The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.
Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.
Michael Bloomberg has been a PR genius as New York’s chief executive. The press, as in a Time magazine story, has been known to swoon over the grandeur of his ideas and give him credit for promises alone. But the press-savvy mayor has had a monkey wrench thrown into his undeclared presidential campaign.
While he was running Bloomberg L.P., the mayor was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The matter was settled out of court, and it never became a serious issue when Bloomberg first ran for office in 2001. While the New York Times reports that “Bloomberg’s aides have collected data on the requirements for getting on the ballot in all 50 states,” the mayor has been slapped with a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington on behalf of three women who argue they were discriminated against when they asked for maternity leave. “The EEOC said the women’s claims of discrimination due to gender and pregnancy “were echoed by a number of other female current and former employees who have taken maternity leave.”
I had some x-rays taken by my dentist yesterday and I glanced nervously at the triangular radiation-caution marking on the device. For the Defense Science Board, a government-run panel composed of military and industry experts, has just issued a report that there are more than 1,000 irradiation machines used in hospitals and research laboratories across the United States that could be used by terrorists as a source of radioactive materials to construct a dirty bomb. “Any one of these 1,000-plus sources could shut down 25 square kilometers, anywhere in the United States, for 40-plus years,” the Washington Post quoted from the report yesterday. (Dental x-ray machines do not present a similar problem.)
The Defense Science Board is recommending that the hospital and laboratory radiation devices, typically left unguarded, either be secured or replaced with irradiators that use other less lethal materials. That is an excellent (if costly) idea and an urgent matter. But what about the thousands of such devices that are not in the United States? Is anyone worrying about them?
This month the same Oxford Student Union that, in 1933, famously passed a motion declaring ‘”this House will under no circumstances fight for its King and Country,” is being true to the legacy of its forebears. As British blog Harry’s Place reports, on October 23 the Union, in its annual Middle East debate, will put forth the following motion: “This House Believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel Palestine Conflict.”
There are no surprises in the Union’s choice of the three speakers seconding the motion. Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, and Ghada Karmi have for many years been anti-Israel agitators whose writings had only a shallow pretense of academic impartiality. If debate is meant to be shrill rather than thoughtful, venomous rather than witty, the Union chose the perfect line-up.
Karmi, a medical doctor moonlighting as an academic, has the dubious record of having voiced some of the same opinions on Israel as those of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before Ahmadinejad emerged from obscurity. In 2004, Karmi wrote that
The truth is that the West, which created Israel, cannot bear to see what it has done. In trying to solve the problem of Jewish persecution in Europe, which culminated in the Holocaust, Western powers helped to establish the Jewish state as a refuge for the Jews and their own consciences.
While Karmi clearly is not a Holocaust denier, she would nevertheless underwrite Ahmadinejad’s suggestion that Israel’s birth was the Western answer to guilt over the Holocaust. She would also support the idea that Israel should be relocated to Europe or Alaska.
In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:
The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.
That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.
To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.