Commentary Magazine


Topic: The star

Pink Floyd Singer’s Attack on Israel Given an Assist by Its Defenders

The Anti-Defamation League may have unwittingly done pop-rock icon Roger Waters a favor when it came down on him recently like a ton of bricks and accused the Pink Floyd star of anti-Semitism. Unlike filmmaker Oliver Stone, who folded like a cheap suit when the group called out the conspiracy-monger for regurgitating the Walt-Mearsheimer party line about American Jews manipulating foreign policy, Waters is standing his ground and using the brouhaha to promote his leftist view of Israel and the world.

The ADL called Waters to account for the way the song “Goodbye Blue Sky” is performed on his current concert tour. As you can see on this version on YouTube, the playing of the song is accompanied by a video showing an animated B-52 bombing an unidentified landscape with the symbols of major religions. But right after Stars of David are released, they are followed by dollar signs and then the logos for Shell Oil and Mercedes. The ADL said they felt that by juxtaposing these symbols in that sequence, Waters was “dredging up the worst age-old anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews and their supposed obsession with making money.” Foxman also stated that the whole thing was really about Waters’s dislike of Israel and its security fence, which protects its people against Palestinian suicide bombers.

Waters has now responded to the ADL’s remonstrance with a virulent attack on the organization and its leader, denying the charge of anti-Semitism and proclaiming himself a victim of the Israel lobby’s attempts to silence critics of Israel and American foreign policy. Waters says he is motivated to combat the “lies” of Republicans and says that “accusations of anti-Semitism are ‘a screen’ that the ADL hides behind. ‘I don’t think they should be taken seriously on that. You can attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish,’ Waters said. ‘It’s like saying if you criticize the US policy you are being anti-Christian. I’m critical of the Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian land and their policy of building settlements, which is entirely illegal under international law, and also of ghettoising the people whose land they are building on.’”

All of which makes it sound as if the ADL was pretty much on target. If the goal of the song and the video is to demonize Israel using Jewish religious symbols mixed in with dollar signs and to promote Palestinian propaganda about stolen land while ignoring the real context of the conflict and the purpose of the security fence, then there is little question of Waters’s ill intent.

But having watched the video of the performance myself, I have to confess that I doubt that too many viewers would have understood any of this — either the anti-Semitic inferences alleged by the ADL or the anti-Israel and anti-Republican intent that Waters says motivates the performance. Without already knowing that Waters is an Israel-basher, as Foxman (who is clearly better informed about the politics of aging rock stars than I would have thought) does, I think it is unlikely that anyone would conclude from the video alone that Israel or American foreign policy, let alone Republicans, was the point of the piece. Since a cross and a Muslim crescent precede the Star of David imagery, most viewers probably see it as an across-the-board slam of organized religion as well as the usual incoherent pop-art shot at capitalism.

So while Waters’s response certainly lent credence to the ADL’s original critique, one wonders if very many people would have ever understood that he viewed his tour as an attack on Israel without the organization publicizing it. By slamming Waters, the ADL may have unintentionally done him and those who applaud his misperceptions of Israel a favor.

The Anti-Defamation League may have unwittingly done pop-rock icon Roger Waters a favor when it came down on him recently like a ton of bricks and accused the Pink Floyd star of anti-Semitism. Unlike filmmaker Oliver Stone, who folded like a cheap suit when the group called out the conspiracy-monger for regurgitating the Walt-Mearsheimer party line about American Jews manipulating foreign policy, Waters is standing his ground and using the brouhaha to promote his leftist view of Israel and the world.

The ADL called Waters to account for the way the song “Goodbye Blue Sky” is performed on his current concert tour. As you can see on this version on YouTube, the playing of the song is accompanied by a video showing an animated B-52 bombing an unidentified landscape with the symbols of major religions. But right after Stars of David are released, they are followed by dollar signs and then the logos for Shell Oil and Mercedes. The ADL said they felt that by juxtaposing these symbols in that sequence, Waters was “dredging up the worst age-old anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews and their supposed obsession with making money.” Foxman also stated that the whole thing was really about Waters’s dislike of Israel and its security fence, which protects its people against Palestinian suicide bombers.

Waters has now responded to the ADL’s remonstrance with a virulent attack on the organization and its leader, denying the charge of anti-Semitism and proclaiming himself a victim of the Israel lobby’s attempts to silence critics of Israel and American foreign policy. Waters says he is motivated to combat the “lies” of Republicans and says that “accusations of anti-Semitism are ‘a screen’ that the ADL hides behind. ‘I don’t think they should be taken seriously on that. You can attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish,’ Waters said. ‘It’s like saying if you criticize the US policy you are being anti-Christian. I’m critical of the Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian land and their policy of building settlements, which is entirely illegal under international law, and also of ghettoising the people whose land they are building on.’”

All of which makes it sound as if the ADL was pretty much on target. If the goal of the song and the video is to demonize Israel using Jewish religious symbols mixed in with dollar signs and to promote Palestinian propaganda about stolen land while ignoring the real context of the conflict and the purpose of the security fence, then there is little question of Waters’s ill intent.

But having watched the video of the performance myself, I have to confess that I doubt that too many viewers would have understood any of this — either the anti-Semitic inferences alleged by the ADL or the anti-Israel and anti-Republican intent that Waters says motivates the performance. Without already knowing that Waters is an Israel-basher, as Foxman (who is clearly better informed about the politics of aging rock stars than I would have thought) does, I think it is unlikely that anyone would conclude from the video alone that Israel or American foreign policy, let alone Republicans, was the point of the piece. Since a cross and a Muslim crescent precede the Star of David imagery, most viewers probably see it as an across-the-board slam of organized religion as well as the usual incoherent pop-art shot at capitalism.

So while Waters’s response certainly lent credence to the ADL’s original critique, one wonders if very many people would have ever understood that he viewed his tour as an attack on Israel without the organization publicizing it. By slamming Waters, the ADL may have unintentionally done him and those who applaud his misperceptions of Israel a favor.

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An Alternate History: In Which the Pundits Had Obama Pegged

David Brooks has an amusing column that speculates about what an alternative set of decisions by Obama (e.g.,an energy bill before ObamaCare, tax cuts instead of the spend-athon) would have looked like. I would quibble with some items: for example, the energy bill would not have been just about “technological advances, private sector growth and breakthrough productivity gains”; it would have been about taxes, taxes, taxes. But that’s minor.

The real amusement comes from the fact that the “alternate history” bears no resemblance at all to what Obama has done; it is the ultimate un-Obama. It’s not just a few decisions that were wrong. The real Obama at nearly every juncture made the wrong call (e.g., letting Nancy Pelosi run wild rather than “develop[ing] a political strategy they called Save Nancy From Herself”). The implication is that the real Obama blew it — again and again.

This says something about the pundits who believed they were getting un-Obama. They were impressed with image and with pants, but failed to comprehend what Obama was all about. They painted an un-Obama vision — moderate, responsible, evidence-based, unifying. The list could go on. All ludicrously off-base, except in some alternate reality. (Like the Star Trek episode where Spock had a beard.)

Moreover, the real “alternate history” would have to include this:

The mainstream media and liberal pundits – who had been derided by conservative critics as out of touch or as actively engaged in a conspiracy to present a pleasing but false image of Obama – were vindicated. The liberal print media and broadcast news networks enjoyed newfound credibility. The conservative pundits were thoroughly discredited. The New York Times, basking in the glow of its reaffirmation as the “newspaper of record,” saw a dramatic improvement in its balance sheet. Meanwhile, Fox News closed its doors, the blogosphere shriveled, the conservative activists hid under their beds, and the center-left coalition cemented its gains in the 2010 midterm elections.

Yeah, no resemblance to reality. Whatsoever.

David Brooks has an amusing column that speculates about what an alternative set of decisions by Obama (e.g.,an energy bill before ObamaCare, tax cuts instead of the spend-athon) would have looked like. I would quibble with some items: for example, the energy bill would not have been just about “technological advances, private sector growth and breakthrough productivity gains”; it would have been about taxes, taxes, taxes. But that’s minor.

The real amusement comes from the fact that the “alternate history” bears no resemblance at all to what Obama has done; it is the ultimate un-Obama. It’s not just a few decisions that were wrong. The real Obama at nearly every juncture made the wrong call (e.g., letting Nancy Pelosi run wild rather than “develop[ing] a political strategy they called Save Nancy From Herself”). The implication is that the real Obama blew it — again and again.

This says something about the pundits who believed they were getting un-Obama. They were impressed with image and with pants, but failed to comprehend what Obama was all about. They painted an un-Obama vision — moderate, responsible, evidence-based, unifying. The list could go on. All ludicrously off-base, except in some alternate reality. (Like the Star Trek episode where Spock had a beard.)

Moreover, the real “alternate history” would have to include this:

The mainstream media and liberal pundits – who had been derided by conservative critics as out of touch or as actively engaged in a conspiracy to present a pleasing but false image of Obama – were vindicated. The liberal print media and broadcast news networks enjoyed newfound credibility. The conservative pundits were thoroughly discredited. The New York Times, basking in the glow of its reaffirmation as the “newspaper of record,” saw a dramatic improvement in its balance sheet. Meanwhile, Fox News closed its doors, the blogosphere shriveled, the conservative activists hid under their beds, and the center-left coalition cemented its gains in the 2010 midterm elections.

Yeah, no resemblance to reality. Whatsoever.

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CPAC: Past, Present, and Future

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

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A Key Endorsement

Hillary Clinton snags the endorsement of perhaps the most important Indiana paper, the Indianapolis Star. In an endorsement which is quite useful in spelling out the candidates’ fundamental differences (and mutual problems), two points stand out.

First, the editors write “Clinton offers a clear-eyed view of the way things are.” That is not a bad encapsulation of the difference between her and her opponent. She does believe that there are bad guys in the world impervious to our charms, that politics is a tough and conflict-ridden business, that $75,000 isn’t “rich” if you live in expensive places, and that sometimes it’s best not to be specific about intractable problems (e.g. social security) which in the end are going to get decided by hard bargaining at midnight in a conference room in the Capitol.

This may seem cynical or pedestrian to some, or lack high-mindedness or “vision.” But it is grounded in reality. Perhaps it’s the difference between a battle-worn political animal and a neophyte who is brash enough to say he can change an entire political culture. If Democrats want the former (or at least think their agenda will get further along with the former) then Clinton’s their candidate. If they are think a transformation is possible, then Obama’s their man. (Is it any wonder older voters who have been in the world for awhile like her, while idealistic college kids unscarred by the real world love him?)

Second, the Star praises her “nuance.” That got me thinking as to whether, despite all the rhetoric and fluff, she is actually the candidate more amenable to compromise and reasoned resolutions of sticky problems. Certainly, there’s not much nuance in suing OPEC or mandated health care. And Obama’s rhetorical nods to bipartisanship sound like he’s open to compromise. But there are glimmers now and then suggesting she at least understands that disparate factions and viewpoints must be addressed to deal with issues the public cares about. Her stance on immigration (let illegal aliens report crimes without retribution, imprison or deport those who are criminals, build a fence where needed and deal rationally with 12 million people here) is a case in point. She also knows better than to promise to “throw out all the lobbyists” and “get rid of special interests.”

So, without weighing in on the wisdom of their choice, I think the Star’s conclusion on this particular point is well taken: the nuanced one is not the guy spouting grand visions of a remodeled political system.

Hillary Clinton snags the endorsement of perhaps the most important Indiana paper, the Indianapolis Star. In an endorsement which is quite useful in spelling out the candidates’ fundamental differences (and mutual problems), two points stand out.

First, the editors write “Clinton offers a clear-eyed view of the way things are.” That is not a bad encapsulation of the difference between her and her opponent. She does believe that there are bad guys in the world impervious to our charms, that politics is a tough and conflict-ridden business, that $75,000 isn’t “rich” if you live in expensive places, and that sometimes it’s best not to be specific about intractable problems (e.g. social security) which in the end are going to get decided by hard bargaining at midnight in a conference room in the Capitol.

This may seem cynical or pedestrian to some, or lack high-mindedness or “vision.” But it is grounded in reality. Perhaps it’s the difference between a battle-worn political animal and a neophyte who is brash enough to say he can change an entire political culture. If Democrats want the former (or at least think their agenda will get further along with the former) then Clinton’s their candidate. If they are think a transformation is possible, then Obama’s their man. (Is it any wonder older voters who have been in the world for awhile like her, while idealistic college kids unscarred by the real world love him?)

Second, the Star praises her “nuance.” That got me thinking as to whether, despite all the rhetoric and fluff, she is actually the candidate more amenable to compromise and reasoned resolutions of sticky problems. Certainly, there’s not much nuance in suing OPEC or mandated health care. And Obama’s rhetorical nods to bipartisanship sound like he’s open to compromise. But there are glimmers now and then suggesting she at least understands that disparate factions and viewpoints must be addressed to deal with issues the public cares about. Her stance on immigration (let illegal aliens report crimes without retribution, imprison or deport those who are criminals, build a fence where needed and deal rationally with 12 million people here) is a case in point. She also knows better than to promise to “throw out all the lobbyists” and “get rid of special interests.”

So, without weighing in on the wisdom of their choice, I think the Star’s conclusion on this particular point is well taken: the nuanced one is not the guy spouting grand visions of a remodeled political system.

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“Stay Positive”

I first discovered William F. Buckley in my early teens. In an effort, I suppose, to become more serious and informed, I started regularly reading the Star Ledger—the closest thing to a real newspaper in New Jersey. On one occasion when I made my way through enough of the paper to reach the op-ed page in the back, I ran across a Buckley column, which I remember finding oddly intense and captivating. I was soon a regular reader—almost always with a dictionary in hand. It’s hard now to imagine what sense I could have made of Buckley then, but somehow he got me to think, and to laugh, and to read. And I was pleased to discover that this very strange and interesting voice found expression in more than brief columns but in books (so many books!) and on the pages of a magazine filled with other voices and views like his. He directed me to a world of ideas and good sense and good humor that I soon discovered was vast and deep. I was hooked, and have been an incurable conservative since.

I only met Buckley once, and only for a moment. I was in college, attending some sort of conservative conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. I was with three friends, and we walked up to Buckley and introduced ourselves as the only four conservatives at American University (which was only a slight exaggeration). Buckley laughed at our travails, so familiar they must have been to him, and he said just two words, through a chuckle: “stay positive.”

He always did, and that was always an important part of his power and appeal. Conservatives easily get dour and down, and the rest of humanity finds such grumpiness unattractive. Buckley offered a smiling, confident, and very appealing conservatism that was at the same time also deeply serious. His good cheer was not an act. It was the proper response to the truth that moves conservatives: that the world we have inherited is a good place, worth defending and cherishing. As Buckley always seemed to understand, that’s a good reason to smile.

Others who knew Buckley will have much deeper and more meaningful things to say about him. But like most of those deeply in his debt, I didn’t know the man personally, and can think of nothing more profound and true to say in this sad moment than two plain and simple words I would have loved to say to him in person: thank you.

I first discovered William F. Buckley in my early teens. In an effort, I suppose, to become more serious and informed, I started regularly reading the Star Ledger—the closest thing to a real newspaper in New Jersey. On one occasion when I made my way through enough of the paper to reach the op-ed page in the back, I ran across a Buckley column, which I remember finding oddly intense and captivating. I was soon a regular reader—almost always with a dictionary in hand. It’s hard now to imagine what sense I could have made of Buckley then, but somehow he got me to think, and to laugh, and to read. And I was pleased to discover that this very strange and interesting voice found expression in more than brief columns but in books (so many books!) and on the pages of a magazine filled with other voices and views like his. He directed me to a world of ideas and good sense and good humor that I soon discovered was vast and deep. I was hooked, and have been an incurable conservative since.

I only met Buckley once, and only for a moment. I was in college, attending some sort of conservative conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. I was with three friends, and we walked up to Buckley and introduced ourselves as the only four conservatives at American University (which was only a slight exaggeration). Buckley laughed at our travails, so familiar they must have been to him, and he said just two words, through a chuckle: “stay positive.”

He always did, and that was always an important part of his power and appeal. Conservatives easily get dour and down, and the rest of humanity finds such grumpiness unattractive. Buckley offered a smiling, confident, and very appealing conservatism that was at the same time also deeply serious. His good cheer was not an act. It was the proper response to the truth that moves conservatives: that the world we have inherited is a good place, worth defending and cherishing. As Buckley always seemed to understand, that’s a good reason to smile.

Others who knew Buckley will have much deeper and more meaningful things to say about him. But like most of those deeply in his debt, I didn’t know the man personally, and can think of nothing more profound and true to say in this sad moment than two plain and simple words I would have loved to say to him in person: thank you.

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Bookshelf

• Everyone agrees that newspapers aren’t what they used to be—but what did they use to be? Fewer and fewer of us can remember a time when independently owned big-city newspapers, with their dictatorial proprietors and clean-up-this-town crusades, were a major cultural force in American life. For the most part, our understanding of these papers and their priorities now derives not from first-hand experience but from “Citizen Kane,” The Fountainhead and the half-nostalgic, half-jaundiced writings of A.J. Liebling and H.L. Mencken. Thus it was with great interest that I read Harry Haskell’s Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds: Kansas City and Its Star (University of Missouri Press, 450 pp., $34.95), a refreshingly well-written history of the Kansas City Star, which in its day was one of the most influential papers in the Midwest. I knew the Star well in my youth, and even wrote for it in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but by then it bore little resemblance to the paper founded by William Rockhill Nelson in 1880, and Haskell (whose grandfather, Henry Haskell, spent a half-century working for the paper) has done a sterling job of recreating the Star as it used to be.

Today Nelson is remembered, if at all, as the founder of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the Midwest. In his lifetime, though, he ran the Star with an iron hand sans velvet glove. “I am publishing the Daily W.R. Nelson,” he said. “If people don’t like my paper they can buy another.” Nelson’s paper was known for clear, direct writing (Ernest Hemingway, who put in a brief stint there, claimed ever after to have been deeply influenced by its no-nonsense style) and a brand of politics that grew increasingly progressive over the years (the Star backed Theodore Roosevelt to the hilt). The Star played a key role in the transformation of Kansas City into a modern middle-class metropolis, and it was Nelson’s thinking that determined the paper’s editorial priorities until the day of his death in 1915, on which sad occasion it ran a two-page obituary that he had personally read and approved.

Like all such papers, the Star underwent great changes after its founder’s death, and by the 30’s it was a staunchly (if not rigidly) Republican paper whose editors looked upon the New Deal with dour skepticism but still retained a measure of their youthful idealism:

Believing personal liberty and private enterprise to be society’s greatest good, they viewed the rise of big government, interest-group politics, and self-governing nation-states with grave misgivings. Seeing an enlightened governing class as the surest bulwark against the “moronic underworld,” they nevertheless accepted the necessity for capitalist societies to reorganize themselves on a more equitable and sustainable basis, to forestall another disastrous slide into totalitarianism or complacency.

Harry Haskell writes about the early days of the Star in much the same way that Robert Caro writes about Lyndon Johnson, making no secret of his own liberal views:

The pages that follow tell the story of one great newspaper and of the compelling “power of purpose” it exerted during what might be called the long Progressive Era . . . Few, I suspect, would rush to turn back to turn back the clock to a time when it was said that “the Star is Kansas City and Kansas City is the Star.” But we may yet think again. If there is a more powerful engine for community building and civic renewal than a strong local newspaper, it has yet to be invented.

But like Caro’s Johnson biography, Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds can also be read in a somewhat different way than its author presumably intended. That papers like the Star were a force for good in turn-of-the-century America is certainly arguable. On the other hand, it was rare for a community as large as Kansas City to be dominated so totally by a single agenda-setting newspaper—the day of the one-newspaper town had not yet come—and one may take leave to doubt that Haskell would now look with equal favor on a paper whose proprietor had been more like Ronald Reagan than William Rockhill Nelson.

In any case, the emergence of the “ethereal Internet ‘communities’” of which he writes so skeptically in his preface was to a considerable extent stimulated by the increasing tendency of postwar newspaper editors and reporters to assume that their ideological points of view were unassailably right. Empowered by the disappearance of competing editorial voices, they succumbed to hubris and thereby lost their influence with much of the American reading public, in the process opening the way for the rise of Web-based journalism and the simultaneous decline of the traditional newspaper. That, too, is part of the ambiguous legacy of W.R. Nelson.

• Everyone agrees that newspapers aren’t what they used to be—but what did they use to be? Fewer and fewer of us can remember a time when independently owned big-city newspapers, with their dictatorial proprietors and clean-up-this-town crusades, were a major cultural force in American life. For the most part, our understanding of these papers and their priorities now derives not from first-hand experience but from “Citizen Kane,” The Fountainhead and the half-nostalgic, half-jaundiced writings of A.J. Liebling and H.L. Mencken. Thus it was with great interest that I read Harry Haskell’s Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds: Kansas City and Its Star (University of Missouri Press, 450 pp., $34.95), a refreshingly well-written history of the Kansas City Star, which in its day was one of the most influential papers in the Midwest. I knew the Star well in my youth, and even wrote for it in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but by then it bore little resemblance to the paper founded by William Rockhill Nelson in 1880, and Haskell (whose grandfather, Henry Haskell, spent a half-century working for the paper) has done a sterling job of recreating the Star as it used to be.

Today Nelson is remembered, if at all, as the founder of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the Midwest. In his lifetime, though, he ran the Star with an iron hand sans velvet glove. “I am publishing the Daily W.R. Nelson,” he said. “If people don’t like my paper they can buy another.” Nelson’s paper was known for clear, direct writing (Ernest Hemingway, who put in a brief stint there, claimed ever after to have been deeply influenced by its no-nonsense style) and a brand of politics that grew increasingly progressive over the years (the Star backed Theodore Roosevelt to the hilt). The Star played a key role in the transformation of Kansas City into a modern middle-class metropolis, and it was Nelson’s thinking that determined the paper’s editorial priorities until the day of his death in 1915, on which sad occasion it ran a two-page obituary that he had personally read and approved.

Like all such papers, the Star underwent great changes after its founder’s death, and by the 30’s it was a staunchly (if not rigidly) Republican paper whose editors looked upon the New Deal with dour skepticism but still retained a measure of their youthful idealism:

Believing personal liberty and private enterprise to be society’s greatest good, they viewed the rise of big government, interest-group politics, and self-governing nation-states with grave misgivings. Seeing an enlightened governing class as the surest bulwark against the “moronic underworld,” they nevertheless accepted the necessity for capitalist societies to reorganize themselves on a more equitable and sustainable basis, to forestall another disastrous slide into totalitarianism or complacency.

Harry Haskell writes about the early days of the Star in much the same way that Robert Caro writes about Lyndon Johnson, making no secret of his own liberal views:

The pages that follow tell the story of one great newspaper and of the compelling “power of purpose” it exerted during what might be called the long Progressive Era . . . Few, I suspect, would rush to turn back to turn back the clock to a time when it was said that “the Star is Kansas City and Kansas City is the Star.” But we may yet think again. If there is a more powerful engine for community building and civic renewal than a strong local newspaper, it has yet to be invented.

But like Caro’s Johnson biography, Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds can also be read in a somewhat different way than its author presumably intended. That papers like the Star were a force for good in turn-of-the-century America is certainly arguable. On the other hand, it was rare for a community as large as Kansas City to be dominated so totally by a single agenda-setting newspaper—the day of the one-newspaper town had not yet come—and one may take leave to doubt that Haskell would now look with equal favor on a paper whose proprietor had been more like Ronald Reagan than William Rockhill Nelson.

In any case, the emergence of the “ethereal Internet ‘communities’” of which he writes so skeptically in his preface was to a considerable extent stimulated by the increasing tendency of postwar newspaper editors and reporters to assume that their ideological points of view were unassailably right. Empowered by the disappearance of competing editorial voices, they succumbed to hubris and thereby lost their influence with much of the American reading public, in the process opening the way for the rise of Web-based journalism and the simultaneous decline of the traditional newspaper. That, too, is part of the ambiguous legacy of W.R. Nelson.

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The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.’” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.’” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

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College or Kindergarten?

Powerline points to yet another instance of a campus roiled by a spurious accusation of racism. Gabriel Keith, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a Marine with three terms of service in Iraq, was caught up in hysteria after an innocent gesture with his sweatshirt drawstring was taken as a threat to lynch blacks with a hangman’s noose.

The Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, who has brought the incident to public attention, wonders why “college culture has become the laughingstock of the larger community?” How did hypersensitivity to slights, real and (as in this case) imagined, become a behavioral norm? Kersten’s answer: “Victimhood is a tremendous source of moral power,” and those seeking such moral power­—in this case a student group called the Association of Black Collegiates—are all too ready to deploy the race card in order to accumulate it.

That explanation is surely on the mark, but one is still left trying to grasp where such behavior comes from. A partial answer can be found in another story making headlines: hypersensitivity, it appears, is being taught at an early age. In Eagle Point, Oregon, a six year old was suspended from school last week for drawing a picture in which one stick figure was depicted shooting another stick figure in the head. The boy’s father told the local newspaper that the drawing was inspired by an episode from the Simpsons. But never mind: in the eyes of school administrators the drawing was an implicit threat to other students.

One is still left wondering where such hypersensitivity comes from. But one thing is clear from these two episodes: American colleges are becoming mirror images of American kindergartens.

Powerline points to yet another instance of a campus roiled by a spurious accusation of racism. Gabriel Keith, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a Marine with three terms of service in Iraq, was caught up in hysteria after an innocent gesture with his sweatshirt drawstring was taken as a threat to lynch blacks with a hangman’s noose.

The Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, who has brought the incident to public attention, wonders why “college culture has become the laughingstock of the larger community?” How did hypersensitivity to slights, real and (as in this case) imagined, become a behavioral norm? Kersten’s answer: “Victimhood is a tremendous source of moral power,” and those seeking such moral power­—in this case a student group called the Association of Black Collegiates—are all too ready to deploy the race card in order to accumulate it.

That explanation is surely on the mark, but one is still left trying to grasp where such behavior comes from. A partial answer can be found in another story making headlines: hypersensitivity, it appears, is being taught at an early age. In Eagle Point, Oregon, a six year old was suspended from school last week for drawing a picture in which one stick figure was depicted shooting another stick figure in the head. The boy’s father told the local newspaper that the drawing was inspired by an episode from the Simpsons. But never mind: in the eyes of school administrators the drawing was an implicit threat to other students.

One is still left wondering where such hypersensitivity comes from. But one thing is clear from these two episodes: American colleges are becoming mirror images of American kindergartens.

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Obama Fumbles

Presidential campaigns have come to look like the Major League Baseball playoffs: drawn out, not really as competitive as the media would prefer, and loaded with filler material. Had Barack Obama simply viewed the mass-e-mailing of a photo allegedly depicting himself without his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance through this lens, perhaps this story would have joined other items in the filler graveyard.

But Obama chose to respond. “This is so irritating,” he told a crowd in Burlington, Iowa on Thursday. “My grandfather taught me how to say the Pledge of Allegiance when I was one or two.”

According to speech/language pathologist Dorothy Dougherty, the average infant starts babbling from the age of two to seven months, babbles with more sounds by nine months, articulates “real-sounding” words by twelve months, and should use 10-20 words regularly by eighteen months. Between the ages of two and three, children will answer questions with three-to-five word sentences, and have a vocabulary of 450 words.

Granted, like most individuals who seriously contend for the American presidency, young Obama was likely well ahead of the average infant. But his claim that he was taught how to pledge allegiance to his country while most babies are learning to say their own names is downright silly.

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Presidential campaigns have come to look like the Major League Baseball playoffs: drawn out, not really as competitive as the media would prefer, and loaded with filler material. Had Barack Obama simply viewed the mass-e-mailing of a photo allegedly depicting himself without his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance through this lens, perhaps this story would have joined other items in the filler graveyard.

But Obama chose to respond. “This is so irritating,” he told a crowd in Burlington, Iowa on Thursday. “My grandfather taught me how to say the Pledge of Allegiance when I was one or two.”

According to speech/language pathologist Dorothy Dougherty, the average infant starts babbling from the age of two to seven months, babbles with more sounds by nine months, articulates “real-sounding” words by twelve months, and should use 10-20 words regularly by eighteen months. Between the ages of two and three, children will answer questions with three-to-five word sentences, and have a vocabulary of 450 words.

Granted, like most individuals who seriously contend for the American presidency, young Obama was likely well ahead of the average infant. But his claim that he was taught how to pledge allegiance to his country while most babies are learning to say their own names is downright silly.

Yet perhaps more disturbing than what Obama claims to have known as a baby is what he—and those circulating the photo in question—clearly haven’t learned as adults: the difference between the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. A video available on CNN clearly shows that Obama’s missing hand-over-heart moment occurred during the chanting of the Star Spangled Banner. And unlike for the Pledge of Allegiance—which, as an oath, is practically always said with a hand over one’s heart—protocol during the National Anthem has always been more environment-dependent. As for the Pledge, the law states that civilians are to place their hands over their hearts and face the flag, but anyone who’s ever attended a baseball game knows that it’s most common simply to remove ones cap, stand respectfully and, if so moved, sing.

Of course, the whole issue of Barack Obama’s behavior has been generated by those who wish to insinuate that Obama is not a true patriot, with one commentator—on an Obama campaign-sponsored blog, no less—implying that “ . . .he is still a Muslim, intent on destroying America.” However, secular dissidents have shunned protocol by either turning away from the flag, or momentarily leaving during patriotic songs. Nor is this Obama’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf moment—the former basketball player, much unlike the non-Muslim Senator from Illinois, prayed during the National Anthem.

Obama could have made any of these obvious points in response to the circulated photo in question, if he was so bothered by it. Instead, he sought to rebut it with an embellished depiction of his youth—a campaign theme that is becoming grossly overplayed, to the extent that his official campaign bio contains more information about his upbringing than about his eight years in the Illinois State Senate. By constantly referring to his childhood—and, in this case, resorting to absurd claims about his infancy—Obama is exposing a weird political and tactical shallowness.

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The Star-Wars Fantasy

Back in June, the Democratic-controlled Congress was reported by Aviation Week to be planning to cut funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), an essential element in American efforts to develop a shield against missile attacks. I wrote at the time in Anti- Anti- Anti- Missile Defense that “if the U.S. or one of its allies falls victim to a nuclear-missile attack that we are unable to avert, it will be much too late for finger-pointing at the people responsible for delaying–or killing–our defensive capabilities. It is better to do the finger-pointing now.”

The good news now is that prudence has prevailed and the program continues fully funded.

The even better news is that on August 31 the Airborne Laser completed one of its most significant test to date. A Boeing-747 was rigged up with a low-power laser and used to detect, track, and then engage a target–in this case, another aircraft.

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Back in June, the Democratic-controlled Congress was reported by Aviation Week to be planning to cut funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), an essential element in American efforts to develop a shield against missile attacks. I wrote at the time in Anti- Anti- Anti- Missile Defense that “if the U.S. or one of its allies falls victim to a nuclear-missile attack that we are unable to avert, it will be much too late for finger-pointing at the people responsible for delaying–or killing–our defensive capabilities. It is better to do the finger-pointing now.”

The good news now is that prudence has prevailed and the program continues fully funded.

The even better news is that on August 31 the Airborne Laser completed one of its most significant test to date. A Boeing-747 was rigged up with a low-power laser and used to detect, track, and then engage a target–in this case, another aircraft.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency statement reports that this test included a number of history-making firsts, which include:

lasing an external airborne target using all three ABL lasers–the Tracking Illuminator Laser to track the airborne target; the Beacon Illuminator to compensate for atmospheric distortion, and the Surrogate High Energy Laser to engage the target, called “Big Crow,” a modified NC-135 aircraft loaded with test instrumentation and equipped with a missile-shaped profile painted on the side of the aircraft to provide an aimpoint for the three lasers. Cameras onboard Big Crow verified all laser beams hit their intended locations, and data analysis has verified ABL’s performance is adequate to enter the program’s next phase. This is the first time in history an airborne directed-energy platform has successfully engaged a non-cooperative airborne target at significant ranges.

Surprisingly–or should I say unsurprisingly–this major milestone was not reported by any newspaper in this country. Why not?

When Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983, it was widely ridiculed. The New York Times editorial page mocked it as “a pipe dream, a projection of fantasy into policy.” Having invested heavily in the proposition that SDI was nothing more than a “Star Wars” fantasy, is the Times, and the American media as a whole, reluctant now to take losses?

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Stalin’s Music Master

Press reports recently announced the death, at age 94, of Russian composer Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007). For four decades, Khrennikov headed the Union of Soviet Composers and advanced his own career, while terrorizing musicians like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. In 1949, Khrennikov scorned Prokofiev for creating works that “smell of the marazm (decay) of bourgeois culture” and failing to draw the “necessary conclusions from the decree of the Central Committee.” Khrennikov expected musicians to “reorganize” themselves and “rebuild their work” to suit Stalinist requirements; he also dismissed Shostakovich as “frantically gloomy and neurotic,” and persecuted recent modern masters, like Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, by denying them teaching jobs, performances, and travel permits.

Yet Khrennikov’s own music is still feted with annual festival concerts in Moscow. In 1995, the conductor Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), who recorded many of Khrennikov’s pieces (including his drab, plodding Violin Concerto), was asked by Le Monde de la Musique if he performed Khrennikov’s music “for artistic or political reasons.” Svetlanov candidly replied: “Both.” The star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b. 1962) included on his recent CD of Russian songs for Delos Khrennikov’s syrupy Moscow Windows.

Why should Russian performers and CD companies continue to perform and record Khrennikov so adamantly? One answer may lie in the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a big Khrennikov fan; Putin arranged for Khrennikov to receive UNESCO’s Mozart Medal “for contribution to world peace through music and the arts” (ha!) on his 90th birthday in 2003. This award was bestowed years after UNESCO supposedly had reformed, after long and harsh criticism for its service as a blatant platform for Communist propaganda.

Khrennikov outlived the composers he tormented, and even appeared in several documentary films—such as 1997’s Shostakovich Against Stalin and Khachaturian: A Musician and His Fatherland—trying to justify his own actions. In Shostakovich Against Stalin, Khrennikov claims that the fear under which Shostakovich lived in the USSR “has been terribly exaggerated. There was nothing for him to be afraid of.” To which another persecuted interviewee replies: “The wolf cannot speak about the fear of the sheep.” In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord divides the “sheep from the goats.” Posterity already knows to which category Khrennikov belongs.

Press reports recently announced the death, at age 94, of Russian composer Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007). For four decades, Khrennikov headed the Union of Soviet Composers and advanced his own career, while terrorizing musicians like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. In 1949, Khrennikov scorned Prokofiev for creating works that “smell of the marazm (decay) of bourgeois culture” and failing to draw the “necessary conclusions from the decree of the Central Committee.” Khrennikov expected musicians to “reorganize” themselves and “rebuild their work” to suit Stalinist requirements; he also dismissed Shostakovich as “frantically gloomy and neurotic,” and persecuted recent modern masters, like Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, by denying them teaching jobs, performances, and travel permits.

Yet Khrennikov’s own music is still feted with annual festival concerts in Moscow. In 1995, the conductor Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), who recorded many of Khrennikov’s pieces (including his drab, plodding Violin Concerto), was asked by Le Monde de la Musique if he performed Khrennikov’s music “for artistic or political reasons.” Svetlanov candidly replied: “Both.” The star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b. 1962) included on his recent CD of Russian songs for Delos Khrennikov’s syrupy Moscow Windows.

Why should Russian performers and CD companies continue to perform and record Khrennikov so adamantly? One answer may lie in the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a big Khrennikov fan; Putin arranged for Khrennikov to receive UNESCO’s Mozart Medal “for contribution to world peace through music and the arts” (ha!) on his 90th birthday in 2003. This award was bestowed years after UNESCO supposedly had reformed, after long and harsh criticism for its service as a blatant platform for Communist propaganda.

Khrennikov outlived the composers he tormented, and even appeared in several documentary films—such as 1997’s Shostakovich Against Stalin and Khachaturian: A Musician and His Fatherland—trying to justify his own actions. In Shostakovich Against Stalin, Khrennikov claims that the fear under which Shostakovich lived in the USSR “has been terribly exaggerated. There was nothing for him to be afraid of.” To which another persecuted interviewee replies: “The wolf cannot speak about the fear of the sheep.” In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord divides the “sheep from the goats.” Posterity already knows to which category Khrennikov belongs.

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism

The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

Recent years have furnished a great deal of material suited to his talents and expertise. Harrison brings to his subject the “habitual skepticism, bitterly close reading, and aggressive contentiousness” produced by “forty years in the amiable sharkpool of analytic philosophy.” His merciless deconstruction of the anti-Israel invective and smug clichés of the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC, and other bastions of anti-Jewish sentiment in England reminds one of the powerful literary scrutiny pioneered in this country by the New Critics.

Harrison’s method is to scrutinize the statements of Israel-haters for internal contradictions, inconsistencies, specious reasoning, misstatements of fact, and outright lies. To read the fulminations of such people as John Pilger, Robert Fisk, or Jacqueline Rose concerning Israel ordinarily requires the mental equivalent of hip-boots; Harrison, however, takes up a rhetorical scalpel and dissects their ravings with surgical precision.

He devotes all of the book’s second chapter, for example, to a single infamous issue of the New Statesman. The cover of January 14, 2002 showed a tiny Union Jack being pierced by the sharp apex of a large Star of David, made of gold. Below, in large black letters, was a question posed with characteristic English understatement: “A Kosher Conspiracy?” It would not have been out of place in Der Stürmer; and the articles that followed it had at first suggested to Harrison that he entitle his analysis of them “In the Footsteps of Dr. Goebbels.” (He decided, however, that this would be “inadequate to the gravity of the case.”)

Among the many canards that Harrison dismembers in the book: “Israel is a colonialist state”; “Israel is a Nazi state, and the Jews who support it are as guilty as Nazi collaborators were”; “Anybody who criticizes Israel is called an anti-Semite”; “Jews do not express grief except for political or financial ends.” Take, for example, the way in which he draws out the implications of the Israel-Nazi Germany equation, without which people like Noam Chomsky would be rendered almost speechless: “To attach the label ‘Nazi’ to Israel, or to couple the Star of David with the swastika is . . . not just to express opposition . . . to the policies of one or another Israeli government. It is to defame Israel by association with the most powerful symbol of evil, of that which must be utterly rejected and uprooted from the face of the earth.”

Harrison consistently criticizes contemporary liberals who have allowed their moral indignation on behalf of Palestinians to pass into something “very hard to distinguish from anti-Semitism of the most traditional kind.” Yet he just as consistently refrains from calling them anti-Semites. (He does, however, wonder whether, in their dreams, they call themselves anti-Semites.) Thus the editor of the New Statesman who approves a cover worthy of Julius Streicher is “an entirely honest, decent man,” and Dennis Sewell, author of the essay on the Anglo-Jewish “kosher conspiracy” belongs to the rank of “sincere humanitarians.”

Two factors play a role in Harrison’s mitigation of his criticisms. One is his assumption, oft-repeated, that liberals and leftists in the past were almost always opposed to anti-Semitism. But this is open to question. In France, for example, the only articulate friends of the Jews prior to the Dreyfus Affair were conservative writers who denounced anti-Jewish attitudes as “one of the favorite theses of the 18th century.” French leftist movements of the 19th century had been outspoken in their antipathy to Jews until the Dreyfus Affair forced them to decide whether they hated the Jews or the Catholic Church more. (They became Dreyfusards.) In England, Dr. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby and father of Matthew, called English Jews “lodgers” and wanted them barred from universities and citizenship. Gladstone referred to Disraeli as “that alien” who “was going to annex England to his native East & make it the appanage of an Asian empire.” Ernest Bevin, Labor foreign minister from 1945-51, was notoriously short of sympathy in the Jewish direction.

The other, more positive motive for Harrison’s use of such delicate epithets stems, perhaps, from his education in philosophy: he seems to believe genuinely in the ability of people to self-correct, to be swayed by reason. Let us hope that he is right. My own, darker view is that a thinker’s ideas are an expression of character. If Harrison believes that he can reason into decency people like his fellow philosopher Ted Honderich, who espouses “violence for equality” and effusively sings the praises of Palestinian suicide bombers, I wish him joy in his efforts. But deductions have little power of persuasion, and I have no great hopes for his success.

Despite my quibbles, Harrison’s book is one of the necessary and indispensable utterances on the subject of these new, liberal anti-Semites, the people who are busily making themselves into accessories before the fact of Ahmadinejad’s plan “to wipe Israel off the map.” The fact that this eloquent and elegantly argued book has until now been totally ignored by book review editors is itself testimony to the alarming dogmatism that Harrison has so vividly criticized.

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