Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Huffington Post article of interest:

I'm interviewed by Alan Jalon in his article, "LEONARD BERNSTEIN BOYCOTTS THE KOCH" in the Huffington Post of November 10, 2010:

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Gatrhorne-Hardy's Gerald Brenan

I have just finished a superb biography, Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy's Gerald Brenan: The Interior Castle (NY: WW Norton, 1992). I first became acquainted with Brenan by reading his Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 1943, and still in press) while writing my doctoral dissertation in 1968. Now, some forty two years later, I've learned about Brenan's rich life (1894-1987) from this magnificent work. Gathorne-Hardy had at his disposal massive numbers of letters between Brenan and his friends -- many of them members of the Bloomsbury crowd -- Brenan's papers, those of his wife, Gamel, memoirs of those who knew him, plus the author's personal knowledge of Brenan, at least late in Brenan's life, that permitted him to write with great insight into his subject. Brenan had a knack for characterization. So too has his biographer, for Brenan is alive in these six hundred and four pages, and by alive I mean his inner life, his relations with others, his passions, his Spain. Made vivid too are his lovers, his wife, his friends, his era. When Brenan dies, the reader dies a little himself.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tea Party: It Could Have Been Worse

So how did the Tea Party and its leader Sarah Palin do in this last, November 2, 2010 election? Tea Party candidates won many seats in the House of Representatives. But as regards the Senate, Sharron Angle lost; O'Donnell lost; Tancredo lost; Buck lost; looks like Miller has lost. And granted that Paul and Rubio won, nevertheless the Tea Party's expectations of taking over the Republican Party, not to mention the Republic itself, have been severely blunted. The establishment Republicans who now control the House will have to work with Democrats in order to pass legislation that business interests are demanding; otherwise they will look like obstructionists and hand Obama his second term victory in 2012. Tea Party threats to overwhelm moderate Republicans will be countered by the knowlege that Angle's and O'Donnell's promises to get rid of Social Security not only defeated them, but kept the Senate in the hands of the Democrats.

On the tragic side: among many other good congresspersons who went down was Alan Grayson. Ah the pity of it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rage on the Right

I recommend Sasha Abramsky's "Look Ahead in Anger" in the July 11, 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education. Abramsky argues that the rage that is fueling the Tea Party must be understood as a new example of what Hofstatdter called the "paranoid style in American politics" (see my entry of December 9, 2009), but Abramsky does not reduce the present rhetoric on the right to just another appearance of a cyclical phenomenon. The present rage is rooted in economic decline, but the present decline is not a simple recession: it will in fact endure as wealth and power are increasingly leaving the US and accumulating in China. Meanwhile Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, Gingrich, and certain leading members of the Republican establishment, paint Obama as a socialist and/or in racist language, as a deployer of an anti-American "Kenyan" ideology. Abramsky goes on to note that many American far-rightists are using an old technique, the "stab in the back" that Hitler used to portray Jews and liberals as traitors responsible for Germany's loss in the first World War, in the present moment rightists blaming Obama for the loss of wealth and power that afflicts American society. Abramsky points out that these kinds of attacks are not new: for example, the John Birch Society used them, starting in the sixties, to condemn liberals as communists boring from within American institutions to turn this country into a dictatorship. But the Birchites and other such reactionaries of that earlier period were isolated ideologically and regionally. Today they are becoming mainstream. (See Jane Mayer, "Covert Operations" in the September 22, 2010 issues of The New Yorker.) Abramsky's essay is worth reading and studying.

Friday, September 3, 2010


My book, Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician, is now available for downloading as an audiobook. You can purchase and download it at Amazon.com at this website or the following website:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Four Recent Memoirs

I must recommend four memoirs. The first two bring to life New York's downtown art scenes of decades ago. Suze Rotolo's A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, recounts her life with Bob Dylan amidst the folk music world of the early sixties, with Dylan on the cusp of his leap into fame. But her book does more than that, for her subtitle is exact. Despite the tragedy of out of sight rentals destroying the Manhattan artist communities, one can still see much of the Village of the sixties, made vivid by this memoir.

Patti Smith, in her Just Kids, is her memoir of the years she spent with Robert Mappelthorpe, from 1967, when they met, penniless and virtually homeless kids of twenty one, and how, over the following years, in the Village and in Chelsea, lived, loved, and created their art, he ultimately becoming the photographer who would capture in striking blacks and white s/m tableaux vivants among others, and she, the plastic artist, poet and punk-rock performer. They separated physically as Mappelthorpe discovered his homosexuality and Smith went on to marry and start a family, but they were never apart in their hearts and sensibilities. Her recounting his coming down with AIDS and dying in 1989 is terribly poignant. Smith's writing is poetic, tender, sublime.

A rather different memoir is Norris Church Mailer's Ticket to the Circus, in which one learns much about Ms. Mailer's colorful life in Arkansas, where she got to know the young Bill Clinton, how she met Norman Mailer, became his sixth and, as she let people know, his last wife, and became virtual mother of his many children. But Ms. Mailer was no stay-at-home mom: she has had her own career as a writer. This memoir, fun in its own right, will provide Norman Mailer fans with insight into the foibles and as well as the moral strengths of a good man, our late, great novelist and essayist.

Christopher Hitchens' Hitch-22 is a reliving of his childhood, university, and political and journalistic life. A lifelong man of the left, Hitchens seeks to justify what compelled him to support the American invasion of Iraq. Agree with him or not, this brilliant essayist (see especially his 2000 collection, Unacknowledged Legislation) writes with force and great wit. To many on the political left, Hitchens has become a notorious apostate. But one should follow J.S. Mills' dictum, that by reading someone you know a priori is dead wrong you may very well wind up with your position punctured or, if you can muster your arguments, strengthened. You decide. Meanwhile I recommend this book to every thinking person, left and right.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Recommended Fiction

Here's a recommended selection of books, all new save for Fallada's 1947 but recently translated Every Man Dies Alone.

Stuart Archer Cohen, The Army of the Republic.
Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone.
David Goodwillie, American Subversive.
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Ferenc Karinthy, Metropole.
P.F. Kluge, Gone Tomorrow.
Simon Mawer, The Glass Room.
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Apropos of yesterday's posting regarding Beckism/Palinism and terrorism, here is evidence of terrorism delivered against members of Congress over the last two days.

Those familiar with the history of the acceleration of violence by fascists in Weimar Germany just before Hitler's ascension to power and in Spain just before Franco's invasion in 1936 will find awful analogies to our own conditions. No doubt that our case is much different; but what is not different between fascists then and now is the growing confidence of our own rightist terrorists, inspired by the trumpeting of patriotic symbols by their charismatic darlings, Beck and Palin.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Polarization Politics: Terror from the Beckian Right

This entry follows others on this blog that deal with the potential for polarizing politics in the US.

Some days before the Health Care Reform Act was passed by the House of Representatives, I wrote a friend the following:

"The US is at a turning point with the health care bill. I've never felt that the US is so imperiled by polarization as it is today. Parliamentary deadlock has always preceded breakouts of violence. If the health care bill passes, then what? The Tea Party folk have driven themselves into a frenzy, and they carry guns. I think the Hannity/Beck Tea Party people are more dangerous than the John Birchers of yesteryear. Those far right-wingers were isolated from the rest of the country regionally; they had no national presence. Today FOX News gives the Tea Party and other such ilk 24/7 national exposure and 24/7 inspiration to take action. Beck is particularly dangerous because he aims at the 90-95 IQ levels, where most of the Tea Party masses are, at least politically, judging from the abysmal ignorance about the health care plan that most of them betray when expressing themselves, levels where immediate, non-reflective connection between incoming message and knee-jerk emotional response is most likely. And, to reiterate, they carry guns. "

This was written, as I note, a few days ago. Meanwhile, Beck's inflammatory remarks e.g., his boorish fantasy of doing violence to Nancy Pelosi, have given birth to a lot more. See the next posting.

Monday, January 11, 2010

More Reports from the Neanderthal Front: Nixon vs. Leonard Bernstein and Lincoln Center

From ABC News of 11 January 2010 comes a story of vintage Richard Nixon, railing back in November, 1970 against Leonard Bernstein, modern art in general and Lincoln Center in specific:

"Nixon Papers Reveal War on Media, Kennedys and Modern Art: Nixon's Penchant for Political Espionage Evident in Latest Release of Papers

"In a memo to Haldeman, [Nixon] writes that 'those who are on the modern art and music kick are 95 percent against us anyway. I refer to the recent addicts of Leonard Bernstein and the whole New York crowd. When I compare the monstrosity of Lincoln Center with the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I realize how decadent the modern art and architecture have become. This is what the Kennedy-Shriver crowd believed in, and they had every right to encourage this kind of stuff when they were in. But I have no intention whatever of continuing to encourage it now.’"

"’P.S."’, Nixon added, ‘I also want a check made with regard to the incredibly atrocious modern art that has been scattered around the embassies of the world.’"