Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2007

COMING SOON: Sweeney Todd on Screen

A few select critics and industry types (Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner was among those in attendance, on the arm of his husband, Entertainment Weekly‘s critic Mark Harris) were finally shown director Tim Burton’s long-gestating big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Grand Guignol Broadway opera Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street last night at Lincoln Square on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. (The film opens on December 21.) Though macabre violence is at the heart of the story, Burton takes it too far. I haven’t seen a bloodier film since Hostel: Part II.

Stage directors challenged to deal with Sweeney’s throat-slashing make a virtue of not having cinematic special effects at their disposal; I once saw a production in which an opened artery was conveyed by a red ribbon set free to flutter at the throat. Burton’s Sweeney paints the town, the screen, and maybe the whole multiplex red. Even Brian De Palma’s brutal Iraq film Redacted, which realistically depicts a Jihadist beheading a kidnapped American serviceman, doesn’t depict the actual throat slashing, though a woman in the audience screamed when I first saw that film. Burton does.

As played by a riveting Johnny Depp, Sweeney makes arteries gush like fountains, with stage blood spattering his face and arms and even the camera lens, then dumps the bodies to the cellar with sickeningly awful noises as the corpses plummet to land head first on a cement floor. Women at Lincoln Square were seen covering their eyes during some of the goriest moments.

Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, to my mind one of the towering works of art of the 20th century, is a delicate balance of the comic, the horrific and the tragic, and it loses some of its comic pull when its violence is this explicit. The movie is rated R, but it isn’t hard to imagine a faithful version that would earn a PG-13 if it left the slashing largely to the imagination. And that would suffice.

A few select critics and industry types (Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner was among those in attendance, on the arm of his husband, Entertainment Weekly‘s critic Mark Harris) were finally shown director Tim Burton’s long-gestating big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Grand Guignol Broadway opera Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street last night at Lincoln Square on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. (The film opens on December 21.) Though macabre violence is at the heart of the story, Burton takes it too far. I haven’t seen a bloodier film since Hostel: Part II.

Stage directors challenged to deal with Sweeney’s throat-slashing make a virtue of not having cinematic special effects at their disposal; I once saw a production in which an opened artery was conveyed by a red ribbon set free to flutter at the throat. Burton’s Sweeney paints the town, the screen, and maybe the whole multiplex red. Even Brian De Palma’s brutal Iraq film Redacted, which realistically depicts a Jihadist beheading a kidnapped American serviceman, doesn’t depict the actual throat slashing, though a woman in the audience screamed when I first saw that film. Burton does.

As played by a riveting Johnny Depp, Sweeney makes arteries gush like fountains, with stage blood spattering his face and arms and even the camera lens, then dumps the bodies to the cellar with sickeningly awful noises as the corpses plummet to land head first on a cement floor. Women at Lincoln Square were seen covering their eyes during some of the goriest moments.

Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, to my mind one of the towering works of art of the 20th century, is a delicate balance of the comic, the horrific and the tragic, and it loses some of its comic pull when its violence is this explicit. The movie is rated R, but it isn’t hard to imagine a faithful version that would earn a PG-13 if it left the slashing largely to the imagination. And that would suffice.

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Rudy’s Weaknesses

Speculation is swirling about who tipped off Ben Smith of the Politico about the peculiar methods used to bill police protection for then Mayor Giuliani when he, though still married, was visiting his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. Was it Fran Reiter, a former Giuliani Deputy Mayor now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign? Was it New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson hoping to help his fellow Democrats? Was it former Governor George Pataki, who was either at odds with or overshadowed by Giuliani when both were in office? If this has the look of an Agatha Christie plot, where a dozen suspects all have good motives, that’s because Giuliani’s path to success was paved with the numerous enemies he made turning New York around and advancing his own ambitions.

The Politico article was not a dirty trick as Giuliani told Katie Couric, but it was a hit piece. It’s been followed in short order by another in the form of a front-page New York Times article suggesting that Giuliani sometimes exaggerates the numbers he uses to describe his successes. STOP THE PRESSES—A POLITICIAN WHO EXAGGERATES! How does this distinguish Giuliani from other politicians? Well, says the Times, he uses a lot of statistics and that means—according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—that “He’s given us a lot of work up until now.”

Giuliani has repaid the money used for the police protection. But the peculiar billing methods go to two of his biggest vulnerabilities. First it opens the character issue by reminding people that Bernard Kerik, Rudy’s trusted lieutenant whose most recent corruption case has yet to go to trial, was also involved with a girlfriend while married during the closing years of the Giuliani administration. More importantly, it’s a back-door path into the fact, as columnist Michael Goodwin of the Daily News noted to me, that Rudy is the first serious Presidential candidate who is on his third marriage. Giuliani’s affair with Judith Nathan while in office and while still married to Donna Hanover is such an obvious vulnerability that the campaign’s inability to get its response straight suggests important weaknesses in its general operational abilities.

With such a long list of enemies, Giuliani can expect more unflattering revelations. He’s likely to weather them in a somewhat weakened state. But the effect of these political wounds is uncertain because there is no one clear alternative to Rudy. As he has from the start, Rudy is being held aloft not only by his record of achievements but by the absence of a strong alternative.

Right now Giuliani is being helped by the rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Should the former Arkansas governor win in Iowa, it would be a major blow to Giuliani’s primary rival at the moment: Mitt Romney. But while Huckabee and Giuliani have only nice things to say about each other (for the moment), if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate—in effect displacing the hopes once vested in Fred Thompson—he could become a serious danger to Rudy come the January 29th Florida primary. The Giuliani campaign sees Florida as its firewall, the place where it halts its foes cold and seizes the lead. But Huckabee is rising rapidly in the Florida polls gaining seven points last week alone. If his surge continues, he could reshape the election.

Speculation is swirling about who tipped off Ben Smith of the Politico about the peculiar methods used to bill police protection for then Mayor Giuliani when he, though still married, was visiting his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. Was it Fran Reiter, a former Giuliani Deputy Mayor now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign? Was it New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson hoping to help his fellow Democrats? Was it former Governor George Pataki, who was either at odds with or overshadowed by Giuliani when both were in office? If this has the look of an Agatha Christie plot, where a dozen suspects all have good motives, that’s because Giuliani’s path to success was paved with the numerous enemies he made turning New York around and advancing his own ambitions.

The Politico article was not a dirty trick as Giuliani told Katie Couric, but it was a hit piece. It’s been followed in short order by another in the form of a front-page New York Times article suggesting that Giuliani sometimes exaggerates the numbers he uses to describe his successes. STOP THE PRESSES—A POLITICIAN WHO EXAGGERATES! How does this distinguish Giuliani from other politicians? Well, says the Times, he uses a lot of statistics and that means—according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—that “He’s given us a lot of work up until now.”

Giuliani has repaid the money used for the police protection. But the peculiar billing methods go to two of his biggest vulnerabilities. First it opens the character issue by reminding people that Bernard Kerik, Rudy’s trusted lieutenant whose most recent corruption case has yet to go to trial, was also involved with a girlfriend while married during the closing years of the Giuliani administration. More importantly, it’s a back-door path into the fact, as columnist Michael Goodwin of the Daily News noted to me, that Rudy is the first serious Presidential candidate who is on his third marriage. Giuliani’s affair with Judith Nathan while in office and while still married to Donna Hanover is such an obvious vulnerability that the campaign’s inability to get its response straight suggests important weaknesses in its general operational abilities.

With such a long list of enemies, Giuliani can expect more unflattering revelations. He’s likely to weather them in a somewhat weakened state. But the effect of these political wounds is uncertain because there is no one clear alternative to Rudy. As he has from the start, Rudy is being held aloft not only by his record of achievements but by the absence of a strong alternative.

Right now Giuliani is being helped by the rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Should the former Arkansas governor win in Iowa, it would be a major blow to Giuliani’s primary rival at the moment: Mitt Romney. But while Huckabee and Giuliani have only nice things to say about each other (for the moment), if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate—in effect displacing the hopes once vested in Fred Thompson—he could become a serious danger to Rudy come the January 29th Florida primary. The Giuliani campaign sees Florida as its firewall, the place where it halts its foes cold and seizes the lead. But Huckabee is rising rapidly in the Florida polls gaining seven points last week alone. If his surge continues, he could reshape the election.

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More Idiocy from Zbigniew Brzezinski

In today’s Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues for a patient American approach to Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Chinese can be our partner in helping to stop the Iranians. “China, despite its meteoric rise toward global preeminence, currently is geopolitically a status quo power,” Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser states.

Zbig, after his recent talks with Chinese leaders, tells us they are concerned about the fallout of “a major U.S.-Iran collision” and the Chinese are ardent supporters of “strategic patience.” Once we sit down with the Iranians at the negotiating table, “China could help break the stalemate.” In Brzezinski’s mind, negotiations with Iran would follow the North Korean model. We are on the path to peace in North Asia because the United States dropped its confrontational policy, he contends. Then he adds this: “Even more important, China’s abandonment of its initial reticence eventually proved vital to convincing Pyongyang that its own political intransigence could become suicidal.”

Too bad Brzezinski could not have read the New York Times before penning his op-ed. This morning the paper reports that everyone is hitting a dead end in dealing with the Iranians over their nuclear program. “The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said a European official involved with Tehran. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.” The Iranians, the Times reports, believe that renewed diplomatic effort on the part of others is proof that their defiance is working. That’s making any talks with them, in a word, counterproductive.

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In today’s Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues for a patient American approach to Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Chinese can be our partner in helping to stop the Iranians. “China, despite its meteoric rise toward global preeminence, currently is geopolitically a status quo power,” Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser states.

Zbig, after his recent talks with Chinese leaders, tells us they are concerned about the fallout of “a major U.S.-Iran collision” and the Chinese are ardent supporters of “strategic patience.” Once we sit down with the Iranians at the negotiating table, “China could help break the stalemate.” In Brzezinski’s mind, negotiations with Iran would follow the North Korean model. We are on the path to peace in North Asia because the United States dropped its confrontational policy, he contends. Then he adds this: “Even more important, China’s abandonment of its initial reticence eventually proved vital to convincing Pyongyang that its own political intransigence could become suicidal.”

Too bad Brzezinski could not have read the New York Times before penning his op-ed. This morning the paper reports that everyone is hitting a dead end in dealing with the Iranians over their nuclear program. “The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said a European official involved with Tehran. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.” The Iranians, the Times reports, believe that renewed diplomatic effort on the part of others is proof that their defiance is working. That’s making any talks with them, in a word, counterproductive.

The other major flaw in Brzezinski’s reasoning is that the Chinese actually helped broker a deal with Pyongyang. There’s no question they sponsored dialogue with the North Koreans, arranging the multilateral talks that continue to this day. Yet that’s not the same as promoting a solution. Beijing, by dragging out the negotiations, gave Kim Jong Il the one thing he needed to construct his bomb: time. And after the detonation of the North Korean device in October 2006, the record shows that there was real progress—if we can call it that—only when Christopher Hill, the State Department’s point man, met with his North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.

Now, Chinese leaders are proposing to Brzezinski that the Iranians get even more time to build a bomb. Tehran, which earlier this month announced that it has 3,000 centrifuges fully working, needs two years at most before it possesses the fissile material for its weapon.

Hasn’t Brzezinski learned from the mistakes of his old boss? In 1994, Jimmy Carter arranged a deal with the North Koreans that ended up giving them almost another decade to perfect their nuclear weapons technology. Zbig, at this moment, wants to provide to the Iranians a similar opportunity.

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We’re All Palestinians Now

Yesterday the New York Times, pretending that the Israel/Palestine situation is some kind of symmetrical game of Dare, suggested that Condoleezza Rice make more quasi-symbolic concessions to Palestinian negotiators. If they only knew.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly said in Annapolis this week that her childhood in the segregated South had helped her to understand the suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I know what its like to hear that you can’t use a certain road or pass through a checkpoint because you are a Palestinian. I know what it is like to feel discriminated against and powerless,” Rice told a closed meeting of Arab and Israeli representatives, according to the Dutch representative at the summit, Franz Timmermans.

I don’t know about Israeli/Palestinian cooperation, but I suspect the Secretary of State has succeeded in uniting Jews and American blacks. Both groups should be outraged, as she’s managed to compare the former to old Dixie racists and the latter to homicidal terrorists. It seems no just cause is safe from association by guilt. One thinks of Jimmy Carter’s campaign to equate Palestinians with the victims of South African apartheid. Now, Rice has (inadvertently, no doubt) harmed the good name of America’s civil rights movement.

Well, how’s this for symmetry? Condoleezza Rice thinks she knows what it’s like to be Palestinian? Some Palestinians claim they know what it’s like to be black. This hateful 2006 cartoon is from al-Quds, a major Palestinian newspaper, and there’s a good deal of similarly vile sentiment in the paper’s stories. We know Secretary Rice offended blacks and Jews. I’m not so sure the recipients of her sympathy welcomed the comparison either.

Yesterday the New York Times, pretending that the Israel/Palestine situation is some kind of symmetrical game of Dare, suggested that Condoleezza Rice make more quasi-symbolic concessions to Palestinian negotiators. If they only knew.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly said in Annapolis this week that her childhood in the segregated South had helped her to understand the suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I know what its like to hear that you can’t use a certain road or pass through a checkpoint because you are a Palestinian. I know what it is like to feel discriminated against and powerless,” Rice told a closed meeting of Arab and Israeli representatives, according to the Dutch representative at the summit, Franz Timmermans.

I don’t know about Israeli/Palestinian cooperation, but I suspect the Secretary of State has succeeded in uniting Jews and American blacks. Both groups should be outraged, as she’s managed to compare the former to old Dixie racists and the latter to homicidal terrorists. It seems no just cause is safe from association by guilt. One thinks of Jimmy Carter’s campaign to equate Palestinians with the victims of South African apartheid. Now, Rice has (inadvertently, no doubt) harmed the good name of America’s civil rights movement.

Well, how’s this for symmetry? Condoleezza Rice thinks she knows what it’s like to be Palestinian? Some Palestinians claim they know what it’s like to be black. This hateful 2006 cartoon is from al-Quds, a major Palestinian newspaper, and there’s a good deal of similarly vile sentiment in the paper’s stories. We know Secretary Rice offended blacks and Jews. I’m not so sure the recipients of her sympathy welcomed the comparison either.

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I’m Not There

In I’m Not There, director Todd Haynes takes the stale, conventional music biopic and runs it through a blender. The film claims to be inspired by the life and music of Bob Dylan, and features six different performers, including Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cat Blanchett as Dylanesque figures (none is actually named Bob Dylan). But one needn’t be a Dylanologist, or even more than a casual fan to wonder at the fantastic concoction he’s whipped up.

Gone are the genre’s usual forms. The familiar arcs of talent, love, addiction, stardom, and redemption that played out in Great Balls of Fire, Ray, and Walk the Line are nowhere to be found, and holiday audiences looking for those familiar patterns will almost certainly be confused and disappointed. Haynes doesn’t just dismiss the clichés; he seems unaware of them, as if he’s inventing everything in the film for the first time.

That’s not to say one can’t spot his influences. Haynes pulls from the fragmented narratives of Bunuel, the feverish and foggy visions of Fellini, and the cinematic playfulness of Godard. Haynes is a fussy formalist, mimicking a dozen or more distinct and easily identifiable styles throughout the film, but his grand scheme embraces a dreamlike expressionism. This isn’t a film about the life of Bob Dylan so much as a rock film fantasia, like Alice in Wonderland as reimagined by Hunter S. Thompson.

Much of the movie’s buzz has centered on the casting, especially Blanchett’s. And indeed, she’s remarkable in her role as Jude, a Dylanish ‘60’s rock hero given to rash behavior and elliptical pronouncements. She provides one point on the ever-spinning Dylan pinwheel, a dazzling array of characters. Between the manic stylistic riffing and the hall-of-mirrors approach to the central figure, Haynes seems to be gesturing toward the fluidity of identity in the media age, where the idea of the self has become fragmented and illusory, polluted by cross-talk and competing personae.

If this sounds a little murky, that’s because it is, but it’s also often exhilarating, and to ask for too much clarity would probably be a mistake. Any movie seeking to capture the essence of Bob Dylan that’s easy and simple to understand is almost certainly doomed to fail.

In I’m Not There, director Todd Haynes takes the stale, conventional music biopic and runs it through a blender. The film claims to be inspired by the life and music of Bob Dylan, and features six different performers, including Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cat Blanchett as Dylanesque figures (none is actually named Bob Dylan). But one needn’t be a Dylanologist, or even more than a casual fan to wonder at the fantastic concoction he’s whipped up.

Gone are the genre’s usual forms. The familiar arcs of talent, love, addiction, stardom, and redemption that played out in Great Balls of Fire, Ray, and Walk the Line are nowhere to be found, and holiday audiences looking for those familiar patterns will almost certainly be confused and disappointed. Haynes doesn’t just dismiss the clichés; he seems unaware of them, as if he’s inventing everything in the film for the first time.

That’s not to say one can’t spot his influences. Haynes pulls from the fragmented narratives of Bunuel, the feverish and foggy visions of Fellini, and the cinematic playfulness of Godard. Haynes is a fussy formalist, mimicking a dozen or more distinct and easily identifiable styles throughout the film, but his grand scheme embraces a dreamlike expressionism. This isn’t a film about the life of Bob Dylan so much as a rock film fantasia, like Alice in Wonderland as reimagined by Hunter S. Thompson.

Much of the movie’s buzz has centered on the casting, especially Blanchett’s. And indeed, she’s remarkable in her role as Jude, a Dylanish ‘60’s rock hero given to rash behavior and elliptical pronouncements. She provides one point on the ever-spinning Dylan pinwheel, a dazzling array of characters. Between the manic stylistic riffing and the hall-of-mirrors approach to the central figure, Haynes seems to be gesturing toward the fluidity of identity in the media age, where the idea of the self has become fragmented and illusory, polluted by cross-talk and competing personae.

If this sounds a little murky, that’s because it is, but it’s also often exhilarating, and to ask for too much clarity would probably be a mistake. Any movie seeking to capture the essence of Bob Dylan that’s easy and simple to understand is almost certainly doomed to fail.

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Madness in Sudan

Gillian Gibbons, the British schoolteacher working in Sudan, began serving a fifteen-day prison sentence today. Gibbon’s crime was to have allowed her students to name their class teddy bear Muhammad. According to CNN, protesters consider her sentence too light and want her executed. Executed. Over a stuffed animal.

It’s embarrassing, frankly, that as Westerners we even have to be discussing this outrage. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to consider a religion peaceful whose adherents—even if they are its extreme adherents—want a woman killed because of a stuffed animal. Events seem to keep outpacing Andrew Sullivan’s attempts to set up a meaningful equivalence between fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians.

Gillian Gibbons, the British schoolteacher working in Sudan, began serving a fifteen-day prison sentence today. Gibbon’s crime was to have allowed her students to name their class teddy bear Muhammad. According to CNN, protesters consider her sentence too light and want her executed. Executed. Over a stuffed animal.

It’s embarrassing, frankly, that as Westerners we even have to be discussing this outrage. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to consider a religion peaceful whose adherents—even if they are its extreme adherents—want a woman killed because of a stuffed animal. Events seem to keep outpacing Andrew Sullivan’s attempts to set up a meaningful equivalence between fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians.

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String Quartets Abounding

The string quartet repertory is so demanding to play that fans of the genre cling to rare historical favorites on CD who manage to get it just right. Mutual dependence and independence, statements from both the individual and group that convey a balanced message are extremely difficult to achieve. Sometimes a strenuous, heavy-handed group wins critical praise, perhaps because they always sound the same, no matter what music they play. Differentiating the styles and personalities of various composers so that Ravel does not sound like Debussy, let alone Brahms, is a rare skill. Whence the deserved cult-like status of historical ensembles like the Busch Quartet; Budapest String Quartet; Flonzaley Quartet; and Calvet Quartet, who were able to enter different musical worlds adeptly.

There are a few veteran ensembles today, like the Panocha Quartet and Wihan Quartet who match this precedent with supple, fleet, yet expressive artistry, but they are scarce. Which makes it all the more surprising to see a flurry of new quartets with young performers who play exceptionally well, as if decades of coaching by older ensemble players at music conservatories worldwide finally bore fruit.

The Daedalus string quartet, formed in 2000, is named after the mythical Greek inventor who fashioned wings that allowed him to fly. Their debut CD on Bridge Records of works by Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Ravel is joyously expressive. In Greek, “Daidalos” means “cunning worker” and given the skilled efforts required for this level of mastery, one might assume other young quartets would crash and burn just as Daedalus’s son Icarus did, for flying too close to the sun. Instead they excel, like Britain’s Belcea Quartet, which, despite its English pedigree, is anchored by two fiery East European virtuosos, Romanian-born first violin Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski. Whether playing works by Schubert or Britten on EMI Classics, the Belceas are passionately idiomatic performers.

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The string quartet repertory is so demanding to play that fans of the genre cling to rare historical favorites on CD who manage to get it just right. Mutual dependence and independence, statements from both the individual and group that convey a balanced message are extremely difficult to achieve. Sometimes a strenuous, heavy-handed group wins critical praise, perhaps because they always sound the same, no matter what music they play. Differentiating the styles and personalities of various composers so that Ravel does not sound like Debussy, let alone Brahms, is a rare skill. Whence the deserved cult-like status of historical ensembles like the Busch Quartet; Budapest String Quartet; Flonzaley Quartet; and Calvet Quartet, who were able to enter different musical worlds adeptly.

There are a few veteran ensembles today, like the Panocha Quartet and Wihan Quartet who match this precedent with supple, fleet, yet expressive artistry, but they are scarce. Which makes it all the more surprising to see a flurry of new quartets with young performers who play exceptionally well, as if decades of coaching by older ensemble players at music conservatories worldwide finally bore fruit.

The Daedalus string quartet, formed in 2000, is named after the mythical Greek inventor who fashioned wings that allowed him to fly. Their debut CD on Bridge Records of works by Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Ravel is joyously expressive. In Greek, “Daidalos” means “cunning worker” and given the skilled efforts required for this level of mastery, one might assume other young quartets would crash and burn just as Daedalus’s son Icarus did, for flying too close to the sun. Instead they excel, like Britain’s Belcea Quartet, which, despite its English pedigree, is anchored by two fiery East European virtuosos, Romanian-born first violin Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski. Whether playing works by Schubert or Britten on EMI Classics, the Belceas are passionately idiomatic performers.

Some other groups are already building substantial discographies, like appealing CD’s of Dvořák, Mendelssohn, and Hindemith by the Pacifica String Quartet, for the excellent small Chicago-based label Cedille. Likewise, the Borromeo Quartet has already recorded delightful interpretations of Ravel and Beethoven for the Image label. The Brentano string quartet has produced a mellifluous CD of Haydn, which is fully worthy of its eminent predecessors.

Others remain under-recorded, like the Avalon String Quartet, whose CD of Janáček and Ravel leaves the listener wanting more. Some stellar, worthy young quartets have not yet jump-started their recording careers, although their artistry can be savored from sound clips on their websites, like the superb Jupiter String Quartet and fluent Parker String Quartet, both American-trained ensembles. The aforementioned musicians offer so much warm-hearted playing that even confirmed nostalgics, ever-ready to fight over whether the Busch or Budapest Quartets played better Beethoven, may be moved to stop squabbling long enough to pay attention to some admirable new artists.

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An Interview with Rich Lowry

An interview with the editor of National Review about his recent trip to Iraq, the case for bombing Iran, Ron Paul, and more.

An interview with the editor of National Review about his recent trip to Iraq, the case for bombing Iran, Ron Paul, and more.

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New York is Not in Mexico

Fred Thompson, responding to a YouTube question posed during the CNN presidential debate last night, pledged to veto any bill containing amnesty for illegal immigrants. “A nation that cannot and will not defend its own borders will not forever remain a sovereign nation,” the candidate said.

The United States has not able to control its southern border. People—some poor, some honest, and some criminal—stream across an artificial boundary that is apparently indefensible. The Department of Homeland Security is building a “virtual fence” on some portions of the border with Mexico, but it isn’t working well. In some places, there is even an actual fence, often seen on Lou Dobbs Tonight with Latin Americans scampering over, under, and through it.

Nonetheless, the Mexican government calls the barrier “medieval” and compares it to the Berlin Wall. We shouldn’t be surprised that our neighbor to the south is so critical of our attempts to control immigration. As George Grayson of the College of William & Mary says, the Mexican elite “speaks with one voice and that is that Mexicans have a God-given right to come to the United States.” This attitude was evident during President Felipe Calderon’s State of the Union Message in September: “I have said that Mexico does not end at the border, that wherever there is a Mexican Mexico is there.”

As the son of an immigrant and the husband of another, I would like to see America extend an open welcome to people who want to move here and who are willing to follow established procedures. Yet favoring freer immigration is not the same as advocating uncontrolled borders and amnesty. Our President, so conscious of the security of the homeland, needs to say this in public to his counterpart in Mexico City:

We are a nation prepared to defend our sovereignty. You have no business telling us what to do about our own border. If I told you how to run your country, you would complain bitterly about interference. You have enough problems to deal with at home without spending your time worrying about ours. And by the way, don’t even think about repeating your claim to San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. There may be Mexicans living in those cities, but they are under our jurisdiction, and, if they’re undocumented, we’re going to deport them. Have a nice day.

Fred Thompson, responding to a YouTube question posed during the CNN presidential debate last night, pledged to veto any bill containing amnesty for illegal immigrants. “A nation that cannot and will not defend its own borders will not forever remain a sovereign nation,” the candidate said.

The United States has not able to control its southern border. People—some poor, some honest, and some criminal—stream across an artificial boundary that is apparently indefensible. The Department of Homeland Security is building a “virtual fence” on some portions of the border with Mexico, but it isn’t working well. In some places, there is even an actual fence, often seen on Lou Dobbs Tonight with Latin Americans scampering over, under, and through it.

Nonetheless, the Mexican government calls the barrier “medieval” and compares it to the Berlin Wall. We shouldn’t be surprised that our neighbor to the south is so critical of our attempts to control immigration. As George Grayson of the College of William & Mary says, the Mexican elite “speaks with one voice and that is that Mexicans have a God-given right to come to the United States.” This attitude was evident during President Felipe Calderon’s State of the Union Message in September: “I have said that Mexico does not end at the border, that wherever there is a Mexican Mexico is there.”

As the son of an immigrant and the husband of another, I would like to see America extend an open welcome to people who want to move here and who are willing to follow established procedures. Yet favoring freer immigration is not the same as advocating uncontrolled borders and amnesty. Our President, so conscious of the security of the homeland, needs to say this in public to his counterpart in Mexico City:

We are a nation prepared to defend our sovereignty. You have no business telling us what to do about our own border. If I told you how to run your country, you would complain bitterly about interference. You have enough problems to deal with at home without spending your time worrying about ours. And by the way, don’t even think about repeating your claim to San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. There may be Mexicans living in those cities, but they are under our jurisdiction, and, if they’re undocumented, we’re going to deport them. Have a nice day.

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The Devil You Know

Many conservatives, even those generally supportive of democracy promotion, have been supporting Pervez Musharraf on the “better the devil you know” theory (articulated in this article by Arthur Herman.). That is a reasonable theory, but it hasn’t worked out in this case: Musharraf simply hasn’t delivered the goods. Far from waging the kind of all-out battle against Islamic extremists that he has repeatedly promised Washington, he has instead repeatedly compromised and allowed the jihadists to get stronger, not weaker.

Three excellent op-eds in recent days—by foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan, former CIA agent Arthur Keller, and former Pakistani official Husain Haqqani—are must reads on the subject. Collectively they demolish the case for Musharraf and show why a return to democracy is in America’s interest.

Many conservatives, even those generally supportive of democracy promotion, have been supporting Pervez Musharraf on the “better the devil you know” theory (articulated in this article by Arthur Herman.). That is a reasonable theory, but it hasn’t worked out in this case: Musharraf simply hasn’t delivered the goods. Far from waging the kind of all-out battle against Islamic extremists that he has repeatedly promised Washington, he has instead repeatedly compromised and allowed the jihadists to get stronger, not weaker.

Three excellent op-eds in recent days—by foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan, former CIA agent Arthur Keller, and former Pakistani official Husain Haqqani—are must reads on the subject. Collectively they demolish the case for Musharraf and show why a return to democracy is in America’s interest.

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Arab Labor

Blood has been pretty bad between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens since the riots in the Arab sector in October 2000, one month after the start of the second intifada. In the time that has passed, Arab members of parliament have become increasingly hostile to the Jewish state, openly declaring their affection for Israel’s enemies and expressly condoning violence against Israelis. (For a detailed account, see Dan Schueftan’s important essay in Azure.) And many Israelis who once preached coexistence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens have given up on that dream, now looking into a bleak future of permanent internal strife, alongside battles that rage against Palestinian terror.

No surprise, then, that all Israel is astir about Arab Labor, a new television series created by Sayed Kashua, a noted Arab-Israeli journalist and writer. The series, the first episode of which appeared November 24, depicts the life of an Arab journalist, Amjad, and his family as they live their lives as Israelis while trying to maintain their identity. It is funny, deeply ironic, and remarkably brave.

In one scene, Amjad’s father complains about how his son embarrasses him by wearing a seatbelt when driving in their village. “Nobody wears seatbelts in our town!” Amjad is later shown appearing on an Israeli talkshow insisting that the high traffic fatalities in the Arab sector have nothing to do with bad driving, and everything to do with the state’s failure to invest in roads for Arab towns. In another scene, Amjad expresses his frustration that he keeps getting pulled over by cops. “How do they know?” he wails. “I spend so much money on clothes, on deodorant, on fancy glasses—do they have special radar?” “It’s your car,” his friend answers. “Old Subarus are driven only by Arabs and settlers. And the settlers have bumper stickers.” Amjad quickly buys a 2000 Rover, and the police instantly begin waving him through.

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Blood has been pretty bad between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens since the riots in the Arab sector in October 2000, one month after the start of the second intifada. In the time that has passed, Arab members of parliament have become increasingly hostile to the Jewish state, openly declaring their affection for Israel’s enemies and expressly condoning violence against Israelis. (For a detailed account, see Dan Schueftan’s important essay in Azure.) And many Israelis who once preached coexistence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens have given up on that dream, now looking into a bleak future of permanent internal strife, alongside battles that rage against Palestinian terror.

No surprise, then, that all Israel is astir about Arab Labor, a new television series created by Sayed Kashua, a noted Arab-Israeli journalist and writer. The series, the first episode of which appeared November 24, depicts the life of an Arab journalist, Amjad, and his family as they live their lives as Israelis while trying to maintain their identity. It is funny, deeply ironic, and remarkably brave.

In one scene, Amjad’s father complains about how his son embarrasses him by wearing a seatbelt when driving in their village. “Nobody wears seatbelts in our town!” Amjad is later shown appearing on an Israeli talkshow insisting that the high traffic fatalities in the Arab sector have nothing to do with bad driving, and everything to do with the state’s failure to invest in roads for Arab towns. In another scene, Amjad expresses his frustration that he keeps getting pulled over by cops. “How do they know?” he wails. “I spend so much money on clothes, on deodorant, on fancy glasses—do they have special radar?” “It’s your car,” his friend answers. “Old Subarus are driven only by Arabs and settlers. And the settlers have bumper stickers.” Amjad quickly buys a 2000 Rover, and the police instantly begin waving him through.

In a third scene, Amjad feigns offense when a Jewish colleague asks him for help in acquiring illegal auto parts (“Do you think that just because I’m an Arab I deal in these things?”)—but then quickly tracks down the part through his friends in the village.

What is incredible about Arab Labor, therefore, is its ability to say two contradictory things at once. First, that Jewish racism against Arabs is rampant, painful, and dictates the course of the average Arab’s life, as he whittles away his days trying to look, act, and even smell Jewish, trying to avoid police roadblocks, distrust, and humiliation. And second, that most of the stereotypes Israeli Jews harbor about Arabs are actually true. According to focus groups, this show is being well received by Arab-Israeli viewers, who feel that it truthfully expresses both the suffering and the failings of their own community.

In other words, Arab Labor is stunning precisely because of the kind of humor it employs: self-deprecating humor. Unlike most of the self-aggrandizing and self-justifying propaganda that comes out of the Arab world, Arab Labor indulges in the same sad irony that has made Jewish humor unique. Even as Israel’s Arabs struggle to reject the Jewish state, they are irrevocably part of it.

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A Warm Welcome

Last week James D. McGee, the new American ambassador to Zimbabwe, formally presented his diplomatic credentials to Robert Mugabe. This will not be an easy assignment, and Harare is a place where diplomats earn their chops. McGee’s predecessor, Christopher Dell, is the new Deputy Chief of Mission to Afghanistan. Amidst all of Mugabe’s paranoid rantings about supposed British and American plots to overthrow him, Dell quipped on his way out that the Zimbabwean government was “doing regime change to itself.”

Welcoming McGee to Zimbabwe was Caesar Zvayi, the political editor of the Herald, the state newspaper. He begins his column by stating that McGee, who is black, “is one of our own, at least as far as skin color is concerned.” This is but the least of Zvayi’s offenses to reason (never mind prose style). He writes that Zimbabwe “hope[s] he will not shame the ancestors in whose loins he crossed the Atlantic to his adopted home” and that McGee “should never forget that he is descended from slave ancestors and those who enslaved his forebears are the same people trying to preserve ill-gotten colonial gains in Zimbabwe today.”

Zvayi’s piece really ought to be read in full, for there are not many countries left in the world in which the official newspapers contain such openly racialist propaganda.

Last week James D. McGee, the new American ambassador to Zimbabwe, formally presented his diplomatic credentials to Robert Mugabe. This will not be an easy assignment, and Harare is a place where diplomats earn their chops. McGee’s predecessor, Christopher Dell, is the new Deputy Chief of Mission to Afghanistan. Amidst all of Mugabe’s paranoid rantings about supposed British and American plots to overthrow him, Dell quipped on his way out that the Zimbabwean government was “doing regime change to itself.”

Welcoming McGee to Zimbabwe was Caesar Zvayi, the political editor of the Herald, the state newspaper. He begins his column by stating that McGee, who is black, “is one of our own, at least as far as skin color is concerned.” This is but the least of Zvayi’s offenses to reason (never mind prose style). He writes that Zimbabwe “hope[s] he will not shame the ancestors in whose loins he crossed the Atlantic to his adopted home” and that McGee “should never forget that he is descended from slave ancestors and those who enslaved his forebears are the same people trying to preserve ill-gotten colonial gains in Zimbabwe today.”

Zvayi’s piece really ought to be read in full, for there are not many countries left in the world in which the official newspapers contain such openly racialist propaganda.

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More on Clinton

To follow up on my posting from yesterday regarding Bill Clinton’s implausible claim that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, it’s worth reading this article in today’s Washington Post. According to the Post story,

A former senior aide to then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice disputed Bill Clinton‘s statement this week that he “opposed Iraq from the beginning,” saying that the former president was privately briefed by top White House officials about war planning in 2003 and that he told them he supported the invasion…. Hillary Mann Leverett, at the time the White House director of Persian Gulf affairs, said that Rice and Elliott Abrams, then National Security Council senior director for Near East and North African affairs, met with Clinton several times in the months before the March 2003 invasion to answer any questions he might have. She said she was “shocked” and “astonished” by Clinton’s remarks this week, made to voters in Iowa, because she has distinct memories of Abrams “coming back from those meetings literally glowing and boasting that ‘we have Clinton’s support.’” Leverett, a former career foreign service officer who said she is not involved in any presidential campaign, said the incident affected her because of her own doubts about the wisdom of an attack. “To hear President Clinton was supportive really silenced whatever questions I had,” she recalled.

At some point soon no one in America will be shocked and astonished by the mendacity of Bill Clinton. It is, it seems, part of his DNA. The weird thing is he has probably convinced himself that he really was opposed to the war. In that sense, he is a perfect post-modern political figure—a man for whom reality rests entirely on his own personal interpretation of events. Objective things—like, say, actual conversations and past positions—mean almost nothing at all; “relative truth” and one’s “personal narrative” are everything.

These views can be tolerable when held by Algerian-born French philosophers; they are a good deal more dangerous when held by the commander-in-chief, where words and meaning actually matter.

The memories of the Clinton years are not pretty ones—and the more Bill Clinton speaks, the more Clinton Fatigue sets in. It’s remarkable that a man of his skills and talents can prove to be a net negative to Hillary’s campaign. But that very well might be the case.

If I were Barack Obama, I might consider telling people that with the Clintons, they will be getting two for the price of one.


To follow up on my posting from yesterday regarding Bill Clinton’s implausible claim that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, it’s worth reading this article in today’s Washington Post. According to the Post story,

A former senior aide to then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice disputed Bill Clinton‘s statement this week that he “opposed Iraq from the beginning,” saying that the former president was privately briefed by top White House officials about war planning in 2003 and that he told them he supported the invasion…. Hillary Mann Leverett, at the time the White House director of Persian Gulf affairs, said that Rice and Elliott Abrams, then National Security Council senior director for Near East and North African affairs, met with Clinton several times in the months before the March 2003 invasion to answer any questions he might have. She said she was “shocked” and “astonished” by Clinton’s remarks this week, made to voters in Iowa, because she has distinct memories of Abrams “coming back from those meetings literally glowing and boasting that ‘we have Clinton’s support.’” Leverett, a former career foreign service officer who said she is not involved in any presidential campaign, said the incident affected her because of her own doubts about the wisdom of an attack. “To hear President Clinton was supportive really silenced whatever questions I had,” she recalled.

At some point soon no one in America will be shocked and astonished by the mendacity of Bill Clinton. It is, it seems, part of his DNA. The weird thing is he has probably convinced himself that he really was opposed to the war. In that sense, he is a perfect post-modern political figure—a man for whom reality rests entirely on his own personal interpretation of events. Objective things—like, say, actual conversations and past positions—mean almost nothing at all; “relative truth” and one’s “personal narrative” are everything.

These views can be tolerable when held by Algerian-born French philosophers; they are a good deal more dangerous when held by the commander-in-chief, where words and meaning actually matter.

The memories of the Clinton years are not pretty ones—and the more Bill Clinton speaks, the more Clinton Fatigue sets in. It’s remarkable that a man of his skills and talents can prove to be a net negative to Hillary’s campaign. But that very well might be the case.

If I were Barack Obama, I might consider telling people that with the Clintons, they will be getting two for the price of one.


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The New Palestinian Spirit of Reconciliation

This is the picture of Israel that Palestinian state television broadcast the day after Annapolis:

pollakimagerezised.jpg

Palestinian Media Watch has the details:

An information clip produced by the Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics and rebroadcast today on Abbas-controlled Palestinian television, shows a map in which Israel is painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag, symbolizing Israel turned into a Palestinian state.

The description of all of the state of Israel as “Palestine” is not coincidental, and is part of a formal, systematic educational approach throughout the Palestinian Authority. This uniform message of a world without Israel is repeated in school books, children’s programs, crossword puzzles, video clips, formal symbols, school and street names, etc. The picture painted for the Palestinian population, both verbally and visually, is of a world without Israel.

This is, of course, unsurprising, as the denial of Israel and the promise of its destruction have been the most basic ideological staples of Palestinian culture for half a century. There is one basic metric for evaluating whether the Palestinians are serious about coexistence with Israel, and it is not found in the documents produced by peace conferences in the United States or even in the statements of Palestinian leaders themselves. We will know that the Palestinians are serious about peace when they start educating their children, through their schools, in the ideology of peace and coexistence, and stop encouraging their people, through their media, to believe in the fantasy of Israel’s destruction.

This is the picture of Israel that Palestinian state television broadcast the day after Annapolis:

pollakimagerezised.jpg

Palestinian Media Watch has the details:

An information clip produced by the Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics and rebroadcast today on Abbas-controlled Palestinian television, shows a map in which Israel is painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag, symbolizing Israel turned into a Palestinian state.

The description of all of the state of Israel as “Palestine” is not coincidental, and is part of a formal, systematic educational approach throughout the Palestinian Authority. This uniform message of a world without Israel is repeated in school books, children’s programs, crossword puzzles, video clips, formal symbols, school and street names, etc. The picture painted for the Palestinian population, both verbally and visually, is of a world without Israel.

This is, of course, unsurprising, as the denial of Israel and the promise of its destruction have been the most basic ideological staples of Palestinian culture for half a century. There is one basic metric for evaluating whether the Palestinians are serious about coexistence with Israel, and it is not found in the documents produced by peace conferences in the United States or even in the statements of Palestinian leaders themselves. We will know that the Palestinians are serious about peace when they start educating their children, through their schools, in the ideology of peace and coexistence, and stop encouraging their people, through their media, to believe in the fantasy of Israel’s destruction.

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CNN: The Last Name In News

I only saw a little of the Republican presidential debate last night, which featured video questions sent in through YouTube selected by CNN. There’s a lot of griping this morning about how the debate was an embarrassment and a bad night for the GOP in general because CNN chose questions that were either defiantly peculiar, beneath contempt, or freakish. I wonder if there’s a little oversensitivity at work here, because the great surprise of the first YouTube debate in September, featuring Democrats, was how substantive it was and how it forced the Democratic field to engage for the first time in discussing policy differences. That was even true about the question from the man dressed in the snowman costume.

What is notable, however, is what a hash CNN is making in this long election season of its self-described reputation as “the first name in news.” In two successive debates now, CNN has made editorial decisions that range from the bizarre to the scandalous. The bizarre conduct came in the Democratic debate in Nevada two weeks ago, which concluded with a bubbly young woman asking a vapid question about whether Hillary Clinton preferred diamonds or pearls. When that young woman came under withering assault for wasting time with something so stupid, she said she had wanted to ask about nuclear-waste removal but that a CNN producer had pushed her to come up with something lighter.

Think about that the next time someone tells you that CNN is preferable to the Fox News Channel because it is “more serious.” (Yes, for the record, I am a Fox News Channel contributor, but in this context, even MSNBC is positively Ciceronian compared to CNN.)

 The scandalous aspect last night is that three Democratic operatives were allowed to pose as “unaffiliated voters” asking questions specifically designed to embarrass the entire Republican party, not just the candidates on stage. Given the fact that it took bloggers all of 12 seconds to figure this out, one has to ask how on earth CNN producers didn’t think to do the elementary spade work of simply Googling the names of the questioners to ensure they met the “unaffiliated voter” standard CNN and YouTube had set out.

It’s easy to see why CNN’s producers liked their questions. It’s because those questions echoed the partisan prejudices of CNN producers. This sort of liberal media bias would have been far less of an issue if we were talking about a debate between the Democratic and Republican nominees for president, because in those circumstances both candidates are seeking to govern all Americans, even those who don’t vote for them. But in a Republican primary debate, when it is GOP members who are trying to determine which candidate should best represent their party, an overwhelmingly Democratic institution like CNN needs to be specially conscious of the way its biases might play into question selection. If CNN had been conscious about this, and had therefore been prudent about checking out the identities and preferences of the video questioners it had selected, it would have avoided plunging itself into a days-long spiral of embarrassment about the network’s lack of professionalism, absence of care, and spiraling unseriousness.

I only saw a little of the Republican presidential debate last night, which featured video questions sent in through YouTube selected by CNN. There’s a lot of griping this morning about how the debate was an embarrassment and a bad night for the GOP in general because CNN chose questions that were either defiantly peculiar, beneath contempt, or freakish. I wonder if there’s a little oversensitivity at work here, because the great surprise of the first YouTube debate in September, featuring Democrats, was how substantive it was and how it forced the Democratic field to engage for the first time in discussing policy differences. That was even true about the question from the man dressed in the snowman costume.

What is notable, however, is what a hash CNN is making in this long election season of its self-described reputation as “the first name in news.” In two successive debates now, CNN has made editorial decisions that range from the bizarre to the scandalous. The bizarre conduct came in the Democratic debate in Nevada two weeks ago, which concluded with a bubbly young woman asking a vapid question about whether Hillary Clinton preferred diamonds or pearls. When that young woman came under withering assault for wasting time with something so stupid, she said she had wanted to ask about nuclear-waste removal but that a CNN producer had pushed her to come up with something lighter.

Think about that the next time someone tells you that CNN is preferable to the Fox News Channel because it is “more serious.” (Yes, for the record, I am a Fox News Channel contributor, but in this context, even MSNBC is positively Ciceronian compared to CNN.)

 The scandalous aspect last night is that three Democratic operatives were allowed to pose as “unaffiliated voters” asking questions specifically designed to embarrass the entire Republican party, not just the candidates on stage. Given the fact that it took bloggers all of 12 seconds to figure this out, one has to ask how on earth CNN producers didn’t think to do the elementary spade work of simply Googling the names of the questioners to ensure they met the “unaffiliated voter” standard CNN and YouTube had set out.

It’s easy to see why CNN’s producers liked their questions. It’s because those questions echoed the partisan prejudices of CNN producers. This sort of liberal media bias would have been far less of an issue if we were talking about a debate between the Democratic and Republican nominees for president, because in those circumstances both candidates are seeking to govern all Americans, even those who don’t vote for them. But in a Republican primary debate, when it is GOP members who are trying to determine which candidate should best represent their party, an overwhelmingly Democratic institution like CNN needs to be specially conscious of the way its biases might play into question selection. If CNN had been conscious about this, and had therefore been prudent about checking out the identities and preferences of the video questioners it had selected, it would have avoided plunging itself into a days-long spiral of embarrassment about the network’s lack of professionalism, absence of care, and spiraling unseriousness.

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All the News That’s Fit to Bury

Let us connect four dots.

On September 11, 2001, some 3,000 people were killed by Islamic terrorists in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania. It was a big story; indeed, it made the front page of the New York Times for quite a few days running.

On December 9, 2006, a Muslim convert by the name of Derrick Shareef, a U.S. citizen, was indicted on a charge of attempting, as part of a plot to wage “violent jihad,” to use a weapon of mass destruction — grenades — to attack Christmas shoppers in a mall in Rockford, Illinois. It made page sixteen of the New York Times, and was recounted in 129 words.

Today, November 20, 2007, Shareef pleaded guilty to the charges. It made page 28 of the New York Times, and was explained in 90 words.

Today, on the same day, in the same newspaper, is a story about sports entitled Concussions Leave Colleges and Players in Murky World. It received 1,439 words and appeared on the front page.

What do these numbers tell us about how the New York Times reports on the terrorist threat to the United States in the years since September 11?

Readers who respond with the correct answer will receive a free copy, autographed by me, of former CIA officer Michael Scheuer’s forthcoming book, Marching Toward Hell. (A stamped self-addressed envelope with the correct postage sent to the offices of COMMENTARY is required for entry. Offer void where prohibited.)

Let us connect four dots.

On September 11, 2001, some 3,000 people were killed by Islamic terrorists in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania. It was a big story; indeed, it made the front page of the New York Times for quite a few days running.

On December 9, 2006, a Muslim convert by the name of Derrick Shareef, a U.S. citizen, was indicted on a charge of attempting, as part of a plot to wage “violent jihad,” to use a weapon of mass destruction — grenades — to attack Christmas shoppers in a mall in Rockford, Illinois. It made page sixteen of the New York Times, and was recounted in 129 words.

Today, November 20, 2007, Shareef pleaded guilty to the charges. It made page 28 of the New York Times, and was explained in 90 words.

Today, on the same day, in the same newspaper, is a story about sports entitled Concussions Leave Colleges and Players in Murky World. It received 1,439 words and appeared on the front page.

What do these numbers tell us about how the New York Times reports on the terrorist threat to the United States in the years since September 11?

Readers who respond with the correct answer will receive a free copy, autographed by me, of former CIA officer Michael Scheuer’s forthcoming book, Marching Toward Hell. (A stamped self-addressed envelope with the correct postage sent to the offices of COMMENTARY is required for entry. Offer void where prohibited.)

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Good Luck With That

U.S. To Hold N. Korea To Nuclear Promises – today’s Washington Times.

U.S. To Hold N. Korea To Nuclear Promises – today’s Washington Times.

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Athens, Jerusalem, and Auschwitz

Last week, on my way from New York to Jerusalem, I had a few hours to spare in Athens; so I paid a visit to the city’s Jewish Museum, a modest and little-known facility in the touristy Plaka district.

The experience was stunning, depressing, enraging. Most of us have had an ample Holocaust education, yet few of us are fully aware of the fate of Greece’s Jewish community during World War II. Before the war, this community, dating back over two millennia, boasted 77,000 mostly Sephardic Jews, who prospered in both wealth and scholarship. During the war, fully 87 percent were shipped off and murdered—the highest proportion in all of Europe.

Yet unlike Germany, France, and Poland, which have made an effort to teach their own populations about the Nazi genocide, in Greece there is virtually no awareness that the liquidation of their Jewish community ever took place. A friend of mine, while serving in the Israeli army, was charged with taking foreign military officials on tours of Israel, which inevitably included a stop at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. She told me of the horror that dawned on the faces of stern Greek generals as they came to understand, many for the first time, the extent of Greek cooperation with the Holocaust and the starkness of the numbers.

While at the museum, I kept thinking that at least in this country, the most extreme goals of the Nazi regime were carried out in full. Today, Athens, a city of 3 million people, has but two small synagogues; in all of Greece, there are no more than 5,000 Jews. A vibrant community, in the city known as the birthplace of enlightenment, was extinguished and erased from memory—save for a small museum on Nikis Street, in the shadow of the Parthenon.

Last week, on my way from New York to Jerusalem, I had a few hours to spare in Athens; so I paid a visit to the city’s Jewish Museum, a modest and little-known facility in the touristy Plaka district.

The experience was stunning, depressing, enraging. Most of us have had an ample Holocaust education, yet few of us are fully aware of the fate of Greece’s Jewish community during World War II. Before the war, this community, dating back over two millennia, boasted 77,000 mostly Sephardic Jews, who prospered in both wealth and scholarship. During the war, fully 87 percent were shipped off and murdered—the highest proportion in all of Europe.

Yet unlike Germany, France, and Poland, which have made an effort to teach their own populations about the Nazi genocide, in Greece there is virtually no awareness that the liquidation of their Jewish community ever took place. A friend of mine, while serving in the Israeli army, was charged with taking foreign military officials on tours of Israel, which inevitably included a stop at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. She told me of the horror that dawned on the faces of stern Greek generals as they came to understand, many for the first time, the extent of Greek cooperation with the Holocaust and the starkness of the numbers.

While at the museum, I kept thinking that at least in this country, the most extreme goals of the Nazi regime were carried out in full. Today, Athens, a city of 3 million people, has but two small synagogues; in all of Greece, there are no more than 5,000 Jews. A vibrant community, in the city known as the birthplace of enlightenment, was extinguished and erased from memory—save for a small museum on Nikis Street, in the shadow of the Parthenon.

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ANNAPOLIS: Sharansky Speaks

Yesterday evening, Natan Sharansky—dissident, democracy activist, former Deputy PM of Israel, author of (among other things) the upcoming Defending Identity, and one of the most tireless defenders of human liberty on the planet—stopped by COMMENTARY’s offices. After two quick games with resident chess whiz Gabriel Schoenfeld, Sharansky graciously sat for a brief Q&A with me and online manager Davi Bernstein. Sharansky discusses the Annapolis conference, the Bush legacy, and the problem of Iran in the interview, which you can watch below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mcHdHnbnTE[/youtube]

Yesterday evening, Natan Sharansky—dissident, democracy activist, former Deputy PM of Israel, author of (among other things) the upcoming Defending Identity, and one of the most tireless defenders of human liberty on the planet—stopped by COMMENTARY’s offices. After two quick games with resident chess whiz Gabriel Schoenfeld, Sharansky graciously sat for a brief Q&A with me and online manager Davi Bernstein. Sharansky discusses the Annapolis conference, the Bush legacy, and the problem of Iran in the interview, which you can watch below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mcHdHnbnTE[/youtube]

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Not-So-Slick Willie

Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.

What ought we to make of this?

First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.

Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.

The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.

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Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.

What ought we to make of this?

First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.

Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.

The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.

The attempt to persuade us that Clinton was in favor of the authority to go to war but opposed President Bush’s decision to use that authority is not credible—but it is entirely predictable. After all, it is part of a well-known pattern when it comes to William Jefferson Clinton.

Bob Woodward put it this way:

People feel, and I think rightly, that they’re not being leveled with. . . . There is this tendency in Clinton which you see all through his life of, “How do we spin our way out of it? How do we put out 10 percent of the truth? How do we try to conceal or delay or obfuscate?” And that is a profound problem.

Michael Kelly, then of the New York Times, summarized things this way:

Mr. Clinton’s tendency to make misleading statements, renege on promises, and waffle on difficult questions has been a part of the story of his record in matters of public policy and politics, not just in personal terms.

Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey put it more bluntly:

Clinton’s an unusually good liar. Unusually good.

One can imagine that Bill Clinton, if asked under oath about this matter, would say something like: “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘the beginning of the war’ is.”

Bill Clinton’s comments cannot help Hillary Clinton, if only because it reminds people of some of the worst aspects of the Clinton presidency: the mendacity, the reckless disregard for the truth, the self-justification, self-indulgence, and shamelessness of the man. Hillary Clinton has enough negatives to last her a lifetime; her husband, in trying to rewrite history, is simply adding to them.

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