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 31, 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.