Bob Schwartz

Month: October, 2015

One Breath

One breath is the wind
Leveling mountains,
Raising mountains,
Emptying rivers,
Filling rivers.

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Not Born Bored

Here we are now
Entertain us
Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit

A study by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation finds that, among other things, lots of high school students are bored. Suggested solutions included making teachers better and the experience more interesting.

There are some other possibilities, but to consider them we should look beyond high school.

First, people are not born bored. Babies are not bored. Everything is interesting to them.

People do grow up and develop something called boredom, about which we don’t spend nearly enough time defining or considering. We just lump it into the avoid-or-eliminate category, and associate it with pain. Fortunately for the suffering bored, at this moment in history we may have the most options for escaping boredom ever.

Pointing to high schoolers or young people in general as the easily bored is unfair to them. Plenty of their elders pursue ways to keep things constantly interesting. Mobile phones at dinner tables are not the purview of those under 21.

There’s no doubt that high school is not what it should be, never has been, and deserves attention and improvement. The same goes for the hourly and daily and yearly lives of many people, just like those students stuck being in a place they don’t want to be and doing things they don’t want to be doing.

One small suggestion: Don’t be bored. Put another way, instead of regularly working hard to eliminate boredom, once on a while eliminate boredom as a category of experience. You don’t have to think like a baby. But you might discover that seeing everything as interesting, even awesome, can provide some incredibly cheap and available thrills. And while we wait for high school to improve, maybe that’s something we can try to get across to our kids. Once we learn to practice it ourselves.

Netanyahu Scapegoats the Palestinians for Holocaust

The Jews killed Jesus. The Palestinians started the Holocaust. So who’s the scapegoat now?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that in the early days leading up to World War II, Hitler visited the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and it was that Palestinian leader who came up with the idea of the Final Solution:

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them.’

Historians have already weighed in heavily on how historically bogus this is, given that, among other things, Hitler published Mein Kampf three years before that meeting. The assertion has been described as “jaw-dropping”, with even friendly politicians “agog” at this dark nonsense.

Just when you thought it was the Jews who have for centuries been scurrilously blamed for every terrible thing, Netanyahu goes and turns the tables and scapegoats somebody else. Not just any somebody else. The enemy within and on the borders, the one that you could happily live without.

It appears that the very unpopular Prime Minister is trying to take lessons from Donald Trump, with whom he shares the kinship of attending Wharton. The strategy: Demonize those unwanted immigrants and/or natives. Say anything, no matter how incendiary, explosive, ridiculous or unrelated to fact about the enemies within, and people will love it. And you.

Just one glitch. Trump doesn’t lead a nation at the center of global conflict; actually he doesn’t lead any nation at all. And if America has a history of scapegoating, which it does (take your pick among religious, cultural, political and ethnic groups), it doesn’t compare in long-term viciousness to what the Jews have endured.

Starting, of course, with the big one. In fact, if you look closely at Netanyahu’s indictment, it is not that the Palestinians actually ran the death camps. They just planted the idea, whispering in the ear of an emperor, who was happy to carry out the deed. This time a German emperor, instead of Roman one.

Who’s the scapegoat now?

No Refugees in the Democratic Debate

Adding insult to their injury, Syrian refugees were missing from last week’s Democratic debate.

There were some other important issues mentioned, often presented in sound bites, but many more conspicuous by their absence. But you would think the party that considers itself the more progressive, caring, humane and globally sensitive would take the opportunity to at least mention to the 15 million viewers that we are experiencing one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the end of World War II. The same goes, maybe goes double, for the individual candidates who had the floor and could have just once brought it up.

(Note: Jim Webb did raise refugees while talking about his wife, who is a refugee from Vietnam. But that was not in the context of the current crisis.)

The explanation of this is simple and typical, though not particularly happy. Raising questions you can’t answer, or can’t answer with some vague, equivocal, pointless comment is to be avoided. Either voters will realize that you have no answer, or if you do answer from your conscience and heart, you just might lose votes. Either way, as a candidate, you’re screwed.

This isn’t a Democratic purview. When Republicans get together in their overstuffed debate scrum, there isn’t much to be said about the refugee crisis, except that it is an obvious ruse to allow Islamic terrorists to enter our country. It does seem like an elaborate scheme—displacing millions of men, women, and children just to get a chance to disrupt American stability—but you know how tricky those people can be.

And so, the next time a Democratic candidate wants to tell one of those rise from adversity stories that is a sure fire way to seem human and humane, maybe he or she can mention the shared and horrific adversity that won’t just go away—even if he or she has some magic plan to “fix” Syria (which he or she doesn’t). Maybe the next time, at the podium or on a debate stage. Those refugees will certainly still be there, in an increasing hell on earth.

Just One More

Zabuton

If you have an abiding interest or passion, it is natural to want just one more. One more thinker or writer or artist or teacher, one more book or work or class, one more experience to deepen and broaden your understanding and appreciation. And maybe your life. It is often beneficial in just that way.

The antithesis of, and sometimes antidote for, just one more is no more and enough. This isn’t always obvious or appealing, because the one more genuinely seems to do some good, even help you break through to some new level or place.

But once you have done some preparation, there is something to be said for continuing to work the same small pieces of ground, with the same old small group of teachers and guides, over and over. Maybe even just one piece of ground with one teacher or guide. It’s true that the wandering and exploration might just turn up something more and better. But it’s also true that the better or best may be there in the first piece of ground, the first book you read or teacher you listened to.

Anyway, the nature of things is not just one more. It is all this and no more.

The Paramount Pictures Vault: Free and Legal Movies on YouTube

Paramount Vault

Let’s be honest. Movie lovers do look for and watch full-length movies on YouTube—almost all of which are not there legally. For a lot of people, it’s not that they wouldn’t prefer watching these old, classic or limited-interest movies on a streaming service. It’s that a lot of those movies aren’t on streaming services, and even passionate movie lovers are not willing to pay for a DVD of a movie they will watch only a couple of times, if not just once.

Which is why the Paramount Pictures Vault on YouTube is such a refreshing development. There you can find a small selection of such movies from the studio, offered as a gift and, of course, as a promotion for Paramount’s other works, which they do hope you will pay for:

The Paramount Vault showcases a collection of Paramount full-length films and clips including selections that range from black-and-white to color, comedy to horror, and everything in between. Viewers are invited to explore the vast landscape of cinema’s history, share their favorite films, and discover new ones through this official channel created by Paramount Pictures.

So for those who, once in a while, feel a twinge watching movies on YouTube that they know are not completely legit, here’s a way to have some movie fun and to feel clean and legal. Enjoy!

The Cloth of Relationship

Relationships are cloths, woven over time.

Few are solid, woven from one color thread. Beautiful, if that color and weave is right. For you.

Almost as few are planned patterns, perfect plaids and checks and stripes. Maybe plans once, but even a glance reveals misses, tiny or huge.

Most are crazy weaves, and then it all depends. How is it to your eye, to your touch? Something to wear every day, to delight, to keep on the loom and add to? Something else?

What happens when threads go missing, pulled out or worn out? Most cloth will hold together, and the new design may be even better. For you.

Weave weavers.

Afghanistan Without End. Amen.

It is time to stop expecting American leadership in either party, at any level, to reasonably articulate an achievable goal in Afghanistan. Either the conclusion they’ve reached is that there is none or it is too hard to tell us the inconvenient truth they have concluded.

So we are just going to have to take on the role of citizen policy analysts and do it ourselves.

We are unlikely to ever help establish an Afghan military capable or willing to hold back whatever insurgent force mortally threatens stability and national integrity.

We are unlikely to see the establishment of a stable semi-permanent semi-democracy in Afghanistan.

We are never going to “defeat” the Taliban or other similar threats in Afghanistan, in the sense of forever eliminating and precluding such evil developments.

That leaves one possibility. We are keeping troops in Afghanistan to help keep things from getting worse.

It’s a problem to admit that. First, because a military mission of stopping things from getting worse seems unending, which it well might be. Entropy tells us that things fall apart naturally unless acted upon otherwise. In Afghanistan that otherwise is us. It’s also hard to tell those who serve that the point of their sacrifice is to keep things from getting worse, rather than seeing a genuinely better future and having a defined endpoint.

But at least it would be honest. And on top of the war without end, that is an equally big problem. From the Vietnam War to today, there has been a lot of official and political obfuscation. Well, let’s call it lying. It isn’t that the policy makers don’t have noble principles in mind, such as freedom, self-determination, and the like. It’s just that the plans they put in place—very expensive plans—have practically no chance of fulfilling any of those principles.

Treasure Again

Dhammapada

How could I know
When I first read this treasure
How I would wander away
This way and that.
Make no mistake that others
Had value
Like other food that feeds well
Medicine that soothes ills.
But all along there it stood
Waiting for me to look again
And see its simplicity.
No time wasted
Here it is.

It is easier than we might think to lose track of things that once inspired us, the way a match is lost once we use it to light a fire.

This verse refers to my turning back to the Dhammapada. It is the brief, most basic, and most widely-read collection of wisdom from the Buddha, whose recollected discourses fill volumes. Depending on which Buddhist trails you follow, just as with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc. trails, you will have read and heard plenty of excellent teaching from plenty of excellent teachers along the way. But there is something extraordinary about revisiting the first thing seen, the first coin from the treasure, which for many on the Buddhist way is The Dhammapada.

If you are curious to explore the Dhammapada, try this translation by Thomas Byrom or this one by Gil Fronsdal, both from Shambhala Publications.

Hillary’s Hubris: Whose Party Is It Anyway?

Who is the leader, the face, the identity of the Democratic Party? Simple: President Barack Obama. Who else?

If you ask Hillary Clinton’s supporters, or at least listen carefully to what they say, she is the party. And therein lies her biggest problem, at least among some number of Democrats.

No major party has, at least in modern times, had anyone other than a sitting President be the undisputed presumptive leader and face of the party, such that when the time came to pick a new nominee, it was a foregone conclusion. At least not one with a relatively modest record of public service. But that is exactly what is happening. Not once but now twice.

Politico reports on a dinner of high level Hillary donors at which they spoke their minds, particularly about Joe Biden:

The prospect of the grieving vice president’s potential entry into the race was a subject that obsessed the group over dinner, where many worried he will fracture the party….

“I’m concerned that the first bumpy road she hits – and there’s a man ready to knock her out, I’ve seen this before,” said Kounalakis, a close Clinton ally who is hosting a fundraiser in San Francisco for Clinton in November, and is viewed as potentially a major donor in 2016. “I’m worried we’re not accustomed to having a woman candidate at this level, and we don’t have the language to fight sexist attacks.”

Buell, who over the past 10 years has given $25 million to progressive groups and candidates, shook her head at the prospect of a Biden candidacy.

“Why would he want to go out on such a negative?” she asked her friends.

You have to read that carefully to dig out the premises or promises. Which are:

1. Hillary Clinton is the party, and whoever and whatever seriously stands in her way or questions her will “fracture the party.” That is, will disrupt her otherwise unstoppable opportunity.

2. Standing in her way is a negative act. Or, as noted in an earlier post, “Why would he want to go out on such a negative?” is one of the thinly veiled promises that if Biden proceeds to “fracture the party” he will learn just what negative means, and he will have to take his political lumps for doing so. Maybe lots of powerful money-fueled lumps.

Hubris is the sort of extreme and undeserved pride and self-confidence that offends the gods, and is usually punished by them. The gods don’t really care what happens in the byzantine and self-serving ways of American politics. But in the case of Hillary Clinton, a lot of Democrats do. They don’t want to be told that their preference for some other candidate, or their antipathy towards Hillary, is the shameful path toward splitting a noble party, or is disloyalty tantamount to treason. And you know what we do with traitors.

So maybe it isn’t Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden that are actually threatening to fracture the Democratic Party. Maybe the hubris of a particular candidate will do that all by itself.