Bob Schwartz

Orange à jus

Orange à jus

Small and round
near perfect sphere
whispering sweetness
to brighten a morning
refresh a night.
But bite
and your mouth
is filled with pits.
Spit or swallow
pay the price
for juice
in seeds of desire
and delight.

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

Baseball begins again today

MLB (Major League Baseball) spring training begins today.

I am a lifelong baseball fan. On a scale of 1 to 10 (the most fanatic) I would put myself over the years at 8. There are certainly those much crazier and more committed than me, but I’m up there.

In recent years, my fandom has moderated a bit, as other imperatives and interests nudged baseball more to the side.

Still, there is a post of mine from January 2020. It explains how, no matter what, I still buy the baseball magazines of winter in anticipation of the baseball soon to come in spring.

I could not see what was to come. It certainly wasn’t in those magazines. The pandemic baseball season of 2020 was about to begin. Like so much else, adjustments had to be made, to put it mildly, a shortened season was played, and against all odds, MLB managed to push and pull it all the way through to a World Series, with Dodgers as World Champions.

In the spirit of returning to a still elusive normality, MLB is planning on a season that more resembles the old days. Whether we as fans and citizens can come close to pulling that trick off as a public health matter is still tentative and to be determined. Maybe we are exiting a scary ride for good, maybe we are getting off the giant monster roller coaster to get on a less forbidding but still up-and-down smaller roller coaster.

Spring training is usually so exciting. My interest never really fired up during the 2020 “season”. It feels a little disloyal saying that, but I’m confused about which loyalty I’ve betrayed. My old self? The game? The teams and players I’ve followed and rooted for? The shelves filled with baseball books, along with that souvenir bat they give you when you visit the Louisville Slugger bat factory?

Spring training begins today. I may watch some games online. I may visit the MLB site regularly to check up on which teams and players are succeeding, some beyond expectations, and which are struggling.

But to be honest, that twinge of excitement in my belly is not there, at least not yet. It wasn’t there as 2020 unwound. Maybe that feeling is just gone for a while, the way that so much else has been gone for a while.

All things must pass. That’s George Harrison, the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, the whole Bible, and the lesson of life itself. If baseball isn’t what it once was to me, or to America, things will still go on as they will. Just not the same, and, like it or not, maybe very very differently.

NASA rover Perseverance lands successfully on Mars to look for signs of past life. Plenty of signs of past lives in pandemic America.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA rover streaked through the orange Martian sky and landed on the planet Thursday, accomplishing the riskiest step yet in an epic quest to bring back rocks that could answer whether life ever existed on Mars.

I am a big fan of science. I set out to be a scientist, but switched tracks in college. I have visited Cape Canaveral and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I appreciate both the heroic drama and the practical results of space exploration. I take nothing away from the awesome efforts of those who worked on this mission. Most of all, I believe that we as an American government and people can do many different things at the same time.

But the humanist and poet in me has no doubt been warped as we begin the second year of the American pandemic. And so when I saw that the point of the mission was to look for “past life” on Mars, I could not help thinking about almost 500,000 lives lost in America just this past year to Covid, many of those deaths avoidable.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be going to Mars now, or that money or attention is being diverted from our still unsuccessful mission to handle the pandemic. Although we have successfully landed on Mars, while we have not yet landed even a technical knockout on Covid.

I’m not sure what I’m saying. I hope that there will be a day, sooner than later, when we can see people enthusiastically raising their arms in celebration as Covid becomes a manageable disease. So we won’t find as many past lives here in America on earth.

Valentine’s Day

The search for true life love
Is as easy and rare
As knowing without knowing
When if finds you

© Bob Schwartz

A year of staggering and stupefying realizations. Again.

Church

Black Church Burned, With ‘Vote Trump’ Scrawled on Side (2016)

“This has been a year of staggering, stupefying realizations.”

I published a post five days before the 2016 election, writing that “This has been a year of staggering, stupefying realizations.” The post wasn’t really about Trump, who seemed unlikely to be our next president. It was about America and us in America, whatever the results of the election.

I did not yet know what a year of staggering, stupefying realizations could be. The Talking Heads sang “Say it once/Why say it again?”, and this is mostly right. Even so, below is that post from four years ago, which is just as pertinent now.


After 70 Years of Progress, America Must Face Itself Again

In 1945 America helped defeat Nazi Germany, a global force that threatened to engulf the world in virulent hate and tyranny. In the aftermath of a brutal but noble victory, and despite deserved self-congratulation, America was forced to look at itself. It was not immune to or unfamiliar with similar levels and types of hate within—in certain places, among certain people.

We worked at identifying and eliminating that sort of hate, institutionally and individually, to the extent that is ever possible. There were missteps and resistance, along with denials and rationalizations. Progress was made, sometimes in fits and starts, and the work goes on.

This has been a year of staggering, stupefying realizations. Among the things we know better, as if we weren’t aware, is that there are plenty of people with hate in their hearts who for a long while have felt marginalized and silenced by a degree of public decency. Another thing we learned, and should know, is that once public decency is called into question or invalidated, those same people will be encouraged and emboldened.

Like it or not, these are our countrymen. Pretending they are not has never worked, nor has giving up because there’s nothing to be done. Progress has been made, and though it would be comfortable to believe things inevitably move forward, they don’t. Backwards happens, but not if we start by facing up again to who we are and hope to be. And then get back to work.

Pocket

Pocket

The smallest thing
you could see with your eyes
The biggest thing
you could see with your eyes
The smallest thing
you could see with no eyes
The biggest thing
you could see with no eyes
Put them in your pocket

© Bob Schwartz

Why nothing gets done by fools: A Bridge in Chelm

A Bridge in Chelm

A river flowed right through the middle of Chelm. It occurred to several merchants that a bridge over it would be good for business on both sides of the river. But some of the younger people objected. They said: “Of course it would be nice to build a bridge, but let’s not do it because it would be good for business; we should build it solely for aesthetic reasons. We’ll be glad to contribute to the building expenses for beauty’s sake, but we won’t give a penny for the sake of trade.” Still others, even younger people, said, “A bridge! That’s a good idea, but not for the sake of trade or beauty but to have someplace to stroll back and forth. We’ll be glad to contribute money to build a bridge for strolling.” And so the three groups began to quarrel, and they are quarreling still. And to the present day Chelm does not have a bridge.

From Yiddish Folktales by Beatrice Weinreich

See also How the Wise Men Got to Chelm: The Life and Times of a Yiddish Folk Tradition by Ruth von Bernuth


There are many Yiddish folktales from Eastern Europe about a town called Chelm. In these stories all the people of Chelm are fools, though they all think they are smart.

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Chelm and learn something, particularly about the news of the day.

When will lawyers involved with the last president face professional investigation and discipline?

As regular readers know, I am not sanguine about those lawyers whose conduct in public affairs raises issues of ethics and professional responsibility. It was early in the last administration that I wrote about the lawyers of Watergate and the fact that almost two dozen of them ended up sanctioned, including disbarment.

Over the past four years, a lot of lawyers have been engaged in the life and administration of the last president. A number have supported and cooperated, while some have eventually pushed back. A few days ago, for example, his legal team in the upcoming impeachment trial resigned, apparently over the defense he demanded they offer. A new team has been hired at the last minute.

There are far too many questionable situations and lawyers to mention. They range from the top of the government justice pyramid to other administration members and advisers to private attorneys who have served on his behalf in various initiatives and disputes. And yes, that includes some U.S. Senators who are as well-educated in the law (Harvard, Yale, Oxford, plus Supreme Court clerkships) as any in the country.

There is a tension between zealous advocacy and professional responsibility. Zealous advocacy demands that you do everything possible to serve the interests of an individual you represent. Professional responsibility demands that your zeal be tempered by considerations including truthfulness, respect for the law and judicial process, and the integrity of the courts and the profession. Sometimes the line is bright (knowingly lying to a court for instance), but frequently fuzzier. That’s when professional arbiters are moved to investigate and determine whether lines have been crossed and sanctions are appropriate.

A number of times over the past four years, lawyers and scholars have come forward to question whether attorneys involved with the last president have crossed professional lines. They wonder, as I have, whether and when the appropriate bar associations will be looking at the conduct, if looking at all.

I commend a recent piece from the American Bar Association, Baseless lawsuits bring model rules into focus. It is written by Teresa J. Schmid, current director of the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, and past executive director for the Oregon State Bar and for the State Bar of Arizona.

She closes with some hope for those who wonder if anything might ever happen regarding possibly frivolous lawsuits:

An additional cause of some frustration for those who want to know what disciplinary agencies, including mandatory bars, are doing is confidentiality. Many disciplinary systems have rules that maintain confidentiality during the investigative stage of a disciplinary complaint. Many unified bar associations and other disciplinary agencies throughout the country are undoubtedly in triage mode, well on their way to disciplinary proceedings.

So why is nothing happening in lawyer regulation? Actually, maybe something is.

Is Mardzhori Portnoy Zelenyy (Марджори Портной зеленыйa) a Russian agent?

Is it possible that Russia has planted a sleeper agent in America, pretending to be a radical conspiracy follower, who has worked her way into the highest levels of government? Perhaps one whose original Russian name is Mardzhori Portnoy Zelenyy (Марджори Портной зеленый)?

Is it possible that Jewish bankers have conspired to cause California wildfires with lasers from space?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Simple Gifts

“The Shakers were celibate, they did not marry or bear children, yet theirs is the most enduring religious experiment in American history. Seventy-five years before the emancipation of the slaves and one hundred fifty years before women began voting in America, the Shakers were practicing social, sexual, economic, and spiritual equality for all members.”

The Shakers (they called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing) have few followers remaining. They are well-known in the twenty-first century for two things: their arts and crafts—most famously Shaker furniture—and a song.

The song is Simple Gifts. You may have heard the familiar melody (used by composer Aaron Copland in his Appalachian Springs Suite) and you may have heard the words:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
 ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
 And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
 ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
 To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
 To turn, turn will be our delight,
 Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Below you will find a selection from Appalachian Springs Suite, with Copland’s variations on Simple Gifts, and a description of the Shakers from Ken Burns’ documentary series The Shakers: Hands to Work. Heart to God.

Even with all the complications we’ve had before, it is possible this is as complex a time as we’ve had. It is the gift to be simple, at least for a while.


From Ken Burns’ The Shakers: Hands to Work. Heart to God.

They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but because of their ecstatic dancing the world called them the Shakers.

The Shakers were celibate, they did not marry or bear children, yet theirs is the most enduring religious experiment in American history. Seventy-five years before the emancipation of the slaves and one hundred fifty years before women began voting in America, the Shakers were practicing social, sexual, economic, and spiritual equality for all members.

The Shakers were ordinary people who chose to give up their families, property, and worldly ties in order “to know, by daily experience, the peaceable nature of Christ’s kingdom.” In return, they were welcomed into “holy families” where men and women lived as brother and sister, where all property was held in common, and where each participated in the rigorous daily task of transforming the earth into heaven.

Shakerism was founded by an illiterate English factory worker named Ann Lee. Guided by divine visions and signs, she and eight pilgrims came to America in 1774 to spread her gospel in the New World.

At their height in 1840 more than six thousand believers lived in nineteen communal villages from New England to Ohio and Kentucky. Tales of their peaceful and prosperous lives impressed the world’s utopians. But Shaker aspirations were divine, not social or material. As millennialists, they were unified in the belief that Christ had come again, first in the person of Mother Ann and subsequently “in all in whom the Christ consciousness awakens.” It was therefore the duty of each believer to live purely in “the kingdom come” and to strive for perfection in everything he or she did.

Work was the currency of their service. If the world was to be redeemed and restored to God, the Shakers would accomplish it by the dedicated labor of their hands. They believed that God dwelt in the details of their work and in the quality of their craftsmanship. All their devotion, which no longer went to family or home, was put into what they made. Their villages were meticulously constructed and maintained, their workshops were world renowned for reliable goods, and their gardens provided amply for their own needs, with plenty to spare for the poor.

Shakerism is a system which has a distinct genius, a strong organization, a perfect life of its own, through which it would appear to be helping to shape and guide, in no small measure, the spiritual career of the United States.
— Hepworth Dixon, 1867

For more than two hundred years Shakerism ran alongside American history, sometimes heralding things to come, usually reflecting trends, events, and ideals from a slightly different angle. The Shakers arrived in America on the eve of the Revolution, having left England in pursuit of freedom. They were gathered into order as a practicing religion in 1787, just as the new United States found its form with the drafting of the Constitution. That same year Shaker women were officially given equal rights, and in 1817 the Shakers’ southern societies freed the slaves belonging to members and began buying black believers out of slavery. The Shakers were suddenly appreciated as successful communitarians when Americans became interested in communities, as successful utopians when America hosted a hundred utopian experiments, as spiritualists when American parlors filled with mediums and with voices from other worlds. They invented hundreds of laborsaving devices from the clothespin to the circular saw, which they shared without patents (some of these machines launched brilliant industrial careers for the men who borrowed them), nor were they frightened of useful inventions. The New Hampshire Shakers owned one of the first cars in the state and rigged up electricity in the own village while the state capital building was still burning gas. They were admired and derided, imitated for their successes and ridiculed for their eccentricities. And they are enduringly appreciated for their contribution to American crafts and architecture.

Today, just a few Shakers still live in a single village in Maine. To all appearances these are the last Shakers. But the living Shakers faithfully assert that their religion will never die. Mother Ann predicted that Shakerism would dwindle to as few members as a child could count on one hand, and then overcome all nations. “This is God’s work,” says Sister Mildred Barker, “and what could bring that to an end? Nothing that we humans, that mortals do.”