The question uppermost on everyone’s mind has now been answered: What the heck would a Bob Dylan Christmas album even sound like? Although the actual album won’t be released until October 13th, a full tracklist, along with thirty-second audio samples, has now been revealed on Amazon UK. Listen for yourself, if you dare. [Or try this YouTube link if the Amazon samples are no longer there.]
Christmas In The Heart by Bob Dylan
The most immediate thing one notices is that Bob Dylan has opted to go the most traditional route he could have chosen. The song selection includes everything from “O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)” (and yes, he does the Latin too) to “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The backing singers conjure up ghosts of the Andrews Sisters and those classic Christmas records from the likes of Bing Crosby in the ’thirties and ’forties. It’s unfair to make any final judgment based on these low-fidelity snippets, but clearly the album is going to be quite something. Dylan’s voice is not the “Nashville Skyline” croon that might have blended unobstrusively with these songs, but seems to be about as rough as it’s ever sounded on record. It strikes me that he may even be playing up the broken quality of his voice (if such a thing could possibly be necessary at the age of 68) in order to add to that special kind of poignancy that the more melancholy Christmas tunes evoke. On the Santa songs, Dylan seems to be on the verge of laughing a lot of the time, and the feeling is contagious.
The album is arousing controversy among some fans of Dylan (d’ya think?). Instant reaction to the clips among those who comment in online forums found many being dismissive and even nasty. But Bob’s no stranger to that kind of thing, and he’s never let heckling deter him from doing just what he’s always wanted to do.
Then there’s the religious question. Bob Dylan is singing not just the more secular Christmas classics here, obviously, but also some of the best-loved Christmas hymns. It will stir some old arguments about whether he’s a practicing Jew or a Christian. As someone who has attended closely to themes of faith in his music for a long time, I happen to believe (for reasons far too numerous to explore in this post) that he’s long held a happy accomodation in his own heart of both his Jewish and Christian identities, and that he just doesn’t much care if other people understand that or not.
All of Bob Dylan’s own royalties from this album are being promised to charities that provide food to the needy. In the U.S., he has reportedly already committed to donating the value of four million meals, this year, to a charity organization named “Feeding America.” It remains to be seen how well the album will actually sell, of-course. Perhaps, as at other points during his nearly-fifty-year-old career when he’s caused some shock, the listeners who reject his new move will be compensated for by other listeners who will embrace it, and the whole crazy myth, legend and even-more-unlikely reality of Bob Dylan’s contribution to American culture will just become that much more enormous.
I’ve been good for very little lately, distracted by an upper-respiratory-tract virus that conjures new symptoms with which to persecute me every day. This afternoon I found myself turning on the TV around the time that the memorial event for Michael Jackson was getting underway. I couldn’t help but be curious as to just how over-the-top and bizarre the proceedings might be. As it unfolded, I made a few notes:
What is described in the news media as the “golden casket” containing Michael Jackson’s remains is carried towards the stage at the Staples Center, while a gospel choir sings a song called We’re Going to See the King. I have little doubt that the king whom the songwriter had in mind was the King of Heaven and Earth, but it’s almost impossible, in this context, not to infer that we are expected to be thinking instead about the “King of Pop.”
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King.
No more crying there, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King.
No more dying there, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King.
A clergyman identified as Pastor Lucious comes to the podium, and praises Michael and the Jackson family. He also assures us that Michael is not gone, but will always be with us and will always comfort us. In his entire time at the microphone, I do not hear him refer to God, by any name—not even once.
Queen Latifah speaks for a while and asserts, “Michael was the biggest star in Heaven and Earth.”
Lionel Richie—perhaps narrowly heading off an earthquake that is about to swallow the Staples Center—then sings his song Jesus Is Love.
On that note, I find the energy to pull myself away from the TV.
David Letterman’s sexually offensive jokes about Sarah Palin’s daughters (and herself) were distinctly bereft of class. Sarah Palin’s immediate acceptance of his apology was, on the other hand, quite classy. (Of course, Letterman didn’t apologize for the line comparing her to a “slutty flight-attendant,” but merely for the joke about Alex Rodriguez having sex with her daughter.)
Personally, I’m not fond of these scenes where an entertainer or a public figure is ganged-up-upon and put through the mill for making a poor joke or a politically-incorrect remark. Of-course, when the public figure making the remark is a conservative, or is even perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being one on some level, a blow-up of this sort rarely ends without heavy consequences, like a firing or the end of a public career. It is, as ever, the double-standard in these matters that infuriates. David Letterman’s remarks were literally drops in the bucket; Governor Palin and her family have endured a level of personal attack, of brutal and sometimes outright bizarre vindictiveness that would never be tolerated were it focused on a liberal female politician and her family.
Palin would be more aware of this than anyone, and her decision to immediately accept Letterman’s rather self-serving speech as an adequate apology—so almost certainly sparing him further grief over the matter—is all the more classy for that.
Have you heard? It’s in the stars
Next July we collide with Mars
Well, did you evah?
What a swell party this is!
Well, it won’t happen next July—so far as anyone knows—but a study in the journal Nature suggests such a collision might well occur by and by. As told in the San Francisco Chronicle:
For many millennia, the scientists say, the orbits of the solar system’s eight planets will remain stable, just as they are today, but eventually small eccentricities in their flight paths around the sun could cause Mercury, Mars, Venus and Earth to smash into each other, either one at a time or all at once – the ultimate chaotic disaster.
But because that predicted chaos is so far in the future, the scenario actually “sounds a note of definite cheer,” and the planets will be safe for a long, long time, said Gregory Laughlin, an astrophysicist at UC Santa Cruz whose written commentary accompanies the French scientists’ report in Nature.
The “long, long time” in question is about five billion years.
The thing is, somewhere around that same time the sun is expected be running low on hydrogen and entering its inital death throes by expanding into a red giant, so spoiling the weather around these parts pretty thoroughly.
Ah, well. We can hope and pray to be in the most secure possible arms by then.
The classic version of Well, Did You Evah? is surely the one by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in the film High Society. Not the greatest of films, perhaps, but it certainly features what amount to some superb music videos, like this one of the aforementioned Sinatra/Crosby performance.
In Ireland, the recently-released Ryan Report was the product of nine years of investigation into child abuse which took place over many decades at industrial and reform schools, predominantly those run by the Christian Brothers, but also institutions run by the Sisters of Mercy and others. (The executive summary of the report can be accessed in pdf format via RTE News at this link.)
Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin met with Pope Benedict XVI on Friday last to brief him personally on the report. From RTE News:
Pope Benedict was visibly upset by accounts of the Child Abuse Commission’s report, according to one of the Irish archbishops who briefed him on it in the Vatican.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the message which Cardinal Sean Brady and he brought from last Friday’s encounter was that the Irish hierarchy had to listen to survivors of abuse, to learn from the Ryan Report and to do some deep soul-searching about how the church will look in the years to come.
Cardinal Brady, who met representatives of the Conference of Religious of Ireland yesterday evening to brief them on the meeting, reported the Pope as saying that this was a time for deep examination of life in the Irish church.
The report’s focus was on abuse in reform schools, where the relative isolation and dramatic absence of accountability allowed the most heinous crimes to flourish, but there’s not much doubt that a culture of harsh authoritianism and excessive corporal punishment pervaded the ordinary Irish school system for decades, administered as it was largely by the religious orders in question. Aside from the chief and most obvious tragedy—the suffering of the abused—there is also surely the tragedy of how this has played into the alienation of so many Irish people from their Christian heritage. The forces of secularization, consumerism, new age-ism and the like have surely found fertile ground in a populace where memories and anecdotes of brutality via “the Brothers” are so commonplace. The face of the Church—indeed of any church—should never be transformed from one of Christian charity to one of abusive authoritianism. Ironically, it is how close the Catholic Church was to the political establishment in the Irish Republic—the very lofty position it held—that helped enable this kind of evil to run unchecked.
I confess to something of a personal angle on this, having been transplanted as a child from the U.S. to Ireland, and attending schools run by the Irish Christian Brothers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I guess that I caught the tail end of the era of religious-run public schools in Ireland. My own experience was not so much with the Christian Brothers themselves, who did not do a lot of actual teaching in the schools I attended. Many if not most of the lay teachers in these schools, however, were not shy about using corporal punishment, and there were those who took some obvious sadistic pleasure in it. The abusive ones got away with their abuse in part because small children tend to fear complaining about harsh punishment in those circumstances, fearing that only more will come from reporting it. And then, as the Ryan Report illustrates in other contexts, complaints from those parents who were concerned could always be dodged and stymied in one way or another by the figures who ran things with a kind of absolute authority.
It is to be hoped that current and future generations of Irish children will grow up with a kinder impression of what it is that the Church represents.
About 200 people packed into the Harlan Park Baptist Church for the service.
Standing behind his son’s open, flag-draped casket, Long’s father, Daris Long, read a letter he’d planned to give to his son before his son deployed to South Korea.
Choking up at times, Long told his son to learn his skills quickly, as the chance remained that North Korea could invade South Korea.
“Your day only ends when you’ve done your duty,” the father said, tears in his eyes.
He placed the letter in the casket. Long was to have deployed on what turned out to be the day of his funeral.
Gov. Mike Beebe attended the service. Before the proceedings began, Beebe expressed shock that someone would target the American military so far from the battlefield.
“As bad as it is, people understand when a soldier is killed in combat in a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan,” Beebe said outside the church.
“It’s a little different — shock I guess is the best way to say it — when one is killed right here at home; targeted because he had a uniform on,” Beebe said.
Beebe said that Long’s family was “devastated but obviously very proud of their son.”
Long was to be buried at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock, next to World War II veteran Matthew Leon Summerville. Tombstones in the cemetery include the various conflicts in which a veteran served — World War II, Vietnam, Korea, for example. Long’s family will be allowed to select what to list on his tombstone.
You could well argue—as I did previously—that Private Long was the victim of the first relatively clear-cut and successful jihadist attack in the U.S. since September 11th, 2001. But you certainly wouldn’t know it to read the papers.
May Pvt. William Long rest in peace. Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula was wounded in the same attack, and may he enjoy a full recovery.
Hmmm. I take Jennifer Bryson’s point, via Nathaniel Peters, that in his speech President Obama used more precise and defensible terms than “the Muslim world.” Yet, by addressing “Muslim communities,” “Muslims around the world,” and “Muslim-majority countries” within one highly-heralded speech in Cairo, Egypt, I think that Obama was certainly living up to the billing of attempting to address that dubious concept that we, National Public Radio, and every other media outlet are calling “the Muslim world.”
All of the attention paid to President Barack Obama’s speech to Cairo—including to an extent the negative criticism—has played into the rather strange concept behind it all; that is, that the speech is in itself some kind of real act that will effect a sought-after real-world impact.
President Obama’s speech to “the Muslim world” (itself a ridiculous if not dangerous concept as observed by David P. Goldman) was bereft of those elements that might enable a speech to proactively affect history. Despite the heartburn it caused to critics on a rhetorical basis, the speech contained no genuine new policy initiatives, but merely reiterated the existing policies of Obama’s administration.
Absent the announcement of an authentic new policy, it seems to me that there are only two ways in which a politician’s speech can be a lever that substantially shifts history in a direction desired by the speech-maker.
Firstly, made during a political campaign, an artful speech can further the election of a particular candidate, in this way ultimately delivering historical consequences. President Obama knows all about that kind of thing. However, he is not running for election in “the Muslim world” (and, as at least a nominal Christian he would have no chance in majority-Muslim nations if he were).
Secondly, a speech by a political leader can rally a people in a time of war or of severe crisis; think Winston Churchill and “we shall fight on the beaches.” By stiffening the collective spine and raising the morale of a nation, a speech in such a context can geninely contribute to shaping history. Morale is integral to the successful fighting of a war. But President Obama’s speech was rallying no one; least of all his own (American) people. And with its painful and convoluted attempts to be evenhanded, it will have inspired few in any area of the world, Muslim or otherwise.
President Obama has achieved much in his life, for himself, by means of speeches. Indeed, he’s achieved the most lofty position of power available to any individual in this modern world, as President of the United States. Perhaps it is natural that he should believe he can continue making “change” by means of rhetoric. However, absent any new policy, apart from any campaign for election, and rallying none to anything at all, President Obama’s speech in Cairo was, to quote a phrase, just words. And when the lights and cameras have had some time to cool down, it seems to me that Muslims and others who momentarily paid attention will look back upon it only as a truly hollow moment.
At any time, the act of joining the U.S. military is a statement, both real and implied, of one’s willingness to die for one’s country. However, in times of apparent peace, there can be no doubt that many who enlist do so for far more practical reasons and benefits and fervently hope that the whole issue of fighting and dying never actually presents itself. This cannot be true of anyone who has joined the armed services since September 11th, 2001. The current generation of enlistees is truly a great generation, joining when deployment to hostile overseas locations is all but assured, and never more so than right now, with an uncertain prognosis in Iraq, a greatly expanding conflict in Afghanistan, and potentially explosive threats from the direction of Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.
Joining the military today is both to sacrifice and to take on the very real risk of making the ultimate sacrifice. It is unlikely, however, that many current enlistees expect to be called upon to die for their country right here in the U.S.; for instance outside a recruitment center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Yet in a very true sense that appears to be what happened, the day before yesterday, when twenty-three year-old Pvt. William Long was shot to death—according to police—by an American citizen named Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad. Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, age eighteen, was wounded in the same shooting and is hospitalized. Police have reported, apparently based on remarks by Muhammad subsequent to his arrest, that his motivations for the shootings were “political and religious.” Jihadwatch.org has reported further on the background of the accused killer:
Carlos Leon “Corey” Bledsoe, who changed his name to Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad after he converted to Islam, is from Memphis, Tennessee. He was a student at Tennessee State University—a business major. After becoming a Muslim in 2004 at the age of 19, he quit college and embarked upon a path that ultimately led him to Yemen, and Little Rock.
Jihadwatch.org also reports that Muhammad’s trip to Yemen was apparently for the purpose of studying with “a jihadist imam” named Yahya Hajoori, although it’s not yet known whether he succeeded in that aim. Mainstream news media are reporting that Muhammad was under investigation by the FBI in advance of the shootings, and also that additional information found on his computer may be indicative of a broader plot.
Broader plot or no, if the initial reports are true then what has taken place is the first successful execution of an act of jihadist terrorism in the United States since September 11th, 2001. There have been attempts since then to be sure: foiled plots, conspirators nabbed in sting operations, and some incidents that occupy a gray area, but—until now—no clear-cut successful attack on the U.S. mainland by an individual or group driven by those very particular “political and religious” motives.
President Obama—who immediately issued a statement of shock and outrage at the murder of Dr. George Tiller—has yet to remark on the shooting of American soldiers in Little Rock two days ago.
It is surely a sad milestone when a soldier is killed in the service of his country—precisely because he is serving his country—right in the American heartland. Sadder still when the accused attacker is a man born and raised in America himself. And it is both a sad and an exceedingly strange milestone when the event receives almost negligible attention in the nation’s news media, where far more energy has been devoted in the last couple of days to reporting on the troubles of a singer on a British talent show, and countless other trivialities. Pvt. William Long and his family deserve better, as does Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula. As young men, they decided to serve their country in a time of growing conflict and danger. They were met with bullets before even getting the chance to be deployed. Shock and outrage are entirely justifiable. Indeed, the lack of such is scandalous.
The story is generating quite a bit of heat, and–who knows?–maybe some rays of light along with it. It’s the story of a pastor by the name of David Jones in San Diego, recently told by local authorities that he can’t host a small Bible study group in his home without getting a “major use permit” and incurring thousands of dollars in costs. From a local news outlet:
A county code enforcement officer visited the house and asked Jones’ wife about the weekly Bible studies.
“She said, ‘Do you say amen?’ and my wife said, ‘Well, yes,’” Jones recalled.
“And she said, ‘Do you say praise the Lord? she said, ‘Well, yes but what does that have to with it?’” Jones said.
10News asked the county official about the officer’s line of questioning.
“Did the officer actually do that? Is that part of the requirements to ask those questions?” Reporter Joe Little asked.
“Obviously, I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you exactly what was said. However, what our officer was trying to do is establish what the use is so that we know what regulations to actually utilize,” explained Chandra Wallar of the county’s land use and environment group.
Now, after the story was picked up by outraged bloggers and has graduated to national headlines, the county officials are emphasizing that this is nothing at all to do with squashing the freedom of religious expression and assembly. It’s all about parking. Neighbors don’t want to be overwhelmed by cars on their street, emergency vehicles need to able to get through, etc. etc.
Well, when it comes to things like faith, the Bible and God, we know that they ebb and flow in their significance. Parking, on the other hand, is a perpetual and fundamental concern of all, and an issue which must be carefully tended by our government for the common good.
You would think, however, that it could be addressed rather less intrusively by something called parking regulations. You might have resident-only parking areas to keep spaces open for actual residents, or regulations about exactly where cars may and may not park in order to keep space free for emergency vehicles. Then, there would be no need to go knock on Pastor Jones’ door and demand to know what he’s doing with the 15 people in his house, because it wouldn’t matter. Either the visitors have parked legally, or they run the risk of being ticketed and towed.
Then, however, the county would have to forgo those thousands of dollars in “major use” permit fees and the like, which can be collected so conveniently without the use of tow trucks and ticketing agents.
Follow the money, as they say. Just don’t bring your friends along when you do so; unless, that is, you’re prepared to shell out for a parade permit fee.