Bob Schwartz

Guns. Period.

Another Shooting

It is not about angry people, frustrated people, mentally ill people having guns.

It is about the finality of guns. The way they are the period on the end of a life.

It. Is. As. If. You. Took. The. Normal. Length. Of. This. Sentence. And. Broke. It. Up. Unnaturally. With. Too. Many. Periods.

When all you have to do is remove all those unnecessary periods and let the sentence flow.

Too many periods. Way too many guns.

Tell every politico who represents you that if they want to stand on a deadly and unconditional view of the Second Amendment, a view that denies any sensible and humane regulation, they can stand there all day, but without an office and without your vote.

Joe Biden and the Kennedys: Profiles in Service and Tragedy

Joe Biden

Thinking about Joe Biden’s decision on whether to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Kennedys come to mind. All the brothers.

Like the Kennedys, Biden is Irish-American, with a fanatical sense of public service and family. Like the Kennedys, he is a pragmatic liberal, maybe a bit to the left of that dynasty, but deeply aware of the obligation of those who have much to those who have much less.

(Speaking of the haves, unlike the Kennedys, Biden may be the least wealthy politician ever to emerge from decades of high-profile public service.)

Most of all, like the each of the Kennedy brothers, he has had to struggle with multiple tragedies, each one a reason to choose a different path, each one instead a reason to keep going—because of rather than in spite of.

Not a single person, no matter the party, no matter who they support, would begrudge Biden a decision not to run this time. But—unlike the position taken by those who say running might tarnish his legacy—he would crown his career by demonstrating the idea that what does not kill us can make us stronger, and can make us give more, even when so much has been taken.

August 17, 1998: Clinton Admits to Misleading People

Bill Clinton

Exactly seventeen years ago, on August 17, 1998, Bill Clinton admitted that, under oath, he had not told the truth about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Why mention this now, other than the anniversary? To understand that, you might check out the most famous quote from American philosopher George Santayana—one of the most often repeated quotes in modern times.

On that day in August, President Clinton gave a brief television address to admit: “While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information….I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people.”

Clinton was subsequently impeached by the House of Representatives on charges including perjury and obstruction of justice, but retained his office when the Senate failed to convict by a two-thirds majority.

Note in passing that his lead counsel in the impeachment trial was Cheryl Mills, who went on to become Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff at the Department of State. And that another Bill Clinton lawyer in the proceedings was David Kendall, who is currently one of Hillary Clinton’s lead attorneys in the matter of her e-mail server. For what it’s worth.

Here is an excerpt from Bill Clinton’s address to the nation:

This afternoon in this room, from this chair, I testified before the Office of Independent Counsel and the grand jury.

I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.

Still, I must take complete responsibility for all my actions, both public and private. And that is why I am speaking to you tonight.

As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information.

Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.

But I told the grand jury today and I say to you now that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action.

I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.

Birdman

Birdman

There are too many movies, good bad and ugly, so it is hard to keep up. Even with the good ones. So just yesterday I finally got to see last year’s Academy Award winner Birdman.

It is all it is supposed to be. It is what you ask for from popular art, that it be entertaining and that it be…art. It is as satisfying and memorable as a great novel. And just about as indescribable.

When it was released, and later when it was praised, there were attempts to describe the plot and, for PR purposes, the unusual production technique (it was filmed in a series of very long takes, tracking shots that lasted many minutes, so that if anything went wrong in a take—a missed line of dialogue—the entire scene had to be reshot, start to finish). Also discussed was the parallel between the story (an actor who walks away from a billion dollar comic book film franchise) and the film’s lead actor Michael Keaton (who walked away from the billion dollar Batman franchise). This point turns out to be less than inconsequential.

What is consequential is how Birdman manages to treat big topics like “life” and “art” in so fascinating a way. There is a Broadway play within the film, a drama adapted from Raymond Carver’s unusual, influential and iconic book of stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. But actually, it is the film that is sort of a Carver adaptation, fooling around with form to try saying something significant in a way that can be heard through the clutter of our expectations.

Birdman is the unexpected. The full title of the move hints at this: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Without giving much away, assuming you have seen or will see it, the movie asks you to root for a happy ending. Except you can’t see, exactly, how there could possibly be a happy ending that is true to the rest of the movie. Yet there is an unexpected ending that is entirely true to the movie, and to life and art.

I could put a quote from Ray Carver’s writing here. God knows there are hundreds of them that would be appropriate and make for good reading. It would be kind of meta, since the play-within-the-movie obviously includes some. But it would also be kind of cheesy and clichéd, and I can hear the voice of Carver laughing or at least chiding me. So just see the movie, if you haven’t. And definitely read Carver if you haven’t.

And remember that a man really can fly.

Hiroshima: The Year 70 AH and I Ching Heaven

Flag of Hiroshima City

How special is the atomic bomb? So special that many nations want one, many nations have more than one, and yet despite how crazy and desperate some nations have been in the past decades, only one nation has ever used one. A hoarded treasure so dark that it is displayed and demonstrated but not deployed.

So special that it should be the zero of a standard human calendar. Just as Jews measure time from the creation of the world, Christians from the birth of Jesus, Muslims from the hijra from Mecca to Medina, we might all measure time from August 6, 1945.

The U.S. did drop atomic bombs. Twice in three days (August 6 on Hiroshima, August 9 on Nagasaki). And divided history in half, before and after. Before, things might be brutal, tens of millions might be slaughtered, but it would take superhuman effort, and would be followed by an opportunity, however arduous, to rebuild and repopulate. After, in these times, our times, there is a theoretical prospect of erasing some, most, or all of the world and its people. Not easily, but not that hard either, leaving behind a wasteland the size of a city or country or continent.

Above is a picture of the Hiroshima municipal flag, adopted by the city in 1896, almost fifty years before the weapon that destroyed and damaged so many lives. Historians still debate the effect and necessity of the Bomb in hastening the end of the war with Japan, an argument heightened when talking about the second bomb.

On this 70th anniversary, 70 After Hiroshima, let us focus on the flag.

Brief research doesn’t reveal much about the flag’s design. But students of Asian culture might see in it one of the eight I Ching trigrams, since the Chinese oracle has been widely used across Asian nations for thousands of years.

This particular trigram, composed of three unbroken lines, is Qian. When doubled it forms Hexagram 1 of the I Ching, also known as Qian. Heaven. The Creative. Sublime success.

I Ching Hexagram 1

 
John Minford explains in his recent translation:

Heaven above Heaven. Pure Yang. This is the first of eight Hexagrams formed by doubling a Trigram of the same Name. The word chosen for the Trigram/Hexagram Name, Qian, whatever its original meaning may have been (and there are many understandings of this), came in later times to be used more and more as a shorthand for Heaven, emblem of Yang Energy and Creativity.

The classic Wilhelm/Baynes translation notes:

The first hexagram is made up of six unbroken lines. These unbroken lines stand for the primal power, which is lightgiving, active, strong, and of the spirit. The hexagram is consistently strong in character, and since it is without weakness, its essence is power or energy. Its image is heaven. Its energy is represented as unrestricted by any fixed conditions in space and is therefore conceived of as motion. Time is regarded as the basis of this motion. Thus the hexagram includes also the power of time and the power of persisting in time, that is, duration.

The power represented by the hexagram is to be interpreted in a dual sense—in terms of its action on the universe and of its action on the world of men. In relation to the universe, the hexagram expresses the strong, creative action of the Deity. In relation to the human world, it denotes the creative action of the holy man or sage, of the ruler or leader of men, who through his power awakens and develops their higher nature.

THE JUDGMENT

THE CREATIVE works sublime success,
Furthering through perseverance.

We have come a long way in 70 years, and whether or not that trajectory is to everyone’s liking, here we are. That we have managed not to drop any more nuclear bombs or fire any nuclear missiles might be a miracle, or might just be a sign of self-interest in survival coming before everything else.

That we did drop those bombs was a high price to pay for learning just how much damage the “good guys” were capable of and might feel compelled to perpetrate when dire circumstances seemed to call for it. It’s a lesson in self-awareness that we are still learning, more or less studiously. It’s a lesson that the traditions try to help us with. The devil, for example, is not an arm’s length third party who bargains and cajoles. The devil is in us, and handling it is one of our missions. The I Ching is clear on the fluid dynamics of our lives and the world, knowing that we and it flow this way and that, and heaven can be hell for a while, maybe deep and for a long while, but not forever.

Mandatory Campaign Esperanto and Poetry

The First Amendment forbids the government from controlling how political candidates campaign. Which seems a shame, since the abuse of language, logic, and truth that goes on often seems criminal, a form of citizen abuse.

But if we could make some changes, it might be fun and even enlightening. So instead of having to endure candidates pandering with their (sometimes questionable) fluency in Spanish, we could require all of them to campaign in Esperanto.

Jeb Bush might then have launched his campaign this way, almost certainly capturing the Esperanto vote:

En ajna lingvo, mia mesaĝo estos optimisma ĉar mi estas certa ke ni povos fari la jardekoj tuj antaŭ la plej granda tempo iam esti viva en tiu mondo.

Ke hazardo, ke espero postulas pli bona kiu estas en ni, kaj Mi gxin donos mian ĉiuj.

Mi kampanji kiel mi utilus, irante ĉie , parolante al ĉiuj, observante Miajn vorto, alfrontante la demandoj sen flinching, kaj restante fidela al kion mi kredas.

Mi prenos nenio kaj neniu por sentado. Mi kuras kun koro.

Mi kuras por gajni.

Ĝi komencas tie kaj nun.

Kaj mi petas vian voĉdonon.

Dankon. Dio benu vin.

In any language, my message will be an optimistic one because I am certain that we can make the decades just ahead the greatest time ever to be alive in this world.

That chance, that hope requires the best that is in us, and I will give it my all.

I will campaign as I would serve, going everywhere, speaking to everyone, keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching, and staying true to what I believe.

I will take nothing and no one for granted. I will run with heart.

I will run to win.

It begins here and now.

And I’m asking for your vote.

Thank you. God Bless You.

Even better, let us require all candidates to campaign in poetry, rather than in their often overextended, useless, uninspired, and uninspiring prose.

They could choose any genre or form that suited them and their message. Rhyming or free verse. Classic or experimental. Long or short. Of course, we would be thrilled if they would go with haiku or some other sort of micro poetry. Imagine a campaign speech only 17 syllables long. It would be blissfully over as quickly as it began. By the time they got through “God bless you and God bless the United States of America,” they would have exactly one syllable left. Which given the nonsense that we have to endure, may still be one syllable too many.

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.