Bob Schwartz

The Interdependent Economic Technological Political Social Cultural Ecology of America

Think about all the things you love and enjoy in modern American life in 2018.

Think about all the things you don’t like—you might say hate—about modern American life in 2018.

Think about the popular concept of ecology, that there is an inescapable though sometimes subtle interdependence between all the elements of our life and our world—the good, the bad and the ugly.

Now think that the things you love and enjoy are unbreakably related to the things you hate. That, for just one tiny example, the developments in American life you most regret have been existentially dependent on the social media you lovingly embrace. If you think more, you may find that lots of the developments and capabilities you love and hate are interdependent.

Something to think about.

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James Baldwin—My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free.
James Baldwin, My Dungeon Shook (1962)

It would be obvious and appropriate to quote Martin Luther King Jr. today. Instead, though, I offer an excerpt from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, one of the great literary works on black America by one of America’s greatest writers. (For those who keep track of such things, the book has earned 343 Amazon reviews, with a rating of 4.8.)

The book includes a brief essay entitled My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation. Written in 1962, before the Civil Rights Act and the forward but fitful evolution of American society, its power is undiminished in the face of unfinished business.

Excerpts:

Dear James:

I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother. Like him, you are tough, dark, vulnerable, moody—with a very definite tendency to sound truculent because you want no one to think you are soft. You may be like your grandfather in this, I don’t know, but certainly both you and your father resemble him very much physically. Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him….

I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime….

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine—but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear….

For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your uncle,
James

“Trump allies see his involvement in shooting as overblown.”

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Donald Trump, 23 January 2016

There is no evidence that Trump has shot someone on 5th Avenue or elsewhere—or more likely that he has had someone shot, since he probably wouldn’t do it himself.

Whether or not he would lose voters if that happened, it is certain that he wouldn’t lose the support of his circle of self-serving sycophants or Republicans in Congress.

It was almost two years ago, on the campaign trail in Iowa, that Trump announced his immunity from the norms of politics, or for that matter the norms of civil behavior. Rather than concern that this might be the ranting of a disturbed and anti-social individual, it was shrugged off as the rhetoric of a colorful fringe candidate, as “Just Trump being Trump.”

That fringe candidate is now president. “Just Trump being Trump” is a mantra that is now repeated in the wake of whatever he says or does. Anything, anytime, anywhere. Even if that crazy Iowa rhetoric turns from fantasy to fact.

Most Republicans in Congress Are Political Cowards. And They Know It.

Note: As this was being readied, it was announced that two Republican Senators who attended yesterday’s infamous White House meeting released a statement saying that they “didn’t recall” Trump making the reported comments about immigration from “shithole countries”—meaning Haiti and all of Africa. As if anyone at the meeting could forget.

During the day, Republicans in Congress do their work, self-satisfied that they are doing the people’s business with conscience and integrity, serving the best interests of the nation and their constituents. They may even be considering the next election, which will allow them to continue that good work and care.

But at night, when their heads hit the pillow, how do they really feel, what do they really think? One guess is that in the dark, alone with themselves, all rationalizations and excuses fly away, for these are not necessarily bad people. They think about the courage it would take to say what they really believe and do what they really think is right. There at night, alone in the dark, they consider the value of courage, how admirable but difficult and costly it is to stand up and speak out. At that point it may be hard to get to sleep—and some may even weep in frustration and self-recrimination. The next day will undoubtedly bring another test, and they know they will not pass.

Merton: Events and Pseudo-Events

“Nine-tenths of the news, as printed in the papers, is pseudo-news, manufactured events. Some days ten-tenths. The ritual morning trance, in which one scans columns of newsprint, creates a peculiar form of generalized pseudo-attention to a pseudo-reality. This experience is taken seriously. It is one’s daily immersion in ‘reality.’ One’s orientation to the rest of the world. One’s way of reassuring himself that he has not fallen behind. That he is still there. That he still counts!

My own experience has been that renunciation of this self-hypnosis, of this participation in the unquiet universal trance, is no sacrifice to reality at all. To ‘fall behind’ in this sense is to get out of the big cloud of dust that everybody is kicking up, to breathe and to see a little more clearly.”

Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence

Grist for the Mill

Grist for the Mill

This mill does not live
By wheat alone
Barley spelt corn
Amaranth rice
Welcome and ground
Wherever whoever
Cultivates and harvests
This mill is for all
Who bake cook and eat
And might be hungry

©

Wakers and Woken

Wakers and Woken

No hand shakes my cover
No voice whispers or insists
Some are wakers
Some are woken
The birds sages
And morning remind me
Of the chaos and order
Awaiting beside my bed
Sleep over

©

Asked Whether He Can Read, Trump Holds Up a Bible

The Trump story floodgates are open, following today’s publication of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Those stories will be just as revealing as those in the book.

Today, Joe Scarborough writes about one of his experiences with Trump. Scarborough and his MSNBC cohost/girlfriend Mika Brzezinski were once supporters of Trump, until the reality of Trump came clear to them, with Trump then turning on them. Scarborough writes:

Mika Brzezinski and I had a tense meeting with Trump following what I considered to be a bumbling debate performance in September 2015. I asked the candidate a blunt question.

“Can you read?”

Awkward silence.

“I’m serious, Donald. Do you read?” I continued. “If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?”

Taken aback, Trump quietly responded that he could while holding up a Bible given to him by his mother. He then joked that he read it all the time.

The message here from Trump is typically vague and mysterious—and probably dishonest. Does he mean that since he reads the Bible all the time, he can and does read anything? Does he mean that since he reads the Bible, he doesn’t need to read anything else? Does he believe that just holding up the Bible will provide him protection from embarrassing questions? To return to a question addressed in Fire and Fury and asked in earnest by Scarborough, can and does Trump read?

“Roy Moores wife reveals their ‘Jewish attorney’ and he’s a Christian”

Here are excerpts of a report from AL.com in Alabama:

The wife of former U.S. Senate Republican nominee Roy Moore has revealed the identity of the Moores’ “Jewish attorney” she mentioned in a Dec. 11 speech….

“We read where we were against Jews – even calling us Nazis,” she wrote in an email to AL.com. “We have a Jewish lawyer working for us in our firm – Martin Wishnatsky. Judge hired him while Chief Justice, then I hired him at the Foundation.”

Wishnatsky, in an interview with AL.com, said he graduated from the law school at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in 2012, was admitted to the Virginia Bar Association in October and interviewed with Moore after he was re-elected as chief justice in November 2012. Moore hired Wishnatsky and two other Liberty University School of Law graduates as full-time clerks in 2012, the first State Supreme Court clerks in the school’s history, according to a Liberty University press release.

Wishnatsky worked as a staff attorney at the Alabama Supreme Court from January 2013 until Moore was removed from office in 2016. Then he went to work as a staff attorney for the Foundation for Moral Law, which was founded by Roy Moore and where Kayla Moore works as president.

“I just moved down the street,” Wishnatsky said.

Wishnatsky, 73, said that he was born July 13, 1944, grew up in Asbury Park, N.J., attended Hebrew school at a Conservative synagogue and went through a bar mitzvah, but he considered his family secular, ethnic Jews, who were not very religious.

“My background is 100 percent Jewish,” he said. “My grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe, and came through Ellis Island. My parents were born in Brooklyn during World War I. There were no manifestations of faith; we were Jewish, that’s why we went to synagogue and not a church. It was just an ethnic characteristic.”

 But Wishnatsky said he accepted Christ in his thirties. “I had an experience of the reality of God at 33,” Wishnatsky said. “I knew God was real but I wasn’t sure who he was.”

He became a Mormon first, then later became an evangelical Protestant Christian.

“I’m a Messianic Jew,” Wishnatsky said. “That’s the term they use for a Jewish person who has accepted Christ.”…

As for questions about whether an ethnic Jew who converts to Christianity is a Jew or a Christian, Wishnatsky replies:

“You’re both,” he said. “You’re a Jewish person that’s accepted Christ. Jesus was a Jew. Most Jews are not religious. That’s how I grew up. There are the Orthodox who are very serious about Judaism. It’s about whether you think God is real, and whether you’re accountable to him. It’s whether you take God seriously. It took me quite a few years to take God seriously.”

Wishnatsky appears to be intelligent, well-educated and sincerely faithful. He is also wrong in his conclusion that he is a Jew.

A tenet of classical Judaism is that a messiah will come. In modern times, many Jews have relinquished a belief in the coming of the messiah, while others believe that he will still be coming.

Some of the most dramatic moments in Jewish history are claims by individuals to be the promised messiah—Sabbatai Zvi in the 17th century, Jacob Frank in the 18th century, for example. All such claims were ultimately rejected by Judaism.

In one extraordinary case, a handful of Jews came to believe that a man named Jesus was the messiah. This handful was joined by a handful of non-Jews, and together that handful became billions.

Even with that Jesus phenomenon, however, Judaism never acknowledged that the messiah had yet come. The belief that Jesus is that messiah is antithetical to Judaism. Saying that you are a Jew does not make you a Jew, no matter how much in your heart you believe it. (There are also theological arguments to be made, particularly for Christians with certain trinitarian beliefs that do not fit Jewish monotheism, but that is another discussion for another day.)

I have had a fair amount of experience with messianic Jews, including a number in and around Alabama. Anyone who has read my writing knows of my respect for faith and the faithful. But respect for faith and the faith of others is not blind or mindless. Respectfully, Martin Wishnatsky may be a lot of things, but he is not a Jew. His saying so, and Mrs. Roy Moore vouching for him, won’t change that.

ABBA Saves the Day

So when you’re near me, darling, can’t you hear me, S.O.S.
The love you gave me, nothing else can save me, S.O.S.

Yeah, yeah, some things are messed up. But then ABBA’s Take a Chance came on the playlist. Things are still not all right, but for four minutes, it seemed like it.

Propulsive, like listening to a sleek Swedish train gliding down the tracks. Just try not moving your hips, no matter how spastic you think you look. Like Nick Lowe said in an album title, this is “Pure Pop for Now People.”

ABBA is my prescription for the day.