And None So Deaf as They Who Will Not Hear

When the dust of history settles an amateur opera singer from the 1920s may come to symbolize the American presidency of a century thence.  Florence Foster Jenkins was a Pennsylvania socialite who aspired to be a diva. The trouble was she couldn't sing a note. "From her recordings it is apparent that Jenkins had little sense of pitch or rhythm, and was barely capable of sustaining a note. Her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon, can be heard making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes. Unfortunately, there was nothing McMoon could do to help conceal the glaring inaccuracy of Jenkins' intonation: the notes she sang were consistently flat and their pitch deviated from the sheet music by as much as a semitone. Her dubious diction, especially in foreign languages, is also noteworthy. Additionally, the technically challenging songs she performed, requiring levels of musical skill far beyond her ability and vocal range, served only to emphasize these deficiencies."

However, her reputation was very skilfully burnished by what would today be termed spin-doctoring. "Despite the vocal and musical inaccuracies of her performances, which took place mostly at small salons or recital halls, Jenkins became popular for the amusement she unwittingly provided. Audience members sometimes described her technique as 'intentionally ambiguous', which may have served to pique public curiosity; for example, 'Her singing at its finest suggests the untrammeled swoop of some great bird.' Attendance at her rare recitals was by personal invitation only—and invitations were never extended to mainstream music critics. As a result, until her one public performance, at Carnegie Hall, objective critiques never appeared in the legitimate press. Favorable articles and bland reviews, published in specialty music publications such as The Musical Courier, were most likely written by her friends, or herself."

The possibility that President Obama may not be as great as they thought has gradually dawned on the New York Times. Russell Goldman asks "Syria’s chemical weapons have been destroyed. So, why do chlorine gas attacks persist?" Maybe it was a detail Obama missed. "Using chlorine as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, but because of its widespread use for legal purposes, the substance was not included in the wholesale eradication of Syria’s chemical weapons."

But there's too much wrong for the audience to return calmly to their seats. A five-part article by the NYT examines the uncomfortable question of "how the Arab world came apart". In a lush, interactive story Scott Anderson writes, "I was heartened, in the Arab Spring’s early days, by the focus of the people’s wrath ... Then it all went horribly wrong.". That fatal phrase was echoed nearly word for word by Eric Trager of the Washington Institute in relation to Egypt. "Where Did They Go Wrong?," he asked.