Hallelujah Indeed

Debating Handel’s Anti-Semitism: “Scholars have too little investigated questions of religious meaning in Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ particularly the work’s manifest theological anti-Judaism. Previously unknown historical sources for the work’s libretto compiled and arranged by Charles Jennens (1700-73) reveal the text’s implicit designs against Jewish religion. Handel’s musical setting powerfully underscores these tendencies of Jennens’s libretto and adds to them, reaching a euphoric climax in the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus.” — Michael Marissen at the American Handel Festival (New York Times )

Soldier: Honor troops like Va. Tech dead

Deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are ‘mere blips on the TV screen’: “An Army sergeant complained in a rare opinion article that the U.S. flag flew at half-staff last week at the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan for those killed at Virginia Tech but the same honor is not given to fallen U.S. troops here and in Iraq.” (Yahoo! News)

I have reacted to the lionization of the VT victims much as I did to those who died in the 9/11 attacks. These are victims, not heroes. To celebrate their heroism cheapens heroism. I am not saying their deaths are not tragic, but they did not come about, with rare exceptions, as a result of any exceptional display of courage. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It would be tempting to think of this as a distinction between these victims and our casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. Given that we have an all-volunteer military, the latter chose to put themselves in harm’s way for a greater cause and may in fact deserve more, not less, esteem when they fall, this line of reasoning goes. And I am not sure it is not correct.

But on the other hand, much as I believe Kerry intended in his much-ballyhooed bungled comments last year, many of those serving in the US occupation forces in Afghanistan and Iraq can be considered no less victims, virtually compelled — no less than they would be with conscription — to join the service by the lack of other opportunities in the inequitable American society. The old men who send our forces to war still exploit the least fortunate in our society, not the sons and daughters of privilege. I remind myself of that whenever I am tempted to get on my moral high horse and suggest that the troops should have the ethical sophistication to refuse to participate in an unjust war.

[While we are on the topic of courage, I am of course unambivalent about the courageous stance represented by war resistance. Ironically, this is often seen as its diametrical opposite, cowardice.]

Alcohol damages women’s brains faster than men’s

“The brain-damaging effects of alcohol strike women more quickly than men, a new study conducted in Russia confirms.

Female alcoholics performed worse on a number of tests of neurocognitive function compared with males, Dr. Barbara Flannery from RTI International in Baltimore and her colleagues found.

However, Flannery cautioned in an interview with Reuters Health, the findings aren’t good news for alcohol-dependent men. ‘Women are vulnerable to the extent to which they will experience the negative consequences of alcohol abuse and alcoholism more rapidly than men, but men will also experience it — the same kinds of effects,’ she said.

Other physiological effects of alcoholism, such as heart and liver damage, are known to occur more quickly in women than in men, a phenomenon known as ‘telescoping,’ Flannery and her team note in ournal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.” (Yahoo! News)