Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Cinch Review

Freedom Tower becomes tallest building in New York City

Freedom Tower - 1 World Trade CenterBack in October, yours truly visited the Financial District in Manhattan and took some pictures of the rising structure which is now officially known as “1 World Trade Center” and reflected then on whether the originally-conceived name for the building, i.e. the Freedom Tower, might stick in general usage, despite the apparent effort to put that moniker in the past. I think there’s good evidence today that it is sticking. Take just the headline in the New York Post as a barometer: WTC’s Freedom Tower to rise higher than Empire State building today.

People prefer to use a name for something in the skyline rather than an address, and the people of New York will call it what they choose to call it. It’s not entirely clear to me why the owners (being the Port Authority of NY and NJ) chose to ditch the name “Freedom Tower,” but that’s what they did back in 2009. They did suggest that it was easier to get tenants by calling it “1 World Trade Center.” Did “Freedom Tower” seem too “in-your-face,” too defiant? Yet, “1 World Trade Center” was the name/address of one of the buildings that was destroyed on September 11th, 2001—the other one being “2 World Trade Center.” (In common usage, mind you, they were the Twin Towers.) Would you prefer to rent space or go to work in a building bearing the name of one recently destroyed by terrorists or in one bearing a new name? Go figure. Continue reading Freedom Tower becomes tallest building in New York City

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Dog named “Doc” helps with post-traumatic stress disorder

Dog newsAn organization called “Patriot Rovers” based in North Carolina trains Golden Retrievers adopted from the pound to provide comfort and support to U.S. military veterans. One such (as reported in the Daily Advance) is named Doc Russell, after army medic Ryan “Doc” Russell who gave his life carrying out his duty in Iraq in 2007. The founder of Patriot Rovers, David Cantara, likes when possible to name the service dogs after fallen U.S. service members, when the families agree. The 11 month-old Golden Retriever named Doc lives with an Iraq war veteran named Ray. He comforts him during anxiety attacks and is trained to bark and lick his hand when he has upsetting nightmares. Ray, who’s suffered enormously from the after-affects of his war-time service, attests: “He has given me a whole new outlook on life.” Continue reading Dog named “Doc” helps with post-traumatic stress disorder

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Bob Dylan to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

[Update: My brief take on how the ceremony went is here.]

Just announced today. Bob Dylan is one of thirteen people who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, along with astronaut John Glenn, writer Toni Morrison, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. It’s considered the nation’s highest civilian honor (matched only by the legislative branch’s “Congressional Gold Medal”). The ceremony is reported to be planned for “late spring.” Continue reading Bob Dylan to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Suicide is a Crime Far Worse Than Bullying

Front pageI’ve opined in this space on this subject before, but today can’t help myself from doing so once again, in response to yet another highpoint in the swirling mass-hysteria that has seemingly engulfed so many over the concept of bullying.

An Iowa newspaper—The Sioux City Journal—generated a great deal of attention a few days ago when they devoted their front page to an editorial decrying bullying. It was prompted by the death of a 14 year-old Iowan boy. He had committed suicide, reportedly in the wake of being harassed and bullied because he had “come out” to friends as being gay. The editorial, like so many other columns and public declarations on the topic, extends great sympathy and pity to the suicide victim, while making no bones about blaming those who bullied him for his death, and blaming society-at-large for failing to spot what was happening and failing to halt the bullying.

Bullying is bad. It’s wrong to be mean to people. “Love your neighbor as yourself;” following that rule rules out bullying, and that rule should be followed. Kids who bully other kids should be called to account for it. But human nature—and especially juvenile human nature—being what it is, there will always be bullies, as there always have been. When someone kills him or herself, however, the bigger problem is surely the response to the bullying. We call someone who kills him or herself a “suicide victim,” for a reason. That person has taken his or her own life; he or she is a victim of his or her own act of suicide. It is the wrong response to any kind of bullying or indeed to any challenge that life throws in a young person’s path. It eliminates any chance of a positive change in circumstance. It wastes an entire human life. And it wounds those who knew and loved the suicide victim in ways that will never heal. It is simply a crime, and an awful one. This is why when someone threatens suicide that person can be involuntarily committed to a mental institution on that basis alone. Force is employed if necessary to prevent the crime from being committed.

Indeed, if you publicly threaten suicide, you will not be held up as a figure deserving of tearful tributes and poignantly-composed editorials. Why, then, when someone succeeds in doing it, should that person—now a corpse and so unable to hear any of the sympathetic words—be fawned over in this way? And more importantly, what is the message being sent to other kids who find themselves victimized by cruel peers? They are being told that if they do the same deed there will be front page stories, TV news features and memorial services in tribute to them, with everyone crying in pity for their terrible hardship and castigating the idiots who tortured them. I humbly suggest that this is not the way to reduce teen suicides. It is instead feeding the swamp of the potentially-lethal self-pity in which bullying-victims may be tempted to wallow.

Kids should by all means be taught—and I think by parents in preference to school officials—that there are ways of dealing with bullying. But they must also be taught that the biggest mistake is to make a bully or bullies the center of one’s existence—to give them that kind of power. Even in the age of internet postings and text messages, the old adage holds true, like so many old adages: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me. Time passes; even high school has an end. Above all else, kids must be taught never to even consider taking their own lives. It is not laudable. It is not a solution. It does not make you a hero. It is a crime, and one far worse than any juvenile insult.

It may in fact be the one truly unforgivable crime, at least in this sense: When you’re dead, it’s too late to say you’re sorry.

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The Two Bob Cohens

If you’re anywhere near the town of Kingston, in the state of New York, on May 5th, consider an evening with the two Bob Cohens. Flyer below.

Two Bob Cohens

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know, a little, one of the Bob Cohens, the one (on the right above) who played with the New World Singers back in the day and knew Bob Dylan in his Greenwich Village era, and he is not only an enormously accomplished musician but a truly catholic lover of music and an inestimable ambassador for the Great American Songbook. (He has a website at this link.)

If the other Bob Cohen has any comparable aptitudes, and I trust that he does, then a great night will be had by all.

The show is at Temple Emanuel, Kingston, NY, on Saturday, May 5th, at 7:30 p.m. More details at the Temple Emanuel events page.

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The perfect metaphor for gun control

It’s too late for Britons to learn the lesson, but the lesson is there anyway. From the Daily Mail: “Government plans to microchip puppies will not stop dog attacks and could penalise millions of law-abiding owners.”

Ministers insist the plans, which were formally announced yesterday, will make it easier for the police to trace the owners of violent dogs and ensure they can be prosecuted for failing to keep them under control.

But animal campaigners warned that the plans would be impossible to enforce and would do nothing to tackle the problem of irresponsible owners of vicious dogs who will ignore the law.

They say owners of gentle breeds such as poodles and golden retrievers will dutifully pay up to have the chips installed under the skin, while breeders of rottweilers and pit bull terriers will continue to evade the law.

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“down with you sam” by Bob Dylan

Just for the record, and because I’ve been asked about it, here is the full twenty-odd lines of the particular poem from Bob Dylan’s book “Tarantula”(copyrighted by Bob Dylan in 1966) that features a statement regarding Hitler which Ron Rosenbaum commented upon in a lecture called “Bob Dylan’s God Problem—and Ours,” and which he then wrote about in an article called “The Naked Truth” and which led yours truly to write “God’s problem with Bob Dylan (and with us).”

In the book the poem is untitled, although it appears in a chapter titled “Prelude to the Flatpick” (which ought to clarify things considerably). Continue reading “down with you sam” by Bob Dylan

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R.I.P. Levon Helm

Levon Helm has died at the age of 71 from throat cancer.

I suppose his final released recording was his contribution to The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, which came out last fall. He and Larry Campbell put music to a lyric of Hank’s titled “You’ll Never Again Be Mine.” Also singing on the track was Levon’s daughter Amy. It’s highly superb. You can listen via YouTube below.

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God’s Problem with Bob Dylan (and with Us)

Late last year, author Ron Rosenbum gave a lecture at Stanford University titled “Bob Dylan’s God Problem—and Ours.”

More recently, he wrote an article in The Chronicle Review titled “The Naked Truth,” reexamining what he said during that lecture. It had to do with the problem of how we can believe in an all-powerful God who is totally good when there is so much evil in the world. (In philosophical circles the consideration of this problem is known as “theodicy.”) Rosenbaum was in particular looking at how the problem seemed to be considered by Dylan in his work, and the lynchpin of this lecture was apparently a few lines that he had recently found in Bob Dylan’s 1960’s book of poetry and stream-of-consciousness writing called “Tarantula.” Specifically:

“hitler did not change
history. hitler WAS history”

(Found at the bottom of page 23 of my own paperback edition from St. Martin’s Griffin.) (UPDATE: See all twenty lines of the poem at this link.)

I don’t want to linger too long on the Bob Dylan element, because there are (believe it or not) questions that seem more important to me here, but I have a few thoughts. Ron Rosenbaum sums up his reaction to encountering the lines this way:

Whoa. Those eight words: “… hitler did not change history. hitler WAS history”! Where did that come from? In the 10 years I spent writing a 500-page book called Explaining Hitler (Random House, 1998), not one of the historians, philosophers, artists, or other sages I spoke to or read ever made as white-hot an indictment of humanity as that. An indictment, implicitly, of God as well.

Well, I think Rosenbaum had an experience that maybe all Dylan fans have, usually when listening to his music, when we hear something that pierces right into an area of great relevance to us. It seems uncanny that he’s thinking just like us. (And it is uncanny, don’t get me wrong.) As someone who spent ten years writing a 500 page book on Hitler, and is currently writing a book on Bob Dylan, Rosenbaum was struck as if by a lightning bolt by the confluence of these two great subjects. Here was Dylan making a piercing observation about Hitler, albeit only eight words in a jumbled collection of sometimes incomprehensible “poetry” (which for the record and arguably to my shame I’ve read more than once in my life and re-consulted on numerous occasions). But Rosenbaum’s take on it as “an indictment of humanity” and “implicitly, of God as well” is his own. I take it as a simple statement of fact rather than an indictment, and one that in theory could be made by an atheist as easily as by a devout believer in God, albeit with different import. Obviously, given that it’s just eight words, and given the context in this book “Tarantula,” one’s first instinct is to avoid attaching too much weight to it at all, but at a minimum it surely is a comment on human nature, and one that is not inconsistent with the view of human nature that permeates Dylan’s body of work: People are capable of anything. Corruption is a constant. Hitler, in that sense, was only an especially gigantic personification of the presence of evil in history and the capacity for evil in human nature. Continue reading God’s Problem with Bob Dylan (and with Us)

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King Juan Carlos of Spain breaks hip, apologizes

Emerging from the hospital in Madrid after being treated for a broken hip, King Juan Carlos addressed reporters and said: “I am very sorry. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.” He also thanked the staff at the hospital for the treatment he received.

Although the King didn’t say precisely what he was very sorry about (his clumsiness, perhaps?), it was widely interpreted as being an apology for going elephant hunting in Botswana while the ordinary people of Spain languish with 23% unemployment and an ever-worsening economic situation. His African hunting trip only became public knowledge due to the fall which resulted in his broken hip. The news of how he was spending his time sparked outrage among those who apparently believe that kings should mope in their castles when socialist policies drive their nations to the brink of economic collapse. Well, thanks to his hip injury, King Juan Carlos now has good reason to mope.

And yes, you read that right: the King of Spain was hunting elephants. He also happens to be the honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund in Spain. And that, in the end, is the ironic detail which made noting this story irresistible.