I liked most of the questions, so I’ll take a set of first-string questions with backups.
The first string:
For Russert: Do you feel that you have any responsibility for the state of civil discourse in this nation? (Paul at Crooked Timber) For example, why do you talk about Representative Murtha as "the formerly pro-military congressman" as if being against the Iraq war is somehow anti-military? (J. at WhirledView) Or another example, equating Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden? (Paul at Blue Force)
For Noonan: How does Bush’s record rank against Nixon’s? Is Bush better or worse as a president than Nixon was in foreign and domestic policy and in civil liberties? (Kevin Hayden at WhirledView)
For Barnes: Reviews of your book have generally said that it is unquestioning and repetitious praise for President Bush. I’d like to ask you to compare Bush’s record with Nixon’s. (variant on Kevin Hayden’s question.)
If Risen is right, the US is in deep trouble. Our government is collecting our electronic communications, lying to us in multiple ways, losing Afghanistan to drugs, and giving blueprints of nuclear weapons to the Iranians.
The trouble is, it’s not possible to judge the truth of Risen’s allegations. Most of his sources are anonymous, as they obviously must be if the allegations are true. He identifies them as far as he can (from NSC, State, CIA, and NSA) and quotes authoritative people who were willing to go on the record with supporting material. Presumably he wants to protect his reputation. And we see news reports every day that support some of what Risen says.
Of course, now no one knows up from down, day from night, good from bad.
I’ve been feeling that way lately, too.
We’ve seen Judith Miller and Bob Woodward apparently protecting sources whose objective was to plant administration spin in the media. We’ve seen a government that is willing to plant propaganda at home (here, here, and here). We’ve seen the Washington Post ombudsman stonewall the fact she might have seemed just a little biased. And, of course, questions continue to swirl around Risen’s story itself and the long delay in publishing the NSA story in the Times.
For those of you who found it hard to swallow the idea that memoirs are routinely altered or embellished to make them more saleable as non-fiction, no less, I have some even worse news. Something not so different happens with political reporting from U.S. embassies.
You’d think that ruthlessly accurate reporting and scrupulously unbiased analysis would be the bedrock products for regular delivery to Washington from U.S. embassies around the world, wouldn’t you? Why? Well, you’d expect foreign policy to be made on the basis of reality, not ideology, not quirks or prejudice, certainly not wishful thinking, wouldn’t you? After all, a sound foreign policy is vital to national security. Surely it should be based on hard-headed facts and unflinching analysis.
I learned otherwise during my first tour abroad. Let me tell you about it.
If you haven’t heard the German violinist Axel Strauss play, you should.
This early thirties something San Francisco Conservatory-based professor and violin virtuoso performed in Santa Fe last weekend – first in a private chamber music concert for symphony supporters, then in a sold-out performance of Spanish and Latin American works with the Santa Fe Symphony under guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa, the conductor of the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Symphony.
Axel Strauss, the first German artist to win the Naumburg Violin Competition (1998), is worth pulling yourself away from the television set and the never-ending play-offs of that never-ending season and into the concert hall – regardless of size and time of day. Yes, Strauss effortlessly performed the whipped cream type works that make for an easy listening, wow the audience-type performance, but his presentation of the rarely played unaccompanied Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita, No 2 was no less than breathtaking.
This was music of rare beauty – and rarer emotion in a time of too much technical brilliance among too many young performers that too often turns into an emotional wasteland.
The Partita, composed in 1720 upon Bach’s return to Vienna - whereupon he only then learned of his first wife’s death - may have been a requiem – or at least a tribute to her – perhaps along the lines of that incredibly beautiful mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, that Shah Jahan, the 17th century Mughal Emperor had constructed to honor his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal upon her death.
Just as the Taj Mahal is unique, Bach’s Partita # 2 also defies classification: it is polyphonic. It is melodic. Its depth goes well beyond its time, well beyond Bach’s contemporaries – George Philipp Telemann, Domenico Scarlatti, and George Fridric Handel. This Partita just doesn’t fit neatly into any musicologist’s drawer. At the Friday night chamber concert, you could have heard a pin drop. Members of the audience - including and perhaps especially the professional musicians in the room - were mesmerized.
Years ago when I was in the Foreign Service posted abroad, Strauss would have been just the sort of musician we would have loved to sponsor – providing, of course, he was an American citizen. As an Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer, a Center Director, or a Cultural Affairs Officer, I would have arranged for an artist of Strauss’ caliber to perform in a variety of venues.
As I noted a few weeks back, the Department of Energy budget proposes funding some work on reprocessing of nuclear fuel. Today Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer at the Washington Post take note of that budget item.
My previous post gives additional background. I'll add a few comments on the WaPo article. There are some little things, like the headline, that have a funny sound to them if you know the science, but I'll grit my teeth and try not to quibble.
The January 2006 Foreign Service Journal’s Cybernotes page is devoted to U.S. Foreign Service blogs, bloggers and blogging with advice to novices as well as descriptions of blogs written by current and former members of the U.S. Foreign Service.
We would like to thank the FSJ and Caitlin Stuart, the journal’s editorial intern, for the journal’s write-up on WhirledView.
The relevant excerpt: “Some of the best blogs are kept by those with no obligation to parrot the statements of State or the president. . . . WhirledView is the collaborative effort of Patricia Kushlis, Cheryl Rofer, and Patricia Lee Sharpe, all respected international affairs experts. It is a fantastic resource for distinctive op-ed-style world affairs pieces.”
We will continue to try to live up to their wonderful characterization.