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February 2006 Blog Archive

My archived blog articles for February 2006 are below. You can also click the respective links for my current blog articles, my featured blog articles, and my complete blog archives.

Cut Until Baroque
15 February 2006, 16h33

One does not frequently come across a man whose proudest boast is that he "is probably the closest thing on earth to… the castrati of long ago." It was worth taking in Michael Maniaci's performance at Toronto's Tafelmusik for this reason alone.

Amidst the glut of performances inspired by the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, Tafelmusik's "Amadeo: Mozart in Italy" stood out on a variety of grounds. The orchestra's signature is its use of three hundred year-old period instruments, to produce a sound true to that heard by Baroque audiences (assuming that the march time has not had a greater impact on individual antique instruments than the progress of technology has had on classes of instruments). A pair of actors made uneven attempts at humorous interludes, reading edited versions of letters home from the teenaged Wolfgang and his father Leopold during their tour of Italy. However, the most dramatic element was the use of Maniaci's male soprano voice.

My friends and I began the concert with the perhaps inevitable sophomoric tittering over Maniaci's analysis of his anatomy ("My vocal cords did not lengthen or thicken as much as other males' can, but the muscles around my cords, as well as the cords themselves, fully function") and his deflection of questions about how an adult man retains a soprano voice ("the only thing I… have in common with a castrato is the sharing of repertoire. There were no farming or cooking accidents in my youth,"). His actual performance was extraordinary.

There was an undoubted novelty in hearing the castrati passages performed by a man singing soprano, rather than by a male countertenor performing in falsetto or by a woman singing soprano. However, the most striking part of his performance was that his voice became purer and more powerful the higher he rose in the register. His voice easily filled the entire recital hall, and was awe-inspiring in its force.

For the 22-26 February Mozart performances, pianist Robert Levin will take Maniaci's place as Tafelmusik's soloist, and between 23-26 March, Bruno Weil will assume the usually empty conductor's platform. Despite their reknown, they have a difficult act to follow.

Democracy and Diplomacy, Fire and the Sword
09 February 2006, 06h41

The proof of our democratic credentials is our readiness to accept the will of the people, even when they make choices that tempt us to fear that a majority means nothing more than that all the dupes were on the same side. From this vantage, the election of Hamas to outright control of the Palestinian Authority's Legislative Council is as much a test for the West as it is for the Middle East.

Palestinian elections employ a system of multi-member constituencies, filled by modified proportional representation, with mandatory gender provisions on party lists, and reserved representation for the Christian minority. It is fiendishly complex, and Hamas' ability to win 74 of the 132 legislative seats speaks to an astonishing, and entirely unexpected, breadth of support amongst ordinary Palestinians.

Given Hamas' pursuit of theocracy, its deployment of suicide bombers against civilians, and its rejection of peaceful co-existence with Israel, it is easy to conclude that Palestinian electors have opted for fundamentalist confrontation. My sense, however, is that neither religion nor violence were major considerations for Palestinians as they marked their ballots.

Until the recent elections, the Palestinian Authority was dominated by Fatah, the party of late president Yasser Arafat and current president Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah's long grip on power over embryonic Palestinian institutions led to predictable results: corruption on an epic scale, even as ordinary Palestinians subsist in grinding poverty. On 05 February, for example, Palestinian Attorney General Ahmed Al-Meghani filed charges and warrants against 35 individuals associated with the government for stealing literally billions of euros from public coffers.

In its fanatical zeal, Hamas is relatively free of financial corruption, and it has long cultivated support amongst the most dispossessed Palestinians by running a private welfare system.

In this context, the Palestinians' electoral choice is, in my view, less an embrace of Hamas' violence, and more a rejection of Fatah's corruption and failure to ameliorate basic living standards.

The crucial question facing Palestinians, Israelis, and the rest of the world, is whether the democratic process can now co-opt Hamas. Everyone with an interest in peace has an interest in making it possible for Hamas to gain through diplomacy and politics, just as we have an interest in making it inevitable that Hamas will lose through violence.

For my part, in my professional role as CEO of the Concordis Foundation, I will be assisting in a United Nations conclave for new Middle East MPs, which will attempt to augment their democratic insights and skills. Our hope is that MPs will return to their parliaments willing and able to wield diplomacy and dialogue, rather than fire and the sword.

We will deploy the meetings in Jordan during March, under the aegis of the United Nations University, and if security and technical facilities allow, I will blog (if that is now a legitimate verb) daily from Amman.

Democracy is a creed for the brave, and it is precisely when our faith in it is tested, that we have the greatest responsibility to do everything we can to make it work.

Stand Up for... Abject Hypocrisy?
07 February 2006, 14h41

Stephen Harper's abject and breathtaking hypocrisy on his very first day as Prime Minister is simply too obvious, too transcendent of parody, to merit any editorial comment from me. Simply placing the facts on record suffices.

Harper viciously attacked Conservatives for defecting to a Liberal government, and held such behaviour up to Canadians as examples of the craven political opportunism he would end as Prime Minister; on his first day as Prime Minister, he invited a Liberal to defect to a Conservative government, mere hours after Canadians in that MP's riding had chosen a Liberal representative.

Harper's hue and cry throughout his entire political career has been the elimination of the democratic deficit, by electing Senators and by ending the use of government contracts as tokens of political patronage to reward Québec organisers; on his first day as Prime Minister, he has rewarded his personal Québec political organiser by appointing him to the Senate and giving him charge of government contracting.

Canadians always feared Stephen Harper's "hidden agenda". Little did we know that his agenda was to become that which he himself judges to be most abhorrent.

What is still more interesting, however, is the question of how members of the Conservative Party will react to this squalid display by their leader.

While there were few Reform or Alliance policies that I could abide, I always publicly and privately praised those parties' genuine commitment to grassroots democracy. Their long stay in opposition was, in part, a tribute to their refusal to trade purpose for power.

The current Conservative Party may have adopted the name of the party of Brian Mulroney, but its membership is largely adherents to the party of Preston Manning. In their rush to become electable, the new Conservatives averted their eyes from the fundamental divides between the Reform and Progressive Conservative cultures: western populism versus eastern élitism; conscience versus convenience.

With the election behind them, I look forward to seeing the Conservatives finally address these issues, and decide where the cultural and ethical loyalties of their leader lie.

Right-wing Canadians tore their movement asunder in the late 1980s, engaged in an internecine war for more than half a generation, made unpalatable choices to re-unify, compromised their platform to pander for votes, and did it all for this.



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