Bob Schwartz

Month: September, 2017

Presidential Deficit: Is Trump the Most Deficient Leader in Modern History (and Not Just Presidents)?

Trump’s tweets criticizing the Mayor of Puerto Rico and criticizing Puerto Rico for not “helping itself” are more evidence: Trump may be deficient in any of the qualities we expect in a leader. This isn’t just one sector: character, intelligence, empathy, competence, morality, ethics, etc. This is the possibility that he does not possess a single one of the qualities that we see in leaders.

It isn’t that leaders have all of these qualities. Some of our most brilliant leaders have also been immoral and evil. Just as some of our most moral and empathic leaders have been incompetent.

But Trump defies this. He has nothing. (No, the ability to get elected is not a leadership skill; it is a getting-elected skill, and maybe not even that if you run against relatively weak politicians).

Is it time for more people—especially Republicans—to point out that the emperor has no clothes at all? Maybe, except that the idea of seeing this emperor without his clothes may be too much for many of them.

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Veterans Studies as an Academic Discipline

This began with a simple thought: The use of veterans as a political prop is about as immoral as the failure as a nation to fully and properly honor their service beyond politically expedient lip-service.

I wondered just how seriously we take veterans, and whether they have yet received the same sort of academic attention that practically every other cultural and social cohort has. The answer is that it is just starting, and that is a good thing.

Travis L. Martin has helped pioneer the program:

My goal is to inform people of the importance and feasibility of establishing “Veterans Studies” as an academic discipline. Below you will hear my story, as well as those of students I’ve taught in Eastern Kentucky University’s Veterans Studies Program. I was a student veteran when I approached faculty and administrators with the idea. And it will take that kind of grass roots activism to get Veterans Studies established as a discipline at institutions across the country….

Why do we need Veterans Studies programs? Well, in 1947, veterans comprised up to 49% of all college students. Professors from that era will tell you stories of makeshift camps and barracks built to accommodate them. In the wake of WW2, the option to pursue higher education helped America avoid a catastrophic influx of unemployed veterans into the job market. School became synonymous with service. However, a rift formed between the military and academia when the anti-war movement found a home on college campuses during the Vietnam War. While veterans have come a long way since then, those returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan still deal with many of the same stereotypes….

The first Women’s Studies program was founded in 1970 at San Diego State. This program sought to undo the stereotypes that held back the advancement of women in society for centuries. Today, there are more than 900 Women’s and Gender Studies programs throughout the world. Likewise, the first program to examine the culture of African Americans originated at San Francisco State in 1968. Today, there are more than 300 programs. Similar stories can be found about programs ranging from Appalachian Studies, to Irish Studies, to Jewish Studies, to programs for about every underrepresented, misunderstood population on the globe. Why are veterans excluded from these initiatives?

This problem is one driven by too much lip-service and not enough action. In 2011, $9.9 billion had already been spent on tuition assistance. Student veterans are big business. While this money is certainly a welcome relief for those institutions of higher learning struggling with low enrollments and government budget cuts, those benefiting do not seem concerned with investing it in long-term initiatives designed to transform the societies in which their veteran graduates live and work….

Veterans Studies is not just about teaching veterans. It is about bringing non-veterans and veterans together at a common center rooted in scholarship. Non-veteran students take my courses to complete “diversity of experience” credits and, if they choose, go on to earn a minor or certificate in a field that prepares them for work within military and veteran communities….

That both veterans and non-veterans take the course is vital. The two groups learn to communicate by framing veteran experience in three key ways: the institutional, cultural, and relational dimensions of Veterans Studies. The institutional portion of the course teaches the students how the different branches function as a hierarchy and together—in the past as well as the present—to keep America safe. The cultural dimension exposes them to works of literature, films, and the typical ways in which veterans are depicted by the media. Finally, in the last portion of the course, students learn about how veterans assimilate into society after taking off the uniform….

Veterans Studies, as it exists in the courses I’ve designed, integrates oral, written, and visual communications skills in projects requiring critical inquiry and research. Students, taking Veterans Studies courses for a variety of professional and personal reasons, must cross disciplinary lines in order to make the first forays into this field. Further, group work, specifically, the kind of group work that asks veteran and non-veteran students to collaborate and produce work relevant to all parties, is foundational in both composition and the future of Veterans Studies….

Schools benefiting financially from the sacrifices of service men and women have a responsibility to create veteran-friendly environments and produce graduates capable of interacting respectfully and knowledgeable about veterans issues in the workplace and their day-to-day lives. The time has come for Veterans Studies Programs to claim their rightful places within the walls of academia.

Yom Kippur Picnic

Emma Goldman’s dislike of religion is evidenced by her participation in events such as this [Yom Kippur Picnic], scheduled on Jewish holy days.
Jewish Women’s Archive

We were invited to a picnic this Saturday. We declined. Because it is Yom Kippur, a fast day and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Curiosity led to discovering that there were once not only Yom Kippur Picnics but Yom Kippur Balls.

Eddy Portnoy writes in Tablet:

When Jews decide to chow down on Yom Kippur, it’s usually done clandestinely, sneaking tasty morsels in a dark pantry, or disappearing into a diner in some nearby non-Jewish neighborhood. But furtive noshing wasn’t always the heretical path of choice on the Day of Atonement. Just over a century ago, a range of leftists held massive public festivals of eating, dancing, and performance for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur, not only as a way to fight for the their right to party, but to unshackle themselves from the oppressive religious dictates they grew up with. What does one do, after all, when prayers and traditional customs no longer hold any meaning yet you still want to be part of a Jewish community? Eating with intention on a fast day allows you, in one fell swoop, to thumb your nose at the religious establishment and create a secular Jewish identity.

These Yom Kippur Balls, organized initially by anarchists in the mid-1880s, started in London and migrated to New York and Montreal. Smaller nosh fests and public demonstrations were also celebrated by Jewish antinomians in other locales. Unorthodox Jews in interwar Poland could pull hundreds of locals into small venues on Yom Kippur in shtetls like Kalish and Chelm; in larger cities like Warsaw and Lodz, they could sell out 5,000-seat circuses. Heresy was big business; tickets for early 1890s Yom Kippur events cost 15 cents for anarchists: capitalists who deigned to attend paid double.

There’s no suggestions here about what Jews of any religious or political stripe should do about fasting or partying on Yom Kippur. As with all such things, there is what your society or community expects you to do, what your God demands that you do, and what your heart and mind tell you to do. If there is a paradise, Emma Goldman is probably there, still railing against injustice, still noshing on Yom Kippur.

 

The Cynical Un-Americanism of the Latest Graham-Cassidy Moves in the Senate

The latest attempt to get enough votes to pass the Graham-Cassidy health care bill in the U.S. Senate is a move to give Alaska and Maine more money—two states whose Senators are likely No votes.

This bill was already un-American, in the sense that tens of millions of Americans will lose coverage, or lose current protection from being priced-out because of preexisting conditions, or will pay higher premiums of double or more. All done without the benefit of hearings, which John McCain, who will vote against it, characterizes as a lack of “good order” (or what might be called lack of any public deliberation).

The primary motive behind all these moves is to fulfill a Republican political promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, which promise has now devolved to “do something, anything!”

Currently that “anything” is to offer some more money to benefit some people in two states, leaving the people in the other 48 to get whatever they can and fend for themselves. Americans in the other 48 states.

The U.S. Senate may again earn its informal designation as “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” For the moment that seems way out of reach, and instead we might ask: Is there a bottom to American politics in general, or to the Republican-led once-esteemed Senate in particular, or is there still farther to fall?

Trump Island

Trump continues to alienate those once close to him, those who seemed to share a natural affinity. The CEOs on his various advisory boards abandoned him. Now NFL owners, some of them friends, some of them fellow billionaires, are also (for the moment) choosing the other side.

Trump is like one of the James Bond villains who live and operate on an island. He and they may be increasingly isolated, but they don’t lack the company of those they can coopt or threaten. Because they have the power—including in some cases nuclear weapons. So if you are expecting that Trump Island will follow the conventional rules or give up, think again.

Where is James Bond when you need him?

Butterfly

Sharp shadow of a butterfly
In the morning blaze
Not a bird
No frantic wings to stay aloft
Gentle and fleeting
As a cooling breeze

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Ohigan, Rosh Hashanah and Autumn: The Other Shore

“The goal of our life’s effort is to reach the other shore, Nirvana. Prajna paramita, the true wisdom of life, is that in each step of the way, the other shore is actually reached.”
— Shunryu Suzuki

These days in September, three celebrations coincide: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year; Ohigan, the twice-yearly Japanese celebration of the equinox; the autumn equinox itself.

One way to harmonize these is to look first at Ohigan. The name literally means “other shore”, and is taken two ways. There are the ancestors honored who have crossed over to the other shore. And there is the crossing over to enlightenment, on the path of the paramitas (perfections): giving (dāna), morality (śīla), patience or forbearance (kṣānti), effort (vīrya), concentration (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā).

Then there is Rosh Hashanah, the Birthday of the World, the start of Ten Days of Awe, during which through teshuva (turning), tefilla (prayer) and tzedaka (righteousness) we emerge by the time of Yom Kippur on the other shore as newer people in a new year.

It is autumn again. Summer is left behind again. We can live with giving, morality, patience, effort, concentration, or wisdom, or not. We hope at least to arrive safely on the other shore of winter, maybe more enlightened or newer.

Rosh Hashanah: Tashlich

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the custom of tashlich is to throw bread into a body of water, casting your sins away. (When no natural body of water is available, a well or even a bucket has been known to do.)

A passage from Micah is recited:

What god can compare with you; taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us
tread down our faults
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Micah 7:18-19, Jerusalem Bible translation

Fault, crime, anger, sins. Ourselves and others. Pardoning, mercy, pity. Hard for ourselves and others. And as delightful as ducks and fish eating bread on the lake.

Rosh Hashanah

If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.
If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)

Shana Tova! (A Good Year)

Room

Room

I wake to find
A new room in the house
Down the hall
Past the kitchen.
Should I live there
Move some things from elsewhere
Everything from elsewhere
Until it is stuffed
Floor to ceiling
The rest of the house empty?
Outside
It seems fitting
To level it
The seed will sow
The rain will fall
Grass will grow
I will lay still awake
Dreaming of no rooms.

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