Monthly Archives: April 2006

The Theme Time Radio Hour

XM made it official today: The Theme Time Radio Hour with your host Bob Dylan will debut on May 3rd — at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

Take a trip back to the golden age of radio. With music hand-selected from his personal collection, Bob Dylan takes you to places only he can.

The theme of the first show will be “weather,” and some of the tunes Dylan will spin include “Blow, Wind, Blow,” by Muddy Waters, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” the Harold Arlen classic, sung by Judy Garland, and “California Sun” by Joe Jones. Can’t wait.

And, yes, there is some less than galvanizing news about “special guests” in some of the press reports that have accompanied XM’s announcement:

The show would also include contributions from special guests that include Elvis Costello, Charlie Sheen, Penn Jillette, Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel.

Three comedians, one over-exposed singer and a buffoon. Well, make of that what you will — I’ll wait to hear the show.

XM has a promo audio clip on this page. It’s mostly fluff with quotes from all and sundry saying what a big influence on them Dylan has been. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. The money part is the spoken word promo for the show by Dylan himself:

Join me, Bob Dylan, for “The Theme Time Radio Hour,” the finest hour in American broadcasting, an hour of themes, dreams and schemes. We make the rules, and we break the rules. Join us and see how we do that. Right here on XM.

He’s definitely got a radio voice going; he’s shooting for sleepy, seductive and mysterious. (mp3 clip here).

I think it’s going to be fun.

Now I guess I have to bite the bullet and subscribe. Paying money to listen to the radio! May I never get used to it.


Addendum: The full press release that various media outlets are quoting from is located here. Some other details from there:

The first episode of “Theme Time Radio Hour with Your Host Bob Dylan” will be devoted to the theme of “weather,” with a song list that spans “A Place in the Sun” sung in Italian by Stevie Wonder, “The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix and “Keep on the Sunny Side” by The Carter Family, among many others. Song lists for future episodes will be built around themes such as “cars,” “dance,” “police,” and “whiskey.” Complete track lists from each “Theme Time Radio Hour” show will be posted on a dedicated Bob Dylan page on XM Satellite Radio’s website ( that will also include a link for users to purchase select songs heard on Bob Dylan’s show through Napster, XM’s digital music partner, as well as photos and information on encore broadcasts. Fans also can e-mail their questions and music requests directly to Bob Dylan at

“With ‘Theme Time Radio Hour’ Bob redefines ‘cool radio’ by combining a sense of intellect with edginess in a way that hasn’t been on radio before,” said Lee Abrams, chief creative programming officer, XM Satellite Radio. “Bob has put a lot of work into his XM show and it’s clear that he’s having a good time behind the mic.”

Tomorrow is a Long Time

So a suicide bomber murders 9 and wounds 50 in Tel Aviv, and the elected representatives of the Palestinian people applaud the act. At the same time, Iran is to give an initial $50 million to that same terrorist government, with Syria also pledging financial support, and U.S. ally — no kidding — Qatar has promised $50 million more. All the time, hardly a day seems to go by without President Ahmadinejad of Iran threatening Israel with annihilation, at the same time as Iran brazenly rushes headlong towards the development of nuclear weapons to effect that end. What would be the rational response of the Israeli government to all of these clear, ongoing and increasingly linked efforts to destroy the Jewish state? Aren’t their enemies already both effectively and declaratively at war with them?

Yet the story this morning is: Israel “will not strike at Hamas.”

Israel will hold Hamas responsible for a deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv but will not hit back against the Palestinian Authority, officials say.

A special cabinet meeting ended with agreement to increase security efforts but not launch a military strike.

Instead it backed plans to revoke the Jerusalem residency of several Hamas MPs, adding to the group’s isolation.

Well, far be it from me to give foreign policy and security advice to the Israelis, but “adding to the group’s isolation” seems less than tepid and certain to encourage their enemies to see them as weak — even like a dried tree ready to be blown away by a storm, as Ahmadinejad said recently. Hamas seems less and less concerned about “isolation” from the usual supporters of the Palestinian Authority (Europe, the U.S., the U.N.), since they’re busy lining up less judgmental supporters in the form of Iran et al. For those that prefer clarity, maybe the formation of these battle lines is all for the best. However, I would think that Israel must be mindful of the price of practicing strategic restraint in the face of enemies who grow more confident by the day.

Mark Steyn, in writing about the “Iran crisis,” drew attention to a recent mind-boggling quote from Bill Clinton:

Bill Clinton, the Sultan of Swing, gave an interesting speech last week, apropos foreign policy: “Anytime somebody said in my presidency, ‘If you don’t do this, people will think you’re weak,’ I always asked the same question for eight years: ‘Can we kill ’em tomorrow?’ If we can kill ’em tomorrow, then we’re not weak, and we might be wise enough to try to find an alternative way.”

The trouble was tomorrow never came — from the first World Trade Center attack to Khobar Towers to the African Embassy bombings to the USS Cole. Manana is not a policy. The Iranians are merely the latest to understand that.

Indeed. You can always say that you could “kill them tomorrow,” especially when your country is a nuclear power, but the question comes down to whether you will ever have the spine to kill them today. And the more you encourage your enemy to think that the answer to that last question is “no,” the more you also encourage them to prepare, plan and execute acts of war against you. And when you finally summon up the will to act, you will be facing a much stronger and more confident opponent. In war no less than in comedy, timing is everything.

I Am the Man, Thomas

Many’s the gig Dylan and band kicked off with this song (written by Larry Sparks and Ralph Stanley) between 1999 and 2002, including one in Santa Cruz, California on March 16th, 2000.

They laid me in the tomb, Thomas
I am the man
In three days I rose, Thomas
I am the man

I am the man, Thomas
I am the man
Look at these nail scars
Here in my hand

Cat’s in the Well?

The situation with Iran is advancing in curious ways. Anyone would be able to prescribe a shrewder policy for the Iranians than the one that they are following — i.e. a shrewder policy would be one of continued soft statements and apparent (but not actual) willingness to compromise that would help keep the Europeans, the United States, Russia and China divided. Instead, they basically say, “We’re going to nuke Israel and if anyone tries to stop us, we’ll nuke them too. Don’t like it?? Come and get us!” Something’s missing from this equation. People tend to put it all at the door of “kooky” President Ahmadinejad, but he is clearly not out on his own anymore — he has the backing of the Supreme Leader and has consolidated his power throughout the Iranian leadership. Their plans, motivations and hatreds are not what’s hard to understand; it’s their seemingly self-defeating and overwhelming confidence that leads one to suspect that there’s something we don’t know. Well, history has a way of connecting the dots, so I guess we just have to wait, huh? Some of the recent comments:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran appeared to threaten Israel with a nuclear attack yesterday when he described it as a “rotten, dried tree” that would be annihilated by “one storm”.

In his most vitriolic and anti-semitic attack to date, Mr Ahmadinejad warned that Israel faced imminent destruction.

While he did not refer explicitly to nuclear weapons, his reference to the “one storm” that would do away with Israel was seen as a code for nuclear Armageddon.

Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons [Ed: source for this statement of fact?] but Teheran is widely believed to be bent on developing its own nuclear military capability, in defiance of international protocols and peace treaties.

“Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation,” [Ahmadinejad] said. “The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm.”

And he poured scorn on the established history of the Holocaust, saying that an atrocity committed in Europe should be settled in Europe.

“If such a disaster is true, why should the people of this region pay the price? Why does the Palestinian nation have to be suppressed and have its land occupied?”

The land of Palestine, he said, referring to the British mandated territory that includes all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, “will be freed soon”.

He did not say how this would be achieved, but insisted to the audience of at least 900: “Believe that Palestine will be freed soon.”
Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards yesterday warned the US not to attack the Islamic republic, saying that American troops in Iraq and the region were vulnerable.

General Yahya Rahim Safavi, one of Teheran’s most powerful figures, said of the US: “You can start a war but it won’t be you who finishes it.

“The Iranian armed forces are totally ready to defend the country. If the Americans attack Iran, they will be making a second strategic error after their attack against Iraq.”

The cat’s in the well and the servant is at the door.
The drinks are ready and the dogs are going to war.

The cat’s in the well, the leaves are starting to fall
The cat’s in the well, leaves are starting to fall
Goodnight, my love, may the lord have mercy on us all.

(sample from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 4 nights ago.)

Death on a Friday Afternoon

The above is the title of a book written in the year 2000 by Richard John Neuhaus — a book that I think is as accessible and profound as any you could find on the meaning of what Christians believe took place on that Friday afternoon two millennia ago. I’m taking the liberty of a generous quote from its pages today:

These, then, are the truths at the heart of atonement. First, something has gone terribly wrong. We find ourselves in a distant country far from home. Second, whatever the measure of our guilt, we are responsible. Then, third, something must be done about it. Things must be set right. We cannot go on this way. False gospels of positive thinking or stoic exhortations to make the best of it are worse than useless — they are obscene. They are invitations to make our peace with a corruption at the core of everything. Better that Job and all the Jobs on the long mourning bench of history should curse God and die than that they should make their peace with the evil that they know. Such a peace is a peace of the dead, of those who are already spiritually and morally dead. The religious marketplace is crowded with the peddlers of peace of mind and peace of soul. But the narcotic of denial or pretense is too high a price to pay. Better to rage against the night.

Something must be done about what has gone wrong. Things must be set to right. And this brings us to the fourth great truth of atonement: Whatever it is that needs to be done, we cannot do it. Each of us individually, the entirety of the human race collectively — what can we do to make up for one innocent child tortured and killed? Never mind making up for Auschwitz, or the killing fields of Cambodia, or the coffin ships of traffickers in human slavery or the slaughter beyond number of innocents in the womb. We chatter on about modernity and progress while King Herod reigns secure. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, for they were no more.”

Rightly does Rachel refuse to be comforted. Something must be done. It started long before Rachel and her children. From far back in the mists of our beginnings, the blood of Abel has been crying from the ground; and along the way we have allowed ourselves to be comforted by the counsel of Cain, advising us to get over it, to get on with our lives, for, after all, are we our brother’s keeper? But we know we are. We don’t know what to do about it, but we know that if we lose our hold on that impossible truth, we have lost everything. Something must be done. Justice must be done. Things must be set to right.

But what can we do? We cannot even put our own lives in order, never mind setting right a radically disordered world. The apostle Paul declares, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do … Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” There is an answer to that question, but do not rush to the answer. Stay with the question for a time if you would understand why the derelict hangs there on the cross.

For the record, I’ve done a small amount of work for First Things, of which Richard John Neuhaus is editor-in-chief, and consider myself a friend of that publication, so make what you will of my impartiality. (Coincidentally, I notice that they have published an additional extract from the same book today over at their own blog. I prefer the passage I picked, but I recommend reading the whole book.)

Nobody Feels Any Pain

Foetuses ‘cannot experience pain’:

Foetuses cannot feel pain because it requires mental development that only occurs outside the womb, says a report in the British Medical Journal.

Dr Stuart Derbyshire, of the University of Birmingham, said a baby’s actions and relationships with carers enabled it to process the subjectivity of pain.

Dr Derbyshire, who is linked to pro-choice groups, said there were various stages of a foetus’ gestation at which certain parts of the body’s pain “alarm system” developed.

He concludes that pathways in the brain needed to process pain responses and hormonal stress responses are in place by 26 weeks.

But he says the crucial factor is the environmental difference between the womb – where the placenta provides a chemical environment to encourage the foetus to sleep – and that of a newborn baby, who is exposed to a wide range of stimuli and environments.

“Pain is something that comes from our experiences and develops due to stimulation and human interaction.

“It involves concepts such as location, feelings of unpleasantness and having the sensation of pain.

So, it follows to my ignorant lay-man’s mind that if one were to raise a child in a controlled environment, and carefully manage the “human interactions” and “relationships with carers” that enable it to “process the subjectivity of pain,” it should be possible to train the child to regard pain sensations as actually pleasurable — to the point perhaps where amputating the little tyke’s arm would inspire him or her to laugh rather than scream.

But doubtless this would require further studies, and it strikes me that Dr. Stuart Derbyshire is just the man to conduct them.

It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
And your long-time curse hurts
But what’s worse
Is this pain in here
I can’t stay in here
Ain’t it clear that–

I just can’t fit
Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don’t let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world.

The Europe to Come?

Clive Davis and Mark Steyn have a disagreement about two recently released books which predict, roughly speaking, a death of Europe. Davis reviewed both for the Washington Times, while Steyn muses on the books, and on Clive’s response to them, in Macleans.
Steyn’s views on the coming disintegration of Europe (or to use Richard Neuhaus’s phrase, “Muslim-assisted suicide”) should be pretty well known. He seems to write compelling columns on the subject every 15 minutes. Davis maintains that the situation is considerably more complicated than some would have you think, and, using the publication of the aforementioned pair of books as an example, fears that many Americans are at risk of believing only in a caricature of Europe rather than in the three-dimensional place. At least that’s my brief summary of the situation: I recommend reading the stuff at the links above.

As for myself, I enjoy a good “Europe is doomed” column as much as the next guy or more, but I acknowledge that it’s worth pausing whenever you start to feel yourself too smug in your knowledge of such weighty things. Making predictions based on demographics is all very well, but of-course if the 1970’s “population explosion” Cassandras had been right, all the screaming hordes of humanity would now be fighting over the last can of baked beans. Nevertheless, several countries in Europe clearly face massive challenges over the next few decades, and a little alarmism is probably a good thing if it prompts a reconsideration by those who consider George Bush and global warming to be the greatest threats to their futures.

Magazine Caricatures Christ during Christians’ Holy Week: Mayhem Spreads

The cover of this week’s edition of New York’s Village Voice, which hit the streets today:

Village Voice

  • The cartoonist has disappeared into hiding after an explosion of death threats by offended believers in Jesus.
  • Jerry Falwell has offered $250,000 to anyone who captures and beheads the person who drew the caricature.
  • The Pope has said that while he doesn’t approve of violence, the cartoon was “a grave offence to believers” and “something must be done” to prevent anymore such offenses in the future. He suggested there should be “new laws” to make sure religious sensitivities are respected.

Well, not quite. The excuse the Voice has, by the way, for splashing their cover with this at such an especially holy time for Christians is an incredibly lightweight story about a Christian college that leases some space in the Empire State Building.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

My dog Billie models the latest in rainwear (she is available, by the way, for catalogs, TV ads, sit-coms, feature films — with the proviso that she doesn’t have to stay in LA too long for any of it. She’s definitely an East Coast kind of gal).

Billie with raincoat

And More on Judas …

Thanks to William R. for the e-mail regarding the “Gospel of Judas,” including the following observations:

I watched the National Geographic show last night and couldn´t believe they dragged it out to two hours. I mainly watched because I´m interested in reconstruction of manuscripts, and I did enjoy that part of it.

Following up on your points, what always frustrates me is that these articles almost never introduce the subject of Canon. You can write an eight hundred page book on canon, but you can also summarize it in a sentence or two, but that´s too much to expect of those who are caught up in the “alternate version’ hype. (One thing that may frustrate me the most is the simple fact that so many serious New Testament commentaries have for decades presented a nuanced picture of Judas, but again, who can be bothered to go to the library or call someone at the seminary who is a scholar instead of a publicity seeker. And I´m not particularly closed-minded on this subject; I´m very fond of the Gospel of Thomas, although it does not change my traditional concept of closed canon.)

I will, just for fun, diverge just a bit and suggest that the figure of Judas, as developed further in the community tradition, is not altogether irrelevant to the issue of anti-Semitism. On that point, the NG writers made a valid point in observing the Nazi´s fascination with the Passion Plays, and the record will show that in those plays the figure of Judas is increasingly a composite of negative stereotypes. Also, I think the progression of the interpretation of Judas from Mark to John requires some realistic evaluation. The answer, I think, is that it was an “in-house’ conflict conditioned by very specific circumstances, particularly the quest to be an “approved’ religious group to the Romans, but again, that takes a few brain cells to discern, so who could expect the news hounds to do that?

So, those intelligent remarks will probably be the last word around here on this. I didn’t see the National Geographic show myself, not having that channel on my boob tube. My point in my original post about Judas and anti-Semitism wasn’t of-course intended to deny that the figure of Judas has been used in the past to gin up anti-Jewish sentiment, but rather that this was always an illegitimate use of the Gospel stories, and fighting the mis-use of the Gospels does not necessitate replacing or over-riding them, despite what the Chicago Tribune or Hershel Shanks may think.

More Judas

More on the “Gospel of Judas” (my previous post here) from Richard John Neuhaus at First Things today:

Christians will be surprised, we are assured by the New York Times, that there are more than four gospels, and I suppose Christians who know little about the origins of Christianity will be surprised. The National Geographic Society disgraced itself by puffing this latest discovery. Elaine Pagels of Princeton, an advisor to NGS who has for years been touting sundry gnostic gospels, wrote an op-ed in the Times saying that the latest discovery will make her Easter ever so much more mysterious.

There is nothing at all mysterious about people who want a designer Christianity tailored to their own predilections. That’s how we got all those deviant Christianities in the first place. The apostles and their successors in episcopal office spent the first several centuries sorting through the various writings and teachings to establish what became orthodox faith and the canon of the New Testament.

According to Pagels and others, the apostolic community to which Jesus promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit was dominated by power-hungry masters of the patriarchy who were determined to deprive people of delicious variations by labeling them as heresies.

And further:

The gnostic pseudo-gospels and related texts purport to be for the “knowers” who are equipped to deal with the “secret sayings” of Jesus and other matters unfit for the great unwashed. In his book The American Religion, Harold Bloom contends that most Americans are gnostics at heart, believing that they possess a “divine spark” that is spiritually serviced by whatever “works for me.” There is more than a little to that. It results in religions, typically called Christian, ever so much less interesting than Christianity.