Monday, June 29, 2009

Alice Goldfarb Marquis, 79

(photo from The Newshour with Jim Lehrer/PBS)

Alice Goldfarb Marquis died while I was out of town and offline.

Alice had been a good friend to me over the years, ever since we met in the midst of the controversy over the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1990s. She literally wrote the book on that subject: Art Lessons:Learning From the Rise and Fall of Public Arts Funding. Since then, she allowed me to publish her writings, including a serialization of her novel Brushstrokes and an essay on Marcel Duchamp in The Idler, a Web Periodical, and reprint essays on this blog. She visited while I taught in Moscow, speaking to students of "culturology" and "museology" at the Russian State Humanitarian University and to a general audience at the American Center. I particularly remember her taking me around the Frick museum in New York and to the Duchamp exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, seeing her collection of French political cartoons at the University of California, San Diego library, and generally enjoying her conversation, encouragement, and inspirational example. She was interested in new cultural developments. For example, Alice spoke at a panel about then-new Weblogs at the National Press Club that I organized in 2002, paying her own way to participate in a discussion of the medium with bloggers and journalists. She once explained that she didn't need government support, noting "I gave myself a grant" to write books. Alice had an independent spirit, a real curiosity, and encouraged the same. She had the intellectual discipline to write a number of significant books about art and culture that explained the museum world in an in-depth biography of Museum of Modern Art founder Alfred Barr that was banned from the New York's museum bookshop; the art market in The Art Biz: The Covert World of Collectors, Dealers, Auction Houses, Museums, and Critics; government arts policy in Art Lessons, and the role of the critic Art Czar: The Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg--contributions to our understanding of the structural, historical and personal dynamics underlying the development of American culture. A list of her writings may be found at

Here's a link to her obituary in the San Diego Union Tribune. Disappointingly, I haven't seen anything in the NY Times yet, even though Alice had contributed op-ed columns to the paper, her books were covered in the book review section, and she wrote about the New York art I thought this autobiographical essay from might give a sense of her personality to readers. :
The question -- who makes taste in art -- has fascinated me since the 1970s and has resulted in most of my books. As a historian with – Yikes! -- thirty years' experience after a twenty-year career as a journalist, I like to delve into archives and papers, the rich, raw data beloved by historians, but I also love to interview people, coming face to face with the journalist's primary sources. The historian wants to find patterns and interpret events, while the journalist wants to tease out fresh information and vivid personalities. As a writer, the historian strives for accuracy, while the journalist yearns to hook the reader into an intriguing narrative. Pursuing these two closely related disciplines has been the great, central challenge of producing all my books.

I first became interested in the art-money nexus while researching my doctoral thesis, a biography of the artist Marcel Duchamp. A New York gallery was exhibiting some of Duchamp's "ready-mades," a snow-shovel, a urinal, a bicycle wheel, and other machine-made objects which the artist had simply selected and signed. These mundane items, immaculately polished, rested on elegant pedestals, even though they were not the originals but replicas crafted in Italy after Duchamp's death. And each one cost $25,000! Why?

The question reverberated in my head as I stood in the crystalline fall sunlight on Madison Avenue that November afternoon in 1976. It has lurked in the background of all the books that followed, which you can read about elsewhere on this web site.

A second question echoing through all these works concerns the extraordinary mingling of High Art and popular culture unique to the United States. How paradoxical it is that our fine arts emphasize European origins and connections, while our low arts captivate huge populations around the world. How ironic it is that the art forms native to this country -- particularly films, comics, and jazz -- spent so many years on the cultural margin, vilified as “kitsch,” not worthy of serious study.

Perhaps this dichotomy fascinates me because my own life began in Europe. I was born in Munich, Germany, and my family barely escaped the Nazis, arriving in New York two days before Christmas in 1938. As an eight-year-old, I was sent to a small class at P.S. 189 in upper Manhattan, where I learned enough English in a few months to enter the third grade. Eventually, I attended Hunter High School, an elite institution which I hated with all my being. Many mornings, I would ride the Fifth Avenue bus past 68th Street, where all the other Hunter students debarked, and continue on down to 42nd Street or to the Village.

Wandering through second-hand bookstores, sitting through classic films in fleabag theaters around Times Square, or sauntering through the Museum of Modern Art struck me as a far more profitable education than learning Latin declensions or dissecting The Mill on the Floss. Two years after graduation (which I did not attend), I was married and aboard a freighter for Europe. We stayed almost two years, as my husband worked at Stars and Stripes and I pursued free-lance writing. We returned to New York with $5 in our pockets and both found jobs at magazines.

Four years later, we achieved the journalist's dream -- a newspaper of our own. Our $5,000 in savings were sunk into a moribund weekly some fifteen miles down the coast from San Francisco and we were spending the early morning hours folding our first edition -- by hand. Its six pages should have been four, the subscriber list was a fiction drawn from the phone book, and the summertime fog somberly swirled as yet another creditor arrived to haul away the office furniture. But long rows of ticky-tack houses were rising in the hillsides around us; supermarkets and shopping centers appeared; and anxious trips to the local Bank of America branch yielded loans to upgrade equipment.

For a writer, the Pacifica Tribune offered an extraordinary opportunity. In five years, I covered earthquakes, murders, political meetings, sports, fires, accidents, shipwrecks, weddings, funerals, and parties. I also wrote advertising copy and letters to delinquent accounts. Between chasing the news there were photos to take, advertisers to charm, presses to run, papers to address, and bundles to haul to the post office.

When the newspaper was sold in 1959, we had a six-figure nest egg for another purchase. But first we traveled. For almost two years, we circled the globe, taking in the Orient, the Middle East, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. We spent eight weeks in India, flew above the Himalayas to Nepal, explored Afghanistan, drove for six weeks through the Soviet Union, and then headed north through Finland to Hammerfest, Norway, the northernmost town in Europe. Back in the United States, we combed the Pacific States for another newspaper venture.

In 1961, we landed in the San Diego area, buying three twice-weekly newspapers, the Star-News publications, near the Mexican border. Here, too, tract houses were marching over the chaparral hills to the horizon. Here, too, there was a staff to cover the news -- and to run the press. I wrote more specialized features, but continued to take photos, teetering on a flimsy folding chair for a better angle the night before my son, John, was born. Full-time newspaper work appeared less attractive with a baby on board, so it was time to get some schooling. I enrolled at San Diego State University, majoring in fine art and minoring in history.

In 1966, degree in hand, I began teaching journalism and photography at a local high school. The work was too consuming to accommodate time I wanted to spend with my pre-schooler. After two years of teaching, I returned to San Diego State and in 1970 acquired an M.A. in Art History. The newspapers needed a cultural page, which I began producing every week. Soon, the assortment of book and cultural reviews written under various pseudonyms (including my favorite -- Horace Romanoff) to give the impression of a large staff turned in a more investigative direction. Most memorable was a series exposing the shoddy career of C. Arnholt Smith, an entrepreneur once named "Mr. San Diego of the Century" by the San Diego Union. He eventually was jailed for defrauding investors and depositors in his bank. This series won me the national award as Suburban Journalist of the Year in 1972; a revised version, "The Smith Who Knew Nixon: 'Mr. San Diego' Is in Trouble," was published in The Nation on September 24, 1973.

By then, another great wave of California growth had washed over us and a big newspaper chain proffered a great pot of money to sell out. The partnership which had carried my husband and me to considerable financial success was, however, not a good marriage. In 1972, we were divorced and a hasty re-marriage to Raoul Marquis ended in 1976. During that time, I began working on my Ph. D. in Modern European History at UCSD. I completed that in 1978, fortunate to have as my mentor the distinguished American historian, H. Stuart Hughes.

Since I had already had a career as a journalist and did not desperately need a salary, I decided to pursue my heart's desire -- to eschew teaching and concentrate purely on research and writing. However, I did teach a series of well-attended courses at the UCSD Extension on Makers of Modern Culture, History of 20th Culture, and Hitler and the Nazis.

* * *

As a person saved from the Holocaust by lucky flukes, I have a touch of 'survivor's guilt" and find myself anxious to repay the world -- and especially this country -- for being spared from extinction. Writing the kinds of books I have written and will write -- seems to be the best therapy for confronting these feelings. So far, the results of dealing with this relatively benign obsession are displayed elsewhere on this web site.

* * *

When not chained to the computer, I enjoy following media, films, popular culture, music, theater, and books. For fun, I make three-dimensional glass sculptures, sew unusual garments, invent recipes, and cultivate a garden. I am also a sports devotee: I try to do daily aerobics, love to go boogie-boarding in the Pacific Ocean, and long walks on Madison Avenue.

Travel is another passion. Here are some of the places where I have lived or visited: Munich, Germany, (birth) 1930-38; Paris and Darmstadt, Germany, 1949-51. Visited almost every state in the U. S. Traveled in every country in Western and Eastern Europe except Andorra and Liechtenstein; paid at least one visit to every country in the Western Hemisphere except Central America, Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina; at least one visit to every country in Asia except Indonesia, Laos, and Outer Mongolia; at least one visit to every country in the Middle East, except Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, and the Gulf States; several trips to Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt, and South Africa; spent a month traveling through China on my own in September 1985. Siberia resides in my fantasies ...

UPDATE: H-Net published this obituary on July 18, 2009.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On Deadline...

...for turning in my manuscript, so won't be blogging much until it's finished. Please stand by...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shooting at DC's Holocaust Museum

Heard about this story on WTOP radio in the car a few minutes ago, apparently happened just before 1 pm today...3 reported hurt: 2 shot, gunman and security guard; one bystander wounded by flying glass debris...No details on the gunman yet....streets and National Mall closed nearby.

UPDATE: Washington Post story at this link says:
A law enforcement source identified the gunman as James W. von Brunn, who is known to authorities as a white supremacist.

Sgt. David Schlosser, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said the security guard and the gunman were the only two persons who were hit by gunshots. Initial reports said at least one other person sustained gunshot wounds.

He said the museum has been "completely secured and evacuated."

2nd UPDATE: Daily Kos has posted an interesting analysis from ThereIsNoSpoon:

Many on the Right have criticized the seemingly incongruous reaction of the media and the Left in general to the Islamist terrorist Arkansas recruiter killings vis-a-vis the Righist terrorist murder of Dr. George Tiller. The disparity of the reaction cannot be denied. It can be easily explained: abortion is an incredibly hot-button issue in America, and terrorist act of killing Dr. Tiller had more profound implications than the terrorist killings in Arkansas: after all, the recruiting station remains open for business, but the closure of Dr. Tiller's clinic is discouraging proof that sometimes, terrorism does work in achieving its ends.

But I will not shy away from either terrorist act. These acts are peas in a pod. They are not separate faces of terrorism, but two sides of the same terrorist coin.

Both Rightist and Islamist terrorist acts are equally evil, and equally newsworthy. Both are the desperate actions actions of individuals who feel falsely oppressed and powerless in a society that is leaving them and their bigoted, violent ideologies in the dust. But are ideologies of victimhood, predicated on the notion that only through violent martyrdom can the world's wrongs be rectified, and the cleansing apocalypse be brought to pass in the service of iron-fisted theocratic rule. Anyone who has read Neiwert's Eliminationists cannot help but be struck by the similarities between the teachings of the far Right, and the equally violent, chiliastic teachings of violent Islamist jihad. Both sides blame liberal "moral decay" and inclusive, multicultural respect for persons regardless of race, religion, gender for their plight. Rightist author Jonah Goldberg completes the circle: his book Liberal Fascism actually blames liberals for 9/11, under the premise that if we were not so friendly to women's right and LGBT equality, that the Islamists would not feel so violently upset with America.

Indeed, the similarities between Rightism and Islamism are striking. Like feuding members of an inter-denominational war, they appear on their surface to reserve their greatest anger for one another. But their real war is against progressive secular society, for which each side retains an enduring, searing shared hatred.

Both are deeply misogynist and anti-abortion, seeing women as objects to be controlled rather than equal citizens in society.

Both are deeply homophobic, killing gays when given the opportunity.

Both are deeply anti-Semitic over the longest course of their history. The temporary alliance of Rightists in the United States with neoconservative, pro-Israel lobbies in the shared interest of anti-Muslim warfare does not negate the long history of virulent anti-Semitism on the Right--an anti-semitism on full display in this morning's shooting.

Both are deeply theocratic, with the abiding belief that true moral order may only be imposed on society through religion allied with governmental power.

Both are deeply authoritarian, convinced of the necessity to levy increasingly harsh penalties for increasingly minor crimes in the name of "law and order."

Both are deeply violent, with a long history of terrorist acts.

Both are deeply opposed to gun control of any kind, feeling that the safest societies are those in which children walk the streets armed to the teeth.

Both advocate deeply aggressive and eliminationist foreign policy.

Both thrive on stoking a perception of continual victimhood by nefarious forces, in a desperate attempt to explain the failures of their own ideologies domestically, and to direct the anger of their most alienated citizens outward to engage in acts of terror.

Both societies, when allowed to rule as they wish, produce massive income inequalities and economic injustice.

The similarities are endless.

The fact is that most of the Western civilized world is slowly but surely leaving behind and moving beyond institutionalized cultures of misogyny, homophobia, theocracy, institutional violence, anti-Semitism, and eliminationism. The arc of history is long, but it does bend toward justice.

Both Rightists and Islamists feel left out of this world, and respond in similarly violent ways, against similarly innocent groups of people. They are mirror images of other, dedicated to the same ultimate anti-progressive goals. They only significantly differ in the names of the holy texts they misappropriate in the service of their aims.

And it is time we viewed them and the terrorist acts they spawn not as separate, distinct evils, but as mere facets of the same anti-progressive, anti-modern movement the world over.

American Trains--Faster in 1920s than Today...

Someone I know sent me Tom Vanderbilt's article in Slate about the decline in American train travel:
There is at least one technology in America, however, that is worse now than it was in the early 20th century: the train.

I have recently been poring over a number of prewar train timetables—not surprisingly, available on eBay. They are fascinating, filled with evocations of that fabled "golden era" of train travel. "You travel with friends on The Milwaukee Road," reads an ad in one, showing an avuncular conductor genially conversing with a jaunty, smartly dressed couple, the man on the verge of lighting a pipe. The brochure for the Montreal Limited, from an era when "de luxe" was still two words, assures travelers that "modern air-conditioning scientifically controls temperature, humidity and purity of air at all seasons."

But the most striking aspect of these antiquated documents is found in the tiny agate columns of arrivals and destinations. It is here that one sees the wheels of progress actually running backward. The aforementioned Montreal Limited, for example, circa 1942, would pull out of New York's Grand Central Station at 11:15 p.m., arriving at Montreal's (now defunct) Windsor Station at 8:25 a.m., a little more than nine hours later. To make that journey today, from New York's Penn Station on the Adirondack, requires a nearly 12-hour ride. The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis via the Olympian Hiawatha in the 1950s took about four and a half hours; today, via Amtrak's Empire Builder, the journey is more than eight hours. Going from Brattleboro, Vt., to New York City on the Boston and Maine Railroad's Washingtonian took less than five hours in 1938; today, Amtrak's Vermonter (the only option) takes six hours—if it's on time, which it isn't, nearly 75 percent of the time.

"I don't want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai," President Obama said recently, announcing an $8 billion program for high-speed rail. "I want to see it built right here in the United States of America." There is something undeniably invigorating about envisioning an American version of Spain's AVE, which whisks passengers from Madrid to Barcelona (roughly the distance from Boston to Washington) in two and a half hours at 220 mph and has been thieving market share from the country's airlines.

But Obama's bold vision obscures a simple fact: 220 mph would be phenomenal, but we would also do well to simply get trains back up to the speeds they traveled at during the Harding administration. Consider, for example, the Burlington Zephyr, described by the Saturday Evening Post as "a prodigious, silvery, three-jointed worm, with one stalk eye, a hoofish nose, no visible means of locomotion, seeming either to be speeding on its belly or to be propelled by its own roar," which barreled from Chicago to Denver in 1934 in a little more than 13 hours. (It would take more than 18 today.) An article later that year, by which time the Zephyr had put on the "harness of a regular railroad schedule," quoted a conductor complaining the train was "loafing" along at only 85 mph. But it was not uncommon for the Zephyr or other trains to hit speeds of more than 100 mph in the 1930s. Today's "high-speed" Acela service on Amtrak has an average speed of 87 mph and a rarely hit peak speed of 150 mph. (The engine itself could top 200 mph.)

What happened? I put the question to James McCommons, author of the forthcoming book Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service. As with most historical declines, there is no single culprit but rather a complex set of conditions. One reason is rail capacity. From the Civil War to World War I, the number of rail miles exploded from 35,000 to 216,000, hitting a zenith of 260,000 in 1930 and falling by 2000 to less than 100,000—the same level as in 1881. Capacity dropped because demand dropped—people moved to cars, and freight moved to trucks. Despite a World War II train boom fueled by troop movements and fuel rationing, trains have been on the decline since the late 1920s; as a 1971 New York Times article on the debut of Amtrak noted, "railroads asserted that, as an industry, they did not make a profit on passengers after [the] 1930s. They blamed buses, planes and autos and expensive union contracts that increased wage costs after 1919."

Less rail capacity (and rail quality) has coincided with a dramatic rise in freight traffic in recent years, owing in part to a buoyant economy and in part to trains' improving (and now superior) fuel efficiency to trucks—particularly as diesel fuel prices have risen. Despite recent infrastructure spending, bottlenecks are routine, as passenger trains typically yield to passing freight trains. (The recent economic downturn has cut freight traffic, leading to some chatter on rail Web sites about improved Amtrak performance times; one commenter noted, "#422 was running early the whole way ... so much so we sometimes had to sit and 'kill time' shy of reaching stations [so] as not to block main roads through towns.") Sharing rails with freight has a negative effect on passenger speeds for another reason: The rail systems are designed for slower freight trains. Except for the high-speed Acela in the Northeast (and a lone stretch in Michigan), Amtrak is limited to a top speed of 79 mph because to go above that would require all kinds of upgrades to signals, gates, crossings, and ties, among other things. (This Amtrak investigation of a 13-hour delay earlier this year catalogs the typical problems.) What's more, trains themselves can't run faster than 79 mph without "Positive Train Control," a sensor-based safety system that will be mandatory on all trains by 2015.

Hovering over all of these causal factors is a widespread societal shift that occurred, one that saw the streamliners of the 1930s eclipsed by the glamour of the jet age, as well as the postwar automobile boom and the building of the Interstate Highway System. Passenger trains lost their priority to freight, and there simply wasn't the same cultural imperative for speed and luxury on the trains (a condition rather unintentionally satirized in the schlock 1979 TV series Supertrain—the conveyance in question was atom-powered—whose magnate decried "the pitiful state of rail passenger travel in this country today"). Where the Twentieth Century Limited had once touted its trains as having a "barber, fresh and salt water baths, valet, ladies' maid, manicurist, stock and market reports, telephone at terminal [and] stenographer," Amtrak is now scrambling to simply equip itself with Wi-Fi—a technology already available on the bare-bones Bolt bus.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Winner of Britain's Election Is...

The UK Independence Party.

Never heard of them?

They're anti-EU.



Winston Churchill is their mascot.

Just elected 13 British Members of the European Parliament with at "just say No" campaign...

Website here:

Simulated Driving Better Than Videogame

IMHO, at any rate, because you get a practical takeaway in driving improvement, in addition to a sort of "Death Race 2000" virtual reality experience...

Here's a link to James Mennie's story about my college classmate Dr. Pierro Hirsch's new and improved high-tech computer-simulation for driver's education--based on flight simulators--from the Montreal Gazette.:
The VS500M car simulator is $75,000 worth of hardware that will take you where you want to go without your ever having to leave the room.

A trio of screens provide the driver with a 180-degree view on any number of driving horizons - urban, rural, snow filled or drizzling. A pair of smaller screens duplicate the blind spots that none of the drivers hurtling past on the highway outside seem to check, and the seat, dashboard and steering column tell you that somewhere out there there's a Pontiac Sunfire that's missing some parts.

"Pull onto the side of the highway," Hirsch suggests, as the screen lights up to display a tree-lined stretch of autoroute. "You'll feel the gravel under your tires."

Actually, you feel in it the steering wheel and in the simulator platform, the force feedback part of the ride.

But even if it feels like the real thing, how much of a favour are you doing a driving student by closeting him or her in a controlled environment when, sooner or later, they'll have to steer a course, so to speak, through the real world?

"The reality of this simulator is sufficient for teaching," Hirsch says. "What a difference - I can focus, I'm not looking at the road, I'm looking at (the student's) behaviour and I'm correcting minute behaviour that I would have missed in a car because I couldn't possibly be paying attention to every movement of their hand or their foot."

Virage president Rémi Quimper designed flight simulators for CAE before starting Virage four years ago (the prototype for the VS500M was put together in the basement of his home).

He says that five years ago, he and some fellow engineers at CAE began looking into whether road-level simulations could be produced cost effectively and serve the needs of driving schools.

"By the 1990s, flight simulators, which had been developed at first for their cost effectiveness, were being used because of their effectiveness as teaching tools. ... You could reproduce situations with a flight simulator that you couldn't on an actual aircraft," he said, "And I thought that the same thing would happen in (the driving education) industry, that a better tool was needed to support that learning experience."

Virage has seen its simulators used by research centres examining the effects of sleep deprivation and distraction on driving reflexes, and by rehab centres preparing victims of head injuries for their return to the road (a version of the simulator modified for train truck drivers is also up and running).

There's also a deal in the works to offer specialized training on the simulators to drivers of such emergency vehicles as squad cars and ambulances.

Van Cliburn Winners Announced

The winners have been announced in the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. It's a tie for the gold medal, my favorite pianist made it all the way to share first prize...
JUNE 7, 2009, FORT WORTH, TEXAS--Tonight, the Van Cliburn Foundation announced the winners of the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The announcement, made by Van Cliburn during the Awards Ceremony at the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, was the culmination of seventeen exciting days of extraordinary music making.

The 2009 Cliburn winners are:

Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medalists (tie for first):
Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20 (Japan)
Mr. Haochen Zhang, 19 (China)

The First Prize includes the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal; a cash award of $20,000; international and national concert tours for the three seasons following the competition, coordinated by the Van Cliburn Foundation in conjunction with IMG Artists Europe; a CD recording on the harmonia mundi usa label; performance attire provided by Neiman Marcus; and a contribution toward domestic and international air travel on American Airlines during the three-year tour.

Mr. Tsujii and Mr. Zhang were the two youngest pianists in the 2009 Competition.

The last time that the Cliburn Competition awarded a tie for the gold medal was in 2001, to Stanislav Ioudenitch and Olga Kern.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Final Round for Van Cliburn Piano Competition

Today's the last day of the 2009 Cliburn Piano Competition, and you can watch it online here:

Here's the press release:
Nobuyuki Tsujii [NOTE: my favorite] takes the stage first on the last day of the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He opens with Beethoven's challenging "Appassionata" Sonata in F minor, Op. 57.

Following that, the youngest player in this competition, Haochen Zhang, who turned nineteen on Wednesday, plays Prokofiev's 2nd Piano Concerto.

The final performer of Cliburn 2009, Di Wu will perform Rachmaninoff's beloved Piano Concerto No. 3.

All six finalists are vying for the gold medal, which guarantees three years of concert bookings around the world. Over 300 U.S. engagements will be shared by the 2009 winners, collectively valued at more than $1,000,000 in performance fees. The six will be professionally managed for the next three years by the Van Cliburn Foundation.

The U.S. recital debut of the 2009 Cliburn gold medalist will be July 23 at the Aspen Music Festival.

The judges will retreat to Bass Performance Hall's Green Room following Ms. Wu's performance to deliberate on the final outcome. You can compare your opinion with the jury's by voting online at

The Cliburn 2009 winners will be announced at 5:00 p.m. (CDT) during the Awards Ceremony.

You can follow the performances live at and also view archived performances, interviews, and much more.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Who Wrote Obama's Cairo Speech?

According to today's Wall Street Journal, it was 31-year old Benjamin Rhodes.
The speech was drafted by Ben Rhodes, a 31-year-old White House speechwriter who has specialized in foreign affairs, and reflected consultations with several outside experts on Islam and the region. Aides say Mr. Obama rewrote sections of the address. In its rhetorical style and breadth, the speech was reminiscent of Mr. Obama's address on race during the presidential campaign last year.
(Blogger Archbishop Cranmer posts a link to Rhodes pre-speech briefing for the press in Saudi Arabia, here) And who is Ben Rhodes? The Oracle of Google tells us he used to work for Congressman Lee Hamilton on the 9/11 Commission:
About Benjamin Rhodes

Ben Rhodes has been the Special Assistant to President Lee H. Hamilton at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars since June 2002, and is also a freelance speechwriter based in Washington, D.C. He worked closely with President Hamilton through his tenure as Vice-Chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission), focusing particularly on policy recommendations and process matters. He is the author, with Hamilton and Thomas H. Kean, of Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, forthcoming from Knopf in August 2006. Previously, he taught and worked in local politics in New York City.
Here's a link to Carol Lee's May 19 profile on
Rhodes fits in well with the Obama team. On the flight home from Europe, Obama led his staff in giving him a round of applause. And when The Economist published the speech Obama delivered in Prague, the president told his personal assistant to make sure Rhodes got an autographed copy of the magazine.

“He really understands the president’s voice,” said Axelrod. “They’ve got a great mind-meld on these issues.”

Part of the reason for that is in a framed photograph Rhodes keeps in his office: There’s Rhodes, McDonough, Obama and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, one of the Democratic Party’s top foreign policy figures, in August 2007.

Rhodes had just earned a master’s degree in fiction writing from New York University when he was offered a job as a writer for Hamilton in 2002. A Manhattan native, Rhodes went on to write the Iraq Study Group Report and help draft policy recommendations for the 9/11 Commission, which Hamilton co-chaired.

Rhodes keeps in regular contact with Hamilton, who said Obama has thanked him “for making Ben available.”

Rhodes said Hamilton still reviews Obama’s major foreign policy addresses.

“We run most of the big foreign policy speeches by him,” he said. “Just kind of like, ‘What do you think of this?’”
Here's a link to what Rhodes himself had to say about 9/11 in a 2007 article found on the Project for a Secure America website:
9/11 has brought with it some new terminology, most notably “war on terror” which has taken a tendency to make war on nouns (prominently, “poverty” and “drugs”), and shifted it to making war on a tactic. Now we have “Islamofascist” - too young to have a dictionary definition, but prominent enough to merit mention by the President (and a wikipedia definition).

Islamofascism represents a bunch of things, including linking the fight against terrorism to the fight against Hitler. The Hitler thing is a little strange, but pretty clearly represents a desire to recall the victory of WWII and to cast those who disagree with tactics in the war on terror as appeasers. Beyond their both being violent and hating Jews, I’m at a bit of a loss on equating a stateless terrorist network to the Third Reich, particularly since there cannot be any clear “victory” - any occupation of Berlin or Japanese surrender - against people who have no capitol or sign no surrender agreements. But that’s a topic for another day…

The more dangerous part, I think, is conflating groups with different aims. What do the Iranian government, Hizbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, and Islanmist movements from Indonesia to Kashmir to Chechnya to London have in common? A lot less than we’re making them out to have in common if we slap a big old “Islamofascist” label on them. They may all be bad, but you don’t approach a nationalist or separatist movement in the same way that you approach an apocalyptic jihadist movement (and certainly not a government). And the argument doesn’t even hold that they are all adherents to the same ideology of radical Islam - one need only look at Iraq to know that Iran’s ayatollahs don’t march in lockstep with Sunni terrorists.

Much more could be said about this, but the bottom line is conflation hasn’t served us that well. Whether it was “al Qaeda and Iraq” or the “axis of evil” - what made for simplifying, rousing, and self-congratulatory rhetoric has translated awkwardly into policy. And this is not just a habit of this Administration or this conflict. You could go back a little farther and find that conflating a Vietnamese nationalist movement with Soviet imperialism was a stretch as well.
Hey, Ben...when I lived in Moscow in 2004-2005, they showed programs on TV about the Soviet role in Vietnam. They still do, including a Russia Today interview with the Soviet army veteran who said he shot down John McCain from December, 2008:
A retired Red Army Lieutenant who fought in Vietnam has confessed to shooting down the plane of defeated presidential candidate, John McCain. Colonel Yuriy Trushechkin told Russia’s Moskovsky Komsomolets he had no regrets about downing the future Senator’s aircraft back in 1967.

Journalists from Russia’s most popular tabloid paper found the veteran in a St Petersburg hospital.

Trushechkin said he still hated John McCain and wasn’t at all sorry for what he had done all those years ago. He added he was very happy that McCain didn’t make to the White House.

“He always hated the Russians. He knew that it was our rocket that downed his plane,” Trushechkin said.

The veteran makes no secret of Soviet involvement in the Vietnam War. He was 28 years old when he came to the Asian country to fight against the U.S. together with local soldiers. He served as an officer in missile guidance for the communist North Vietnamese.
Here's a link to New York City's Collegiate School (class of '96) alumni profile that tells us Rhodes is a graduate of Rice University as well as NYU's fiction writing program...and this item from the Huffington Post makes one wonder...:
As it turns out Fox News and the Obama campaign are bound by blood. David Rhodes, Fox News' senior VP of newsgathering, is the older brother of Ben Rhodes, one of the speechwriters responsible for Obama's orotund oratory.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Cong. Jim Leach to Head National Endowment for the Humanities

Real Clear Arts: Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture has the scoop (ht ArtsJournal):
As I predicted here on May 14, President Obama has nominated former Republican Congressman Jim Leach, of Iowa, as the new chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The announcement was just made by the White House.

It didn't say much more than that. Just a brief quote from the President:

I am confident that with Jim as its head, the National Endowment for the Humanities will continue on its vital mission of supporting the humanities and giving the American public access to the rich resources of our culture. Jim is a valued and dedicated public servant and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.

Leach strayed from orthodoxy and endorsed Obama last summer. Since leaving Congress in 2007, he's taught at Princeton University and has been the interim director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He's basically viewed in Washington as a good guy, and -- as I said a few weeks ago -- the only drawback with the choice is that Leach had his eye on bigger jobs, such as ambassador to China or a financial job...
Jacqueline Trescott's Washington Post story here.
Daily Princetonian story here.

Arkansas Army Recruiting Murder Generates Controversy

IMHO, Gary Bauer's call for President Obama to denounce the murder of US Army recruiter William Long in Little Rock, Arkansas might have "curb appeal" with the general public:
WASHINGTON, June 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer on Wednesday called on President Barack Obama to be as diligent in protecting and defending the American military as he is in reaching out to Arab nations. Bauer's statement came on the heels of the murder of Army recruiter William Long who was killed this week by a Muslim convert who said he was targeting military locations among other sites, according to media reports.

The president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families made the following statement:

"Private William Long was murdered in cold blood this week. The 24-year old Army recruiter was mowed down outside the Army recruiting station where he worked by Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Muslim convert formerly known as Carlos Bledsoe. Muhammad wounded another soldier, Private Quinton Ezeagwula. The jihadist had recently returned from Yemen, where he studied under an Islamic scholar who apparently forgot to tell him that his new faith was a 'religion of peace.' Muhammad had been under investigation by the U.S. Federal Task Force on Terrorism. How did he get his weapons and commit these crimes when he was under investigation?

"The sound you heard after this terrorist attack was silence. President Obama, who immediately condemned the murder of abortionist George Tiller on Sunday, still has not - more than 24 hours later - said one public word about the cowardly attack on these soldiers. The U.S. Justice Department, which sent federal marshals yesterday to guard abortion centers, has sent no one to guard our military recruitment offices, even though more than 100 of those offices have been attacked in recent years.

"Big Media, which is doing its best to link the killing of George Tiller to the mainstream pro-life movement, is going out of its way to assert that there is no evidence that Abdulhakim Muhammad had any connection to Muslim groups. The few exceptions where there is coverage only prove the rule. For the mainstream media, this is a non-story.

"The American media are failing to fulfill their responsibility to bring all the facts to the American people, even facts that don't fit the media's worldview. As for the president, he is the commander-in-chief. He is responsible for the wellbeing of our men and women in uniform. His silence in the face of this brutal attack is shameful. I call upon the president to apply as much energy in engaging the world in defense of America and our military men and women as he spends in apologizing for America and in reaching out to those who hate America and wish our destruction. And I also ask that the president give the same protection to our soldiers in recruiting centers as he is now giving to abortion centers."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Van Cliburn Competition Now in Final Round

You can watch it here:
The six finalists are (in alphabetical order):

Mr. Evgeni Bozhanov, 25 (Bulgaria)
Ms. Yeol Eum Son, 23 (South Korea)
Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20 (Japan)
Ms. Mariangela Vacatello, 27 (Italy)
Ms. Di Wu, 24 (China)
Mr. Haochen Zhang, 19 (China)

Each pianist will perform two concerti of his/her choice with the acclaimed Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of renowned American conductor James Conlon. Each finalist will also perform a fifty-minute solo recital of works not performed in previous rounds.

The Final Round will be held Wednesday, June 3 through Sunday, June 7, and every concert will feature three artists. There will be one concert on June 3, 4, and 5 beginning at 7:30 p.m., and two concerts on June 6, beginning at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. On June 7, the final day of the competition, the concert will begin at 1:30 p.m. The Awards Ceremony will follow at 5:00 p.m.

Robert Spencer on Obama's Cairo Speech

In The American Thinker, he suggests this text:
I have offered you America's outstretched hand. In doing so I have followed a path blazed by my predecessors. But that gesture of conciliation has never been reciprocated. And so now, even as my good will is still extended to you, I must act more realistically.

Pakistan and other Muslim countries will not receive another penny of American aid unless and until they demonstrate - in a transparent and inspectable fashion - that they are working against, not abetting, the forces of the global jihad. This will include instituting comprehensive nationwide programs to teach against the jihad doctrine of Islamic supremacism, teaching that Muslims and non-Muslims must live together as equal citizens on an indefinite basis, without any attempts by Muslims to subjugate non-Muslims as inferiors under the rule of Islamic law.

I trust you will understand that we cannot continue to fund the cutting of our own throat.

Afghanistan and Iraq must immediately guarantee the equality of rights of women and non-Muslims, or American arms will no longer devote themselves to keeping regimes in power that do not guarantee those rights.

I will call upon Israel to make no further territorial concessions. The withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 demonstrated only that such concessions whet, rather than sate, the appetites of Islamic jihadists for more concessions. The assumption that territorial concessions will bring peace ignores not only recent history, but also the stated goal of the jihadist movements arrayed against Israel: the destruction of the Jewish state.

That state is an American ally - a more reliable one than any Islamic state has ever been. And we will do whatever is necessary to preserve and defend that ally.

Our hand is outstretched, but we are not unrealistic about the nature of the world. The animus between us is as much, if not more, the result of the doctrines of jihad and Islamic supremacism as it is a result of American policy. I am telling you today that we understand this, and will be acting accordingly. Ultimately a policy based on realism will be much better for both of us than policies based on the fantasies and half-truths that have hitherto prevailed..

Monday, June 01, 2009

Steven A. Cook: US Democracy Aid to Egypt Makes Things Worse

From Newsweek International (ht MESHnet):
Given the intransigence of Mubarak's regime, the United States would receive the best return on its investment if it shifted its Egypt aid back to technical areas like agriculture, pre- and postnatal health and disease prevention—a particularly pressing need in a country with the highest incidence of hepatitis C in the world. Polls have shown that Egyptians hate being lectured to by outsiders, and there is no better way to win hearts and minds than to help ensure the health of babies born in the desperately poor neighborhoods of Cairo. As surveys and focus groups consistently demonstrate, if people in the Arab world want anything from America, it's the kind of technical assistance that makes a tangi-ble difference in their daily lives. And a healthier, wealthier and better-educated Egyptian population is more likely to start demanding personal and political freedoms—the kind of demands that may, someday, actually lead Egypt to democratize and sustain it when it does.

Reducing the emphasis on democracy-promotion programs will also significantly reduce tensions between Washington and Cairo that sharpened under President Bush. For all of its shortcomings, Egypt remains a critically important U.S. ally. Cairo has been very helpful (albeit discreetly) in efforts to fuel and supply U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the Obama administration will need Mubarak onboard as it launches a diplomatic effort to forge Palestinian-Israeli peace.

The United States can and should play a constructive role in encouraging change in Egypt and the Middle East. But a lighter touch, and initiatives that actually help people, will serve everyone's interests better than fuzzy preaching about democracy promotion—and programs unlikely to produce much change.

After Air France 447 Tragedy, Remembering TWA 800...

Sincere condolences to the families affected by the tragic disappearance of Air France 447 en route from Rio to Paris. The mystery brings to mind controversy over the mysterious 1996 crash of TWA 800--also heading to Paris, from JFK. The matter was officially closed, but is still the subject of litigation many years later, as one can see from Ray Lahr's website. The NTSB declared it an accident due to faulty wiring in 2000, but Lahr still seems to hold the crash of TWA 800 was due to a missile...and his case, H. Ray Lahr v. National Transportation Safety Board, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency. Dedicated to revealing the truth by making government records available for public review under the Freedom of Information Act, continues to wend its way through US courts. Among other skeptics of the official version was the late Pierre Emil George Salinger, former Press Secretary to President John F. Kennedy.

UPDATE: Today's Le Figaro (France) discusses the possibility of a bomb with an Air France pilot:
INTERVIEW - Contacté par, un pilote d'Air France estime qu'une panne électrique générale causée par un foudroiement est peu probable.

Un Airbus A330 de la compagnie Air France qui assurait la liaison Rio de Janeiro- Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle a disparu au dessus de l'Atlantique lundi matin. Il transportait 228 personnes, dont 73 passagers français. Sur, un pilote d'Air France qui a souhaité garder l'anonymat évoque l'hypothèse d'un attentat ayant provoqué l'explosion de l'avion.

Air France affirme que l'appareil a connu une panne de circuit électrique. Quelles sont les conséquences d'une telle panne à bord d'un avion ?

Il y a cinq sources d'énergie électrique à bord d'un appareil. Pour qu'il y ait une panne totale, il faudrait que ces cinq sources ne fonctionnent plus. Lorsque tout tombe en panne, une batterie prend de façon transitoire et partielle le relais, ainsi qu'un moteur qu'on utilise généralement au sol. Une sorte d'éolienne est déclenchée pour générer de l'électricité. Pour que le commandant de bord n'ait plus aucune capacité à piloter l'avion, il faudrait que toutes ces sources d'électricité soient endommagées. Ça me paraît difficile.

Un foudroiement, comme évoqué par le ministre en charge des Transports Jean-Louis Borloo, ne pourrait donc selon vous pas provoquer une telle panne générale ?

Je ne dis pas ça, mais je me demande comment on peut savoir qu'il y a eu un foudroiement. Ce que l'on sait, c'est qu'il y a visiblement eu une forte turbulence puis des problèmes électriques. On peut ensuite associer les deux, mais de là à dire qu'un foudroiement est à l'origine de tout cela… Dans l'histoire de l'aviation, on ne connaît pas aujourd'hui de cas de foudroiement qui aboutisse à la perte d'un avion.

Un expert brésilien a émis l'hypothèse d'un amerrissage en plein océan. Cette hypothèse est-elle réaliste ?

Pour que l'avion puisse amerrir, il doit être pilotable. Et pour être pilotable, il faut qu'il y ait un peu d'électricité. Et s'il y a de l'électricité, il y a possibilité d'envoyer un message. Entre le moment où vous planez et celui où vous vous posez sur l'eau, il va s'écouler près d'une demi-heure. Cette possibilité est donc peu probable… En réalité, ce qui est à peu près sûr, c'est qu'on ne saura jamais ce qui s'est réellement passé. L'avion se trouvait au-dessus de l'Atlantique. S'il a explosé en plein vol, il y a des débris dispersés sur dix kilomètres de diamètre…

Vous parlez d'une explosion. Est-ce qu'un attentat aurait pu causer une panne électrique générale ?

Absolument. On peut très bien imaginer qu'une bombe a provoqué une dépressurisation de l'appareil, et que l'avion prenne du temps à se démonter en morceaux. De même, ça peut carrément être une grosse bombe qui a fait exploser tout l'avion, ce qui expliquerait que l'appareil n'a pas eu le temps d'envoyer un signal d'alerte.
Someone anonymous on Craigslist agrees with the French pilot:

Reply [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-06-02, 9:26AM EDT

The Air France flight from Brazil to Paris was brought down by a bomb, but authorities are not publicly admitting it yet. Wreckage found in the ocean shows a damage pattern consistent with a bomb blast in the cargo hold.

Friends in intellligence and US DoD have confirmed this, and links to al-Qaeda or a related group are being investigated at this time.

it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
PostingID: 1201217577

Amil Imani on Democracy v Liberty

Unfortunately, there are about one and a half billion people deeply entrenched in many democracies, including the United States, who are enemies of democracy and devotees of Ummahism –the Islamic theocracy, theocracy of the kind that rules in places such as Saudi Arabia – a Sunni version—and Iran – a Shi’a’ version. It is a fact that in Islamic societies liberty is dead. The individual is a vessel of the state and the state is the executor of the suffocating Sharia law.

Less my warning be seen as the unwarranted rants of an alarmist, all one needs is to observe what is already happening in these newly Muslim-invaded lands. Sharia law is already in effect in many places in Europe. Significant numbers of indigenous Europeans are either fleeing to other lands or are so hopeless regarding their way of life that they refrain from having children. Even in the United States and Canada, the bulging Muslim populations are more and more aggressively pressing for adoption of the Sharia law.

Demographic changes in a democracy play a critical role in shaping the society. For example, only a couple of hundred thousand Muslims lived in the U.S. only two decades ago. By 2008, the number has swelled to seven to nine million. Once the numbers are wedded to the deep pockets of the Wahhabi and Shi’a paymaster, the fate of freedom is in serious jeopardy.

Ali Alyami on Obama's Cairo Speech


Autocratic Arab regimes as well as their supporters and financial beneficiaries in the West and elsewhere, argue that free elections in the Arab world would bring religious extremists and anti-democratic elements into power. They use Hezbollah and Hamas as examples of what Arabs would do if they were free to elect their representatives. In reality, extremists in Egypt and Saudi Arabia gained prominence due to the regimes’ oppressive policies, embezzlement of public wealth and politics of nepotism. Most Arabs and Muslims, especially youth, women, businesspeople and religious minorities, loath religious extremism, and the strict implementation of Sharia law in Saudi Arabia in particular. The overwhelming majority of Saudis and Egyptians are not extremist Wahhabis or members of the Muslim Brotherhood Islamists.

The success of the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt will depend on his understanding of the root causes of problems in the Arab world, and his willingness to refute the decades’ old and well rehearsed excuses the Arab regimes have used to manipulate every American president for the last sixty years. President Obama must recognize that the Arab-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with the multitude of problems plaguing Arab societies: oppression of women, poverty, terrorism, religious extremism and intolerance.

Yes, there are anti-American sentiments among many Arabs; however this is mostly caused by U.S. Administrations’ support for Arab despots, rather than America’s support for Israel as Arab regimes and their controlled media want the world to believe.

Many people understand and can appreciate the problems President Obama faces, but few would applaud him for supporting autocratic Arab regimes whose policies and institutions are responsible for problems in the U.S. President Obama can serve his country best by steering its support away from undemocratic regimes and reach out to modern and pro-democracy Arab men and women who are able and willing to propel their societies to a better and safer future. Sixty years of supporting autocratic Arab regimes has only brought extremism, terrorism and 9/11. The choice for President Obama is very clear: continue policies that have failed or put forward a plan that will serve the best interest of the U.S. and its democratic values.