Bob Schwartz

Month: November, 2018

The People, Yes: Where to? what next?

“The People, Yes, an epic prose-poem, is in many ways the culmination of Carl Sandburg’s work as a poet and is believed by Lilian Sandburg to be his favorite work. He crafted it over an eight-year period, fusing the American vernacular with the details of history and contemporary events….Believing that economic inequity lay at the root of all social injustice, from labor conflict to racial and civil strife, he responded to the economic and social upheavals of the 1930s with The People, Yes.”
Carl Sandburg Home, National Parks Service

“Sandburg had a subject—and the subject was belief in man.”
Archibald MacLeish at the Carl Sandburg Memorial


The People, Yes

107

The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback.
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas.

The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”

The people is a tragic and comic two-face:
hero and hoodlum: phantom and gorilla twisting
to moan with a gargoyle mouth: “They
buy me and sell me . . . it’s a game . . .
sometime I’ll break loose . . .”
Once having marched
Over the margins of animal necessity,
Over the grim line of sheer subsistence
Then man came
To the deeper rituals of his bones,
To the lights lighter than any bones,
To the time for thinking things over,
To the dance, the song, the story,
Or the hours given over to dreaming,
Once having so marched

Between the finite limitations of the five senses
and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond
the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food
while reaching out when it comes their way
for lights beyond the prisms of the five senses,
for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.
This reaching is alive.
The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.
Yet this reaching is alive yet
for lights and keepsakes.

The people know the salt of the sea
and the strength of the winds
lashing the corners of the earth.
The people take the earth
as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.
Who else speaks for the Family of Man?
They are in tune and step
with constellations of universal law.
The people is a polychrome,
spectrum and a prism
held in a moving monolith,
a console organ of changing themes,
a clavilux of color poems
wherein the sea offers fog
and the fog moves off in rain
and the labrador sunset shortens
to a nocturne of clear stars
serene over the shot spray
of northern lights.

The steel mill sky is alive.
The fire breaks white and zigzag
shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
Man is a long time coming.
Man will yet win.
Brother may yet line up with brother:

This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can’t be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise.
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?

In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for
keeps, the people march:
“Where to? what next?”

The People, Yes
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

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Thinksgiving

Dhammapada. One of the most popular and best-loved Buddhist texts. It consists of 423 verses divided into 26 sections arranged according to subject matter. In practice it is a sort of anthology of verses from various books of the canon.
A Dictionary of Buddhism

3. MIND

As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,
How elusive!
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.

An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded.
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.

The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha
A Rendering by Thomas Byrom

Miniature Rakes: New Symbol of the Resistance and Resurgence…and So Zen

Our story so far: Visiting the site of the California fires, Trump—graduate of the Wharton School of Finance and Forest Management—told officials that the disaster could have been prevented if they “raked the forest floor.” He said he heard this from the Prime Minister of Finland, who replied that he had never told Trump any such thing.

This led to global reaction, including the clever hashtag #RakeAmericaGreatAgain, along with lots of creative images of people with rakes.

Rakes are more than a tool to clean up lawns, or if you are Trump, to prevent forest fires. They are used in Zen gardens to mindfully tend to a blank slate of sand.

Many of us have or have had rakes as items in our landscape tool shed. But displaying a full-size rake inside your home or on your desk is awkward—as is giving a rake as a gift or sending a rake to sympathetic or unsympathetic public servants.

That is where miniature rakes come in. These tiny rakes are not just available as a children’s toy. They are also available to help those who maintain tabletop Zen sand gardens. Best of all, they are inexpensive, as little as $2 apiece.

So buy and display a miniature rake. Put it on your table or desk. Send it as a gift. Rakes may not prevent forest fires, but they are symbols of cleaning up and bringing creative order and design to chaos. All in your hands.

William Goldman Dies at 87

“As a writer I believe that all the basic human truths are known. And what we try to do as best we can is come at those truths from our own unique angle, to reilluminate those truths in a hopefully different way.”
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade

New York Times:

William Goldman, who won Academy Awards for his screenplays for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men” and who, despite being one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, was an outspoken critic of the movie industry, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 87.

In his long career, which began in the 1960s and lasted into the 21st century, Mr. Goldman also wrote the screenplays for popular films like “Misery,” “A Bridge Too Far,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Chaplin.” He was a prolific novelist as well, and several of his screenplays were adapted from his own novels, notably “The Princess Bride” and “Marathon Man.”

There are plenty of reasons to admire William Goldman—as a writer and as a writer who cast a realistic light on writing—but nothing is higher than The Princess Bride.

The movie, written by Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner, is a gem, worth watching at least once a year. But in its own way, his novel from which he adapted the screenplay, is even better.

If you know the movie, it is a comic romance and adventure set in a fantasy kingdom, framed by a grandfather reading this story to his grandson. But the novel is much more meta. Goldman places himself in the novel, as a writer with a fictionalized family, condensing and adapting a book by S. Morgenstern that his father had read to him, which adaptation is…The Princess Bride. The trick that Goldman pulls off is that you come away believing that everything he has told you—about his career, his family, the non-existent book by the non-existent S. Morgenstern—are all true.

The bigger trick—the bigger truth—is that everything he wrote in The Princess Bride is absolutely true. Even though he made it all up. If you are a writer or a reader, and don’t fully understand that, read William Goldman, starting with The Princess Bride.

Trump’s Ten Commandments Checklist

The Ten Commandments constitute the most concise and famous list of moral values in the Western world. There are other lists, of course (see, for example, the Beatitudes). But if you want a quick checklist, the Ten Commandments are handy.

We don’t expect ourselves or others to achieve a perfect score, which could mean keeping every one or breaking every one. But the list does provide a way of keeping track and keeping score, in hopes of improvement.

For Trump:

You shall have no other gods beside Me: Unknown.
Trump appears to have little or no theological knowledge or belief. But until he expressly claims to be an atheist or polytheist, we can’t know what’s in his heart.

You shall make you no carved likeness: Broken.
This is the idolatry commandment. Trump has made an idol of himself. And in those rare cases when he can stop idolizing himself, he has occasionally made idols of others—often unworthy others.

You shall not take the name of God in vain: Broken.
This is commonly treated as the cursing commandment, and it is commonly broken. If it is cursing we are talking about, we are certain that Trump, whose private language is known to be crude, has broken this one.

Remember the sabbath day: Broken.
The Sabbath commandment is so regularly broken that Trump’s failure is hardly remarkable.

Honor your father and your mother: Kept.
Giving Trump his due, he seems to have genuine reverence for his parents—though the relationships were complicated. If this includes being a good parent, that may be another story.

You shall not murder: Kept.
We suppose not, certainly not directly, but given the sorts of people he has long associated with, we just don’t know.

You shall not commit adultery: Broken.
On a scale of 1 to 10, this goes to 11.

You shall not steal: Broken.

You shall not bear false witness: Broken.
As with adultery, this goes to 11. Or 12.

You shall not covet: Broken.

That makes seven Broken, two Kept, and one Unknown. How do you think it stacks up?

Trump’s Breakdown

Crazy, I just cannot bear
I’m living with something’ that just isn’t fair

Mental wounds not healing
Who and what’s to blame?

I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train

Ozzy Osbourne, Crazy Train

Trump has broken down.

The first week after the midterm elections provided clear and convincing evidence. It is admittedly hard to tell with someone so publicly erratic and eccentric in the first place. “Trump is just being Trump, just a little more so” is an easy if uncomforting excuse.

But this is different. And not at all surprising. Whatever his preexisting psychological disorders, there are realities and pressures that even his walls of denial are struggling to contain.

One of the many signs this past week is his disappearance at events that even he knew were appearances he was expected to make and could have used as opportunities for his usual grandstanding. Not once but twice he missed high-profile events honoring American veterans. And two high-level Asian conferences that he was scheduled to attend will now see Mike Pence instead.

His immediate firing of Jeff Sessions and his attempt at appointing a loyal lackey as Attorney General is the first step in what will be a sea change in his inner circle. He feels more personally besieged than ever. He is demanding complete and utter loyalty, no questions asked, no internal resistance allowed. One could look at this as simply strategic in the face of great difficulties. But one could also look at it as the workings of a troubled and paranoid leader who believes the world is against him, and no counter attack is too extreme. This is war, and he needs a war cabinet around him.

If Trump has already broken down, or is in the process, there may be little we as citizens can do about it. He has a world-class powerful bureaucracy at his personal command. Congress, even with the upcoming Democratic House, can do little, even if there was bipartisan will, which there isn’t. Removal from office through impeachment requires two-thirds of the Senate to convict, which won’t happen. The 25th Amendment disability procedure is even more unlikely, since that provision begins with his Vice President and Cabinet. That won’t happen either.

The only “better” possibility is if Trump goes so far over the edge and over the top that even Republican Senators, and Pence and the new Cabinet, face the fact that psychologically, Trump can no longer be trusted with the office, having reached the point where “Trump being Trump” is no longer acceptable. Do we want to wait for that? Do we have a choice?

Bob Woodward and Seth Meyers have criticized CNN for suing the White House over the pulling of Jim Acosta’s press credentials. With all due respect to Woodward, you’re wrong.

Noted legal scholar Seth Meyers

The White House pulled the press credentials of CNN journalist Jim Acosta because Trump doesn’t like his questions, his attitude or him. The First Amendment does not allow this. CNN has sued.

Bob Woodward, an extraordinary and legendary journalist who has made his indelible mark on American history, has criticized CNN for feeding Trump’s appetite for lawsuits. So has Seth Meyers, an amusing entertainer legendary for nothing.

Lawyers are not that special. But lawyers are a bit more sensitive than some others to how unopposed government assaults on constitutional rights tend to gather momentum, sliding down a slippery slope. Waiting only makes things worse.

So to Bob Woodward, who deserves infinite respect for all he has done and continues to do, in this case you are wrong. And to Seth Meyers, who is well rewarded for working within the protection of the First Amendment, please remember that the First Amendment needs protection too. It is the First Amendment that allows those who are funny and sometimes ill-informed to express themselves without government interference.

Veterans Month and Mental Health

It is appropriate to talk about this Veterans Day 2018—Sunday, November 11—when talking about veterans and mental health.

Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day, the day that World War I ended. This Veterans Day marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Modern awareness of the widespread psychological effects of warfare began early in World War I, with the phenomenon of “shell shock.” In looking back at the war, there is still a question of how many cases were, in terms then used, “commotional” (due to explosions at close range) and how many cases were “emotional” (due to the psychological experience of war). In either case, numbers of warriors came home different and troubled—troubles which might last for the rest of their lives, and even serve to shorten those lives.

In the wars since, different theories and treatments have been developed, different labels have been attached. Today, those of us on the outside of this experience know it as PTSD. Those on the inside know it as the hell of war and its aftermath.

This will be another month—since a day is absolutely not enough—of honoring veterans. Judging by the still inadequate attention and support, they are more honored in the breach than in the observance. Among the failures too long to list is insufficiently acknowledging and taking responsibility for the mental health of those who we send to serve.

If you don’t want war—blessed are the peacemakers—then work for that. If you want war, or reluctantly think that war is necessary, treat those you send to fight for you as your own family, your own siblings, your own children. Because they are somebody’s.

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Possibly the most famous and prophetic quote from the American Constitutional Convention is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. America was not just a new nation; it was a new kind of nation, so naturally people wondered just what kind of a nation it was to be:

As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, on September 18, 1787, a certain Mrs. Powel shouted out to him: “Well, doctor, what have we got?,” and Franklin responded: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

America has voted, there will be a Democratic-led House, and it appears that the Republic, which has been under serious internal siege for the past two years, is a little closer to again being kept.

It is just one step toward having an effective check on a leader and a ruling party intent on subverting virtually all of the principles that Franklin and friends embodied in the new nation. But a step in the right direction it is.

Franklin and friends are cautiously relieved. They, more than any, know how hard this is. So they are smiling a little. And so are many Americans.