Archive for July 21st, 2006


One thing (there are others*) that gets on my wick about David Quinn’s article in today’s Irish Independent, is inappropriate use of the word ‘crescendo’. When you see a crescendo symbol in music notation, which looks like a less than sign (
He says:

‘Fuelled by statements such as the above, worldwide condemnation of Israel reached a crescendo.’

When people, of whom a disproportionate number seem to be GAA commentators, say that ‘the volume is rising to a crescendo’, I feel a twinge of unease. ‘Crescendo’ is the Italian for growing. What GAA commentators are saying, then, is that the volume is rising to a growing, which is nonsense.

Whilst Quinn’s misuse is not quite as blatant (it is possible, after all, for a musical piece to reach a crescendo, in the sense that it reaches the point where the crescendo begins), it is clear that he misunderstands the term, because if he really understood it, he would have said:

‘Statements such as the above fuelled a crescendo of worldwide condemnation of Israel.’

Some might say I’m being pedantic here, and if in common usage ‘crescendo’ means ‘clamour’, then tough tits, since when did failed musicians dictate the popular lexicon? But I feel the urge to protest nonetheless, because I am very much in favour of the use of musical terms to describe extra-musical phenomena. Crescendo would be a most elegant word indeed if people actually knew how to use it properly. But a failure to use it properly simply indicates that the user has cloth ears, and is only able to divide music into loud bits and not so loud bits. But ‘crescendo’ does not even mean a very loud bit. You can have a crescendo where the volume simply increases from very soft (pp) to soft (p).

If we think of the totality of a language as an orchestra, and each speaker/writer as a musician, perhaps the failure to use a word in a recognised context could be considered a bum note. And bum notes linger for the rest of the performance, and even long after the performance has finished.

*Other ‘bum notes’:

1. The anxious attempt to sow doubt about the extent of IDF destruction of Lebanese civilians in spite of declarations from, say, the Lebanese Prime Minister, that the death toll has reached hundreds, with hundreds of thousands displaced.

2. Denouncing Palestinian militants for using civilians as human shields whilst ignoring certain inconvenient facts, e.g. Israeli troops use civilians as human shields; living in the same residential block as someone doesn’t constitute using them as a human shield;

3. This sentence here: ‘How strange it is that they can never seem to produce their own Gandhi or Mandela, who would seek to achieve their aims through peaceful and non-violent means.’

As if:

a) Palestinians were congenitally incapable of achieving ‘their aims’ through peaceful and non-violent means (ergo the only thing they understand is violence);
b) Mandela and the ANC sought to achieve their aims through peaceful and non-violent means;
c) No Palestinian could possibly want to live in peace;
d) A necessary, nay, expected outcome of dispossession and brutal military occupation is the production of Men We Can Do Business With;

I do agree with this bit, though:

The Palestinians and their allies also have a responsibility to call off the dogs of war.
Until we pressure them to do that, until we call them to account – until we give up our infantile view of Middle Eastern politics – the carnage will continue.

Well, I agree with it apart from the Pauline ex-pulpitum paternalism where he calls his readers infantile.

That, and the fact that he expects the Palestinians to come up with a Gandhi or a Mandela, but talks about ‘us’ pressuring ‘the Palestinians and their allies’. Is he an ally of the Palestinians? If he is not, so be it, but if he is not, it’s a bit rich of him to engage in disingenuous musing about Mandela and Gandhi, implying on the one hand that the Palestinian aims are just, but on the other that it is not worthy of his support. Or is he arguing that the Palestinian aims are unjust precisely because they have not produced a Gandhi or a Mandela?

But still, in my agreement with what he is saying about calling off the dogs of war, I issue my own call on Israel (I’m sure they’re reading) to cease its bombardment of Lebanese civilians, to cease its bombardment of Palestinian civilians and to end its preparations to invade and re-occupy Lebanon, to exchange prisoners with Hizbullah, to release all administrative detainees. Like most of the governments of the civilised world say, there ought to be an immediate ceasefire, after which point it is difficult to see why Hizbullah would continue firing rockets into Israel as it is doing at the minute, killing Israeli Jew and Arab civilians. Palestinian aggression against Israeli civilians must also stop, including, of course, the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel (have they stopped yet?).

Underpinning the present conflict between Israel and Hizbullah -a prelude to Israel’s reoccupation of Lebanon- is the logic of the bodybag, as employed by Billy Wright and the Mid-Ulster UVF/LVF in the years preceding the IRA ceasefire.

People think of Billy Wright as a crazed criminal, and he certainly was, but he was capable of logic, however immoral the consequences. The logic was: we can’t defeat our enemy by military engagement, so we’ll make sure the people who would support them suffer as much as possible, and our enemy will soon stop when they see the bodybags stacking up.

The approach is logical, but it is also madness.

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July 2006
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