Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Operatic Terrorism

Et tu, Wall Street Journal.

Heidi Waleson opens her review of the controversial opera: “The Death of Klinghoffer” thusly:

John Adams’s opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” (1991) is not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. It does not condone terrorism. Tom Morris’s powerful production that opened at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday (it had its debut at the English National Opera in 2012) makes those things eminently clear by delving beyond the sometimes obscure, baroque text of Alice Goodman’s libretto to arrive at the musical heart of the work, which is about the depth of historical resentment, and how it drives people to commit heinous acts. The crowd of ranting protesters corralled by police barricades in the park opposite Lincoln Center had clearly never heard the piece, and the tacky disruptions inside the theater—a few shouts—seemed irrelevant to what was happening onstage.

One wonders what makes Waleson such an authority on the subject of anti-Semitism.

Commenters on the Journal website were not fooled by her na├»ve pronouncement. They immediately identified Waleson’s own anti-Israeli bias. You can see it yourself in her opening paragraph.

She says that the “crowd of ranting protesters” was “corralled by police barricades….” Not only is the word "ranting" highly derogatory. It does not describe the attitude of the demonstrators, led by numerous distinguished public officials. And then, doesn’t the verb “corralled” give it away? The protesters were the kinds of animals that needed to be “corralled.”

Surely, reducing human beings to out-of-control, dangerous animals is an old anti-Semitic trope.

Dare we mention that if the opera was about the Prophet Mohammed, the Met would NEVER have allowed it to be performed.

Somehow or other Waleson believes that “historical resentment… drives people to commit heinous acts.” What makes her an authority on human motivation?

As it happens, and as many of have noted, the opera’s title is not The Murder of Klinghoffer or The Execution of Klinghoffer. By calling it The Death of Klinghoffer the composer has whitewashed the fact that a Jewish man was executed because he was Jewish.

One is appalled to see this sleight-of-hand in a newspaper where Daniel Pearl used to work.

The fault for Palestinian terrorism, Waleson suggests, lays with the Israelis. Waleson says not a word about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were expelled from Arab countries and who do not bear any resentment for the nations that stole their property and forced them to leave. She has not a word for the Palestinian leadership that, most recently, has preferred to spend international aid money on rockets and terror tunnels, rather than for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

With her opening paragraph Waleson has revealed her own bias. She has, dare I say, been seduced by the anti-Israeli propaganda represented in this opera.

Evidently, Waleson is incapable of seeing propaganda for what it is. For that we turn to someone who is a great opera lover, but not an opera critic. That would be Alan Dershowitz, an emeritus professor who is, dare we say, biased in favor of Israel. One needs to say it that way, but it is a bad sign that we feel compelled to say that someone who defends the state of Israel against anti-Semitic propaganda and terrorist actions has a “bias.”

As I said, Dershowitz is not an opera critic. Nevertheless, his comments ring more true than those of addled opera critic Waleson.

Dershowitz writes:

By any standard, The Death of Klinghoffer, is anything but the “masterpiece” its proponents are claiming it is. The music is uneven, with some lovely choruses—more on that coming—one decent aria, and lots of turgid recitatives. The libretto is awful. The drama is confused and rigid, especially the weak device of the captain looking back at the events several years later with the help of several silent passengers. There are silly and distracting arias from a British show girl who seems to have had a crush on one of the terrorists, as well as from a woman who hid in her cabin eating grapes and chocolate.  They added neither to the drama nor the music of the opera.

In the opera there are dueling choruses, expressing the Palestinian and Israeli points of view. Apparently, these choruses are not equivalent; they do not even draw a moral equivalence. As Dershowitz puts it, they demean and diminish Jews while glorifying the Palestinian point of view.

He writes:

The Palestinian chorus is beautifully composed musically, with some compelling words, sung rhythmically and sympathetically. The Jewish chorus is a mishmash of whining about money, sex, betrayal and assorted “Hasidim” protesting in front of movie theaters. It never mentions the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, though the chorus is supposed to be sung by its survivors. The goal of that narrative chorus is to compare the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians—some of which was caused by Arab leaders urging them to leave and return victoriously after the Arabs murdered the Jews of Israel—with the systematic genocide of six million Jews. It was a moral abomination.

Dershowitz adds, importantly, that the opera does not portray Klinghoffer being executed because he was Jewish. It shows him being murdered because he was a loudmouth who spoke ill of Palestinians.

We give the last word on this subject to Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl:

I submit to you that there has never been a crime in human history lacking grievance and motivation. The 9/11 lunatics had profound motivations, and the murderers of my son, Daniel Pearl, had very compelling "grievances.”

In the past few weeks we have seen with our own eyes that Hamas and ISIS have grievances, too and, they, too, are lining up for operatic productions with the Met.

There is nothing more enticing to a would-be terrorist than the prospect of broadcasting his "grievences" in Lincoln Center, the icon of American culture.

Yet civilized society, from the time of our caveman ancestors, has learned to protect itself by codifying right from wrong, separating the holy from the profane, distinguishing that which deserves the sound of orchestras from that which deserves our unconditional revulsion.  The Met has smeared this distinction and thus betrayed  their contract with society.

I submit to you that choreographing an operatic drama around criminal pathology is not an artistic prerogative, but a blatant betrayal of public trust.

We do not stage operas for rapists and child molesters, and we do not compose symphonies for penetrating the minds of ISIS executioners. 

No! Composer John Adams, some sides do not have two sides, and what was done to Leon Klinghoffer has one side only.

What we are seeing here in New York today is not an artistic expression that challenges the limits of morality, but a moral deformity that challenges the limits of the art.

This opera is not about the mentality of deranged terrorists, but about the judgment of our arts directors. The New York Met has squandered humanity's greatest treasure — our moral compass, our sense of right and wrong, and, most sadly, our reverence for music as a noble expression of the human spirit.

We might be able some day to forgive the Met for de-criminalizing brutal minds, but we will never forgive them for poisoning our music -- for turning our best violins and our iconic concert halls into mega-phones for excusing evil.


Isaiah Berlin's Critique of Idealism

Isaiah Berlin was one of the most eminent intellectual historians of the twentieth century. Twenty years ago he wrote an essay about the dangers of idealism.

In it he called for moderation, temperance, compromise and trade-offs. The essay was delivered on his behalf at the University of Toronto.

This week The New York Review of Books, to its great credit, republished the essay.

Berlin began by noting the unexampled destruction visited on the world by Communism. I would add that, beyond the fact that Communism represented a form of idealistic madness, it was also a cultural enactment of atheism.

Berlin wrote:

Men have for millennia destroyed each other, but the deeds of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon (who introduced mass killings in war), even the Armenian massacres, pale into insignificance before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath: the oppression, torture, murder which can be laid at the doors of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the systematic falsification of information which prevented knowledge of these horrors for years—these are unparalleled. They were not natural disasters, but preventable human crimes, and whatever those who believe in historical determinism may think, they could have been averted.

To make clear his opposition to Germanic idealism, Berlin rejected the notion of historical determinism. He argued for free will and explained that human actions set the course of history; it could have set another course. There was nothing inevitable about the advent of Communism, or, for that matter, its decline. I have argued the same point in my book The Last Psychoanalyst.

Berlin also rejected the notion that Communism was produced by negative human emotions and impulses. Clearly, he had no use for the concept of a death instinct.

For Berlin, Communism was produced by ideas. It was created by those who latched on to a big idea, decided that it would solve all human problems and who concluded that if human lives and human behavior were an impediment to the realization of the idea, they could easily be dispensed with.

In Berlin’s words:

They were, in my view, not caused by the ordinary negative human sentiments, as Spinoza called them—fear, greed, tribal hatreds, jealousy, love of power—though of course these have played their wicked part. They have been caused, in our time, by ideas; or rather, by one particular idea. It is paradoxical that Karl Marx, who played down the importance of ideas in comparison with impersonal social and economic forces, should, by his writings, have caused the transformation of the twentieth century, both in the direction of what he wanted and, by reaction, against it. The German poet Heine, in one of his famous writings, told us not to underestimate the quiet philosopher sitting in his study; if Kant had not undone theology, he declared, Robespierre might not have cut off the head of the King of France.

… in a debased form, the Nazi ideology did have roots in German anti-Enlightenment thought. There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached.

… If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally an.

The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law.

The deeper problem with idealism, he continued, was that the values it generates are not harmonious. If you apply all of those values in the most extreme fashion, you will find yourself facing contradictions.

By Berlin’s lights, Barry Goldwater should have said: Extremism in the defense of liberty is a vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is a virtue.

Had Goldwater done so, he would have been engaging in conservative thought. As was, he was trafficking in a modernized version of Germanic idealism… a wolf in sheep’s clothes.

Problems arise when politicians have not thought about the deeper philosophical questions and issues.

Berlin explained the problem:

The central values by which most men have lived, in a great many lands at a great many times—these values, almost if not entirely universal, are not always harmonious with each other. Some are, some are not. Men have always craved for liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, and so on. But complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality—if men were wholly free, the wolves would be free to eat the sheep. Perfect equality means that human liberties must be restrained so that the ablest and the most gifted are not permitted to advance beyond those who would inevitably lose if there were competition. Security, and indeed freedoms, cannot be preserved if freedom to subvert them is permitted. Indeed, not everyone seeks security or peace, otherwise some would not have sought glory in battle or in dangerous sports.

Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy. Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation. Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire, for even if I know that I have some incurable disease this will not make me happier or freer. I must always choose: between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance. And so on.

Berlin did not mention it, perhaps because it goes without saying, but the progenitor of Western idealism was obviously Plato. In rejecting Platonism, Berlin was offering an exercise in Aristotelian thought.

He rejected drama in favor of temperance and compromise. He recommended that we get over our adolescent enthusiasm for great ideas and set about the hard work of finding the mean between the extremes.

I am afraid I have no dramatic answer to offer: only that if these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion….

So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois, it does not engage the generous emotions. But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs.



The Medicinal Properties of Food

There is some suggestion, as I have reported, that men who eat too many fruits and vegetables, and who do not eat enough animal protein have lower sperm counts.

Other studies suggest that the pesticides and other chemical contaminants used in agriculture cause lower sperm count.

Today, we learn that a man who wants to counteract the effect of too many fruits and vegetables should drink beer. Beer increases sperm count. 

To optimize the effects of beer the man should stop drinking coffee. Too much coffee lowers a man’s ability to conceive.

The New York Post reports the shocking discovery:

Beer-guzzling guys can increase their chances of becoming a father if they drink a few beers each day, a new study shows.

But while the booze helped men get their gals pregnant, downing a few cups coffee each day cut the guys’ chances of making a baby, according to the study done by Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study examined more than 100 men at the hospital whose partners were undergoing in-vitro fertilization between 2007 and 2013, according to London’s Telegraph.

Dudes who downed at least a pint and a half each day were more than twice as likely to have children through IVF than those who stayed stone-cold sober.
Java drinkers, however, showed the opposite effect. Men who drank more than two cups of joe each morning had their chances of becoming fathers cut drastically to just 1 in 5.

It’s not quite the same thing as the female biological clock, but still….

Anyway, there’s some consolation for men who eat lots of fruits and vegetables. No matter what it does to their sperm count and no matter what the reason, consuming these foodstuffs enhances a man’s mental health.

The Daily Mail reports the study:

As the saying goes, 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away,' - now research suggests that eating large amounts of fruit and vegetables every day can keep the therapist away, too.

study by The University of Queensland has found that eight or more portions every 24 hours drastically improves mental wellbeing.

Dr Redzo Mujcic, a researcher from the University of Queensland, collected data from 12,000 Australian adults to examine how their consumption of fruit and vegetables correlates with their mental health.

As it happens, fruits do more for mental health than vegetables and both help women more than men.

And yet, if you put all of this evidence together, it looks like science has discovered a new male contraceptive: a diet of fruits, vegetables and coffee. Dig in!

Since this diet will also improve your mood and keep you out of the therapists’ office—a good in itself—who’s to complain?

Losing Face


Renee Zellweger.

Before:

Renee was fresh faced at a film premiere in 1998


After:

Trying to freeze the clock? Renee's wrinkle-free face caused a stir on Monday evening

Ms. Zellweger has attributed her changed appearance to a"healthier, happier lifestyle."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Does Obama Make Women Feel Unsafe?

Since women are the majority of the citizens, politicians naturally worry about how they vote.

Despite the commonly-held belief that a large majority of women votes Democratic most of the time, the facts beg to differ.

True enough, single women vote Democratic by a wide margin, but the majority of married women tend to vote Republican. A very large majority of minority women vote Democratic, but that is consistent with the voting pattern of minority men.

Many prognosticators and pollsters have been saying that in the upcoming election women will be abandoning the Democrats. One assumes that they see unmarried women shifting their allegiance.

As for why this should be so, super–editor Tina Brown has offered an excellent analysis. Speaking on MSNBC’s  Morning Joe yesterday, Brown said:

… the fact is that Obama’s down with everybody, let's face it, there’s a reason. And I think that particularly for women. I don't think it makes them feel safe. I think they're feeling unsafe. Economically, they’re feeling unsafe. With regard to ISIS, they’re feeling unsafe. They feel unsafe about Ebola. What they’re feeling unsafe about is the government response to different crises. And I think they're beginning to feel a bit that Obama’s like that guy in the corner office, you know, who's too cool for school, calls a meeting, says this has to change, doesn't put anything in place to make sure it does change, then it goes wrong and he's blaming everybody.

I suspect that Brown supported Obama in two elections, so we may count her among the disillusioned former Obama supporters.

What does Brown mean when she suggests that women feel “unsafe” under Obama?

As I understand it, she is saying that women do not believe that Obama is sufficiently manly or fatherly. They do not believe that he is in charge, that he takes responsibility, or that he will protect their interests.

Traditionally, fathers have been protectors and providers. In today’s culture the roles seem a bit anachronistic, but apparently women are still dismayed when they place themselves under the protection of a man who is not up to the role.

Brown sees an opportunity for Republicans, but here her thinking becomes slightly fuzzier.

She explains:

But at the same time, we ought to think about what Republicans are doing for women, which is very little, you know. I mean, they were against … they blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act --the fourth time since 2012. You know, they are really just not helping women at all. This gap in the economy is terrible. The fact that women are losing their jobs even more than men because of this whole kind of part-time issue and the economy's terrible. So, you know, it's not good.

One should not confuse the Paycheck Fairness Act with the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The former was blocked by Republicans. The latter was signed by President Obama in 2009 and is thus, the law.

The Paycheck Fairness Act supposedly addresses the disparity between the wages earned by men and women. As you doubtless know, the reasons for this disparity have been strenuously debated. Some have suggested that if you factor in the different occupations chosen by men and women and if you consider the fact that women with children choose to work less… the gap shrinks appreciably.

Be that as it may, Brown is emphasizing that the Obama economic recovery has not been kind to women. She is right to say that women have lost more jobs than men under Obama and that new jobs, ones that women have taken, are often part-time.

It’s the story of the Obama recovery and the failure has fallen disproportionately on women.

Strangely, Brown seems to believe that Republicans are to blame for the Obama recovery. She also seems to believe that it can all be solved with another piece of legislation that creates more bureaucracy and that might make it more difficult to hire women.

She does not consider the possibility that Obamacare has something to do with the anemic recovery and fails to see that an administration that has encumbered the economy with a massive pile of new regulations has in some way been caused economic opportunity to shrink, for both men and women.

This means that Republicans need to do a better job showing how the nation’s current economic malaise is a direct result of Obama administration policies. They need to show how women have suffered in the Obama economy.

Of course, it would have been nice if more women voters had had these realizations before the 2012 elections. Alas, too many of them were more concerned with Sandra Fluke’s free birth control pills.

Brown’s analysis suggests that Republicans would do well to run someone who is a seasoned executive in 2016, a candidate with demonstrated leadership skills and competence.

Young legislators with lots of big ideas are not what the nation needs and are not going to capture the nation’s imagination.

Monday, October 20, 2014

More Fruits and Vegetables; Lower Sperm Count

It’s not quite the equivalent of the female biological clock—because men can influence it by behavior—but some men engage in a practice that lowers sperm count.

What would that be?

They eat too many fruits and vegetables, and not enough animal protein. That is to say, they are vegetarians.

Now, we all know that a very healthy diet tends to contribute to increased longevity, but apparently, a man who gains those extra years pays for it with his sperm count. Worse yet, the sperm vegetarian men are less mobile than those of their meat-eating comrades.

The Daily Telegraph reports on the latest study:

Vegetarians and vegans may be harming their chance of having children after a study found that men who do not eat meat have significantly reduced sperm counts.

Although a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables can protect against many illnesses and can prolong life, it appears that it may also harm fertility.

Researchers at Loma Linda University Medical School, in southern California, embarked on a four-year project to find out how diets affect sperm.

The region has a high population of Seventh-Day Adventist Christians who believe that meat is impure and so are strict vegetarians.

Seventh-day Adventists live an average of 10 years longer than the American life expectancy of about 79 years and the researchers wanted to find out if their astonishing longevity might be linked to sperm quality.

However they found the opposite. Vegetarians and vegans had significantly lower sperm counts compared with meat eaters, 50 million sperm per ml compared with 70 million per ml.

They also had lower average sperm motility – the number of sperm which are active. Only one third of sperm were active for vegetarians and vegans compared with nearly 60 per cent for meat eaters.

If a man replaces T-bones with soy protein, he will pay a price.

Soy contains phyto-oestrogens which have similar properties to the female hormone oestrogen.

An alternative explanation comes to us from Harvard University:

Separate research from Harvard University also found that a diet high in fruit and vegetables may impact fertility because men are consuming high quantities of pesticides.

This news might make your day. It might cause you serious reflection. You might not care at all.

I report; you decide.

A Different Womanly Voice

Everyone knows that female voices have a higher pitch. It’s a biological fact. It should be common knowledge that a voice with a lower pitch feels more authoritative and commands more respect.

That being the case, what’s an ambitious woman to do?

New York litigator Monica Hanna sought out a voice coach. Hanna’s high-pitched screechy voice, used to communicate in girl talk, was detracting from her work. However bright and capable she was, her voice was holding her back. Clients and juries would not be taking her as seriously as they would a man with a lower pitched voice.

NPR reports the story:

Monica Hanna, a tough litigator in New York City, is about 5 feet tall and has a high voice. She has always had misgivings about how she sounds, but things came to a head a few years ago, when one of the partners at her firm assessed a presentation she gave by telling her: "Your voice is very high."

"And then he didn't say anything else," says Hanna. "He didn't have any other comment to make about my presentation at all."

Hanna did not complain about the injustice of it all. She sought out a voice coach who could help her change the way she spoke.

The results were positive:

Hanna learned to open her throat, creating more oral resonance, to adopt what she now calls her "big voice." [Voice coach Christie] Block says she also taught Monica to use fewer words and be more direct.

Instead of asking, "Got a minute?" when she wants to talk to a colleague, she now declares, "One minute." She carefully enunciates, "Hello," instead of chirping, "Hi!" like she used to.

After months of practice, the difference between Hanna's "big voice" and her small one is subtle. But she says she is perceived differently now at work.

She likes feeling more confident, she says. "And also having the voice to carry that message across, and say, 'No, no, this is something you actually need to hear.' "

NPR explains that Hanna did not want to sound like a man. She wanted to learn how to use a more authoritative, womanly  tone of voice:

But for Hanna, the goal was not to work against her identity as a woman, but to find a way to make her voice less distracting.

"I want to be taken more seriously," she says, "from the first words out of my mouth to the last. I'm never going to be a baritone powerhouse. There's something to be said about doing something to improve yourself in a way that adds to your craft and adds to your credibility."

I will leave it to others to decide whether Hanna’s is a feministically correct solution. Jezebelle Tracy Moore says that it is.

More importantly, rather than rail against the fact that bass-baritone voices command more respect, a woman has the option of modifying her pitch, her tone of voice and her phrasing to draw more attention to the content of her work. If she makes a business presentation with high pitch and lilting cadence her voice will distract from the content of her report.

More importantly, a woman can modify her voice without being any less womanly.

After all, if a woman tries to sound like a man or to dress like a man or to walk like a man she will quickly lose respect. Others will believe that she does not know who she is. No one respects you if you do not know who you are.