Metropolitan Opera Cancels Performance of Guillaume Tell after Powdery Substance Is Sprinkled in the Orchestra Pit!


Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday afternoon, my wife Elaine and I were attending the matinee performance of Guillaume Tell (William Tell) at the Metropolitan Opera when the third act was abruptly cancelled and the house evacuated. Someone in the audience had sprinkled an unidentified powder into the orchestra pit during the second intermission. 

The evacuation was orderly and handled well by the Met staff.  There were no injuries or any harmful reaction to the unidentified substance. The New York Police Department dispatched a special unit to investigate the incident.  The suspect, a man who was not identified, had fled the scene. John J. Miller, the deputy police commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism for the Police Department, indicated that a man told other patrons he was there specifically to sprinkle the ashes of a mentor during the performance. Mr. Miller said the act may have been a violation of the city’s health code but that there was no criminal intent.

Rossini’s opera is based on the William Tell legend and returned to the Met stage after an absence of more than 80 years.  It was quite a fine performance in a new production by Pierre Audi and led by Gerald Finley as Tell, the revolutionary on his quest for freedom. Marina Rebeka as Mathilde, Bryan Hymel as Arnold, and Jannai Brugger as Jemmy were in good voice.  Fabio Luisi conducted and his opening overture (the theme music for The Lone Ranger) received applause all around from the audience.

Just another autumn Saturday afternoon in the Big Apple!


FBI Announces It Is Reviewing New Emails Connected to Hillary Clinton!

Dear Commons Community,

The news media went on a frenzy yesterday when FBI Director James Comey  announced that his agency was reviewing new emails to determine whether they are connected to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s handling of sensitive government information.  The New York Times first reported and The Associated Press confirmed that the emails were found on devices belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin and former Congressman Anthony Weiner, Weiner has been under federal investigation over allegations that he traded sexually explicit messages with an underage girl. He and Abedin separated in August.

In a Friday letter (see text below)  to members of Congress, FBI Director James Comey said the agency, “in connection to an unrelated case” had learned of email that “appear to be pertinent to the investigation.” Comey said the FBI “cannot yet assess” whether the material “may be significant” and that he “cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the president learned of Comey’s announcement from press reports and the “president’s expectation is that all FBI efforts follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released a scathing statement attacking Comey for sending a letter with so many implications and yet so many unanswered questions less than two weeks before Nov. 8.

“Director Comey’s announcement played right into the political campaign of Donald Trump, who is already using the letter for political purposes. … The FBI has a history of extreme caution near Election Day so as not to influence the results. Today’s break from that tradition is appalling,” she wrote.

Brookings senior fellow Benjamin Wittes wrote a breakdown on Twitter of what Comey’s letter means and a post on Lawfare urging the press not to read too much into the FBI’s review.

This looks again like a lot of smoke but one has to wonder about the intentions of FBI Director Comey sending this letter so close to Election Day.




New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet Slams Fox News and CNN as “Bad for Democracy”!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet criticized CNN and Fox News’ coverage of the 2016 presidential race as being “in the long run, bad for democracy and those institutions.”

“This mix of entertainment and news, and news masquerading as entertainment, is kind of funny except that we now have a guy who is a product of that world nominated as Republican presidential candidate,” Baquet said in an interview with the Financial Times published earlier today.   As reported by The Huffington Post:

“Republican nominee Donald Trump proved to be an early ratings bonanza for TV networks that in turn helped boost his candidacy by allowing him to routinely call into news shows, failing to challenge his bogus claims, rewarding rank bigotry and airing evening rallies live without serious fact-checking of what he said on stage. The excessive airtime helped push Trump’s rivals to the margins during the Republican primary, though scrutiny of the cable networks increased ― and across the news media more broadly ― as he grew closer to winning the nomination. 

The Times has had a rocky relationship with Trump, who has given the paper significant access through dozens of interviews this election cycle, while simultaneously blasting the paper at rallies and on Twitter. Trump has talked of suing the Times on several occasions, though so far these threats have fizzled out.

In the Financial Times interview, Baquet also criticized CNN’s hiring of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who bullied the press while on the job. He also continued getting paid by the campaign once he was on CNN’s payroll, while promoting his former boss on air. Baquet called the hiring of Lewandowski “outrageous” and described the network commentator as a “political shill.”

While Baquet acknowledged Fox News employs “great” journalists like Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace, he said the network “at its heart is not a journalistic institution.”

Baquet said Fox News provides “some weird mix of a little bit of journalism, a little bit of entertainment, a little bit of pandering to a particular audience .” And disgraced former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, he said, won’t “go down as one of the great journalists of his time.”

Great interview, Mr. Baquet!



Mexican Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art!


Diego Rivera’s “Liberation of the Peon” (1931), in “Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.Credit2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art


Dear Commons Community,

For those of us who are drawn to Mexican modern art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened a new show this past week,   “Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950”. Organized by the Museum’s curator, Matthew Affron, the show is the first attempt in the United States in seven decades to grapple with the contradictions of early-20th-century Mexican political art.  Here you will find the work of luminaries such as  Orozco, Siqueiros, Rivera, and Kalo.  Below is an excerpt from a New York Times review:

“Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950” has plenty of pumped muralist muscle — all those clenched fists — but offsets it with pictures as pretty as valentines.  Organized with the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, where it will travel in February, the show focuses on pioneers of the Mexican movement for artistic nationalism, following the timeline of revolutionary events. In 1911, the country’s longtime president, Porfirio Díaz, was chased out of office. He had kept peace for decades by pampering the elite, enriching the army, and treating the poor, which meant practically everyone else, like dirt. Finally, dirt said no, and everything changed, including art.

The initial changes look mild. Under Díaz, European cultural taste prevailed, and after he was gone it still did for awhile, though with infusions of Mexican flavor, mexicanidad. You see it in soft-textured paintings of peasants by Saturnino Herrán and the young David Alfaro Siqueiros from around 1913, though the pictures give no hint of the violence tearing the country apart as rebel leaders like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa fought for control of it.

Soon, however, art did reflect events. In 1914, Francisco Goitia was turning out horror-show scenes of atrocities that he said he had seen on battlefields. José Clemente Orozco tried to outdo Goya in grotesque newspaper cartoons. Diego Rivera weighed in, long-distance, from Paris, with Mexican-accented Cubism. And Gerardo Murillo, the avant-gardist firebrand from the Díaz years who called himself Dr. Atl, took a dramatic nationalist stand with a self-portrait in which his head and an image of Mexico’s most active volcano merge.

By 1921, the carnage had pretty much stopped. It was time to mop up and organize, to turn revolution from a passing event into an institution. Art was very much part of the plan. Mural painting, billboard-big and bold, was designated the official art form. And three artist-workers — Orozco, Siqueiros, and Rivera (back from Paris that year) — were its stars.”

This show is well worth a trip to Philly!



Manuel Rodríguez Lozano’s “Pietà in the Desert” (1942). Credit Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes 

World on Track to Lose Two-Thirds of its Animal Population by 2020!

Dear Commons Community,

Various media news outlets are reporting on The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report which is ringing an alarm that the world’s animal species are dying, and humans are a big reason why.  The report estimates that global populations of wild mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles declined 58 percent on average between 1970 and 2012.  Broken down, those numbers look like this: Land animals have declined by 38 percent, marine species show a 36 percent drop and freshwater species have decreased 81 percent.

And it’s not stopping there. If 1970 is our baseline, the world is on track to lose an estimated two-thirds of its wild animal populations by 2020.

Experts are calling this time in history “the Anthropocene,” and these declining numbers for species are uncharted territory.

But the extinction rate shouldn’t be a surprise. Well-known species like eastern and western Gorillas are both critically endangered. Poaching is decimating elephant populations. And you can count the number of northern white rhinos on one hand.

It’s not just the highly publicized species, either. Vulture populations are reportedly headed for extinction, and even certain species of bees are disappearing.

The declines are caused by habitat loss from urban development, over-hunting, pollution, disease and climate change — all of which are tied to humans.

One expert in the report warned if we lose any more biodiversity, “the natural world and the life support systems as we know them today will collapse.”

2020 is only four years away!


Elizabeth Warren:  “Nasty women are tough.  Nasty women are smart. Nasty women vote”!

Dear Commons Community,

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave it to Donald Trump on Monday at a Hillary Clinton rally.

“Get this, Donald. Nasty women are tough. Nasty women are smart. And nasty women vote,” Warren told a crowd of an estimated 4,000 people at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. “And, on Nov. 8, we nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.”

Warren’s rip was in response to Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman” during their final debate last week in Las Vegas.   As reported by The Huffington Post:

“Warren has become a sort of attack-dog surrogate on the Clinton campaign, insulting Trump both on the stump and on social media. She’s also the darling of the progressive left and fundamentally more animated on the campaign trail.

Where Clinton is wonky and private, Warren is populist and energetic. She’s not shy to throw some shade at Trump, even seeming to relish her role.

“He thinks that because he has a mouth full of Tic Tacs that he can force himself on any woman within groping distance,” Warren said, referencing Trump and his allegations of sexual misconduct.

When Clinton took the mic, it’s as though she was picking up the baton in a relay race, after the first runner had given her a huge lead and she just wanted to keep the momentum going.

Clinton herself did not once utter the phrase “nasty woman” onstage, but she seemed to savor Warren’s scathing lines.

“I kind of expect if Donald heard what she just said, he’s tweeting away,” Clinton said. “She gets under his thin skin like nobody else.”

Clinton has a sizable lead in the polls, particularly among women; but there have long been questions about Clinton’s voter enthusiasm and how that might translate into turnout on Election Day.

Perhaps “nasty woman” is the rallying cry the Democrats need, their own version of the “basket of deplorables.”

Up and at him, Elizabeth!


Bret Stephens: My Former Republican Party – The Democrats left my parents. Trump’s GOP has left me.

Dear Commons Community,

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. Bret Stephens who writes “Global View,” the Wall Street Journal’s foreign-affairs column, has a heartfelt column today entitled, My Former Republican Party:  The Democrats left my parents. Trump’s GOP has left me.  Here is an excerpt:

“I grew up with parents who liked the old line that they didn’t leave the Democratic Party—the Democratic Party left them. My father’s political heroes were Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. My mother had been a campaign volunteer for Sen. Eugene McCarthyin 1968. But the party of George McGovern was not for them. As the left turned on “Amerika,” they kept faith in America.

Now it’s my turn to watch the Republican Party drift away. Whether the trend continues after the election remains to be seen, but already the GOP is largely unrecognizable to me. To see how far it’s fallen…

Where, in the apparently limitless forgiveness GOP voters are willing to extend to Mr. Trump for his public affronts to “that face” Carly or that “nasty woman” Hillary Clinton, is that Republican Party today?

I’ve become accustomed to the invariable gusher of letters that will follow this column, pointing out Mrs. Clinton’s well-known character flaws, along with apocalyptic visions of what her presidency might bring. Such deflections are the usual way in which people seek to justify their own side’s moral lapses. I don’t see the point of belonging to a party on the increasingly dubious assumption that it’s slightly less bad than the opposition. If I can’t get my Grand Old Party back, I’d rather help build a new one.”

There are many Republicans who are thinking the same thing.



Former President of Princeton William Bowen Dies!


Dear Commons Community,

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University, who pressed elite colleges to give preference to poor and minority applicants, oversaw the first admission of women to Princeton University and expanded it academically, died last week at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 83.

The cause was colon cancer, a university spokesman said.  His New York Times obituary commented:

“As its popular provost and then president, Dr. Bowen was credited with transforming Princeton from a fusty, predominantly white male preserve to a more diverse and inclusive institution.

He was also a folksy presence on its New Jersey campus, often seen in sneakers, or riding his bicycle. The first member of his family to attend college, he was, at 31, among the youngest full professors in Princeton’s history, and even as an administrator he continued to teach freshman economics.

He was later president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, leading its support for cultural institutions, the humanities and higher education.

In 2012, President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal for putting “theories into practice” in economics and higher education.

Before leaving Mellon in 2006, Dr. Bowen was instrumental in creating global electronic archives of scholarly journals and artistic images, including JSTOR, ARTstor and also Ithaka, which provides digital services to academia.”

Four years ago, Dr. Bowen was invited to speak here at the CUNY Graduate Center on higher education. Then Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, Lexa Logue, invited him and several of us to dinner.  He was a dynamic individual full of ideas and very much interested in his work at Ithaka.