Bob Schwartz

Month: January, 2016

Approximately Analog Time

Approximately Analog Time

The digital clock is too precise
Four numbers and two dots.
What does it tell me?
What if it’s wrong?
Better the circle
Studded with the dozen
Swept by two lines,
Leaving a little to the imagination,
Not subject to the rule
Of the atomic heartbeat.
Best is the unadorned circle,
Just two hands pointing
Roughly and unevenly
To an approximation.
Admitting that it knows a little
But not much.

James Carville says Hillary is the most qualified presidential candidate since George Washington—and that includes Bill

James Carville says Hillary is the most qualified presidential candidate since George Washington—and that includes Bill. And the likes of Thomas Jefferson. Here’s what Carville just wrote to potential Hillary donors:

I read the other day that more of Bernie’s supporters have donated to support his campaign than Hillary’s.

I don’t mean to be cranky, but what in the hell is that all about?! We’ve got the best chance we’ve ever had to put a woman in the White House, and oh, by the way, she just happens to be the most qualified candidate maybe since General George Washington himself!!

Aside from Carville’s crankiness, it does make you want to list the credentials of the more than one hundred people who have run for President, some who made it, many who didn’t.

Just looking at the successful candidates, we’ve got a bunch of pretty qualified people. A number of them had been Vice President. Some of those who were Vice President had also been Cabinet members. And some of those had also been governors. Thomas Jefferson, for just one, comes to mind: Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Vice President, President. (Also wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded a university, etc.) But I guess it depends on what the meaning of “qualified” is.

One thing is clear. If Carville meant what he said, then the list of people less qualified than Hillary includes her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Don’t worry, Bill. With Jefferson and so many other underqualified candidates, you’re in good company.

Opioids and Heroin: Where Does It Hurt?

There is bipartisan agreement that we have a national problem of opiodd and heroin addiction. But few politicos are willing to discuss the hard questions.

The political consensus is that we address the addicts and how to treat and end their addiction. Which is a good and humane objective.

But there are two other aspects the politicos are less willing to take on.

Supply chain

The old school war on drugs went for the top of the supply pyramid. Think El Chapo. In the case of opioids, that supply chain leads up from pharmacies to doctors to pharmaceutical companies. But if you listen to the grandstanding from Democrats and Republicans, you hardly if ever hear the legal producers of the drugs called to account. It is true that product makers are not unconditionally responsible for how people ultimately use their products—not alcohol makers, not cigarette makers, not gun makers. But at least those suppliers can be spotlighted as significant stakeholders.

Where does it hurt?

Pain killers are a blessing to those who suffer from chronic physical pain or from intermittent severe physical pain. That kind of pain is a damnable thing, and we should all be glad that we have developed such a solution.

Millions of those who use painkillers, prescription and otherwise, are not in physical pain. But many of them are in psychic pain, whether out of loss, desperation, frustration, purposelessness, difficult circumstances, or just boredom. It is convenient but not completely helpful to lump these into “mental Illness” for which increased funding and access could be made available. This kind of pain is not illness; it is just a response to a condition or injury, no different than the hurt that might come from being hit over the head really hard.

Politicos don’t want to talk about this. The solutions to this kind of pain involve changes in society and in people’s lives that require lots of self-awareness, lots of politically tricky analysis, lots of controversial proposals that go beyond better addiction services. And lots of hard questions that politicos don’t want to ask, let alone try to answer. Such as:

Where does it hurt?

Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust

Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this story from Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Yaffa Eliach.


Good Morning, Herr Müller

Near the city of Danzig lived a well-to-do Hasidic rabbi, scion of prominent Hasidic dynasties. Dressed in a tailored black suit, wearing a top hat, and carrying a silver walking cane, the rabbi would take his daily morning stroll, accompanied by his tall, handsome son-in-law. During his morning walk it was the rabbi’s custom to greet every man, woman, and child whom he met on his way with a warm smile and a cordial “Good morning.” Over the years the rabbi became acquainted with many of his fellow townspeople this way and would always greet them by their proper title and name.

Near the outskirts of town, in the fields, he would exchange greetings with Herr Müller, a Polish Volksdeutsche (ethnic German). “Good morning, Herr Müller!” the rabbi would hasten to greet the man who worked in the fields. “Good morning, Herr Rabbiner!” would come the response with a good-natured smile.

Then the war began. The rabbi’s strolls stopped abruptly. Herr Müller donned an S.S. uniform and disappeared from the fields. The fate of the rabbi was like that of much of the rest of Polish Jewry. He lost his family in the death camp of Treblinka and, after great suffering, was deported to Auschwitz.

One day, during a selection at Auschwitz, the rabbi stood on line with hundreds of other Jews awaiting the moment when their fates would be decided, for life or death. Dressed in a striped camp uniform, head and beard shaven and eyes feverish from starvation and disease, the rabbi looked like a walking skeleton. “Right! Left, left, left!” The voice in the distance drew nearer. Suddenly the rabbi had a great urge to see the face of the man with the snow-white gloves, small baton, and steely voice who played God and decided who should live and who should die. He lifted his eyes and heard his own voice speaking:

“Good morning, Herr Müller!”

“Good morning, Herr Rabbiner!” responded a human voice beneath the S.S. cap adorned with skull and bones. “What are you doing here?” A faint smile appeared on the rabbi’s lips. The baton moved to the right—to life. The following day, the rabbi was transferred to a safer camp.

The rabbi, now in his eighties, told me in his gentle voice, “This is the power of a good-morning greeting. A man must always greet his fellow man.”

Based on my conversation with an elderly Hasidic personality.


In the literature of the Holocaust, Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust stands alone. As the publisher describes it, “Derived by the author from interviews and oral histories, these eighty-nine original Hasidic tales about the Holocaust provide unprecedented witness, in a traditional idiom, to the victims’ inner experience of “unspeakable” suffering. This volume constitutes the first collection of original Hasidic tales to be published in a century.”

As the author writes in her Foreword:

The Hasidic tale of the Holocaust is rooted in the Auschwitz reality, yet it soars to heaven and higher. It can carry the faithful above pits filled with bodies. Despite Auschwitz, the tale still expresses belief that man is good and capable of improvement; it can restore order to a chaotic world and offer unlimited freedom to the creative mind attempting to come to terms with the Holocaust. Its rich Jewish heritage and European tradition make it a unique genre of modern literature. The tales in this collection completed a full cycle from documentation to art to documentation and back to art. For in the beginning there was a tale.

There are many other books that will tell you about the history of the Holocaust. There are few other books that so deeply and creatively offer its soul.

Making Your Mind

When you wake up
What is there to do
With your rumpled bed
Sheets twisted
Pillows tossed?
Do you make it immediately,
So orderly that it appears
Never to have been slept in?
Do you casually throw
The pieces in place?
Or do you leave it
As a recording
To be resumed and remixed
Yet again
The next night?

Bernie Sanders Is Barry Goldwater

Bernie Sanders for the Democrats is what Barry Goldwater was for the Republicans.

In the short run that might make the current generation of Democrats unhappy. In the long run, they should ask the Republicans how that turned out.

This is how it turned out. An unlikely, marginalized, and idealistic candidate tried to remind a party of its deepest philosophical roots. He won the party’s nomination for President, against all odds and against the wishes of many in the party, who believed he would lead them to total and inglorious defeat. Which he did.

Barry Goldwater also won. It is understandable that the Republican Party lionizes Ronald Reagan as its hero, model and godfather, since Reagan went on to serve two inspiring terms as President. But it was Goldwater, that embarrassment to some in 1964, who inspired Reagan himself and that first young generation of modern Republican conservatives (including Hillary Clinton, who began her political involvement as a Goldwater Girl).

We don’t know how the Bernie Sanders adventure turns out, either in the upcoming caucuses and primaries or at the convention. He is just as unlikely, marginalized and idealistic as Goldwater, and maybe less likely to win the nomination.

But in the long run, progressives who have been sidelined by the siren song of unwavering pragmatism—politics as the art of the possible—may be the winners. A new generation of genuine and fearless progressives may be born, even as the unlikely messenger is pushed aside.

In the words of Barry Goldwater, and as Bernie Sanders might also say:

“And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Trump: Psycho Killer q’est-ce que c’est?

Stop making sense

There are lots of things left to say about Donald Trump. But say it once, why say it again?

Which segues into the song I think fits Trump pretty well. Maybe not as well as one of those Trump suits (the kind Macy’s stopped selling, not the kind that Trump has filed or had to defend, and not the kind in bridge).

I admit I can’t quite explain how it fits. But when I listened this morning to Psycho Killer by Talking Heads, I spontaneously thought “Donald Trump!”

I hate people when they’re not polite.

Listen here.

And here are the lyrics:

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I
Can’t relax
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it.
You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?

Psycho Killer,
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Ce que j’ai fais, ce soir la
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir la
Realisant mon espoir
Je me lance, vers la gloire … OK
We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when they’re not polite

Psycho Killer,
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Run run run run run run run away


For those who don’t know Talking Heads, Rock Hall inductees since 2002, please investigate.

For those who don’t know French, “Q’est-ce que c’est?” means “What is this?” And the French lyrics mean:

What I did, that evening
What she said, that evening
Fulfilling my hope
Headlong I go towards the glory… OK

First Music of the Morning

Penguin Cafe Orchestra

I don’t listen to music very first thing in the morning. There’s quiet, until I start making breakfast.

And then, in the kitchen, it’s finding the right music, le musique juste. Here is a very small sample from the list. All are very short, all without words or voices.

Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Perpetuum Mobile

This is what joy sounds like. Who doesn’t need a little unconditional unmitigated joy? Top of the list.

Bill Evans, Peace Piece

This may seem a little too laid back for trying to get energized. It is low-key and lovely, until Evans throws in some equally low-key jazz dissonance. Just enough to remind us that if we are able, the day can have plenty of the peace we want, but there’s bound to be a few strident notes—all of which can be resolved.

Aaron Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man

If you believe you are about to conquer your day, or conquer the world, this is your anthem—whether you are a common or uncommon person. You can take on anything. Caustion: Do not mix with too much espresso.

Erik Satie, Trois Gymnopedies: Gymnopedie No. 1

Erik Satie called what he wrote “furniture music,” meaning it was just there, but not at all unuseful, unstyled, unformed or uncreative. Minimalist music and ambient music are its descendants (not to be confused with elevator music, which is unuseful, unstyled, unformed and uncreative). This is about two minutes of the finest furniture you can sit on to start your day.

Trump: Who’s the Wack Job Now?

Yesterday Donald Trump called U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders “a wack job.” He has also called U.S. Senator Ted Cruz “wacko” multiple times. Along with all his other free association invective, versions of “crazy” seem to be Trump favorites.

Back in November I wrote a post gently inquiring about Trump’s mental health. Now I discover that at the same time, actual psychiatrists and psychologists were considering the same thing.

Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In! appeared in Vanity Fair. Professionals raised genuine concerns that Trump’s history and his behavior during the campaign reflect a psychological shortfall, not an ideological or policy one. A shortfall big enough to put in question his fitness for the job he is seeking (and that he believes only he can succeed at).

As an observer, it isn’t hard to see some projection possibly going on here. Setting aside the lack of civility or respect in these accusations, neither Sanders nor Cruz nor any of the other “wack jobs” Trump finds are actually mentally unhealthy. Extreme, maybe, and not to Trump’s liking, but not crazy. Trump, on the other hand, may be revealing what he sees in the mirror. Besides a President.



The pain then and now
The troubles then and now
Are so many
That all the breaths
Past present and future
Won’t blow them away.
Yet in the death
Between breaths
Where are they now?