Bob Schwartz

Month: January, 2019

The Maddening Sound of Guilt: Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart

I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!
Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart (1843) is the story of someone who murders an old man, dismembers and hides the body beneath the floor boards, and is then driven to confess by the sound of the still beating heart.

A lesson for those who hide the truth and think they have nothing to fear. Even for the conscience-free, this is how it ends, with the police at the door.

From The Tell-Tale Heart:

As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,—for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,—for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search—search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:—it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness—until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale;—but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath—and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly—more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!—this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now—again!—hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!—

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!”



the petal
pink and curved
scallop edged
delicate barely
vibrating in
an exhaled breath
tentative finger
hovers and descends
to touch it
pliant and firm



the chattering geniuses
drive singing birds
from nearby branches




the sound of breathing
easy or labored
the temple bell rings


Movies: The Negotiator. The real Art of the Deal.

Today seems like a good day to watch The Negotiator (1998), available on Netflix.

(Yes, one of the heroes and stars is Kevin Spacey. But the bigger hero and star is Samuel L. Jackson, and there’s no reason to be protesting him.)

It’s about corrupt officials, sworn to uphold the law, lying and trying to lay off blame on others. It’s about a handful of smart and talented people trying to negotiate a way out of dangerous situations. And its about a lot of innocent people caught in the middle, unaware of how bad it is and how bad it can get.

Like I said, a good day to watch.





this table seems
useful and pleasing
but does not belong here


pick your friends
your contacts
your teachers
your entertainments
your information
as you would
furniture in your room


Emergency Powers and The Rise

“Put even more simply, the German Parliament would be requested to turn over its constitutional functions to Hitler and take a long vacation.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Williams L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich remains, almost sixty years after publication, the single most readable one-volume history of Nazi Germany. If you like history, but don’t think the story is relevant today, it is still a good read. If you think it might have some relevance, it is essential.

Hitler came to power without ever winning the presidency (he came in second in 1932) and without the Nazis ever having a majority in parliament. Yet in 1933, the Nazis were in control, all civil rights were abrogated, and Hitler would remain until 1945 dictator of one of history’s most infamous, oppressive and deadly regimes.

On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag, home of German parliament, was burned down. It was blamed on Communists, but it was actually the work of the Nazis. The Reichstag fire was an excuse to seize absolute power. Shirer writes:

On the day following the fire, February 28, he [Hitler] prevailed on President Hindenburg to sign a decree “for the Protection of the People and the State” suspending the seven sections of the constitution which guaranteed individual and civil liberties. Described as a “defensive measure against Communist acts of violence endangering the state,” the decree laid down that:

Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

In addition, the decree authorized the Reich government to take over complete power in the federal states when necessary and imposed the death sentence for a number of crimes, including “serious disturbances of the peace” by armed persons….

With all the resources of the national and Prussian governments at their disposal and with plenty of money from big business in their coffers, the Nazis carried on an election propaganda such as Germany had never seen before. For the first time the State-run radio carried the voices of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels to every corner of the land. The streets, bedecked with swastika flags, echoed to the tramp of the storm troopers. There were mass rallies, torchlight parades, the din of loudspeakers in the squares. The billboards were plastered with flamboyant Nazi posters and at night bonfires lit up the hills. The electorate was in turn cajoled with promises of a German paradise, intimidated by the brown terror in the streets and frightened by “revelations” about the Communist “revolution.” The day after the Reichstag fire the Prussian government issued a long statement declaring that it had found Communist “documents” proving:

Government buildings, museums, mansions and essential plants were to be burned down… Women and children were to be sent in front of terrorist groups… The burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal for a bloody insurrection and civil war… It has been ascertained that today was to have seen throughout Germany terrorist acts against individual persons, against private property, and against the life and limb of the peaceful population, and also the beginning of general civil war.

Publication of the “documents proving the Communist conspiracy” was promised, but never made. The fact, however, that the Prussian government itself vouched for their authenticity impressed many Germans….

On March 5, 1933, the day of the last democratic elections they were to know during Hitler’s life, they spoke with their ballots. Despite all the terror and intimidation, the majority of them rejected Hitler. The Nazis led the polling with 17,277,180 votes—an increase of some five and a half million, but it comprised only 44 per cent of the total vote. A clear majority still eluded Hitler. All the persecution and suppression of the previous weeks did not prevent the Center Party from actually increasing its vote from 4,230,600 to 4,424,900; with its ally, the Catholic Bavarian People’s Party, it obtained a total of five and a half million votes. Even the Social Democrats held their position as the second largest party, polling 7,181,629 votes, a drop of only 70,000. The Communists lost a million supporters but still polled 4,848,058 votes. The Nationalists [Nazis], led by Papen and Hugenberg, were bitterly disappointed with their own showing, a vote of 3,136,760, a mere 8 per cent of the votes cast and a gain of less than 200,000.

Still, the Nationalists’ 52 seats, added to the 288 of the Nazis, gave the government a majority of 16 in the Reichstag. This was enough, perhaps, to carry on the day-to-day business of government but it was far short of the two-thirds majority which Hitler needed to carry out a new, bold plan to establish his dictatorship by consent of Parliament.

The plan was deceptively simple and had the advantage of cloaking the seizure of absolute power in legality. The Reichstag would be asked to pass an “enabling act” conferring on Hitler’s cabinet exclusive legislative powers for four years. Put even more simply, the German Parliament would be requested to turn over its constitutional functions to Hitler and take a long vacation.

Sabbath Gift

Those of us who do not strictly observe the Sabbath, or those whose beliefs don’t come close to even acknowledging it, can still accept its gift.

It comes around like clockwork, or actually calendarwork, like it or observe it or believe it or not. It is a stop on a weekly journey, sort of a vacation, literally. We vacate the week, stuffed as it is with whatever has been foist upon us by others or by ourselves.

It is not that we are different on this special day, no more than we are different on any of the holidays which we have just celebrated. Instead, on those holidays and on this weekly holiday, we are invited to be our best selves. The things of our weekly world don’t always bring out the best in us. The day is a reminder not that we can be better but that we are better, if we give ourselves the chance.

And, as we sense the joy it can bring, maybe our Sabbath selves show up every day.

Caps or no caps



Caps or no caps

blow them off



If Trump Promised to Marry You, Would You Hold Him to It? What About a Wall Promise?

“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president. That’s probably the end of his presidency. Donald Trump has made a promise to the American people.”
Senator Lindsey Graham

Just because someone makes a promise doesn’t mean it’s a promise for something good. Just because someone makes a promise doesn’t mean you want him to keep that promise.

More than 60% of the American people don’t want the promised Wall. Even more Americans than that don’t want to marry Trump, or want anyone in their family to marry Trump. No matter what promises he made.