Bob Schwartz

Month: November, 2012

Have Morsy Morsi Mursi


It is Gadhafi, Qaddafi, Kadafi, Gaddafi, Gadafy all over again. Except that the former Prime Minister of Libya is dead, while the President of neighboring Egypt is very much alive and at the center of global affairs.

The English version of the official Egyptian information website lists the President as Mohammad Mohamed Morsy al-Ayat. That is the way they are writing the name in the Latin alphabet. And therein lies a problem.

Egypt, Libya and most other countries in the region are Arabic-speaking and Arabic-writing. As with Hebrew—another important language in the region, though with far fewer speakers—transliterating the words into English spelling and vocalization is an adventure, and sometimes a pretty imprecise task.

News organizations seem to have settled on a consensus for the spelling of his first name as Mohamed—though as one of the most popular names in the world, it has naturally led to variants including Mohammad, Muhammad, Muhamme, Mohamed, Mohammed.

(For language junkies, other common Arabic names share the three-consonant root of  H-M-D, meaning “praise.” This is at the base of many commonly-heard names beside Mohamed, including Hamid, Ahmed, Mahmud, and others that are often in the news.)

What news organizations can’t seem to agree on is how to spell the President’s last name. As mentioned, the official Egyptian site says “Morsy,” so CNN, Time and a few others are going that way. The BBC and Reuters have decided on “Mursi” (it must be a Brit thing, some special privilege left over from colonial days, though the BBC has taken the extra step of adding an “m” to his first name: Mohammed).

By and large though, according to the New York Times and most others, the President of Egypt is Mohamed Morsi.

Does it matter? How we deal with him and his country matters much more in this dynamic time than how we spell his name in English, just as it is more important to act wisely than to spell correctly when dealing with China or any of the other countries that don’t speak English and don’t even bother to use our alphabet. It’s just a nice lesson in globalism, about how what we know is small compared to what we have to learn.

Black Friday

The shopping day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is so named because for retailers, it can mean the difference between loss and profit–being in the black.

Like it or not, the Christmas shopping season is an important contributor to this consumer economy. But the term is an overwhelmingly bleak one, particularly in relation to Christmas. In all other contexts, Black Friday is historically associated with financial crises, weather disasters, fires, military attacks and massacres. Rather than concerning Christmas and the birth of Jesus, the death of Jesus is marked by what is called Good Friday–also known as Black Friday.

And then there is the 1940 horror movie (see above)…

The Rubicon and the Pillar: If We Pass This Little Bridge


The Lives of the Twelve Caesars
By Suetonius


…The lights going out, he [Julius Caesar] lost his way, and wandered about a long time, until at length, by the help of a guide, whom he found towards daybreak, he proceeded on foot through some narrow paths, and again reached the road. Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he halted for a while, and, revolving in his mind the importance of the step he was on the point of taking, he turned to those about him, and said: “We may still retreat; but if we pass this little bridge, nothing is left for us but to fight it out in arms.”


While he was thus hesitating, the following incident occurred. A person remarkable for his noble mien and graceful aspect, appeared close at hand, sitting and playing upon a pipe. When, not only the shepherds, but a number of soldiers also flocked from their posts to listen to him, and some trumpeters among them, he snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river with it, and sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the other side. Upon this, Caesar exclaimed, “Let us go whither the omens of the Gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us. The die is now cast.”

More Proof That Baseball Is Better Than Politics

The political polling analyst Nate Silver is something of a hero, both for his accurate predictions and for his amazingly clear explanation of the statistics that lead to his seemingly prescient conclusions. To paraphrase Barack Obama talking about Bill Clinton’s ability to make complex budget math simple, Nate Silver should be the Secretary of Explaining Things statistical.

Those of us who have followed Nate’s career, even before the New York Times made him and his Five Thirty Eight blog a must-read fixture, know that his roots are not in politics but in the art and science of baseball stats. That’s why it was wonderful to see him switch gears yesterday from the election to the most contentious baseball argument of the moment: who should be this year’s American League Most Valuable Player, an award voted on by the Baseball Writers of America?

To make this basic for non-baseball fans, two players in the league had historic, exceptional seasons. Miguel Cabrera, playing for the pennant-winning but World Series-losing Detroit Tigers, was the first player in forty-five years to win the Triple Crown, leading the league in Batting Average, Runs Batted In and Home Runs. Twenty-year-old Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout not only had one of the best first seasons ever (unanimously winning Rookie of the Year award), he had one of the best seasons period. Of the so-called five tools (hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, throwing and fielding), few players of his age have ever exhibited such an array of gifts.

Yesterday, the Major League Baseball Network convened a conclave of baseball experts for a one-hour debate on the matter; that’s how significant it is (at least to lovers of the game). And yesterday Nate posted The Statistical Case Against Cabrera for M.V.P.

The point here is neither Nate’s argument nor the merits of the debate (Cabrera will most likely win, though the best outcome, given how micrometer-close it is, would be for a shared award). The point is that soon after the blog post, hundreds of comments arrived. Not just a few interesting comments mixed with uninformed, borderline psychotic rants, as we’ve come to expect from political posts. This was an amazing collection of intelligent, articulate, deeply researched responses, offering perspectives that even the most attentive fan might not have considered.

That’s why we are happy that Nate returned, at least for the moment, to baseball. And that’s why baseball is, inarguably, better than politics.

The Story of the Generals: Prurience or Public Interest? Desperately Needed Break?


I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me.
Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody

Responsible media personalities have had to admit that they are hanging on every detail of the The Story of the Generals, even as they question whether private behavior, however crazy, however famous the players, rises above the level of celebrity gossip.

That’s a great and important question—in general. But in this particular case, something is happening. The details are growing exponentially, to the point that every story about it, even in this up-to-the-microsecond digital news age, is old the moment it is published. And practically all of the revelations have a public facet. It was tantalizing to learn that Jill Kelley had an identical twin sister who, among other things, was involved in a bitter child custody battle that ended with her losing custody and being branded “psychologically unstable” by the judge. It was another thing entirely to learn that both General Petraeus and General Allen had written letters to the court supporting her. And it was still another thing to learn that this sister’s ex-husband at one time worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

On the public-private scale, stories all deserve the benefit of the doubt that leans toward privacy, and it’s better to err on that side. That’s what all of us would want for ourselves and our families. But this story sits at a previously unknown nexus of the strange personal and strange public. It is sui generis (and if it turns out not to be one of a kind, we are in serious terra incognita). We are stuck being unable to extricate prurience from public interest until we know it all, or at least much more. The evidence is compelling that there is something here we might deserve to care about as citizens, not just as voyeurs.

One of the other factors that plays into the fascination with this story is that we need a civic break. That is no comfort for the genuine pain that surrounds it, nor is it an acceptable excuse for prying. But it is a fact. We are supposed to immediately care about how we will resolve the looming fiscal crisis, about who is in leadership positions in Congress, about why Mitt Romney lost and Barack Obama won, about who will be running in the 2016 Presidential race, etc. Enough, for just this moment, is enough. Yesterday brought two horrific reports, one from Arizona about a Romney supporter who ran over and critically injured her husband in a parking lot because he had failed to vote, another from Florida about a man who committed suicide because Obama was re-elected.

That’s a reason we can’t get enough of this story, and miraculously, the story keeps growing to distract us in unimaginably original ways. And who knows? Maybe while we are so distracted, those who are elected to solve our problems—and a few who lost their jobs because they didn’t—will take the opportunity while we aren’t looking to start solving them in a cooperative way. That would be a much shinier and more substantial story to mesmerize us.

The Pet Rock and a Party “Branding Problem”


If you want to get involved in a drinking game that is certain to end in alcohol poisoning, take a shot each time you hear partisan politicos say that their party has a “branding problem.”

The Pet Rock is one of the most remarkable stories in modern marketing history. In 1975, an ad executive sold a rock in a box as a pet. It was a sensation, and more than 1.5 million were sold. In a matter of months, the phenomenon faded and became a “what were they thinking?” curiosity (though you can still buy a new one).

The rise of the Pet Rock may have been the result of clever marketing. Or maybe it was just life in the mid-1970s. Either way, the precipitous fall was not a marketing issue or a branding problem.

The Pet Rock stopped selling and ultimately became a joke because in the end, it was nothing but a rock.

Compassion for Karl

In the movie Runaway Jury, based on the John Grisham novel, a gun company is being sued for the death of a man in an office shooting. Gene Hackman plays Fitch, a jury consultant who specializes in using dirty tricks to extort the “correct” verdict out of jury members. The chief executive of the gun company has paid Fitch big bucks to “buy” a verdict. But the trial doesn’t seem to be going well:

Mr. Fitch, I looked into the faces of those jurors. I didn’t see any friends sitting there. Now where the hell are we with securing my verdict?

It’s a cat-and-mouse game. We’re about to change all that…

You just be a little more cat, a little less mouse.

That’s Karl Rove above, honored by fellow conservative and conceptual artist Stephen Colbert with the sculpture “Ham Rove.”

Like Fitch, Rove promised some very rich men a verdict. And like Fitch, he ultimately didn’t deliver. A little too much mouse.

Unlike the scripted moment above, we don’t know what the conversations have been like in the aftermath of the election. We would like to know, and are sure that is much, much more dramatic than the Grisham book or film.

Rove’s anticipation of that moment is probably what explains his now-legendary appearance on Fox News last night, immediately after Fox called Ohio and the election for Barack Obama. Rove simply refused to believe it, babbling and furiously calculating in a scene worthy of a tragic absurdist mathematical drama. He was undoubtedly imagining the conversations he would soon have to have with some very powerful and disappointed people, and he genuinely appeared on the verge of a breakdown. Having questioned the capability and integrity of the very news channel that has served him, the decision desk at Fox was brought in to assure him that they were right to call the race.

This led—and this is completely earnest—to feeling a little sorry for Karl Rove. Strategists lose, whether in business, war or politics, and there is always a price to pay. Some learn from it, some don’t. There is no indication of what, if anything, Karl Rove has learned. But when the stakes are very high, that loss can leave “the smartest people in the room” as the loneliest people in the world. And that’s sad.

Of course, Rove’s response to such sentiment might be that he doesn’t need anyone’s pity and that there’s no crying in politics. Okay then, but for a moment, it did look like that was exactly what was about to happen on Fox last night. Or maybe not.

This closes with good news. Maybe juries can be bought, maybe they have been. After Citizens United, we have been right to worry that maybe elections were now going to be regularly bought. We still have to fix that, but in the meantime, the result of this particular election is that floating on oceans of money, democracy is alive and well.

Election Poem: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised


A poem for Election Day seems in order.

Maybe surprising, maybe not, there are a bundle of poems about elections. Walt Whitman’s Election Day, November 1884 from Leaves of Grass, for example. That seems too literal and expected. Going in an entirely different direction, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, a milestone in modern culture, was in the running. (And if this election is about anythings, modernity is one of them.)

Somewhere in the middle—well, not exactly in the middle—is Gil Scott-Heron’s poem and song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) was a celebrated cutting-edge poet and musician. Even if you don’t know him, you’ve heard his work, as his version of an old R&B song, I’ll Take Care of You, was the foundation of the Drake hit song Take Care.

First recorded in 1970, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised may seem an offbeat choice for an election poem. But it does contain the lines

NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

More than that, it is about brighter days not being found in a media mediated version of reality

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.

Forty years and more, and it’s still visionary.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

The Unspoken Election Issue: The Economy

If you want to find the real issues that need addressing, just look at what is not talked about in the election campaign.

The economy has been a topic at a very superficial level, but the deeper issues have been avoided like poison. From a political standpoint, this is completely understandable. But as for problem solving, it is dangerous.

The economy is in the midst of a structural, existential transformation. Big time. One reason not to talk about it is that economics is substantially psychological, depending on a degree of optimism, and no one wants to enable pessimism and tank an already fragile economy. Another reason for politicians to avoid the topic is that they either have no good strategies, or the strategies require the sort of complex and long-winded discussion that citizens supposedly tune out or reject.

Too bad. We have to have “the talk” before it’s too late. It is a little like parents not having the sex talk with their children, only to discover those same children unexpectedly expecting children of their own.

The political question is who is most able to lead us into and through that talk, when the time comes that we can no longer delay and deny it. The answer is that we need leaders who are curious, creative, courageous and flexible. That doesn’t mean discarding guiding principles of ancient and venerable origin, principles such as honesty, integrity, compassion. But it does mean that trying to fit the future of the economy into the paradigms of the past is like watching a child trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Which is not nearly as frightening as watching grown-up politicians trying to pound a 21st century economy into a 19th/20th century hole.

Predicting tomorrow’s election is a fool’s errand. But here’s a prediction you can take to the bank: This will be the last election that addresses the economic future in such simplistic and maladaptive terms. Because if the immediate future of leadership doesn’t end the tired nostrums and doesn’t include these big vision, big picture, new world considerations of the changes happening right now, the economic context of the next Presidential election could be much, much worse than this one.

Alabama GOP To Hold Victory Party At Shooting Range

The Alabama Republican Party

will be holding its Victory Party tomorrow night at Hoover Tactical Firearms

Entertainment by Act of Congress

Special Guests Anna Laura Bryan, Miss Alabama 2012

Amie Beth Shaver, Miss Alabama 1994