Monthly Archives: December 2007

Merry Christmas

I’ve ruminated before about Bob Dylan and the song Rock of Ages. Well, now I’m happy to say that there is a clip on YouTube of Dylan and the boys performing it on November 17th, 1999, in Durham, New Hampshire. (Click here to go to YouTube or play below.)

The tune features no shepherds or falling snow, but in its way it’s as relevant a song at Christmas as any other I could think of.

As the year draws towards a close, thanks to all readers of this space for taking the time to stop by, for feedback, and for all forms of support. It’s all deeply appreciated.

For the New Year, I had planned some expansion of the RWB media empire — I was going to purchase the Los Angeles Times, and a local television station or two, and really shake things up. However, looking at the ol’ credit card bill just now, I realize this scheme will have to be scaled back just a tad. Maybe we’ll have to make do with my intention to ramp up the Q&A feature with new and exciting content in the coming weeks.

On his “Theme Time Radio Hour” Christmas show in 2006, which is being reprised this year by XM Satellite Radio, Bob Dylan read the poem Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s a poem that was written during the U.S. Civil War, and after a period of great personal tragedy for Longfellow (see “The Story Behind”).

May those bells, literally or figuratively, be pealing loud and deep wherever you are this Christmas.

Christmas Bells

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Follow that star

There’s a really wonderful performance of Shooting Star that’s just recently been uploaded to YouTube, apparently from a 1998 gig. Dylan’s singing here is just terrific, and the two guitar solos he takes also reflect his complete absorption in the song. Click here to go directly to YouTube or play below.

For someone who so often dazzles with words and images, Shooting Star is, I think, an example of how Dylan can sometimes tango dangerously with cliché and yet ultimately wring multi-layered meaning out of those well-worn phrases. And this performance illustrates just how central to that magic is the way in which the words are sung.

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip Away.
Tomorrow will be another day.
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say.
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away.

How smart we are

From the BBC is a story on new research uncovering surprising things about the power and capabilities that may be present in a single brain cell.

There could be enough computing ability in just one brain cell to allow humans and animals to feel, a study suggests.

The brain has 100 billion neurons but scientists had thought they needed to join forces in larger networks to produce thoughts and sensations.

The Dutch and German study, published in Nature, found that stimulating just one rat neuron could deliver the sensation of touch.

One UK expert said this was the first time this had been measured in mammals.

The complexity of the human brain and how it stores countless thoughts, sensations and memories are still not fully understood.

Not fully understood. No kidding. Yet, somehow, some scientists and doctors seem to have little hesitation in making bland pronouncements as to a given human being’s brain function, as if it’s all as open and shut as a case of appendicitis. Someone once said that there are both known unknowns and unknown unknowns. The latter kind will get you every time.

Thanks much to Hugh for the following:

Here is a quote from a book called “Shuffle Brain” [by Paul Pietsch] now on the Internet

You probably know this, but anyway, a paramecium is a single celled animal that
swims around. I used to watch them under the microscope when I was a kid.

“Evidence of memory on single-celled animals dates back at least to 1911, to
experiments of the protozoologists L. M. Day and M. Bentley on paramecia.[3]
Day and Bentley put a paramecium into a snug capillary tube–one whose diameter
less than the animal’s length. The paramecium swam down to the opposite end of
the tube, where it attempted to turn abound. But in the cramped lumen, the
little fellow twisted, curled, ducked, bobbed….but somehow managed by
accident to get faced in the opposite direction. What did it do? It immediately
swam to the other end and got itself stuck again. And again it twisted, curled,
ducked…and only managing to get turned around by pure luck. Then, after a
while Day and Bentley began to notice something. The animal was taking less and
less time to complete the course. It was becoming more and more efficient at the
tricky turn-around maneuver. Eventually, it learned to execute the move on the
first attempt.”

If I recall all this book says, it is that brains are not so important. People
with progressive adult hydroencephalopathy may have close to 100 percent of the
gray matter in their brain destroyed, yet still function as professors, bank
managers etc. (Sir John Lorber discovered this).

This is important in one area. Many say that a fetus cannot have consciousness.
If a paramecium, which is only one cell, can exhibit memory and problem-solving
(you will find more at the link), then all the more …..

Freddy or not

It’s just time. RWB is endorsing Fred Dalton Thompson for the Republican nomination.

As mentioned when I meditated on the horse race nine days ago, Fred Thompson is the candidate whose views, as articulated by him, are closest to my own. I like that about him. Despite that, he is human, and there are reservations I’ve had about him, and about every candidate, that have kept me comfortably on the fence until now. But time’s a wastin’, and there comes a point you either make your choice or have it made for you. So I’m making mine now. I could have waited till after Christmas, but I figure there’s a lot of work to be done by Fred’s campaign in making up all those banners and stickers (Endorsed by RWB!) to plaster on his bus and to festoon each public event from here on out. Get busy, you guys.

Those hesitating to support Thompson may be doing so for a few reasons. What’s his executive experience? It is not extensive, to be sure, but the fact that he hasn’t presided over a huge bureaucracy in the past does not by definition mean that he won’t be effective at it — merely that we don’t know for sure what his talents in that area will prove to be. And the Democrat he would face in the general election will not have any more executive experience than him (unless Governor Bill Richardson stages an unlikely rally). In the end, for me, it comes back to what the candidate’s beliefs are, and what that candidate would actually be likely to do with the executive power.

Another reservation some conservatives may have is that he’s not pro-life enough, because he doesn’t back the idea of a constitutional amendment protecting life in the womb, and because he’s indicated that he would leave the abortion issue to the states, were Roe v. Wade to be overturned. I’m not sure how many real people have this reservation, since Thompson has picked up so many endorsements from pro-life groups, but it may well be out there. All I would say to this is: nuts. Pro-life people who are thinking two or three steps ahead of the overturning of Roe v. Wade should beware the possibility that twenty years from now it still won’t be overturned. Its overturning is the crucial thing for people who want to be able to see just the beginning of a reversal of the tide of abortion. On this issue of issues, Thompson is solid and has long been solid, and there is every reason to have confidence that it would figure prominently in his thinking in appointing judges to the federal bench. He is also a Second Amendment absolutist, and, bluntly, the same judges who are likely to find an explicit individual right to bear firearms in the U.S. Constitution (because it’s there in the text) are also likely not to find an explicit right to have an abortion (because it’s not there in the text).

I could go on (I could mention his unique willingness among the leading candidates to be seen as a skeptic of man-made global warming) but, after all, I’m not being paid to do this. It’s still his campaign to run and to win. There are signs that his timing may be well-judged and that he may be able to pull off some surprises in the next month or so, and so I hereby give him this invaluable endorsement as an early Christmas present, and I’ve also sent him a few bucks via the internets to pay for hamburgers on the road.

There are certainly other very good candidates on the Republican side, and today’s not the day for me to knock any of them. But the lay of the land is clear enough now that I think I know which way I’d prefer to see the Republican party, and ultimately the country, go.

I’ve said until now, “may the best man win,” but today it is my candid opinion that Fred D. Thompson is the best man.

Cold enough for ya?

For a lot of people these days, the effective answer to the usually rhetorical question above appears to be, “No — I’d like it to be colder, thank you very much.”

This is a point the absurdity of which is very well illustrated in David Deming’s column from yesterday’s Washington Times, “Year of global cooling.”

Along with detailing examples of damaging and record-setting cold weather which has hit various places across the world during 2007, from South America to Korea, he writes the following about sunny Kaleefawnya and some other spots in the U.S.:

Last January, $1.42 billion worth of California produce was lost to a devastating five-day freeze. Thousands of agricultural employees were thrown out of work. At the supermarket, citrus prices soared. In the wake of the freeze, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked President Bush to issue a disaster declaration for affected counties. A few months earlier, Mr. Schwarzenegger had enthusiastically signed the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, a law designed to cool the climate. California Sen. Barbara Boxer continues to push for similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.

In April, a killing freeze destroyed 95 percent of South Carolina’s peach crop, and 90 percent of North Carolina’s apple harvest. At Charlotte, N.C., a record low temperature of 21 degrees Fahrenheit on April 8 was the coldest ever recorded for April, breaking a record set in 1923. On June 8, Denver recorded a new low of 31 degrees Fahrenheit. Denver’s temperature records extend back to 1872.

Again: one and a half billion dollars worth of damage is done to crops in California by extreme cold, and meanwhile the governor of that state moves full steam ahead on measures which — if they were to achieve ultimate success — would encourage more such freezes. That is the reality, after all. If you want to fight temperature increases, then you by definition either want the average temperature to remain the same or to decrease. As much as man-made global warming skeptics and deniers (like yours-truly) think that the idea of being able to cool the planet through carbon taxes and such is vain, reckless and ridiculous, that is its goal, i.e., to prevent the climate from getting any warmer, and presumably to actually cool it from where it is now, in order to counteract the already-awful effects on polar bears and the like that we are constantly being bombarded with in the media.

It is a bizarre state of affairs when political leaders are basing policies that will affect millions not on the evidence that is in front of their eyes but on unproven scientific theories instead.

Pursuant to that, you also might want to browse this U.S. Senate report (from the minority side, of-course) which details over 400 scientists who have raised questions to one degree or another about the supposedly indisputable prevailing wisdom of man-made global warming.

Meanwhile, it will soon be time to start hoarding incandescent light bulbs, and/or planning on how to deal with the hazardous waste that compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) generate in your house when you accidentally break them. The passage of the new energy conservation bill reminds me on a certain level of the “immigration reform” episode earlier this year. Congress, and the President, thought they could just come to an agreement on immigration and seal it all up before the unwashed masses got to chime in, and they very nearly succeeded. In this case, they did succeed. Did anyone ask you or me if we want to switch over the lighting in our residences to all fluorescent bulbs, all the time? What do you think the average Joe would say to that? I mean, there are reasons we’re not doing it already, reasons that have to do with our preferences. I’ve tried CFLs, and haven’t liked them enough to switch over. Well, forget about what I like, obviously. Thou shalt use fluorescent light, saith the government, and that is that. Just wait until — God forbid — we have an administration in Washington that is truly gung-ho on this climate change malarkey. Just considering the possibilities ought to be truly disturbing.

New Year in the Highlands

Where better to sing Auld Lang Syne than in the bonnie Scotland of that lyric’s author, Robert Burns? And if you believe the press reports, that’s where Bob Dylan will be this New Year’s Eve.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

My heart’s in the Highlands at the break of dawn
By the beautiful lake of the Black Swan
Big white clouds, like chariots that swing down low
Well my heart’s in the Highlands
Only place left to go


Doing the preceding post reminded me that over the course of time I’ve transcribed and/or commented upon quite a few television interviews of Bob Dylan. Many if not all of these are no longer available on YouTube, at least at this time of writing. So, I’ve collected the posts I could dig out of the archives at this link: “Bob Dylan interviews” . There’s some great stuff there, I must say, like the 1993 interview on MTV where Bob is asked if the availability of guns is “a big problem today,” and he answers that he doesn’t think there’s enough guns. (One of a number of reasons why his tribute to Charlton Heston the other day was no big surprise.)

Every grain

In the summer and fall of 1999, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon did a joint concert tour, sharing the bill and alternating night by night as to who opened and who closed each show. The sets Bob played were short as compared to his normal gigs. As the tour approached New York City, and the scheduled Dylan/Simon show at Madison Square Garden, a new date was announced at short notice, at a club in the city called Tramps. This would be just Dylan and his band (though Elvis Costello made a surprise appearance for the closer, I Shall Be Released). Among the nineteen tunes they played that night was a very nice version of Every Grain of Sand.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.