Articles in section: 'Commentary'

The Strange Inclination of Christian Church Institutions Against Israel

IsraelI am continually and genuinely perplexed when major Christian institutions—whether that be particular Protestant denominations or indeed the great Roman Catholic Church—seem to go out of their way to take official positions on matters of international relations that specifically run counter to the expressed security interests of the people of Israel. It is not at all that I think these churches ought to reflexively support the line of the Israeli government of the moment, but rather that I cannot understand why they feel obliged to put themselves out there officially on the given issue at all, versus merely doing what religious teachers are after all most qualified to do, which is to lead people in prayer for good and peaceful outcomes. Some of us Christians actually devoutly believe in the real power of prayer and conversely have much less faith in the power of bishops and priests to make accurate judgments on matters pertaining to hard-nosed international diplomacy, economics and military strategies. (Call us crazy.) [Read more →]

Billie Holiday and What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Billie Holiday centenaryToday’s the centenary of the great Billie Holiday’s birth, on April 7th, 1915. She died far too soon, only 44 years on the earth. Although she packed a good deal of wonderful music into her career, imagine what she’d have accomplished given another couple of decades; with her light, unstrained but supremely articulate way of singing (and given good health) she could have gone on to make masterpieces and electrify audiences well into her old age. Looking back from the perspective of 2015 it seems like hers was one of the first of the celebrated premature deaths of great musical talents that became a long tragic string. [Read more →]

Leonard Cohen’s Bow to George Jones

George Jones Leonard CohenLeonard Cohen is about to release an album of recordings from his most recent concert tours: not so much the hits as the rarities. On it will be his performance of “Choices,” a song that George Jones made his own and made famous. George Jones and Leonard Cohen were both on concert tours in 2013. George Jones was then 81; Cohen a fresh-faced 78 going on 79. George Jones didn’t quite make it through his tour, falling ill and then passing away on April 26th. His had been intended as a farewell tour, and indeed it was titled “The Grand Tour,” after his classic record of the same name. And Leonard Cohen’s new album is titled Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour. [Read more →]

Coyotes Now Colonizing Rooftops in Queens (and Why They Should Be Put on the LIRR)

Coyote roof QueensAs if to follow up on our story from a few weeks ago (“Coyotes in New York City”), a coyote was spotted prancing atop the roof of a bar in the New York City borough of Queens a few days ago.

Our previous story was really about the surprising development of coyotes showing up in Manhattan, which is a strange island nation about three thousand miles west of France. Queens, by contrast, is generally considered to be a part of the United States, albeit that due to its geography it is possibly even harder for coyotes to get to as opposed to Manhattan. Nevertheless, this is not the first sighting of a coyote in Queens. [Read more →]

Chabad Making Old Things New

ChabadA happy and blessed Passover to all of those observing it from us at the CINCH HQ.

I’m a Christian, but I found fascinating a recent article in the Boston Globe on the exponential growth of the Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch organization. In the Boston area Chabad has grown from 7 synagogues to 26 over the past 20 years, but their growth has been nationwide and indeed worldwide. After the 1994 death of Chabad’s most recent leader, the by-all-accounts-inspiring Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, many suspected Chabad would fade away, but instead they have exploded, growing “faster in the last 20 years than in the previous century.” Where are their congregants coming from? [Read more →]

Coyotes in New York City

New York Coyotes“Act big and make loud noises.” In the bad old days of the Big Apple, this might have been excellent advice for those occasions when you needed to take a walk to the bodega to stock up on beer and cigarettes. (And let it please the Lord for those days not to return.) Now, however, it is part of “Five Easy Tips for Coexisting with Coyotes,” which is advice for city dwellers from the New York City Parks Department, regarding, well, coexisting with coyotes. Because, they’re here, they’re hairy, and, according to the powers-that-be, they are apparently more than welcome to stay.

The Eastern coyote is sometimes referred to as the “Coywolf” because of evidence that it emerged via hanky-panky between coyotes and gray wolves. Its territory stretches from Ontario and Nova Scotia in the north down through New England and into New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And now you can add Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town neighborhood, among others, to places where the Eastern coyote has set his or her paws. Recent sightings of coyotes there and in other Manhattan locations have caused minor media ruckuses as people follow the chase, but the real news if you ask me is that the Parks Department is quite happy with them being in the city, and is expecting them to be around in Central Park for the long term. They’ve been sighted to the north in Bronx parks for quite a few years, so it’s not like they dropped out of the sky, but—on the other hand—the thing about the Bronx is that it’s a contiguous part of the United States of America (as startling as this may be to Kansans) whereas Manhattan is, well, an island. This has kept New York City proper insulated from quite a few things, like deer (and their awful ticks), bears (at least at the time of writing), in addition to innumerable wholesome virtues of the heartland that have never been proven to survive the journey over the Hudson or Harlem rivers.

So how are the coyotes getting here? It’s suggested they may follow “a train line;” whether on a bridge or underground, I don’t know. Five years ago, one was seen waiting on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, and apparently it managed to come up with the toll, because a little later there was a big coyote chase in Tribeca resulting in one tranquilized canid.

So, a carnivorous predator, skilled at hunting singly or in packs, is invading New York City, competing with those humans here who already occupy the niche. Yet the Parks Department is not treating this as the prologue to an apocalyptic disaster movie scenario, but instead simply as nature taking its course. Coyotes are part of the food chain, the narrative goes, and they will help control populations of rats, rabbits and the like. We need to practice our “Five Easy Tips” for coexisting with them and go about our business.

Well, why do I strongly suspect this isn’t going to end well? For my part, I love animals, especially canids. I’m exactly the kind of fool who, if I saw a coyote in Central Park, would probably try to make friends with him, offering him lunch at the Shake Shack and an evening of music at the Village Vanguard. After all, the NYC Parks Department assures me that “nationwide, only a handful of coyote bites are reported each year,” and there are millions of people across the nation, and zillions of coyotes. What are the odds?


On the other hand, there’s a rational person buried somewhere deep within my skin who starts whispering: “BUT, there’s a lot of room out there in the rest of the country. Coyotes and people might coexist pretty well in Arizona, but how are they going to get along on a crowded 6 train?” Or indeed, how will they get along when dowagers strolling down paths in Central Park start seeing their Yorkies getting chomped up like so much beef jerky?

As far as the species homo sapiens goes, it occurs to me that we sure have funny ways of measuring progress. Time was, progress was defined by pushing back the boundaries of unforgiving nature; now we pat ourselves on the back for allowing it to encroach again on our carefully built settlements. I’m all for controlling the rat population in New York City, but if we want the coyotes to achieve it, we should equip them with badges and flashlights and set them loose on Lexington Avenue. We’re not going to do that. Instead, we’re apparently going to attempt some strange détente of wildness and urbanity.

But then maybe that’s what New York City has always been about. Good luck to the coyotes.

    Insult My Mum and I Will Punch You

    Pope FrancisHaving objected to his comments in this space at the time, it behooves us to follow up on how Pope Francis’ frankly stupid remarks regarding free speech and respect for religion have already been bearing bitter, if predictable, fruit. It was less than a week after the massacre at the office of Charlie Hebdo last month when Pope Francis, discussing those broader issues with reporters, helpfully explained that if someone insulted his mother “he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

    In a protest in London on February 8th—about 3 weeks after the pope said this—thousands of Muslims took to the streets to protest Charlie Hebdo and the use of any expression by anyone to “slander” a figure known as Muhammad, who they believe was a prophet who lived in the 7th century. They bore signs, including many quoting Pope Francis: “Insult my mum and I will punch you.” (Images in Tweet embedded below.) [Read more →]

    Shadows In The Night: A Sinatra Tribute or NOT a Sinatra Tribute?

    Bob Dylan Tribute to Frank Sinatra?Back when the album Shadows in the Night by Bob Dylan was first announced, in May of 2014, Rolling Stone magazine and others were all labeling it as “Dylan does Sinatra.” Although Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan have long been the sun and moon in my own musical consciousness (and I’ve always been fascinated by any even-tentative connections between them) I greatly hesitated about jumping on that notion, knowing that a lot of people who don’t know better tend to regard any old popular standards as “Frank Sinatra songs.” We didn’t have a track list. It wasn’t clear what the album was really going to be based upon.

    Then we got the track list, and it was immediately obvious to any serious Sinatra aficionado that this album was in fact centered around songs closely associated with Frank; it included songs written for him, songs debuted by him, one cowritten by him, no less than four from a single Sinatra album (1957’s Where Are You?), and most were songs where Sinatra’s rendition is indisputably the one that matters most in musical history. (“That Lucky Old Sun” is an exception, and “Some Enchanted Evening” is assuredly a song that almost everyone has done.) [Read more →]

    Frank Sinatra – “Some Enchanted Evening”

    Some Enchanted Evening Frank Sinatra“Some Enchanted Evening,” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is not a song owned by Frank Sinatra, in the sense of him having recorded a version so definitive that others wilt before it. It’s been recorded by way too many singers and sung on far too many stages in productions of South Pacific for that to possibly be true. However, Sinatra recorded it on three separate occasions during his career, qualifying it at least as a special number for him. He recorded it first in 1949 for Columbia Records, when the song was brand new, and was being recorded by a whole clutch of competing singers, as was the way of the music world back then. Sinatra’s version hit number six on the U.S. hit parade, but Perry Como’s got to number one. Sinatra revisited the song in 1963, as part of his “Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre” series, where he and musical cohorts like Dean, Bing, Sammy and Rosemary Clooney got together to record sets from several great musicals, including South Pacific. And then he took it on again for his 1967 album (also on his Reprise label) The World We Knew.

    In the context of the musical, the song is a recurring romantic refrain which underlies and lifts the love story between a middle-aged man and a younger woman. Divorced from that, as a popular song, it sounds like gentle advice from someone who has lived and loved and lost and maybe loved again, urging those who are younger to seize that enchanted moment when it arrives and hold on to the love they have found. So, one might assume that the older Sinatra would have pulled it off better. But I don’t think so. I think that Sinatra’s first recording in 1949 on Columbia, arranged by Axel Stordahl, is the best of the three. It’s true that Sinatra was relatively young (34), but because his voice then had a kind of celestial quality, he could pull off a song like this one quite well, as if issuing the profound guidance contained in the words from atop some heavenly cloud. (To me, that’s the same reason his Columbia version of “Hello Young Lovers” works so well, although it seems like the song of a much older man.) [Read more →]

    Frank Sinatra – “Where Are You?”

    Frank Sinatra Where Are You?“Where Are You?” is the title track of the first of the two dark albums that Frank Sinatra recorded during his 1950s’ artistic peak with arranger Gordon Jenkins (the second being 1959’s No One Cares). It’s funny: Sinatra himself was known sometimes to refer laughingly to his loneliness-themed concept records as “suicide albums,” but when he was behind the microphone he was clearly nothing but totally serious about each syllable and every note, and was masterful at constructing these albums with an almost terrifying emotional precision.

    All of that would have to start with the selection of songs. “Where Are You?” was a song written by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson in 1937 for the film Top of the Town. It was introduced by Gertrude Niesen (and at the moment you can hear all 78 rpms of her rendition via YouTube).

    The song treads riskily on an interesting line (I think) between poignancy and blandness. The lyric is so very straightforward, so plain, so seemingly devoid of device, that its very plainness is its only device. [Read more →]

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