Bob Schwartz

Month: December, 2013

All Politicians Are Progressives

Horse Carriage - Lincoln
Either you embrace innovation or you don’t. And so all politicians who use an iPhone or love the NFL are progressives.

Innovation has two faces. One is the innovation that solves problems. The other is innovation that just does stuff—even if you didn’t ask for it, even if you never knew you wanted it or needed it. Moving from horse transport to self-contained mechanical carriages solved a basic problem, but over time added features some of which are useful and practical for the central function, others of which are just enjoyment that becomes essential. Because times change, as do human expectations and aspirations. Innovation feeds that.

So unless you are a politician who doesn’t have a smartphone, or who doesn’t use a phone or computer at all, or doesn’t drive a tricked-out luxury car (it counts even if you have a driver), you are the beneficiary and tacit endorser of innovation. Which is why when some politicians hearken back to the comprehensive goodness of 18th century America—or 19th or 20th, depending on the issue—it is dangerously silly. This economic Drecession requires an embrace of 360 degree innovation, not just untaxing and unburdening ourselves to prosperity. Not just churning out a generation of STEMers to magically bring us back to former glory. And not just putting digital devices in the hands of every school child either.

This is not the exclusive purview of any political party. There is a tendency, even among the most well-meaning, to take pages from a beloved playbook that are no longer viable. When the legendary coach Sid Gillman changed pro football forever in the 1950s by making the forward pass the centerpiece of the game, it was scoffed at—until he started winning championships and opponents had to permanently rethink the defensive game.

If politicians want to ride around in fancy horse-drawn carriages and send their messages by horse-carried post (if they haven’t made the Post Office disappear), that’s okay. But chances are they’ve embraced innovation in practically every minute of their lives (they love their Twitter!) because, well, it is 2013. It is 2013, everywhere, in every facet, and pretending otherwise is just horse-and-buggy policy. Or maybe just a convenient way to get elected.

The 300th Post: Another Step on a Really Random Walk

Phenom 300
This is the 300th post on this blog. More enduring and regular than some blogs, less than so many others.

This blog has been a random walk through a whole lot of thoughts and words. It’s true that more focus on any one of the dozens of topics might attract more readers, but it would be much less fun and satisfying and liberating. My past and future blogs have had and will have more discrete subjects. For now, though, and for this 300th post, a fine mess will have to do.

Thank you for reading and listening, however long you’ve been here. I hope that on any given day one of you gets a little something out of it. If you like it, as some say you do, please tell others to visit.

For the occasion, here is a brief list of Essentials, People Edition. It is a short selection of those whose life or work has spoken to me in some lasting way. Like the blog, it is a random walk. Like the blog, it is light years from comprehensive. Like the blog, faithful readers will find a pretty good sketch of me in the list.

If there are names you don’t know but find intriguing, check them out. All have something enriching, exciting or entertaining to offer, and some offer all three. If ever my mind is compromised, maybe to the point that loved ones are sadly strangers to me, I hope they might bring me to the list and say: these are some of the people who helped make you and your world. And in the names I would revel again for the first time and find a little of myself there.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
Ahmet Ertegun
Albert Hofmann
Armistad Maupin
Barbara Jordan
Buckminster Fuller
Dogen Zenji
Douglas Sirk
Erik Satie
Hermann Hesse
Ian Ballantine
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Joan Didion
Joe Shuster & Jerry Siegel
John Coltrane
Joni Mitchell
Kodo Sawaki Roshi
Kurt Vonnegut
Lenny Bruce
Marshall McLuhan
Phil Spector
Phyllis Tickle
Preston Sturges
Rabindranath Tagore
Ram Dass
Ramana Maharshi
Robert Funk
Robert Kennedy
Robert Lewis Shayon
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Stewart Brand
The Beatles
Thomas Merton
Tom Stoppard
William Copley
Willie Mays

Darkside: When Philosophy Drama Pink Floyd and Madness Collide

Last week, the most unusual pop album ever was released. That’s an incredible overstatement, literally unbelievable, because who has listened to all those truly out-there albums and how could you possibly contrast and compare them anyway?

Okay, last week, the most philosophical unusual pop album ever was released.

Tom Stoppard, maybe the greatest of all living English-language playwrights, is a longtime Pink Floyd fan, with a special place in his heart for Syd Barrett, the disturbed creator who sparked the group, even after his untimely but unavoidable departure. You may know Stoppard most popularly for his Oscar-winning work as co-writer of Shakespeare in Love. Before and after that, his total embrace of language, philosophy, literature and the overall beautiful strangeness of people led to masterful theatre and, often, radio plays.

When the BBC wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon, they asked Stoppard to create one of his radio concoctions. The result is Darkside, which integrates dramatic scenes into the music of the album.

Description is futile. Stoppard has always believed that philosophy is a form of play, that you can play philosophy the way you do language and music and entertain with it. Listeners and viewers might also learn something. Here we have clever demonstrations of moral philosophy and discussion of the nature of thought itself; that is, as he keeps pointing out, what he is doing is a thought experiment—as is all creativity. He then asks us and them about the juggler on the radio: there is a juggler on the radio, but not hearing him, how do we know? Do we believe in the juggler?

What is most clear listening to Darkside is not just that Stoppard knows how to play with words and mind, but that Pink Floyd was just as agile doing the same, with the addition of some of the most memorable and popular music of all time. Dark Side of the Moon was on the Billboard 200 chart for 14 years after it was released in 1973, and still hovers near there, 40 million copies later. Thousands still buy it every week and somewhere right now someone is listening and discovering something. Stoppard has devised a valuable appreciation of the weird wonder that is Dark Side, making it just a bit more wonderful. The lunatic is still on the grass and in your head.

All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that you love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
And all you create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon
Eclipse, Dark Side of the Moon