Bob Schwartz

Month: July, 2018

Would the Buddha Trim the Bodhi Tree?

Back in December on Bodhi Day (the celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment), I gave myself a present:

This Bodhi Day, I gifted myself a bodhi tree, just like the one that the Buddha was sitting under when he was enlightened. Almost just like it. This bonsai ficus religiosa is about 8 inches high, so I will not be sitting under it.

I’ve taken good care of this very hardy bonsai and it has grown well. That leaves me with a conundrum. The aesthetics of bonsai includes appropriate trimming to maintain a certain balance. But each time I consider taking scissors to growth, I stop. If it grows lush and green, let it grow.

Then I thought of the Buddha’s own Bodhi tree. There are no tales of his considering trimming that tree. That doesn’t mean he didn’t think about it—or not think about it.

So, as I continue to water this beautiful little tree, a new koan appears: Would the Buddha trim the Bodhi tree?

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Trump Tweets to the Soccer Ball When He Misses Putin

The mystery of the soccer ball that Putin gave to Trump has been solved. The ball does contain a transmitter, but only for nearby phones.

It is now so clear. Trump can access secret videos from Putin broadcast from the ball. And when Trump really misses Putin but can’t get him on the phone, Trump can tweet to the ball as if Putin were right there with him.

Isn’t love grand!

Bloomberg:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s gift of a soccer ball to U.S. President Donald Trump last week set off a chorus of warnings — some of them only half in jest — that the World Cup souvenir could be bugged. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham even tweeted, “I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”

It turns out they weren’t entirely wrong. Markings on the ball indicate that it contained a chip with a tiny antenna that transmits to nearby phones.

But rather than a spy device, the chip is an advertised feature of the Adidas AG ball. Photographs from the news conference in Helsinki, where Putin handed the ball to Trump, show it bore a logo for a near-field communication tag. During manufacturing, the NFC chip is placed inside the ball under that logo, which resembles the icon for a WiFi signal, according to the Adidas website.

The chip allows fans to access player videos, competitions and other content by bringing their mobile devices close to the ball.

Trump Turns to a Depression-era Solution to Help the Farmers He Is Hurting

Library of Congress, Farm Foreclosure Sale in Iowa, ca. 1930-1940

Washington Post:

White House readies plan for $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers caught in Trump’s escalating trade war

The U.S. Agriculture Department on Tuesday plans to announce a $12 billion package of emergency aid for farmers caught in the midst of President Trump’s escalating trade war, two people briefed on the plan said, the latest sign that growing tensions between the United States and other countries will not end soon….

The money would be extended just as voters in some of the most heavily impacted states are preparing to cast votes in the midterm elections. There are several key Senate races in farm dependent states like Missouri, North Dakota, and Indiana this November, and the outcome of those races could determine who controls the chamber next year.

The White House has searched for months for a way to provide emergency assistance to farmers without backing down on Trump’s trade agenda, and the new program will extend roughly $12 billion through three mechanisms run by the Department of Agriculture.

The funds will come through direct assistance, a food purchase and distribution program, and a trade promotion program. It will rely in part on a Depression-era program called the Commodity Credit Corporation, a division of the Agriculture Department created in 1933 to offer a financial backstop for farmers.

So the damage Trump is doing to farmers with his unnecessary and universally condemned trade war is potentially so great that he is turning to a solution from the Depression. Whether you call that telling, ironic or simply surreal, it is just one more milestone on a road to American parts strange and unknown—or more likely a road to nowhere.

To faithful Trump supporters: God doesn’t hate you but Satan loves you

The Trump administration said yesterday that 463 parents separated from their children at the southern border were no longer in the United States, having likely already been deported.

This is part of an announced plan to use border separations as a way to discourage migrants from coming to America. It is a sort of terrorism. What could be more terrorizing to a parent than the threat of being separated from your child forever?

Theology seems to play a major role in support for Trump among a number of faithful Americans. We frequently hear, for example, that Trump’s election was part of God’s plan. So that whatever Trump’s shortcomings relative to Christian morality, God still approves, and so should we.

Looking at the tragic border policy that Trump is pursuing and can’t (and doesn’t want to) fix, and the fact that hundreds of children will unnecessarily never see their parents again, it is worth thinking about theology.

What if God doesn’t really care about our elections? Frankly, God might beneficially stay as far away as possible from that nonsense and focus on more important human situations.

But Satan, that’s another story. Sowing chaos and tragedy is his stock in trade. How better to crush true faith than to disguise every evil impulse and inclination as the embodiment of good? In this scheme, separating loving parents from children appears not just as a good idea but as a divine directive. Trump couldn’t do better if he was working for Satan himself.

Trump: “The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!”

Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client – totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2018

Trump is not even my 45th favorite President. My favorite Presidents (out of 45):

46. Donald Trump

Also:

The government didn’t “break into” Michael Cohen’s office, home and hotel room. It was properly executing a difficult-to-obtain search warrant.

New York is a one-party recording state, that is, the permission of only one of two parties is needed to legally record a conversation.

The New York City Bar Association advises that a lawyer may tape a conversation without disclosing to the other party “if the lawyer has a reasonable basis for believing that disclosure of the taping would impair pursuit of a generally accepted societal good.”

We know that Trump does not understand or respect the proper administration of justice or “generally accepted societal good.” Which is just one more reason he is my 46th favorite President.

How Bizarre Things Are: There Is a Sane Shadow Government Trying to Run America in Spite of Trump—and That May Be Okay

There are government agencies that issue statements and policies that contradict or correct what Trump says. There are reports that military leaders have an informal agreement to passively defy any truly crazy and dangerous orders that Trump issues. There are reports that after Trump attempted to subvert the unity of NATO, American military leaders immediately told their international counterparts not to worry because nothing was changing. There is widespread belief that some of the most capable and reasonable members of Trump’s team won’t resign because they believe they are holding the line between order and disaster.

When you put this and other pieces together, a picture emerges. There is right now a sane shadow government trying to uphold the conventions of an orderly and intelligently managed American government. Under most other circumstances, in other times and places, this might be considered subversive and reprehensible. But under these particular circumstances, we might actually—as strange as it seems—be thankful.

Is it any wonder that at least half of America, and probably more, feels like strangers in their own land, transported to some unprecedented alternative bizarro universe, and wakes up each day wondering what fresh hell awaits them in the news?

Time for Billionaires and Companies to Spend Money to Protect Democracy and Make Elections Secure

Washington Post :

House GOP refuses to renew election security funding

House Republicans on Thursday approved a spending bill that excludes new money for election security grants to states, provoking a furious reaction from Democrats amid a national controversy over Russian election interference.

The spending bill passed 217-199. Democrats’ bid to add hundreds of millions more in election spending was rejected 182-232 — as Republicans were unmoved by Democrats floor speeches decrying the funding changes and chanting “USA! USA!”

At issue is a grants program overseen by the federal Election Assistance Commission and aimed at helping states administer their elections and improve voting systems; Democrats want to continue grant funding through 2019, while Republicans say the program already has been fully funded.

A number of Republicans, especially in Congress, no longer seem to believe in democracy, because they do not want to risk losing on a level playing field. That is precisely the reason that Trump accepted (or solicited) Putin’s help in winning his election, and why Republicans now worry about helping states make elections fair and secure.

That’s why American billionaires and companies should step in and fund state election security, since the Trump-run government apparently won’t. This isn’t a controversial or partisan matter; it is an American matter. These billionaires and companies can and should offer assistance in many ways—all of which require millions of dollars, all of which these people and companies have.

How could any American billionaire or company find the funding of secure and fair elections objectionable? Even if it sometimes seems that some do.

Logical Proof that Putin is President of the United States (and leader of the Republican Party)

Logic, even playful logic, is not particularly popular with Trump and many of his supporters. It has been tossed on the trash heap, along with truth, selflessness, courage, patriotism and sanity.

Logic can be helpful in critical times like these. Using what might be called the Transitive Property of Dominance, we find:

Trump is President of the United States.
Putin dominates Trump.
Therefore Putin is President of the United States.

and:

Trump is leader of the Republican Party.
Putin dominates Trump.
Therefore Putin is leader of the Republican Party.

This has many uses. Most importantly, when you see a Republican official, or see a Republican candidate on a ballot, unless you are absolutely sure he or she is an active opponent of this dominance (not just rhetorical objection), you can assume that for all practical purposes you are looking at Putin.

The logic may not be formally pure. But the point is essential and inescapable.

Trio Gnossieme

Trio Gnossieme

The birds
The cicadas
The wind through the branches.
A yellow flower twitches.
Nothing still.

©

Compassion Toward Your Things

Much is said and written, in many traditions, about awareness, mindfulness and realization. But this one thought, said just this way, is new to me.

Speaking for the Baal Shem Tov, the first ancestor of Hasidic Judaism, Martin Buber writes about our relationship not just with creatures but with our things. The idea of being compassionate toward your possessions may seem eccentric. Nothing could be more central. If everybody—and everything—is not free, who is?

From The Legend of the Baal-Shem:

Around each man—enclosed within the wide sphere of his activity—is laid a natural circle of things which, before all, he is called to set free. These are the creatures and objects that are spoken of as the possessions of this individual: his animals and his walls, his garden and his meadow, his tools and his food. In so far as he cultivates and enjoys them in holiness, he frees their souls. “For this reason a man must always be compassionate toward his tools and all his possessions.”