Bob Schwartz

Samsung’s Fruit Identity Crisis

Apple Banana

Samsung wants to be an apple. What it fails to understand is that it was on its way to being a banana: basic, useful, nutritious, delicious—and ultimately way more interesting and even sexier than an apple.

Instead, it tried to be a bunch of different fruits, bigger and smaller, adding and subtracting features and flavors. In the end, it’s like one of those odd and unusual fruits that you see in Whole Foods but don’t know the name of, and don’t care because you pretty much still prefer bananas.

Okay, that’s not their only problem. They developed durable devices that worked better than well and didn’t really need replacement very often. (Apple solved this problem by convincing its tribe to switch from Fuji to Golden Delicious to Jonathan, even though they were still and all just the same fruit. Samsung couldn’t get away with this.) Samsung eliminated core features that people really liked, such as slots for a memory card. On top of that, Samsung has to deal with having a mediated channel, where wireless providers are still the last marketer and last link between them and the consumer. The feelings of most digital consumers towards their digital service providers range from frustrated tolerance to outright disgust. So having those companies as your “salespeople” is never going to be ideal.

There may not be a good solution for Samsung, at least not one that will maintain their thwarted expectations of ever-increasing sales and profits. But one thing they might do is stop thinking about apples and start thinking about why and how much people really love bananas.

Bill Evans, Peace Piece

Bill Evans

If you need seven minutes in heaven, try Peace Piece, a piano improvisation recorded by Bill Evans in 1958. Leaving you here, transporting you there and back, where everything will be the same, just a little bit better.

Thusness

Soul Nebula

Thusness, suchness, tathata in Sanskrit, the ultimate and unconditioned nature of things.
Things as they are. Things as it is.

It is thought of as a Buddhist concept, or an Eastern concept. But it is basic to every faith and wisdom tradition, once you peel away many layers of sometimes self-righteous or overly fussy codification and interpretation. The Christian gospels, unconditioned by unnecessary accretions, are just one example. It would appear that Jesus could speak for himself, plainly articulating thusness as well as any other realized teacher.

Talking about thusness is challenging for some of the wisest people ever. Which puts me at a humble and stupid disadvantage. But fools, like me, rush in.

Is thusness seemingly separate from you?

Yes.

Are you within it?

Yes.

Is it within you?

Yes.

What does it contain?

Among other things, it contains all the attributes we usually consider good and admirable: love, compassion, justice, healing, and on and on.

Does thusness define those attributes?

No. People define those attributes, sometimes in long and complex detail. These definitions seem to help people act on these attributes. This act is loving, this act is not. This act is just, this act is not. It is a practical matter.

Is there a problem with defining the attributes?

No, except that people, often people of good will, confuse the definitions with the attributes themselves. That is, by doing this defined thing, they believe they are acting lovingly or justly. They may be wrong.

Is this a problem?

No, unless people forget to look back to the source of those attributes in thusness. If they identify their particular definition with the essence of the attribute, saying that compassion or justice means exactly what I say it means, they are grounded in themselves.

Is there a solution?

Every faith and wisdom tradition offers the same solution, though the terms may be different. The solution is eliminating the seeming separation from thusness, which leads to realizing that thusness is in you and you are in it. That way, when you hear or consider the attributes of love, justice, and so on, you don’t stop at someone else’s definition or at your own. You look deeper, to an ultimate source, that at once makes the attribute less certain and more complicated, and yet more real and simpler.

The Confederate Flag Solution

Confederate Battle Flag

A current thought is that erasing Confederate flags is a small but effective step in diminishing racism in America. More is better, and so if the effort is doubled and doubled again, we will be just that little bit closer to racial harmony and tolerance. Not a complete solution, but at least a sign of enlightenment and progress.

The effort and the self-congratulation that go with it avoid a couple of matters.

American racism is wide and deep. Even as it seems to wane, social media and having cameras everywhere is going to put once private prejudice on bold and sometimes vicious public display. Fully acknowledging it in all its forms is something to do next, but only when finger pointers check themselves and their own for hidden vermin. It is the age of actual glass houses.

The second point is that racism may not and likely will not disappear soon as a major force, no matter how we try. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but human nature and history give us pause. We can and should shield people from the effects of racism. The rights to do freely or be free of nasty consequence should be guaranteed. But that in no way assures evolution, and in some cases provokes nasty reaction. We might as well learn to live with racism, not so much accepting or condoning it, but digging deeper to learn what we can about the weaknesses that pervade life and self. One day that work of transcending racism may be successful. But that day is not today.

Just as we might acknowledge the prevalence of secret racism, including in ourselves, we might admit that racism is stubborn and intractable. We don’t have to punish ourselves on either count. But the rare process of candid self-examination might ultimately be more valuable than merely basking in the glow of having done the right but very tiny thing.

Winnie-the-Pooh

winnie-the-pooh

Winnie-the-Pooh is not only a children’s book, not exactly, though it should be read to and by every child. It wasn’t read to or by me as a child, but I found it later anyway, and have never let go of it since.

Pooh, as you know or might have heard, is a bear formally known as Edward Bear, but nicknamed by his friend Christopher Robin. He lives with his other friends Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and her baby Roo in the Hundred Acre Wood.

In this bit from Chapter 7, Pooh and friends are trying to distract Kanga so that they can capture her baby. Pooh recites some spontaneous poetry:

“Talking of Poetry,” said Pooh, “I made up a little piece as I was coming along. It went like this. Er–now let me see–“

“Fancy!” said Kanga. “Now Roo, dear–“

“You’ll like this piece of poetry,” said Rabbit

“You’ll love it,” said Piglet.

“You must listen very carefully,” said Rabbit.

“So as not to miss any of it,” said Piglet.

“Oh, yes,” said Kanga, but she still looked at Baby Roo.

“How did it go, Pooh?” said Rabbit.

Pooh gave a little cough and began.

LINES WRITTEN BY A BEAR OF VERY LITTLE BRAIN

On Monday, when the sun is hot
I wonder to myself a lot:
“Now is it true, or is it not,”
“That what is which and which is what?”

On Tuesday, when it hails and snows,
The feeling on me grows and grows
That hardly anybody knows
If those are these or these are those.

On Wednesday, when the sky is blue,
And I have nothing else to do,
I sometimes wonder if it’s true
That who is what and what is who.

On Thursday, when it starts to freeze
And hoar-frost twinkles on the trees,
How very readily one sees
That these are whose–but whose are these?

On Friday—-

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” said Kanga, not waiting to hear what happened on Friday. “Just one more jump, Roo, dear, and then we really must be going.”

Note to English and philosophy professors: Shakespeare is great, but if you are not including A.A. Milne and his Pooh books in your syllabus, you are shortchanging your students. As for philosophy, “what is which and which is what?” and “who is what and what is who?” are questions that could take up a full semester, if not a lifetime.

Note to parents and children of all ages: If you are not reading Pooh to your kids or you haven’t read the book yourself, just do it.

Note to lovers: This may not seem like very romantic literature. But it contains the sort of sweet nonsensical silliness that love, stripped down to its unserious basics, is all about.

WARNING TO ALL: The Disney version of Pooh is known and beloved by many, maybe including you. Sweet Christopher Robin and Pooh would never say unkind or harsh things, such as saying that the Disney version completely misses everything wonderful about the Pooh books and characters, and that it might be deemed a creative desecration. They would never say anything like that.

Why We Should Not Give Up on Global Nuclear Disarmament

Ban the Bomb

It is picture as quaint as someone dialing a telephone: protestors in the 1950s and 1960s marching around with signs that say “Ban the Bomb.”

Quaint because so many countries now have nuclear weapons that getting rid of them all borders on the ridiculous. And it’s not just major powers; smaller nations who have developed nuclear weapons consider themselves “major” for having done so. (It sure beats the trouble of developing a sustainable, healthy economy and democracy.) Speaking of democracy, nuclear armament is all so complex that one of the bright lights of a hyperdangerous region refuses to acknowledge even having a nuclear stockpile, pretending to maintain the worst kept geopolitical secret in the world.

And yet: Blessed are the peacemakers. According to someone or other, they will be called children of God. This doesn’t mean that warmakers and hoarders of nuclear weapons aren’t children of God. It just means that the billions who live in the shadows of those bombs and missile warheads might not feel particularly blessed. That’s why we, and our children and our generations, shouldn’t give up on global nuclear disarmament, no matter how naïve or impossible it seems.

Joementum

Joe Biden

Let’s say you lined up all the presidential prospects from both parties. And just for the heck of it, let’s put Joe Biden in the lineup.

Now let’s rank them according to experience and knowledge in public service. Separate that from any partisan or ideological views—that is the wrong kind of experience and knowledge—Joe is going to stack up pretty well.

And now, let’s add the comments of Lindsey Graham a few days ago about Biden:

He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in politics. He’s as good a man as God has ever created.

That’s Lindsey Graham, a seriously conservative Republican Senator and presidential candidate. And a longtime friend and Senate colleague of Biden’s.

Okay. So we now have an undeniably experienced person who one political opponent says is the nicest person in politics and the best man on earth.

And the problem with his being the Democratic candidate is exactly what?

The only thing that will stop the momentum for Joe running is his taking himself out of consideration. Which would be understandable in many ways. But which has not yet happened.

It would be clichéd to say that this is Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare, but it is. Last time she was ambushed by a young pipsqueak upstart who just happened to be everything she was not, including black. So her major trump cards were neutralized. Now she has much more leadership experience under her belt, thanks to that upstart, and the field has mostly cleared itself away for her.

But along comes the exact opposite obstacle. A man even older than she is. A face even more familiar in American politics than hers, by decades. A man who has twice failed to win the Democratic nomination.

And yet, his experience and acumen in government and retail politics can’t be denied. Neither can his progressive views and his forthright uncalculated candor, giving rise to some unscripted moments, but also bolstering his authenticity and the affectionate concept of “Joe being Joe.”

Above all, there are no Republican politicos, and maybe not that many Democrats either, who, with all due respect, might be heard to describe Hillary Clinton thus:

She’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in politics. She’s as good a woman as God has ever created.

So if Joe wants to run, then he should run. Because the presidential race, not to mention the country, might need him more than we know.

Independence Day and STEM Democracy

Thomas Jefferson with Telescope

Is the increasing hegemony of STEM education dangerous to the future of American democracy?

In Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison, Professor I. Bernard Cohen might see it otherwise. As one of the most eminent historians of science, he makes the case that the familiarity of some Founding Fathers with science inspired the new nation, and that the shape of the new democracy was directly based on scientific principles.

One review notes about Professor Cohen’s theory:

The Declaration of Independence, which he [Jefferson] wrote, reverberates with echoes of Newtonian science, as when he invokes “self-evident” truths or “laws of nature.” Benjamin Franklin, far from being a mere tinkerer or inventor, pioneered the science of electricity. Franklin also developed a demographic theory that North America would become a population center of the British world; this led to the policy according to which the British annexed Canada rather than Guadeloupe as the spoils in the war against the French (1754-63). John Adams, who studied astronomy and physics at Harvard, was a founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston. And James Madison, a devoted amateur scientist, drew on scientific metaphors and analogies in his Federalist articles.

Maybe. But in fact, most of those in Philadelphia for the Continental Congress from which the Declaration of Independence emerged were not scientists or even science fans. And even those whose philosophy was shaped in part by science enjoyed a much broader education, one that gave complete dimension to their thinking, what we now call liberal arts. So that while the intriguing questions that Professor Cohen raises are significant, so is the parallel question: If the Continental Congress had been mostly or entirely filled with 18th century scientists, just what kind of Declaration would have been produced, and more broadly, what kind of nation would we be?

Nowhere can the nexus of Big Science and Big Political Philosophy be better seen than in Richard Rhodes’ magnificent book The Making of the Atomic Bomb. It is sort of a fun house mirror of what Cohen claims for the American founding. Rather than world-changing political thinkers with a scientific bent, we have equally historic scientists with a worldly and philosophical bent. They had been educated in the early 20th century, many in Europe, and the standard for education then and there was broad learning beyond the laboratory. In the end, their science was driven by the realities of World War II and Hitler, but that did not stop them from philosophical ponderings and quandaries about the work they were doing and its ultimate impact.

So, yes, it may be that science did help give us what by all measures is a remarkably robust and resilient democracy, starting with the rousing rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence. And we should educate scientists, to make progress and to advance the liberty, peace, and security we want. But we should also have many other thinkers, scientists or otherwise, who are capable of leading and having enlightening debates about exactly what we do need and want, and about the means we choose to get there, and about where it might lead. We do need scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. But it is never enough, not nearly enough, at least not in this democracy.

Technology Saves Us Again with Infinite Self-Tying Water Balloons

Bunch O Balloons

Just when you think that 21st century technology has served up all it can—for better or worse—along comes Bunch O Balloons .

Let them tell the story:

Bunch O Balloons is the ultimate way to make water balloons! Fill over one hundred water balloons in just seconds with this ready to go bunch of self-tying water balloons and blast the competition out of the water.

One hundred water balloons in just seconds!
Self-tying water balloons!

We barely had the audacity to wish it.
They had the inspiration and creativity to build it.

Other modern marvels will have to step aside. Even the atomic bomb—the fiercest and most significant technology of the 20th century, maybe of any century—can sit in the shadows. We now have a means of mass warfare that it is fun and relatively harmless (except to Wicked Witches and others sensitive to water). It’s true that some spoilsports will think about filling the balloons with liquids other than water. And that those who could only throw one water balloon as a symbol of protest will now have an unlimited arsenal.

But seriously, how can we not be in awe of a development so, well, awesome?

Stay dry, my friend. If you can.

The Eulogy

Obama Charleston Eulogy

Almost always, the great speech is also the right speech.

President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the eight other victims in Charleston was great and right.

We are accustomed these days to speeches from leaders and wannabe leaders that are mediocre and content-free, and if there is content it is calculated, self-serving, and passion-free. Welcome to this or mostly any other presidential contest.

Of course, Barack Obama is the exception to the run of the political mill. In fact his sometimes supernatural rhetoric ended up being a burden, as some wondered whether he was all talk and no action. Without getting into the measure of his still unfinished presidency, which this week looks pretty good, remember that under the right circumstances talk is also action, when action means talking about the thing that needs doing.

One remarkable aspect of the eulogy was the President’s use of pronouns. We and our, he repeated, and he did not mean we Americans. He meant we black Americans. In a situation that called for the highest leader and a black man, it so happens that the highest leader is a black man.

I’ve written before about my beloved Barbara Jordan, maybe the greatest American orator of the late 20th century, with multiple entries on the list of all time speeches. Before the eulogy, it may not have been clear where and if Obama belonged in that pantheon. If it wasn’t before, that has now been settled.

The eulogy was everything it could and should have been. It was a painting of a significant scene by a skilled and inspired artist. Like a great painting, it is more than even the greatest photograph can show us. Look here, he said, think about this, remember this, all the while appealing to the heart and soul of his audience and of the nation. We have watched hours of news coverage of the events in Charleston, reviewed and analyzed and opined upon. But the magic of a speech or a painting is that by adding words and pictures, the obstacles to our really seeing are removed, the scales fall away, and we look as if for the first time. And with that vision, maybe move on to act wisely and appropriately.