government of Lebanon about the dangerous activities of armed elements and groups, in particular PFLP-GC and Fatah Intifada, and reiterates its call for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and armed groups in particular in Lebanon. It underscores the obligation of all member states, particularly the Syrian Arab Republic and Iran, to take all necessary measures to implement paragraph 15 resolution 1701 to enforce the arms embargo.

Now for the bad news.

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First the good news. The United States, Britain, and France are asking the UN Security Council to instruct UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to find ways to stop weapons flowing into Lebanon. The text they are proposing also calls on Syria to do more to control its border with Lebanon and for Iran to abide by an arms embargo on shipments to Lebanon.

Here is the critical paragraph:

The Security Council, in this context, expresses grave concern at persistent reports of breaches of the arms embargo along the Lebanon-Syria border. It expresses deep concern about reports, which have not been refuted, that suspected armed Hizballah elements are alleged to be constructing new facilities in the Bekaa Valley. The Council takes note of the detailed information conveyed by the Government of Lebanon about the dangerous activities of armed elements and groups, in particular PFLP-GC and Fatah Intifada, and reiterates its call for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and armed groups in particular in Lebanon. It underscores the obligation of all member states, particularly the Syrian Arab Republic and Iran, to take all necessary measures to implement paragraph 15 resolution 1701 to enforce the arms embargo.

Now for the bad news.

First, the proposed action is a mere Security Council “policy statement”; it does not even have the force of Security Council Resolutions, which also typically languish unenforced.

Second, the statement itself must be agreed to by all fifteen members of the Council, which means that already weak tea is likely to be further watered down.

Third, the statement itself is already nonsensical in a characteristically nonsensical UN way. Calling on Syria to do more to control its border with Lebanon, and Iran to abide by an arms embargo, is like asking wolves to become vegetarians.

Fourth, the evil the statement aims to prevent appears to have already occurred. Over the past year, despite UN-imposed restrictions, Syrian and Iranian smuggling of rockets and missiles never ceased. This past Monday, the leader of Hizballah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, boasted that his group possesses an arsenal of projectile weapons that can reach all of Israel. Senior Israeli officials deny this, saying only that Hizballah’s missiles can reach northern Tel Aviv. Hizballah also boasts of possessing 33,000 shorter-range rockets of the kind that rained down on northern Israel last summer. Whether this number is an exaggeration or not is both unclear and irrelevant. Even if the tally is not 33,000, it is evident that Hizballah does have a huge number of rockets in its possession, many of them smuggled into Lebanon over the past year.

Fifth, the UN statement, for the sake of being balanced and evenhanded, will express concern over “the increase in Israeli violations of Lebanese air space.” But these alleged “violations” are one of the principal means by which Israel and the rest of the world have any measure of the scope of the smuggling that the UN will now ineffectually strive to halt.

In other words, the missile threat Israel is facing is likely to get worse, despite the best efforts of the UN, such as they are. MTHEL remains all the more urgent. Click here to find out about MTHEL.

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Bookshelf

• Contrary to popular belief, not many critics are failed artists. (They might be better critics if they were.) Some, however, are what I call “recovering artists,” a category into which I fit, since I spent several years working as a professional musician prior to becoming a full-time writer at the age of 29. While my experience is anything but unique, it is one that, so far as I know, has never been written about in any detail. This is one reason why I found Glenn Kurtz’s Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music so compelling. Kurtz studied classical guitar at the New England Conservatory of Music and, like me, pursued a performing career before deciding to take up writing. A few years ago he started playing again, this time for his own pleasure, and now he has written a book, half memoir and half meditation, about the broken arc of his musical life.

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• Contrary to popular belief, not many critics are failed artists. (They might be better critics if they were.) Some, however, are what I call “recovering artists,” a category into which I fit, since I spent several years working as a professional musician prior to becoming a full-time writer at the age of 29. While my experience is anything but unique, it is one that, so far as I know, has never been written about in any detail. This is one reason why I found Glenn Kurtz’s Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music so compelling. Kurtz studied classical guitar at the New England Conservatory of Music and, like me, pursued a performing career before deciding to take up writing. A few years ago he started playing again, this time for his own pleasure, and now he has written a book, half memoir and half meditation, about the broken arc of his musical life.

The fact that Kurtz gave up the guitar altogether for an extended period doubtless explains why he is so good at describing the inner life of musicians. Because he lost touch with that life, he now takes no part of it for granted. He writes with great acuteness, for instance, about the unending drudgery without which no one, however naturally gifted, can hope to make music for a living:

You sit down, you look at your hands, you hold the instrument. You listen to the musicians you admire, who have this same equipment, hands and instruments. Then you look at your own hands again, and it doesn’t seem possible. . . . I think this is when your story as a musician begins. Playing, you’ve begun to practice. And practice has made “perfect.” Now you’ll never play the way you wish you could. Now one lifetime is not enough. You’ll never be finished practicing.

He is also very good at describing the alienation from everyday life that is, for better and worse, the artist’s lot:

My parents . . . silenced their emotions, delegated them to others. They sacrificed what was most important in order to preserve their comfortable lives. But I was part of a select society, with music and poetry as our secret language. It was startlingly clear: artists expressed exquisite emotional truths in tones that everyone heard but few had the courage to feel and understand. To speak these truths, to be an artist, was the ultimate calling, the antithesis of school and partying and repetitive family rituals.

In addition, Kurtz articulates what I can only call the spirituality of the artist’s futile quest for perfection: “Each day, with every note, practicing is the same task, this essential human gesture—reaching out for an ideal, for the grandeur of what you desire, and feeling it slip through your fingers.” What is most poignant about this quest is that the youngsters who embark on the artist’s way do so without any guarantee of success:

Because Salieri knows Mozart is a genius, his own failure then seems inevitable. But the real weight that he and every artist—every person who strives for greatness—suffers is the weight of not knowing. You must find in yourself the courage to leap off the cliff. Yet it is not up to you whether you fly or fall.

Glenn Kurtz fell, and it was a long time before he found within himself the courage to start again, this time as a committed amateur. Yet that painful experience made it possible for him to write this exceedingly beautiful book. No doubt he would rather have grown up to be a world-class guitarist—but I’m not so sure he got the short end of the stick.

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Raptors to Japan

On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

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On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the F-22 issue with President Bush during their summit this April. Japan would like to buy or build them under license from Lockheed Martin, the plane’s prime contractor. U.S. law prohibits the sale or license of America’s most capable fighter, and a recent attempt to end the ban failed earlier this year. Nonetheless, talk of Raptor sales just won’t go away.

Not only do the Japanese need to buy them, we have a compelling need to sell them. The Air Force has scaled back substantially its plans to acquire F-22′s, in part because of their cost—about $130 million per plane. The cutback not only threatens the Raptor program and jobs in Georgia, Texas, and California, but also undermines our industrial base. Selling F-22’s to Japan today preserves our capacity to build even more sophisticated fighters tomorrow.

Japan is just about the only suitable purchaser. Its wallet is large enough; it’s an ally that can be counted on to keep the plane’s secrets safe. We should arm allies that will fight on our side in the event of a large-scale conflict in Asia, which is increasingly likely, despite what the Times may think. America needs Raptors, and we need Japan to have them, too.

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