Bob Schwartz

Month: January, 2016

New York Daily News Wins Pulitzer Prize for Trump-Palin Front Page

I'm With Stupid!

There is no Pulitzer Prize for newspaper front pages. And if there was, the New York Daily News is not going to win it. Too bad.

“I’m with stupid!” Sarah Palin pointing at Donald Trump. Three words. One photo. It does what media outlets continue to spend hours and pages on, while avoiding the obvious in the name of fair-mindedness—or for ratings and circulation. Or to avoid insulting a future President.

Journalism schools will not use this as a model of anything. We do need high-minded and thoughtful analysis. But once in a while, you’ve just got to cut through the blah-blah-blah and get to the point.


Thomas Merton hermitage

Four Walls

Four walls
Three doors
One window
One ceiling
One floor.
How simple
How deep.
Walls layered
And filled.
Behind two doors
Filled too.
One door
Is different.
Goes out
Comes in.
Out there
The same.
In here
The same.
But not.

Hermitage has been in and on my mind. While not exactly a hermitage, the poem above describes the room in which I write.

When I first started reading Thomas Merton, I learned about his building a hermitage on the grounds of the Kentucky abbey where he lived. Merton was a sublime conundrum, who committed himself to relative silence and disciplined orthodoxy as a monk, yet whose spirit (the Spirit) would not allow him to be quiet and stop exploring. So he wrote and discovered. Thank goodness for us.

Sandokai is a famous poem by the Chinese Ch’an (Zen) Master Shitou Xiqian (700-790), who is known in Japanese as Sekito Kisen. I have long been reading and studying this, as have many Zen students. Of all the essential texts available, there are few more concisely powerful than Sandokai.

There is another poem by Sekito that is a little less known, but equally compelling. It is a description of his hermitage, a grass hut. There, he tells us, is nothing and everything.

Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage
by Shitou Xiqian

I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value.
After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.
Now it’s been lived in – covered by weeds.

The person in the hut lives here calmly,
Not stuck to inside, outside, or in between.
Places worldly people live, he doesn’t live.
Realms worldly people love, he doesn’t love.

Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature.
A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can’t help wondering;
Will this hut perish or not?

Perishable or not, the original master is present,
not dwelling south or north, east or west.
Firmly based on steadiness, it can’t be surpassed.
A shining window below the green pines –
Jade palaces or vermilion towers can’t compare with it.

Just sitting with head covered, all things are at rest.
Thus, this mountain monk doesn’t understand at all.
Living here he no longer works to get free.
Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?

Turn around the light to shine within, then just return.
The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
Bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.

Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
Are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut,
Don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.

(from Taigen Daniel Leighton, Cultivating the Empty Field)

Donald Trump Wants to Make the Bible Great Again!

2 Corinthians

Donald Trump spoke to an assembly of students at Liberty University, one of the best-known evangelical colleges in the country. He quoted a Bible passage to show his depth of Christian faith and knowledge.

In doing that, he mispronounced the name of the New Testament book “2 Corinthians” as “Two Corinthians.” It is in fact universally called “Second Corinthians.” Anyone who has glancing familiarity with the Bible knows that, including five-year-olds in Sunday School. Every time there is a numbered series of books (such as 1 Kings and 2 Kings in the Old Testament, etc.), they are called by the ordinal number (First, Second).

Does this prove that Trump has little familiarity with the Bible? Yes. Does this prove that he is willing to cynically use faith as a tool to “close the deal” on the Republican nomination? Yes. Will this affect his support among evangelical Christians, Christians in general, or people of faith? Who knows?

Here’s the thing. It was no mistake.

Trump may not know much about the Bible or about the Presbyterian Church he identifies himself as belonging to. But he knows a “not great” situation when he sees it. Calling these books “First” or “Second” makes no sense. Plus, it’s a waste of time and breath. Everyone knows that Trump is all about making sense and not wasting breath.

And so, this is part of his strategy to make everything terrific. He wants to change the way people have been referring to the Bible for centuries.

He wants to make the Bible great again! Who can blame him? Thank you, Donald.


Zafu and Zabuton


Mat on floor
Cushion on mat
Ass on cushion
Legs crossed.
As far from the center of the world
As could be.

Glenn Frey

Glenn Frey and the Eagles

Glenn Frey of The Eagles died yesterday at the age of 67. David Bowie died a few days ago at the age of 69.

Q: Does it seem that we are losing rock stars all at once? Will there be more?
A: We are all, rock stars or not, living in an actuarial table.

My favorite Eagles song is not one that Glenn Frey or Don Henley wrote. It is Ol’ 55, written by the also great Tom Waits:

Well my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splitly out to my old ’55
As I drove away slowly, feeling so holy, God knows, I was feeling alive.

Now the sun’s coming up, I’m riding with Lady Luck, freeway cars and trucks,
Stars beginning to fade, and I lead the parade
Just a-wishing I’d stayed a little longer,
Oh, Lord, let me tell you that the feeling’s getting stronger.

Bernie Sanders as John the Baptist

John the Baptist

The Democratic Party is in trouble. Politically, philosophically, spiritually, demographically. Bernie Sanders won’t save the party or win the presidency. But he is setting the scene for the party’s reform and renewal.

John the Baptist was a terrible candidate to lead a religious revolution. He was a wild-eyed radical who seemed to be crazy. His people skills needed work. But his cause found a much better spokesman and leader, who took it to the next level. And then some.

When you think carefully about the party and its recent Presidents and leaders, you look hard for real radical inspiration. Bill Clinton was affable and politically adept, but his was the politics of radical compromise, to the point of digging a rut in the middle of the road that invited neo-conservative disaster and greed. Barack Obama was genuinely inspirational, and has helped the cause of humane Americanism as much as politics would allow. But circumstances and inclination led him to solid pragmatism.

One problem with pragmatism is that it makes a terrible anthem and cause. Another is that it allows all sorts of accommodations that look to the would-be believer like nothing but surrender.

That’s where Bernie Sanders and John the Baptist come together. When the stakes are high, and the troubles are deep, that’s when you have to invoke big visions. That’s what gets people who have fallen into both practical and spiritual malaise to answer the call and start working for real change.

There are few in the Democratic Party willing or able to do this. Whether or not Hillary Clinton wins the nomination or the election, it is not her. If she wins the nomination but loses the election, the party will do some typical superficial soul searching. If she wins both, she may consolidate her power, and the power of the establishment, but the Congress will be even less effective than it is now.

Either way, it is possible that Bernie Sanders is unleashing something bigger than the Clintons or any tepid self-inquiry the party may pretend to engage in. He may not be heir to the spirit of Bobby Kennedy, but he might as well be saying this:

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

When Bernie Sanders is done with this election, another Democratic reformer and revolutionary will come along, and another. At that point, if we are lucky, millions of previously unengaged and disappointed people may come to the party dreaming and asking “why not?” And Bernie, like John the Baptist, will have prevailed.

Hillary in Iowa 2008


Hillary Iowa State Fair

“Character is destiny.”

Will Iowa 2016 be Iowa 2008 for Hillary? Here are her thoughts back in 2008, as documented in Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin:

The problem was, she hated it there. Every day felt like she was stuck in a Mobius strip: another barn, another living room, another set of questions about immigration (from people who were anti-) and the war (ditto). She’d get back on the plane, slump into her seat, heave a deep sigh, and grunt, “Ugh.”

The Iowans didn’t seem to be listening to her, just gawking at her, like she was an animal in a zoo. Hillary would hear from her staff the things voters were saying about her: “She’s so much prettier in person,” “She’s so much nicer than I thought.” It made her ill. She found the Iowans diffident and presumptuous; she felt they were making her grovel. Hillary detested pleading for anything, from money to endorsements, and in Iowa it was no different. She resisted calling the local politicos whose support she needed. One time, she spent forty-five minutes on the phone wooing an activist, only to be told at the call’s end that the woman was still deciding between her and another candidate. Hillary hung up in a huff.

“I can’t believe this!” she said. “How many times am I going to have to meet these same people?”

Over and over, she complained about the system that gave Iowa so much power in selecting the nominee. “This is so stupid,” she would say. “So unfair.” She bitched about Iowa’s scruffy hotels and looked for excuses to avoid staying overnight. But among the sources of her frustration and bewilderment, the absence of connection was paramount. “I don’t have a good feeling about this, guys,” she told her staff on the plane. “I just don’t have a good feeling about this place.”

Why should the President be born in the United States anyway?

We are asking the wrong and less interesting question about the Constitution and presidential qualification.

A lot of people are talking about Ted Cruz’s birth (the place, not the biological event). The better question is whether the requirement, however interpreted, is in our best interest.

It isn’t. There are plenty of brilliant and capable non-native American citizens who would be terrific at trying to run this country with some vision and imagination. (Though most of them are too smart to want to get involved in the thankless insanity we are now witnessing.)

We have rules, and if any rules deserve respect, the constitutional ones do. But just because it’s in the Constitution doesn’t mean it’s the best idea.

I am not suggesting that we amend the Constitution, especially not for Ted Cruz. But we should at least be talking about maybe expanding the talent pool. Because if most of the current crop of candidates is what we get when we limit ourselves to natural born Americans, we could definitely do much better.

The History of My Sweater Vests


A number of years ago, I wore buttoned sweater vests for a while. They were kind of colorful and designed, and I thought pretty cool. Not everybody liked them, not everybody who mattered liked them, but I did.

Then buttoned sweater vests disappeared. In their place were the equally traditional pullover sweater vests. So I swung that way, mostly solids in the core colors (grey, brown, blue), but a few with designs. It went like that for years, though I never gave up looking—mostly unsuccessfully—for the next generation of buttoned ones.

The low point was probably Rick Santorum attempting to “rock” his pullover sweater vests during his 2012 campaign for President. Every time I went out wearing mine, I was moderately embarrassed, as people affirmatively mentioned Santorum when they saw me. He and I share nothing, then or now, except our belief in sweater vests. This didn’t stop me from wearing them.

Buttoned sweater vests arrived again this past year. Actually, all kinds of vests arrived on the racks, along with three-piece suits. I was able for the first time in a while to have some new and attractive buttoned sweater vests to wear casually, or under a sport coat, or whatever. Awesome and attractive, to me at least. Others, as mentioned above, are not so sure. Or are vocal dissidents. Oh well.

The photo above shows an example of one of my new sweater vests. That is not me, just some model for Macy’s, but you get the idea. Honestly, I think I carry it off just as well. My watch isn’t that big or clunky, but I can cock my left eyebrow just as insouciantly. Of course, he got paid for wearing his, while I had to pay for mine. Totally worth it.

Two Kinds of Conservatives: The Reasonable and the Cowardly

There are two kinds of conservatives.

One says that we might take a pause, even a small step back, while we consider how to boldly move forward.

The other says that we should take a giant step back and stay there, because that is where the successful future lies. Boldly going back where others have gone before, with mixed results.

The first kind are rare, are not to the liking of some, and are not appropriate for all circumstances, especially ones that call for immediate forward thinking. Overall, though, it can be seen as a reasonable approach.

The second kind may be disguised to look bold, but are actually timid, even cowardly. If their way looks like retreat, that’s because it is. It is also the kind of conservatives that are dominating much of our national discussion these days.

So the next time you hear one of those conservatives promoting back to the future, think of them as defeatists, cowards rather than heroes. Because they want support for their plans to actually just surrender.