Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps) stands as one of the most provocative and emotional pieces of symphonic literature of the 20th century. It's subtitled Scenes from Pagan Russia and was originally performed as a ballet depicting a pastoral landscape of dancers dressed in traditional attire, and choreographed within a ritualistic and nativistic series of scenes that tell the story of the sacrifice to the God of spring. The piece dates from the eve of WWI, 1913. Stravinsky was living in Paris and working for Serge Diaghilev, who had commissioned him to compose a series of ballets (The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring). Soon after the war broke out, Stravinsky fled to Switzerland, and then to America.

The story goes that on the opening night in Paris, a riot broke out in the historic Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The music was so shocking and provocative that the patrons of the theater revolted against it - securing Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring to this day with a kind of honor only shared previously by Beethoven's Eroica. Part of the listeners reaction though was caused by the musical dissonance Stravinsky used, and the use of polyrhythms and polytonality; the music itself is viscerally shocking. He also wrote for certain instruments like the bassoon and french horn in an unfamiliar way, stretching them to perform at the extremes of their ability.

The whole composition is worth watching. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

I think Stravinsky could have as easily named the piece A Winters Lament, because of that very dissonance. He orchestrates the fight between geological forces of darkness and light, of winter and spring, in a way that makes you feel it in your gut. Pagan ritual was designed to aid on the side of spring, in order to help shepherd the world out of dormancy, but that struggle is something that even we in the modern world can understand. We don't sacrifice anymore, which is a good thing, but we can still resonate with the seasonal dissonance that Stravinsky was attempting to express in music, the pain and joy we all feel when the world experiences another rebirth. It is the struggle that makes us human, vulnerable, and interdependent.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Toture Memos

The Obama administration today released a series of four torture memos (dating from August 1, 2002 through May 30, 2005). The FOIA and ACLU brought a lawsuit against the administration to press their being made public, which the administration complied with today. The memos are authored by Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC (Office of Legal Council), and Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, in communication with General Council of the CIA.

This move by President Obama to respect the rule of law is encouraging - though I think the Democrats generally are dragging their feet in regards to legal action. AG Eric Holder and Congress each have the power to investigate the illegal activity of the previous administration, but out of some sense of comity or bygones they have chosen a path of wait and see; they want to know that the public will is behind them. Of course, public will is a morphing leprechaun that promises gold but can never be pinned down. So good luck following the rainbow - better really that on this issue the administration sticks with black and white, law and the breaking of it.

In the late 90s the Republicans impeached a democratically elected president for playing around in the oval office. Republicans have nothing if not temerity - that they could impeach for an affair and let GWB get away with war crimes is staggering. But our respect for the rule of law (legal, not parochial) is why this victory by the FOIA and ACLU in forcing the memo's public is important, because those that authorized the unlawful torture of detainees need to be investigated and brought to justice. We are a country of laws, not a country of men.

The Daily Dish provides a roundup of some of the initial reaction. Glen Greenwald is as always, an essential read.
These memos are now becoming available, and do appear to be almost entirely unredacted. They are unbelievably ugly and grotesque and conclusively demonstrate the sadistic criminality that consumed our government.
And this snip highlighted by TPM:
Sleep deprivation may be used. You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual's ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate. The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep. You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive Zubaydah of sleep for more than eleven days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours, from which no mental or physical harm resulted. (our itals)
(My Bold)

11 days.

The Obama administration has been fiercely pragmatic in their approach to governance - though they are willing to capitulate at necessary moments, this being one of them. They hold all the cards right now; they're in a position of great strength when it comes to repairing the damage of the last 40 years. Inch by inch, I guess. Glaciers are not receded in a single day, nor societies moved in one election cycle.

Do yourself a favor and read through some of the links. We all need to be reminded what happens when we elect bad leaders.

(Cross posted at CUP)