Bob Schwartz

Month: July, 2014



Kurt Vonnegut

A friend in Israel has been corresponding with me about the current mess there. He is a proud and passionate American-Israeli. In the course of the conversation, he mentioned Dresden.

I, along with millions of others, can’t think of Dresden without thinking of Kurt Vonnegut. There is some chance, if you are of a certain age, that you don’t know Dresden or Vonnegut, so here is a summary.

In February 1945, just a few months before World War II ended, the Allies firebombed the city of Dresden, Germany. Much of the city was destroyed and tens of thousands lost their lives. At the same time, Allied prisoners of war were being held by Germany in Dresden.

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most interesting and original writers of the 20th century, and he influenced the cultural lives of readers throughout the 1960s and beyond. He was also one of those prisoners of war who was an eyewitness to the destruction in Dresden. He tried for more than twenty years to write about it, and finally in 1969 published his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, a title reference to the Dresden slaughterhouse in which he was held. It is a masterpiece, but not what anyone would expect a novel about the horrors of war to be like. It is, though, precisely what you might expect from Vonnegut.

The first chapter is his factual history of how he came to write this book. That chapter alone is worth reading, even if you think you don’t want or wouldn’t like the rest. In it, he recounts this conversation with a friend:

Over the years, people I’ve met have often asked me what I’m working on, and I’ve usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.

I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, “Is it an anti-war book?”

“Yes,” I said. “I guess.”

“You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?”

“No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?”

“I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?’”

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.

And even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.

Please read Slaughterhouse-Five (and more Vonnegut if you are so moved). You will be glad you did.


Ramana Maharshi

“Silence is the eternal flow of language, obstructed by words.”

Ramana Maharshi

Shoes Required and Guns Permitted in Stores

No Gun

Target today “respectfully requested” that customers not bring guns into their stores, even where it is permitted by law. It joins other shops and restaurants in responding to new state laws that are allowing firearms, including automatic weapons, to be carried just about everywhere in public.

Every day at Target, in everything we do, we ask ourselves what is right for our guests? We make all of our decisions with that question in mind. Questions have circulated in recent weeks around Target’s policy on the “open carry” of firearms in its stores. Today, interim CEO, John Mulligan, shared the following note with our Target team members. We wanted you to hear this update from us, too.

The leadership team has been weighing a complex issue, and I want to be sure everyone understands our thoughts and ultimate decision.

As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit “open carry” should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law.

We’ve listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members.

This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.

Let’s not talk about whether the legal situation, or messages such as Target’s, or video of people walking around American cities gleefully brandishing semi-automatic rifles are insane. There are plenty of other places where ordinary citizens are walking around exactly the same way. Think Syria. Think Iraq. Think dozens of other countries which we aspire to emulate.

Let’s talk about the fact that across the country, virtually all establishments reserve the right to refuse you service and ask you to leave if you show up without a shirt or shoes. Yet some of the biggest businesses in the country are having trouble telling some customers to leave if they show up with weapons. Now that is insane.

But also rational. This is business. If even a small number of Second Amendment zealots turn their sites on a chain, there is no doubt it will hurt the bottom line. The shoeless and the shirtless have no lobby. The gun advocates do.

Maybe what’s needed is another line item added to the classic “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign. Or maybe stores will choose to engage a little more forcefully than a simple respectful request.