CommentaryCommentary

Death is not the End

Just when you might think it’s become old hat, that you’ve been there, done that and moved on, death has this way of reasserting itself in one’s life in some novel and unexpected way. Endlessly resourceful, death may sometimes take a holiday but, just like taxes, will always return demanding to be paid.

Posted on April 6th, 2014

As Usual, It Will Be an Unusually Bad Allergy Season

It will start earlier, end later, be more intense, more merciless, even more inescapable than before. And each year it is for its own special and particular reason.

Posted on March 30th, 2014

Man “Baked to Death” in New York City Jail Cell

On Valentine’s day, February 14th, a week after his arrest, Mr. Murdough was locked into a cell on Riker’s Island at 10:30 p.m., in the “mental observation unit,” where he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes, in case of any suicide attempt. So much for supposin’. Four hours later he was found dead.

Posted on March 20th, 2014

Neil Young’s Pono is Launched, and Fidelity in Digital Music Gets Debated

Championed and promoted by Neil Young, Pono is here (at least for those willing to cough up the dough on the Kickstarter campaign). Content for the PonoPlayer will be sold by the PonoMusic online store. The CEO of PonoMusic, John Hamm, promises “studio master-quality digital music … the way the artist recorded it.”

Posted on March 12th, 2014

Coming Soon: Bob Dylan in the 80s

An album to be released on March 25th will feature a curious plethora of artistes performing versions of various Bob Dylan songs which Dylan originally released between 1980 and 1990. It may seem an odd decade to be celebrated in this fashion, but I believe that’s also kind of the idea.

Posted on February 27th, 2014

Memories of Pete Seeger

[Editor's note: It's a privilege to here publish this kind, wise and unflinching remembrance of Pete Seeger from Bob Cohen (aka Cantor Bob), who knew him, sang with him, and for a time traveled with him.] I am writing about my mentor and one-time hero of beloved memory, Pete Seeger, or as young women called him back in the day: “Pete’s eager!” I learned so much about the rich, humorous, plaintive, and energetic repertoire of the folks of the U.S.A. and also all over the world from Pete. And I learned from him how …

Posted on February 20th, 2014

Brisk Walks “Boost Your Memory”

Time was that the average human being would go for a brisk walk pretty regularly, for the purpose of fetching water, or firewood, or pursuing a comely potential consort, or escaping from aggressive neighbors wielding spears, or retrieving the newspaper from the lawn. But the internet has changed all that.

Posted on February 18th, 2014

New York City Winter

There hasn’t been a winter like this in New York City since … well, since there were wolves in Wales.

Posted on February 13th, 2014

Cantor Bob at 75

Yours truly has been blessed to get to know a little bit the inestimable Bob Cohen over the last several years through shared interests in music and related shenanigans. In his current life, he is Cantor Bob Cohen of Temple Emanuel in Kingston, New York, and yesterday held a shindig there in celebration of his 75th birthday; essentially it was a chance to play music with and and for his friends, and intersperse it with stories of how he became the Bob Cohen he is today.

Posted on January 27th, 2014

Ariel Sharon: One Last Victory

Following his stroke in 2006, Ariel Sharon was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state.” A few years later a hospital manager was quoted as saying that “the part of the brain that keeps his body functioning, his vital organs, is intact, but beyond that there is nothing, just fluid.”

Posted on January 11th, 2014

A Merry Little Christmas with Hugh Martin and Mark Steyn

I’m cognizant that it could be considered a little odd to pen an appreciation of an appreciation, but here I do so anyway (just in case, I suppose, someone might appreciate it). The multifaceted writer Mark Steyn recently reposted on his website an audio tribute he made to the late songwriter Hugh Martin (who died in 2011). Martin is the composer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” …

Posted on December 23rd, 2013

Snowstorm in Central Park

The statue of Balto (hero sled dog of 1925) watches over the first real snow of winter in New York City today.

Posted on December 14th, 2013

It’s All Good: Bob Dylan and Saint Augustine

So, in addition to exploring the idea that all things are good, you may notice that there’s another way in which Augustine’s train of thought jibes with Dylan’s. One of the verses in Dylan’s song goes “Wives are leavin’ their husbands, they beginning to roam / They leave the party and they never get home / I wouldn’t change it, even if I could / You know what they say man, it’s all good” …

Posted on December 8th, 2013

Morrissey’s Seminal Influence

There’s nothing quite like the pleasure of a great EUREKA! moment, and yours truly experienced it today while reading a review of the new autobiography from Morrissey, the achingly-literate British pop-singer and songwriter and former front-man of the Smiths. Apparently, in an aside while writing about …

Posted on December 7th, 2013

Natural Wonders and Belief in God: Important New Research

Once again, scientists have directed their telescopes and most advanced instruments upward, have spent long months studying the data and spending their grant money, and emerged to deliver their important conclusion: The sky is blue.

Posted on November 27th, 2013

Sandy Hook Again

That is, that they are motivated by a desire to inflict spectacular harm that attracts universal attention—even deliberately competing to outdo previous mass killers—in the expectation that the same universal attention will then be focused on themselves and on their own nurtured grievances, frustrations and hatreds, whether contained in published manifestos or not.

Posted on November 26th, 2013

What if Richard Nixon Had Won in 1960?

This got me thinking: if Richard M. Nixon had been the winner of the 1960 presidential contest, would men’s hats have remained in fashion? On consideration, I don’t think so, because I don’t entirely buy the idea that JFK alone altered that fashion; I think it was bound to take place, and he merely hurried it and provided a prominent symbol. Yet, this train of thought leads to other speculations. The 1960 presidential election was one of the most closely-contested in American history. John F. Kennedy ultimately beat his opponent with only 0.1% of the vote.

Posted on November 22nd, 2013

New Video for “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

It is bad enough, if I may say so, that so many of our pop-musical memories are affected by what occurred in the 1980s, namely the MTV revolution and related phenomena. But there is no need to attach a video of any kind to a record as magnificent as “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Posted on November 18th, 2013

Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella

A smile can’t change the weather, or stop an earthquake, or deflect a bullet, but somehow it seems to be able to make these and the other challenges of life easier to bear. As it says in the old Charlie Chaplin song

Posted on November 9th, 2013

River of Love – T-Bone Burnett

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

Posted on October 27th, 2013

Lou Reed 1942 – 2013

And his was a true New York voice, albeit one as dark as the shadow cast by a dumpster in an alley behind a strip-bar. When he released his album New York in 1989, the title itself had an air of redundancy: wasn’t all his stuff about New York? But that one had a special time-capsule-like quality, capturing the city at the very lip of the abyss.

Posted on October 27th, 2013

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – The Erasmus Lecture

Yours truly was fortunate enough to attend, and judging by the energy and passion of Rabbi Sacks’ talk, he is not interested in fading away, but looks rather likely to relish his new freedom and devote it to advocating for the value of faith in the contemporary world.

Posted on October 24th, 2013

Visiting the September 11th Memorial

“But,” I went on, “you can’t really get past the fact that it’s a drain.” The water runs down the sides, and then goes down the hole in the middle. You can call it a waterfall if you like, but waterfalls are not enclosed in this way.

Posted on September 12th, 2013

Heschel on Good and Evil

Seen from God, the good is identical with life and organic to the world; wickedness is a disease, and evil identical with death. For evil is divergence, confusion, that which alienates man from man, man from God, while good is convergence, togetherness, union.

Posted on August 30th, 2013

I Love to Tell the Story

The lyric to “I Love to Tell the Story,” a much beloved hymn, was derived from a poem written by an Englishwoman named Arabella Katherine Hankey in 1866, when she was convalescing from an illness at the age of 32. The full poem has 100 verses, and is divided into two parts, “The Story Wanted” and “The Story Told.”

Posted on August 5th, 2013

Sad Commentary: A Fatal Fall at Sutton Place

Many of the most vile remarks were those directed at the dead woman because the story had reported that she was smoking on her balcony when the accident occurred. People felt it worthwhile to pause long enough on the page to leave brief derisive comments such as, “Who wants to date a woman who smokes and smells like tobacco – yuck,” or “She was a smoker. Poor judgment is par for the course.”

Posted on August 1st, 2013

On Prayer: Heschel, Ysabella, etc.

Prayer would seem to be a very simple thing, a straightforward concept that the devout and the atheistic alike easily understand. “Please God, do this for me, make that right, fix this problem.” Yet the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to believe that the beating heart of prayer is actually something far simpler that I ever comprehended as a young person, loaded as I was with the ideas and traditions to which I happened to be exposed.

Posted on July 28th, 2013

Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)

And there is Steyn, the same hairy bearded guy with a very-hard-to-place accent who we know very well, except at this point he is still in possession of (quite a bit of) baby fat, so he somewhat resembles a hirsute cherub. The decline of Western civilization has clearly caused him to lose weight, and I guess that must be one of the silver linings of that particular cloud.

Posted on July 28th, 2013

Twelve Gates to the City

The walls of the city are said to be made of jasper, and the city itself is described as “pure gold, like clear glass.” As it happens, Bob Dylan once wrote a song of his own presumably inspired by the same passage of scripture, titled “City of Gold” (never officially released by him, but recorded by the Dixie Hummingbirds …

Posted on July 21st, 2013

Mariano Rivera and a Gift from God

Frankly-speaking, this is a double-edged thing for believers (in God, not Mariano). Whenever a sports figure gives credit to God for some achievement — a home-run, a touch-down, a championship — it closely treads the line of complete absurdity. Why would God possibly care if one team or another won, or if one athlete or another triumphed in some nickel and dime contest?

Posted on July 15th, 2013

Knight, DeJesus and Berry: A Statement (and a Message Obscured)

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held captive in a house in Cleveland for about a decade. A man named Ariel Castro faces trial for their kidnapping and abuse and also for aggravated murder in the death of a baby which one of the women conceived during that time. I think it’s reasonable […]

Posted on July 9th, 2013

Bono in “Son of God” Shocker

The interview has generated various headlines, in particular with regard to Bono’s statement that he believes Jesus is the Son of God. The statement is not likely to be too surprising to those who’ve followed U2 and noted the spiritual and biblical content of their work along the way, but any time a celebrity makes such a blatant statement of belief it produces shockwaves of various kinds.

Posted on June 25th, 2013

Everybody Knows (Starting with the N.S.A.)

With all the recent news stories regarding the data that U.S. intelligence agencies are collecting, at home and worldwide, my brain has been hosting a not-entirely-unpleasant ear-worm of the old Leonard Cohen song, “Everybody Knows.” It’s from his 1988 album I’m Your Man, but some of the words sound especially timely right now. Everybody knows […]

Posted on June 13th, 2013

Time, Prayer and God: Heschel

The following is one of those passages from Abraham Joshua Heschel — extraordinarily common in his writing — that is fascinating when considered as philosophy, penetrating when heard as theology, and quite moving and beautiful when simply read as poetry. Common to all men who pray is the certainty that prayer is an act which makes the heart audible to God.

Posted on June 6th, 2013

(Sitting Out) God Bless America

There is an opinion column by a Methodist minister named James P. Marsh in The Washington Post, titled “Why I Sit Out ‘God Bless America.’” Explaining his discomfort with the song, he states: I imagine that the God I believe in isn’t interested in dispensing special nationalistic blessings. (Or, perhaps more to the point, blessings […]

Posted on June 1st, 2013

Among the Bravest

Memorial Day in the U.S. is a day to remember those who have fallen in the service of their country, but inevitably also reminds us of those who are risking everything in that service at the present moment. If one does not have a close relative or friend in the military, bearing such burdens, it’s […]

Posted on May 27th, 2013

Angels of Woolwich

Instead, all three of these women were willing to confront the two blood-stained killers with nothing but their sense of what was decent. One, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, felt that speaking calmly to the killers could keep them from killing others, before the police arrived. The other two, Amanda and Gemini Donnelly-Martin, felt some sense of duty to the soldier whose blood was streaming into the London street.

Posted on May 23rd, 2013

Calon Lân / A Pure Heart

Still pursuing a recent obsession with Welsh music, this American-of-Irish-extraction thought he would reflect a little on the beautiful song “Calon Lân” (generally translated to English as “A Pure Heart”). It’s a song that seems to be deeply embedded in the Welsh culture, to such an extent that you could easily believe it were a […]

Posted on May 23rd, 2013

Oklahoma Tornado

The scenes of apocalyptic devastation after yesterday’s tornado outbreak in Oklahoma are heartbreaking and horrifying. Yet, so many of the victims, when spoken to amid the torn up debris of everything they owned, are themselves being incredibly inspirational, using their voices to thank God for their survival instead of cursing the fate that put their […]

Posted on May 21st, 2013

Steyn Does Abba; Agnetha Tries a Comeback

Mark Steyn’s paean to Swedish supergroup Abba, and their great song “Waterloo,” is his typically hilarious combination of global politics, knowing-puns and kitschy references, and shouldn’t be missed. It is also in its way a sincere appreciation of the real talent they possessed. As he points out, “[F]rom the rubble of their marriages, they produced […]

Posted on May 20th, 2013

Dissembling for Dummies: A Lesson from Prime Minister Erdogan

Yesterday at the White House there was a press conference by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. Most of the focus going into it and coming out of it has been on the various Washington scandals currently erupting, but I don’t have anything unique to say about those. I did happen to watch […]

Posted on May 17th, 2013

P.S. I Love You – Frank Sinatra

Sinatra’s voice was at an absolute peak when he recorded this album, and his vocal control and his expressiveness is breathtaking. He inhabits this song in the seemingly-effortless manner that made him great; there is simply no space between the singer and the sentiment.

Posted on May 14th, 2013

Kermit Gosnell, Philadelphia mass murderer, gets life in prison

Abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted yesterday of the first degree murder of three infants, and involuntary manslaughter with regard to an adult patient who died in what was once called his “care.” Today, Gosnell gave up his right to appeal, and has been sentenced to life in prison. It’s a story so horrific, so full […]

Posted on May 14th, 2013

“The Next Day” – David Bowie Video Controversy

The video for David Bowie’s new single, “The Next Day,” has aroused considerable controversy due to its portrayal of Roman Catholic clergy-folk in a rather negative light, associating them with decadence, perversion, meanness, and sundry ills. The video also features some degree of “explicitness,” and climaxes (if you will) with one of the featured young […]

Posted on May 12th, 2013

Freedom Tower Spire Takes its Place in the New York Skyline

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s there now, nearly twelve years after the September 11th attacks which brought down the Twin Towers. Watching the spire put into place, it’s a reminder that this is how big things are achieved: metal on metal, on concrete, on bedrock, time after time after time. It is […]

Posted on May 10th, 2013
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