Bob Schwartz

Trump says I am a citizen of American Jewland. I am not.

Newsweek:

Jewish Groups Accuse Trump of Anti-Semitism Over ‘Horrifying’ Plan to Define Judaism As a Nationality

Liberal American Jewish advocacy groups have reacted with horror to reports that President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order defining Judaism as a nationality rather than just a religion.

According to a Tuesday report from The New York Times, the president is planning the order to help combat anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses and crack down on boycott campaigns against the state of Israel.

But progressive Jewish groups suggested the reported move is actually anti-Semitic, in that casts Jews as a separate nationality to all other Americans, and arguing it could stifle legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.

The move comes as the president himself is facing renewed accusations of anti-Semitism, after a weekend speech in which he used multiple anti-Semitic tropes and again suggested that all Jews must support for the Israeli government.

The Education Department can currently withhold funding from institutions or programs that discriminate “on the ground of race, color, or national origin,” but not religion, the Times explained.

By defining Judaism as a nationality, the administration will be able to defund institutions seen to be allowing an anti-Semitic environment do develop.

But it will also help the Education Department’s efforts to quell Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions-linked movements, which seek to pressure the Israeli government to improve its treatment of Palestinians and end its continued violation of international law.

Let us parse this craven move as a political and religious matter.

Politically, the vast majority of American Jews don’t like or support Trump. If, however, he can exploit differences in the Jewish communities to weaken that opposition and resistance, his handlers believe he comes out ahead. Support for Israel, including condemnation of BDS, crosses political lines. If Trump is seen as a “hero” to some Jews, that bolsters his chronically narrow support.

Religiously, this is typically careless, as in his not caring or knowing about Judaism, Christianity or any other religious tradition. Or about history. If he did, he would understand that racializing and nationalizing Jews is an insidious matter, used to raise issues of split loyalties and to set Jews apart from “regular” citizens.

Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Available in more than 500 languages, it is the most translated document in the world.

Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble Speakers: Retiring Another Audio Component

Note: A while back I wrote about replacing an audio receiver after many years (The STR-AV1010 Is Dead ). It was a sentimental moment, since it played such a role in the soundtrack of our lives. This week another of the venerable audio components is retiring, significant not only to us but to the history of audio electronics.

Above is an ad from exactly thirty years ago, introducing the Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble Speakers. Developed by audio legend Henry Kloss, this was a breakthrough in the way quality speakers were marketed. It was relatively inexpensive compared to big-name brands, and it was being sold direct to consumers, without retail stores in the middle. These days, of course, most consumers buy speakers without hearing them first.

New York Times, February 19, 1989:

Now a new approach to speaker shopping is being promoted by a manufacturer who says, in effect: Buy my speaker by mail, sight unseen and sound unheard. If you don’t like it, send it back within 30 days, and we’ll refund your money.

One would tend to distrust such a proposition if it came from anyone less reputable than Henry Kloss, a hallowed name in audio history. During the 1950’s and 60’s – the gestation period of modern audio technology, Mr. Kloss advanced prevailing standards of speaker design with such classic innovations as the original Acoustic Research and Advent loudspeakers, which were among the first bookshelf speakers capable of wide-range sound.

Later he founded KLH, the first company to produce compact components and to make extensive use of transistorized circuits. It was partly Henry Kloss’s ideas from which, a few years later, the Japanese audio industry took its cue and rose to predominance.

I bought the speakers right away. I am not a listener with genius ears, but I appreciate good sound and good value. These speakers have been with us in all our houses, throughout the chapters of our lives. But just lately, I have heard the distortion symptom of one of the speakers failing. It is time for another set.

As with the passing of the receiver, sentiment is balanced with functionality, and so new speakers are on the way. The Ensemble will go back in the same box that arrived at our door those years ago and that they have been moved in again and again. I suspect they will be discarded someday, but not now.

Emerson and Thoreau: Make America Transcendentalist Again

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) are the most famous members of the mid-nineteenth century intellectual movement known as American Transcendentalism. Few read Emerson or Thoreau these days, unless it is a class requirement, and even then it is doubtful that much attention is paid. (Maybe the hip-hop Hamilton treatment would help.)

We have a crying need to know these American thinkers. In their time, the promise of America was being compromised. Some Americans were tired of being preached at by overzealous, narrow-minded and hypocritical religionists. Some were not being sufficiently nourished by the current culture. Some seemed to be following each other or the latest trend like sheep. Times like these are times like those. So a look back and revival of Emerson and Thoreau might not be a bad idea.


Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind….

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance


Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office—to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit. Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar


I observe that in our political elections, where this element, if it appears at all, can only occur in its coarsest form, we sufficiently understand its incomparable rate. The people know that they need in their representative much more than talent, namely the power to make his talent trusted. They cannot come at their ends by sending to Congress a learned, acute and fluent speaker, if he be not one who, before he was appointed by the people to represent them, was appointed by Almighty God to stand for a fact—invincibly persuaded of that fact in himself—so that the most confident and the most violent persons learn that here is resistance on which both impudence and terror are wasted, namely faith in a fact. The men who carry their points do not need to inquire of their constituents what they should say, but are themselves the country which they represent; nowhere are its emotions or opinions so instant and true as in them; nowhere so pure from a selfish infusion….

A healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole; so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person. He is thus the medium of the highest influence to all who are not on the same level. Thus men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Character


Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify….

The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way, are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to Heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us….

Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed. After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. “Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe,”—and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself….

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations.

Henry David Thoreau, Where I Lived and What I Lived For

Bodhi Day

“Bodhi literally means ‘awakening’, but is commonly translated as ‘enlightenment’. It denotes the awakening to supreme knowledge, as experienced by the Buddha as he sat under the Bodhi Tree at the age of 35.”
Buddhist Translation Society

Today is Bodhi Day, marking the enlightenment of the Buddha. It is not merely a reminder of something that happened. It is an inspiration for what can happen. Difficult, not necessarily achievable, but possible. Or maybe not only achievable but actual.

Millions of words have been spoken by, attributed to or written about the Buddha.

Here are a few.


If the mad mind stops, its very stopping is bodhi.
Śūraṅgama Sutra, Buddhist Text Translation Society


It is said that soon after his enlightenment the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha’s extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”

“No,” said the Buddha.

“Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?” Again the Buddha answered, “No.”

“Are you a man?”

“No.”

“Well, my friend, then what are you?” The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

Teachings of the Buddha, Jack Kornfeld


The morning of the Buddha’s enlightenment at the foot of the bodhi tree, he was so surprised. He had been meditating for the whole night. In the early morning, at the moment when he saw the morning star, he declared, “How strange! Everyone has the capacity to be awake, to understand, and to love. Yet they continue to drift and sink on the ocean of suffering, life after life.”
Sutra on the Middle Way, Thich Nhat Hanh


The back of your hand is affliction, and the palm of your hand is bodhi. Realizing bodhi is just like flipping your hand from back to palm. When you turn affliction around, it’s bodhi. Afflictions are the same as bodhi. Birth and death are the same as nirvana. If you understand, then afflictions are bodhi. If you don’t understand, then bodhi is affliction. Bodhi isn’t outside of afflictions, and there are no afflictions outside the scope of enlightenment. And so I very often cite the analogy of water and ice. If you pour a bowl of water over a person’s body, even if you use a lot of force, you still won’t hurt the person. However, if the bowl of water has turned into ice and you hit the person in the head with it, the person may very well die. Bodhi is like the water; afflictions are like the ice. If you melt ice, it becomes water; when you freeze water, it becomes ice.
Flower Adornment Sutra, Buddhist Text Translation Society

Peyote Pilgrims

“Imaginatione and historie are a fine paire.”
Made up old-fashioned quote

Some believe that the accounts of the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 have been sanitized to leave out an extraordinary detail. Somehow, it is thought by some, the Native Americans at Plymouth had traded for peyote from Southwestern tribes and shared it with the colonists at that famous three-day meal.

First, here’s the version we have, from Edward Winslow in Mourt’s Relation, published in 1622:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

The omitted mention of psychedelics explains much. For example, the outlandish hats and clothing we associate with the pilgrims in fact did not exist in that community. Instead, it is possible that those in the midst of an experience began sketching the ridiculous fashions they thought they saw. “Tall hats with buckles,” William Bradford said. “Oh wow, such hats reflect our reaching to heaven.” “Awesome!” the others who were still capable of speaking might have exclaimed.

Happy Thanksgiving (yes, we all still call the holiday that).

Dawn, again

Dawn, again

The first sip of light
can be so sweet
wonder waiting
untold possibility
once more
no promises
not even a seen sun
just a slip of blue gray
unnamed day

© Bob Schwartz

America is a nuclear plant in meltdown

Chernobyl control room

Nuclear plants are immeasurably powerful and potentially dangerous. To run properly and safely they require strict systems and conscientious people. When the systems or people fail, the power is set chaotically free. Disaster follows.

America is right at that point, though we are assured, and assure ourselves, that this is a ridiculously exaggerated metaphor, and concern should not proceed to panic. We have no historical precedent for the worst, at least not here. We believe that the Constitution, the laws, and the essential goodness and wisdom of people in power and citizens make a meltdown impossible.

What if our optimism is wrong? What if our confidence in systems and people is tragically misplaced? What, if anything, can and should we do?

The Second Coming at 100: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”

It has been 100 years since William Butler Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming, in the wake of World War I and in the early days of the Irish War of Independence. It is an unsurpassed observation of a descent into societal darkness, as order passes and chaos reigns.

It is no wonder that its phrases are some of the most borrowed by writers over the past century: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”; “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”; “what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”. Once we have read the poem, the lines force themselves on us when our lesser attempts to describe the most dire circumstances fail.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1919)

A Face in the Crowd: A Media Star Demagogue Takes Himself Down

“Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak.”

“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep! They’re mine! I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em.”

“Good night you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.”

A Face in the Crowd (1957) is a movie about an unlikely backwoods media star, a drifter named Lonesome Rhodes, who becomes a national populist icon. He believes he can sell his followers on anything, including who the next president should be.

The demagogic scheme falls apart when his real beliefs are broadcast on an open microphone.

***

ACTOR ON RHODES’ SHOW: You really sell that stiff [Senator Fuller] as a man among men?

LONESOME RHODES: Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got ’em like this… You know what the public’s like? A cage of guinea pigs. Good night you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.

***

LONESOME RHODES: This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!

MARCIA JEFFRIES: Sheep?

LONESOME RHODES: Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers – everybody that’s got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don’t know it yet, but they’re all gonna be ‘Fighters for Fuller’. They’re mine! I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em.

***