Monday, April 24, 2006

Barenboim on Wagner

But can you, Daniel, separate the composer from his music? I mean we... you've mentioned Wagner, and he was known to be deeply anti-Semitic, and there are a lot of people in Israel, as you know yourself, who cannot stand to have his music played there.

Yeah but there's no ............

They cannot hear Wagner's music.

Yeah but that's not because he was anti-Semitic. This is a very dangerous sentence you just said now, because we will be here for the next two hours now.


The reason that Wagner is not being played in Israel, the reason at all is that, it's not because he was anti-Semitic. To be anti-Semitic was a part of the normal make-up of an intelligent thinking person in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. This was the very first...

Well he was Hitler's favourite composer.

Think of the ............... - sorry let me finish - the problem with Wagner is that he was used and abused because his writing, his prose, is vociferous, and horribly anti-Semitic. The music is not. Even the characters in the opera, there is not one anti-Semitic character in a Wagner opera. That you can use it to make of it, this is something else, but it is not. The reason for the Wagner problem for many Jewish people, for whom I have complete and total sympathy and understanding, is that many of them have seen members of their families being taken to the gas chambers in the concentration camp in Germany to the sound of The Meistersinger overture, and you ask yourself, how could they ever listen to this music again? This is the, the, the problem. My contention is of course that they can't, and of course they shouldn't, and of course there is no reason to make them do that. And - not but - and at the same time one must not give these people the right to stop other people, who fortunately do not suffer from this association, from hearing this music. This is the Wagner problem in embryo. "

(from the current Reith Lectures)

Monday, April 03, 2006

brief encounter

this fine young fellow turned up this morning - he (or she)'d obviously heard on the avian grapevine about the feeder. how is it that the mere act of a young kestrel coming to sit on your fence seems like a sort of beneficence? we stood regarding each other for a full five minutes. neither of us had very much to say. 'morning. 'morning. strange weather we're having. true. well, must be off.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


so what are we going to do about global warming?

that's we as in you and me, us, not the people, le peuple, il pueblo, das volk, not 'we' the citizens of this or that nation, since, clearly, our political leaders are lying through their straightened teeth about their intentions to do anything at all about it, and only listen to us at election times anyway and then only if we're in a marginal constituency; some, indeed, are still refusing to believe the science, although it couldn't be more persuasive if it were leaping around with a bare midriff and a hip hop backing (although, to be fair, these are the same people who run the country where half of the population believes the world and everything in it including the fossil record was created in seven days round about two thousand BC!), and so don't have any serious intention at all about doing anything about it. Kyoto? Fuckyoto.

so it's up to us - you and me.

first, we have to decide whether or not we care.

no, seriously. why should we care? so the planet's heating up a bit, most likely as a result of carbon emissions, and the net result is that the weather will change a bit and sea-levels will rise a bit. how bit a bit? well - predictions vary, but the likeliest scenario, given an unchanged carbon emissions situation over the next fifty years or so, is that Bangladesh and most of Florida, amongst other low-lying areas, will be inundated.

so, why should we care, assuming we (you and I - I'm still just talking about us) don't live either in Bangladesh or Florida, and safely above, say, the six metre contour line?

we're unlikely, after all, to be affected much in our lifetimes - not as much as by, say, the impending oil crisis - the total depletion of the crude oil supply, that is - which, even at a conservative estimate, is going to happen within the next twenty-five years (and we can safely ignore those reassurances from the oil industry and government about as-yet-to-be-discovered resources in deep water and at the poles - we can rest assured that that's the party-line government version of 'God help us').

but they'll find a fix for that - they have to, don't they? people need power. power to the people.

so why should we concern ourselves, you and I, about something that won't affect us?

what's the worst that could happen? it's all going to be very gradual, after all. it's not as if, come 2060-ish, between one year and the next, a billion people are going to be displaced from the old littoral zones to the new ones. there's going to have to be a gradual adjustment. if we were pragmatists rather than doomsayers, we'd be making our own preparations already. we'd be checking out on the maps for areas suitable to a post-deluge displaced economy, and purchasing land at the edge of what will represent the new shore line for redevelopment as part of a littoral economy. our present neighbours might look askance at our building a concrete rampart and levelling the area behind it on the side of a hill that's currently thirty miles from the sea, but our kids will thank us for providing them with a readymade harbour wall and the basis of a marine facility when the sea-level finally stabilises at the new median. we could call it Noah's Park.

it is, after all, the case that climate change - and alteration of the landscape by natural forces - is naturally periodic and inevitable, regardless of how much such change might be nudged along by overdosing on carbon dioxide emissions. it is also, in all probability, the case that it's already too late to reverse this process - the consensus in the climatological community seems to be that it's all happening at a rate already in excess of the worst-case predictions of ten or fifteen years ago, and that not even an immediate pan-global reduction to zero emissions would prevent what's going to happen from happening - just maybe a few decades later, is all.

so - what difference is it going to make if you and I were to reduce our energy consumption, insulate our homes better, make fewer journeys by plane, and recycle more of our waste? what difference, indeed, is it going to make, in the long term, if everyone - across the entire planet does this?

sweet fuckall, as we both know.

but that's not the point, is it?

the point is that we know - you and I - that, for the first time in human history, our carelessness about the environmental cost of our energy requirement has resulted in our precipitating an unthinkably catastrophic chain of events resulting in the accelerated melting of the polar ice-caps, the subsequent constitutional alteration of the major sea-currents that are the engine of global temperature regulation, the raising of mean sea-levels, and the planet-wide modification of climate patterns with as yet unpredictable further consequences. and we both know - because we know what 'ecology' means - that, although our industrial predecessors might be forgiven for their ignorance of the disastrous consequences of their carelessness, to continue behaving as if we were still in ignorance of those consequences is criminally irresponsible, and as stupid as expecting a broken tooth to grow back.

trouble is - given the relative pointlessness of the exercise, and the fact that our continuing profligacy with energy is only going to be sanctioned by its increasing cost, where's the incentive to change, except as a kind of moral hair-shirtiness? neither you nor I inhabit a place of closed-cycle self-sufficiency, so, even though we might wish to moderate our personal energy demand, there are still certain minima below which we simply couldn't function except in a radically changed social structure.

how do you feel, for example, about whiteness?

me, I like white. I love snow. I like milk. I like white bedsheets and towels and bath-robes. I like white rooms. I like white toilet bowls and sinks and work surfaces. I confess to a slight fetish about white knickers. ahem. but, snow and milk excepted, the ongoing whiteness of all of these white things is dependent on a regular treatment with something that often comes in an attractive bottle and is pleasantly perfumed to disguise the uncomfortable fact that its contents - often ammonia- or chlorine bleach-based - are horrendously inimical to the environment. that's aside from the energy requirement of the high-temperature wash. and yes, I know there are environmentally-friendly alternatives. I've tried them. they don't work.

the painful fact is that an environmentally friendly world is a grey world - grey sinks, grey towels, grey knickers - wherein white is an environmentally damaging luxury on a par with running a pimped 4x4 with fat cow-catchers and a 150 watts subwoofer. and whiteness is just one of the many, many things we'd have to compromise on in future if, together, we decided we were going to save the planet.

we might, on the other hand, just decide, fuckit, we're all sailing to hell in a handbasket anyway, why should I cut myself out of the loop, pass me my white tuxedo and my dancin' shoes and bring it all on, bro, let's live a little whilst we still can.

our choice. our call. our world.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

where angels fear to tread

In a coup for the Conservatives, the lead singer of Coldplay, Chris Martin, has declared his backing for David Cameron, releasing a song that the party hopes will become the Tory answer to Labour's 1997 anthem, Things Can Only Get Better.