Articles in section: 'Commentary'

Cerys Matthews – “The Reverend Eli Jenkins’ Prayer”

Rev Eli Jenkins Prayer Cerys MatthewsUnder Milk Wood is Dylan Thomas’s “play for voices” (i.e. intended for radio rather than the stage), a quite wild and sometimes soaring portrait of the inhabitants of a fishing village in Wales, the fictional Llareggub, depicting both their dreams and a day in their lives.

One of the quieter moments comes at sunset, when the town vicar, the Reverend Eli Jenkins, goes out and says a prayer. The remarkable Cerys Matthews, a woman of so many hats, has just put out a new album with musical treatments of sundry works of Dylan Thomas, titled A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs, and below via YouTube is her performance of “The Reverend Eli Jenkins’ Prayer.” [Read more →]

Bob Dylan – “Never Gonna Be The Same Again”

Never Gonna Be The Same Again Bob DylanAlthough it was during the mid-1980s that yours truly happened to become a Bob Dylan fan, listening to his albums from that period has sometimes seemed like a guilty pleasure. While I’d stick up unreservedly for a certain number of those songs, there are those others that just seem silly. Yet, sometimes I kind of like them anyway. One that I probably wouldn’t have thought to defend in solemn company—but really have always liked—is “Never Gonna Be The Same Again” from his 1985 album Empire Burlesque. Well, now I’m correcting myself, and it’s thanks to hearing a solo acoustic version by Ron Sexsmith (on YouTube at this link).

Happening somehow upon Sexsmith’s YouTube channel (discreetly titled “Rawnboy”) made me feel like I’d found something secret and private (hope I’m not blowing the cover). Although he’s a genuine star and one of the finest pop songwriters of the last couple of decades, here he is just sitting in his kitchen and living room and playing things casually into the webcam, like a million YouTube amateurs do. So he’s uploaded a wealth of acoustic versions of his own songs, and a plethora of affectionate cover versions. (You’ve gotta wish everyone you were a fan of would do something like this. Bob, Van, you listening?) And of all the Bob Dylan songs he chooses to sing, it’s “Never Gonna Be the Same Again.” [Read more →]

Ebola, God, Just Sayin’

Ebola and GodThese kinds of things tend to be quickly swept away in the major media outlets, so I’m just pausing for a moment to highlight them.

Today Dallas Nurse Amber Vinson was discharged from Emory University Hospital, and declared free of Ebola, which she caught while caring for the patient Thomas Eric Duncan. Her statement on release began like this:

I’m so grateful to be well. And first and foremost, I want to thank God. I sincerely believe that with God all things are possible.

While the skill and dedication of the doctors, nurses and others who have taken care of me have obviously led to my recovery, it has been God’s love that has truly carried my family and me through this difficult time and has played such an important role and given me hope and the strength to fight.

After thanking many specific people, and drawing attention to the terrible toll that this disease is taking on so many people in West Africa, and before asking for privacy, she ended her statement with this: [Read more →]

U.S. Ebola Response Resembles a Dog’s Dinner

Dog Ebola Bentley—Except, that is, when it comes to handling the dog. Bentley, the beloved pet of Nurse Nina Pham (who thankfully is now apparently well), has been cared for with compassion, a compassion directed not merely at the dog but at the health care workers everywhere who have to show up and potentially face the threat of Ebola in their jobs, a threat which (despite all the knowing talk about it by countless experts and wannabee experts) still contains plenty of uncertainties.

(The phrase “dog’s dinner” is a quaint one from the British Isles, where I spent some formative years; it’s a way of describing a hopeless mess. The teacher might observe, for instance, that you’d made “a dog’s dinner” out of the copybook containing your homework, right before administering some spontaneous corporal punishment.)

The only things yours truly has written about this Ebola issue were centered on the handling of the dogs (beginning with the quick killing of a health care worker’s dog in Madrid) but that is not because I believe dogs are more important than people, or even indeed that their lives are of equal value, morally speaking, to those of humans. I don’t believe those things, even though I think of dogs as being perhaps uniquely empathetic and lovable animal companions, and even if I love my own dog beyond measuring. Ebola is a tragedy for human beings; at this point it is most dramatically so for those in West Africa, where thousands are dead, many thousands more are mourning for their lost loved ones, and entire communities and societies are either breaking down or at very real threat of collapse due to the damage and stress of this epidemic. [Read more →]

Leonard Cohen Predicts the Future

Leonard Cohen predicting the futureSo, the other day I saw Leonard Cohen (who as previously mentioned has a new album out) being interviewed on a British television program and during it he was asked if he believed he was an optimistic person, and I thought his response to this question was quite penetrating and timely. He said (and good-naturedly, while wearing a slight smile):

Well, you know, I think those descriptions are kind of obsolete these days. Everybody’s kind of hanging on to their broken orange crate in the flood, and when you pass someone else and declare yourself an optimist or a pessimist, or pro-abortion or against abortion, or a conservative or a liberal, these descriptions are obsolete in the face of the catastrophe that everybody’s really dealing with.

At the present moment, I would daresay that those are words that would strike a definite chord with many of us. (By “us” I guess I’d be referring, in the broadest sense, to we who inhabit the most highly developed and consumerized societies of the world, and are presumed to be insulated from massive and generalized kinds of catastrophe.) I’d venture that many of us have a sense of impending disaster in this insecure age of Ebola and of ISIS and (I’d suggest) the impossible-to-grip transformations that the digital/internet age has wrought in our lives in such a short time. And that is not to even mention the many other manifestations of disorder and danger in the headlines.

However, the funny thing is that Leonard Cohen didn’t actually say these words in an interview just the other day. [Read more →]

Is Ebola Coming for My Dog?

Ebola and dogsIn Spain, a nurse’s aide named Teresa Romero Ramos contracted Ebola from a patient (in a manner that has yet to be confirmed). In response, authorities quarantined her husband, Javier Limon, and three other people. And then today they killed her dog, a twelve-year-old mixed breed named Excalibur. The dog was showing no symptoms, and had not been tested and shown to be carrying the virus. (What message does this send to other desperately-needed health professionals dealing with Ebola victims? Just this: If you contract the disease during your work, your pets will be killed.)

In a funny (although not very “ha-ha”) way, this story may be bringing home the seriousness of Ebola to people who haven’t worried much about it. I think most people have indeed paid attention to it, and been concerned, but those of us living in the West have likely been assuming that this is a Third World disease and that the superior health systems in the developed world will be able to handle and contain it. There is some generalized apprehension, yes, but most individuals are likely not fearful for their own lives. (I think that most of us, at least until we get to a certain age, still regard ourselves as more or less immortal, anyway.) However, this killing of the dog is a little different. It is more mundane, more comprehensible: the government decided the dog needed to be killed, and it was (and this despite burgeoning protests and a petition garnering 350,000 signatories). We may find it hard to picture ourselves dying from Ebola, but we can more easily picture the van pulling up and the government agents arriving to drag our dog off to be euthanized. [Read more →]

Leonard Cohen on Being Jewish

Leonard Cohen on Being JewishSpeaking of unnecessary yet needed things, Leonard Cohen (now an octogenarian) has just released a new album, titled Popular Problems. At a press availability in London (parts of which can be heard on BBC Radio 6), he was asked among other things about religion, and specifically how close he feels to his Jewish roots, and how that might manifest itself in his writing and his music. He answered:

Well, I grew up in a very conservative, observant family, so it’s not something that I ever felt any distance from, so it’s not something I have to publicize or display, but it is essential to my own survival. Those values that my family gave me—Torah values—are the ones that inform my life. So I never strayed very far from those influences.

It might actually surprise many to hear him speak in this way and also so directly on this, although perhaps it is uncommon for him to get asked the question so directly. [Read more →]

Heschel on the Need for the Unnecessary

Abraham Joshua Heschel The Earth Is the Lord'sIn 1949, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a book called The Earth Is the Lord’s on the culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe; i.e. on a culture that had then been all but wiped out. It was the first book he had published in America, having himself escaped from Europe to there during the war.

In writing about the joy that was to be found in the culture of the Hasidim for pure ideas, for endless study and restudy of the Talmud, he says this: [Read more →]

Strange Days, Weird Monsters, and Prayers

SwordsLife is a gift. While surveying what often seems the bleakness of the current global landscape, one should try to remember that simple fact. After all, we haven’t actually earned anything of what we get the chance to experience here. The world teems with love, compassion and joy, and in an ultimate sense all of those good things are for free: we as individuals did not have to have experienced any of it. We have no true ownership of our breathing, of our own existence, of the reality that anything exists. Life itself is a gift.

But with the gift comes a responsibility—should we care to accept it—to be careful of how we and our fellow creatures are treating that same gift. That part can be a bit difficult.

When might the following words have been written? [Read more →]

Music, Mali, Melody and Wales

West African Kora and Welsh HarpI’ve always liked the radio. There’s a visceral affection I have for small transistor radios that transcends any feeling I could ever have for any vulgar television set. I think of all the wonders that can come out of that little box with the grilled speaker, all that I learned about music and about the world while listening to it as a young ‘un; and in the here and now, there is this love I have for radio as a medium where one’s own mind and imagination are still in play, versus that televisual medium where so much (way too much) gets hurled at you in the way of stimulation, like it or not.

And, these days, thanks to the wonder of something much more modern (the internets) you can actually access radio programs from all over the world. [Read more →]

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