Bob Schwartz

In America It’s Now Every Man, Woman and Child for Themselves

The founders of America had a dream, fueled by the Enlightenment and by what we might call Christian realism about how people really are.

It would be ideal to depend on the kindness of strangers, but experience has shown that strangers cannot always be relied on and are not always kind. Instead, as a national community, we are committed—by the Constitution those founders hammered out—to “promote the general welfare.”

With many ups and downs, and some real gaps, that has generally worked out during the first two centuries of that American dream. Those days may not be over, but the founding principle is under serious, if not existential, threat.

The Shutdown is just one example, but a glaring one. At best, Trump and his cohort believe that forcing federal workers to work without pay will be taken care of by the private sector. At worst and most likely, they just don’t care.

America has tried political philosophies that leaned to individual self-help and more limited government. But never before has the governing philosophy (if you can call it that) literally pushed Americans—Americans working for other Americans—into forced labor and economic hardship.

Welcome to Trump America, where it’s every man, woman and child for themselves.

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Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

“Humpty dumpty” was eighteenth-century slang for a short and clumsy person. (Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English)


Through the Looking Glass (Alice in Wonderland), Chapter 6

However, the egg only got larger and larger, and more and more human: when she had come within a few yards of it, she saw that it had eyes and a nose and mouth; and when she had come close to it, she saw clearly that it was Humpty Dumpty himself….

‘And how exactly like an egg he is!’ she said aloud, standing with her hands ready to catch him, for she was every moment expecting him to fall.

‘It’s very provoking,’ Humpty Dumpty said after a long silence, looking away from Alice as he spoke, ‘to be called an egg — very!’

‘I said you looked like an egg, Sir,’ Alice gently explained. ‘And some eggs are very pretty, you know’ she added, hoping to turn her remark into a sort of a compliment.

‘Some people,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking away from her as usual, ‘have no more sense than a baby!’…

‘What a beautiful belt you’ve got on!’ Alice suddenly remarked.

(They had had quite enough of the subject of age, she thought: and if they really were to take turns in choosing subjects, it was her turn now.) ‘At least,’ she corrected herself on second thoughts, ‘a beautiful cravat, I should have said — no, a belt, I mean — I beg your pardon!’ she added in dismay, for Humpty Dumpty looked thoroughly offended, and she began to wish she hadn’t chosen that subject. ‘If I only knew,’ the thought to herself, ‘which was neck and which was waist!’

Evidently Humpty Dumpty was very angry, though he said nothing for a minute or two. When he did speak again, it was in a deep growl.

‘It is a — most — provoking — thing,’ he said at last, ‘when a person doesn’t know a cravat from a belt!’

‘I know it’s very ignorant of me,’ Alice said, in so humble a tone that Humpty Dumpty relented.

‘It’s a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say….

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Brightness (Li)

Hexagram 30


Li • Brightness

The structure of the gua is Fire above, Fire below. The attribute of Fire is attachment as well as brightness. When two Fire gua are combined, the Brightness is doubled. During times of darkness and danger people should cling to one another. When they do, things get brighter.

Decision

Brightness.
Favorable to be steadfast and upright.
Prosperous and smooth.

SIGNIFICANCE

The attribute of Li is brightness, which symbolizes intelligence and wisdom. Being embarrassed by unresolved problems feels like falling into darkness. Finding a solution is compared to a light that casts out the darkness. This gua, Brightness, sheds light upon the distinction between right and wrong. If one’s attitude is not sincere and wholehearted, one is not able to distinguish between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.

Master Alfred Huang, The Complete I Ching


Li • Radiance

Inexhaustible and penetrating everywhere, radiance brings forth wild bounty. Nurture it like the docile strength of an ox, and good fortune will prevail.

Radiance is all beauty, beauty of heaven’s sun and moon, beauty of the land’s hundred grains and grasses and trees.

Sun and moon, fire and fire—using the beauty at the hinge of things, they transform and perfect all beneath heaven. And because the tender assent of this beauty is centered at the very hinge of things, it penetrates everywhere. And so: nurture it like the docile strength of an ox, and good fortune will prevail.

David Hinton, I Ching: The Book of Change


Li • Fire

Sun and Moon
Are attached to Heaven.
The Hundred Grains,
The grasses and trees,
Are attached to Earth,
To the soil.
Double Brightness
Is attached to Truth,
Truth
Which transforms and perfects
All-under-Heaven.

This Hexagram is formed by doubling the Li Trigram: Fire, Light, and Sun: also warmth, radiance, and clarity; Outer and Inner Illumination; and Attachment.

What is Illumination? It is the ability to see “with continuous clarity” the original Strength or Essence of things. This Vision itself comes from Inner Strength, from Sincerity at the Center of Being, reaching out and connecting with the outside, with “the Four Quarters.” Nothing can deceive it. It sees things as they are. It sees that everything, everywhere, to left and right, is the Tao, Connected, Attached. Illumination itself spreads like Fire. It is a chain reaction. Fire is not a substance, it is an event, an interaction.

John Minford, I Ching: The Book of Change


Li • The Clinging, Fire

What is dark clings to what is light and so enhances the brightness of the latter. A luminous thing giving out light must have within itself something that perseveres; otherwise it will in time burn itself out. Everything that gives light is dependent on something to which it clings, in order that it may continue to shine.

Thus sun and moon cling to heaven, and grain, grass, and trees cling to the earth. So too the twofold clarity of the dedicated man clings to what is right and thereby can shape the world. Human life on earth is conditioned and unfree, and when man recognizes this limitation and makes himself dependent upon the harmonious and beneficent forces of the cosmos, he achieves success. The cow is the symbol of extreme docility. By cultivating in himself an attitude of compliance and voluntary dependence, man acquires clarity without sharpness and finds his place in the world.

Each of the two trigrams represents the sun in the course of a day. The two together represent the repeated movement of the sun, the function of light with respect to time. The great man continues the work of nature in the human world. Through the clarity of his nature he causes the light to spread farther and farther and to penetrate the nature of man ever more deeply.

Wilhelm/Banes, The I Ching or Book of Changes

Three Ways Through a Wall

Three Ways Through a Wall

1

Fists feet and head
bruised from banging
barely a crack

2

Build an opening in a wall
a wall around an opening

3

Walk through
what wall?

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The Clash: The Band That Still Matters

Spotify says that The Clash has 7,231,128 monthly listeners, making them the world’s 422nd most listened to artist on Spotify.

Glass half-empty, half-full, as there should be far more. The good news is that people are still listening in substantial numbers, and with about 2 million artists on Spotify, 422 is more than respectable.

From their first record in 1977 to their disbanding in 1986, they combined inspired, catchy and hard-driving pop music with aggressive messaging. During some dynamically difficult times, particularly in the UK, they called themselves “The Only Band That Matters.” They still do.

There is pop music today that actually is, or at least fashions itself to be, aggressive and transgressive, particularly on the hip-hop side. But it takes a peculiar brand of artistry to hit the sweet spot between mass popular appeal and in-your-face call for revolution. An iron fist in a somewhat velvet musical glove. That was The Clash. We could use some of that today.

 

Flowers

William Barr: A New General in the Next American Civil War

William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the Senate considers his nomination to be Trump’s Attorney General. The Democratic Senators asked some specific and incisive questions about his independence from Trump and about his willingness to allow the Mueller investigation and report to proceed unimpeded. The answers were often ambiguous and weasely. In any case, it does not practically matter. The hearing was pro forma, as his confirmation is assured.

It is a cliché to say that America is more divided than it has ever been in modern times. This is an inadequate understatement. However it has happened, America, including some leading figures in the legislative and judicial branches, has sorted itself into two diametric sides. Despite some feeble attempts to equivocate this as “good Americans on both sides,” the fact is that an unequally large number of Republicans have decided to abandon many of the virtues we have long assumed are basic not just to America but to good governance and American life in general.

Unlike the earlier Civil War, whole states won’t withdraw from the republic. But a minority of Americans will, or rather, they will support remaking core institutions and values until the republic—and the working world order—is more to their liking.

This Civil War won’t have a Fort Sumter, but it will have a series of moments. The current shutdown is one of those. The possible withdrawal from NATO is another. Then there will be the end of the Mueller investigation, including a report and additional indictments. There is now every reason to believe that the report will not be made public and that indictments in the works will be stopped, along with any collateral FBI investigations. Assume also that if House committees call administration officials to testify, those officials will refuse on the basis of executive privilege. Pardons, of course, will follow all this.

So it goes. What will happen next? How will it end?

In the 1850s, it looked increasingly possible that there would be some radical upshot to a deep divide on substantial moral and political questions. Yet a real civil war was still a shock, and ultimately a brutal solution. Now, rather than a divide based on momentous issues, some are merely fighting to protect the power of a corrupt and amoral American autocrat. It may be a petty platform they are standing on, but make no mistake that they will stand firm, and there will be injuries in this civil war—to people, to institutions, and to the republic itself.

The Maddening Sound of Guilt: Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart

I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!
Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart (1843) is the story of someone who murders an old man, dismembers and hides the body beneath the floor boards, and is then driven to confess by the sound of the still beating heart.

A lesson for those who hide the truth and think they have nothing to fear. Even for the conscience-free, this is how it ends, with the police at the door.


From The Tell-Tale Heart:

As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,—for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,—for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search—search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:—it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness—until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale;—but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath—and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly—more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!—this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now—again!—hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!—

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Petal

Petal

the petal
pink and curved
scallop edged
delicate barely
vibrating in
an exhaled breath
tentative finger
hovers and descends
to touch it
pliant and firm

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Chatter

the chattering geniuses
drive singing birds
from nearby branches

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