Bob Schwartz

Month: November, 2018

Why Space Colonization, Exploitation and Militarization Are Bad Ideas Right Now

Exploration has two faces. One is adventure, seeking the unknown because it is there—and unknown. The other is a search for land and resources. The two are often combined. Then there is the bonus benefit of technological progress. Genuinely dramatic advances. And Tang.

Whether earth-bound exploration has been beneficial depends on who you are, where you are and when you are. Numerous people have gotten to work and live better lives, some of them getting very rich. Other people got to live worse lives, if they lived at all. Nature and natural resources went from coexistence and reasonable use to abuse and unsustainable exploitation. That is on earth.

And now that this planet’s exploration, colonization, exploitation and militarization have left things FUBAR (look it up), we think it would be okay to forget about that for a while and focus on doing the same thing again with other off-earth targets. The moon, Mars, whatever.

History of course repeats itself, because people don’t change that much or that quickly. In the past, nations went into the business of exploration not only for the immediate gains but because other nations were exploring and they didn’t want to be left behind and vulnerable. The same rationale is being used right now for space exploration—and, among other initiatives, militarization (Space Force! Yeah!)

It’s not that we will go to the moon or Mars and subjugate or infect populations of aboriginal moon people or Martians. It’s just that with our track record, we will find a way of screwing things up. We almost always do.

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Do You Use Wikipedia? Donate to the Wikimedia Foundation.

Do you visit Wikipedia once in a while? Once a day? Multiple times a day?

Wikipedia is operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which is funded by donations. Astonishingly but maybe not surprising, only 1% of Wikipedia visitors contribute:

Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the world.

Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here. Not in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others.

When I founded Wikipedia, I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising banners, but I decided to do something different. We’ve worked hard over the years to keep it lean and tight. We fulfill our mission efficiently.

If everyone reading this donated, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. But not everyone can or will donate. And that’s fine. Each year just enough people decide to give.

This year, please consider making a donation of $5, $20, $50 or whatever you can to protect and sustain Wikipedia.

Thanks,

Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder

All of us—me included—have gotten used to being online freeloaders. The truth is, though, that as we wander through the orchard picking free fruit, somebody planted those trees, watered those trees, tended those trees, and helped them grow.

Please donate to the Wikimedia Foundation today, and tell your friends to donate. The next time you visit Wikipedia (probably within the next hour), you will know that you helped.

Beyond Smart Speakers and Big Data: L1ZY

Is there is a dark future for smart speakers in our lives—Amazon Echo, Google Home, Facebook Portal, and all the rest?

Introducing the most advanced artificial intelligence platform in modern history, in this brilliant video from Ghost + Cow. Presenting L1ZY:

Trump just retweeted this image. Once again: Are we scared yet? Yet? If not now, when? And are we helpless to stop it?

Trump just retweeted the above image, which was tweeted by a crazy pro-Trump type. Pictured in jail, charged with treason, are special counsel Robert Mueller, Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former President Bill Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey, and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The first time I posted the question “Are we scared yet?” was on January 31, 2017, just a few weeks after Trump took office. I’ve asked it regularly since, most recently in June 2018, when CBS News was interviewing an ICE whistleblower at home, and government agents came knocking at the door in the middle of the interview. In truth, that question could be asked just about every day.

I try not to be unnecessarily negative, I am a reasonable person, and I am not paranoid. But I try to be realistic, I am a student of history, and I believe in America and in the rule of law.

Maybe you see where this regime is going, but don’t want to say it too loudly, so as not to panic your family, your friends, the economy and the market—or panic yourself. Maybe you see where this going and think that it doesn’t affect you, or that you will be alright, maybe even better off. Maybe you don’t see where this is going and are hoping for the best.

This is heading to a confrontation that we might find in history books or elsewhere in the world, but have never seen in America. As much faith as we have in our institutions, they have never been tested like this, and we haven’t seen the worst yet. Will we pass the test? We hope so. Should we be scared yet? Are we?

Maybe Myths Will Save Us

You can’t fight and eliminate myth. You can try. You can drive it away and banish it, but it will always turn up within the city walls. Because it is inside you and all the citizens.

When I began reading comic books, I didn’t know those stories were myths. When I first heard the stories of the Bible, I didn’t know those were myths. In the big world, something about these myths proved to be irresistibly and unstoppably popular. Comic book myths became an entertainment mega-industry. Religious myths laid the foundation for the beliefs of billions.

Enlightenment and modernism took on the task of demythologizing. That project has never been wholly successful. It is instead like whack-a-mole: bash one myth down and another will pop up. You may not recognize something as myth, but there it is. Bigger than life, embodying truths that defy everyday experience and evidence. Not only bigger, but more significant.

As the essayist Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Maybe instead of trying to stop telling ourselves stories, maybe instead of trying to loosen our embrace of myths (both impossible anyway), maybe we keep conscious of the myths, try to let go of the unhelpful ones, and try to choose better and more beneficial ones.

 

#GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

“Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

“One of the best ways to get involved is in your own community. We’ve created a directory to help you find organizations, charities, events and more in your own community.”


If you have favorite charities, give today, through the holiday season and whenever. If you don’t have favorites, and are wondering where to give, you can check out some of the excellent organizations that review charities, such as:

Charity Navigator

Charity Watch

BBB Wise Giving Alliance


Maimonides’ Eight Degrees of Tzedakah

From lowest to highest level:

  1. The person who gives reluctantly and with regret.
  2. The person who gives graciously, but less than one should.
  3. The person gives what one should, but only after being asked.
  4. The person who gives before being asked.
  5. The person who gives without knowing to whom he/she gives, although the recipient knows the identity of the donor.
  6. The person who gives without making his or her identity known.
  7. The person who gives without knowing to whom he/she gives. The recipient does not know from whom he/she receives.
  8. The person who helps another to support him/herself by a gift, loan, or helping that person find employment, thus helping that person to become self-supporting.

Pushke (Yiddish), donation box

Not You

Not You

A film of a festival
long ago across an ocean
I wasn’t there you weren’t either.
The camera panned from stage
to a hill above the crowd
where a bare legged lady lay
voluptuous and young.
From this distance
filtered through screen and years
she looked like you.
All of us are elsewhere though
only one was there though
wasn’t that me floating above you
saying something that made her smile
legs langouring to that summer music?
If not you who
is she?

©

 

Red Flower

Red Flower

The red flower cannot help it
not the orange or yellow
being there for bee or bird
or me just as they are

©

Dogen and Heschel on Time

Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253) and Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) would have understood each other, liked each other, despite the seven centuries that separate them. Brilliant, visionary and overwhelmingly articulate, they were heirs to two rich traditions, Zen Buddhism and Judaism, which they further refined into pure essence. Their inspired prose is poetry, the poetry of the thing itself.

Both wrote about time in ways that exceed our comprehension by a step or two, so we run to keep up: Dogen most astutely in his essay Uji: The Time Being; Heschel in his book The Sabbath.


When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and beyond understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and beyond understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is. Grass being, form being, are both time.

Each moment is all being, each moment is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment….

Mountains are time. Oceans are time. If they were not time, there would be no mountains or oceans. Do not think that mountains and oceans here and now are not time. If time is annihilated, mountains and oceans are annihilated. As time is not annihilated, mountains and oceans are not annihilated.

Zen Master Dogen, Uji: The Time Being, translated by Dan Welch and Kazuaki Tanahashi, in The Essential Dogen.


Every one of us occupies a portion of space. He takes it up exclusively. The portion of space which my body occupies is taken up by myself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet, no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living men as it belongs to me. We share time, we own space. Through my ownership of space, I am a rival of all other beings; through my living in time, I am a contemporary of all other beings. We pass through time, we occupy space. We easily succumb to the illusion that the world of space is for our sake, for man’s sake. In regard to time, we are immune to such an illusion.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath.


 

Losing Our Religion at Exactly the Wrong Time

There is a thought that religion is an ancient and now outdated way of dealing with our understanding of a complex world. As soon as we began to “understand” the world better, and could even do and make things once attributed only to the gods, religion was considered a vestige, and often an unhelpful or destructive one.

That is ironically wrong-headed. The more we did and made, the more exponentially complex the world became. Even if our tools of whole understanding kept pace with that development—which they didn’t—people were more interested in doing and making than they were in learning and using those tools.

One more step in the downward spiral is that those who still maintained religion often integrated it with doing and making, and religion lost its original power and purpose for understanding. They exploited religion, used it, made it transactional, which made it more unpopular with those who had already rejected it.

We can develop and choose other tools to understand what is now a radically complexifying world and to understand ourselves and our place in it. It does not have to be religion, but it has to be something. Religion is convenient and useful because it has already been built and refined, sometimes—but certainly not always—in positive and enlightening ways.

Choosing nothing is an option, but a costly one. Choosing something, religion or otherwise, may yet help get us out of the mess. This mess, and the ones inevitably to come.