Monthly Archives: April 2015

Plucking the Goose

Birds of a feather flock together at Louis XIV's Menagerie. Courtesy of www.nicolaslefloch.fr

Birds of a feather flock together at Louis XIV’s Menagerie. Courtesy of http://www.nicolaslefloch.fr

French Economic Minister Emmanuel Macron declared himself the standard bearer of a “new French capitalism” in today’s Wall Street Journal. (An earlier French version appeared on April 24 in Le Monde, with choice commentary by Arthur Goldhammer). This isn’t just another installment of Emmanuel’s neoliberal loi Macron. Macron’s declaration seems to argue for an increase in state control—but through the very language of entrepreneurship and the free market that he would like to control. Macron begins:

…this old brand of state capitalism is no longer adapted to today’s world economy. In fact, our economic system is adapting to an economy that is far more decentralized, more international in nature and more subject to disruptions by a small group of geeks working from a basement.

At least the French version contented itself with le startup without having to resort to les geeks! Macron continues:

These changes have favored short-term investors and limited the ability of long-term strategic actors to provide both capital and strategic guidance…there is a real need to invent a new, long-term capitalism in which the state has a role to play to accompany companies in their transformation and their investment plans.

This second paragraph describes a form of state capitalism unflinchingly similar to the “old brand” that Macron had just derided in the first paragraph as obsolete. Continue reading

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Chiaroscuro

“Bach and Before, Ives and After”–Life Magazine (1949) defines highbrow taste

The Amor Artis Chorus and Orchestra

Chiaroscuro: Songs of Savonarola

April 17, 2015 at 8:00 PM

Ryan James Brandau, conductor

Holly Druckman, assistant conductor

St. Michael’s Church, New York City

There’s always been a deep and abiding connection between the motets of the sixteenth century and the newer serial music of the twentieth. Perhaps both periods rested at the cusp of great change, when composers faced new problems amid the respective rise and fall of tonality. But on a more emotional level, both musics are unafraid to channel the infernal–an apocalyptic musical language that had once existed in the sixteenth century, then rested inert for centuries until it was rediscovered at the twilight of the romantic era.

Amor Artis, led by conductor Ryan James Brandau, linked the past and the present through a series of carefully chosen motets. The songs either recited from or echoed the ecclesiastical texts of Giromalo Savonarola, a fearsome heretic whose apocalyptic sermons called for a restoration of Christian morality in a city driven mad by hedonistic fascination with pagan Rome. Savonarola briefly wrested Florence from the Medicis before the art-burning friar himself was hanged and burned in the Piazza della Signoria. (The program simplifies Savonarola as just another wronged martyr of the corrupt Papacy, though Savonarola’s supposed ‘martyrdom’ is hardly the most meaningful event through which one can understand the friar’s contentious history.) Continue reading

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Masterwork: Aeolus Quartet Plays Bartók 6

Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia

Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia

MASTERWORK: The Aeolus Quartet Performs Bartók’s 6th String Quartet Thursday, April 16, 2015 Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center

Quartets by Haydn or Mozart are straightforward affairs.These works can be difficult to play and interpret, but at least we know both the composers and the musical tradition that they represent. Move even a bit east of Vienna, though, and the familiar rhythms of the West become choppy and asymmetrical, strange Magyar harmonies matched with even stranger accents and beats. The Aeolus Quartet (currently in residence at Juilliard) discussed their own struggles with the Hungarian tradition in Bartók’s melancholy Quartet No. 6 this past Thursday at Lincoln Center’s Public Library for the Performing Arts. Inspired by a performance in Cleveland that matched Bartók chamber works with songs by a Hungarian folk ensemble, the Aeolus Quartet emphasized the dissonant elements–quarter-tones, Bartók pizzicatti, and quasi chitarra plucking–that distinguish Bartók from his blue-blooded Viennese contemporaries.  Continue reading

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On the Inadequacy of Political Profiles

I am incredibly frustrated after having read this essay written by a journalist with exclusive access to the Miliband campaign team. To everyone’s surprise, it reveals that the Labour party political machine is run with the kind of competence, clarity, and consistency seen otherwise in Iannucci’s brilliant political satire  “The Thick of It”.

These “campaign profiles” – can’t wait for the one about Hillary, or the one about Modi – substitute structural and salient political analysis for an inspiring personal narrative and a retelling of the campaign team’s ability or lack thereof to manipulate the media. Yes, this is the truth about politics today. But if you are going to pay someone thousands of pounds to write it up, is it going to get any more interesting? Profiles like this reward the reader with endearing personal details about a leader, or the fact that those around her genuinely consider her a “nice” person, or someone who “believes” in her values, or actually is quite witty and funny when not on television. Instead of being lied to on television, these profiles lie to us in person. In helping us understand the person behind the politician, they help us ignore the politics of the person. The political situation or conjecture that defines and limits a person’s ability to act. Continue reading

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Nigeria: A Tenuous Transition

Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan peacefully conceded the presidency to challenger Muhammadu Buhari in a watershed election. Goodluck Jonathan’s concession bodes well for the country, but our celebration has concealed lingering challenges that will complicate the transition of power in the months to come.

To begin, hundreds of South African mercenaries are believed to be operating in northeastern Nigeria. Nigeria is a signatory to an international treaty that makes such mercenary use illegal, though Goodluck Jonathan insists that he is simply training Nigerian troops with his hired guns. Foreign Policy explains why the problems won’t go away with a change in government:

Aside from whatever else the APC [Muhammadu Buhari’s party] may have planned, were it to take power, there is the possibility that the foreigners will soon run into trouble in Nigeria. All it will take is an allegation of complicity in human rights abuses, similar to the one the Nigerian military has had to deal with. If this happens, it would be deeply embarrassing for both Nigeria’s government and, especially, South Africa’s.

Secondly, Nigeria has always been notorious for its corruption that has grown in tandem with its fabulous oil wealth. Continue reading

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