Updated twice (see below).
Yesterday, President Bush announced the winners of the 2007 National Medal of the Arts. One of the winners was the great contemporary American choral composer Morten Lauridsen. Hearing his great a capella choral piece "O Magnum Mysterium" sung at Christmas in Coventry Cathedral was one of the musical high points of my year in England. There are several good recordings of the piece. I recommend either the recording with Polyphony and Stephen Layton (a more expensive import which also includes Lauridsen's moving requiem, Lux Aeterna) or the recording with the Dale Warland Singers, Lux Aurumque, which also features choral masterpieces by Eric Whitacre, Herbert Howells, Dominick Argento, and others.
There is also a new crop of National Humanities Medal winners, including the classicist, military historian and neoconservative pundit Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson is notorious among classicists for his book, co-written with John Heath, titled Who Killed Homer?, which deplores the abandonment of classical education and the robust (to use a trendy word) values of the classical world. Among those classical values is the war of imperialism, ostensibly undertaken to promote the classical idea of democracy. Hanson has been an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq and an ardent defender of Donald Rumsfeld. Laughably, he has identified himself as a Democrat, but has also described the Democratic party as "impotent" and "shrill." (This is also a man who worries that there are too many women in the field of classics, and too few real men.) Hanson argues that Western democracies, with values rooted in the classics, make unstoppable war machines, and that the might of Western democracy will ultimately prevail in the war on terror.
Hanson has also been a vocal critic of Jared Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse. Of the former book, he wrote: "Diamond seemed to be terribly confused about the course of 2,500 years of Western history. Environment, far from being a precondition for Western success, was often almost irrelevant to it." Hanson prefers his own interpretation of the course of Western civilization, in which ideology is more important than environment, and the lessons of the classics are more important than the lessons of ecology.
Update. From Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post: "Among the recipients of today's 2007 National Humanities Medal: Stephen H. Balch, president of a conservative group that fights political correctness on college campuses ('for his leadership and advocacy upholding the noblest traditions of higher education'); National Review columnist and Hoover Institution senior fellow Victor Davis Hanson ('He has cultivated the fields of history and brought forth an abundant harvest of wisdom for our times'); and neoconservative Sovietologist Richard Pipes ('He has shaped and sharpened our understanding of the contest between liberty and tyranny')."
Update Two. More and snarkier commentary on Victor Davis Hanson, with links.
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