In our second interview with him, Terry Teachout talks about “Selling Classical Music” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), the status of “middlebrow” culture, the recent musical Xanadu, bossa nova crooner Luciana Souza, and more.
Posts For: August 2007
There is a long roll call of artists with ethics that range from the questionable to the monstrous. In Janet Malcolm’s fascinating new study of the writer Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, Malcolm explores the question of whether or not Stein ought to be added to that list. Combining biography with literary exegesis, Two Lives asks how two elderly Jewish American women survived the Nazi occupation of France. The answers that Malcolm uncovers, and the further questions those answers provoke, are troubling, absorbing, and ultimately ambiguous.
Stein, born in 1874 in Pennsylvania, was an exceptional woman and self-styled genius. Malcolm writes that Stein was captivated by “the issue of superiority–of who was a genius, as she put it, and who wasn’t.” Despite this passion for superiority, or perhaps partly because of it, Stein and Toklas never lacked for friends. Stein’s charm was “as conspicuous as her fatness,” says Malcolm, and accounted for “the way people were always practically lining up to be of service to her.” In “thin, plain, tense, sour” Alice B. Toklas, whom she met in Paris, Stein found her ideal helpmeet, one who cooked, made calls, took care of household chores, and so on, providing a lifelong service that was “unending and evidently ungrudging.” Toklas’s labors enabled Stein to focus on her art. As Stein wrote in Everybody’s Autobiography, not quite jokingly, “it takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” Other key friends also took on caretaking roles. Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer and eventually Stein’s literary executor, was one such friend; in letters, he dubbed Stein “Baby Woojums,” himself “Papa Woojums,” and Toklas “Mama Woojums.” Strangers, too, often popped up to offer their help if and when Stein was in need.
A new press release from Multi-National Corps-Iraq—the operational command with direct responsibility for U.S. forces in Iraq—reports some pretty impressive news that hasn’t received any stateside coverage that I’ve seen. The command has not only met but exceeded its retention quota, meaning the number of soldiers who enlist for another tour: “The theater-wide goal was 16,510, but MNC-I career counselor reenlisted 18,721 Soldiers.”
Cynics will note that reenlistment bonuses in theater are tax-free; if soldiers waited until they got back home to receive them, they would have to pay taxes. But while that consideration may determine the timing of reenlistment, a few thousand dollars is hardly enough to make a soldier risk his neck if he doesn’t believe he’s doing something worthwhile. The press release quotes MNC-I’s commander, General Ray Odierno, as saying, “Meeting and exceeding re-enlistment goals is a powerful message about the commitment of today’s force and how our soldiers feel about the army and their mission.”
He’s right. In an all-volunteer army, the troops have a vote on whatever mission they’re on. If they don’t want to serve, they don’t have to (although, admittedly, their efforts to quit could be stymied temporarily by a stop-loss order). In the case of Iraq, the evidence suggests that most of our troops want to serve. In some ways, that’s a more powerful indicator of whether we can continue to maintain our present military commitment than a poll measuring civilian sentiment.
Not long before September 11, 2001, someone placed large bets on Wall Street—buying “put” contracts—on the possibility that the shares of airline stocks would decline. After the attacks, the shares did fall sharply and a great deal of speculation ensued that the trades were placed by parties who had advance knowledge of the attack.
This theorizing was knocked down by the 9/11 Commission, which noted in a footnote in its report that there was an entirely innocuous explanation for the trading. Alexander Rose of National Review did an even more thorough job of explaining the irregular-appearing transactions and knocking down the rumors.
The same story has now resurfaced interestingly again with rumors circulating that a number of recent and odd Wall Street bets suggest that a September 11 reprise is on its way. Details, and another persuasive knock-down of the rumors, can be found on TheStreet.com. Read More
At a campaign event in Los Angeles last week, Rudy Giuliani restated some principles regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he originally articulated in his Foreign Affairs piece.
I think there has been a kind of movement within our State Department that was best reflected during the Clinton Administration—but you can see a little of this in Bush I, and it is still there in Bush II—and it is to create a Palestinian state for the purpose of creating a Palestinian state, to say that we have achieved peace.
Well, that could be extremely dangerous. We want to create, not necessarily a Palestinian state for the purpose of creating a Palestinian state—we want to create a state that is now particularly going to help us in the Islamic terrorist war against us, not become another breeding ground for terrorism. . . .
So if we are going to create a Palestinian state that assists us, and doesn’t become a terrorist state, here’s what they have to do: they have to first renounce terrorism. . . . Secondly, they have to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. If they do that, we can then begin a process of trying to create a Palestinian state. But we shouldn’t do it until we are sure that those two things are real, and we’re not getting fooled, because we’ve gotten fooled in the past.
. . . And I say a third thing is, they have to show that they can sustain that for at least some safe period of time, that it isn’t just a statement for the purpose of lulling people into a negotiation. Then we won’t give people false expectations of being able to achieve something. We won’t give the Israeli people false expectations; we won’t give the Palestinian people false expectations; we won’t give the rest of the world false expectations, when the United States will get blamed for why it’s not working.
The reason we have not been able to create a Palestinian state to date is not because the United States and Israel have not tried. It is because of the Palestinians.
Rick Richman, on the blog Jewish Current Issues, calls this “Giuliani Realism,” and he has the rest of the candidate’s talk, plus video.
According to a report in today’s New York Times, “a website that sells materials stating that individuals can legally stop paying taxes has been shut on the order of a federal judge.”
The website, run by two organizations called We The People Foundation for Constitutional Education and the We The People Congress, argued that the U.S. tax code deceives people into paying taxes. It promoted a national campaign—“operation stop withholding”—to persuade employees not to have payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks.
Let us stipulate what is plain to see: that the defendants in this case are avaricious crackpots. Nonetheless, they claim in their defense that the “speech” contained on their now-shuttered website is protected by the First Amendment.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is capable of great feats of productivity when it wishes to draw a crowd to an international crisis. Especially, it goes without saying, when the crisis affords an opportunity to slander Israel. Last summer, only three weeks into the Israel-Hizballah war, HRW released a sensational 49-page report that declared, “Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hizballah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare.” It added that “these attacks constitute war crimes,” and concluded that “in some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.”
Those are serious charges to inject into the middle of a war, especially one as saturated with media coverage as any conflict involving the Jewish state (in a recent Harvard study, Marvin Kalb noted that the Israel-Hizballah war summoned the heaviest international media coverage since the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991). None of HRW’s calumnies, it should be added, has been substantiated in a credible way.
At the blog of the Small Wars Journal, Dave Kilcullen offers some fascinating perspective on the significance of the tribal revolt that began in Iraq’s Anbar Province and is now spreading elsewhere. Dave is a former Australian army officer (and Ph.D. anthropologist) who recently ended a stint in Iraq as General David Petraeus’s chief counterinsurgency adviser.
The entire piece is long but worth reading for his subtle and sophisticated delineation of what is driving so many Iraqi Sunnis to flip against al Qaeda in Iraq. Here are three key points from Dave’s post:
1) “[T]he tribal revolt is not some remote riot on a reservation: it’s a major social movement that could significantly influence most Iraqis where they live. The uprising began last year, far out in western Anbar province, but is now affecting about 40 percent of the country. It has spread to Ninewa, Diyala, Babil, Salah-ad-Din, Baghdad and— intriguingly—is filtering into Shi’a communities in the South.”
2) “[T]he current social ‘wave’ of Sunni communities turning against AQI could provide one element in the self-sustaining security architecture we have been seeking. And if the recent spread of the uprising into the Shi’a community continues, we might end up with a revolt of the center against both extremes, which would be a truly major development.”
3) “It also does much to redress the lack of coalition forces that has hampered previous counterinsurgency approaches, by throwing tens of thousands of local allies into the balance, on our side.”
In other words, the attempts by some skeptics to write off security progress in Anbar as an isolated phenomenon with no implications for the larger political picture in Iraq won’t wash. If current trends continue (and of course they may not), Kilcullen suggests, what started in Anbar could transform Iraq politically as well as militarily.
In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.
Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:
Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”
So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.
Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.
Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.
Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.
Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:
“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.
But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?
Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.
In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.
Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.
That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.
Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.
The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.
What is behind all these episodes?
The annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage was released yesterday, and set off the usual flurry of confusion and bad ideas on the last of those three subjects. The number of Americans without health insurance increased last year to roughly 47 million Americans, or 15.8 percent of the population. The raw number is less important than the percentage: in a growing population the raw number of both those without insurance and those with insurance is likely to grow (and indeed, the number of insured Americans increased by about 800,000 last year, while the number of uninsured increased by about 2 million.) But at 15.8 percent, the proportion of the uninsured matches its highest level ever (last reached in 1998).
In looking at this figure, though, a great deal of caution is warranted. As Eric Cohen and I pointed out in the February issue of COMMENTARY (and as the Census report itself notes) the number masks much nuance.
Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.
As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.
Several of the Democratic presidential candidates gathered yesterday in Iowa for a debate and forum on cancer sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Armstrong, a cancer survivor and advocate for research, began the event by telling the crowd that “the next occupant of the Oval Office must discuss this critical issue with voters.”
But as the forum went on, it became increasingly difficult to see what exactly there is to discuss. Of course everyone agrees that cancer treatment and research are critically important. Cancer in its various forms kills more Americans than any other disease (having surpassed heart disease for that top spot in 2005). And cancer research receives about $5.5 billion a year in funding from the National Institutes of Health, far more than is allocated to any other disease and about 25 percent more than was spent on cancer research in 2001.
On Andrew Sullivan’s website, guest blogger Gregory Djerejian (whose normal home is The Belgravia Dispatch) bemoans what he calls “Syria Hysteria.” The supposed hysterics in question include Senator Joe Lieberman, former Bush speechwriter (and my current colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations) Mike Gerson, and yours truly, who is dubbed “our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite.” That’s pretty distinguished company, even without the flattering comparison to one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.
Djerejian, a lawyer who works at a financial services company in New York, is aghast that all of us have been sounding the alarm about Syria’s role in facilitating the infiltration of dozens of jihadists into Iraq, where they are responsible for carrying out some of the worst terrorist outrages. The fact that dozens of jihadists are entering Iraq from Syria every month is incontestable; this has been stated publicly by General David Petraeus and numerous other officials, who have based their claims on interrogations of captured terrorists and other hard intelligence.
Alberto Gonzales is leaving the Justice Department with a lot of sensitive business pending. One open case of exceptional importance concerns the leak of highly classified information about the National Security Agency’s terrorist-surveillance program. Details of the program were published in the New York Times in a series of articles beginning on December 16, 2005, and supplemented in State of War, a book by Times reporter James Risen, which came out the following month.
A grand jury has been investigating the leak since January 2006. Earlier this month, a former Justice Department lawyer by the name of Thomas M. Tamm had his home searched and his computers, including two of his children’s laptops, seized, along with his personal papers, in a raid by the FBI. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that the raid was connected to a criminal probe into the NSA wiretapping leak.
Gonzales’s own participation in this case is of a piece with his overall performance: fecklessness combined with an inability to articulate a clear position. The fact is that the NSA leak in the Times occurred in the middle of a war. It concerned not secrets from the past, as in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case (also involving a leak to the Times), but an ongoing operational-intelligence program designed to prevent a second September 11. On its face, as I argued in COMMENTARY, the Times had violated Section 798 of Title 18, which makes it a crime to disclose classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.