Bob Schwartz

Month: November, 2017

David and Donald: The Men Who Would Be King

For those who think that Donald Trump is on his way to becoming an authoritarian strongman, this is far from the first time in history that some citizens have begged for such a leader—against the best advice. We can go way back, biblically back, to the story of how Israel got a king, first Saul then David—against the biggest advice of all.

Here is a passage from Chapter 8 of 1 Samuel, translated by Robert Alter:

And it happened when Samuel grew old that he set his sons up as judges for Israel. And the name of his firstborn son was Joel and the name of his Secondborn was Abijah—judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not go in his ways and they were bent on gain and took bribes and twisted justice.

And all the elders of Israel assembled and came to Samuel at Ramah. And they said to him, “Look, you yourself have grown old and your sons have not gone in your ways. So now, set over us a king to rule us, like all the nations.” And the thing was evil in Samuel’s eyes when they said, “Give us a king to rule us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD.

And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for it is not you they have cast aside but Me they have cast aside from reigning over them. Like all the deeds they have done from the day I brought them up from Egypt to this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, even so they do as well to you. So now, heed their voice, though you must solemnly warn them and tell them the practice of the king that will reign over them.” And Samuel said all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking of him a king. And he said, “This will be the practice of the king who will reign over you: Your sons he will take and set for himself in his chariots and in his cavalry, and some will run before his chariots. He will set for himself captains of thousands and captains of fifties, to plow his ground and reap his harvest and to make his implements of war and the implements of his chariots. And your daughters he will take as confectioners and cooks and bakers. And your best fields and your vineyards and your olive trees he will take and give to his servants. And your seed crops and your vineyards he will tithe and give to his courtiers and to his servants. And your best male and female slaves and your cattle and your donkeys he will take and use for his tasks. Your flocks he will tithe, and as for you, you will become his slaves. And you will cry out on that day before your king whom you chose for yourselves and he will not answer you on that day.” And the people refused to heed Samuel’s voice and they said, “No! A king there will be over us! And we, too, shall be like all the nations and our king will rule us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And Samuel listened to all the words of the people and he spoke them in the LORD’S hearing.

And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed their voice and make them a king.”

According to the elders of Israel, divine political direction is how they ended up in the swamp. The sons of Samuel were judges who “did not go in his [Samuel’s] ways and they were bent on gain and took bribes and twisted justice.”

Their proposed solution: drain the swamp by doing what other nations did—appointing and anointing a king.

God disagrees. First, because it reflects a lack of faith. Second, because kings are a bad idea, as listed in his parade of horribles:

This will be the practice of the king who will reign over you: Your sons he will take and set for himself in his chariots and in his cavalry, and some will run before his chariots. He will set for himself captains of thousands and captains of fifties, to plow his ground and reap his harvest and to make his implements of war and the implements of his chariots. And your daughters he will take as confectioners and cooks and bakers. And your best fields and your vineyards and your olive trees he will take and give to his servants. And your seed crops and your vineyards he will tithe and give to his courtiers and to his servants. And your best male and female slaves and your cattle and your donkeys he will take and use for his tasks. Your flocks he will tithe, and as for you, you will become his slaves. And you will cry out on that day before your king whom you chose for yourselves and he will not answer you on that day.

As is typical in Bible stories, God advises and then shrugs when nobody listens. You’re going to do what you want to do anyway, he says, just don’t blame me when it all goes wrong. And wrong it went, as the history of the monarchy demonstrates.

The take-way, which preceded the emergence of modern democracy, is that it may seem that kingship is a good idea, so long as you select the right kind of king rather than the wrong kind. But in the end, that is never the case. You have that on the highest authority.

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Who Knows: Categorizing and Tagging Posts

It seems easy to categorize and tag posts, so mostly I do. But it’s not easy. And I should know it’s not, having spent some part of life in libraries and bookstores, and some of that time actually classifying books to be published so that they might be shelved more or less correctly in a bookstore.

When I can’t or don’t want to be bothered classifying posts, I simply leave the category and tag blank. But today, I add the new category and tag Who Knows. Because some of the time, maybe most of the time, I don’t.

Reminders

Reminders

This way
That way
I think I know better
But I easily forget
Lost in myself
So a story
A sentence
A phrase
A word
A sound
A silence
A laugh
A look at anything
Reminds me
Of nothing more
Than this or that
O this
O that

©

A Very Short Primer on Veterans

1. When we as people of a nation order or ask others to fight for any cause, we must treat them, their service, and their families with the highest practical lifelong honor and healing, that is, with more than just symbols or rhetoric.

2. As we order or ask for that service, from the first we must study the causes that we are fighting for, in light of all our truest values, not just the values that are convenient, expedient, self-serving or inadequately considered.

3. While we will likely never be a world without warriors, we owe it to the warriors—past, present and future—to be peacemakers.

Dylan Thomas for Big Pharma

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have a new public relations campaign. It is no secret that Big Pharma is not wildly popular, given the perception that pricing is surreal and marketing is out of control.

The inarguable point of the ad is that pharmaceuticals save and extend lives. To make that point, it uses the most moving poem of Dylan Thomas, one of the great modern poets:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

My request is emphatic and simple. Whatever the merits or demerits of Big Pharma, find some other way to make your case, and please leave Dylan Thomas out of it. He is way out of your league.

Bobby Kennedy Abides

I’ve written before and frequently about Bobby Kennedy. I’m not the only one.

Last year saw the masterful biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye, which is the current definitive work. This past June, The Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest After JFK by John R. Bohrer.

In just the past week, two more. Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews. And while it is broader than just Bobby, Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics by Lawrence O’Donnell  opens with a chapter about Bobby’s decision to run for President, a chapter called Seizing the Moment.

Why the abiding interest, and why now? In the face of an ever-challenging nation and world, politics was and can still be a rich and complicated weave of strength and weakness, resolve and resignation, pleasure and pain, ideals and pragmatism. Know that once and again soulfulness could and would stare down soullessness, however dark the times. And that it could and would be embodied in the life and work of complicated humane leaders who inspired us. No saints, just good people.

Rather than quote from these books, which should be read, here’s a portion of a poem that Bobby was partial to, and which I’ve recited before. It is the close of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses:

…Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

It’s Just Pumpkin Pie

The Great Way is not difficult
for those not attached to preferences.
When neither love nor hate arises,
all is clear and undisguised.
Separate by the smallest amount, however,
and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.
Verses on the Faith Mind

It’s Just Pumpkin Pie

It is a slice of pumpkin pie
The hundredth I’ve eaten
Is it good
Is it better or worse?
Some comment and compare
The filling and the crust
I notice too
But choose to just eat and enjoy
This slice of pumpkin pie

©

President: I’m The Only One That Matters

In an interview yesterday, the President of the United States said:

I’m the only one that matters.

If you think this must be out of context, here’s the context. He was asked about there being so many unfilled high-level positions in the State Department, the foreign affairs arm of the American government. He dismissed the need for these people:

So we don’t need all the people they want. I’m a businessman, and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there. Lemme tell you, the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.

“I’m the only one that matters” is something you might hear from someone you’re in a difficult relationship with, or from the person who owns the company you work for, or from a dictator. But no American President has ever publicly said this. Being chief of the public enterprise that is America means that lots of other people matter—even if only a little.

The one blessing of Trump’s disorders (see Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is his unrestrained need to reveal exactly what is in his head at the moment, since these are the greatest thoughts in the world, the only ones that matter. This quote reveals something that everybody already knew, but it is still helpful to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Violin or Moon (Either/Or/And)

 

Violin or Moon (Either/Or/And)

1

Tonight a neighbor
Plays scales on a violin
I drift closer to hear
But stop at the street
A river of light
Washed by a full moon
Watching and listening too

2

Across the street
Scales on the violin
Soundtrack
For the full moon

Random Tao Te Ching: 54

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We cultivate the Tao in our village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in our state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders.”

Tao Te Ching 54

What you plant well can’t be uprooted
what you hold well can’t be taken away
your descendents will worship this forever
cultivated in yourself virtue becomes real
cultivated in your family virtue grows
cultivated in your village virtue multiplies
cultivated in your state virtue abounds
cultivated in your world virtue is everywhere
thus view others through yourself
view families through your family
view villages through your village
view states through your state
view other worlds through your world
how do you know what other worlds are like
through this one

WU CH’ENG says, “Those who plant something well, plant it without planting. Thus, it is never uprooted. Those who hold something well, hold it without holding. Thus, it is never taken away.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “What we plant well is virtue. What we hold well is oneness. When virtue flourishes, distant generations give praise.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “First improve yourself, then reach out to others and to later generations bequeath the noble, pure, and kindly Tao. Thus, blessings reach your descendants, virtue grows, beauty lasts, and worship never ends.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “In ancient times, ancestral worship consisted in choosing an auspicious day before the full moon, in fasting, in selecting sacrificial animals, in purifying the ritual vessels, in preparing a feast on the appointed day, in venerating ancestors as if they were present, and in thanking them for their virtuous example. Those who cultivate the Way likewise enable later generations to enjoy the fruits of their cultivation.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We cultivate the Tao in ourselves by cherishing our breath and by nourishing our spirit and thus by prolonging our life. We cultivate the Tao in our family by being loving as a parent, filial as a child, kind as an elder, obedient as the younger, dependable as a husband, and chaste as a wife. We cultivate the Tao in our village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in our state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders. Lao-tzu asks how we know that those who cultivate the Tao prosper and those who ignore the Tao perish. We know by comparing those who don’t cultivate the Tao with those who do.”

YEN TSUN says, “Let your person be the yardstick of other persons. Let your family be the level of other families. Let your village be the square of other villages. Let your state be the plumb line of other states. As for the world, the ruler is its heart, and the world is his body.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “The reality of the Tao lies in concern for the self. Concern for the state is irrelevant, and concern for the world is cowshit. From this standpoint, the emperor’s work is the sage’s hobby and is not what develops the self or nourishes life” (Chuangtzu: 28.3).

Lao Tzu’s Taoteching, translated by Red Pine