Its baroque eloquence is nothing less than an imperishable monument to the mysteries and longings of the human heart. Its stately cadences, like waves of rolling thunder, rock the firmament starting with the most awe-inspiring opening in the history of literature: “In the beginning God created the heaven, and the earth.” From this simple, short, declarative sentence the King James Bible soars in winged flight with the Complete Works of Shakespeare to the very summit of English literature. On the 400th anniversary of the completion of the text, it continues to shape and define our culture, language and history.
In March of 1603, by decree of King James I, black-gowned clergymen with no conspicuous literary pedigree labored for eight years to capture the rhythm and sonorities of the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. The author Adam Nicholson called them “God’s secretaries,” because of the treasures they unearthed from the black soil of ancient literature. Genius is rarely found in the dry and bloodless pronouncements of committees; but Elizabethan England proved the exception, even though absent from the committee was the 39-year-old playwright William Shakespeare, who was just then reaching the heights of literary expression.
Recent Op-Ed pieces in prominent newspapers have suggested that with proper regulatory oversight, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” can be accomplished safely in New York, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and bringing much needed economic benefits to hard-hit areas of the state. If the issue was that simple, and if the statements were true, surely everyone would be in favor.
But the facts don’t support these statements, and the issue is not as simple as the TV ads would have citizens believe. Fracking is an inherently dangerous and destructive extreme form of energy extraction that brings with it a myriad of serious environmental and economic problems. Now that we have the opportunity to see how fracking has actually impacted citizens in Pennsylvania and other states, we can more easily distinguish fact from fantasy and make smarter choices for New York.
I was three-quarters the way through Christopher Hitchens’ tome of essays entitled Arguably, when I got word of the fiery controversialist’s death. Suffering from esophageal cancer, the news of his demise was not unexpected. Encountering the Oxford-educated Hitchens was an experience; his often sneering, contemptuous, supercilious style did not lend itself to a polite, cerebral colloquy, but a rough and tumble brawl replete with eye gouging, head butting and an occasional knee to the groin without so much as an apology.
His life was one big fight. I suspect he even grappled with himself, notwithstanding his legendary savoir-faire and cool self-assurance. His bacchanalian lifestyle included smoking more than 15,000 cigarettes a year and a daily consumption of alcohol that, he boastfully noted, could kill a small mule. His craving for nicotine was so intense, he actually smoked in the shower. Hitchens lived life burning the candle at both ends and it cast, he assured us, a lovely light.
For fans of the television program Seinfeld, one of the most beloved episodes introduces a rebuttal to the year-end frenzy, a made-up holiday called “Festivus.” The brainchild of George’s father, a character named Frank Costanza, the traditions of his invented holiday are exercises in dysfunction but of course, pretty funny.
One of the “traditions” is the “airing of grievances” in which people take a moment to explain to family members how they’ve disappointed them in the past year. As an elected official, I’ve often joked that it might be nice to have people “air grievances” just once a year as opposed to sharing them constantly. To be sure, the most difficult part of this type of service is answering people’s criticisms.
One of the concerns involving the ongoing debate relating to potentially allowing a casino anywhere in Nassau County is whether the surrounding local community will be protected from any negative impacts. As our discussions of Floral Park’s Statement of Principles have demonstrated, there are a host of issues that must be resolved before any ceremonial groundbreaking takes place. While the chant of “jobs, jobs, jobs” to the persistent drum beat of casino lobbyists tries to drown out the voices of concerned citizens with legitimate issues, fortunately our democracy still allows for such debate.
Among claims regularly made by casino lobbyists are promises of a steady revenue stream for local communities. A recent ruling by a federal court in Minnesota, however, raises serious concerns even about that issue; whether the State of New York, Nassau County or even the Incorporated Village of Floral Park can be assured that promises made by a federally recognized sovereign Indian nation can be relied upon in the future when making decisions about hosting a casino.
When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, a place described by astronaut Buzz Aldrin as “magnificent desolation,” it was the summit of the American space program. Like many youngsters, I was thrilled by the high stakes and high adventure of man’s gambit into the starry unknown. My enthusiasm fueled my imagination and worked itself into a frenzy of possibilities. That lunar surface, which for untold centuries had bewitched its nightly observers from afar, now bore for the first time man’s footprints and everything seemed to be within our grasping reach.
My untutored ambition saw our flag being planted on Martian soil within a few short years and then — eternity and beyond? It was the age of the television series Star Trek and flights of fancy were common. There was only one slight problem with my fondest hopes: reality. It is one thing to send a flesh and blood human being 238,000 miles to the moon, quite another to hurtle him 53 million miles to Mars and back. The distances are telling and often decisive. For all the triumph and glory of the Apollo program, it was also humbling in that feting our desires it also sobered our hopes. Interstellar space travel in our lifetimes, young as we were, quickly fizzled.
The editor of this newspaper had a request. Would I like to write about a holiday memory that is heartfelt, humorous or inspirational? No, not really. But, on the other hand, why not?
We all know memories of Christmases past can enrapture, but it’s not all about “sugarplums dancing in your head.” Childhood, as I reflect on it, was as much a place of terror as it was of innocence. Not that my childhood was spent as an apprentice in some blacking factory nor as an esurient urchin singing carols for alms on Christmas Eve, but I hardly found the first spring of life the lush Eden people make it out to be. This might have been because I was the oldest, precociously sensitive to the uncertainty of the world and genetically indisposed to embrace any Pollyanna-ish outlook that would assure smooth sailing over life’s rougher seas.
It started even earlier this year. No sooner were Halloween decorations put away than began the blitz of drugstore Santas and catalogs from retailers eager to seize the first Christmas dollar. I happen to be a big fan of Thanksgiving so I find it a pretty sad state of affairs when people rush away from their turkey dinners to stand in bone-crushing lines for a flat screen TV. I try to remember that everyone marches to their own drum, but alas, it seems our venerable holiday might soon become known as “the day before Black Friday.”
The news that day was dark indeed. A near-riot broke out as consumers battled for $2 waffle irons while elsewhere parking-lot marauders robbed shoppers of their goods. In one store, bargain hunters stepped over a fallen heart-attack victim to continue their spree but the year’s most bizarre performance belongs to the consumer who pepper-sprayed other patrons to get an Xbox 360.
It is frequently remarked that our best thoughts come to us while we are in that quasi-dreamlike state, just before we helplessly saunter off into the deep, soothing catacombs of delirium that constitutes sleep. I’ve often experienced an inchoate thought that crystallizes in my quasi-somniferous brain, only to be left to drift aimlessly in the nether regions of consciousness waiting for the morning light to commit these cerebral sunbursts to paper. Too often, however, I awake to find that these meanderings have vaporized along with the disappearing darkness.
I must have forgotten how much I dreaded impromptu writing assignments because this past month I asked sixth-graders in our district to do just that – write a Thanksgiving essay about what they’re thankful for. Despite jam-packed schedules and “tons of homework,” more than 300 participated. I had the pleasure of meeting many of them at a recent recognition ceremony. While I realize the assignment wasn’t easy for them, it did make it abundantly clear that we can all be thankful that our young people offer us some real promise.
Despite their youth, our students show remarkable wisdom and empathy, not just for those struck by misfortune but for their families who navigate everyday challenges with love and sacrifice. I am struck by their heightened awareness of issues that we would consider adult realities, and by their uncanny ability to boil it down to what really matters. I couldn’t do it any better, so here are just a few observations from your local sixth graders on what we should be thankful for.
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