Saturday, November 18, 2006

Heifetz Bach Chaconne

Part the second...
Heifetz Bach Chaconne

Part 1 of 2 - for your delectation. The Decemberists aren't the only game in town :)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Apologia pro causa mea

(I'm reproducing the e-mail that I sent to Jacques ( It's pretty wide-ranging, but I thought that it might provoke comment, and hopefully a better understanding of what I believe and why I believe it)

First of all, happy birthday.

I apologise if this intrusion into your mailbox is unwelcome, but I thought that an e-mail would allow me to best express my views about the matter we've been discussing.

Before I say anything about Iraq, let me make a few things clear. I do not believe that George W. Bush or his Administration are infallible; I do think it fairly obvious, to any observer not partial to a particularly skewed point of view, that the discussion of Gulf War II and its aftermath is complex, and not one amenable to sloganeering; and moreover, I believe that serious errors have been committed in the prosecution of this war, to the extent that if I had known before what I know now, perhaps I might not have supported it.

To turn to Fallujah, let me say this: the operation in November, in all its particulars, was undertaken by a mixture of American and Iraqi forces, with the consent of the Iraqi Executive under the then-Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi - so any blame, if blame must be allocated, should be divided. Secondly, let me concede that the operation in Fallujah was indeed barbarous (and here I am not referring to the allegations re chemical weapons) On the other hand, it was simply not tenable to allow the insurgents a 'home base' from which they could continue to plan and launch attacks with impunity. Something needed to be done - and this 'something' was made all the more difficult by the fact that the insurgency in that area often did its best to shield itself from attack by intermingling with the civilian population of that town - particularly in mosques and hospitals.

About this specific accusation: first, if the allegations can be proved, then I will be among the first to condemn the individuals involved. I don't, however, believe that they have been proved. The standard, when such serious charges are made, has to be beyond proving your case to the extent that a preponderance of the evidence points towards a certain view. I really do believe that before accusing a government of acting so outside the boundaries of decent human behaviour, one should attempt to establish the veracity of any claim beyond all reasonable doubt - and I don't believe that the proof, as you have laid it out and as it was presented in that documentary, meets such a requirement. Knowing what I do of warfare in general, and the Iraqi conflict in particular, I find it plausible to believe that the bodies in question could have been doctored post-facto for propoganda purposes.
None of this, of course, takes away from the fact the man in that picture was murdered, and the same can be said of many thousands of other civilians. I feel repulsion whenever I contemplate that reality (As an aside, my uncle on my mother's side lost the use of his eyes to an errant bomb exploding in his vicinity, so I will be the last person to glorify war.) Nevertheless, that does not prevent me from believing that it is sometimes necessary. The only way to keep your hands perfectly clean is pacifism - a posture I do not believe it is possible to adopt in the current international environment. The Western world has 'kept its hands clean' in the past (Bosnia) and present (the Sudan) - and at what human cost? But I digress...
I wasn't trying to justify American conduct, or even explain it, by alluding to the historical precedents of various European states. All that my recitation proved is that it is in the nature of each state to commit atrocities; that, large or small, no state is immune to abusing the power it holds over its citizens, and others. That is why I do not believe it possible to hold attitudes of moral superiority, or to talk of 'one world', as if only the members of this world held on to the virtues of humanity, while the rest are barbarians. If you've studied history at all, and I believe you have, one of its unavoidable lessons is that no culture, or civilization, is above dehumanizing its opponents. This is one aspect of the human condition that, I'm sure we can both agree, we ought to work to transcend - whether through international law, or education, arms-limitation treaties and the like.
But while this is so - while we are still, all of us, imperfect and lacking, (some more so than others) do you really believe that one can honestly condemn all supporters of the war, or even all Republicans in toto as somehow lacking in human decency, in the 'milk of human kindness'? How can you possiby hope to build the world you speak of if you just summarily dismiss people like that? Is it not possible for two people to honestly disagree about a subject without assuming the worst about each other's motives. You did not agree with the war, and I did. Can we not live without my saying that you would have been an appeaser in the '30s and me being accused of being a lackey of GWB?
Finally, let me say a few words about the title of your post - Stop America Now. If the stopping you are referring to has to do with prisoner abuse, that extrajudicial archipelago in Guantanamo Bay, and similar excesses, then I wholeheartedly agree with it. Somehow, though, I don't think that's all it means. I suspect that you would not be displeased if the Americans were somehow 'defeated' in Iraq - if they were forced to withdraw dishonorably. To which I would reply....cui bono? Who would gain from such events? Yes, a great number of people might experience satisfaction, might be able to say that they were right all along, but a withdrawal would have practical consequences. Potential rogue states would be encouraged to challenge the will of the international community in the belief that it would not take meaningful steps to counteract them. The United States would retreat into isolationism, ignoring its international obligations, and only intervening when its own vital national interests were concerned, if at all. This is to say nothing of the damage that a premature withdrawal would cause in Iraq itself, where the lack of an American presence would give free rein to sectarian violence. Is such a state of affairs really preferable to what is occurring now? I'm not so sure...
Like it or not, the U.S is generally a source of stability in the international system - a stability which redounds to the benefit of many nations, including Malta. I don\'t think that we live in the best of all possible worlds, in Panglossian terms, but I believe that a world that is ruled by what is essentially a benevolent hegemon is much preferable to a world where all states are roughly equal, and the pursuit of power takes on greater importance.
I hope this contributes towards establishing a higher level of understanding between us, and I look forward to hearing your response, if you do decide to respond to this.
Yours, sincerely

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sunday means...

Ars Poetica

I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I've devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

Czeslaw Milosz
So, the first post in a long, long time is merely to announce an intention...if everything goes right, I'll be in Glasgow on the evening of November 16th to hear the Decemberists, the best r&r band in the whole wide world, live

I am slightly happier.

This is also a promise...more substantive posts will follow - but I don't know where to begin in my disappointment with the Bush (mal)Administration, or even whether any remedy is possible considering that January 20, 2009 seems far, far away.

n.b the above sentence might lead credence to the impression I believe my objection to the B (M)A's policies - foreign and domestic - to be in some aspects, revelatory, or even important. Such is not the case. I just can't believe that such a collection of experienced, knowledgeable individuals could prove so maladroit, inept, bumbling, etc. Appointing your personal lawyer to be a jurist on the highest court in the land? That's simply brazen. But it's the things like the refusal to see the strategic importance of something as obvious as the scourge of malaria - never mind AIDS - in sub-Saharan Africa that is tragic...this coming from someone who believes passionately in the ideals of the United States and wants it to succeed.

More of this later - to all, a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Status Report

Laptop bought - but it's too damn big
Flat rented - nice enough, I suppose. Located in what I can only term Aberdeen's 'dockyard' district
Various compositions in varying states of completion
And nary a positive thought.

(Leave it to me to bitch and moan about hating London, and avoiding it with a ten-foot pole, only to pine for the experience after experiencing Aberdeen's particular charms for a weekend)

Old Favorites

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the plowman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

--W.H. Auden

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Mutatis Mutandis

Never let it be said that I abscond from the dictates of good etiquette :)

A link to Tabellina then - that avatar of journalistic excellence which will one day provide a viable alternative to the daily certainties of Malta's paper of record.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Making of a Contender

Some semblance of a regular habit of posting to commence shortly. In the meantime I am occupied with the writing of a piece on Manichean politics that I hope the kind souls at Tabellina will be wise enough to publish; trying to decide which of Dell's many splendiferous laptops will soon be my own; wondering when the sword of Damocles will fall to punish my iniquitous levels of consumption, and most importantly, attempting to find suitable accomodation in Aberdeen. A presto.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Cri de coeur

(ed. note: After the small debacle that was my first post, this would qualify as one of those 'serious' entries)
There are days when I am physically and mentally unable to seize the opportunity implicit in good health and mental acuity, and today is one of them. Regardless of the glorious weather, evinced by the sunshine outside my window, I remain tied to my books, and to nagging thoughts - nothing grandiloquent, to be sure, only rage in a minor key. A perusal through the Sunday newspapers of France, Britain, the United States, Canada, Malta, even...the collected 'conventional wisdom' of six days cogitation. A question: why do we not have the steel and determination to fight and guard what is most precious, what makes the West a moral and not merely geographical expression? At the risk of acquiring chickenhawk status, (I am hardly about to join the ranks of the enlisted) have we become so comfortably ensconced on the sidelines that appeasement becomes the 'comme il faut' of informed discourse? Does it not occur to anyone that the current moment of our lives - a comparitively peaceful time of material and intellectual progress - is a historical anomaly? Why are we afraid to say that there are certain ideologies so pernicious that they must be eradicated - not solely, or primarily, by the sword, but by facing down the proponents of capitulation among us? 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph' and all that. But more of this another time. I hereby nominate every Sunday on this weblog poetry Sunday, and leave you with the words of one Guillaume Apollinaire. A glance at his lines and the concentrated self-flagellation of Robert Fisk et al. fades into insignificance. My attempt at a translation will follow anon.
Le Pont Mirabeau

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918)