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When does music become noise?

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — a little rock criticism with military, political and theological overtones ]


When does music become noise?

  • When it annoys you.
  • Even when it’s Nancy Sinatra.
  • And FWIW, much the same can be said of prayer.

I say this, because there’s currently a battle of the noises in Jerusalem. Or should I call that a battle of rock music vs the call to prayer?

Noise, in any case. That’s what the people who don’t like it call it.


It may be that you’ve sought out events with “strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music” — they’re called concerts when you volunteer for them, but torture when you have no choice…


The New York Times piece quoted above brings us a legal opinion that the practice at Gitmo constituted torture, and a hint of the playlist:

David Sheffer, a senior State Department human rights official in the Clinton administration who teaches law at George Washington University, said the procedure of shackling prisoners to the floor in a state of undress while playing loud music – the Guantánamo sources said it included the bands Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine, and the rapper Eminem – and lights clearly constituted torture. “I don’t think there’s any question that treatment of that character satisfies the severe pain and suffering requirement, be it physical or mental, that is provided for in the Convention Against Torture,” Mr. Sheffer said.

It also tells us what impact of the “strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music” had on the Gitmo prisoners, who had to put up with it for fourteen hour stretches:

Another person familiar with the procedure who was contacted by The Times said: “They were very wobbly. They came back to their cells and were just completely out of it.”

How does being shackled to the floor compare with being in a compound inside an FBI cordon — how does “Nancy Sinatra songs, shrieks of dying rabbits, Christmas carols and Tibetan monk chants” compare with “strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music”?

I’d say there are significant similarities and significant differences.


For one thing, David Koresh, the “sinful messiah” of Waco, was a guitarist-songwriter himself:

How shall I put this? That’s not what I expected…


But hey, Manuel Noriega.

You remember him? It is perhaps worth recalling that when Gen. Noriega was holed up at the Panama City residence of the Papal Nuncio — a place where one can imagine the Angelus bell modestly calling the faithful to prayer thrice daily, but I digress — “American troops directed loudspeakers his way in an attempt to blast him out“.

Happily for those of us interested in the musics of siege and torture, the National Security Archive associated with George Washington University has posted a copy of the playlist of songs requested by US troops to regale the General.

One can only imagine how much a man of his discerning taste must have enjoyed listening to Jimi Hendrix’ high-tweakin’ guitar on one of Rolling Stone‘s top 500 songs evah — Voodoo Child:

Oh, and so much more besides. For the full playlist, see here and here and here. Those selections are drawn from USSOUTHCOM’s After Action report on Operation Just Cause.

The Papal Nuncio’s residence would in essence be a diplomatic extension of the Vatican, wouldn’t it? Can you imagine the berobed monsignori tapping their feet to Electric Spanking of War Babies by the Funkadelics — or, with subtle religious overtones, War Pigs by Black Sabbath?


So, onwards to Jerusalem.

Today’s adhan or call to prayer in Jerusalem / al-Quds would have been sung out by the muezzin at 4:11am (Fajr) and again at 12:47pm, 4:27pm, 7:47pm and 9:17pm.


Under the title Mosque’s Loud Prayer Generates Mega-Decibel ‘Battle of the Bands’, the Jewish Press reports:

After the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem has decided to play very loud music, in defiance of the volume and disturbance of the sound of the muezzin at the mosque in nearby Al-Issawiya, two additional Jewish neighborhoods, Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Choma, have announced that they, too, will take up a similar approach. French Hill also decided to go with hard rock, and not Mediterranean tunes, as had originally been planned, because, as they put it, hard rock is more likely to deliver the message.

According to Yediot Jerusalem, the French Hill neighborhood has recently approached an amplification company with an order for four huge speakers to be directed at Al-Isawiya. As soon as the village muezzin will start his exceedingly loud prayer, it will be responded to with ear shattering Rock n’ Roll, letting local Arabs understand how disturbing the loud prayers have been to their Jewish neighbors.

French Hill, according to Wikipedia:

French Hill (Hebrew: HaGiv’a HaTzarfatit, Arabic: at-tel al-faransiya), also Giv’at Shapira is a neighborhood in northeastern Jerusalem. It is located on territory occupied during the Six-Day War in 1967, later annexed to Israel under the Jerusalem Law in 1980. The United Nations Security Council declared this law a violation of international law, and states that the Council will not recognize this law, and calls on member states to accept the decision of the council. The International Court of Justice stated in its 2004 Advisory Opinion that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem and therefore also in French Hill) have been established in breach of international law. The European Union considers French Hill to be an illegal settlement in East Jerusalem.


Noise is in the hearts and minds of the hearers and beholders.

Or beauty, as the case may be.

The DARPA arts

Friday, April 29th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


Blog-friend Cameron Schaefer has a piece up at Small Wars Journal today in which he quotes Boyd (writing that his approach “incorporated science, but more closely approximated the often chaotic, creative impulses of art”) and Mahan (“art, out of materials which it finds about, creates new forms in endless variety”), and concludes:

Approaching strategy in an indirect fashion, as more of an art than science may make some uneasy, specifically those who find safe haven in the concreteness of checklists and formulas. Yet, the nature of strategy reflects the nature of the world. It is infinitely complex, it is always changing and it is filled with humans that often do irrational things. Literature (see Charles Hill) and psychology have as much of a place at the strategy table as military history… as do mathematics, physics, political science and technology. So, when asking, “what must one study to be a great strategist?” the answer seems to be, “everything else.”

Okay, so that (and Hill‘s work, which Zen reviewed recently) gives us the significance of the arts in strategic thinking which, one hopes, is practiced before going in to battle, and may indeed give one second thoughts about it…


Literature and the arts are also important after battle, though – and the US Military and DARPA have clearly been thinking about that side of things:


Sources: ComicsPlays

Poetry? meh… Sophocles? Chlanna nan con thigibh a so’s gheibh sibh feoil!


Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox in The Imperial Animal characterize modern health care as the “bureaucratization of mercy” and propose that for comparison, we set it beside:

the Greek ideal of the hospital as the place with the best food, the finest furnishings and paintings, and the most skilled musicians and comedians.

The greatest healing center in ancient Greece was the Asclepion at Epidavros / Epidaurus, which housed an amphitheater that could seat more than ten thousand people for dramatic and musical performances without amplification.

At Epidavros, patients would be healed by watching those same dramas of Sophocles to which the US Army is now turning for therapeutic relief in Guantanamo — for as Tiger and Fox (what a pair of names) go on to argue:

It is not the healthy, but the sick who most vitally needed such agreeable and re-creative stimuli; and the resources the community had were most beneficially and sanely used in helping them ease their personal disarray and feel encouraged by this display of their community’s careful concern.


It’s also interesting to note that the graphic novel Silver Shields mentioned in Axe‘s piece as a precursor to DARPA’s “Online Graphic Novel/Sequential Art Authoring Tools for Therapeutic Storytelling” project is “set during the ancient Greek invasion of Afghanistan more than two millenniums ago” as a metaphor for America’s current situation…

CTLab Symposium – On the Hamdan Tribunal

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

As I mentioned previously, CTLab is featuring a symposium this week on the Hamdan Tribunal with Professor Brian Glyn Williams  who testified as an expert witness, and an invited panel of legal scholars and academics ( including blogfriend/SWC member Dr. Marc Tyrell). This week begins with a five-part series on the tribunal itself by Dr. Williams. His posts, so far:

Defending Hamdan: The Capture and Defense of Bin Laden’s Driver

Defending Hamdan: On Ruffling Establishment Feathers

Defending Hamdan: Letter and Spirit of the Law

Online Symposium at CTLab

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Next week CTLab in it’s slick, officially rolled-out, version kicks off it’s new iteration by hosting an online symposium on the Hamdan trial ( note, this is not the SCOTUS decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld – though I’m certain that case is also fair game for discussion –  but instead Hamdan’s subsequent trial by military tribunal).

Social Science In War / Online Symposium

“CTlab member Brian Glyn Williams, PhD, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, recently testified as an expert witness for the defence in the trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, “Bin Laden’s Driver”, in the first US military tribunal since World War II…

…On 22 September 2008, CTlab will launch an online symposium on the scholarly and substantive implications of the Hamdan trial. Dr. Williams has drafted an original, narrative account of his experience, and is making it available for discussion through the CTlab weblog. It will be released for public consumption, followed by comments and observations from a panel of invited legal scholars and social scientists based in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.”

I’ll put in my two cents regarding the symposium and Hamdan after the conclusion.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007


I have to hand it to the Bush administration; their determined incompetence in handling war criminals on legal, political, diplomatic and military grounds knows few bounds. Who else could manage to take the onus off of a monster like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and make American judicial procedure the issue instead?

Anthony D’Amato, a professor at Northwestern University Law School and a well regarded expert in International Law, has just excoriated the Bush administration in JURIST. Just for the record, Dr. D’Amato is no softheaded transnationalist or dovish liberal. Quite the contrary, when Israel bombed Saddam’s nuclear reactor at Osirak back in 1982, it was Professor D’Amato, virtually alone among IL experts, who went before Congress and testified in favor of the legality of Israel’s attack.

True Confessions? The Amazing Tale of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

“Students of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s will recall the astounding confessions made in open court by the accused persons. They had been severely tortured over weeks and months. But they showed up in court without external marks of torture. With all apparent voluntariness, they admitted subverting the Five-Year Plans that would have provided the Soviet people with necessary food items. They sabotaged factories, making sure the production lines were inefficient. They managed to import inferior metals so that Soviet tanks and automobiles would fall apart after a few months’ use. They infiltrated the Soviet Army and through dint of their persuasiveness, convinced the foot soldier that it was absurd to risk his life defending a dictatorial government. In short these accused persons, briefly in court on their way to the firing squad, took responsibility for everything that had gone wrong for the past two decades in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

So why is it today that no one draws the connection between the Soviet purge trials and the confession of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Mohammed said that he had been tortured by his American captors. No one contradicted his assertion. Then he went on, with a straight and sincere face, to take responsibility for a long list of crimes recently perpetrated”

KSM should have been tried within shouting distance of 9/11 for violating the laws of war and upon conviction, hanged. Simple enough. The standards of justice there are crystal clear.

Truman did not shrink from executing Tojo or Goring. Eisenhower refused to spare the Rosenbergs despite the noxious clamor of an organized campaign by fellow travellers. Democracies once had the moral self-confidence to try and condemn their deadliest enemies for their crimes and were proud to do so swiftly and openly.

No longer.

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