Bob Schwartz

Month: October, 2016

Another Joke Break: Snail on the Front Porch

Jokes

The half-life of a blog post is about a day. Within a week, nobody is reading. Within a year, it might as well never have been published.

Which is what makes my post Joke Break: Duck Walks into a Drugstore so amazing to me. Not a day passes when somebody doesn’t read that post—which was published three years ago.

It is a great joke, and I am so happy that so many people are getting a much-needed laugh, especially these days. But it makes me feel like maybe I can dip into my well of classic jokes and find just one more that would have legs (web feet?) like that. (If you’re wondering what a Jokes folder looks like, see the photo above.)

 

Guy finds a snail on his front porch. He picks it up and throws it across the street. One year later, he hears a knock at his door. The man goes to the door, opens the door, looks down, and there he sees the same snail on his front porch. The snail looks up at the guy and says, “What the hell was that all about?”

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Three Orchids

Orchid

Three Orchids

Three orchids.
One blooming
One resting
One dying without hope.
I care for the two
But the the third,
Leaves still green
But curling,
What am I to do?

Note: As mentioned earlier, orchids have floated into my usually non-green world. I have begun learning how to reward the gift they give. They are, as experts say, and as is obvious, unusual plants. They rest for a while and, with proper care, will wake up more beautiful than ever.

But not always. And not forever.

Beresheet: The Beginning

bereshit

Today the annual Torah reading cycle begins again with the portion Beresheet (also transliterated as Bereshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8).

It is a big Torah, a bigger Jewish Bible (Tanakh), and an even bigger Christian Bible. In all that expanse, nothing compares to the way it begins.

Bereshit: “When God Created …” This first word of the first book of the Bible serves both as the Hebrew name for the book Genesis and as an idiom for “Creation.” Because of its pride of position at the “start” of creation, as well as its uniqueness (the word never appears again in Scriptures), the word is subjected to intensive and varied exegetical analysis. Many, many meanings are derived from this one six-letter word….Jewish tradition has also held the six letters contain secrets that the wise will understand. (The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism, Geoffrey W. Dennis)

In English, it goes like this:

When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God. (New Jewish Publication Society translation)

Or this:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. (New Revised Standard Version translation)

Or this:

When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. (Robert Alter translation)

Unformed. Void. Darkness. Wind. Welter. Waste. Light. When God began to create.

Maybe you once read or studied the Bible, in any of its versions. Maybe you still do. Maybe you don’t anymore or maybe you never did. Maybe you had deep discussions about God, about creation, and about whether there was something out of which creation was made or whether there was nothing and then there was something (ex nihilo). Then again, maybe not.

No matter your beliefs, consider this first portion, the first words, and the very first of the first words consisting of six Hebrew letters. Are there “secrets the wise will understand”? Are you that wise one?

 

 

Friendly Fire and Ice

Friendly Fire and Ice
based almost entirely on Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

Some say that friendships end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

With deep apologies and appreciation to Robert Frost for the misuse of his poem.

The phenomenon of friendships fading and ending is for me akin to observing or experiencing illness and death. Of all the many things I don’t pretend to understand, this is in some ways the deepest mystery. As many reasons and explanations as I can come up with—time, distance, divergence, ignorance—the extinction of the flame of friendship remains as chilly as the extinction of the flame of love. Maybe because the best friendships, for me at least, are identical with and indistinguishable from love.

Making America Crazy Again: How to Survive and Thrive After the Election

make-america-crazy-again

You don’t want to hear this, but things may get crazier after the election.

If Hillary Clinton wins, she will be the least liked, least trusted President to ever take office. All the assumptions and suppositions about how the Clintons’ good intentions have been mixed with and compromised by expedient centrism, ambition, greed, secrecy and overall ugliness have been confirmed.

Progressives who tried an insurgency within the Democratic Party will learn that if they have a place at the table, it will be set with modest meals, if not mere crumbs.

Republicans will be gleeful at the prospect of obstructing everything and unwinding anything, without much of a plan of their own. Their glee is misplaced, since there is no Republican Party left, not one recognizable as such. Instead, it is merely the shaky platform for another set of would-be Presidents to start jockeying for position as the candidate in 2020.

And then of course there’s Donald Trump, whose hat should have first read Make The GOP Crazy, then Make The Election Crazy, and finally Make America Crazy Again. He is good at each of these. There is no doubt, whatever form his public pathology takes, he will help make 2017 a year we will not forget, just as 2016 is an election we will not forget, no matter how we try.

And so, some suggestions for getting on with our lives, not just surviving, but thriving, after the election.

  1. Religion, spirituality, philosophy, or something like them. Principled views of reality and the world can be very helpful. There is nothing inherently wrong with making stuff up as we go along. Except that when the wind blows, which it does pretty much all the time, and sometimes with hurricane force, we might want to have something to keep us steady.
  1. Media diet. When I see the ad for that cheeseburger with six strips of crisp bacon on top, something in me wants one. Except I don’t eat cheeseburgers any more, don’t eat bacon anymore, and if I did, I don’t think it would be in that particular configuration, since I plan to live a long and healthy life. The news media, even the supposedly respectable ones, are mostly offering us the equivalent of 1-pound burgers with an entire package of bacon on top, hour after hour. If you don’t want to be crazy unhealthy, please watch what you eat.
  1. Learning. You don’t have to learn about anything or anyone. You can learn exactly as much as you need to get on with your life and through the day. If you do choose to be interested in something, including public affairs, do try to learn and discern. We have spent the past year in a storm of misinformation and disinformation, lies and nonsense. That is not going to stop after the election. In fact, it could get worse, hard as that is to believe.
  1. Silence.

Hidden

Hidden

Morning
The sun
Could not be more hidden.
The book says:
“The bright is appearing over the earth.”
Where is it
The fire?

Baseball: You’ve Gotta Have Heart

Damn Yankees - Heart

With the World Series tied at 1-1, it’s a good time to look back to the baseball musical Damn Yankees. Its most famous song, sung in the clubhouse of a losing team, is Heart. (The same trope appears in one of the only really great football movies, The Replacements. Coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) is asked by a reporter the secret to his ragged team of replacement players. He just pounds his chest and simply says “Heart”.)

So whether you’re an Indians fan, a Cubs fan, or no fan of baseball whatsoever, here’s some encouragement. You’ve gotta have…. Well, you know.

You’ve gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start

You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope

When your luck is battin’ zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there’s nothin’ to it but to do it

You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you’ve gotta have heart

Cigarette Ads Circa 1960: Size Matters

TV Guide - July 9 1960

Above is an ad from the back cover of TV Guide from July 9, 1960. It is for Parliament cigarettes. The image shows a man (judging by the hands) measuring a cigarette with a ruler, while a woman looks on with a mysterious, Mona Lisa-like expression. Is she thinking about taste? About how “your lips and tongue never touch” the filter? She is also holding a cigarette. Hers is lit and smoking.

In 1957, journalist and social critic Vance Packard published his groundbreaking bestseller The Hidden Persuaders, “the first book to expose the hidden world of “motivation research,” the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers.” Chapter 8 is entitled The Built-in Sexual Overtone.

Since then, discussions about the role of psychology in advertising have continued unabated. Setting aside those discussions, it can be said that sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette, a ruler is just a ruler, etc. On the other hand, every picture tells a story. So what’s the story here?

Trump as Political Philosopher: The Conceptual Endorsement

hegel

From The Hill:

In an interview with Florida’s WJXT-TV, Trump touted his endorsement from the national Fraternal Order of Police as well as other groups and organizations.

“We had a fantastic meeting with the folks, [a] pretty large group of folks, and they’re very upset about the way they’re being treated, and I understand that fully,” Trump said.

“And they’ve endorsed me, endorsed me fully. I’ve been endorsed by virtually every police department and police group. And I’ve been endorsed largely, conceptually at least, by the military and by the vets,” he continued. (emphasis added)

It’s time to stop talking about Donald Trump as a candidate. Now let us consider him as one of the most creative political thinkers of this or any era.

There are so many examples of how he has turned conventional political thinking inside out and upside down. It is sometimes hard to tell whether he does it out of cleverness or by accident and ignorance. Either way, we continue to be exposed to one novel thought after another.

The latest is this idea of the “conceptual” endorsement. As with many advanced political philosophers—Hegel and others come to mind—it is sometimes hard to tell exactly what he means. He knows, but even he struggles to make it clear to lesser minds like ours.

So we now have some sort of endorsement that isn’t “actual” in the conventional sense. Instead, these military folks have “endorsed” him without technically “endorsing” him. Instead, they embrace a “concept” that endorses Trump, if concepts could endorse a candidate. That might totally misconstrue what Trump meant. But no matter what Trump meant, the idea of conceptual endorsement, as with so many innovations he has given us, will live on long after this election is over.

Are we all happy and enlightened now?

World Series I Ching

world-series-2016

The rope fails to raise
Water
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.
Calamity.
From Hexagram 48 – Jing/The Well

The World Series begins tonight. I am consulting the I Ching about it, and I will explain my purpose carefully.

As I’ve written before, in my view the I Ching is not a predictive oracle, a divining tool, a crystal ball, though it began that way thousands of years ago and is still used that way around the world. It is an insight tool, and an unsurpassed one, offering vision into circumstances and situations so that we may act more knowingly.

Which itself would be useful, if I was Manager of the Indians or Cubs. I could use it to help determine the lineup, or to decide when to pull the starting pitcher. And if I was a pitcher, I could use it to help figure out which pitches to throw, or as a batter which pitches to expect. I’m none of those.

The point here is to look into the attitude a fan might have as the Series proceeds on its roller coaster.

My lifelong love of baseball necessarily includes these ups and downs, measured in innings, in games, in seasons. Or in the case of the Cubs, who have been waiting 108 years to win a World Series, in centuries.

The I Ching is all about ups and downs. It is by title and essence The Classic of Changes. So why not ask it about the changes we are about to experience, as the Indians, this season’s little engine that could, defy the odds. Starting tonight on a very cold but still green fall field in Cleveland.

Some brief excerpts from I Ching commentaries on the received hexagram follow. As for interpretation, feel free to consider it all as the Series plays out.

hexagram-48

Hexagram 48
Jing/The Well

The structure of the gua is Water above, Wood below. This image gave the ancient sage the picture of a well. The water in a well was practically an inexhaustible resource. It was in constant use yet continually refilled. It was the source of life. The image also suggests that the roots of a plant draw water from the soil to nourish the stalk and leaves.

Decision

Neither loses nor gains.
Coming and going, drawing, drawing.
Nearly out of the well,
Break one’s bucket—misfortune.

Commentary on the Decision

Nearly out of the well,
The achievement has not yet been fulfilled.
Break one’s bucket;
There is misfortune.

Commentary on the Symbol

In correspondence with this,
The superior person encourages the people at their work
And urges them to help one another.

Judgment

At the Well.
The rope fails to raise
Water
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.
Calamity.

On the Image of the Hexagram

Water above Wood,
The True Gentleman
Comforts the Folk;
He gives encouragement.