Bob Schwartz

Month: March, 2016

Life Story

Life Story

How many life stories
Plain and fancy
Good and plenty
Worthy of a biopic
Or a headstone.
Breathless and amazed
At what it has come to
In the pages
Or paragraphs
Or words
That sum it all.

Translators May Be Traitors

If you read important books that are written in a language other than your own, you are at a disadvantage. You are depending on the kindness or brilliance of strangers. On translators.

That is doubly complicated if the original text is ancient, and the original language itself is a mystery, even for those who are expert.

The Bible, both First and Second Testaments, not to mention collatral ancient scriptural books and fragments, are a well-known example. The same problem arises with Asian texts such as the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, or early Buddhist discourses.

So you see the challenge. Jesus or the Buddha said great things in their native language. Nobody transcribed them when spoken. The thoughts and words were remembered and kept accurately alive, as accurately as possible, in oral transmission and storage. Then they were set down in writing, in a language related to the original speech, maybe, but later in entirely different languages. And as the words migrated, the texts were overlaid and transformed, even as there was a sincere attempt to preserve the original.

Finally, they come to you, in the language you speak, read and understand. Which is far removed from the original.

When the French had the audacity to translate Dante into their own language, the Italians came up with a harsh accusation: Traduttore, traditore. Translator, traitor.

Consider that when you read translations, you are someone who cannot read yourself, or even see. You are in the dark. You depend on those who read to you. And hope that they are good and true readers themselves.

Give to the Emperor

Render Unto Caesar

Resolutions to stay away from politics, when it’s pretty or ugly or pretty ugly, can be hard to keep. But politics, no matter how significant it may seem, can be like psychic, emotional, moral quicksand, which as it reaches your shoulders, leaves you wondering if this trip was really necessary.

So let’s see what Jesus said about all this.

The famous “Question about Paying Taxes” is one of the most discussed and interpreted passages in the Gospels. Here it is, from the Gospel of Luke in the NRSV translation:

So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20-26)

Some view this as a story about the separation of state and church. Some view it as about obedience to civil or religious authority. Some view it very particularly as a directive on withholding tax payment from ungodly government. And so on.

I take this as a spiritual message, grounded in practical experience. Political speech and action can be very important, even essential, to the accomplishment of positive and beneficial goals. And very seductive. But those activities can also set you in the midst of circumstances and environments that can seriously put you at a distance from more enlightening aspirations and possibilities. Sometimes really far from them.

You can’t run away from politics and its consequences. Those coins and emperors are always going to be there. So if you get caught up in it, just remember that there are other higher callings that have nothing to do with policies and positions and politicians.

Vatican Newspaper Essays Say Women Should Preach at Mass

Calvi Alessandro, detto il Sordino, Caterina esorta Gregorio XI a tornare a Roma, sec. XVIII.jpg

When the news seems to suggest we may be moving backwards, the news seems to suggest we may be moving forward.

Vatican newspaper essays say women should preach at Mass
By David Gibson, Religion News Service:

A series of essays in the semiofficial Vatican newspaper is urging the Catholic Church to allow women to preach from the pulpit at Mass, a role that has been reserved almost exclusively to the all-male priesthood for nearly 800 years.

“This topic is a delicate one, but I believe it is urgent that we address it,” Enzo Bianchi, leader of an ecumenical religious community in northern Italy and a popular Catholic commentator, wrote in his article in L’Osservatore Romano.

“Certainly for faithful lay people in general, but above all for women, this would constitute a fundamental change in their participation in church life,” said Bianchi, who called such a move a “decisive path” for responding to widespread calls — including by Pope Francis — to find ways to give women a greater role in the church….

So what will Pope Francis do?

The pontiff has repeatedly called for women to have a greater role in the church, but he has also reiterated the ban against ordaining women as priests and has warned against “clericalizing” women by trying to make them cardinals or to focus on promoting them to higher church offices.

Then again, that the Vatican’s own newspaper would dedicate so much space to the issue of women preachers is intriguing, said Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“I think it is a big signal,” he said.

Impeaching Donald Trump As Nominee

The majority of the Republican Party has finally decided to take on the very loud, engaged and energetic Trump minority. To do it, they’ve devised the strategic approach of all those who are behind the curve and in the hole: they are gambling. Here is the strategy you may not hear about from many of the talking heads.

The Republicans aren’t sure they can stop Trump from getting the numbers he needs to secure the nomination by the time of the convention. They hope so. But whether he does have the numbers or whether it is instead a brokered convention doesn’t matter.

The point of the current movement is only partly to deny Trump the numbers. It is partly—mostly—to build a case to deny him the nomination, whether he has the numbers or not. Just walking into the convention and offering opinions about how bad Trump is and how bad he is for the party and the country won’t do.

Instead, they are going to essentially put him on trial. They are going to impeach him as a nominee. At that point, they will have evidence from Republican leaders of all kinds, from experts of all kinds, from friendly foreign leaders of all kinds, etc. Mostly, they will have Trump’s own words and behaviors. When it is all over, when all the evidence is in, a majority of the party will agree to convict and to disqualify him from any possibility of nomination.

A minority of the party will protest. The result will be that Trump, after threatening to sue (which is what he does), will walk, take his supporters with him, and run as an independent candidate.

This is where the gamble comes in.

The Republicans have to be confident that they have somebody to run who can beat Trump and the Democratic nominee (likely to be Hillary Clinton) in a three-way race. If they lose that gamble, both alternative outcomes are disastrous for them.

If you think things are strange so far, just wait until you see the impeachment trial of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

Daily Mail

Daily Mail

Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper isn’t quite what it appears.

From the outside, it looks like a sensationalist buffet, focusing on things like showbiz and celebrity culture. Which it is. Some of its stories, such as those highlighting controversial medical cures, have been criticized by British scientists and doctors.

But it also contains excellent reporting on a range of stories in the U.S., U.K., and around the world. In a number of cases, you will find better and more insightful reporting of the current campaign than in many of the more respectable American papers.

Plus, if you need a break from the bleakness of the news, a small dose of the more frivolous stories can be welcome relief.

Visit the website or get the app. Enjoy.

Actor’s Nightmare, Actor’s Dream

Actor’s Nightmare, Actor’s Dream

I wake up to find everything
In the place it was left.
Props on the stage
For another performance
Moved an inch or two
Back or forth
But more or less
The same.

Is this the day
I try to speak the first line
But don’t remember
The words and actions
Or even which play?

It’s called
The actor’s nightmare
Entry to an unbidden hell.
But to me it is a dream
A heaven of unscripted silence
Where everything
Including me
Are newly born.
No different
Ready and
Right where we belong.

Unleashing the Dogs of Hate


You will be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that this post about Trump was written today. IT WAS WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2016, TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS AGO. At the time, many public people—including responsible politicians of both parties and the media—treated Trump’s pathology as a joke or a temporary symptom that would quickly pass. They should have been shouting in protest and we should have been scared. Are we scared yet?

“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war”
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1

This time it is the dogs of hate. Enabled and emboldened by Donald Trump. He is so arrogant and ignorant of history that he probably believes he can control them. That with one word from him they will attack. That with another word from him they will stop.

Of course, that isn’t how it works.

There has long been an undercurrent of hate and intolerance in this country, no different than anywhere else at any other time. It has its outcroppings in repressive laws and unembarrassed public behavior. We have taken measures as a majority to dull its practical effect and, hopefully, to change hearts and minds.

Donald Trump is the latest—but not the last—to try to harness that dark energy for his own ambition.

But that is always playing with fire or dynamite. Haters gonna hate. And when allowed or encouraged, haters gonna take that hate out on others. Others, for example, at political rallies. Others who they blame for whatever is wrong in the country or in their lives.

No one knows where this all goes. When the dogs of hate, under the banner of legitimate politics, have been set loose.

Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?

Ballad of a Thin Man

When I look at the current political scene, or listen to analysis and prognostication by dozens of clueless paid or partisan political “experts”, I keep hearing a song from Bob Dylan.

Poetic word salad? Sure. Fitting message? Absolutely.

Ballad Of A Thin Man

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says
“It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone?”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, “How does it feel
To be such a freak?”
And you say, “Impossible”
As he hands you a bone

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks

You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word “NOW”
And you say, “For what reason?”
And he says, “How?”
And you say, “What does this mean?”
And he screams back, “You’re a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Sometimes Heroes Need Help

If it didn’t reduce the impact and get old for readers, I’d post about Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and veterans issues just about every day. As I’ve noted many times, eagerly asking men and women to patriotically sacrifice for our security and then not treating them as the most important people in our country is a moral test we continue to flunk.

IAVA has reported its Program Impact in 2015 and it is impressive and heartening. Please read it and be astonished by how much one committed organization can do to advocate for so many important Americans. The report begins:

IAVA had huge accomplishments in 2015. We reached a record 439,269 veterans nationwide through in-person and online programs — and we did it with fewer resources, while maintaining top ratings from leading nonprofit reporting agencies, GuideStar and Charity Watch.

So if you are frustrated by how slowly and imperfectly our politics match our commitments in this area, please donate to IAVA. It is easy to say thank you to our veterans, as just about every politician does. It is harder and more costly to back it up capably and unconditionally.