Cavalleria rusticana (Intermezzo)

Lim Kek-tjiang conducts the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra

Cavalleria rusticana is an opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni to an Italian libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, adapted from a play and short story written by Giovanni Verga. Considered one of the classic verismo operas, it premiered on 17 May 1890, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.

The opera’s symphonic Intermezzo has figured in the sound track of several films, most notably in the opening of Raging Bull and in the finale of The Godfather Part III, the latter of which featured a performance of the opera as a key part of the film’s climax.

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TYReads “A Plea for Caution From Russia”

A Plea for Caution From Russia by Vladimir V. Putin @ The New York Times In a rare oped by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin pleads directly with the american people against USA intervention in Syria. The well crafted article stresses two ideas: 1) America is increasingly perceived not as a democracy, but as an aggressive entity that unilaterally uses brute force to intervene (foster?) in conflicts around the world without legal nor moral justification and 2) American exceptionalism is dangerous because it assumes America is inherently “superior”. He might have a point, or two.

American exceptionalism is the theory that states that the United States is “qualitatively different” from other nations. In this view, America’s exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation” and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism“, based on liberty, egalitarianismindividualismrepublicanismpopulism and laissez-faire. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.”

The theory of exceptionalism can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as “exceptional” in 1831 and 1840. The term “American exceptionalism” has been in use since at least the 1920s. Even when there is no historical connexion, the similarities between the concept of “American exceptionalism” and that of the “Chosen People” are apparent.

Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the United States is like the biblical shining “City upon a Hill“, and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.

The article by Vladimir Putin:

Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

A Chain for Freedom

As the Wall Street Journal reports today, “hundreds of thousands of Catalans protesting what they consider economic and cultural abuse by Spain’s central government joined hands in a 400-kilometer (250-mile) human chain Wednesday to underscore their call to make this industrialized region an independent nation.  Catalonia claimed for independence from Spain

The area of what today is Catalonia was a part of the Hispanic March, a buffer zone beyond the province of Septimania, created by Charlemagne in 795 as a defensive barrier between the Umayyad Moors of Al-Andalus and the Frankish Kingdom.

In 985 the Hispanic March was attacked by the Muslim general Almansur, who managed to take Barcelona, which was pillaged and sacked. Many citizens were taken prisoner by the Muslim forces. Borrell II, Count of Barcelona, sent a request for help to King Lothar III, the current King of the Western Franks, but although documents of Borrell’s refer to royal orders that must have come from this embassy, actual military assistance was beyond Lothar’s power. What appears to have been a similar plea to Hugh Capet resulted in a letter from Hugh to Borrell promising aid if the count preferred “to obey us rather than the Ishmaelites”, but in any event Hugh could not persuade his nobles to support a southern expedition. No answer to Hugh’s letter is known from Borrell, and the connection between the March and France was effectively broken. Catalan historians now consider this the point at which their nation became a sovereign power, and the millennium of their independence was celebrated in 1987″

Catalonia became part of the Crown of Aragon in 1137, when the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona (with the County of ProvenceGironaCerdanyaOsona and other territories) merged by dynastic union with the marriage of Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona and Petronilla of Aragon; their individual titles combined in the person of their son Alfonso II of Aragon, who ascended to the throne in 1162. This union respected the existing institutions and parliaments of both territories.

The Crown of Aragon was a composite monarchy, ruled by one king with a personal and dynastic union of the Kingdom of Aragon and the county of Barcelona. At the height of its power in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Crown of Aragon was a thalassocracy (a state with primarily maritime realms) controlling a large portion of the present-day eastern Spain and southwestern France, as well as some of the major islands and mainland possessions stretching across the Mediterranean as far as Greece. The component realms of the Crown were not united politically except at the level of the king, who ruled over each autonomous polity according to its own laws, raising funds under each tax structure, dealing separately with each cortes. Put in contemporary terms, the disparate lands of Aragon functioned more as a confederacy of cultures rather than as a single country. In this sense, the larger Crown of Aragon must not be confused with one of its constituent parts, the Kingdom of Aragon, from which it takes its name.

In 1469, a new dynastic familial union of the Crown of Aragon with the Crown of Castile by the Catholic Monarchs, joining what contemporaries referred to as “the Spains”[ led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain under King Philip II.

The Crown of Aragon existed until it was abolished by the Nueva Planta decrees issued by King Philip V in 1716 as a consequence of the defeat of Archduke Charles in the War of the Spanish Succession.

As a result of that defeat, which took place 299 years ago today on the 11th of September 1714, when after a long siege, the Bourbon army of Philip V finally conquered an exhausted and defeated Barcelona, the Crown of Aragon was dissolved and Catalonia lost all its liberties, becoming a “de facto” colony of Spain, situation that remains unchanged today.

With today’s human chain Catalans strive to continue a path towards total independence from Spain and to be able to make of Catalonia a new state in Europe.