Articles in section: 'Commentary'

Will the Last Horse to Leave New York City Please Sweep Up After Himself?

New York carriage horseTaking up an issue central to the platform of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Council this week introduced legislation that would ban the horse and carriage business in New York City. It remains to be seen if it will be passed. It’s likely no visitor to Manhattan would be unfamiliar with the sight—especially in and around Central Park— of these iconic horse-drawn carriages.

If the legislation passes, it should be emphasized that only the horses will be banned from the city, and not the drivers. The drivers might be offered job “retraining,” or apply for green aka Boro Taxi medallions, or perhaps drive proposed novelty electric vehicles in place of the horse carriages. The horses will be, well, put out to pasture, ostensibly. [Read more →]

Heartburn? Try Sleeping On Your Left Side

Heartburn Sleep Left SideHowever strange one might think it that the president of the United States was first reported to have been sent to the hospital today for “a sore throat” and afterwards was diagnosed with “acid reflux,” it seems an opportune time to share a bit of knowledge I wish someone had shared with me much sooner.

In particular, this piece of advice ought to be shared on every bottle of TUMS® or ROLAIDS® or PEPCID® AC® or [fill in your own preferred over-the-counter antacid preparation]. Informing people of this, however, would necessarily reduce the sales of such substances; so, even in the information age, this information is not very commonly available. [Read more →]

Bob Dylan Abides with “Stay with Me”

Stay with Me Bob DylanSo, on his current tour—or, if you prefer, the current leg of his “Inevitably Going to End One Day” tour—Bob Dylan has been closing his shows in an unprecedented manner, with a song he had never sung in concert before. I’d daresay that precious few singers have sung this song in concert before (and I’d bet the house that no one has ever closed the show with it).

It is a song titled “Stay with Me,” and it was written specifically for a 1963 film directed by Otto Preminger called The Cardinal. Jerome Moss composed the score for the film, and Carolyn Leigh wrote the lyrics for this, the film’s main theme. And the film is about an actual Roman Catholic cardinal; that is, it follows the life of a protagonist named Stephen Fermoyle from Boston as he becomes a priest and goes through various dramas before ultimately rising to that office in the Church. (Curious fact: the “Vatican liaison” on the film was one Joseph Ratzinger.) [Read more →]

Why Sad Music is Cheering

sad musicThere’s been a flurry of stories in the press in response to a study that “reveals” the fact that sad or melancholy music provides consolation to human beings. There are references in these stories to the concept of “nostalgia;” a quote from the study itself states this: [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 →]

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