Saturday, October 11, 2003

OXFORFD DIARY: It's a bright sunny relatively (after the cold spell we've just had) warm day here in Oxford (Then why are you sitting inside blogging? -- ed. Because I'm a moron, I suppose). Out of my window, I can see an ochre balloon in the light-blue, sun-bleached sky above the roof of the opposite wing of Holywell Manor. The air is so still, the balloon is just sort of hanging there, not moving about much, at least not perceptably -- I can't tell, after several minutes, whether it's getting nearer or going further away, and it doesn't seem to be swaying or going back and forth much. It looks sort of like a darkened lightbulb suspended in the sky.

PLUG: Go over to the web site of the outstanding new publication The Next American City to check out their little mini-blog and, still more valuably, several articles from their latest issue -- including this piece by Patrick Belton on the Muslim community of Dearborn, Michigan, and this piece by Anthony Weiss on the Lubavitchers in Crown Heights.
DISCLOSURE: While both of these are really good articles, I should mention that Patrick and Tony are both good buddies of mine. As are a number of people who work at TNAC, which is why I'm aware of its existence, despite not being a student of urbanism myself. However, I think that my impression that TNAC provides an important and lively forum for discussions of the future of cities in the US and around the world is based on more than personal partiality. But my bias should be all the more reason for the reader to go and check the magazine out for him/her self.

SPEAKING OF ISRAEL: The Yossi Klein Halevi-Leon Wieseltier exchange on Israel in TNR, already linked to from here earlier, winds up on a high note. Both men make good points in persuasive statements of their positions; but for me Wieseltier wins the day -- naturally, since I already share his position. I don't know if anyone on either side of the debate will be won over to the other side by this exchange; but it does offer a good statement of both sets of arguments currently butting heads in the pro-Israel camp. Wiesletier's summing-up is particularly fine, and I just want to quote it, since it says what I think to be true better than I could:
"Peace process or no peace process, in seasons of calm and in seasons of storm, with American enthusiasm and without American enthusiasm, nothing stops the proliferation of these outposts of chauvinism and short-sightedness ... Israel denounces the wrath of the Palestinians and then Israel provokes it. This is not intelligent. No, Hamas will not be satisfied by a suspension of the settlement policy. But Hamas is not all of Palestine. What wisdom do you find, my friend, in a policy of settlement designed to make a political compromise impossible? Myself, I love Israel more than I love Ariel. Or: I love Israel so I hate Ariel (though of course I do not wish its people any harm), as I hate anything that endangers the Jewish state. The stupidity of Palestinians is not an excuse for the stupidity of Israelis.
The appearance of a Palestinian leader other than the loathsome Arafat should have galvanized the Israeli government to do everything within its power to support him: prisoner releases, a real halt to settlement activity, flowers and chocolates, everything. Did Arafat wish Abu Mazen ill? Then Sharon should have wished Abu Mazen (and now Abu Ala) well. Fervently.

What matters finally is this: the Jewish state will not survive except alongside a Palestinian state; and so Israel must do nothing, nothing, that will destroy the possibility of renouncing its dominion over a Palestinian population so large and so biologically prolific that it will soon overwhelm the Jewish population between the river and the sea and thereby destroy Israel, and defeat Zionism, in a way that bombs and hatreds never could."

PILGE-WATER: I really should stop titling posts based on puns on the names of those I'm criticising. It's not nice, and it's pretty groan-inducing, even for me.
Still, that's not going to stop me.
Via Norm Geras's robust but reasonable critique (Norm: can you please stop posting so much good stuff? I can't keep up!), I've come across a letter to the Guardian on Israel from John Pilger.
Now, when someone writes in to attack a GUARDIAN columnist for being too pro-Israel, you know one of two things is up. Either Tim Garton Ash or Ian Buruma has been there again trying to restore the Guardian's opinion page to some semblance of balance, or David Aaronovitch has been exploding another raspberry in the face of his erstwhile comrades (speaking of which, see this; good stuff); or the letter is from a particularly vehement Israel-hater. Of course, as anyone familiar with Pilger's work will immediately conclude, this is an example of the latter scenario. The original piece by Jonathan Freedland can't be called pro-Israel, by any stretch; it's thesis seems to be, essentially, the Israelis aren't monsters of malignity, they're just violent and punch-drunk paranoiacs. Of course, to many segments of the British public -- many of those who read the Guardian among them -- this is a breath-takingly and unfamiliarly empathic approach, and human portrayal, of Israel. But for most of us who dislike and deplore Israel's actions, but don't hate her and her people with a blind passion, the piece hardly seems like a pro-Israel apology. Last time I checked, 'half-mad' was a term of praise.
Now, the Pilge makes a good point in a bad way when he writes: 'Only when a genuine international community discards the current grotesque double standard and demands that Israel end its brutal and illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, will the murderous cycle stop.' The good point is that Israel needs to pull out of the occupied territories, and it'll take the international community (read the US) to get it to do so. (On the other hand, the Palestinians, or their leaders, need to stop embracing and exploiting terrorism. And in order to do so, they need to be pushed by the international community -- i.e. Europe, which still shows too great a penchant for working with Arafat, as even a stridently anti-Israel European friend of mine admits to me). The bad way that marrs the good point is twofold. First, there's the tired phrase about the 'cycle of violence', which is less wrong than simply, at this point, devoid of thought, a bit of reflexive rhetoric trotted out, not to delve into the reality of successive acts of violence and the violent reprisals against them that dominate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but to simply summarize and equate them. The second thing that marrs Pilger's stirring conclusion is the mention of a 'double standard'. There is a double standard -- or rather, there are double standards, and nearly everyone who writes or thinks about this awful conflict falls into one or the other of them at some point, even if he or she tries hard not to do so (me maxima culpa, I'm sure).
Let me make the point more clearly and concretely. what Pilger says has a point. But so does this statement: 'Only when a genuine international community [such as, say, the UN, which has declared Zionism to be racism but hasn't had much to say about the anti-Semitic Israel-hatred that dominates most of the Arab world and is fostered by its governments] discards the current grotesque double standard and demands that the Palestinian people and Arab world accept Israel's right to exist and work to end the murder of Israeli civilians by the terrorists they support, will the "murderous cycle" be possible to stop.'
Happily, not all readers of the Guardian march in ideological lock step; and not all defenders of Israel are hysterical boobs. The same letters page contains a sharp statement of the double-standard of the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli Left by James Goldman, as well as a defense of Israel's actions by Shuli Davidovich, of the Israeli Embassy in London. I generally don't like the justifications, much less the actions, of the Sharon government and its spokespeople; but Davidovich does make a strong case for condemning Syrian sponsorship of terrorism, even if he can't convincingly argue that Israel's attack on Syria was politically foolish, which seems to me to be the case.
For more on the moral coddling of Palestinian terrorists by segments of the British Left, see Norm's lengthy post here.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

LEIT WEIGHT? Belated thanks to Ogged for the sympathetic post, and for alerting me to Brian Leiter's latest scornful ad hominem attack on me. And many thanks to all those in the comments section who became indignant in part on my behalf.
I can understand how Leiter might get upset when I attack his own blogging, and respond nastilly. But the fact that he seems to now have it in for me to the extent this post suggests seems a bit excessive to me.
I'm really sorry if I hurt Brian Leiter's feelings so much that he now bears such a grudge against me. I thought, given his record of jumping into the fray with no-holds-barred attacks on others, that he'd welcome robust debate, or be at least be able to shrug off criticism from someone he professes to have such contempt for. I guess I was wrong.
Anyway, you can check out the links Ogged offers to decide if you think I deserve this or not. Perhaps I do; I did go after Leiter rather hard -- and I could well be wrong about Chomsky et. al. (Leiter, in responding to Ogged's post -- in typical fashion -- suggests that this is really about a substantive disagreement about Chomsky. I don't think it is. I think civility and intellectual probity are important, regardless of one's views. There are many bloggers, and many non-bloggers, with whom I strongly disagree -- more strongly, indeed, than I suspect I do with Leiter or even Chomsky -- and I don't feel the need to attack them so fiercely, nor do I seem to provoke such bitterness in them. And there are those with whom I agree for the most part, by whose tone and style and character I am bothered or embarassed or upset -- indeed, I myself sometimes fall into this category.)
As far as the more substantive criticisms that follow Leiter's name-calling: I included Chomsky in my list of anti-Americans who say idiotic things because Buruma did. In refering to Chomsky's 'idoicy', I meant to suggest that some of Chomsky's declarations on politics -- such as his claim that Eastern Europe under the Soviets was a 'worker's paradise', reported in a New Yorker profile of him -- were idiotic, not that the man himself is an idiot tout court. He is, of course, as Leiter says, one of the great minds of the last century -- in the field of linguistics, where he is tremendously important, even if (as many reputable linguistics scholars and philosophers I know claim) wrong (a matter on which I cannot pronounce). Nor are ALL of his political statements and stances idiotic. But some of them have been, and, sadly, the proportion that are seem to be increasing as Chomsky becomes increasingly frustrated with an increasingly frustrating world order. I'm sorry if my phrasing was too imprecise and gave Leiter the impression that I was dismissing all of Chomsky's work, or indeed all of his political comments. As far as Leiter's claim that Buruma attributes to those he does quote views not supported by his quotes, well, that's Buruma's battle to fight I suppose; but as I did largely endorse his views, and as he undoubtedly has better things to do, I will simply and feebly say that I think the views Buruma attributes to Ali, Roy, Chomsky and Vidal are supported by statements that they've made and stances that they've taken -- though, as I explained in my original post, I think he's sometimes overly uncharitable in his analysis of their assumptions and motivations. But the reader can decide whether Leiter's understanding of Chomsky, Vidal, Ali, Roy et. al.'s views or Buruma's, and mine, are accurate.
I've said more in the comments section over at Unfogged (which also contain responses to Ogged's post from Leiter himself and from a seeming acolyte of Leiter's who refers to him/herself as 'Philosophy student' while, amusingly, attacking others for hiding behind pseudonyms and who seems to lump me together with 'the Texas Taliban'. Such company for a nice liberal Jewish agnostic boy like myself!), if anyone wants to pursue this pathetic flap further. I don't recommend it, though; I do recommend you check out Unfogged, which is often a fun read.) But I'm sure the reader has better things to do than pursue this petty flap between two irritable academic types. As, indeed, do I.
ADDENDUM: I am delighted to find that, despite all this ruckus, Professor Leiter and I are collaborators, after a fashion: we've both been asked to write articles (his already e-published, mine yet to be written) for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
UPDATE: Another watchdog for the cause of truth -- or at least the cause of defending the maligned Professor Chomsky -- takes me to task for being 'ignorant' here. Below is the response I tried to post on Chun's comments section (an attempt that failed due to technical difficulties), with some slight additions:
Dear Mr. Chun,
I'm sorry if I mis-remembered the source for my claim that Chomsky refered to the Soviet bloc as a worker's paradise; I did read him referring to someplace most manifestly not a worker's paradise as such somewhere, and am pretty sure it was a reference to Eastern Europe under the Soviets. The New Yorker piece is the last one I read devoted wholly to Prof. Chomsky, and I thought I remembered seeing it there; if this was a misattribution, I'm most sorry, both to my readers and to Professor Chomsky.
As for the attribution of any such remark to Prof Chomsky, and the New Yorker article, both being scurrilous, if so, I'd certainly retract such an attribution. I certainly don't mean to give a false protrayal of Prof Chomsky's views or statements, and would prefer to believe that he didn't say anything so manifestly barmy. But for that I would of course need something in the way of evidence that the article and the attribution are both inaccurate. I'd be most glad to be enlightened; but to merely complain of my ignorance, without doing anything to remedy it, seems to me to put point-scoring above a genuine devotion to the truth. It also seems to me to, like Prof. Leiter's comments, go beyond the bounds both of useful and civil debate, and accuracy, by attacking me as a person rather than my statement. That I might be ignorant about this particular matter, and therefore wrong (and quite ridiculous) in making pronouncements when I don't know what I'm talking about, is perfectly possible; to say that I am simply ignorant tout court is saying rather more than that, though. It's also -- not to boast -- simply untrue; I'm ignorant of many things, but also knowledgeable about others.
I would add that the allegation that anyone who disagrees with one is either an ignoramous, a fool, or a knave has struck me as a really off-putting characteristic of both Prof. Chomsky's and Prof. Leiter's contributions to political debate; I do hope you haven't learnt such bad habits from such (in this one way) unhelpful masters. The fact that I've now been subjected to such strong personal attacks for daring to include Noam Chomsky in a list of people who have made what I think to be idiotically strident and exaggerated comments condemning the US and all its doings and championing many of its opponents, in a post which wasn't even about Chomsky at all, suggests hostility to criticisms of Chomsky, and a tendency to become overheatedly defensive on his behalf, which I can't help but find a bit worrisome. It suggests to me a veneration for Chomsky and visceral contempt for and desire to insult and hurt anyone who dares deny him the respect due to him. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, perhaps this is unfair; and perhaps veneration for Chomsky and indignation on his behalf is justified. But i can't help but think that a certain amount of both hero-worship and ideological fundamentalism are at work here; and that's a dangerous combination.
However, it is entirely possible that I'm wrong about this, and wrong about what Chomsky has said, and that you and Prof Leiter are merely acting as properly indignant champions of truth, accuracy, and fairness (something I'd find it easier to believe if your rhetoric were more measured and your criticisms more sophisticated and substantive, but no matter; I know it's hard to keep one's cool in such discussions.) In which case, I do apologize to you, to Brian Leiter, to Noam Chomsky, and to my readers.
Finally, I wish that it were true that no-one has unironically used the term 'worker's paradise' for 60 years or more. This seems to me a rather broad assertion (especially when one considers that 60 years ago Stalin was still alive and his cult still flourishing), and one which is falsified by my own knowledge and experience. One might almost call the claim ignorant. But I won't do that; it is enough to say that it is over-audacious and reckless; it also betrays a tendency to continue to underestimate the virulence and durability of a naive faith in Communism among at least some members of the Western Left.
UPDATE II: Chun has now responded in an update to his earlier post. He refers to my post as 'passive agressive' -- indeed, as the most passive-aggressive post he's ever read. I was trying to be polite, and reasonable, and admit that I might be mistaken, and say that I'm sorry if I was. This isn't passive-aggressiveness; this is honesty, and modesty (and given that Chun suggested I was either lacking in honesty or had good reason for modesty, I thought it an appropriate way to write). So, apparently, I'm damned if I'm aggressive and hasty and dogmatic, and I'm damned if I'm not.
Chun also says that I've given up on my original claim. This is not wholly accurate. I acknowledged that I couldn't remember the source for my remark, and admitted that I therefore couldn't prove my claim and wasn't sure if it was justified or not; I didn't give up on it. I also asked Chun to substantiate his claim that the article on Chomsky I did cite was inaccurate -- something he's failed to do. So it would seem that his attacks on the New Yorker are, so far as I can tell, all invective, and no substance. Which doesn't put him in a great position to be an arbiter of intellectual quality, so far as I can tell.
What's interesting is that Chun then BACKPEDALS and writes: 'I personally have some memory of Chomsky writing that Eastern Europe was a "worker's paradise" compared to some U.S. client states during the Cold War era, but this is mere truism.' Werll, first of all, Chun, it ISN'T a truism. A lot of US client states were indeed awful; but even compared to them, I don't think you can call all of the Soviet bloc countries 'workers paradise(s)'. But that of course is a matter for dispute. What's really breathtaking here, though, is that Chun first calls me 'ignorant' for invoking Chomsky's remark, which Chun claims Chomsky (and no-one else for 60 years) has made, and then off-handedly says that he 'seems to recall' that Chomsky actually did make a remark to that effect.
So, in other words, he first accuses me of making a claim that's false, without proving it's falsity; he then asserts that I withdraw that claim, when I do no such thing; he then admits that the claim may be true, but shrugs it off.
Ok, Chun, I won't be passive-aggressive here. I think you're handling of this argument is either muddled by self-righteousness and hostility, or you're merely being mendacious. Probably the former, but I don't know. If you make up your mind about what you're actually claiming, and provide some support for it, then maybe we can pick up this conversation, and actually manage to make some intellectual progress together. E-mail me if you so desire. Otherwise, I really don't think this debate is worth bothering with any more -- since there doesn't seem to be a real debate here.
UPDATE III: Leiter continues his attacks on me at his site. Not content to sling mud himself, he also quotes an anonymous grad student of his (without noting his own contempt for anonymous comments).
Well, I'm sorry that at least two readers seem to dislike my blog so much -- and seem to feel a good deal of personal hatred for me. Even if one doesn't have the highest respect for someone, to feel so much personal hostility is unpleasant; I can only hope, as would seem to be the case, that their hostility provide Prof Leiter and his anonymous friend with more pleasure than genuine agony of irritation. Just for the record, I don't know where my anonymous reader gets the idea that I think I'm so sophisticated from. I'll admit to being aware of being pretty ambivalent about a lot of things (navel gazing again, I suppose), and some might mistake that for sophistication; but I'm not quite so simple as not to know better. I observe things, I respond to things, I jot down my responses willy-nilly and usually regret them later. I make no claims to sophistication or insight; merely to sincerity and, usually, seriousness - which are admittedly fairly cheap virtues, not worth much without the addition of knowledge or insight, which I don't claim.
I do try not to pick on people, though. I do regret the flip and facile and overly ad hominem way in which I treated Chomsky -- who, while perhaps an intellectual giant, is not above criticism and even condemnation, but who does deserve an argued-out critique rather than a brief side-swipe; and I regret having spent so much time responding to, and sometimes sinking to the level of, critics whose respect and approval I can never win -- and would never want.
And so, I'm now going to do what I should've done from the start: refrain from responding to Leiter and my other harsher critics, and try not to sink to their level in future. If anyone does have criticisms to make of me or my blog, they are of course welcome to e-mail me about them, and I'll try to respond; and if people post substantive criticisms on their own blogs, I'll respond to those. But to constantly respond to attacks on my character and intelligence is, I realize, both pointless, and pretty ridiculous and demeaning. So sorry, boys, but I'm going to finally leave the sandbox now. Have fun.

CATCH-ALL POST: A bunch of quick notes slewed together, as I continue to settle back in to Oxford (and readjust to the experience of simple tasks taking several days to accomplish), to urge anyone who stops by to a) not give up on this site -- but also not to expect much blogging in the near future; b) go over here to see why it's a shame my fellow Oxonian Steve Sachs doesn't post more often, and why it's great when he does get into a posting groove; and c)to check out the interesting debate on an important topic going on at TNR's website between Yossi Klein Halevi and Leon Wieseltier on Israel. The debate is, to say the least, rather to the right of one on the same topic that I had earlier this evening (I really need to remind myself that, if I want to avoid high blood pressure and a sore throat, not to bring up the topic of Israel when I'm talking with Europeans ...). My own stated position in that debate was somewhat to the left of Wiesltier's, though close in some of the arguments I advanced; while my interlocutor (a statistician from Germany, a basically decent person and a skillful debater), among other things, sought to partially defend, even justify, Hamas (that at least was the starting point; he wound up, still very much on one side, but maintaining a somewhat more acceptable line). It was, in other words, a somewhat uneven conflict, between someone who came down very strongly on the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel side, and an increasingly despairing and impatient pro-peace, pro-Palestine liberal Zionist. So it's sort of nice to have Yossi Klein Halevi making a good case for Israel and against compromise. I, of course, think he's wrong, and that Wieseltier is correct in holding that Israel's survival, as well as its well-being and the safety of its people, rests on renouncing occupation, repression, and unrelenting distrust, and pursuing peace, however quixotic it may appear. But it's good to have all sides presented -- and presented by people who, even if I think them wrong, I can at least engage with.
Alas, the opposed and unrelenting hardline partisans for both sides seem unable to engage with one another; and they seem to be in control at present.
In other, less grave news: as the descendant or relative of four generations of Californians, I feel I ought to say something about the recall of Gray Davis, and the election of Arnold Schwartzenegger as Governor. Ok, here it is: California is really screwed up. I'm not sorry to see Davis, who strikes me as ineffective and mediocre and mean-spirited, go; I'm not too sorry to see a socially liberal Republican replace him. I doubt that Schwartzenegger will be able to solve California's problems, though. This isn't because I have special contempt for Arnie. Granted, I don't have any great respect or liking for him either. But it isn't so much that I think he'll be an especially bad governor. I just think that even an administrative genius would have difficulty fixing California's problems; and I doubt Arnie fits that bill. Really, only a new, non-screwy state constitution will make salvage possible for CA -- that, and preferably splitting the state into two or three or four smaller states.
But, hey, if CA is going to go down the sinkhole (or is it pothole) anyway, why not have it be fun for us all to watch as a really muscular celebrity with an Austrian accent whose political rhetoric seems to rely on quotes from his own movies preside over the ruins?
I like to think that, even if I didn't have beloved family members living there, I wouldn't really believe that.
Haven't really been following what's happening in Iraq lately, about which I feel bad. So, I don't know what's happening, and I don't have any answers or insight.
But, let me just take a guess: are things going really badly? I mean, the US administration seems to be making attempts to improve it's thus far, in my view, fairly unimpressive and unpromising attempts at reconstruction, which is admirable. But they appear to be rather internally divided, and not to have things together, or know what they're doing. This doesn't inspire confidence.
I've become convinced -- no doubt it's spending all this time with these effete Commie American-hating vegetarian intellectual elitist Euro-Leftie scum here. (The preceeding was ironic, by the way. I'm currently in the UK, where I'm constantly reminded that Americans, of course, don't get irony, so I should probably flag these things, right?) -- ahem, as I was saying, I've been convinced that George Bush, and/or his administration, suffer from a sort of policy attention deficit disorder. There seems to be a tendency to take on big tasks, pursue them determinedly if not wisely -- and then, the first step complete, just drop things, turn attention to other matters, and leave the new situation that US action has created to fester. This is grossly irresponsible, unjust to those affected by our actions, and also extremely dangerous to the US. If 9/11 has taught us anything, it should be neither to underestimate our enemies, nor to ignore or fail to remedy the dangers we've called into being and the consequences of the situations we've helped to create (this is NOT to say that the US either 'caused' or, much less, 'deserved' 9/11; another point I had to argue tonight. Is it any wonder this post is exceedingly testy and ranty?)
On the other hand, I feel sort of uncomfortable jumping on the anti-Bush, anti-unilateralist, anti-American-policy bandwagon. I just heard the song 'Franco Un-American' by NoFx. Good, topical listening. I'm not sure if it's meant to be ironic, but I can't help but hear it as such; and, as such, it's a brilliant send-up of a rhetorically over-heated, self-righteous, even self-enamored, simplistic, unrealistic Left that has a too-stark view of a too-complex reality and lacks any real answers or any real idea of how to effect meaningful and beneficial change.
Ok, now back to going all pinko and pro-Europe on you, poor, dear reader. It's been the fashion of late among many anti-anti-war journalists and intellectuals to bash the BBC's allegedly biased and inaccurate and irresponsible reporting (a charge that has been ably led by my friend Mr. Chafetz. Whom I've scandalously not yet seen since getting back here, alas.) I don't know to what extent the image of the BBC's news coverage presented by Josh and others is accurate (and I've already expressed my agreements and reservations on this point on this blog).
Instead of disputing the charges against the BBC, I want to put them into a larger context. Or, rather, contexts. The first is to compare BBC news coverage to other news agencies. Regardless of its failings, the BBC remains invaluable. It simply fields an awful lot of journalists to an awful lot of places, including places which tend to be neglected by most of the Western media (in my rare viewings of the World Service, I've found the Beeb's coverage of Africa, East Asia and Australasia to be surperior to that of any other news source I've been exposed to). And many of these journalists strike me as being hard-working and honest. I do think there's political bias on the part of the news editors, and I think that one has to allow for that when getting news from the BBC. And I think that, while much of their coverage strikes me as fairly good, on certain subjects the BBC does seem to impose a distoring bias -- Israel, for example. Still, by the standards of much TV and radio news, the BBC still does a good job, and fulfills a valuable function.
But, that's not what I really want stress in defense of the Beeb. Because, I do think it's news coverage is flawed, and that it should be called on this (though I think some are calling too loudly). What I want to say, really, is this: the BBC does much more than news -- and much more than producing Masterpiece Theater-style TV dramas (though it does that, too; and I, at least, appreciate that, say what you will).
You see, I've discovered something. It's called BBC radio 3, and it's fantastic -- and without equal, or even comparison.
BBC 3 is a classical music station. And if you care at all about classical music, it is one of the glories of the modern world.
On BBC 3 you can hear music from the medieval to the modern. Some of it familiar, some of it excitingly new (I just heard an organ piece by a Czech organist and composer of whom I've never heard and whose name I can neither spell nor, a few minutes later, remember; it was breathtaking) With BBC 3, you can listen to opera -- full-length operas, in some cases, with plot summary -- over dinner, go to bed with Bach and Britten playing, and wake up to more opera. There are no commercials, and very little commentary; and what commentary there is tends to be knowledgeable, sometimes witty, and generally to the point (and delivered in BBC accents). There are no commercials; so far as I know, there are no pledge-drives. And, again from my listening thus far, there's no kisch and no schmaltz. Just good, serious, beautiful, often soul-stirring music -- some of it performed in original productions, some of it even commissioned by the BBC.
I'm a fan of NPR, and the commercial NY area classical stations. But they simply don't compare, in my experience, to radio 3.
And that's just one BBC radio station. There are 12 of them, plus local radio. Some of them are fairly standard pop stations. One's a news station, and so no doubt guilty of all that BBC news is guilty of. But, in addition to Radio 3, there's Radio 4, which broadcasts some of the most intelligent, thought-provoking, rewarding and engaging talk I've heard on the air. (It also produces some stuff which I don't think is terribly impressive, either).
So, yes, there are problems with the BBC, and it should be monitored, and perhaps reformed. But it still provides a unique and valuable public service -- one that it can only provide if given both money and independence. I know that there are market zealots who believe that, if capitalism is allowed to run it's course, the right results will eventually follow. They are, I think, simply wrong. Most commercial radio is crap; the government-funded, heavy-tax-burden-causing BBC produces wonderful things.
If this is socialism, all I can say is: yes, please.
And, while I'm on the subject of music: when not listening to BBC 3, I've been revisiting the Pretenders (some great pop songs, as well as some unutterably overblown stuff), Buzzcocks (pop geniuses), and the Jam, investigating the Auteurs, the Au Pairs, ... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (I've been really into the A's lately, for some reason), Damien Rice (who seems to be sort of like Jason Mraz, only good -- er, I mean, better, of course), and Death Cab for Cutie (which should make Mr. Reff happy), and wishing I could find out more about Brand New, who, from the one song of theirs I've heard, seem to be a screamo band who channel Morrissey during their quieter moments. This is not quite as peculiar as it sounds, and is my idea of a good time. Indeed, it's almost enough (and, in some moods, enough) to draw me away from Radio 3.

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