Articles in section: 'Commentary'

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 →]

Articles of Faith (and How to Commit Genocide and Get Away with It)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 18Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is simple enough and says the following:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

This document was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, and eventually (by 1976) it was included in two larger “Covenants” which were ratified by a sufficient number of member states to take on the force of international law.

Yeah: right. [Read more →]

A Church with no God

Church with no GodAn article in the UK Telegraph alerted us to the curious “Sunday Assembly” godless church movement. Although the idea was originally hatched by some comedians (literally-speaking) in London, the article focuses on a congregation in the somewhat unlikely locale of Nashville, Tennessee. (On the other hand, perhaps it’s not so surprising that atheists in that part of the country would want to network and find some reassurance in numbers.) [Read more →]

The Bee Gees via Bob Stanley

Bee Gees Bob StanleyA cracker of a retrospective on the Bee Gees was recently delivered by Bob Stanley (“Islands in the Stream,” Paris Review). It’s actually just one piece from his book, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, and the verve and charm with which it is written makes yours truly very interested in reading the whole opus. [Read more →]

James Garner 1928 – 2014

James Garner passes aged 86James Garner died over the weekend at the age of eighty-six. As a film and TV actor, he had a remarkably long career, and his passing is provoking tributes from far and wide. But I suppose to people in my own age group (whatever that may be) he’ll always be remembered and loved first and foremost for the character of Jim Rockford, private investigator, a character created and written for him and which he played so incredibly well and clearly relished.

It’s difficult to re-imagine my own childhood without The Rockford Files in it, and I daresay it must be the same for many others. Sure: it was just one of a bunch of detective shows on TV (and the 1970s produced some great television) but there was something special about Rockford. Who couldn’t relate to him? He was no superhero; he broke the rules, wisecracked his way out of situations, was unafraid to show fear for his own skin, worked for the pay-off but—you always knew—had heart of gold underneath his jaded exterior that prevented him from ultimately doing anything truly wrong and mean. It was a somewhat different portrayal of manliness from some other popular ones on the screen, to be sure, but it still was manliness; he was not a weasel. [Read more →]

The World Dithers While Israel Fights

JihadIn Nigeria, the jihadist group Boko Haram is reported to have massacred at least 100 people a few days ago while attacking, taking over and largely burning down a town named Damboa. They gunned people down as they fled their firebombed homes. The official death toll is naturally expected to increase. Of-course, they’ve been massacring many thousands—mainly Christians—for a very long time now. What you might call their “vision of Islam” involves eliminating all Western and non-Islamic influences, so schools and students have all along been favored targets. The world briefly paid closer attention when, in April of this year, instead of simply massacring people they chose to kidnap some: more than 200 schoolgirls. Twitter hashtags were brought to bear against the group by those concerned in the world-at-large, but so far the jihadists have only responded with more massacres, destruction and kidnappings. (Perhaps improved WiFi access in the area would better get the message across?) So, aside from token measures, the world wrings its hands. [Read more →]

Elaine Stritch and “Two’s Company”

Elaine Stritch & Two's CompanyMentioning to my better half this morning that actress Elaine Stritch had just died, she asked, as people do in these situations, how old she had been. (The day before someone dies, no one cares how old they are, but, once they kick the bucket, it’s an important fact for us to obtain.) I said that the paper reported she was eighty-nine years-old, but that this had surprised me: I would’ve thought she must be at least one hundred and twenty, because when I watched her on TV many decades ago she already seemed older than the Devil, at least to my eight-year-old eyes. But my wife hadn’t seen her on TV back then. I, unlike she, was residing in Ireland when Elaine Stritch starred in a sitcom called “Two’s Company” on a British television network, which we picked up over the airwaves. The series was likely rebroadcast in the U.S. somewhere at some point but apparently had not become terribly well known.

The media is full of those paying articulate tribute to Stritch as a legend of Broadway and the stage, but I can’t do that, having never seen her perform live. I do have a lot of respect for those who pour their chief energies and talent into live performances that exist in the moment and live on only in the memories (and reviews) of those who saw them. Elaine Stritch did some other screen work (recently a role on a show I’ve never seen named “30 Rock”) but all I really know her from is this English sitcom, and, while I was not writing reviews back then, I guess her presence and performance was sufficient so that I always remembered her name and her face. [Read more →]

“Forever Young” at the 2014 All Star Game

All Star Game Forever Young Dylan Idina MenzelAt Major League Baseball’s All Star Game on July 15th, 2014, a singer named Idina Menzel sang Bob Dylan’s song “Forever Young,” before also singing the U.S. national anthem (video at bottom). Although some may have thought it was dedicated to the modern New York Yankees’ legend Derek Jeter (who is retiring this year at the age of 40) it was actually performed as a feel-good tribute to teachers.

The interesting thing about this to Dylan fans might be the evidence that “Forever Young” is one of those Bob Dylan songs that has insinuated itself into the national (and global?) consciousness to the extent that it can be referenced on such an occasion. Perhaps then it is one of those Dylan songs that will outlive even the memory of his name. That might seem an odd thought, but we don’t mind odd thinking around here. Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that the world is still around five hundred years from now. How many songwriters can you name from five hundred years ago or more? I don’t know too many, aside from King David, but there’s no question that there are countless folk songs still persisting from five hundred years ago and more, in one form or another. We ascribe them to that great composer, “traditional,” aka “trad.” I don’t know if future memories will be more accurate, or if coming catastrophes will wipe out all the millions of terabytes of data we currently have at our fingertips and people will be no better than ourselves at remembering and honoring the past. But if the name and personality of this guy Bob Dylan is forgotten, which of his songs might still persist and be sung in some incarnation? It is, I think, a distinguishing characteristic of Dylan’s that he might actually have a few that do persist in this way, as opposed to the vast majority of his contemporaries in the pop and rock idioms. [Read more →]

“Autumn Light” – Ron Sexsmith with Don Black

Autumn Light Ron SexsmithI’m sure that if you are a music lover then you’ve had the experience of being suddenly struck by a song you’d heard before but had not been especially moved by until then. Music being what it is, and our brains being what they are, it just works out that way sometimes. The song might have just passed over or through you until it happened to find its moment: a moment when the right nerve of yours was exposed to be touched by it.

My own nerves are pretty well exposed these days whenever I’m on an airplane, which I have been several times lately. It’s nothing to most people, as I well know—they are blessedly able to casually leaf through the in-flight magazine or watch some meatball movie on the screen as if they’re sitting safely at home—but for me the emotions are already rising to the surface as the plane starts taxiing, and I’m praying and trying (vainly) to get my spirit right with the Man Upstairs. And at the cruising altitude of 35,000 feet or whatever insane number it is, my emotions continue to be sharpened by the knowledge that I am constantly a second or two away from a helpless and traumatic death if anything goes wrong with the plane. My only flights nowadays being trans-Atlantic ones to visit family, this is a long time to spend reconciling oneself with such finalities. [Read more →]

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