Politics & Policy

The limits of arousal, &c.

Bill and Hillary Clinton in April 2013 (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

I know I should care intensely about the new Hillary scandals, and I do, in a way. But it’s hard for me to get aroused as before. (Pardon the word “aroused.” Should probably not be used in a Clinton context.) I lived through these scandals in the 1990s — and they were exciting and outrageous. They got the blood racing.

But I’ve seen this movie many times before, and it’s not so exciting or interesting to me anymore. I guess my attitude toward the voters is, “You want this? Suckers.”

But then the future of the country and world does matter . . .

‐I’ve been a fan of Benjamin Netanyahu for a long time — since the mid-1980s, when he was Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. He was on television quite a bit. What he said made a lot of sense to me. I believed he saw the world as it was (while maintaining ideals). So, I am rooting for him to win his election on Tuesday.

But I am relatively relaxed about it. There is almost no dovish element in Israeli politics anymore. Candidates may disagree on certain domestic issues — income-tax rates, for example — but, when it comes to national security, they’re all hawks. They know that Iran is an existential threat. They know that you can’t sit down and make nicey-nice with Hamas, Hezbollah, and probably even Fatah. The last couple of decades have not been good for naivety.

Netanyahu has already had three stints as prime minister, and no one has ever had four — not in Israel. I remember something that Jack Germond used to say, on The McLaughlin Group. It is very hard to stay on top forever — in democratic politics, that is.

If I remember correctly, he made this observation when Margaret Thatcher was pushed out (by her fellow Conservatives). This was after eleven and a half years at No. 10 Downing Street. He made the observation a few years later when Mario Cuomo failed to win a fourth term as governor of New York.

In a way, you’re not supposed to have longevity in democratic politics — certainly not longevity at the very top. (A Dingell in the House is another matter.) There is supposed to be rotation in office. The top men in states that are enemies of Israel — they ain’t runnin’ for reelection. Ali Khamenei gonna be “supreme leader” till he dead.

One reason that democratic leaders, such as the U.S. president, like to deal with Israel’s enemies rather than Israel is continuity: In a democracy, leaders come and go, but in states such as theocratic Iran, no.

‐Did you catch this headline? “US sees UN Security Council endorsing Iran nuke deal.” (Article here.) This much is sure: President Obama would rather deal with the United Nations than the U.S. Congress. The U.N. is a friendlier bunch for him at the moment than our Congress.

‐Jerry Brown is a hoot. According to the governor of California, “Republicans say, ‘Don’t deal with climate change, don’t deal with immigrants, don’t do the Affordable Care Act, don’t tax high-income people.’ California is doing all of that and we’re prospering.” (This quote is found in an Associated Press report, here.)

Whether California is prospering is debatable. But how about the claim that Republicans “don’t tax high-income people”? Is Jerry himself high?

‐This headline piqued my interest: “Victim’s widow supports efforts to bring back firing squads.” (Article here.) First, the woman’s name is VelDean Kirk — a touchingly American name. She

witnessed the 2010 firing squad execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner. He was convicted of killing a bartender and later shooting a lawyer to death and wounding Kirk’s husband during a courthouse escape attempt in 1985 in Salt Lake City.

Mrs. Kirk’s husband was a bailiff. About the death-by-firing-squad, she said this: “I didn’t think it was inhumane at all. They went in there, put him in the chair, dropped the hood over his head, and bang, that was it. I thought, ‘Geez, that’s an easy way to go.’”

Whatever we think about the death penalty — sounds right (re the method).

‐I never thought I’d say this about an Egyptian strongman, but I continue to be impressed by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Yesterday, he addressed an economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. Participants joined him in reciting his slogan “Long live Egypt!” But then participants started a chant of “Long live el-Sisi!” Quickly, he put a stop to it, saying, “Long live Egypt and no one else.”

(For a news article, go here.)

That is not the spirit of a dictator, and it is yet another glimmer of hope (or at least non-despair and -cynicism).

‐A teacher from rural Maine has won a $1 million prize in Dubai. (To read about it, go here.) Let me say simply this: A million bucks goes a long way in rural Maine. On the Upper East Side of Manhattan or the Belgravia district of London — not really. But in rural Maine, yessir.

‐A little language? I noticed a headline that read, “US judge rejects Nevadans’ bid to dispose of excess mustangs.” (Article here.) I raised an eyebrow at that phrase “dispose of.” Was it a euphemism for “kill”?

With every passing year, I despise euphemisms more. I’m not especially fond of the word “cull.” But you know what takes the cake? “Liquidate.” I was discussing this with a Russian-born friend not long ago. The Communists didn’t murder people, they “liquidated” them. Oh, come on.

‐This is a story out of left field. See what you make of it.

Jonas Tarm had won the kind of opportunity most young composers can only dream of: the New York Youth Symphony had commissioned a piece from him and planned to play it this Sunday at Carnegie Hall. But the youth symphony pulled his piece this week after learning that it includes a musical quotation from the “Horst Wessel” song, the Nazi anthem.

Mr. Tarm, a 21-year-old junior at the New England Conservatory of Music, said that his nine-minute piece, which is about conflict, totalitarianism and nationalism, also incorporated the anthem of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, with each one quoted for about 45 seconds. In a telephone interview he said that he was stunned by the symphony’s decision to pull the piece, which he described as an act of censorship.

There is more to the story, and you can read about it at your leisure, here. For now, I would like to offer a little memory.

Years ago, I covered a concert in Carnegie Hall featuring the Czech Philharmonic, led by Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Russian pianist and conductor. I can’t find my review on the Internet. I wish I could.

The program consisted of music written by Prokofiev and Shostakovich, glorifying the Soviet Communist Party. Some of this music, they were forced to write; some of it, they wrote of their own accord (if I remember correctly).

At one point in the evening, Ashkenazy made a gratifying gesture — not to the orchestra but to the audience. After one of the pieces, he made circles with his finger to the side of his head, signifying “Crazy.” I remember really appreciating that gesture.

Before I leave this topic, let me offer something related: this. It is a piece I wrote in 2009, called “Undies, Comrade?” Bizarre title, I know. But it makes sense once you read the piece: which is about the problem of Communist symbols (such as the hammer and sickle or “CCCP” on shirts, underwear, etc.). It is also about differing attitudes toward Communism and Nazism.

In America, at least, attitudes toward Communism are way more relaxed than they are about Nazism. My guess is, an Estonian American such as the young composer, Jonas Tarm, would consider the two systems about equal.

‐Speaking of music: For a review of András Schiff, the pianist, go here. He is now “Sir András Schiff,” as I note in the piece. “Frankly, I didn’t know he was British. He must be the most famous Hungarian ‘Sir’ in music since Solti.”

In an earlier review, I wrote, “Kirill Gerstein is a Russian-born pianist who has lived in America since his youth. He must be the most famous Kirill in music since Kondrashin (the late conductor).”

A couple of people said to me, “What about Petrenko?” D’oh! Kirill Petrenko, too, is a conductor, living. He is plenty well-known. I had forgotten about him.

Sorry, maestro!

‐Stay on the subject of Russians for a moment: Last week, I did a podcast interview with Garry Kasparov, here. He is the chess champion who is now championing Russian democracy and human rights. We have a conversation about important matters (not excluding chess, actually). At the end, I make a statement about his courage and value.

‐Finally, I was pleased and relieved to see this article: “Fight over Keystone XL project doesn’t stall pipeline boom.” Good. They can try to kill the goose, laying the golden eggs, but the goose is resisting the knife. Really good.



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