Would you buy a used opera from this man?

gelb

That’s Peter Gelb, above, who’s running the Metropolitan Opera these days. Running it into the ground, by all accounts, and not a minute too soon.

Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are opera fans, in spite of the old musicians’ joke to the effect that there are music lovers, and then there are people who are into opera. I’ve spent a few pleasant nights at the opera meself. Admittedly, it was mostly Handel and Mozart. Wagner is fun, up to a point, but one wants to take a shower afterwards. Verdi is a fine composer but he should have confined himself to oratorio. And dare one say it, Monteverdi is at his least interesting in the medium he is said to have invented. Mozart’s most lovable opera(*) is also the least operatic. And so on.

My opera-fan friends are buzzing just now about an item in The New Yorker (yes, The New Yorker) about the woes of the Met, under the mad Mussolini-like diktatura of Mr Gelb — who bears more than a passing resemblance to the late unlamented Steve Jobs, don’t you think?

I was delighted to see Eustace Tilley taking a swipe at a Ring cycle I also mocked, to the best of my ability, back in the day: one of Gelb’s satrap spectacles.

It should surprise no one that Gelb & Co. are now attempting to fund their overblown follies by cutting the salaries of the fiddlers in the pit and the singers in the chorus. The New Yorker piece linked to above gave some numbers about their pay. I was shocked. These are people who have spent years mastering a difficult craft and have succeeded brilliantly at it. They ought to be a lot better-paid than I am. They’re not. This is just obscene. But Gelb, like every other corporate executive, wants to reduce them to beggary. Gelb, I should say, and his board of economical billionaires.

I wish the Met every ill that could possibly befall it. I want to see it shuttered and dark: the dull tennis-court sized Chagalls relocated to a Masonic hall or a skating rink somewhere, the trashy tawdry building — Robert Moses’ work — crumbling like moldy icing sugar under the wrecker’s ball.

Opera fans will still go see opera in a garage, or a barge, or an abandoned derelict warehouse; and opera would be much more lovable under those circumstances, not to mention more affordable. The divine fiddlers in the band and more-than-competent singers in the chorus, I think, will find a way. We are a depraved and unamiable species but at our worst we retain a love for music, the dulce laborum lenimen, and I hope and believe that we shall never lose it.

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(*) Zauberfloete, of course. Let’s put on a show!

O treason most vile!

Benedict-Arnold-concealed-papers-631.jpg__800x600_q85_crop

Golly, liberals really love to call the cops, don’t they?

It seems that just about everybody I know is mad as a wet hen about the Republican senators’ childish, fatuous letter to the ayatollahs. A bizarre legal curiosity called the Logan Act has been exhumed — by liberals! — from two hundred years’ worth of well-deserved oblivion. Charges of treason are being proffered, prosecution demanded, garments torn, hair set afire….

Not surprisingly, the most insightful, rational, and adult response I have seen to the senators’ silly letter came from the heir of an ancient and sophisticated civilization, namely Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who was kind enough to give this imbecile stunt more careful consideration than it deserved from anybody.

Perhaps hysteria evokes hysteria. As the Republican loons increasingly take flight from reality, it appears that their liberal counterparts feel obliged to keep pace.

It’s a depressing spectacle to see the enlightened, well-educated libs and the ignorant, obscurantist Yahoo flat-earthers scrambling for the same brass ring. Who’s the traitor? Who’s the patriot? Who’s the law-breaker, who the law-enforcer?

Of course one expects reactionaries to call people traitors — it’s a fundamentally reactionary concept — but it says something about the latent physiognomy of liberals when they show themselves so eager to do the same. There are, of course, precedents: see for example the American postwar Red Scares, organized respectively under the Wilson and Truman administrations.

One cannot, of course, leave this topic without observing that there are exactly two parties whose noses would be put out of joint by a rapprochement between the US and Iran: namely, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Accent on the ‘yahoo’

Netanyahu

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that fifty-some Congressional soup hounds — including eight senators! — had actually boycotted Netanyahu. Truly we live in an age of miracle and wonder.

Liberal commentary on this startling phenomenon has been self-stultified to a degree. The only thing that seems to matter is that Boehner, by inviting Bibi without consulting an individual always respectfully referred to as ‘the President’, had been guilty of disrespect to the latter. The fact that Bibi, who was of course applauded to the echo by the rest of Congress, is a mass murderer and also, remarkably enough, a crashing bore, was apparently of no consequence.

Rachel Maddow, needless to say, was the wettest of the various media hens who took a peck at this topic. The good part starts at 2:50 or so:

A fine example of the essential authoritarianism of the respectable liberal mind.

Netanyahu is an odd-looking fellow, isn’t he? Was he assembled out of Legos? A sort of prefab Golem?

Surely Obie could have prevented him from coming. Just say no, eh? No such luck, of course. It would have been fun to see Bibi’s big cinderblock of a head barking at the Congressional applause machine via Skype: projected on a screen, ten feet high, like Oz The Great And Terrible, each plug-ugly twitch and glare and grimace taking up more space than a frisky Labrador in a studio apartment.

Bad move, Leo

Dingsheim_StKilian_Leo_IX

Maybe we shouldn’t blame St Leo for the Orthodox/Roman split in 1054 (seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it?). But he certainly teed it up for his Legate, wonderfully named Humbert, whose was the proximate curial slipper that kicked over the hornet’s nest. Not quite a thousand years later, the consequences continue to reverberate:

Syriza in Athens and Putin in Moscow: An Unholy Alliance?

[Oy vey!] the troubling attitudes of Syriza and its leaders in foreign policy…

Syriza has chosen to rule in alliance with 13 deputies from the rightist party of Independent Greeks, which gives the new government a majority. But why did a militant neo-Marxist phenomenon like Syriza find itself wedded to a conservative force like the Independent Greeks?

Information about the background of this puzzling lash-up is dismaying, and indicators point to meddling from Moscow….

The first foreign official to visit prime minister Tsipras was Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov, who soon invited defense minister Kammenos to visit Moscow. Putin echoed the welcome. Meanwhile, aside from its criticism of European economic policies, the Tsipras cabinet has dissociated itself definitively from Western sanctions against Moscow over the seizure of Crimea and other Russian armed intrigues in Ukraine.

This piece was written by somebody named Steven Schwartz, who seems to be associated with an organization called “The Institute for Islamic Pluralism”. (Funny… you don’t *look* Islamic.) But of course other, less obviously ridiculous figures have worried about some sort of entente between Syriza and Russia. With good reason, I hope and pray; and my prayers on this topic ascend in Latin and Greek impartially. In fact I may brush off the Old Church Slavonic grammar and make a stab at that.

Ah, those Greeks. Not only are they making a break from Miss Merkel’s Austerity Academy; they seem to be going AWOL from the NATO citadel.

This all makes me very very happy.

Big data, big dreams

professor

We all know that Google and Amazon and Facebook know everything about us, right? This bothers some people — it bothers me, for example — and not others. But what bothers the Chronicle of Higher Education is that the lords of Big Data aren’t sharing it with… academics:

[W]hat should be an opportunity for social science is now threatened by a three-headed monster of privatization, amateurization, and Balkanization. A coordinated public effort is needed to overcome all of these obstacles….

While many folks are legitimately concerned about privacy in an era of Internet giants, we think that these private firms and public-sector agencies should be made to share their data more—not less—but with the National Science Foundation, not the National Security Agency….

Rather than just apply to Yahoo to work with its data in a silo, researchers would be able to link such proprietary data to other, diverse sources of information including those of other firms and government agencies, or even to newly collected information.

Gotta admire the chutzpah.

What’s the German for ‘mission civilatrice’?

bundesbank

Old joke:

Holger, from Frankfurt, arrives at the Athens airport.
Customs official: Name?
Holger: Holger von Alteboesefeind.
Customs official: Occupation?
Holger: Not ziss time. Chust visitingk.

A few more elections like the recent ones in Greece, and I may have to reconsider some long-held opinions. Oh sure, sure, I know, what will come of it, all a big fizzle, no doubt, no doubt, but it’s been pretty damn exhilarating up to this point. Mostly because of what it implies about how public opinion can change dramatically after a few years of what the new Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, called “fiscal waterboarding”. If nothing else, Syriza’s willingness to use blunt and accurate language is a breath of fresh air, or rather, what a breath of fresh air would be to… to… well, to a person being waterboarded.

Will Amurricans ever stop trying to be ersatz Romans and start learning from the Greeks instead? I know: sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Not least among the pleasures in this recent turn of events is the constipated rhetoric effortfully squeezed out by various solemn hard-money Germans. It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but here’s a good one, from Martin Jaeger, identified as a spokesman for the German finance ministry:

“We are prepared to work further with Greece … But we will not force our help onto Athens.”

And Athens is no doubt very grateful to Berlin for its manly restraint. That forced help is a bitch, and particularly a bitch when it’s Made In Germany.

Another, less Pecksniffian and more in the old Pickelhaube mode:

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the Greeks should abide by their commitments, adding: “There’s no arguing with us about this and, what’s more, we are difficult to blackmail.”

As if all this weren’t enough to gladden my gristly old heart, Syriza has entered into a coalition with the small right-wing party ANEL, which really makes me giddy with delight. ANEL has the usual anti-immigrant craziness and a deep romantic attachment to the established Greek Orthodox church, but it is also solidly anti-austerity and has no use at all for the Germans. So here we have realized the terrible specter of a left-right populist alliance leaving the respectable, responsible centrists and liberals high and dry.

This splendid and exemplary piece of opportunism — in the best sense of the word — on Syriza’s part has disappointed a few of my more beautiful-souled Lefty comrades, of course, but surprisingly few. Most of us seem to get what a brilliant move it is.

Comment cartoon by Ellie Foreman-Peck

Nous sommes Charlie

french-cops

Clearly the martyrs of the Rue Nicolas-Appert didn’t die in vain:

[New York ]Police Commissioner Bratton [announced today a] new 350 cop unit, called The Strategic Response Group, [which] will be dedicated to “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities” against attacks like the hostage situation in Sydney, which the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence John Miller said was an inevitability in NYC.

This new squad will be used to investigate and combat terrorist plots, lone wolf terrorists, and… protests. “It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris,” Bratton said, according to CBS.

“They’ll be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not,” Bratton explained. “They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” Capital NY adds that these officers will also be used “to assist on crime scenes, and help with crowd control and other large-scale events.”

… Bratton said Mayor de Blasio was on board, and he expected the City Council to be as well.

No doubt Bratton will prove to be entirely correct in his sanguine expectations about de Blasio and, needless to say, the City Council.

I’m mildly surprised to hear that the NYPD doesn’t already have every cop toy a porker could possibly dream of. But maybe Bratton watched a lot of TV during the CH lockdown, and sensed that the tres soigne porc francais had a certain je ne sais quoi that he couldn’t quite identify, and characteristically concluded that it must have something to do with firepower. I’d almost be willing to bet that he orders French machine guns.

But if he expects the New York oinkerie to look anything like their French counterparts, he needs to recruit them from Williamsburg, not Rockland County.

French-police-special-forces

Culling the herd

Sheldon-Silver

I seldom have much use for prosecutors, but like a stopped clock, perhaps they can be right twice a day. The most unspeakable politician in New York(*), Sheldon Silver, shown above, has just been indicted on a lengthy list of corruption charges by the somewhat uncle-Festerish Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, shown below.

Preet-Bharara

Old Shellie has been mentioned here before, but it would require a thick book, written perhaps by Evelyn Waugh, to do anything like justice to his Lord Of Misrule decades running the New York state assembly, and forming one of the troika that run the state. (The other two are the governor and the state senate majority leader. Legislative districts in New York are so precisely gerrymandered that the senate nearly always has a Republican majority and the Assembly a democratic one. There is in fact honor among thieves.)

Shellie, of course, is a Democrat. Just sayin’.

It seems quite unlikely that the legislature will be “cleaned up” by prosecutorial smash-and-grab raids like this, amusing though they are. At any rate I don’t expect it. I imagine that the legislature will continue to be run on the current bought-and-paid-for basis for the foreseeable future. And I imagine that the prosecutors will continue to swoop in from time to time, seize some hapless plump grazer in Albany’s lush pastures, and hold an eclatant press conference.

This is, of course, good for the prosecutors and their political ambitions. It may even be good for the Legislature. Culling the herd, you might say.

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(*) Or maybe the second-most. Governor Andrew Cuomo is a very strong contender, and one can only hope that he and Shellie will someday be cellmates and have a lot of time to argue the point between themselves.

St Charlie

coran

Voltaire, who was perhaps the most distinguished French Islamophobe since Charles Martel, and the only one, ever, with any charm, once said that if God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent Him. The same might be said about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Whether it was really spontaneous, or some ginned-up police provocation, hardly matters. It’s been a brilliant success.

In the name of vague and unexamined notions like “free speech” and “satire”, all kinds of ordinarily reasonable, skeptical, good-hearted people have enlisted in the Clash of Civilizations, on behalf of the folks who published the charming image above, shortly after the Egyptian military coup of 2013.

It’s extraordinarily depressing now to listen in on the chatter of people I usually respect and admire. This one somehow got them where they lived, and while they would no doubt deplore — retrospectively — the uses of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, or the Reichstag fire, or the Zimmermann telegram, or remember-the-Maine, they’ve swallowed this latest one hook, line and sinker.

Who was that wiseacre who observed that the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history? I’m afraid he got it right.

Below, another product of French enlightenment.

burqa

m4s0n501

Charlie? Moi, non

je-ne-suis-pas-charlie

Nobody should have to die just because he’s an asshole. Talk about a holocaust. But Charlie Hebdo was a nasty bigoted shitrag, and I for one decline to join the stampede of righteous indignation — as if some great principle, like free speech for example, were at stake here.

Let’s start with that concept, actually. There is no such thing as free speech, never has been, and probably shouldn’t be. If I walk into a bar and inform the first plug-ugly I see that his mom was recently laid off from a house of ill repute, I’m likely to get pounded for my pains, and quite right too. If the Charlie massacre suggests to smug complacent humorists softly ensconced behind the police lines of the First World that they can’t rely on impunity if they make fun of lesser breeds’ religion, well then, perhaps the Carlists will not have died in vain. I hope Richard Dawkins is holed up in a secure undisclosed location somewhere, quavering like a Victorian soprano, and sporting a false beard and a turban.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the intrinsic charm and value of something called “satire”, as if it were all of a piece. Dean Swift wrote satire, and so did Der Sturmer, a satirical publication much given, like Charlie, to cartoons featuring big noses and bushy eyebrows(*). We can still read the one with pleasure and intense enthusiasm, but the other is pretty distressing. Perhaps the value of satire depends in part on who is being satirized, and why. Perhaps it even depends on who’s enjoying it. There are people with whom I would not care to share even a harmless taste — fly-fishing, say.

Of course what complicates the picture in the case of C-Hebdo is the strong whiff of provocateurism the thing gives off. When something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

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(*) Its editor, Julius Streicher, was hanged at Nuremberg. So much for free speech.