Bob Schwartz

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.

Obamacare and the Republican Phantom Replacement Plan

mystery-box

The Supreme Court has turned back the latest challenge to the legality of Obamacare. Republicans have returned to their mantra of “repeal and replace,” if only they can have the White House and Congress.

This is not to discuss the merits, wisdom or effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act. It is just to ask a basic and obvious question: If after five years the Republicans have replacement plans, what and where are they?

It appears, as is common in partisan politics, that a snappy slogan is meant to preempt any thoughtfulness or inquiry, let alone actual proposals. In this case, it would be great to have seen a comprehensive alternative plan. But that would mean actually devising a plan that would be politically palatable and effective. Which, as far as we can tell, hasn’t yet happened.

It’s a matter of trust, as in, trust us. But it was none other than Republican icon Ronald Reagan who said, “Trust but verify.” And it was the most recent Republican President George W. Bush who said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice……you can’t fool me again.”

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’

Laudato Si'

The Pope’s new encyclical, Laudato Si’, has been much in the news. Whatever you’ve heard about it, if you haven’t seen it, you really don’t know the whole story.

You’ve heard it is about the environment and climate change, which is in small part true. You’ve heard Catholic presidential hopefuls such as Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal admonish the Pope, their spiritual father, telling him to stick to religion and stay out of politics.

The encyclical is much bigger than climate change, the environment, and certainly bigger than Bush or Jindal or dozens of politicians. It is a big statement about the moral and religious shortcomings of this modern world and us modern people. You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or faithful or religious to read and appreciate it. You just have to read it.

It is full of inconvenient and uncomfortable truths. Which is probably why the coverage has focused on the environmental exhortations, rather than on the broader cultural, media, technological and social ones. In essence, it is nothing less than a call for radical evolution, in the spirit of the radical evolutionary upon whom the church is built. There are plenty of established institutions and powerful interests and individuals, including the media, who could be forced to change if such radical evolution came to pass. And many of them don’t want to change, and don’t even want us to listen to the Pope talking about it.

The encyclical is a long and deep but very readable work. Download it, sample it. You don’t have to read it all, or all at once. It is naturally grounded in theology, and in some particular theology, but be assured that the observations and conclusions don’t require you to hold any sectarian beliefs. It only requires that we believe that things are far from perfect, and that after we take a close look at ourselves and others, we believe that we have the power and obligation to make things better.

It is filled with so much quotable inspired thought and inspiration. Here is just one brief excerpt:

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

Laudato Si’ PDF

Laudato Si’ epub and Kindle

Renouncing Hate as a Political Weapon

Hate is a part of our human experience, as hater and hated. We hope and try to minimize or even eliminate it, but at least a little, there it has been and there it is.

Some will say that its ugliest manifestation is the sort of thing we see in Charleston and in similar incidents. But maybe even uglier, and maybe louder and more common, is the use of hate as a political weapon, sometimes by some very high level and ambitious and otherwise respected political leaders and aspirants.

It may not look like hate. It may be clothed in high-minded rhetoric and ideology. But at its heart, the expressions of how awful, how ungodly, the persons and positions of political enemies are is nothing less than hateful. Hate and intolerance in a good cause, the perpetrators will argue. But hate nonetheless.

We can no more eliminate hate then we can its brighter correlates of love, understanding and compassion. But the least we can ask of those in positions of power and authority, and of those who strive for even higher positions, is to renounce hate as a weapon. They don’t have to go all soft and lovey. But they do have to forego spreading poison and thereby making poison acceptable. It isn’t, and when it becomes so, we shouldn’t be wondering where all the hate comes from. Politician or regular citizen, it comes from us.

Broken Memory Card Books

Micro SD Card

The micro SD memory card I inserted into my tablet is now broken. Literally. Bent in two places. All the books, music and movies on it cannot be accessed. (How it got that way is another story. Also, all you cloud storage lovers can please be quiet about “This is why cloud storage is so much better.” I like my local electrons.)

This is not a tragedy in so many ways: compared to the rest of the world, the rest of my life, the rest of my digital life. None of the media was lost; it is simply a matter of loading a new card with any of them.

Micro SD cards are very small and delicate, but powerful. The size of thumbnail, this one had 32 GB (gigabyte) of memory. The average book is less than 1 MB (megabyte), a music track around 5 MB. One GB is about 1,000 MB. Not that I had a thousand books on that broken card (more like a few hundred), but I could have.

This is an opportunity. Rather than ask the memory card to remember all sorts of books that I might have loaded because I liked them a little or liked them once or thought them possibly interesting, but never actually got around to any more if at all, I will load the new card slowly and carefully, one by one, starting with those books that have meaning for me that is essential or nearly so. The moment I realized I was going to be starting over, I knew almost exactly which those were. Rather than desert island books, these are my broken memory card books.

There are metaphors about memory here, some pretty interesting ones, and you might have fun playing around with them. I might have time to do that too. But right now, I have put in a new card, and I’m about to load the first book. It won’t last forever as the only book on my tablet, but for now, it will be the center of my reading universe—a status it deserves.

Friday Songs

The Cure

2015 good or bad? Stupid question, because here it is now, as it is. On the plus side, you can put any search term in your Spotify and see and hear any tracks that mention the term in the title, album or artist. Like “Friday”.

Today is Friday. Friday is probably the second most used day in music. No contest that Saturday is first, but we’ll leave that for another post.

Here are some Friday tracks:

Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), Katy Perry – We don’t know whether in the future pop music historians will regard Katy Kat as a significant groundbreaking artist who moved music in directions no one had even conceived. We do know that she is massively popular and that her music embodies Pure Pop for Now People. T.G.I.K.

Friday Night August 14, Funkadelic – Funkadelic was not ahead of their time. They were their own time, past present future, combining the then with the now with the what will be, all on the Mothership. No boundaries here or on its album Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow. Mark Ronson successfully revived James Brown style for the biggest hit of this year, Uptown Funk. I don’t hear anyone trying to revive Funkadelic, because they are always being born. If you don’t believe me just listen.

Friday On My Mind, The Easybeats – A great slice of 60s pop. Later covered by David Bowie for his Pin Ups album covering some of his favorite oldies.

Current Favorite Friday Song: Friday I’m In Love, The Cure – The Cure bridged the changing landscape of pop from the late 70s to early 90s. Some say they were the beginning of emo, most of us don’t care because labels don’t matter and it’s only in the grooves. Maybe this irresistible hit from 1992 is sprightly emo: jangly guitar and upbeat message about the freedom of Friday. Thank you Robert Smith.

I don’t care if Monday’s blue
Tuesday’s grey and Wednesday too
Thursday I don’t care about you
It’s Friday I’m in love

Monday you can fall apart
Tuesday, Wednesday break my heart
Thursday doesn’t even start
It’s Friday I’m in love

Saturday wait
And Sunday always comes too late
But Friday never hesitate…

I don’t care if Monday’s black
Tuesday, Wednesday heart attack
Thursday never looking back
It’s Friday I’m in love

Monday you can hold your head
Tuesday, Wednesday stay in bed
Or Thursday watch the walls instead
It’s Friday I’m in love

Dressed up to the eyes
It’s a wonderful surprise
To see your shoes and your spirits rise
Throwing out your frown
And just smiling at the sound
And as sleek as a shriek
Spinning round and round
Always take a big bite
It’s such a gorgeous sight
To see you eat in the middle of the night
You can never get enough
Enough of this stuff
It’s Friday
I’m in love

Compassion

A primary act of compassion is to lift the load and not add to the load of others.

Easy to say, not easy to do. Can you smile if unjoyful? Can you sing a happy song when you feel like a dirge?

Being true to your little self, no matter how dark it is, might seem like a good idea—if there is a little self, separate from the rest. We may be encouraged to let it all out, whether as a shout or a sulk. The complication is that if you think you are the center of the universe, privileged to make its own weather, you are right. You are the center of the universe, but so is everyone else. If they are to live subject to your clouds and storms, so you do to theirs.

Compassion, of which joy is an instrument, is at the top of the list for two reasons. It is the most powerful. And it is the hardest. So when next you wrap yourself in a blanket of seemingly private sadness, consider that you are most probably not alone. And that the smallest bit of light might be a big gift.

Mad Men: This Is the Way the World Ends

The Real Thing

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot
The Hollow Men

Readers and viewers know whether they like or are satisfied with the way a novel or movie ends. But they may not recognize the burden of creating those endings, not just to short forms, but to sagas and epics, where possibilities are exponential, and where those dutifully following the tale and trail may be looking for those elusive treasures: resolution and meaning.

It is not surprising that the final episode of Mad Men was written and directed by the show’s creator Matthew Weiner. How could it have been otherwise?

Mad Men is a work of literature disguised as a television show. There are a number of hallmarks of literature and art, including the engagement of those who see and hear. But maybe even above that is coherence, holding together as a work, from one corner of the canvas to another, from the first to last note of the symphony.

Mad Men doesn’t fit it into any particular artistic category: impressionistic or expressionistic, realistic or fantastic, Freudian or Jungian. If anything, it delves into magical realism, where ghosts are real and real people are ghosts and anything can happen and make sense.

Or not make sense. The story of Mad Men in essence begins with the death of the original Don Draper in Korea. Over time, others die, couples come together and apart, people have sex, families are raised, business are started and bought and sold, jobs are lost and found, money is made and spent, some are miserable while others are happy, some grow and all just grow older.

All of it makes just enough sense to be a story. None of it makes enough sense to defy reality, gravity, or time. What more could you ask for? Meaning? What more were you expecting? It’s just the real thing.

Chaos and Order in the Bible

The most important section of the Old Testament, even for non-readers and non-believers, is the beginning, the stories of creation up to the appearance of people. (Stories plural, because there are two different versions of creation in Genesis.)

The second thing that happens in the Bible is that God brings order. But the first thing is the chaos from which that order is brought, chaos presumably also created, and created first.

For most of our religions and their histories, this task of putting matters in good order has been a primary mission. Protocols, hierarchies, calendars, rules. In imitation of God. Orderliness is next to godliness. Order, though, in religion and in our lives, can take on the color of compulsion.

Chaos not only preceded order in the Bible, it became a continuing theme. People are constantly getting lost and tossed around, in floods, in deserts. Being found or finding a way is presumed to be the highest value. And yet the very first moment is not just chaos, but created chaos. Not just a necessary predicate, but a necessary ongoing and perpetual element. No lost, no found.