Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sinophobia: the Drums of War

Sinophobia (anti-Chinese bigotry) is the great socially acceptable form of bigotry you can openly display in America today - endorsed in the news media without anyone batting an eyelash, appearing even in campaign speeches from both major political parties. It may seem like just some cultural phenomenon not worth being concerned about, harmless fun until "politically correct" liberal killjoys speak up, but bigotry is how war is made possible. We all see each other as human beings, until we agree to separate ourselves into groups. Then soldiers can find excuses to part with their humanity and kill.

Whatever America's shortcomings, it still has the world's largest economy - for now. The greatest driver of all our military action since World War 2, including the cold war, has been perceived threats to our economic might. (Even a mere economic idea - communism, for which I am no apologist - was worth taking up arms against, just because it is a fundamental rejection of capitalism, and that frightens us.) The economies of the rising superpowers of India and China will rival ours in just a few short decades. Do not buy the idea (articulated in the documentary I.O.U.S.A.) that China and the U.S. are too economically interdependent to ever go to war - economists were making the same argument about the modern nations of Europe until 1914, as pointed out by Niall Ferguson in his book The Ascent of Money.

Vigilance about bigotry isn't a trifling matter for uptight hall monitors of "political correctness". It's a duty for those who desire peace, who do not want to see our children and grandchildren kill each other over the end of an empire.

Monday, September 10, 2012

TV sucks

It seems to me there could be an excellent documentary made about 9/11. If I made it, I'd call it "Causes and Effects" or something. Let's place it in historical context. What is Al Qaeda, what attacks did it previously carry out? Who was Osama Bin Laden and who were the mujahideen? Who is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? How did the escalation of the war on terror change Al Qaeda? How has it warped our relations with Pakistan? Who were the hijackers? What is the history of airplane hijacking and how did our system for responding to it make the attacks successful? What role did Islam play? What is the history of suicide attacks and their relation to religion? (kamikaze pilots, Hezbollah, Tamil Tigers, Hamas, IRA) How did the truther movement come about and what is its cultural impact? What already-existing political goals became easier to achieve thanks to the attacks? (Iraq war, Patriot Act) How did 9/11 change airport security, how did it change how airline passengers react to saboteurs, and which of these changes are efficacious? What impact did 9/11 have on art, music, literature, and film? What about the impact on news media culture? (U.S. media voluntary self-censorship, Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera) What about torture, rendition, and the further privatization of the military?

There are all sorts of additional curiosities like the subset of liberals who had been clamoring for intervention in Afghanistan - on the basis of women's rights - who then suddenly shifted to being opposed to intervention. Or the fact that we switched sides in Afghanistan, playing the role that the Soviet Union once played there. Or how we combined the war on drugs with the war on terror, deliberately destroying the crops of poppy farmers.

I have to judge the zillion documentaries playing on TV yesterday all nearly identical, and in that light, all terrible. Not only did they barely scratch the surface, they played like a voyeuristic True Crime special, for people who already know the barest details of the story to relive them and evoke the emotions we felt on that day. I don't deny the power of that emotion and significance of the change in how we viewed the world, but the superficiality of these T.V. specials banks on viewer's lack of curiosity. Maybe most others wouldn't watch a tedious ten-part academic exercise, but I do think most of us are capable of recollecting 9/11 as something more than a cheap thrill. I think the American people are being underestimated.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

setting a practice schedule

In the past, I have not been very good at planning my practice time when I learn a piece on short notice. If I have two months, for example, I tend to do most of the practicing in the last two or three weeks... and this has a negative effect on the quality of my performances (Walton and Mendelssohn come to mind). Now that I have three weeks to learn the Brahms G minor piano quartet, for once, I am realizing at the outset that I have to make some kind of plan, if I am going to produce a credible runthrough. Even though this is a pickup group and we are only playing for each other, I would still like to be prepared and reliable.

Given that weekends are unpredictable in terms of how much time I will have to practice, and given that Carol works weekdays, likes attention, and is a bit mercurial when it comes to how she plans her weekends, I have sixteen weekdays, counting today, from now until the 27th, when I am meeting with the string players. The quartet is a massive piece - four movements, each about ten minutes long. Instead of starting from the first movement and working forward, which is a bit open-ended and likely to result in unhealthy cramming for the final movement at the last minute (see: Hindemith), I intend rather to give the most practice time to the most difficult passages, which means that I will learn the movements in the following order: fourth, second, first, third. So today, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, I will work on the Presto finale. Wednesday through the following Monday, I will add the Allegro intermezzo - it is fast and light, which is the most challenging sort of playing for me. The rest of that week, I can work on the Allegro opening movement, and then I can spend the week of Monday the 23rd working on the Andante. I did not count Friday the 27th among the sixteen days - it's rare that practicing anything the new on the day-of can be of any benefit. That will be a day purely of review.

Granted, the movements are not all equal in difficulty, even though I divided the sixteen days up into four equal groups of four days. But in reality the more difficult movements will get more attention, as I will be only playing the Presto at first, then two movements together, then three movements, then the whole piece.

That is a plan, at least. My plans frequently don't quite come to fruition as I naively expect them to. But having made a plan in this case is progress for me.