If you are anything like me, you likely spent much of last week glued to your television. As much as I knew Donald Trump was a liar, had ignored conventional norms and undermined governmental institutions, excoriated those whom he perceived as disloyal, and was not respected by most who had worked with him, I never would have guessed that he would incite an insurrection on the Capitol of the United States. Yet we all watched it on national television.
There is no doubt that what we saw was an insurrection, nor any doubt that Trump incited it. What can be done to hold Trump accountable has yet to be determined. Reasonable people agree that accountability is necessary but disagree on how.
What is interesting is the extent to which others were complicit in what happened. All those legislators who agreed with his “big lie,” that he actually won the November 3rd election, or that he lost it because it was rigged. All November, much of December, even until the Congressional debates on the evening of January 6th, legislators who know better insisted that the will of the people should be overturned by Congress. By lying to their constituents, all those legislators can be seen to have encouraged those who attended on January 6th in their mistaken belief that attending Congress on that date could lead to Trump’s continuing in office. What consequences these enablers will face is unclear. I hope, as Mitt Romney said, that by choosing the wrong side, they will be forever branded in history for their attack on American democracy. We’ll see.
What is also fascinating is the extent to which social media companies have recognized that they too could be complicit in what happened. It’s clear that the internet has been replete with posts encouraging disinformation, violence, the use of force and of weapons to keep Trump in office. That Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter have banned Trump from their sites sends an important message. That Apple, Goggle, and Amazon have removed Parler, an alternate extreme right internet site, from their app stores is a good sign. Presumably, the internet will no longer be available to any groups or individuals violating corporate standards. Internet access to millions upon millions of readers is novel in history. The political consequences of disinformation, using violent language, and encouraging violence on modern technology has now become apparent, and social media companies have been made aware of their responsibilities. The rest of us need to understand the issue and decide where we stand.
Anyone watching on Wednesday will have been struck by the clear security lapse which occurred. That the Capitol police were overwhelmed was apparent early in the afternoon. But where were the Washington, DC police? The FBI? The National Guard? Everyone knew that Trump could influence those marching in his name. He chose not to do so. His tweets to the crowd only encouraged them to continue. The chief of police for Washington, DC said that there was no intelligence that would have alerted them to the need for greater advance security. Given the plethora of internet communications about the event in advance, that can’t be true. There were also reports that the mayor of Washington, DC had asked for National Guard assistance before the event. That request was apparently ignored. National Guard troops were available in Maryland, Virginia, and in DC itself but the federal government official responsible for giving them authorization to assist was AWOL. Clearly, a full investigation of the security lapse will be held and further culpability on the part of those responsible will be established.
The difference between security on this occasion and on other occasions, when black Americans were protesting, could not have been more clear. It is not hyperbole to say that everyone watching had a visceral personal experience of the racism which permeates law enforcement in the United States.
It has already been said that January 6th will be known as “a day of infamy” in American history. In my lifetime, it seems analogous to the assassination of President Kennedy, the Watergate scandal, and 9/11. We are still in the middle of it and don’t know how it will ultimately play out. It gives us much to think about. If nothing else, it teaches us the fragility of democracy and how we must always be alert to how our words and actions affect our polity.
***** Note that streaming of Messiah/Complex (post of December 31st 2020) has been extended to January 31st. It’s worth making a special effort to see it. *****
So many people I know think they don’t like opera. They have little experience of it and perhaps are intimidated by the foreign languages, the length of the performances, and the use of music for all the dialogue. Whatever the reason, they avoid anything which smacks of opera.
The 2020 New Year’s Eve Gala concert from the Metropolitan Opera of New York on Thursday should be an exception. Filmed in Augsburg, Germany, live from the neo-Baroque Parktheater (“a marvel of glass and cast-iron” which opened in 1886), it is a delightful concert appealing to opera experts and novices alike. It premiered on New Year’s Eve and is available to view by streaming until January 13th.
The setting is stunning. When most other opera houses around the world are shuttered, this performance comes from an opera house which is small, intimate, and with what appear to be windows which let in natural light. Lighting for the concert used the windows to wonderful effect. All the seats on the floor of the hall were removed, replaced by a small round stage where the performers sang, accompanied by a pianist for some songs and a small string ensemble for others. The production was conducted according to German COVID-19 requirements, shot with numerous cameras, linked to the control room in New York, and directed by Gary Halvorson, the director of the Met’s Live in HD theatre transmissions.
The Gala program includes arias, duets, and ensembles from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment, Puccini’s La Boheme and La Rondine, Verdi’s Il Trovatore and La Traviata, and others, as well as operetta excerpts and Neapolitan songs. These are some of the most popular pieces in classical music and will be familiar to many who think they know nothing about opera. Excerpts from the concert are available on YouTube.
The performers are sopranos Angel Blue and Pretty Yende and tenors Javier Camarena and Matthew Polenzani. Blue starred as Bess in the Met’s production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which opened the 2019–20 season. She is founder of the non-profit Sylvia’s Kids Foundation, which offers scholarships to high school graduates. Yende comes from South Africa, made her debut in Latvia and has sung with most major opera companies around the world. Mexican tenor Camarena is “one of opera’s most celebrated bel canto singers.” He made his Met debut in 2011 as Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. American tenor Polenzani made his debut at the Met in 1997 as Boyar Khrushchov in Boris Godunov and has sung nearly 400 performances of 40 roles at the Met since.
The women wear lavish dresses, the men tuxedos. Needless to say, their singing is superb. It was wonderful to see them perform live in such a setting, and to know that people were watching together from all over the world.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased on the Met’s website at metopera.org. Once you have a ticket, you can watch the concert as often as you wish. The concert can be seen on a computer, mobile device, or a home entertainment system (via Chromecast or AirPlay).
The Gala Concert has been marketed as part of the Met’s fundraising campaign “to support the company and protect its future.”
To put it into context, you may be interested to know that the New Year’s Eve Gala has contributed to labour conflicts at the Met. The newsletter, Ludwig Van Toronto, on January 1, 2021, published an article by Anya Wassenberg entitled “THE SCOOP | Frictions Grow Between Met Opera, Met Orchestra And Staff After New Year’s Gala.”
The Met is the largest classical music organization in the US with about 1000 employees including musicians, stagehands, and members of the chorus. It is said that the Met has lost $154 million in revenues since the pandemic began. On Thursday, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians complained that the Gala continued the Met strategy of outsourcing its musicians which was “artistic malpractice and unacceptable.” In December, the stagehands were locked out. The unions are concerned that employees of the Met have not been paid or supported during the pandemic, and that future contract negotiations will be affected. I had assumed that the “fundraising campaign,” which was the purpose of the MetStars series and the Gala, would have supported as many Met employees as possible. Apparently, it did not extend to the musicians, stagehands, and chorus.
Comments about the New Year’s Gala reflect the situation. Most agree that it was a splendid concert with great music and fabulous production values. Some chose to boycott the concert because of the labour issues. I have no informed opinion about the situation. The only thing I will say is that the Metropolitan Opera has led the world in making opera accessible to the masses. If making opera more popular is one of the objectives of the MetStars series, including the Gala, then it will contribute to the future of the art. That is a good thing.
As for the concert, it is absolutely exhilarating. The choice of music is diverse, demanding, delightful, and upbeat. The words reflect common operatic themes, the vagaries of human experience, and are translated in the subtitles. The performers are super-energetic and totally engaging. That they touch each other, hold hands, and hug is novel and good to see after ten months of rigid physical distancing. By the time they end the concert, singing Auld Lang Syne, they clearly are having great fun. It’s a concert which will leave you smiling as you enter the new year.
(By the way, Ludwig Van Toronto, and Ludwig Van Montreal, are websites dedicated to lovers of classical music. Their email newsletter notes that while the mainstream media is cutting back on classical music coverage, Ludwig Van is investing in it. Its motto is “If You Think Classical Music is Dead, You’re Dead Wrong!” You can choose to receive the email newsletter daily, weekly, or monthly. I had no idea that it existed and am delighted to plug into what it has to offer. Check out their website.)
Apparently, the New York Times has cancelled April Fool’s Day. On whose authority? Did Trump order that? Governor Cuomo? It’s probably an illegal order. April Fool’s Day has never been a statutory holiday. It’s part of our freedom of expression as a culture. Since when can a newspaper dictate the cultural expression of the masses? Or Trump for that matter? What are they afraid of? Hackers taking over the world? I guess they could, but we desperately need a little levity. And, besides, I have never heard of such an order in Canada. We live in Canada.
But now we know that the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 (hopefully not extending into 2021) is not a joke. We are in it for a long haul. Who would have guessed that we would find ourselves in a period of cataclysmic historical change? I wonder if people felt this way at the beginning of World War One? Or on the fall of the stock market in 1929?? Or the start of World War Two? Maybe 9/11 is the closest in my generation. When we emerge from this pandemic, the world will not be the same. In an instant we will have pivoted to modernity.
“In these hard times,” to use my son Ben’s favourite phrase, we need to look for the bright spots. Already they are apparent.
In Canada at least, the tedious war between partisan interests, premiers and the federal government, and groups mobilized to pursue their own agendas, has ended. We are all in this together. We need each other. Our lives depend on good leadership and the cooperation of every citizen. This common experience will change our political culture and create a new climate of collaboration. We may be less wealthy, but we are already more cooperative and more nimble than we have been in decades.
Our Parliamentary system is working well. The government proposed to give itself the broadest possible powers necessary to fight an unprecedented epidemic. The Opposition challenged their draft legislation as over-reach. After hours of negotiation, but in historically fast time, all parties agreed to a compromise which appears to have given the government the powers it needed for a much shorter period. That Quebec was instrumental in proposing the compromise is a good thing for confederation. For all the last-minute drama, the parties did agree to an expedited process to approve the legislation in the House. And did you notice how quickly the Senate convened to approve the legislation? A refreshing reassurance that the Senate can move with expedition when necessary.
We are lucky to live in Canada. Our politicians of all stripes are rising to the challenge. Our civil service and public servants are professional and not gutted. We have a strong banking system and banks which owe a debt to the society which has sustained them. We have a public health care system and a social welfare infrastructure which provides the basis for speedy responses. We have the CBC which, for all its faults, is professional and brings the country together. We have business, cultural and community sectors which are innovative, energetic and willing to do what they can for the common good. For all our political and cultural diversity, we share common values and a sense of community.
We now know that we are living through a revolution. B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry noted that, in this age of modern technology, physical distancing need not mean social distancing. In World War One, young men and women left their families to fight abroad. Only the occasional letter or parcel arrived between family back home and the troops and medical personnel overseas. People lived in a state of dreaded anticipation. By World War Two, the telephone was commonplace at home, but less so across the water. Today, communications around the world are instantaneous over a proliferation of devices and apps. People (particularly those in the wealthy industrialized world of which we are a part) can see each other, conduct business, share common experiences of every possible kind, even write a book collaboratively with a host of experts located all around the continent.
Compare the spectacle of partisanship and dysfunction south of the border. Their response has been a horror show, and will lead to horrific results. Trump and the anti-science Republicans around him are doomed. What we are seeing is a massive human experiment, a comparison between how a pandemic should be fought versus how it is being fought in the USA. Canada’s going to come out looking good in this.
So while we do our part as troops in this environmental war, we are living through a total transformation of our society. It is our technological revolution. We are hurtling towards modernity in all sectors of our society and our lives. Governments are working collaboratively across the country (when did that happen last?) and with business and labour (both nationally and locally). Our public health care system will never be the same again. E-education is coming on a massive scale, whether we like it or not. Even the musty old legal system has stopped. When it gets going again, the old practices and culture that impeded reform will be swept away. Truckers and grocery staff are now recognized as essential workers. All sectors of the economy are joining in a communal effort.
Millions of people in lock-down and mandatory isolation are a captive audience who must find something to do to fill their time. In modern times, we are used to going out and about, shopping in the malls, using the gyms and the parks, visiting our friends and relatives in public spaces, restaurants, bars, discos. We are not used to being cooped up. How we deal with being housebound will be a major test. We need to find ways to divert ourselves in close quarters and in the physical presence of only our immediate family. It’s time to read the classics, take up an old or a new hobby, learn to play the piano, take up cooking, declutter the house. In the weeks ahead, we will talk about what people are doing, how they are doing it, and what resources are available to assist.
To survive, we are also going to need to learn about modern technology. Have you heard about Zoom? Two weeks ago, I knew nothing about it. Now I hear stock shares in Zoom are skyrocketing, and that it will sweep the world. Last Saturday, I was at my first Zoom gathering with my family. It was a hoot. I am meeting my close girlfriends for a Zoom date this coming Friday. Our next post will feature a Guest Blogger who will tell us how to set up Zoom and how to use it.
Did you pick up on the fact that Canada led the world in ensuring that the 2020 Olympics will be postponed until 2021? We had a great Winter Olympics in 2010. We know what hosting an Olympics entails. Good work to the Canadian Olympic Committee and the athletes who led that effort.
And did you notice that the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the appeal from the City of Toronto against Doug Ford’s arbitrary cut to the size of the Toronto City Council in the midst of the last municipal election? Maybe we will get some much-needed clarification of the modern law relating to the powers of municipal governments, and the standards of fairness that apply to the municipal context. This is going to be very useful.
It’s time to make lemonade out of lemons, everyone.
GEOFFREY STEVENS, former managing editor of the Globe and Mail, writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes in the Waterloo Region Record. His column entitled “Living with the fool next door; trade wars and tightropes,” published yesterday, says it all.
With thanks to Geoffrey, I commend it to you and share it here:
“Living with the fool next door: trade wars and tightropes
“’Trade wars are good, and easy to win’ – President Donald Trump, by tweet, 5:50 a.m. ET, March 2, 2018.
“Excuse me, but Donald Trump is a fool – a blithering, dangerous fool.
“This is the 21st century. Trade wars are never good. In today’s interdependent world, they may be impossible for any nation to win, even the United States, which is no longer the economic colossus that Trump, stuck in an isolationist time warp, believes it is.
“As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman put it on Friday, ‘You could survey a hundred economists – both liberal and conservative – and not one would tell you that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.’
“On Thursday, Trump, who has the power to do so by executive order, announced he will impose tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum. ‘The immediate beneficiaries will be the American steel and aluminum industries, while the victims will be . . . well, anyone who buys anything that’s made with steel or aluminum, which is pretty much everyone,’ Waldman wrote.
“The New York Times noted on Sunday that the American mills and smelters that would directly benefit from the new tariffs employ fewer than 200,000 workers, while the companies that would bear the burden of the higher prices the tariffs would bring – firms that manufacture everything from trucks to chicken coops – employ more than 6.5 million.
“Trump’s tariffs, announced without warning, are not only bad economics, they are bad politics. They aim to please a corner of his base at the expense of much larger numbers of blue-collar workers in manufacturing.
“It may make no sense, but that does not matter. Some Trump analysts argue that he suffers from gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at. He seems convinced that America’s trading partners, led by China, are laughing at the United States and, by extension, at him personally. China, which accounts for 65 per cent of the U.S. global trade deficit, is the primary enemy in the trade war.
“After China, Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner. Trump, who betrays no comprehension of trade statistics, complains about a deficit with Canada. Yes, in terms of goods alone, the U.S. ran a deficit of US $18 billion in 2017. But when financial and other services are added to the ledger, the deficit becomes a surplus for the United States ($12.5 billion in 2016).
“Justin Trudeau and his emissaries have been making this case in Washington and state capitals for months. They argue that Canada and the United States enjoy the world’s best balanced and mutually beneficial trading relationship. The object should be to strengthen it, not to tear it down, as by renouncing NAFTA or by raising new tariff walls. The governors get that and so do congressmen from states that trade with Canada.
“For the moment, China is taking a cautious approach to Trump’s tariffs, downplaying the anticipated impact on Chinese exports. Beijing is waiting to see what happens next. Is Trump serious? Can he get his way? Or will he perhaps change his mind at dawn tomorrow?
“Nothing is ever certain with the erratic Trump, but all available indicators suggest that, yes, he is serious. Yes, he can most likely get his way, unless members of his Republican party find the courage to stand up to him. But although he is not likely to change his mind on trade, he could be diverted in his next tweetstorm. Perhaps he will be so outraged by something at the Oscars that a trade war will be driven from his mind – until it returns.
“Canada can hope so. Propinquity makes dealing with Trump especially difficult, and the fact that NAFTA is hanging in the balance adds urgency to the challenge. Trudeau needs to keep walking a tightrope – humoring the president while making it clear that Canada is not about to be bullied. The blithering fool next door is Canada’s problem, too.”
Reading the Sunday Star this weekend brought small signs of hope for better times ahead. It’s nice to read some good news for a change.
* The White House released the Annual Report of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, his own appointees, which clearly shows that Trump’s trade figures on NAFTA are out to lunch. They make the point that the US had a trade surplus with Canada when services are included in the calculations. Now that his own advisors have formally stated what Canada has said all along, will it make any difference in the NAFTA negotiations to Trump? to his lackeys in Congress?
* School children and youth in Florida are leading a campaign for gun control. Where their parents have failed, maybe the younger generations will succeed. I love the slogan in one photograph at a recent demonstration: “How dare you push legislation protecting us before we are born and not after the fact!” This may be the beginning of something good, particularly as they are calling for consumer boycotts against the NRA and against states with lax gun laws. David Hogg, a survivor of the recent shooting, is calling on tourists not to take their spring break in Florida.
* Is the National Rifle Association beginning to lose its lustre? American companies are said to be responding. Delta, United Airlines, Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, the Best Western hotel chain, Wyndham Hotels, and global insurance company MetLife have apparently all ditched the discounts they previously made available to NRA members. Other major companies are cutting their ties with the NRA: the First National Bank of Omaha, one of the largest private banks in America, cut its “Official Credit Card of the NRA,” Symantec is leading the boycott movement into the software industry, and Chubb Ltd announced it will no longer underwrite its “NRA Carry Guard,” popularly known as its “murder insurance.” #BoycottNRA is the new rallying cry. Can social media give this plea the same power that #Metoo has gained? Let’s hope so. In Canada, members of MEC are now calling for the co-op to boycott purchases from a company with a division which makes high-powered rifles. So they should.
Economic sanctions led to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Maybe economic sanctions by each of us, and by the companies we patronize, can be the answer to the carnage caused by American gun laws.
* The donnybrook of the current Ontario PC leadership race has highlighted the questionable capacity of the party to govern the province. Their current interim leader has admitted “the rot” in the party and is trying to clean it up. Until Patrick Brown withdrew on Monday, to the audible relief of his competitors and the rest of the party, he seemed hell-bent on discrediting the four candidates who are seeking to replace him as the future Premier of Ontario.
The first leadership debate made it painfully obvious that none of the newcomers has any grasp of policy issues facing the government of the province, and none favours a carbon tax. Patrick Brown at least approved of the party platform which was generally conceded to have been cribbed from the Liberals and he, at least, recognizes that a carbon tax is coming, like it or not. This upcoming election campaign is going to be very interesting. Have the Liberals been so bad that we need to trade them in for this bunch?
* Last but not least, Jean Terauds wrote a marvellous review entitled “Handel’s Alexander’s Feast a marvellous musical meal in Tafelmusik’s hands.” I heard the concert at Koerner Hall on Sunday and was thrilled. This was the first time the Tafelmusik Baroque orchestra and Chamber Choir have performed this oratorio. Secular, taken from John Dryden’s 1697 ode, “Alexander’s Feast or The Power of Music,” it included a concerto for the harp played by harpist Julia Seager-Scott using a triple-strung harp, a concerto for the organ played by Neil Cockburn from Calgary, wonderful arias, stirring recitatives, invigorating choruses, and many highlights by different instruments in the orchestra. The soloists, American soprano Amanda Forsythe, British tenor Thomas Hobbs, and British-Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson, were splendid. Under the deft direction of Ivars Taurins, it was an utterly marvellous performance, wildly received by the audience. And, according to Tafelmusik’s new musical director, Elisa Citterio, next season will feature three full performances by the Choir. That’s just what I need to hear to put joy in my heart and a spring in my step.