Appearance of Democracy

With all the accusations of electoral violations – direct and indirect – in the recent Russian elections, past American elections (2000 and some in 2004) and the presently growing more and more tense elections in Zimbabwe, one wonders why those who clearly do not like the idea of giving up power even try to hold elections.  Mugabe was in power for 28 years, why hold elections and try to rig them? I mean why is the appearance of democracy, even though everyone knows it’s just an appearance, so important? If Putin declared that he wanted to stay for the third term (or indefinitely), I am sure there would be some protests, but with the repressive resources of the police and the army, any of those could have been easily put down.  There would be international problems as the Western democratic governments would not like it, but so what? It’s not 1917, and the West supports many despotic governments? Why play the game of democracy?

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The Closeted American Mind: Intellect? Shhh…

Nicholas Kristof has written an interesting column in today’s NY Times about America and anti-intellectualism:

Then there’s this embarrassing fact about the United States in the 21st century: Americans are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution. Depending on how the questions are asked, roughly 30 to 40 percent of Americans believe in each. A 34-nation study found Americans less likely to believe in evolution than citizens of any of the countries polled except Turkey. President Bush is also the only Western leader I know of who doesn’t believe in evolution, saying “the jury is still out.” No word on whether he believes in little green men. Only one American in 10 understands radiation, and only one in three has an idea of what DNA does. One in five does know that the Sun orbits the Earth …oh, oops.

Kristof quotes Susan Jacoby (author of The Age of American Unreason):

“America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism,” Susan Jacoby argues in a new book, “The Age of American Unreason.” She blames a culture of “infotainment,” sound bites, fundamentalist religion and ideological rigidity for impairing thoughtful debate about national policies. Continue reading

Rigging Elections Takes Time: Zimbabwe Votes

Robert Mugabe has been in power for 28 years and, despite Zimbabwe’s astonishing 100,000% inflation (it’s always bad when you need a comma to indicate a number of inflation) and general economic conditions, he intends to stay in power. Well, this seemed to be his campaign strategy: I was here before and I will not leave!  Early reports show that the opposition candidate – Morgan Tsvangirai – got 67% of the vote and is about to declare victory, but the official results are not out.

BBC contributors say opposition activists have been celebrating in the towns of Bulawayo and Mutare in the east. A spokesman for Mr Makoni told the BBC News website that the MDC had “swept the board” in the parliamentary election, with several ministers losing their seats. But the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said the country must wait for official results and appealed for patience, as four elections were held at the same time.  Chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramayi said in a statement: “The commission notes with concern that some stakeholders have gone on to announce purported results of the poll when in fact the results are being verified and collated.” Those results are not official results of the poll.” The MDC says the commission was appointed by Mr Mugabe and is not to be trusted. BBC 

So let’s see what the official results will be, but one needs to understand that if it is indeed the case that 67% voted for Tsvangirai, then rigging this kind of election takes time, so let’s wait and see everyone, let’s wait and see… 

New Music Commissions at Carnegie Hall

This is via The Rest Is Noise – you can now stream the commissioned works on the website for Carnegie Hall:

New and innovative work has long been a part of Carnegie Hall’s fabric—the world premieres of such now-standard works as Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony and Gershwin’s An American in Paris took place at the Hall. More recently Carnegie Hall actively began its own commissioning program, and during the 2006-2007 season the works below were added to the growing list of commissioned works.

Anthony Braxton’s 12+1tet


A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the massive Amoeba Records in San Fransisco and picked up lots of good stuff. So far the highlight has been Anthony Braxton’s latest release: 12+1tet. A review from The Squid’s Ear just about says it all:

On his second live disc with this group of musicians, composer and reeds master Anthony Braxton, one of the pillars of the art of free jazz, performs his ebullient epic composition No. 361, a 70 minute tour de force that packs so much of a punch that the time just seems to fly by.

Braxton fans are treated to a mature work that is a summation, in a way, of most of Braxton’s musical concerns: the play between form and free improv, the mixing of timbres, the exploration of pulse fluctuations, the variations of density and the personality that each instrument and each instrumentalist brings to the aforementioned. For new listeners, this is as good a place to start as any, perhaps better, since this is the work of a musical mind at the height of his powers, who arrives with decades of musical exploration behind him, but who has still lots of creative juice. A doyen of the jazz tradition (even though some of his critics have placed him outside of jazz and Braxton himself avoids the label) the composer is joined by 12 people who understand and share his musical vision and who are, for the most part, long-time collaborators, resulting in, as the liner notes put it, “an amalgamation of musicians fully stepped in his oeuvre.”

Read the full review at The Squid’s Ear.

Financial Times Interviews Dmitri Medvedev

Interview transcript: Dmitry Medvedev

Published: March 24 2008

Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, Neil Buckley, Moscow bureau chief, and Catherine Belton, Moscow correspondent, interviewed Dmitry Medvedev, president-elect of the Russian Federation, in the Kremlin, Moscow, on March 21 2008. Below is an edited transcript

FINANCIAL TIMES: Mr President Elect, what will be your top three priorities when you take office?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I think these priorities are completely obvious. The main one is to continue the social and economic course which has emerged and evolved in our country in recent years. The goal of this course is to improve the quality of life for all Russian citizens.We have managed to turn around the economic situation – we have become a much stronger state in this regard. Russia has joined the seven biggest economies in terms of purchasing power, but that’s not all. The main challenge now is to translate these economic successes into social programmes to show that developing the economy improves the lives of every Russian citizen. In recent times we have begun to implement some social programmes in the areas of education and healthcare and I believe that it’s very important to maintain and develop these programmes, getting on with the full-scale modernising of work in healthcare and education, as well as making it possible for the majority of Russian citizens to improve their housing conditions, which is also very important. And finally, Russia has pursued and will be pursuing a well-balanced foreign policy, aiming to defend its own interests in a non-confrontational way, so that Russia’s positions will contribute towards strengthening world security. Thus there are several priorities – to maintain economic stability, to develop economic freedoms, to promote social programmes and to ensure that Russia sustains its position in the world.

FT: The world economy is slowing down. We have a financial crisis in America. There is a risk of the oil price falling. Is the Russian economy heading for a cold shower this year? Continue reading

“Met at the Movies on the Web”: Tristan und Isolde Live Broadcast (March 28, 7PM)

I had to miss HD Live Broadcast of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde last Saturday due to my vacation, but as some might know this particular production was somewhat unfortunate when it came to singer cancellation due to sickness, so Met has decided to do an online broadcast of the last date of Tristan this Friday with (hopefully) healthy duo of Voigt and Heppner who were scheduled to sing all dates together but that did not happen. The web broadcast will be this Friday, March 28 at 7PM (ET). Here’s the official “news flash”: Continue reading

Mid-Level College Workers Pay Increases, Someone is Losing…

In this week’s online edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education there are some rather telling stats in an article reporting on an annual salary survey under the headline “Median Pay Increase for Colleges’ Mid-level Workers Beats Inflation.”

Midlevel administrators at colleges and universities received a median salary increase of 3.9 percent for the 2007-8 academic year, exceeding the rate of inflation, according to an annual survey released last week by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. The increase is slightly greater than that of the 2006-7 academic year, at 3.8 percent. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers rose 2.8 percent in the past fiscal year.

Midlevel workers at public institutions saw a 4-percent gain, compared with a 3.7-percent increase for their counterparts at private institutions. That difference was consistent with last year’s figures (4 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively). The survey comprised 1,125 institutions, and the numbers reflect 206 jobs, including those of accountants, doctors, lawyers, and security guards. Like last year, the highest-paid midlevel administrators were staff doctors, with a median salary of $122,648. Staff lawyers and veterinarians were the next highest-paid. The lowest-paid midlevel employees were security guards, at $26,355.

By institutional category, workers at master’s-degree institutions and two-year colleges saw the greatest median salary increases, at 4 percent — slightly higher than the gains at doctoral institutions (3.9 percent) and bachelor’s-degree institutions (3.8 percent). Median pay increases at specialized institutions were slightly lower than in 2006, at 3.5 percent.

There is also a chart by salary/job title/institution type available here. I wonder how these operations were able to accomplish such an increase…could it be the rise in contingent faculty? Of course not, that couldn’t be right. I’m far too naive to even think that.

Opera In Your Living Room: Portland Studio Opera Theater

You haven’t seen opera (and appreciated opera) until you see it in a chamber setting – this is one thing I’ve learned from yesterday’s performance of Britten’s Albert Herring at Portland Studio Opera Theater.  The premiere took place on March 14th and the reviewers already said most of what there is to say about the cast, the quality of this small production  and other aspects.  The chamber opera is, of course, not a new genre by any means, but Portland Opera’s insistence on the introduction of the audience to that genre is very commendable. The setting is a large room with the area where singers performs being about the size of your average to large living room.  Audience sits on the three sides of this “living room” in four rows of about 15 chairs each (so about 180 when all sits are taken).  All the action/singing takes place right before one’s eyes and honestly makes for an incredible experience.