David Bennion: December 2008 Archives

Dvořák: New World Symphony

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Today's musical feature is the Symphony No. 9 "From the New World" by Antonín Dvořák, composed in 1893 during his three year visit to the United States (shown here is the 4th movement). Apparently,

Dvořák was interested in the native American music and African-American spirituals he heard in America. Upon his arrival in America, he stated:
"I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them."

But new experiences are usually filtered through one's existing frame of reference, and Dvořák was no exception.

The Bush Administration continues to abuse immigration law to trump up the stories of security threats it wishes immigrants posed--voters are much more compliant when they believe they are facing imminent external threats.  George Bush looks wistfully back at his post-9/11 approval ratings and dreams of a populace permanently under siege.

First, Lyglenson Lemorin, the Haitian-born bumbler who threatened national security with ninja stars (not joking), to whom the feds couldn't get any criminal charges to stick, was recently ordered deported by Immigration Judge Kenneth Hurewitz in Miami.  No such thing as double jeopardy for immigrants!

Judge Hurewitz's asylum denial rate, incidentally: 89.4%.  The national rate: 59.8%.  Interesting that Hurewitz was the one selected to hear the case.  Did I mention that Immigration Judges and DHS prosecuting attorneys are both part of the executive branch?

This week's entry for Music on Monday is Thievery Corporation's new album Radio Retaliation.

It's in-your-face majority world political trip-hop/dub, featuring artists like Seu Jorge and Femi Kuti. Don't let the message distract you from the music, though--both are great. From the group's website:

"Radio Retaliation is definitely a more overt political statement," says Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation. "There's no excuse for not speaking out at this point, with the suspension of habeas corpus, outsourced torture, illegal wars of aggression, fuel, food, and economic crises. It's hard to close your eyes and sleep while the world is burning around you. If you are an artist, this is the most essential time to speak up." So that's exactly what they do with their new album.


Recording in their Washington DC based studio, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, better known as the international DJ and production duo Thievery Corporation, have managed to blossom in the heart of a city they often refer to as "Babylon;" a poignant reference to the traditional Rastafarian distaste and distrust of a corrupt and unjust modern system. Although the city is best known as the seat of an aggressive American Empire, paradoxically Washington DC has long been the home of a music subculture legendary for fierce independence, a staunch do-it-yourself work ethic, and conscientious social activism exemplified by genre-defining pioneers like godfather of go-go Chuck Brown and indie punk rockers Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Fugazi.

Likewise, although some may lazily pin Thievery Corporation as the soundtrack to their cocktail infused late night soiree, the duo have always drawn deep from the well of independent and confrontational music subculture their home town is known for, to produce an ever expanding globally conscious catalogue of music that is difficult to classify.

the theatre of war

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I wanted to drop a couple of links to an insightful pairof posts over at Obsidian Wings. First, Eric Martin quotes Henley:

Insurgency can't pose an existential threat to the country. Is there a single instance of insurgency warfare conquering foreign territory? Even if you consider South Vietnam and North Vietnam to have really been separate countries, it was, as certain hawks never tire of pointing out, Hanoi's regular Army that conquered the South. The FLN could kick France out of Algeria, but it could never rule France. Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon in the 1990s using guerrilla warfare. It couldn't use the same tactics to drive Israel out of Galilee. Insurgencies can prevent foreign or local governments from consolidating control over the insurgents' "own" territory. Guerrilla movements that get big enough have been able to take power in their own countries.

But they can't conquer. Insurgency is fundamentally reactive and, if not always merely "defensive" . . . parochial. A guerrilla army swims in the sea of the people, like the man said, and foreigners make a lousy sea. Even if all "the terrorists" wanted to follow us home after we "cut and run" from Iraq, they could never have remotely the effect here that they manage in Iraq. Here they lack a sea.

By and large, a country like the United States only needs to commit to an ongoing posture of counterinsurgency if it is also committed to serial military domination of foreign populations. In fact, the United States is currently so committed, on a bipartisan basis. But that's an unwise and immoral posture that will lead to national ruin in the medium to long term. The Iraq defeat offers one of those rare moments for real national reappraisal, an openness to genuine reform. Rather than work at getting better at executing an unwise and immoral grand strategy, let's choose a different one.


I can't emphasize enough how much these foreign policy discussions bleed into and encompass the immigration debate. The barbarians are at the gate, so we must fight them over there and build a big wall to keep them out.

Scarily, the argument is as reductive as that. The common orientalizing conception of non-Americans, fostered in part by inculcation of the heroic national narrative in All Dutiful Children, allows us to simultaneously posit that the savages can't run their own societies without our military oversight and are clever enough to infiltrate our Great Nation's border and defeat us from within.

Part two comes from Publius:

And that brings us back to the real problem with terrorism - its potential for success. Terrorism gives way to a nationalistic fury that is hard to contain or to channel in constructive ways. Even the most reasonable people get outraged - and are right to be outraged.

Even worse though, most countries (India and USA included) have hyper-nationalist parties ready to seize upon tragedies like these for domestic gain, regardless of the collateral damage the parties' proposed policies would cause. Of course, the outrage these parties exploit is perfectly understandable, and it's universally shared. And the terrorists know this - indeed, they're counting on it. That's what often makes their strategy successful.

It's just infuriating -- you want to get mad, but getting mad is exactly what they want. Indeed, it's part of the plan.

In other words, the act of terror and the response are carefully choreographed episodes played by wealthy elites, symbolic gestures that happen to grind up real lives. And the cannon fodder believe in the drama most passionately--that is, after all, the purpose of the theatre.