Bob Schwartz

Month: May, 2018

Trump v. Kim: Who’s the Sucker?

Trump has been played by Kim of North Korea. Just as he is being played by Putin of Russia. Just as he is being played by Xi of China. Just as smart authoritarian rulers everywhere are lining up to see how to take advantage of him.

It brings up a proverbial thought: If you look around the poker table, and you can’t tell who the sucker is—it’s you.

Whose blood? Whose hands?

LADY MACBETH:
Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

And Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him. And the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? Listen! your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil.
Genesis 4:8-10

This was originally drafted in response to this week’s Israeli violence, in which dozens of Palestinian protestors were killed and hundreds wounded.

Then this morning, still another high school shooting, this in Santa Fe, Texas, has left at least nine dead.

Worlds apart, these are related. Whenever ideology and belief result in unnatural deaths, questions should be asked by the zealous ideologues and believers themselves. If they are completely and unconditionally convinced that their belief is worth the mortal price that others pay, then they should proceed. But whether those beliefs are religious or constitutional, they are not relieved by justification from asking the questions: Whose blood? Whose hands? Because they know—or should—that the blood is on theirs. They are the keepers of their brothers, sisters and children. Even if they don’t listen or want to listen, or they make loud excuses or evasions, the blood cries out.

Artificial Tears

Artificial Tears

Tears won’t come naturally.
The eyes dry out
Like rainless desert,
Lids in rhythmic arc
Abrade instead of soothe and cleanse.
Tears in a bottle.
Actors cry on demand
Artificial tears instead of flowing
From single or shared sorrow
Or joy or the rough reality of days
Rubbing and scratching
The solitude of morning.
This is no act.

©

Proof of Dreams

Proof of Dreams

The dreams of last night’s sleep
Are as real and present
As this morning’s coffee.
Otherwise how could they
Poke and tug and shake
As we move on and say
They are over.

©

Democrats: Micah 2020

Dana Milbank writes in today’s Washington Post:

Hey Democrats! What’s the big idea? No, really. What’s the big idea?

A dozen possible Democratic presidential candidates assembled at a downtown Washington hotel Tuesday for one of the first cattle calls of the 2020 campaign. The good news: There were, on that stage, all of the personal qualities and policy ideas needed to defeat President Trump. The bad news: These qualities and ideas were not in any one person….

For November’s midterm elections, it may be enough for Democrats to say they are against Trump. Congressional Democratic leaders took a stab at a unified agenda for 2018 — “A Better Deal” — and were roundly mocked by progressives.

But to beat Trump, they’ll need more. Trump convinced tens of millions of Americans that they are losing ground because of immigrants, racial and religious minorities, and foreigners. What will Democrats advance to counter that grim message?

Given how lost the Democrats are (and how that might lead to further losing), I suggest that they consider the Bible. Not the weaponized, sectarian and exclusionary interpretation of the Bible that is so popular with selfish and heartless ideologues. But the Bible that demands humane conduct—something that we see slipping away election by election, day by day (and that means you too, Democrats).

The prophet Micah is a great touchstone. The revealed solution for an aggrieved people does not involve greater piety, more sacrifices, or brutal nationalism. All that is required is justice, goodness and humility:

With what shall I approach the Lord,
Do homage to God on high?
Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?

Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
With myriads of streams of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for my sins?

“He has told you, O man, what is good,
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk modestly with your God;
Then will your name achieve wisdom.”

Micah 6:6-9 (NJPS)

Micah is not available to run in an election. But justice, goodness and humility are always available as a platform.

The Slippery Slope Philosophy: How Israel Is Like the NRA

Israel is under real existential threat. The modern state exists because a portion of modern Jewry was not only under existential threat, but actually found itself decimated. This is incontrovertible. Not again, never again.

But existential threat offers possibilities and opportunities. You can engage in deep, serious, measured and open consideration of exactly what that means and how to respond. Or you can treat is a license to do anything, and to reject and attack all those—even Jews—who suggest you can’t necessarily do anything. Giving a moral inch is giving a moral mile, and it is a slippery slope. This is currently Israel’s posture.

This is precisely the position of the National Rifle Association regarding guns and the Second Amendment. It is all or nothing. Even a hint that the Second Amendment might be conditional is dangerous. The next thing you know, “they” will be coming around to take your guns. That can’t be allowed to happen, no matter how many people are killed or injured, how many innocent lives ruined, in the meantime.

Sorting through values is hard work, and the conclusions can be inconvenient and costly.  Easier to deal with absolutes. That way, you can sleep righteously and soundly, without worrying about the victims of your carelessness.

Trump v. Moses: Grievances Win Over Vision

People can be complainers. Grievances can be powerful. Just ask Trump. Or Moses.

Prior freedom and miracles were not enough for the Jews at Mount Sinai. While Moses goes up the mountain, for what turns out to be a monumental visionary moment, the people head in an entirely different direction. They are still chronically unhappy and complaining about their lives and the way things have been going, and so engage in all sorts of crazy behavior. In that story, the vision does end up prevailing, but only after lots more tzuris (troubles) and mishegas (craziness).

The only chance for vision to prevail over grievance is for there to be an actual coherent and enlightened vision, and for there to be widespread confidence among people in that actual vision. Otherwise people, who are just human, will complain—sometimes selfishly and shortsightedly, sometimes justifiably. And they will channel those complaints into strange behaviors and choices.

In America, there are a lot of people with grievances. And there is a vision vacuum, at least among those whose supposed structural mission is to be practical visionaries (for example, Democrats and religious institutions). Even with miracles behind him, Moses had a tough time. Without miracles or vision, in elections and at other times, we may be seeing a lot more golden calves.

 

Mother’s Day: BE NICE

Melania Trump calls her new social initiative as First Lady “Be Best.” It has been somewhat ridiculed for being well-intentioned but too vague and generalized, having something to do with children not using opioids, using social media responsibly, and so on. (She earlier attempted to focus only on cyber bullying, for which she was also mocked, given that she is married to the world’s most famous and powerful cyber bully.)

But she was close to being on to something.

Once you get past all the detailed negatives about Trump and other officials and supposed leaders in America unashamedly acting out, it comes down to one thing: a lot of responsible adults in positions of authority and influence are just being way, way too mean.

BE NICE. Does that sound ridiculous and puerile? “Be nice” seems the kind of message you might hear from your mother. Do you know why? Because Moms know that in your life, two things will happen. People in various positions relative to you will be mean to you, and you won’t always be in a position to say or do anything about it. And you will be in a position to be mean to others, and the same applies. It is a Mom-like cliché-plus to say “If you can’t say anything nice about somebody, don’t say anything.” Moms want our lives to be better, maybe even best, and this can help. Whether you are in kindergarten or the White House, “Be Nice” is supremely wise advice.

Happy Mother’s Day to Moms and children of Moms everywhere.

Which Social Ingredient Is Poisoning Us?

Let’s say you eat a really big meal. A thousand dishes, each dish containing a thousand ingredients. That’s a million ingredients.

After eating the meal, you get sick. More sick than just from being very overstuffed. The doctor says that you have food poisoning. The question for you and the doctor: which ingredient or ingredients poisoned you?

That’s one way of looking at this social/cultural/political moment. There is increasingly a sense that we are poisoned, and that it might be something we ate or are still eating. How are we going to find out for sure? If we do find out, can we stop cooking with and eating that ingredient? Or is it just so tasty, so much a part of so many recipes, that we can’t easily stop or eliminate it?

Nine Prayers: For Those We Like, Love or Suffer When We Think Of

Thomas Merton’s final book, Contemplative Prayer, was published in 1969, a year after his accidental death. In 1995, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh added an introduction. He wrote about his admiration for Merton and about distinctions between Christian and Buddhist prayer:

I first met Thomas Merton in 1966. It is hard to describe his face in words, to write down exactly what he was like. He was filled with human warmth. Conversation with him was so easy. When we talked, I told him a few things, and he immediately understood the things I didn’t tell him as well. He was open to everything, constantly asking questions and listening deeply. I told him about my life as a Buddhist novice in Vietnam, and he wanted to know more and more.

Our approach to prayer in Buddhism is a little different from that of Christianity. We practice silent meditation, and we try to practice mindfulness in everything we do, to awaken to what is going on inside us and all around us in each moment. The Buddha taught: “If you are standing on one shore and want to cross over to the other shore, you have to use a boat or swim across. You cannot just pray, ‘Oh, other shore, please come over here for me to step across!’” To a Buddhist, praying without also practicing is not real prayer.

At the end of the Introduction, he offers a comprehensive set of nine prayers—prayers beyond any sectarian tradition, and prayers that include “the one we suffer when we think of.”


Nine Prayers
Thich Nhat Hanh
From Introduction to Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

1.
May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May they be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
2.
May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
May he/she be free from injury. May he/she live in safety.
May they be free from injury. May they live in safety.
3.
May I be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May he/she be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May they be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
4.
May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May he/she learn to look at him/herself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May they learn to look at themselves with the eyes of understanding and love.
5.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May he/she be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in him/herself.
May they be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in themselves.
6.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
May he/she learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in him/herself.
May they learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in themselves.
7.
May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May he/she know how to nourish the seeds of joy in him/herself every day.
May they know how to nourish the seeds of joy in themselves every day.
8.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May he/she be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May they be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
9.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May he/she be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May they be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

He/she: First the person we like, then the person we love, then the person who is neutral to us, and finally the person we suffer when we think of.

They: The group, the people, the nation, or the species we like, then the one we love, then the one that is neutral to us, and finally the one we suffer when we think of.