Placido Domingo: cancel culture?

‘People who do really good stuff have flaws’ said Barack Obama in a recent talk.  About the same time I read: ‘Placido Domingo has withdrawn from all future engagements at New York’s Metropolittan Opera [after 51 consecutive years] following allegations of sexual harrassment made by several women, including a soprano who said he reached down her robe and grabbed her bare breast’.[The Week,5 October 2019] Domingo’s burnished tenor and acting ability has thrilled generations of opera lovers.  At 78 it was probably  time he hung up his boots. But should he be driven  off stage by allegations of sexual impropriety?


I reproduce below two comments I received from friends, the first a man, the second a woman,  both of whom share my love of opera.

‘In my view, the primary dilemma is between a deontological understanding of ethics,  the standards of which are valid across time and space,  and a more context-bounded one. Without embracing a radical ethical relativism I wonder whether it is appropriate to totally ignore the context-boundedness of ethical behavior.  I think, we should take into account that ethical consciousness (i.e. what people consider ethical standards) changes over time,  notwithstanding the fact that some core ethical principles remain unchanged. But even if we embrace a context-insensitive understanding of ethics I wonder whether the accused persons have no rights at all. Anonymous accusations can destroy lives’ .

‘Domingo  has the following  problems:
(A.) There are a lot of complainants;
(B.) He was in a position of real power in a business notorious for that power being abused; and, worst of all
(C.) The present atmosphere, especially in the US, is not far off a lynch mob…..

I find differences of view are geographical and generational.  Our generation – you and I … have an open mind and are wary of mass judgements. Our daughters’ generation can’t  get enough of it..

In the USA, Australia and I suspect the UK  where ‘Me Too ‘ has serious traction,  I doubt there is a future for PD … [But] I expect Milan and Berlin to carry on as usual.

Fifty years ago and even more recently such behaviour was accepted.  It must be remembered  that it works both ways and it would be foolish to believe he was not actively  pursued by women working in the business. That should never be forgotten

As with Karajan who had a spotty  background for other reasons we keep watching genius at work and separate what may now be classified as ‘no go’.’

A number of interesting moral issues arise.  Should we judge the  past behaviour of individuals  by present standards? My young (24 year old) research assistant (male) is quite clear about this: ‘What Domingo did was as morally wrong then as it is  now, and he knew it.The fact that it was socially acceptable then for men to grope women is no defence. Our generation is just not as hypocritical as yours’.

I find myself in an ambivalent position. On the one hand, Domingo’s behaviour was deplorable, and should not be excused on the ground of ‘customary’ standards.

Against this is the thought that we have created a culture of exploitable  victimhood. If you’re not being sexist, you’re  being racist. The politician Rory Stewart, campaigning for the mayoralty of London, made the mistake of referring  approvingly to the mixed population of  Brick Lane, as the kind of  area ‘where three sort of minor gangsters can come up to me and tell me I am an idiot’. As chance had it, the men who had called him an idiot, accused him of racism, and  demanded that he apologise for ‘trying to take advantage of black boys when it’s convenient, then ridiculing them’. It turned out they objected to being called ‘minor’.

Curiously for a society which has thrown off  so many Puritan inhibitions we  seem to be relentlessly intent on  spreading guilt. I  prefer the Catholic doctrine of forgiveness.  Opera lovers should forgive Placido his transgressions,  and enjoy the one or two remaining years of his superb stage craft.

Letter: The UK’s failing economic model demands such bold ideas

Below is the text of a letter to the editor of the Financial Times, signed by Lord Skidelsky alongside 81 other signatories, and published on 6th September 2019.

Your series of articles exploring the Labour party’s economic agenda fails to appreciate the severity of the UK’s current economic condition, and reproduces a number of misconceptions.

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The Fall and Rise of Public Heroism

Recently I watched The Man Who Was Too Free, a moving documentary about the Russian dissident politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in front of the Kremlin in 2015. A young, handsome rising political star in the 1990s, Nemtsov later refused to bend to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism and went into opposition, where he was harassed, imprisoned, and finally killed. The film left me thinking about the diminished role of heroism and courage in modern life, and also about the fate of Russia.

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The Case for a Guaranteed Job

“Any government,” writes the economist and hedge fund manager Warren Mosler, “can achieve full employment by offering a public service job to anyone who wants one at a fixed wage.” Versions of this idea have received powerful endorsements from prominent Democratic politicians in the US, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has linked a government job guarantee to a Green New Deal. Moreover, versions of a job-guarantee program (JGP), more or less connected to green economics, have been implemented in Argentina, India, South Africa, and – whisper it quietly – Hungary under its illiberal populist leader, Viktor Orbán.

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Norman’s Last Day

The funeral of Norman Stone took place on Friday 28 June in the Deak Lutheran Church in Budapest. His son Rupert asked me to be a pall bearer and I followed the coffin up the aisle behind the prime minister Viktor Orban. Historians Niall Ferguson and Harold James, among others, eulogised him. My presence was in a sense accidental. I happened to be spending a month in Vienna and I had come over from to Budapest to see him the previous week: on the day, in fact, he died.

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‘To cut spending in a slump is just wrong’: Lord Skidelsky on austerity and why Keynes matters

Interview in House Magazine
By Geoffrey Lyons

In a 2015 article for Project Syndicate, historian Niall Ferguson accused Lord Robert Skidelsky of being “un-Keynesian” for refusing to admit that George Osborne’s austerity policies worked. Skidelsky’s position, Ferguson argued, wasn’t true to the great economist-statesman’s view that one ought to adjust their beliefs in the face of changing facts.

Ferguson must have known this was a critical hit. It’s not that Skidelsky has come to identify his views with those of “the Master” that makes “un-Keynesian” such a biting characterization, but rather that he is arguably the greatest living authority on the twentieth-century economist. Besides being a prolific writer and lecturer on economic issues, Skidelsky is perhaps best known for his acclaimed three-volume biography of Keynes, a project he laboured over for nearly three decades. Still, he didn’t take Ferguson’s remarks personally.

“Niall and I are quite good friends and actually go back a long way,” he says with a smile. “But we’ve sort of diverged on this. He doesn’t actually say in what respect I should have changed my mind, so it’s a nice throwaway line.”

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Has Austerity Been Vindicated?

Harvard University Professor Alberto Alesina has returned to the debate on budget deficits, austerity, and growth. Back in 2010, Alesina told European finance ministers that “many even sharp reductions of budget deficits have been accompanied and immediately followed by sustained growth rather than recessions even in the very short run” (my italics). Now, with fellow economists Carlo Favero and Francesco Giavazzi, Alesina has written a new book entitled Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn’t, which recently received a favorable review from his Harvard colleague Kenneth Rogoff.

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