Monthly Archives: December 2013

Benny and the Budapest

In 1938 the revered Benny Goodman got together with the revered Budapest String Quartet to record the beautiful Mozart Clarinet Quintet. Here is the result.

Alexander Schneider, the violinist in the Budapest, later founded the educational program called The New York String Orchestra Seminar. It brings talented young musicians to NY for several weeks before Christmas for master classes with a distinguished faculty. They give two concerts at Carnegie Hall each year, one on Christmas Eve and one in the next week. The program continues under Jaime Laredo and the concerts are one of the special treats of the holiday season.

From the Carnegie Hall website:

The New York String Orchestra boasts an impressive roster of alumni who include cellist Yo-Yo Ma; violinist Gil Shaham; members of the Emerson, Brentano, Takács, and Kronos string quartets; and concertmasters and members of the Philadelphia, Metropolitan Opera, and Cleveland orchestras. This season, conductor Jaime Laredo returns to Carnegie Hall with the next generation of great young instrumentalists to perform an inspiring program of works, including Prokofiev’s Fourth Piano Concerto with peerless pianist Leon Fleisher, Tchaikovsky’s passionate “Pathétique” Symphony, and Elgar’s string spectacular with the Johannes String Quartet.

Where it started. The Powell Memo.

I owe a friend thanks for sending me a link to of one of the most important documents of the last half of the twentieth century. In August 1971 Lewis Powell, soon to be appointed to the Supreme Court, wrote a memo that he sent to a friend on the staff of the US Chamber of Commerce. It called for business to use its money and influence to counter what he considered a climate unfriendly to the free market system. Most recent writers on the inequality problem in the US identify the Powell memo as an important first step in 40+ year process that has led to that result, and so this may make Powell the most influential person in recent US economic history.

Here is an excerpt from Winner-Take-All Politics, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, telling about the influence of the Powell memo. (Incidentally, the book is outstanding.)  It’s also interesting to read the memo itself and you can do that here.

Peace on Earth

Here is William Pfaff’s somewhat jaundiced view of the prospects for peace in 2014.

December 24, 2013
No Peace on Earth for 2014

Paris – Christmas this year seems more the occasion of religious war than of the peace to which the greeting cards routinely allude. Peace talks, such as the “5 plus 1” talks seeking reconciliation with Iran to eliminate the threat of war from or against that country are the subject of sectarian and political attack inside the U.S. Congress and in Israel. Who wants peace if you can have the rewarding destruction of a rival?

In Syria, savage civil war among Alawites, Shi’ites and Sunnis in Syria, together with their foreign sponsors in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is the bitter fruit of what was once a vast Arab liberation movement seeming to promise a generational transformation in Maghreb, Egyptian, and Arab Islamic political civilization.

In Central Africa, good intentions have caused the French to walk into a war between the Catholic and animist majority and the Muslim minority. The Catholic archbishop says the affair is at the point of tipping into chaos, that the religious leaders and clergy of both Catholics and Muslims can’t get people to listen, that on both sides people are beyond forgiving the attacks and deaths that already have taken place, and “barbarian irrationality’ risks being set loose. The French troops, once the colonial power here, are buying time, but the time necessary may be unavailable.

The Serbs still hate Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims, who reciprocate in kind. Bosnia-Hercegovina still is incapable of putting Bosnia and Hercegovina together into the single state they are supposed to be. German policemen have had to be sent to Kosovo by the EU to keep apart Albanian Kosovars and hostile Serbs in the north. When the Serbs and Croats went to war with one another in 1991, a Croatian general was quoted as saying with satisfaction, “we have been waiting 800 years for this.”

South Sudan, scarcely yet a state, has an erupting conflict between presidential candidates and Dinka and Neur tribal groups. Oil is behind this, and as in Central Africa, personal rivalries between individual claimants to power. It is the same today in Turkey, itself only recently seen as the most progressive of Islamic states and a leading candidate for membership in the European Union. But of course the EU was created thanks to Hitler. It was launched so that there could never again be a European ideological civil war.

Can such an ambition succeed? People on the Spanish Left recently were digging up the mass graves of its civil war victims to rekindle old hatreds, and the government of the Right, now in power, wants new anti-abortion legislation to outrage the Catholics whose grandparents supported Franco. This is all vengeance sought by people who are too young ever to have known the crimes committed against and by their ancestors.

When I was an adolescent in the state of Georgia there were Civil War widows still alive. “The” war was not the Second World War, which had just begun, but the War Between the States, not so long over.

When Barack Obama first addressed Congress in 2009 a puppy Congressman from South Carolina contemptuously insulted him. Teaparty adherents often fly the Confederate battle-flag on their cars. The American novelist and citizen, Julien Green, born in Paris to American parents who had left the United States so as not to live under Yankee rule, only American to be made a member of the Académie française, grew up in a Paris apartment where the Confederate flag dominated. An American movement to reconstitute the Confederacy exists — perhaps a good idea; that would greatly pacify the atmosphere in the Union’s Congress.

The United States, according to President Obama, is “greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known.” He doesn’t mention peace since the United States during the last two decades has chosen to be constantly at war.

The only man of peace for whom there currently seems universal admiration and deference is Pope Francis, and for most West European and American admirers that seems less to be because they want the peace the Pope calls for in his Christmas declaration but because they want women and married priests, and because the Pope has asked who is he to pass judgment on homosexuals who are believing Christians.

No doubt he nonetheless is praying for all of us this Christmas season. We need the prayers.

Raymond Gram Swing

He’s pretty much forgotten now, but my father liked to listen to news commentaries by Raymond Gram Swing in the 30’s and 40’s and I got the habit from him. I saw a reference to him recently and went looking on Youtube for a sample since my memory is only that I enjoyed him. Give it a try. It’s very long but you can get the idea by just listening for a few minutes. It amazed me.

Radio news was still in  its infancy in 1938 but news commentators were popular. Swing was one of the most popular and eventually was giving his 15 minute commentaries five times a week. Here is an intelligent, literate discussion of current news items and the whole program was dedicated to discussing just two related events in the news at that time. The contrast with television news today is complete.

My first reaction was to bemoan the superficiality of most television coverage today, but then I realized that the modern day equivalent is not on the air but is found in blogs on the Internet. Not like mine, of course, but by such as those found on the NY Times Opinionater and others.



A good friend periodically drops off a pile of old New Yorkers for us to catch up with and sometimes a few work their way to the bottom of the pile. Which explains why I am calling your attention to an article published  there over two years ago. It’s a long take on John Maynard Keynes by John Cassidy. Given the stasis in our current economic thinking, it’s just as relevant today as in 2011. Here’s an interesting excerpt:

Astute conservatives have sometimes acknowledged that, fundamentally, Keynes was one of them. He came not to bury free enterprise but to save it from itself. “It is certain that the world will not much longer tolerate the unemployment which . . . is associated and in my view inevitably associated with present-day capitalistic individualism,” he wrote in his magnum opus. “But it may be possible by a right analysis of the problem to cure the disease whilst preserving efficiency and freedom.” During the Second World War, some economists hailed the introduction of price controls and central planning; Keynes viewed this policy as a temporary expedient that shouldn’t be sustained.

In fact, of course, Keynes was not a liberal or a conservative. He was a pragmatist.