Archive for January, 2009


Favourite classical recordings

January 30, 2009

At Commentary, Terry Teachout lists his top 25. I don’t know any of them!

I’m going to do my own list.

(And my top 25 films, TV shows, blogs, conspiracy theories….)


An Open Letter to a Citizen Of Gaza: I Am the Soldier Who Slept In Your Home

January 30, 2009

Via Yael (fave Israeli blogger). I found this moving and apposite, and its conclusions absolutely correct.

An Open Letter to A citizen Of Gaza: I Am the Soldier Who Slept In Your Home
By: Yishai G (reserve soldier)
[Originally published in Hebrew in Maariv]


While the world watches the ruins in Gaza, you return to your home which remains standing. However, I am sure that it is clear to you that someone was in your home while you were away.

I am that someone.

I spent long hours imagining how you would react when you walked into your home. How you would feel when you understood that IDF soldiers had slept on your mattresses and used your blankets to keep warm.

I knew that it would make you angry and sad and that you would feel this violation of the most intimate areas of your life by those defined as your enemies, with stinging humiliation. I am convinced that you hate me with unbridled hatred, and you do not have even the tiniest desire to hear what I have to say. At the same time, it is important for me to say the following in the hope that there is even the minutest chance that you will hear me.

Read the rest of this entry ?


From Gaza: epilogue, or epitaph?

January 30, 2009

Michael J Totten, the world’s best photo-journalist (and deserved winner of the 2008 Best Middle East of Africa Blog – congratulations, Michael), has penned a sobering assessment of the Israel/Palestine conflict in the wake of the recent war in Gaza.

He writes:

A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but that’s not an option. Most Arab governments at least implicitly say they will recognize Israel’s right to exist inside its pre-1967 borders, but far too many Palestinians still won’t recognize Israel’s right to exist even in its 1948 borders. Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist inside any borders at all.


Far too many Westerners make the mistake of projecting their own views onto Palestinians without really understanding the Palestinian narrative. The “occupation” doesn’t refer to the West Bank and Gaza, and it never has. The “occupation” refers to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A kibbutz in the center of Israel is “occupied Palestine” according to most. “It makes no sense to a Palestinian to think about a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” Martin Kramer from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem said to me a few days ago. “From the Palestinian perspective, Israel will always exist inside Palestine.”

Michael characterises the conflict as unsolvable, intractable. For that reality to change, the Middle East itself must change.

It’s hard to disagree. I can’t see anything material changing unless a genuinely moderate leadership emerges on the Palestinian side.

But why should it? Why risk the bullet and the bomb from the assassins’ camp, which have killed so many Palestinian moderates or potential moderates over the decades? Why forego the limitless assistance available from Iran and Syria, who will only support terror, and the power and cachet that goes with it? Why forego Europe’s billions, for which peace was never a pre-condition? Above all, why pursue an objective that no-one in the region really wants, or has ever wanted from the very beginning – except the Jews of Israel?

Peace won’t even be possible for at least a generation.


War and the agony of the artist; or, Furtwangler plays Beethoven’s 9th three times

January 27, 2009

Because I have a new Furtwangler gravatar, and because we’ve been surrounded by the echoes of a war these past weeks, I’ve had occasion, over the past few days (not that I needed an excuse), to listen to three of Furtwangler’s performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, given in 1937, 1942 and 1951.    These were in London, Berlin and Bayreuth respectively before, during and after World War II.  I was interested to see if I could gauge what he thought of the war that was coming, the war he was part of, and the war he remembered.  I think I got something out of the experience which I’d like to share.

But first, some words about  Wilhelm Furtwangler, the greatest of all conductors in the age of recorded music.  For Furtwangler, the romantic repertoire of symphonies, concertos, songs and operas was like the flow of a great, unending river.  Under Furtwangler’s baton, you are carried on its breast, in calm and flood, for an hour or so, until the work comes to an end.  Then you are released from it, and it sets you down, but the river flows on, in time and space and memory, until the next of his performances you are privileged to be part of.  Once you have heard Furtwangler conduct Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner or Wagner, it is almost impossible to listen to anyone else conduct their works.

So conscious was Furtwangler of his responsibility, and the power he wielded in calling up the passions and poetries of composers long dead, that his hand often trembled before the first downbeat of the baton.  A famous story is told of a leader of first violins who looked up to see the conductor tormented by hesitation at the start of a performance, and called out encouragingly, “Coraggio, Maestro!”

For Furtwangler, any performance of Beethoven’s Ninth was a religious ritual.  He gave the symphony only on special occasions.  The work is, of course, most famous for its chorale, the fourth movement which sets Schiller’s Ode to Joy to music of extraordinary power and force.   Furtwangler saw the great finale as the culmination of all that went before it, the dread, the storms of violence, the tearing grief, the hope, the longing, expressed in Schiller’s words: “Alle Menschen werden Bruder, Wo dein sanfter Flugel weilt!”

But Furtwangler knew better than any before or since that in Beethoven’s setting of the Ode the joyful processional and the auto-da-fe go ever together.  Human nature walks as readily to an execution as to a wedding, and the grim beat of war compels no less than the gentle words of peace.  Each elegant polka masks the Dance of Death. The pipe-and-drum march of the Chorale leads as surely to the death chambers as to the canivale.  That is why Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (although perhaps not Schiller’s) is also an Ode to Despair.

All this Furtwangler understood with a perfection never equalled.  And because of that, the three statements he left us with these performances of the Ninth might cause us to reflect on how a great artist and a man of good conscience and decent instincts responded through the fragile medium of music to the reality of a war which, with all its ineluctable brutality and inexorable cruelty, tore his treasured dreams to pieces – and those of the German people, who never wanted the war that Hitler forced them into.

Read the rest of this entry ?


While we wait….

January 25, 2009

…. myself not least, for normal service to be resumed, can I introduce visitors to one of the the finest offerings of the folk music revival of the 1960’s – Crazy Man Michael, by Fairport Convention?


It was only a ‘unilateral’ truce anyway

January 18, 2009

For Hamas, it’s business as normal:

Rocket fire continues despite ceasefire: Palestinian gunmen fired six rockets into Israel on Sunday morning. One of the rockets hit the Sderot area, another rocket hit a henhouse in a kibbutz and a third one landed near another kibbutz.

The three other rockets also landed in open areas. There were no reports of injuries.


Truce in Gaza

January 18, 2009

Israel has announced a unilateral 10-day truce in the war against Hamas.  It will come into affect in one hour – at 1100 hours AEDT.  IDF troops will remain in Gaza and will retaliate if fired upon, or if further rockets are fired to southern Israel.  Hamas has said it will not agree to any truce while Israeli troops remain in Gaza.