Monday, June 16, 2014

Where is Gore?

I remember, during the depths of Watergate, a remark made by the novelist Gore Vidal. Commenting on the fact that some people were still defending Richard Nixon despite all the evidence of his paranoia and perfidy, Vidal said: Richard Nixon could go on national television and strangle his wife Pat to death, and there would be some people who would say, 'No, no... he didn't strangle her; she fainted and he was holding her up by her neck.'

I mention this because I find myself wondering why there is still anyone who will defend Barack Obama at this point in his presidency. And yet, despite all the evidence of his incompetence and the corruption and ineptitude of his administration, there are still those, especially in the mainstream media, who leap to his defense with each unfolding crisis and scandal. A commentator yesterday was talking about how feckless, weak, ineffectual and corrupt is the prime minister of Iraq. He might as well have been talking about the President of the United States.

Just consider the events of the past few weeks. The Veterans Administration has erupted in a scandal exposed by whistle-blowers whose consciences no longer permitted them to watch veterans die while VA hospital bureaucrats lied, falsified reports and collected performance bonuses. Now, cleaning up the mess at the VA was an issue on which Mr. Obama ran in his first campaign, and, five and a half years later, nothing has been done. Five leading Taliban commanders have been released in exchange for one American soldier, which the president trumpeted in a Rose Garden ceremony, and then, when the facts began to emerge about both the soldier and the terrorists, he attempted a whole series of lies to try to cover up the blunder. We are now witnessing the collapse of the country of Iraq, after 4500 American deaths and a trillion dollars of expense, and there are currently some 60,000 illegal immigrant children being warehoused on the border in a humanitarian crisis of our own making, and what did the president do? He went to California to raise funds and play golf (yes, yet another golfing vacation in the face of crises).

(On the question of the media response to Obama's blunders, I should point out that while the ISIS terror group had occupied about a third of Iraq, had taken its second largest city (population two million) and was driving on Baghdad, and while every other news source, reporter and expert was predicting the collapse of Iraq, MSNBC characterized the situation as "an outburst of insurgency" in which "a few towns had been taken" by the terrorists. Why this marginalizing and minimizing of the situation? Because MSNBC is nothing but a mouthpiece for the Obama Administration, and the facts messily contradicted the president's recent statements to the effect that terrorism was in decline, Al Quaeda had been defeated and the world has never been safer or more free from violence. This is shameful behavior on the part of NBC, the exact opposite of the principle enshrined by the Founders in the idea of a free press.)

And now what has happened? In the Congress's attempt to get, finally, to the bottom of the IRS scandal, that agency has reported that critical emails of Lois Lerner, whose continued silence stands at the center of the scandal, have been lost. Two years worth of emails! Richard Nixon "lost" eighteen minutes of tape and was impeached for it, but Obama's agents lose two years worth of documents, and the mainstream media registers barely a burp.

I am reminded of the fact that the filmmaker Michael Moore literally counted down the minutes that President Bush hesitated after being informed of the 9/11 attack. Yet Barack Obama was absent for eight hours during the Benghazi attack, and to this day we do not know where he was and what he was doing while four Americans were fighting and dying at their posts. Not deserting their posts, mind you, but manning them and defending them to their deaths. That is why it struck me as nothing less than blasphemy when Mr. Obama tried to explain the exchange of five mass murderers for Sgt. Bergdahl on the solemn grounds that we leave no man behind. Well, he damn well left Ambassador Stephens and his men behind in Benghazi. And what did the president do when at last he surfaced the next morning? He went to Las Vegas for a fundraiser and, no doubt, a round of golf. I am reminded of Governor Christie's question: What are we paying him for? Mr. Obama has yet to grasp the fact that he was elected as commander-in-chief, not fund raiser-in-chief or duffer-in-chief.

I lived through the depths of Watergate and remember those times vividly. The night of the Saturday Night Massacre, when the U.S. reached its gravest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War, we were all gathered around the television in a state of disbelief and fear. Yes, fear, since we knew that Richard Nixon, at that moment, was capable of anything. I am reaching that same state of fear now as I watch these scandals and crises unfold, and observe the implacable unwillingness of the mainstream media to acknowledge them for what they are: Irrefutable proof of the dishonesty, hypocrisy and dangerous ineptitude of this administration. The only difference between this time and Watergate is that Richard Nixon was capable of anything, while Barack Obama seems capable of nothing. That fact alone may yet save us.

I have written before that I have never in my lifetime seen such a leadership vacuum at the top of the American government as I am witnessing now. And that vacuum, like some horrible black hole of incompetence and scandal, seems to be growing every day, becoming denser and sucking more and more of our liberty and security into its gravitational maw. Not long ago, the Belgian people could not gather themselves sufficiently to choose a prime minister, and for some months the country carried on without one. At that time, I wondered aloud how long the United States could function without a president. We now have the answer: five and a half years. But the time has run out, and even as we watch the collapse of the Iraqi regime which we sacrificed so much to establish, we are also witnessing the collapse of the Obama Administration, which will also cost us, and the rest of the world, dearly before it is complete.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Bowe Perplex

I am watching the unfolding of the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with some interest. We all welcome his liberation from captivity with the Taliban; however, there are three rather thorny aspects to the story, two of which, at least, have yet to be played out.

One is, of course, the testimony of his fellow soldiers that the sergeant willingly walked away from his guard post and delivered himself to the Taliban, having become disillusioned, or as he put it, disgusted, with America's role in Afghanistan. These fellow soldiers go on to point out that at least six of the sergeant's colleagues were killed in the attempt to rescue him. However, every combat situation is liable to be confused, and sometimes it is impossible to determine exactly what happened. The truth of all this remains to be seen, though I note that the mainstream media has been careful to distance itself from claims that the sergeant is a hero, pending, I suppose, the determination of whether he was, in fact, a deserter. It would be embarrassing, to say the least, if they trumpeted his heroism, only to see him eventually court-martialed for desertion or worse. (It is interesting to note that on this point, Secretary of Defense Hagel has refused comment.) But on these questions, all of us must wait for answers, and hope that they are forthcoming from the administration, which probably saw the sergeant's release as a no-lose situation, especially in light of the current VA scandal.

The second aspect to this story, however, is not in doubt: The president broke the law in negotiating for the sergeant's release in exchange for terrorist leaders held at Guantanamo, without first notifying Congress. Whatever may prove true of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture by the Taliban, the fact seems clear that, once again, this administration has shown its willingness to break the law when it sees fit to do so, and when it believes it can get away with it under cover from the media. I do not know how many times I have had to write on this blog about Mr. Obama violating the law and his oath of office, as he did, for example, when he unilaterally assumed the authority to condemn American citizens to death because of alleged terrorist associations, or as he continues to rewrite the health care law every few weeks to try to stave off its worst effects and failures. When he assumed office, he laid his hand on the Bible and swore to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. He apparently added under his breath: Unless I disagree with them.

Now, Abraham Lincoln, whom I regard as the greatest of all American presidents, often intervened to grant pardons to young Union soldiers who had been condemned to death for desertion or falling asleep at their posts. Usually, he freed them with the understanding that they would return to their regiments and serve honorably for the duration of the war. He did this for two reasons: first, because he was a compassionate man, and second, because he had the authority to do so, given the power of the pardon. But even if you assume that President Obama shares Lincoln's compassion for soldiers, you cannot claim that he also has the power to do what he has done. The law is clear: He was required to notify Congress thirty days in advance of any such negotiation requiring the release of known terrorists. (If you want to argue that notifying Congress might have resulted in a leak that would have thwarted the affair, then you are simply echoing Obama's own logic; namely, that I will break the law on the grounds that obeying it might interfere with what I am doing. That Nixonian logic would be a slick defense for any criminal to offer in court.)

And here is the third aspect of this matter, which also remains unresolved: Will the release of five dangerous international terrorists, who have already shown their eagerness to murder Americans, have the consequence that we might well suspect it will? Will these men, once freed, resume their fanatical jihad against the people of this nation? I think the answer is clear: They will, the instant they have the ability to do so. And so we must ask ourselves: Has the Obama Administration purchased the life of one man, who may have voluntarily defected to the Taliban, at the cost of the lives of other Americans in the future? I fear that the answer may be Yes.

(Of course, if Sgt. Bergdahl's colleagues are correct, and he did desert to the enemy, then the irony of all this may be that we will see him freed from the Taliban only to be sentenced to prison in this country. That, however, I cannot imagine the administration will allow: To borrow a line from the novel Catch 22: He can either be a black eye or a feather in our cap. And to that end, it seems that several members of the sergeant's platoon have already been required to sign oaths not to discuss the matter.)

Whatever proves to be the case, the release of Sgt. Bergdahl thus presents us with a difficult perplex: Is it wise to trade the lives of captured soldiers for the freedom of captured terrorists? But more importantly: Should we excuse lawbreaking by the President of the United States in the name of a purported compassion?

Again, Lincoln provides the answer. In 1864, he acceded to General Grant's request to suspend the prisoner of war exchange with the Confederacy, which had been ongoing since the start of the war. Grant pointed out that Union prisoners, once freed, were released from the service, while Confederates were immediately returned to the fighting. This, Grant argued, only served to prolong the war, providing the Rebels with troops to make up for those they had lost, and whose loss they could not afford. Suspending the exchange was a difficult decision for Lincoln, but he bowed to Grant's logic and did so. The result was that over 50,000 men died in the camps as the result of starvation, disease, abuse and neglect. Thus, Lincoln made the decision that it was not justifiable to exchange our soldiers for those of the enemy, since that would only enable and encourage them to continue the fight.

Of course, Mr. Obama, who once was mystifyingly compared to Lincoln, does not see this. If it is true that Sgt. Bergdahl defected to the Taliban, for whatever reasons, and that six of his fellow soldiers died trying to recover him, and that more Americans will be murdered by the terrorist lunatics he has freed, then he and the rest of us may have cause to regret this release. But the overriding question remains that of presidential lawlessness, for that precedent will come back to haunt us in future. A commentator observed recently that Barack Obama is the kind of president that Richard Nixon dreamed of being. I am afraid he may be right.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cooked Books

At last, a scandal that may actually have some impact on the Obama Administration. Whistle blowers have confirmed what we have known for decades -- that the Veterans Administration's healthcare system is a cesspool of incompetence, corruption and sheer disdain for human suffering and need. 40 veterans have so far been identified as having died for lack or care, and because of abuse and neglect. And what began as one VA hospital in Arizona having been exposed for cooking the books to hide its incompetence and inhumanity, so that bureaucrats could collect their performance bonuses, has now grown to an investigation of over 30 facilities across the nation. The sweet little scam that these bureaucrats have been running is to create false lists of veterans who are claimed to have received medical care so that the bureaucrats might be rewarded for meeting their performance quotas. Meanwhile, the vets have been made to wait weeks, even months, for an appointment to see a doctor, and, in some cases that we now know of, have died as a result.

The president, of course, has claimed, as he always does, that he learned of this shocking state of affairs only when he read about it in the newspapers. Now, he has said the same thing with regard to several other scandals, declaring days or even weeks after the fact that the situation is "unacceptable," and that he is "mad as hell" about it. Empty rhetoric, lack of leadership, incompetence and unconcern: these are the Obama style. But, having campaigned on his determination to correct the disgrace at the VA, and having been in office for five and a half years, these particular chickens have come home to his Oval Office to roost. He cannot claim he knew nothing about it (his habitual excuse), since his administration had been warned several times about the situation at the VA hospitals, specifically in 2010 by the Government Accounting Office, which cited the phony waiting lists and faked treatment numbers. No, Obama cannot smile and shinny his way out of this one with the help of the media, for, even if some of us don't much care about reporters being harassed by the government, or citizens groups being targeted by the IRS, or guns being sold illegally to drug cartels in Mexico, or massive NSA spying, or American citizens being marked for summary execution without due process, or even about a U.S. ambassador being murdered in Libya, everybody cares about veterans and how they are treated. So this albatross, at least, has fallen firmly around President Obama's neck, and even his servants in the press can't seem to shake it off him.

But to me, the larger question is this: Who in this nation can fail to understand that the same kind of bureaucrats with the same attitudes toward their jobs and the public who created the scandal in the VA will also be responsible for the healthcare of all of us under Obamacare? If they would do this to veterans who need care urgently, what do you think they will do to the average guy who needs an appendectomy or just a routine checkup? Let me make this clear: Obamacare is in the charge of the federal bureaucracy, and, by and large, federal bureaucrats, as they have shown in the VA scandal, don't give a damn about people or their suffering or their rights. They care about their jobs, their bonuses and their pensions.

And if you think for one moment that such bland, anonymous functionaries aren't going to ration care and set up panels to enforce the rationing, and watch your dear Aunt Millie waste away and die because she's 85 after all and in chronic ill health and the quality of her life doesn't merit the effort to keep her alive, all you have to do is read Barack Obama's response to a journalist who asked him what we should do when an elderly and ill relative is denied the care she needs because there is not enough to go around. Did he outrage against the idea? Did he even try to deny it? No, he said in so many words that all you can do is help the person come to terms with her death and say goodbye. And this is because Obama is, himself, the uber-bureaucrat, incompetent, uncaring and capable only of phony, staged ire at the very behavior which he models from the top down.

The knee-jerk reaction of the liberals to any challenge to socialized medicine is to say (as was recently said to me), "So, you want to see people die!" No, I do not. But the foolishness of the assertion does not, apparently, dissuade leftists from making it. However, we are now seeing people die -- people who have served and, in some cases, risked their lives for the nation -- in the only government-run healthcare system that currently exists in America, the model for the single-payer national system that so many on the left desire. And if I am right, that Obamacare was merely a Potemkin-style way-station on the road to socialized medicine, then the VA system is what we all have to look forward to. Though the media will try to deny it, this is more than just another scandal of this corrupt administration: It is a warning to all of us.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Cable News Nothing

I have just watched CNN for an hour, and I feel I must comment about it. There was a time, during the Iraq war, when I admired CNN and counted it on it for reliable news. That time is gone. During the past hour, the best that CNN has been able to manage is an extensive coverage of the first openly gay professional football player, and an interview with disgraced LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling.

In the first, openly gay anchor Don Lemon questioned a supposedly expert panel about the player's now viral kiss of his boyfriend upon learning that he had been drafted by the NFL. This incident, which ought to have merited a passing comment at most, was the subject of nearly half an hour of national TV time. The expert panel admitted, each in his or her own way, that they had never seen anything like this phenomenon, and, so, could not possibly be experts upon it. Leaving aside the point that this is now professional football player burst into tears and kissed his boyfriend, the fact that Lemon -- the same news anchor who asked a guest whether the missing Malaysia airliner could have been swallowed by a black hole -- felt that it deserved the nation's attention for an entire news program, when children are missing in Nigeria, innocents are being slaughtered in Syria, missiles are being launched in North Korea (over Stalinist prison camps), Vladimir Putin is trying to morph into a latter day tsar, and Democrats are refusing to participate in an effort to learn what really happened the day an American ambassador and three others were murdered in Libya, represents a new high in journalistic lows.

Then there was the continuing public pillorying of 80-year-old Clippers owner Sterling, who had the misfortune to make a damn fool of himself in an illegally tape recorded phone conversation with his girlfriend, who is less than half his age. I have read the transcript of that conversation, and if he could not tell that he was being baited and set up for exposure by a resentful mistress, he does not deserve to have a professional sports franchise, let alone two billion dollars. For those offenses he ought to be dismissed out of hand by the news, not to say by the NBA, but Anderson Cooper felt it was essential to scoop the other cable-gapers by interviewing the hapless octogenarian at length, and to the exclusion of all else that is plaguing our world these days. Who cares?! Sterling is a very foolish, fond old man, as Shakespeare said, who ought to resign in shame and be forgotten. But such is the fodder of cable news these days, which has such low standards that it cannot resist twisting the knife in any open wound.

Add to this the fact that CNN has striven almost singlehandedly to keep alive the missing Malaysia airliner story for nearly two months, pointlessly reporting every day and night that there is nothing to report, while parading the same "I really don't know anything new either" panels of experts. I submit that CNN, which has ceded its news pedigree to cooking shows and faux-documentaries in a feckless search for ratings, has ceased to exist as a serious source of news. This is news as social networking, hash-tag journalism, with stories driven by twitter. It is, quite simply, a bad joke.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Birthday logic

Another birthday has gone by, mercifully unnoticed. However, as I get older (and I am certainly doing that), I find that I appreciate the example and spirit of children more and more. I am fortunate in that I have an eleven year old, a fact which keeps me in touch with young children. I started, and mentor, a literary magazine at his school, and I work closely with the children in its preparation and publishing. We meet at lunchtime once a week, and, while in production, I spend hours with them at weekends. Doing so is more than enjoyable and rewarding; it is inspiring. This year, from a student body of some 330 children, we had over 1000 submissions, and reading them and discussing them with our staff of middle-schoolers was a real joy.

The imagination and native creativity of children far surpass those of most adults, whose consciousness has been narrowed and cowed by the exigencies of daily life and work. Somerset Maugham said that the writer is the only truly free person. Children are the free-est of the writers. Their imaginations can fly to any height or mold themselves to any conceivable (or inconceivable) shape or logic. They are as unrestrained as seagulls, or as the butterflies which seem to fascinate them so, and about which they often write.

This year, for example, we had a first grader who was asked to write about his fears. He stated that he feared only two things: swimming, "because it takes so much power," and... super-massive black holes. How he put those two things together defeats me, though I suppose both are powerful threats, one from the Rose Bowl aquatics center, and the other from interstellar space.

Another first grader wrote about the first Thanksgiving. The winter was so bad, she declared, that "only fifty-two and a half Pilgrims survived." Now, I suspect that I have met the descendants of that half-Pilgrim: they are liberals. And a pre-K child, perhaps four years old, wrote, as so many do, about butterflies; yet in her single paragraph essay, she managed to take the subject from monarchs to megalodons, a kind of pre-historic great white shark, apparently without any mental strain. I submit that no adult writer could have achieved this feat; certainly not with the ease and grace of logic that she exhibited.

Tolstoy famously asked: Shall we teach the children to write, or will they teach us? To me, the answer is obvious: we must go to school to them. However, I fear, we grown-up writers are far too wise, and life and our craft have made our imaginations far too ossified, to allow us to slip back gracefully into the fluid logic of the child. And literature is the worse for that.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rutting at Rutgers

I was a student for many, many years. In college and in grad school, I was proud of my status as student -- I thought it one of the highest callings of humanity -- and I took my role very seriously. My goal was to learn as much as I could from as many thoughtful people as I could find. It didn't matter to me who they were nor what their backgrounds; it mattered not at all whether I agreed with them or not. In fact, I rather sought out people with whom I disagreed, to test the validity of my ideas and take the risk of acquiring new ones that might change my point of view. This, to me, was what a student was and did. A learner.

Today I was both dismayed and disgusted by the news that Condoleezza Rice has been obliged to decline her invitation to speak at the commencement ceremony at Rutgers University. This, as a result of a protest by a minority of students whose voices were more active than their intellectual curiosity. It was, ostensibly, her role in shaping the U.S. invasion of Iraq that prompted the protests, and the craven response by the faculty and administration which enabled it. This is, or ought to be, viewed by anyone who values free speech, as a disgrace of the first order.

Through years of post-secondary education, both in this country and in France, I had been forced to listen to the ranting, often hysterical, of leftist professors, while I was simply trying to construct for myself the best education I could manage. I will state frankly that many of my professors in college and grad school were socialists, indeed, some even communists, but I endured their strident, irrelevant and occasionally insulting diatribes for the sake of learning what they might have to teach me that would be of value to me in my later life. I recall distinctly a professor of cinematography at the Paris Film Conservatory, a self-professed communist, who was in the habit of singling me out, as the only American at the school, for particular disparagement. I endured it all in silence, because he was a good film teacher, and I needed to learn from him how to calculate the hyper-focal distance of a lens, and how properly to roll up the cable of a 1000 watt light. These things he did teach me, but with a gratuitous condemnation of the Bill of Rights in between.

My favorite professor of all was a far-left socialist who taught Russian Literature. In his classes I was much more interested in his views on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky than I was in those on the Polish labor movement or American imperialism. I valued what he had to teach about War and Peace and Crime and Punishment, and not what he personally believed about American capitalism. I craved to learn from him about literature, and I ignored the political propaganda that came with it.

In my decades of education, I learned to filter out the politically-driven nonsense and focus on the pedagogic core. Much of what my professors said -- even those I most admired -- was nonsense-inspired ideology, but that did not mean I did not listen, and think, and debate, and absorb. Because that is what a student does -- that is what a student is. A learner, above and before all else. And it was for this principle -- the right to listen and debate and be exposed to every point of view, regardless of what those in authority believed -- that I, and many others in the student movement of the Sixties and Seventies, fought and sacrificed for, and strove to establish as a vital principle of academic freedom.

Now, in the twenty-first century, to hear that a student body refuses to listen to someone with whom they disagree is repugnant to me. Do they not understand that, during the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War protests, and the era of Watergate, we fought for the right of students to listen to opposing points of view? That some of us put our freedom, and even our lives, on the line so that others might be exposed to unpopular speech? Do they not understand that their intellectual and spiritual predecessors in protest fought for the right of free speech and discussion, even, as at Kent State, at the point of a bayonet and bullets?

These so-called students at Rutgers, who have said to Condoleezza Rice: We do not want to hear what you have to say, and we do not want anyone else to hear it either, are backtracking. They are undoing what we, in the generation of the students' rights movement, sought to create: the right to be heard no matter how much we, or our superiors, might disagree. These alleged students at Rutgers are not progressives -- they are fascists; they are not new millennials, they are Mussolini. They represent everything we in the Sixties and Seventies, whom they claim to admire, fought against. They are the enemy.

Condoleezza Rice is a woman of extraordinary accomplishments: a concert pianist who has performed with Yo-Yo Ma, a Phi Beta Kappa, a professor at Stanford, the first black woman Secretary of State, a personage admired around the world for her achievements. Whether or not you agree with her foreign policy decisions in the Bush administration, any intelligent person must bow to what she has achieved though her race, her gender and her politics were against her. I say to the so-called students at Rutgers: No matter what you think of her foreign policy decisions, this is a woman from whom you can learn -- this is a human being whom you, as students, ought to hear.

Now, on the question of who you would invite to your precious commencement (which you have already discredited), I would ask the following:

Franklin Roosevelt prepared, and Harry Truman carried out, the nuclear bombing of Japan. Would you allow them to speak?

John F. Kennedy got us involved in Vietnam, disgraced the presidency with his sexual profligacy, and brought us to the brink of World War III in Cuba. Would you allow him to speak?

Bill Clinton presided over a war in Yugoslavia, launched a cruise missile attack on a baby formula factory in Sudan, and had against him credible allegations of rape. Would you allow him to speak?

Of course you would. And that fact reveals the essential hypocrisy of your protest, and the naked cowardice of the professors and administrators who have allowed you to prevail: Condoleezza Rice has the temerity to be a black woman who is also a conservative. And it is for that you will not forgive her, and for that you will forbid her even to speak at your temple of learning. You are not students: in the words of Holden Caulfied, on whom you cut your cultural teeth, you are phonies.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Porgy Perplex

Last weekend I attended a pre-opening performance of the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess at the Ahmanson Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Though I had sung tunes from the show to my eleven-year-old when he was little, I had never seen a live production of it. And so, when it moved here from Broadway, I took him to see the source of the singing which I had once inflicted upon him.

It was a very good production. The voices were uniformly wonderful. Bess was the highlight of it, her voice full, moving and operatic in quality; Porgy's was rather less so, but it, too, was clear and emotive. Also, the women who sang Serena and Clara were exceptional. The dance numbers suffered from the fact that the Ahmanson stage was too small to allow them to breathe properly. However, they were done in a spirited fashion. The acting was of a high quality across the board, and the orchestra, while understaffed in my opinion, did well.

I had read that the show has been controversial from its inception, having been denounced even by black singers and actors, some of whom refused to participate in it. However, it received a new life, and a new respect, when it was revived in the Seventies, and it is now considered an established part of American musical literature.

I must say that there were moments even in this new-millennial production when I understood the original dissension. Especially in the dance numbers, one could see vestiges of stereotyping that must have been more pronounced in earlier stagings. One of the dances in particular - a funeral dance - was reminiscent of arm-waving, hip-strutting voodoo dance, which I found discomforting. I cannot imagine why the performers agreed to do the number this way; why they did not insist on something less cliched and more creative.

Beyond this, the cast did a very good job of keeping the tone dignified despite the archaic language, and concentrating on the emotional power of the story and the music, while deflecting attention away from the 1930s racial ethos which lurks behind the text. Still, there were moments, as in 'It Ain't Necessarily So,' when I felt that more energy and mischievousness were called for, and I found the villain, for all his physical bulk and booming baritone, to be a bit over the top. Nonetheless, when he was killed, the audience actually cheered - the highest accolade for any stage villain.

Having seen it live on stage in a first-rate production, I find I have mixed feelings about Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin's music is of a very high order for what one could call a popular opera or an operatic musical. It combines European opera with folk tunes, jazz and gospel music in a way that is creative without being condescending. In the blending of traditional and contemporary styles, I was reminded often of Kurt Weill's Three Penny Opera. Porgy, I think, falls into that narrow niche between popular and classical, rather like Bernstein's West Side Story, for example, or his Candide. It is not Oklahoma, but neither is it Don Giovanni.

However, there can be no doubt that Porgy has benefited from the perspective of time: We now see it after eighty years as much a historical artifact as a brilliant work of musical theater. There is no question in my mind that if such a piece were written today it could not find a producer, and, even if it somehow did, it would be howled off the stage by the forces of political correctness long before history had a chance to decide on its social and artistic merits. In short, for all its virtues, Porgy would not be possible today.