Monthly Archives: September 2010

President Barack Obama on “meeting” Bob Dylan

Dear old Jann Wenner interviewed President Barack Obama for his magazine, Rolling Stone, and various parts of that interview are in the news today. Naturally Wenner asked the President about Bob Dylan’s visit to the White House, on February 9th last, as part of an event celebrating music from the Civil Rights era.

[Jann] You had Bob Dylan here. How did that go?

[Barack] Here’s what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you’d expect he would be. He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.

Well, that’s certainly putting a positive spin on the way Dylan conducted himself, versus Obama thinking “this guy’s dissing me.” I’m all for positivity, so let’s leave that at that. (Oh alright: I’ll just note that Dylan was certainly a helluva lot friendlier to President Sarkozy of France than he was to the President of the United States.)

One factual issue: The President claims that Dylan “wouldn’t come to rehearsal.” According to Tony Garnier, as referenced here, Bob Dylan did show up for a sound check earlier in the day, but, rather than stick around the White House afterward, like the other performers, Dylan opted to head back to his hotel and return for the actual performance later — even though this meant having to go through the White House security gauntlet twice. And then, as Obama notes, Dylan left immediately after his performance.

Dylan aside, this is the quote from the interview with President Barack Obama that gets me more than anything:

You look at all this, and you say, “Folks, that’s what you elected me to do.” I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we’ve probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do — and by the way, I’ve got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum.

Barack Obama is 70 percent done! It’s truly one of those cases where I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Well I’ve been to the mountain and I’ve been in the wind
I’ve been in and out of happiness
I have dined with kings, I’ve been offered wings
And I’ve never been too impressed

Ricks on Bob, and friends

A talk on Dylan by Christopher Ricks is reported on in the Daily Free Press from Boston University:

A crowd of about 150 students, professors and Bob Dylan lovers sat in Mugar Memorial Library on Monday listening to the sounds of Dylan’s “He Was a Friend of Mine.”

As the harmonica faded out, renowned Dylan scholar and Boston University professor Christopher Ricks told the crowd that the song was “of the utmost simplicity, but not simple-minded because of what it says about friendship.”

His lecture, entitled “Friendship: ‘Positively 4th Street’ &’ ‘He Was a Friend of Mine’,” was the first in a four-part series presented by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center this year.

“The difference between love and friendship is reciprocity,” Ricks said. “I can’t be a friend of yours unless you’re a friend of mine.”

He noted the “terrible sense of loss” that defines many of Dylan’s songs, in particular the songs he analyzed in the lectue.

“Death is a test for everything, especially friendship,” Ricks said.

A hero rejoins the fight

The story by Todd Pitman of the Associated Press shouldn’t be missed: Wounded in Iraq, double-amputee returns to war.

ASHOQEH, Afghanistan — When a bomb exploded under Dan Luckett’s Army Humvee in Iraq two years ago — blowing off one of his legs and part of his foot — the first thing he thought was: “That’s it. You’re done. No more Army for you.”

But two years later, the 27-year-old Norcross, Georgia, native is back on duty — a double-amputee fighting on the front lines of America’s Afghan surge in one of the most dangerous parts of this volatile country.


His Humvee cabin instantly filled with heavy gray smoke and the smell of burning diesel and molten metal. Luckett felt an excruciating pain and a “liquid” — his blood — pouring out of his legs. He looked down and saw a shocking sight: his own left foot sheared off above the ankle and his right boot a bloody mangle of flesh and dust.

Still conscious, he took deep breaths and made a deliberate effort to calm down.

A voice rang out over the radio — his squad leader checking in.

“1-6, is everybody all right?” the soldier asked, referring to Luckett’s call-sign.

“Negative,” Luckett responded. “My feet are gone.”


Capt. Brant Auge, Luckett’s 30-year-old company commander, said Luckett was as capable as every soldier in his company, and treated no different.

“He’s a soldier who just happens to be missing a leg,” said Auge, who is from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. “He tries to play it down as much as possible, he doesn’t like to bring a lot of attention to it.”

On one of those early patrols, Luckett took to a knee and his pants leg rode up a little bit, revealing the prosthetic limb to a shocked group of Afghan soldiers nearby, Auge said. One gave him the nickname, the “One-legged Warrior of Ashoqeh.”

This real life story of guts and heroism — of a kind that leaves me in awe — also strikes me as being an interesting counterpoint to Bob Dylan’s song John Brown.

An angle on Islam

Dr. Daniel Shayesteh was born in Iran, participated in the Islamic revolution there, and was a member of Hezbollah. He has since converted to Christianity and now shares his perspective on Islam in various venues. He recently spoke at the Faith Baptist Church in Millinocket, Maine. Part of his talk has been transcribed at the website CatholicMaine, at this link: Understanding Islam. (Thanks to Michael for forwarding the link.)

How to absorb a terrorist attack

From the new Bob Woodward book, “Obama’s Wars,”there is a reference to President Barack Obama’s perspective on the future of terrorism in the United States. From this report:

Despite warnings of another attack, he suggested the United States could weather a new strike.

“We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger,” Obama reportedly said.

Here is how to absorb a terrorist attack:

No thank you, Mr. President. Your job is something other than to count on the American people’s ability to absorb attacks.

It’s nice to be right (Paladino versus Cuomo)

One week ago the Republican primary voters in New York elected Carl Paladino to run for governor (against Andrew Cuomo) over the establishment candidate, Rick Lazio. Paladino was widely written off as an unelectable crank — and that didn’t end just because he’d won the Republican primary. (After all, this is New York, and anyone who even votes in a Republican primary qualifies as a de facto crank, at least from the point of view of those in the media.) So it was widely expected that Andrew Cuomo would steamroll Paladino in November just as he would have steamrolled the more compliant Lazio. A supposedly “popular” and “well regarded” attorney-general (like Eliot Spitzer before him), and the son of Democratic icon Mario Cuomo, Andrew hardly needed to go through the formality of an election. He may as well just get the governorship by popular acclamation (much as he received the Democratic nod as candidate).

But one week ago, immediately following the primary, I wrote that “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some “shocking” polls in a week or two show Paladino being surprisingly competitive against Prince Cuomo.” And right on schedule a poll has come out showing Paladino only six points behind, versus something like thirty points behind the last time such a poll was taken.

To add to the good news for Paladino, Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York City is this morning endorsing Andrew Cuomo. So, voters can not only stick it in the eye of Prince Cuomo by voting for Crazy Carl, but can also deliver a well-deserved punch to King Michael Bloomberg (who overturned voter-supported term limits in New York City simply so that he could buy a third term — and came within a hair of losing anyway).

The next thing to happen is that the media will be warning of the recklessness of voting loose-cannon Carl Paladino into office simply to express ire with the political establishment. Yet, if you know anything about New York and the dysfunctional madness and corruption in the state capital, Albany, you know that there is simply no possibility of things getting any worse. At least Paladino would give some of the legislators a small taste of the frustration that the citizens of New York have been experiencing.

The outcome of the election is still far from clear, of-course. One thing I now sense is a shift in the dynamics on the question of debates. Before, Cuomo was refusing to debate Paladino, figuring he had nothing to lose by ignoring him. Palladino wanted very much to debate. Now, if you ask me, their perspectives should be reversed. Cuomo ought to want to debate, hoping for some terrible gaffes by the unpolished Paladino to shift the momentum back to his Princeliness. Paladino, on the other hand, might want to just tell Andrew to go fly a kite, now that it seems like his own campaign strategy and ads are working. Just keep pounding Albany and being “the outsider.” It’s what the voters want, and they have good reason to want it.

There is little more entertaining than seeing the conventional political wise men being proved wrong so resoundingly, and repeatedly, in such quick succession. It’s been a great election season for that, and there’s still more than five weeks to go …

The beginning of the end of private health insurance

From the Los Angeles Times:

Major health insurance companies in California and other states have decided to stop selling policies for children rather than comply with a new federal healthcare law that bars them from rejecting youngsters with preexisting medical conditions.

Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna Inc. and others will halt new child-only policies in California, Illinois, Florida, Connecticut and elsewhere as early as Thursday when provisions of the nation’s new healthcare law take effect, including a requirement that insurers cover children under age 19 regardless of their health histories.


Insurers said they were acting because the new federal requirement could create huge and unexpected costs for covering children. They said the rule might prompt parents to buy policies only after their kids became sick, producing a glut of ill youngsters to insure. As a result, they said, many companies would flee the marketplace, leaving behind a handful to shoulder a huge financial burden.


The change has angered lawmakers, regulators and healthcare advocates, who say it will force more families to enroll in already strained public insurance programs such as Medi-Cal for the poor in California.

Unaffordable mandates are put on private insurers. Private insurers opt out of providing unsustainable coverage. People are forced to enroll in public insurance programs. Public insurance will not be able to cover everyone at the same levels without decreasing costs; i.e., rationing care. At least it will help the real estate market, I guess, since those death panels will soon be needing to find office space.

The only question worth asking is if this is a feature or a bug of ObamaCare. Well, considering that these very consequences were openly and publicly forecast, it most certainly has to be understood as a feature. This is an example of why, even without the “public option,” the passage of ObamaCare was intended to be the beginning of the end of private health care as we know it in the United States.

It’s clearly one of the reasons why most Americans were against it. It’s why even Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown to defeat it. And his election did defeat it … for a week or so. Yet, somehow — and you have to give Barack Obama credit for pulling it off — it was resurrected and sufficient numbers of Democrats were somehow coaxed, cajoled and lied-into voting for their own political demise. Democrats will suffer huge political losses for the sake of enacting a program that fundamentally screws up health care in America and moves people towards greater dependency on government.

Feature or bug of the Obama presidency?

Obama on Mexicans in America

So, it turns out that President Barack Obama (of the United States) was speaking to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus recently and told them, among other things, that Mexicans lived in the land we call America “long before America was even an idea.” (It was a line that earned big cheers in that caucus, by the way.)

A curious thing to say, since Mexico did not even exist as a nation when America declared its independence in 1776. But then, according to the worldview of some, America is always, first and foremost, the illegitimate party. It’s just quite something to hear that worldview coming so loudly and clearly from the man occupying the Oval Office. Every day, a new low. Continue reading “Obama on Mexicans in America” »

Bob Dylan: Not rotten in Denmark

Thanks a lot to reader Lars, from Denmark, who saw the exhibition of Bob Dylan’s paintings in Copenhagen and shares his own thoughts.

Hi Sean – I read your post quoting Danish art critic reviews of Dylan’s paintings. As I live half an hour away, I decided to go see them myself. Here’s my impressions – I do the odd oil crayon picture myself now and again, but I am no expert in art. It’s just a boyhood way of spending time that never left me. So my obeservations are those of a layman. And a Dylan fan.

What strikes me in Dylan’s paintings is the generosity and the tone of colour that is somehow in perfect alignment with Dylan’s songs. For fifty years I’ve heard people say that ‘Dylan can’t sing’ – well, the exhibition now proves that he can’t paint, either. Following the opening, people have been on television saying that this is absurd, this is ludicrous, this is just BAD. Dylan’s music has always provoked people into saying aggressive things. And his paintings have opened a whole new can of worms. But I’m not really concerned with that. What I’m concerned with is the straight-forward, generous and innocent nature of Dylan’s paintings. Looking at a picture like ‘The Sharpshooter’ – a strange composition of three figures, an older man, a woman and the shooter in a kind of library, the shooter aiming his gun out the window – I couldn’t help feeling that this is a picture that speaks to everybody. The motive and the situation is at the same time naive, obscure and completely accessible. It is a picture that would make your ten-year-old boy start talking. The execution of the painting is so ordinary that it is extraordinary. It is – to me – a great picture, and many of them are. If you expect technique, perfection and an obvious story behind them, forget it. Leonard Cohen said many years on Norwegian television that it is not the plot or them of a novel that makes it live, but the appetite with which it was written. Dylan’s appetite for painting is so obvious that it seems almost trivial to take it any further. Look at them and find what you can find. Dylan has seen more of the world than most people, these are some of his impressions, and liking them feels better than not liking them. I love them. It’s like his Christmas songs – what did they think it was going to sound like? What did they think his paintings would look like? Rembrandt? Picasso? Caravaggio? They look like Dylan, and since his cover for ‘Music from Big Pink’ has been around for forty-three years, it’s kind of bewildering that this comes as such a surprise.

Well, I get a better feeling for Dylan’s work from what Lars has written there than from what I’ve read from the critics.

By the way, Lars also paints, as he mentioned, and is also a musician. Below is the cover he’s made for his own forthcoming album, and you can listen to a previous album by him and his band at this link. It’s very nice stuff.