Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Cinch Review

The Warrior Transition Brigade Service Dog Training Program

Warrior Transition Brigade Service Dog Training ProgramThis dog story was linked on the Drudge Report today, so I suppose about 2.3 billion people have already seen it. However, if you’re among the balance of humanity which has not seen it, and like me you have a special soft-spot for dogs, you should not miss it. It’s by Darci Marchese at WTOP and is the story of the U.S. Army’s Warrior Transition Brigade Service Dog Training Program, which operates at Walter Reed in Bethesda, MD and a couple of other locations. Briefly, the program gives recently-wounded military veterans an opportunity to do constructive work during their recovery by training dogs who will then help other disabled veterans in a myriad of ways. The story testifies to the emotional benefits that come to those doing this training during what can otherwise be a very dark time for them, and is just another example of the special and mysterious human-canine relationship.

Also fascinating is the way in which the trainers utilize older, experienced dogs to complete tasks, having the rookie dogs watch and learn by example.

Videos below. Continue reading The Warrior Transition Brigade Service Dog Training Program

The Cinch Review

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 easy to forget that those sacrifices continue to be made. The war in Afghanistan is winding down, right? Imagine how that sounds to someone about to get on a plane and leave his or her family for a tour of duty there, where the threat of attack by suicide bombers and what we could politely call “rogue Afghani security personnel” is more deadly than ever.

Deploying to a war zone is always an act of bravery in itself, but imagine the added challenge of doing it when the mission is so difficult to define. Oh, I have no doubt that those paid to do so have come up with catchphrases for it, both diplomatic and military, but in all honesty, what is it? It is at best something like this: “Complete the drawdown under fire while preserving as much dignity for the U.S. military as possible.” Is that an objective one is prepared to die for? The soldiers must have to reach deep down and see their mission on a broader level and remember somehow that what they’re doing is worthwhile and tell themselves that it contributes to a better future for their kids. But you’d surely like something more sturdy to cling to than an “orderly drawdown.” Continue reading Among the Bravest

The Cinch Review

Bob Dylan at 72 (Finally Acting His Age)

Happy birthday to Bob Dylan, 72 todaySo, Bob Dylan is 72-years-old today. Bob Dylan being that old is not a problem, I think. He wears his age well. As I believe I wrote elsewhere recently, David Bowie being 66 seems a lot stranger than Bob Dylan being 72, and Bowie is a rather uncomfortable and indeed creepy-looking senior citizen. (No offense intended.)

Bob Dylan, on the other hand, started out old. It’s taken him this long to actually become as old as he sounded on his first album. Arguably, he may still have some ways to go. He might be 80 years-old, singing “In My Time of Dyin'” on that debut record.

But he didn’t remain 80 for very long, and he certainly has not aged in the conventional human pattern. Not long after that first album, he obviously got quite a bit younger (“I was so much older then …” etc.). Around 1965/66, Highway 61 and Blonde On Blonde, he was maybe in his late twenties or early thirties. (Although legally and chronologically, he was 24 – 25.)

He made a short foray into his sixties around the time of Nashville Skyline, lazily crooning those old standards he’d just written.

By 1974, and Blood On The Tracks, he had rewound from that and was firmly entrenched in middle age (though his birth certificate asserted that he was 33). Soberly and somberly, he looked back over a life of lost loves and lost chances. Desire, then, and the Rolling Thunder tour, was a mid-life crisis, throwing caution to the wind, dressing silly and hitting the road.

In the mid-1980s, when Bob Dylan was in his early forties, he actually seemed to be that very same age on his records. He sounded just like he was in his early forties! Maybe that was why he felt so apparently disjointed and was dissatisfied with himself and his music.

In the early 1990s, with Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, he sounded at least 20 years older than his actual early-fifties-self, and decidedly more comfortable in his own skin. Continue reading Bob Dylan at 72 (Finally Acting His Age)

Angels of Woolwich

Angels of WoolwichThe story coming out of the public, broad-daylight murder of a British soldier in the Woolwich section of London yesterday includes the actions of three ordinary English women who happened upon the scene: Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who spoke to one of the killers in an effort to calm him and prevent more bloodshed, and a mother and daughter, Amanda and Gemini Donnelly-Martin, who cradled the body of the brutally butchered British soldier and prayed at his side. All of this took place while the police had yet to arrive. In the British press, they are already being called the “angels of Woolwich.”

So, there is a testimony of actions on May 22nd, 2013, on this street in Woolwich. It looks something like this: The two killers were driving in a car. They saw the soldier, who we now know to be Lee James Rigby. (Whether this was a chance encounter or a carefully planned one is yet to be established.) They swerved their car into him, pinning him against a road-sign or other obstacle. Now that he was injured and disabled, the two men got out of the car with their knives and proceeded to hack him to pieces while yelling “God is great.” That was their act of bravery and their statement of devotion to their god and their chosen culture. And they spent the rest of their time making sure that their pictures were taken and their voices recorded taking credit for what they did and why they did it. Continue reading Angels of Woolwich

Calon Lan song

Calon Lân / A Pure Heart

Calon LanStill 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 much older song than it is. It was first published in 1899, which isn’t yesterday, but is certainly modern times, only fifteen years before WWI.

The lyric was written by the Welsh poet Daniel James, also known by his Welsh poetic nickname, “Gwyrosydd.” It’s reported that he wrote the words as a prayer and then later asked the Welsh tunesmith John Hughes (known also for the great melody “Cwm Rhondda”) to put it to music, which he did, promptly creating a hymn of some sublime beauty and power. Its first appearance was in a Sunday School periodical, and it became widely beloved during what is known as “The Welsh Revival” of 1904-1905, a revival of Christianity which is credited with spurring similar awakenings far beyond the borders of Wales.

The song is also one of a number of great Welsh melodies which can be heard in the classic film, “How Green Was My Valley,” directed by John Ford, from 1941.

It’s the kind of a song where I think most anyone listening to it would find it affecting even with absolutely no idea of what the words mean. I can say at least that it certainly had me reaching for a hankie the first time I heard it, though I had no tangible notion of what it was about. Somehow just the sound of the singing of those syllables and that tune left no doubt that it represented something very profound. It seemed unlikely that it was a song about, say, scrambled eggs. It came across as a statement from deep within the human soul, full of emotion; it was clearly an extraordinarily deep declaration or plea.

Quite a lot of people heard “Calon Lân” for the first time in this way when it was performed on the TV show “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2012, by a choir of young Welsh lads known as “Only Boys Aloud.” It was one of those obviously choreographed but still likeable moments when people are unexpectedly wowed. The video is embedded via YouTube below (and then below that some more scribbling from me about the song). Continue reading Calon Lân / A Pure Heart

The Cinch Review

Oklahoma Tornado

Woman finds dog buried after tornado in OklahomaThe 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 houses in the path of the tornado.

And a video that is no doubt being circulated around the world right this minute is the one below, of one elderly lady in the ripped-up town of Moore who describes taking shelter in her safest room, the bathroom, with her dog on her lap. The tornado hit and everything was blown to pieces. Somehow she survived, though her dog disappeared and she assumes it—or its body—is under the rubble. She is speaking bravely and matter-of-factly—even wryly—about all of this on camera to a TV reporter when that reporter apparently sees something move, and says, “The dog!” (It seems way too pat, of-course, but if this elderly lady is an actor then I’m the president of the United States.)

As she pulls her dog from the debris and he manages to stand up on his four legs, she whispers, “Thank you, God.” Then she tells the reporter and the watching world, “Well, I thought God just answered one prayer, ‘Let me be OK,’ but he answered both of them …” Continue reading Oklahoma Tornado

The Cinch Review

Steyn Does Abba; Agnetha Tries a Comeback

Steyn does Abba and Agnetha tries comebackMark 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 the aching harmonies of ‘One Of Us,’ as near as pop gets to the cry of pure pain. Underneath those sequinned leotards, Benny and Björn are two of the best pop writers of the last four decades.” Indeed.

Watch out for the special effects in the video embedded below; they are far more advanced than anything you see on TV these days, and might leave you in a state of mental disarray. Continue reading Steyn Does Abba; Agnetha Tries a Comeback

The Cinch Review

Dissembling for Dummies: A Lesson from Prime Minister Erdogan

Dissembling from Prime Minister ErdoganYesterday 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 the press conference, however, and it was a question directed to Prime Minister Erdogan, and more importantly his manner of answering, which caught my attention.

The question was from Juliana Goldman of Bloomberg News. After asking President Obama the scandal-questions of the day, she addressed Prime Minister Erdogan: “And also, Mr. Prime Minister, what is the status on efforts to normalize relations with Israel? And do you still plan to go to Gaza in the coming weeks?” (I’m using the AP transcript.)

A question, then, firstly about normalizing relations with Israel, and then about visiting the Gaza Strip. Erdogan’s complete answer was as follows:

In your question about Gaza, according to my plans, most probably I would be visiting Gaza in June. But it will not be a visit only to Gaza; I will also go to the West Bank.

I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East, and this visit in no way means favoring one or the other. I’m hoping that that visit will contribute to unity in Palestine, first of all. This is something that I focus on very much. And I hope that my visit can contribute to that process. Thank you.

What’s interesting about this? First, although the question was about relations with Israel, in his answer he does not even use the word “Israel.” His statement that his visit to Gaza “in no way means favoring one or the other” might easily be taken—and likely was taken by many listening—to mean that he intends no favoritism of the Palestinians over the Israelis, but is that what he’s actually saying? I think not; he preceded that statement by pointing out that he will also visit the West Bank, i.e. not only the Gaza Strip. Gaza is ruled by Hamas; the West Bank is ruled by the Palestinian Authority, dominated by the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas. Erdogan hopes to “contribute to unity in Palestine” by visiting both places. He does not intend to show favoritism to Hamas by visiting Gaza only.

By completely ignoring the question about Israel, and not even using the word “Israel,” what importance would it be fair to say that Erdogan actually places on normalizing relations with Israel? Continue reading Dissembling for Dummies: A Lesson from Prime Minister Erdogan

Dog and Human Genomes “Evolving Together”

There is a story in National Geographic regarding a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, which finds that various genes in humans and dogs, “including those related to diet and digestion, neurological processes, and disease” have been “evolving in parallel for thousands of years.”

I’m not quite sure what to make of this kind of story. Is it news or just researchers spending time and grant money “discovering” the very obvious, and finding fancy explanations for it?

In my house, at least, we’ve been on top of this issue for a long time.

Dog and human genomes evolved together Continue reading Dog and Human Genomes “Evolving Together”

Frank Sinatra PS I Love You

“P.S. I Love You” – Frank Sinatra

P.S. I Love You Frank SinatraWe do not here discuss the Beatles song, “P.S I Love You” (composed by Lennon/McCartney, more McCartney), fine though it is. Fifteen years ago today, Frank Sinatra died, and it’s his version of the song “P.S. I Love You,” composed by Gordon Jenkins and Johnny Mercer, that is on my mind. It is to be found on his album Close To You (and that’s not the Burt Bacharach song, although Frank did ultimately record that tune in leaner times).

This “P.S. I Love You” was written in 1934, but it was in 1956 that Sinatra recorded it, on one of his most unusual and most superb albums. Sinatra worked on this album with a string quartet—Felix Slatkin’s Hollywood String Quartet—augmented here and there by a fifth instrumentalist. The resulting record is intimacy incarnate. Every note of every track declares that the effort is a labor of love. And indeed it wasn’t a big commercial success and remains relatively obscure.

“P.S. I Love You” is perfectly representative of the mood of wistfulness, sensitivity and yearning that Sinatra, arranger Nelson Riddle and the string quartet were apparently aiming for, and which they achieved in spades. Continue reading “P.S. I Love You” – Frank Sinatra