Hommage a Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Posted May 27, 2012 on 12:09 am | In the category Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

The obiuaries tended to speak of the end of an era when the greatest German singer died last week and it is easy to see why.  In many ways he encapsulated the experience of being  German in the  twentieth century like few others.  He was born just before he qualified for what Helmut Kohl called “Die Gnade der späten Geburt”, the mercy of having been born too late to have been forced to make some kind of  decision on what to do about the German catastrophe of World War Two.  As  a late teenager he was conscripted into an  army and a war that his family hated – the Nazis had killed his brother as part of their eugenics campaign – and ended up serving briefly and harmlessly on the Eastern Front before being captured just before the end of the war and sent off to allied POW camps.

From then on his life became a triumphal march through the world of European, and especially German, music, something the Germans could be proud of after their miserable performance in history.   He rarely left Europe and never sang at the Met,  as he dominated the repertoire of German song as no one else will ever do, while makin relatively rare forays onto the opera stage as well, mainly in Munich and Berlin.  While the obituaries focussed on the monumental scale of his Lieder recordings, those who saw his on-stage dramatic performances of characters as different as the wily comic Gianni Schicchi and the towering tormented Lear may well consider these life-encompssing portrayals to be his most enduring performances.  There will probably always be a new singer who can come close to the dramatic sensitivity  of his Lieder singing, if not at all to the scope of his repertoire (as the wonderfully professional and splendidly-voiced Christian Gerhaher recently displayed  in his Vancouver recital) – there is nobody out there who can come close to the staggering King Lear he created after personally commissioning the work from Aribert Reimann.  Though there are excerpts on DVD of this  shattering performance in Das Bayrische  Nationaltheater, you really had to be there to experience it.  And it may well be that  for that reason there will probably never be another performer like him, as he had experienced the deep depths and the splendid triumphs of  modern life  first-hand  and had found a way to bring it across unforgettably to a vast audience for more than half a century.

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The decline and fall of the beautiful game

Posted May 12, 2012 on 5:56 pm | In the category Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

Exactly forty years ago a 22-year old kid from Parry Sound, Ontario, launched himself vertically 5 feet above the ice after scoring the winning goal for the Boston Bruins in the 1972 Stanley Cup championship game.   The splendid photo that caught Bobby Orr in mid-flight on that spring evening, also caught the thrill of the fastest of all sports which back then  rewarded the most-skilled skaters and shooters with names that are remain legends in the world of hockey, which at the time extended across Canada and in some major cities in the US northeast.  Bobby Orr was by most calculations the greatest of them all, but  he wasn’t the last.  Guy Lafleur, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito, Wendell Clark, Bobby Clarke, take your pick and add the Europeans that followed Bure, Mogilny,  Näslund, the Sedin twins.  Now try to add the name of anyone playing in this year’s playoffs.  40 year old Jaromir Jagr is the only name that might show up on the list (goaltenders excluded), and he too is now gone  after returninng from several years in Russia.

In his place we have the no-name behemoths who are willing to throw themselves in the face of dangerous pucks and hit and try to stop anyone who enters their half of the ice.  And the formula works if the only things that counts is winning.  If any puck manages get through the crowd of big men standing in front  of oversized goalies with grotesquelly-oversized equipment, it may well prove to be the winning goal in an otherwise goalless tie.    However for the paying audience it is a real trial to actually sit through 60 minutes of skaters plodding around in glue, rarely even getting a shot on a bored goalie.   As the semifinals now begin all the leading teams have been eliminated – Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose)  and the semifianls  will be played by no one you ever heard of in the hockey hotbeds of Nashville (Tennesee), Phoenix (Arizona), Newark, (New Jersey),  Los Angeles and Washington or New York.  It is now perfectly possible that for the first time in the history of major-league sports, the finals will be between two bankrupt teams (Phoenix and New Jersey), and nobody will be watching.  It is the consequences of letting the league be run by people who do not come from the places where hockey counts and insist on setting up teams in places where few want to see them.  In these places it is not a question of watching skilled fast players flying down the ice and outguessing a superbly-trained goalie.  The point is to  not let someone who can do that get anywhere near the goal. Take another look at Bobby Orr flying like a bird 22 years ago, because you won’t see it again, at least not until players like Orr, Lafleur or the Sedins (or for that matter the still-active Ovechkin) can fly down the ice and score rather than being   dragged into the muck or even concussed and driven out of the sport, by large players who are unlikely to ever score a goal.  Hockey runs the risk of becoming unwatchable if someone doesn’t do something about it – and fast.

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All Politics Are Loco

Posted May 3, 2012 on 10:07 am | In the category Election, Politics, Press, Romney | by Jeff

The wasteland of the American political landscape is matched by the emptiness of what passes for political reporting and analysis. How’s this for a list of candidates for the presidency who have been treated seriously at one time or another by the national press – print and TV?:

  • Donald Trump who built a campaign on searching for Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate;
  • Herman Cain who babbled incessantly about “9-9-9” as the program to save the American economy;
  • Michelle Bachmann -the girl with the faraway eyes – who swept the Iowa caucuses only to sink beneath a sea of ridicule;
  • Rick Perry, he of the Texas swagger and the first grade syntax;
  • Newt Gingrich, who spent millions of others dollars, paid himself $500K, owes millions to suckers who extended credit and spent a good part of his campaign self-inflating in front of non existent crowds;
  • Ron Paul, the bizarre communicant of the Church of Ayn Rand, who would throw virtually everyone in the poverty grouping under the bus;
  • Rick Santorum who carried the Catholic Bishops’ water in their campaign to place American women in the Catholic brand of Sharia law; and, finally,
  • the putative winner of the Republican race, Willard Mitt Romney, a charmless, entitled man who regularly and frequently changes his views to gain delegate votes in Tampa.

The operating rules of the American press include following tips from political campaigns on the sins of their opponents and then usually – or sometimes – a feeble attempt to provide “balance” – guaranteed to lead to false equivalencies. For instance, time given to believers in intelligent design in response to time given to scientists discussing evolution; or bringing on someone like Senator Inhofe to ridicule climate change after scientists discuss the reality of climate change.

The banality of the press is currently on exhibit in Boston around the Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren campaign for U.S.Senate. The Boston Herald, a low rent tabloid, has been beating the drum about Warren’s listing in a Law Directory that she has Native American blood. Obviously the tip on this earth shaking news came from the Brown campaign and the press has chosen to run with it without doing any reporting or – God help them – thinking about it – and consequently they have made it the “NEWS”. It has run wild with over a week of analyses and reports in the Boston Globe, the Herald and local TV.

The usually reasonable talk radio and TV guy Jim Braude has determined that this is an issue that deserves highlighting on his TV show for several nights. And what exactly is the issue? No one really knows- is it that she is part Native American? Maybe for some of Scott Brown’s folk that may be true, but certainly not for most  people. Or is it that she used her ethnicity to get her jobs at Harvard Law School? But no sane person really believes that to be the case. It is merely an opportunity to paint Warren as something she is not and as someone different from the guy with the pickup truck and the barn coat. And Braude and his press colleagues have gone along with what is without question a partisan pile of crap, hand delivered to them by political hacks. It is how it works and we have unfortunately gotten used to it. Which means we are unlikely to demand better, let alone know that something better is possible,

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May Day: Europe and the United States Compete for Worst Economic Policy

Posted May 2, 2012 on 10:43 am | In the category Economy, Europe, Politics, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

In a battle for world supremacy for economic stupidity America’s Paul Ryan is taking on Angela Merkel in a battle for the ages. While Ryan is only one of 435 Representatives in the U.S. Congress he has become the intellectual leader of the party that gave us the $3 Trillion Iraq War, the huge Bush tax breaks for the wealthy, the unpaid for prescription drug benefit for Big Pharma, and unleashed America’s investment banks so they could sell paper crap around the world and bring the world economy to its knees. Having participated in creating a recession that barely missed becoming a depression, Ryan is now regaining his strength with Mitt Romney, much of the American press and virtually all of the so-called Tea Party singing the praises of the Man Who Would Destroy the American Economy as an homage to his heroine, Ayn Rand. Ryan’s austerity budget has even managed to create a negative response from elements of the Catholic hierarchy – a group normally focussed on how best to reduce women’s power.

Across the Atlantic Angela Merkel serves as Ryan’s powerful competitor for the title of Master/Mistress of the Recession. With the help of France’s embattled President, Frau Merkel has managed to force Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland (the list will surely increase) to adopt economic austerity policies guaranteed to force most or all into a lengthy recession with devastating unemployment rates, low or no actual economic growth and a near suicidal commitment to doing more of what demonstrably does not work in order to avoid admitting to their mistakes.

Ryan and Merkel have so far avoided being compared to David Cameron whose ongoing commitment to economic disaster seems to have been missed by much of the press, but that could change at any time as Britain has entered its second recession in four years. But before Cameron can be allowed into the field he must rid himself of the attention given to his love affair with Rupert Murdoch which has greatly diminished the attention given to his disastrous economic policies.

The next several months will determine the success of Ryan, Merkel and Cameron as they struggle – each in his or her own way – to bring national economies to their knees. The U.S. election, the budding resistance to Merkel’s stubborn commitment to folly among other Euro zone countries, and the shakiness of of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat ruling government in Britain will play out as the three head for the finish line in this race to the bottom.

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