Thursday, August 10, 2017

Who won and lost the vote of no confidence in South Africa's President Zuma?


There are two sides to every argument. They predictably followed as soon as the opposition Democratic Alliance's motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma failed to carry on August 8.

President Zuma elatedly assured supporters gathered outside the national assembly: 'They (the opposition parties) will never defeat the ANC.'  He refrained from adding that naturally included himself.

ANC reaffirmed as leader of society boasted the African National Congress's press release. Zuma's triumph was the leading article on Politicsweb.

Then the contradictions. 'The ANC may have won the No Confidence motion in Parliament yesterday, but it has lost the confidence of the country,' said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, and he called for parliament to be dissolved and for an early election to be held.

Well, which is it, what is the truth?

The governing party clearly needs to reject the idea that their president is in any way weakened by the vote or that the ANC is split (and therefore also weakened). So it runs the two issues together, deliberately to blur any firm conclusion about either.

The two issues are linked, certainly, but not inseparable. Let us look at it that way.

It is possible that Zuma has lost all standing but the ANC is not split: it could be that ANC MPs agree he has turned out a bad president and should be replaced. But then it stops there; that is all.

But that is unlikely from the circumstances. A vote of no-confidence was held that the ANC found it could neither resist nor insist was an open vote as usual. That does not suggest there are no divisions internally beyond President Zuma's performance in the job.

Indeed, we already know leaders have voiced criticisms and called for him to step down; now such opposition appears to have infiltrated the rank and file of the parliamentary caucus, normally a dependable body of lobby fodder. The figures are remarkable.

The final vote was 198 against, 177 for, referred to in the ANC announcement as a 'resounding defeat' for the motion. You either believe that or you do not. But if the party is not exactly split, at least we can say such figures do not support the claim the ANC are all of one mind with regard to their president or party. That is only the ANC spokespersons' version.

And, on the other hand, is Zuma weakened or strengthened by the support he received? The ANC spin is that 80% of ANC MPs voted for him; only 20% against.

A few odd opponents might be expected in a secret ballot, obviously. But what the voting has exposed is a significant proportion of ANC MPs are seriously concerned not only whether they are backing the wrong horse, but whether their party is taking the right direction.

That Zuma has emerged strengthened from this trial after all the others sounds more and more incredible. This was his eighth no-confidence challenge. This time it was not a nationwide but a worldwide story. Without counting in the numbers, his reputation is in shreds, and he has achieved nothing more than to survive again.

Close though the verdict is, however, none of this suggests, much less guarantees, all is over for the ANC in the 2019 elections. Politics is a fascinating study because it involves not black and white but grey areas, and defies augury.

 

 https://twitter.com/IpsosMORI/status/897071530248728576

 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Helen Zille, Mmusi Maimane and the DA: a matter of judgment


In my view, politics is about power; that is its nature and how I approach and look at the subject. This does not mean ethics has no role whatever and principle is always ignored.
 
But how and when they are ignored or observed is, inescapably, a matter of judgment for politicians, not one of obligation. Judgment of the situation is the essence of the politician's job; the successful politician is the one who gets it right more often than wrong.
 
I would say, by way of clarification, that the same judgment applies in business. Business is by no means a smash-and-grab affair, a game for 'a pack of crooks'. But neither is it a game for the naive or the saintly. To succeed, you have to know the 'rules' - or the lack of them. That is why successful business people are said to have a natural 'instinct' for business while others simply cannot get it right. Judgment, not ethics, not intelligence, nor even diligence, rules.

 
In the present case, Ms Zille, who I take to be a highly professional and principled politician, committed an error of judgment with her initial tweet. There was nothing extraordinary about that; we all make mistakes and very many of them are made in a careless moment on the internet.
 
But in her response she has probably made it a terminal mistake. She has set herself against the party she has played a leading role in building, which is to say she has divided it, and plunged its black leader into a terrible dilemma that was none of his making but which he must now address because it is his job.
 
As the bitter reaction of many Democratic Alliance members and supporters shows, Mmusi Maimane cannot win: he must disappoint or outrage some as he gives others the satisfaction of saying he has done the right thing. Motives are suspect and challenged, loyalties on raw display.
 
These arguments will continue, of course, and so they should. I am interested above all in how politics shapes things, not in declaring who is in the right. All of us will see in time the one if not the other.

 

 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Theresa May calls surprise UK General Election


I disagree with the UK Guardian this morning and fully support the calling of a general election to settle how a seriously disunited United Kingdom moves on. It is clearly undesirable that an unelected prime minister, Theresa May, should be able to take the country out of the EU on the basis of a deeply flawed referendum last June.
 
Set up as consultative or pre-legislative only, the referendum was never the mandate to government that Leavers liked to make out it was. That a narrow 52%-48% split between the 72% of the electorate who actually voted represents the will of the people is also a crude distortion of facts, if not evident nonsense. 'The will of the people' is not recognised under Britain's constitutional monarchy besides lacking any existence in reality.
 
The looming danger of course is for a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour. If the polls prove correct, the party will be decimated as an opposition, never a desirable development in a democracy. But that is in the hands of the voters again and democrats must accept there can be no more lamentations and grumbles after June 8 if Remainers do not get out and make their votes count given this second bite at the cherry.
 
Britain's representative democracy has been restored and both sides have a second chance after the last nine months of bitter argument and division. For this Mrs May is to be commended, however much her arm has been twisted and however self-serving her motives.
 

 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An email to my friend about opera


I haven't seen or possibly even heard anything of I Puritani and I don't think I've seen a Bellini opera. Can't think of one right now. The superb films of The Met productions have given me wonderful evenings of entertainment at Donizetti and Rossini operas that I wouldn't have got to all my life either, with phenomenal singers like Juan Diego Florez, Natalie Dessay and JoyceDiDonato.
 
But my musical tastes, as you know, are later and for the orchestra, not the voice, and in opera, for all the music, not just the arias. I'll give you two exact instances how this came about for me. 
 
The first opera of which I ever heard anything (I know this for sure) was Boheme: my mum had bought at some time Heddle Nash singing Your tiny hand is frozen - yes, in English - and I must have known it by heart by the time I was 6 or 7. Boheme was also -  I am forever grateful for it - the first opera I saw on stage, age 17.
 
But when I started to read and find out about opera, it was the rest of the story, the bits around the arias, I wanted to know more about, not just the beautiful arias themselves that your husband introduced me to when we were at school. I can remember very distinctly reading the plot of Boheme and wondering what the music would be like when the friends are just talking to each other in the attic, not singing the aria I knew from childhood. Che fai ..? - those first words in Act I: how would the music go for that, after that? From the start that was the intriguing thing.
 
As regards the role of the orchestra, I heard the Tristan Prelude and Liebestod first without the voice, when I was 18 and had already moved on to serious orchestral music. It changed the whole world.

Shortly afterwards, because I was following up everything Wagner composed, I was listening to some man talking on the radio about Die Meistersinger, which I didn't know at all. I can't remember now who it was talking or anything else about the programme, except for this. He was saying that a critic at the first performance had hated the opera and complained he'd never heard anything as terrible as 'the awful bellowing of that cobbler'.
 
'Bellowing indeed!' exclaimed the speaker in mock reproach, and he put on Sachs' Fledermonolog to set the record straight. 
 
I can still remember as I type this how it seemed to me I had never heard anything more glorious and great, an orchestra weaving more wonderful music behind the human voice.

As I type this now, it is one of the very few moments to make me at least consider it, if some dark angel tempted me with the chance to live my life again.



Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why on earth would anyone not like the musical La La Land?


 
I emailed a friend enthusiastically recommending the movie La La Land. She replied:
 
 
Sorry to disappoint you, Paul, but I didn't like it and found it trivial. I'm really surprised how much you enjoyed it but there you go. Seems to me, if you like opera as much as we do, you can't like or appreciate musicals 'cos I've yet to find one I like apart from West Side Story! xxx
 
 
To which I replied:

 
Oh dear, I'm sorry you didn't like it, but then I didn't know you didn't like musicals - I naturally thought you did like them when you said you were going to see it or I would have told you on no account go. You couldn't possibly like La La Land if you don't like musicals, because what are called 'musicals' are/were a very particular Hollywood genre and this is the first in many years to take it on again - as you know - to huge acclaim.
 
This can only bore you, I fear, but the 'Hollywood musical' is essentially a movie form - not, that is to say, a Broadway show transferred to film like Show Boat, say, Carousel, Oklahoma! My Fair Lady or even the blockbuster The Sound of Music, none of which I would personally call a proper Hollywood musical. 
 
The genuine (or, in fact, highly stylized) article is a frothy confection, best described as 'romantic', no more weighty than a chocolate eclair, that features songs and dance in circumstances and locations that suspend reality - living rooms, streets, rooftops, down by the river (the Seine, not the Potomac and definitely not the Thames)  - all to a fairy tale storyline ('plot' would be far too heavy a word) of boy-meets-girl, boy-girl-have-mild-misunderstanding, boy-girl-have-happy-ending ... generally to a reprise of the main number/love song.
 
Triviality cannot be a criticism of a Hollywood musical, therefore, because it is a requirement of it. It is pure escapist entertainment. 
 
The form flourished in the '40s, early '50s - titles like Cover Girl, Anchors Aweigh, Three Little Words, Two Weeks with Love, Rich, Young and Pretty, and reached its apotheosis, in the opinion of many, with Singin' in the Rain.
 
West Side Story, playing in Jo'burg now as I write, contains some very fine music and was a monumental success, but it was never a Hollywood musical as defined. Those films never presented a drama, but only beautiful and splendidly talented people who played themselves and were only intended to do so: Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, Cyd Charisse, Frank Sinatra and, the most emblematic, Gene Kelly. 
 
La La Land is unmistakably in this tradition, with many allusions and nostalgic references to it. Among other things, it therefore swept me back to my teens when a school friend Mike was really the one who introduced me to a lighthearted movie form that has given me hours of pleasure, pretty girls to fall in love with, and happy memories all my life.  But, absolutely unlike opera though it is, absolutely like opera, you either love it or you don't.
 
I could go on more about this and about music if I don't stop right now. Perhaps I should have been there to hold your hand like they do in the movie. That might have made all the difference. xxxx
 
 
To which she replied: 
 
 
Just read a review by Mariella Frostrup and thought I'd quote it here:

"The multi-Bafta-nominated musical La La Land looks pretty enough, but this one-tune wonder with a couple of derivative dance numbers set in the world of make-believe they call Hollywood has to be one of the most banal movies of recent decades. If this forgettable musical scoops more awards then any other film in history it will only confirm our current desperation to escape the precarious real world..."

I have to say I agree with her every word but know you don't!
 
Love from dark and very cold GB xxx

 
To which I replied:
 

What interests me with regard to our little disagreement - if, that is, you remember bits and pieces of the things I've written - is not the difference of opinion, which we can expect, but the causes of differences over the mystery of music. Is its appeal and our reaction to it inborn? Are our likes and dislikes something we've learned? 
I believe it is a bit of both but, if that's certain, the proportions still remain an utter mystery. All my life I've met people who "don't like Wagner", whereas those who do are often fanatical in their devotion. One interviewee on Desert Island Discs raised much criticism and considerable mirth by taking with him eight Wagner pieces, I remember. In the film Hawking, our genius had an ongoing disagreement with his girl friend over whether Wagner or Brahms was to be preferred. What is this? Is it a question of the way our brains or ears are constructed, or our 'souls'? What about those who don't like music at all, or are tone deaf or, most strangely, are tone deaf and able to tell they are?
 
People like Mariella Frostrup go to The Merry Widow, we must imagine, and may well be stirred to write a dusty article afterwards because it lacks the metaphysical profundities of Tristan and Isolde, or spurn Die Fledermaus and Daughter of the Regiment for wanting the gravitas of the Messiah. Unjust though that appears to be, one must still account for why she (and you, in the case of La La Land!) can't stand certain types of music or musical entertainment. The answer cannot lie in the 'facts', for La La Land itself is the musical entertainment it is for all of us, delightful to some and not others - like La Boheme, which even Mariella, I trust, would not dare call banal make-believe.
 
It could be 'upbringing' then, environment and accident. I have acquired a broad taste in music propped with a tolerance - at least, that is what I like to think it is - for many varied performers. I love Johnny Mathis singing Begin the Beguine and Barbra Streisand singing Melancholy Baby, George Shearing and Hoagy Carmichael (he was mentioned in the film, along with many other heroes who have passed on, remember? Sebastian kept a stool he had sat on.)

But don't ask me to like that ghastly rock or heavy metal that seems to entertain millions, or ever to enjoy what is supposed to be the most popular pop song ever written, boring Yesterday. There are limits, dammit. xxx


To which she replied:


What an interesting email, Paul! You certainly have a gift for writing and putting things into context. However, it doesn't make me like musicals any more although I understand now what it's all about! xxx


I took that, gratefully, as a dead heat.