Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Cinch Review

Out of office

I haven’t been posting a whole lot in the past week, due to distractions and whatnot, but this is just to say I’ll be posting even less in the next seven days or so, due to traveling beyond the reaches of reliable Wi-Fi. (That’s right: it’s a scuba-diving trip in the Mariana Trench.)

If I can, I’ll probably throw some comments out on the first great Romney/Obama debate, which is occurring this coming Wednesday, October 3rd, but we’ll see. There won’t be any shortage of commentary; at least that’s my firm wager and I’ll cover all takers. Continue reading Out of office

Abraham Joshua Heschel Who Is Man?

Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Who Is Man?”

Abraham Joshua Heschel Who Is ManI’ve become a big aficionado in recent years of the writing of Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great philosopher and a Jewish theologian (1907 – 1972). Most recently I got a copy of his book Who Is Man? Considering its focus, it probably would have made ideal reading in advance of reading Heschel’s great (though earlier) works Man Is Not Alone and God in Search of Man, but no matter.

Like Heschel’s work generally, it’s very rich, at times quasi-poetic, and rewards enormous reflection on each page. Following is a short section on what Heschel characterizes as man’s inherent “nonfinality.” (In using the word “man,” of-course, Heschel is referring to humankind, both on the general level and the individual, and is not trying to disrespect the ladies.)

Nonfinality (pg 40)

Where is man? At what stage of his life and in what situation of his existence do we meet him as he really is? He is variable, fickle, appearing in different roles. Is he the same as father or mother as he is as salesman or soldier? Does he remain the same from the cradle to the grave, from the cave to the rocket?

All the definitions cited above have a ring of finality and presume to be definitive. However, there is no such entity as man in his permanent and final form. Man is rarely to be found in a definitive edition. A salient characteristic of being human is inconstancy both in behavior and in self-understanding, inability to remain what he is once and for all. Finality and humanity seem to be mutually exclusive. Man is caught in the polarity of being both tentative, undecided, unsettled as well as final, fixed, determined.

Anything is possible. The ambiguity of his traits and the ambivalence of his actions are such that his consistency involves inner contradiction. Man has many faces. Which is canonical and which is apocryphal?

To understand his being it is not enough to see him as he acts here and now, for example, as conditioned by our industrial society. Man is a being in flux. Yielding to a particular pattern of living he remains both compliant and restive, conforming and rebellious, captive and insurgent.

[…]

To claim to be what I am not is a pretension. To insist that I must be only what I am now is a restriction which human nature must abhor. The being of a person is never completed, final. The status of a person is a status nascendi. The choice is made moment by moment. There is no standing still.

I think that’s all true, and yet these are things we rarely stop to examine in our own selves, and probably even less so with regard to others.

It also struck me as something worthy of filing in my “Dylanosophy” section. If you’re a Dylan fan you may already know why. It’s because all of this reflection on the ever-changing nature of man sounds a lot like some scholarly (or at least rock-criticly) writing I’ve read about Bob Dylan in the past. In fact, you could substitute “Bob Dylan” for “man” in the text above and come out with something that would seem to fit the portrait so many have painted of Dylan in their effort to get their heads around his work.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try it:

However, there is no such entity as [Bob Dylan] in his permanent and final form. [Bob Dylan] is rarely to be found in a definitive edition. A salient characteristic of being [Bob Dylan] is inconstancy both in behavior and in self-understanding, inability to remain what he is once and for all. Finality and [being Bob Dylan] seem to be mutually exclusive. [Bob Dylan] is caught in the polarity of being both tentative, undecided, unsettled as well as final, fixed, determined.

Anything is possible. The ambiguity of his traits and the ambivalence of his actions are such that his consistency involves inner contradiction. [Bob Dylan] has many faces. Which is canonical and which is apocryphal?

Ha! Write it up, print it out, send it in, and you may just win yourself a Pulitzer. A new, great interpreter of Bob Dylan is born! Continue reading Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Who Is Man?”

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Newsflash: It’s illegal to spray paint stuff in the New York City subway system

You would think that even a tourist from Bangladesh would understand that it’s against the law to whip out a can of spray-paint and start coloring things in the NYC subway (despite some people’s nostalgia for how things were in the 70s and 80s) but a journalist living in New York named Mona Eltahawy was arrested for doing so, and persecuted the poor arresting officers with strident demands to know what she was being arrested for. Well, “duh,” as they say. Watch below, if you have the gumption. Her attempt to deface an advertisement with which she did not agree was vigorously opposed by a blogger named Pamela Hall.

There’s so much to say on this subject that it’s hard to know where to begin and where to end.

If the goal of the ads was to cause controversy and provoke debate, they have succeeded to the nth degree.

The ads state:

IN ANY WAR
BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN
AND THE SAVAGE
SUPPORT THE
CIVILIZED MAN

SUPPORT ISRAEL
DEFEAT JIHAD

These ads were designed by Pamela Geller, in response to anti-Israel ads that ran in September of 2011 in the MTA system. Due to legal challenges, Geller’s ads did not run until now (as it happens in the wake of the recent anti-YouTube riots throughout the “Muslim world”).

I strongly support the sentiment behind the ads, but I wouldn’t have written them this way. I think that when the word “savage” is invoked, versus the “civilized man,” the first thought by the average liberal New Yorker would be of Native Americans victimized by white Europeans. Their education, from high school, college and popular culture (right up to James Cameron’s “Avatar”), kicks in very strongly at the concept of “savages.” If there are any savages, they must be noble ones. It is the so-called “civilized man” who is to be suspected, if not loathed outright.

So, if you label anyone as a savage, you have awarded them with an advantage, in terms of public relations.

I simply would have worded the ads this way:

IN ANY WAR
BETWEEN FREEDOM
AND OPPRESSION
SUPPORT FREEDOM

SUPPORT ISRAEL
DEFEAT JIHAD

In the end, that’s what this is about. Still, Pamela Geller has provoked debate about all of these issues, and perhaps some of those who are asleep will be woken up by the ruckus. That would be a very good thing.

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The Tempest Rose High

There are many lovely versions of the great old song, “Drifting Too Far from the Shore,” written by one Charles E. Moody. There’s Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and Emmylou Harris, for starters. In the documentary “No Direction Home,” Bob Dylan credits his first hearing of this song, as a child, with igniting a kind of mystical experience for him. When he heard it (it was a record left sitting on a record player in the house his family had moved into) he says he felt like he “was somebody else.” (You might even say he was kind of transfigured.)

Anyhow, the version embedded below via YouTube is by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Tony Rice. And it too is lovely. (From an album titled The Pizza Tapes)
Continue reading The Tempest Rose High

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And in Australia too

The sad truth is that it is hard to be surprised—strike that: it is impossible to be surprised by displays of savagery on the part of Islamic “demonstrators” in places like Tripoli, Khartoum and Cairo. (Impossible, at least, if you don’t work for the U.S. State Department.)

But to get news like the following from Sydney, Australia is chilling on another level, and surely it should be.

Violent clashes erupted yesterday after demonstrators marched from Sydney’s Town Hall to Martin Place yesterday afternoon and confronted police outside the US consulate.

Some protesters allegedly threw glass bottles and other missiles at police, forcing officers to use capsicum spray during a melee that led to six police and 17 others being injured.

Seven men and one male juvenile were arrested, with six men so far charged with offences including assaulting police and animal cruelty, police said.

[…]

Waving banners with slogans such as “Behead all those who insult the Prophet”, protesters listened as one protester told the crowd: “We will never accept the assault on our prophet.”

The rally was the latest in a spate of demonstrations at US embassies and consulates in the Middle East, Africa, Britain and elsewhere against the film, Innocence of Muslims.

Protester Abdullah Sary, who said he wanted a peaceful protest, said although he had not seen the film, he was offended because it ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed.

“The prophet is more beloved then my family, my wife, my mother and myself. So if someone says this, you can see how upsetting it is.”

What is truly upsetting is this image of a man, in Australia, in the year 2012, speaking to a reporter and being glad to state publicly that “the prophet” is more beloved to him than his family, his wife and his mother. Continue reading And in Australia too

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From the Complete Rolling Stone Interview: Following Up On Dylan & God (etc)

Bob Dylan Rolling Stone Interview GodThe new issue of Rolling Stone containing the full interview with Bob Dylan by Mikal Gilmore has now hit the streets. It is a riot: a wildly entertaining romp, in my opinion, and well worth handing over a few of Caesar’s coins to the newsagent in order to read in full. To what extent it is more than merely entertaining is going to be a matter of debate. Dylan is capable of giving very thoughtful and sober interviews; you can dig out the books and read them. This one, by and large, didn’t turn out that way, I think, although it has a few moments, especially the interlude regarding the U.S. Civil War.

If you’ve read the whole interview, you’ll know that Dylan goes off on a big tangent about a notion of “transfiguration”: his own, somehow connected with the death of another, different Bobby Zimmerman in a motorcycle accident in the early 1960s (mentioned very briefly in Chronicles, page 79). Rolling Stone unabashedly makes this the centerpiece of the article, highlighting it in the intro as a story “much more transformational than he has fully revealed before,” etcetera, etcetera. Well, you be the judge. Personally I’ve never seen anything that is more clearly a riff, a lark, and big fat red herring. I mean, I have no doubt Bob was struck when he first read about that other Bobby Zimmerman who also liked motorcycles, but as to the rest of the meaning of it … let’s just say that if I’d been eating anything when I read it I would have joined young Bobby Zimmerman in the afterlife by now.

In any case, I started something with a previous post on Bob’s seemingly easy and offhand expression of faith in an early excerpt of the interview, and it behooves me to follow up on that subject. Specifically, that was when he was complaining about being called “Judas” for playing an electric guitar, and he remarked: “As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified.” Continue reading From the Complete Rolling Stone Interview: Following Up On Dylan & God (etc)

Bob Dylan Jesus Mofos

Bob Dylan: “I still believe in Jesus, mofos!”

Bob Dylan Jesus MofosWell, how could I be expected to resist a title like that?

When I first read the excerpt of Bob Dylan’s interview in Rolling Stone yesterday, I didn’t much remark on the line where he complains about being called “Judas” for playing an electric guitar, and then says: “As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified.” But naturally you don’t refer to Jesus as “our Lord” and speak in that way about him unless you believe in Jesus as “your” Lord. Hearing him speak in the language of a believer was, however, unsurprising to me: an awareness of God is throughout his songs, after all, and I’ve never been of the crew who insist he “rejected” his more particular belief in Christ; quite the contrary, in fact. Bob Dylan is a Jew, and he’s clearly very serious about his Jewishness, but he also clearly enough sees no conflict with that and his belief in Jesus. He’s not alone in this, but due to our various baggage and traditions, many of us can’t get our heads around that. Especially, people in the rock press have never been able to get their heads around the whole “religion thing,” and have concocted theory after theory to make themselves feel more comfortable. Dylan for his part has never given the impression he much gives a damn what anyone thinks; he has just plowed his course, a course that has included Jewish observances in the company of the Chabad Lubavitch folk, and recording a Christmas album that includes hymns of faith, sung with as much angelic devotion as his crusty vocal cords could muster. And there have been other indications, literally too numerous to mention, of a man serious about faith in the God of the Bible, both the Hebrew and the New Testament.

In the end, it’s his business. Some people pick up on it and some don’t. Yet, people continue to be curious. Many people go to Google and type in “Is Bob Dylan still a Christian?” and similar queries. I know because some of them happen to end up in my website statistics after doing so, because they hit upon something I wrote on the subject in the past. (Others have written plenty too.)

The curious thing about this Rolling Stone interview excerpt is that Dylan is talking about the “plagiarism” subject, and then seemingly out of the blue recalls being called “Judas” in the 1960s, and then just slips in what amounts to a profession of faith. Again:

These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified.

It’s sorta hilarious and somewhat typical that he does it in this indirect way. But nonetheless he is stating his faith in Jesus as “our Lord” and therefore “his” Lord—and also, by the way, his belief in the historicity of the gospels. (This is not unusual: it’s a belief common to most ordinary Americans, after all. What’s unusual is the endless analysis given to it in his case, because he is who he is.) Continue reading Bob Dylan: “I still believe in Jesus, mofos!”

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Islam, Mohammed and free speech: Could honesty be the best policy?

Yesterday, four American diplomats were murdered in Benghazi, Libya, and the consulate destroyed. The U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked and breached by a mob, and its flag set on fire. Although the murders seem to have been pre-planned to a significant degree, both outbursts of violence are said to have been sparked by the circulation of a clip on the internet of some amateur film made by Americans which casts Mohammed and Islam in a negative light. The violent Islamic mobs were trying to correct any mistaken, negative ideas about Islam.

The messages from the U.S. government have to one degree or another “deplored” or “condemned” the denigration of anyone’s religion (i.e. the YouTube clip) while saying there’s no justification for violence over it. In the middle of a political campaign, the opposition has made hay by painting the current administration as weak. And maybe the Obama administration is weak. However, it should be recalled that similar responses took place during the previous administration to outbursts in the Muslim world like this, and there is reason to wonder whether President Romney’s words in the future would be as tough as Candidate Romney’s words now. An excuse always offered for tiptoeing around the sensibilities of rampaging mobs in the Muslim world is that it would “put our troops in danger” to offend the enraged fanatics any further.

I don’t know how well this has worked to date. In any case, U.S. troops are no longer in Iraq. In Afghanistan, even as things stand, the greatest threat to American personnel appears to be uniformed members of the official Afghan army, who have been outfitted and trained by us.

There seems to be a problem with the “messaging” from the American side. When the U.S. president and secretary-of-state take pains to say in a situation like this that Islam should not be denigrated, they are leaving the impression that they might actually do something to stop it, or that they would like to. The First Amendment, we should hope, would constrain them. However, they are reinforcing the idea, already highly-prevalent in the Muslim world, that one day no one will be permitted to speak ill of Mohammed or Islam. There are even persistent efforts at the U.N. to pass what amount to “anti-blasphemy” resolutions.

Maybe the message from the U.S. needs to be simplified in cases like this (of which there are bound to be more, as anyone with a cell-phone camera can shoot a “blasphemous” video and upload it to YouTube). Maybe the message needs to be something more like this:

“We have freedom of speech in America, which absolutely includes the right to criticize religious beliefs. That is not ever going to change. Those who criticize others’ beliefs may be criticized in return, but they may not be physically assaulted because of their opinions. Anyone attacking American citizens, anywhere in the world, will be dealt with extremely harshly.” Continue reading Islam, Mohammed and free speech: Could honesty be the best policy?

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Bob Dylan on the Cost of Slavery to America

There are more attention-getting quotes from the Rolling Stone interview with Bob Dylan (on newsstands on Friday). These are highlighted by the Associated Press. They say that Dylan describes America as shamed because it was “founded on the backs of slaves.” Further from the AP:

“people (are) at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color,” adding that “it will hold any nation back.” He also says blacks know that some whites “didn’t want to give up slavery.”

The 71-year-old Dylan said, “If slavery had been given up in a more peaceful way, America would be far ahead today.”

And asked if President Barack Obama was “helping to shift a change,” Dylan is quoted as saying: “I don’t have any opinion on that. You have to change your heart if you want to change.”

Although these quotes about slavery might set people off in various ways, I don’t see how you argue with Bob on it. He’s taking a long view, as he is wont to do. There’s a difference between America how we’d like to see it, and how it should be, versus how it is in practice. There are ingrained problems and fissures in American society that are easily traceable back to slavery and its consequences. Where you identify the problems might depend on who you are. Continue reading Bob Dylan on the Cost of Slavery to America