Bob Schwartz

Month: July, 2019

Movies and Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

“Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true. The tension broke that day. The paranoia was fulfilled.”
Joan Didion, The White Album

Joan Didion is one of the great essayists, and The White Album may be her finest essay. It gave title to a superb collection published in 1979. The White Album is about the entwinement of her life and life in Los Angeles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, both of which she reflects on as being strange and even surreal.

Los Angeles in the late 1960s is also the subject of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie Once Up a Time…In Hollywood. The center of the film is the event mentioned in Didion’s quote above: the murders of Sharon Tate Polanski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, Steven Parent, and Rosemary and Leno LaBianca in the Hollywood Hills by members of the Manson Family. But is about much more than that.

The title of Once Upon a Time gives away just what kind of story this is. It is a fairy tale. Fairy tales are not either absolutely light or dark. As modern scholars now regularly say, fairy tales are meant to reflect something about ourselves—who we are, what we need—and in that sense could not be just light or dark. They are merely true.

The opening paragraph of The White Album is one of the best explanations of story ever written:

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be “interesting” to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

If you are a fan of some or all of Tarantino’s movies, you are already planning to see Once Upon a Time. If you are not a fan, or affirmatively dislike Tarantino, you should consider seeing it anyway. As with other movies that play with Hollywood as story (Robert Altman’s The Player is an excellent example), the inescapable point is that Hollywood makes things up, even as the movies may attempt to reflect actuality, because that is what they do. They tell and sell fairy tales. Light and dark. As long as we appreciate the subtle differences and similarities between actuality and story, we can be entertained and the better for it. We do, as Didion writes, tell ourselves stories in order to live.

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Rhetoric and reality: Ideal America has always depended on us

It may come as news to the less historically minded, but democracy, the kind we embrace in America, is a relatively new and novel way of government. We are still in the process of learning how it works, how it lives and how it dies.

Rhetoric has always been the way of government, long before modern democracy. Leaders say stuff, citizens repeat that stuff or say different stuff, citizens believe some stuff and don’t believe other stuff, and leaders respond to what citizens say and do.

In its relatively brief democratic life, America has typically embraced rhetoric. Much of it, in simplest terms, concerns just how exceptional and durable—eternal—American democracy really is.

As usual with compelling rhetoric in any sector—government, business, religion, whatever—rhetoric can make us lazy and careless. We come to believe that rhetoric is reality, almost a form of magical thinking. What we say and believe becomes the way things are.

And so, looking at just one aspect, Americans don’t vote in nearly great enough numbers, and those who do vote don’t always study and think hard about the issues and personalities, both of which are complicated. Things will just naturally be alright, we think, because this is a democracy and this is America. Both will last uninterruptedly forever.

But in reality, talk is not just cheap, it can be useless and tragic. All of this, all this glorious American democracy, has always and solely depended on us.

“Trump blames White House air conditioning on Obama.”

Associated Press, July 26, 2019:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In President Donald Trump’s view, even the inadequate air conditioning at the White House is Barack Obama’s fault.

Trump offered the new gripe about his predecessor as he explained in the Oval Office Friday why he’ll be spending some time at his New Jersey resort in August.

The president says “it’s never a vacation” when he goes to Bedminster, New Jersey, and that he would rather be at the White House.

He says that some of his time away from the White House gives crews time to do maintenance work.

He says, for example, “The Obama administration worked out a brand new air conditioning system for the West Wing. It was so good before they did the system. Now that they did this system, it’s freezing or hot.”

In the movie The Caine Mutiny, officers of the USS Caine determined that the conduct of their captain is so erratic that they must attempt to take over command of the ship. In one incident, Captain Queeg becomes obsessed with a missing container of strawberries. At the court martial of an officer charged with mutiny, Queeg testifies—and famously reveals just how psychologically disturbed he is:

Indra’s Net

The Glowing Limit. This illustration follows the mantra of Indra’s Pearls ad infinitum (at least in so far as a computer will allow). The glowing yellow lacework manifests entirely of its own accord out of our initial arrangement of just five touching red circles.

From Indra’s Pearls: The Vision of Felix Klein by David Mumford, Caroline Series and David Wright:

The ancient Buddhist dream of Indra’s Net

In the heaven of the great god Indra is said to be a vast and shimmering net, finer than a spider’s web, stretching to the outermost reaches of space. Strung at the each intersection of its diaphanous threads is a reflecting pearl. Since the net is infinite in extent, the pearls are infinite in number. In the glistening surface of each pearl are reflected all the other pearls, even those in the furthest corners of the heavens. In each reflection, again are reflected all the infinitely many other pearls, so that by this process, reflections of reflections continue without end.

***

Towards the end of the century, Felix Klein, one of the great mathematicians his age and the hero of our book, presented in a famous lecture at Erlangen University a unified conception of geometry which incorporated both Bolyai’s brave new world and Möbius’ relationships into a wider conception of symmetry than had ever been formulated before. Further work showed that his symmetries could be used to understand many of the special functions which had proved so powerful in unravelling the physical properties of the world (see Chapter 12 for an example). He was led to the discovery of symmetrical patterns in which more and more distortions cause shrinking so rapid that an infinite number of tiles can be fitted into an enclosed finite area, clustering together as they shrink down to infinite depth.

It was a remarkable synthesis, in which ideas from the most diverse areas of mathematics revealed startling connections. Moreover the work had other ramifications which were not to be understood for almost another century. Klein’s books (written with his former student Robert Fricke) contain many beautiful illustrations, all laboriously calculated and drafted by hand. These pictures set the highest standard, occasionally still illustrating mathematical articles even today. However many of the objects they imagined were so intricate that Klein could only say:

The question is … what will be the position of the limiting points. There is no difficulty in answering these questions by purely logical reasoning; but the imagination seems to fail utterly when we try to form a mental image of the result.

The wider ramifications of Klein’s ideas did not become apparent until two vital new and intimately linked developments occurred in the 1970’s. The first was the growing power and accessibility of high speed computers and computer graphics. The second was the dawning realization that chaotic phenomena, observed previously in isolated situations (such as theories of planetary motion and some electronic circuits), were ubiquitous, and moreover provided better models for many physical phenomena than the classical special functions. Now one of the hallmarks of chaotic phenomena is that structures which are seen in the large repeat themselves indefinitely on smaller and smaller scales. This is called self-similarity. Many schools of mathematics came together in working out this new vision but, arguably, the computer was the sine qua non of the advance, making possible as it did computations on a previously inconceivable scale. For those who knew Klein’s theory, the possibility of using modern computer graphics to actually see his ‘utterly unimaginable’ tilings was irresistible….

Klein’s tilings were now seen to have intimate connections with modern ideas about self-similar scaling behaviour, ideas which had their origin in statistical mechanics, phase transitions and the study of turbulence. There, the self-similarity involved random perturbations, but in Klein’s work, one finds self-similarity obeying precise and simple laws.

Strangely, this exact self-similarity evokes another link, this time with the ancient metaphor of Indra’s net which pervades the Avatamsaka or Hua-yen Sutra, called in English the Flower Garland Scripture, one of the most rich and elaborate texts of East Asian Buddhism. We are indirectly indebted to Michael Berry for making this connection: it was in one his papers about chaos that we first found the reference from the Sutra to Indra’s pearls. Just as in our frontispiece, the pearls in the net reflect each other, the reflections themselves containing not merely the other pearls but also the reflections of the other pearls. In fact the entire universe is to be found not only in each pearl, but also in each reflection in each pearl, and so ad infinitum.

As we investigated further, we found that Klein’s entire mathematical set up of the same structures being repeated infinitely within each other at ever diminishing scales finds a remarkable parallel in the philosophy and imagery of the Sutra. As F. Cook says in his book Hua-yen: The Jewel Net of Indra:

The Hua-yen school has been fond of this mirage, mentioned many times in its literature, because it symbolises a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mutual intercausality.

Nuns getting arrested at a U.S. Capitol protest gives us hope

In recent decades, clergy and related religious were literally at the front lines of the civil rights and Vietnam War movements, along with other movements promoting—demanding—social justice, morality and peace.

Seeing the protest pictured above and described below, it seems that the same faithful forces are standing up and speaking out in the face of the very high-level and public devolution of basic moral and ethical principles (such as truth telling and all the other commandments and recommended conduct).

Hope.

Religion News Service:

Capitol Police arrest dozens of Roman Catholic protestors at the U.S. Capitol on July 18, 2019.

Nuns, other Catholics arrested protesting treatment of immigrant children

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Police arrested dozens of protestors, including many Roman Catholic nuns, at a rally Thursday (July 18) opposing the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrant children along the Southern border, treatment that organizers of the demonstration said amounted to atrocities.

Officials with the advocacy groups Faith in Public Life and Faith in Action faithinaction.org   reported that 70 people were arrested after hundreds of demonstrators who had gathered on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to sing hymns and wave signs with slogans such as “Everyone is sacred” and “Honor the Children: End child detention” crossed the street to enter the Russell Senate Office Building’s rotunda.

Some of the demonstrators stopped to lie down on the rotunda floor in the shape of a cross. They chanted the Hail Mary prayer several times while holding images of what organizers said were immigrant children who have died in U.S. custody.

Capitol police eventually began arresting demonstrators, among them Jesuit brothers and nuns from orders such as the Sisters of Mercy. The group recited the Lord’s Prayer as members were led away to buses waiting outside, leaving images of children scattered across the rotunda floor.

As officers escorted the handcuffed demonstrators into the buses, observers on the sidewalk burst into applause.

About Faith in Public Life:

Faith in Public Life is a national network of nearly 50,000 clergy and faith leaders united in the prophetic pursuit of justice and the common good. Faith in Public Life has played an important role in changing the narrative about the role of faith in politics, winning major progressive policy victories, and empowering new religious leaders to fight for social justice and the common good. Our media expertise, rapid-response capabilities and strategic campaign development have made us respected commentators in the media and valued partners with a range of religious groups working for economic and social justice.

About Faith in Action:

The struggle over the direction of the country is not just about economics or politics. It is a spiritual struggle over who we are and how we are connected. Many people, especially younger people, have lost faith in institutions and have distanced themselves from traditional religious congregations. But people are still searching for spiritual connection and purpose. Through our organizing work, we believe individuals will be able to say “as a result of my participation in Faith in Action, my life is better and I see the world and myself differently.”

Decent Americans Are Suffering from Learned Helplessness

American Psychological Association:

Learned helplessness is a phenomenon in which repeated exposure to uncontrollable stressors results in individuals failing to use any control options that may later become available. Essentially, individuals are said to learn that they lack behavioral control over environmental events, which, in turn, undermines the motivation to make changes or attempt to alter situations….In the 1970s, Martin E. P. Seligman extended the concept from nonhuman animal research to clinical depression in humans and proposed a learned helplessness theory to explain the development of or vulnerability to depression. According to this theory, people repeatedly exposed to stressful situations beyond their control develop an inability to make decisions or engage effectively in purposeful behavior. Subsequent researchers have noted a robust fit between the concept and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Every day, I see those in the news and those in personal life expressing serial frustration at the latest outrage from national leadership. After repeating the sordid details of cruelty and immorality, they then ask, increasingly rhetorically, why those who could do something don’t stop it. Yes some try to fight, yes some succeed or at least delay the worst, but mostly the answer seems to be to wait until the possible, though not certain, election of a new president.

Learned helplessness is, for example, at the heart of abusive situations, such as being married to a narcissistic monster. We didn’t need research psychologists to clinically identify the phenomenon of people being beaten down to the point of powerlessness and just giving up. We know it happens.

And yet…

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas

Music: Surf’s Up

It’s summer. Time for surf music. Not the Beach Boys, great as they are. Strictly instrumental, crazy guitar and crazier drums.

Listen. Put on your board shorts or bikini or both. Whether in the desert, where the ocean is just a crazy-from-the-heat mirage, or in your bedroom, dance like the fate of the world depended on it. Because it does. Surf’s up!

The Still Secret Story of Trump at Wharton

Poor University of Pennsylvania. One of America’s great universities, with one of America’s great business schools in Wharton, finally got a U.S. president. The bad news is that it is Donald Trump, who spent two years at Wharton as a transfer from Fordham.

Normally—that is, when there was a normal—Penn would be proudly crowing about finally matching other Ivy League schools that can claim such an honor, e.g., seven presidents have Harvard degrees. Instead, Penn has hunkered down, maintaining total silence about Trump’s time at Wharton, his admission, his grades, etc. Almost all the information we have is from Trump himself, most of which has been proven false.

Which leaves Americans, journalist and interested alums gathering crumbs of information. The latest is in the Washington Post: Trump has referred to his Wharton degree as ‘super genius stuff.’ An admissions officer recalls it differently.

A few of the questions that still have no definitive answer:

How did Trump get into Wharton?

At the time he transferred from Fordham to Wharton, it wasn’t nearly as hard to get in as it is now—about a 40% admission rate then, only 7% today. Even with that, his rich father Fred went along on the interview trip, and we don’t know whether any financial incentives changed hands.

How well did Trump do at Wharton?

Hard to tell without grades or many anecdotes, but probably average. It appears that he did pay close attention in real estate class, but was known never to read books. As for his claim that he graduated first in his class:

Trump’s name was not among the top honorees at his commencement. Nor was he on the dean’s list his senior year, meaning he was not among the top 56 students in his graduating class of 366. All that is known for certain is that Trump received at least a 2.0 average, or C, enabling him to graduate.

Does any of this matter?

As usual, Trump simultaneously lies about his achievements and hides the facts. So in one sense this is no different than all his other duplicitous concealments. Still, there are thousands and thousands of people who work really hard to genuinely achieve educational excellence, at Penn and at so many other colleges. It is sad to say that the loudest college graduate in the world isn’t one of those.

Hitler’s Lawyer

“Frank was a typical example of the Nazi intellectual gangster. He had joined the party in 1927, soon after his graduation from law school, and quickly made a reputation as the legal light of the movement. Nimble-minded, energetic, well-read not only in the law but in general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music, he became a power in the legal profession after the Nazis assumed office, serving first as Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without Portfolio and president of the Academy of Law and of the German Bar Association. A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg, was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. Apparently it omitted none of his barbaric utterances.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hitler, like all successful tyrants, subverted the legal system to his own ends. Part of this was finding lawyers willing to switch their allegiance from law and morality to Der Fuehrer. Some switched out of fear, but many switched because they agreed with Hitler’s ideology and were passionate enablers of his plans.

Hans Frank is often called Hitler’s Lawyer. That is precisely how he began his Nazi career, going on to roles as Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader and as Governor General of Poland.

Hans Frank was tried and convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials. Before his execution, he claimed contrition. Along with other Nazi war criminals, he was executed.

Following are excerpts about Hans Frank from William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.


In the spring of 1930 three young lieutenants, Ludin, Scheringer and Wendt, of the garrison at Ulm were arrested for spreading Nazi doctrines in the Army and for trying to induce their fellow officers to agree that in the case of an armed Nazi revolt they would not fire on the rebels….A week after the Nazi successes in the September elections of 1930, the three subalterns were arraigned before the Supreme Court at Leipzig on charges of high treason. Among their defenders were two rising Nazi lawyers, Hans Frank and Dr. Carl Sack.

But it was neither the lawyers nor the accused who occupied the limelight at the trial, but Adolf Hitler. He was called by Frank as a witness. His appearance represented a calculated risk. It would be embarrassing to disown the three lieutenants, whose activities were proof of the growth of Nazi sentiment in the Army, which he did not want to discourage. It was embarrassing that Nazi efforts to subvert the Army had been uncovered. And it was not helpful to his present tactics that the prosecution had charged the Nazi Party with being a revolutionary organization intent on overthrowing the government by force. To deny that last charge, Hitler arranged with Frank to testify for the defense. But in reality the Fuehrer had a much more important objective. That was, as leader of a movement which had just scored a stunning popular triumph at the polls, to assure the Army and especially its leading officers that National Socialism, far from posing a threat to the Reichswehr, as the case of the Nazi subalterns implied, was really its salvation and the salvation of Germany….

The Civil Service law of April 7, 1933, was made applicable to all magistrates and quickly rid the judiciary not only of Jews but of those whose Nazism was deemed questionable, or, as the law stipulated, “who indicated that he was no longer prepared to intercede at all times for the National Socialist State.” To be sure, not many judges were eliminated by this law, but they were warned where their duty lay. Just to make sure that they understood, Dr. Hans Frank, Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader, told the jurists in 1936, “The National Socialist ideology is the foundation of all basic laws, especially as explained in the party program and in the speeches of the Fuehrer.” Dr. Frank went on to explain what he meant:

There is no independence of law against National Socialism. Say to yourselves at every decision which you make: “How would the Fuehrer decide in my place?” In every decision ask yourselves: “Is this decision compatible with the National Socialist conscience of the German people?” Then you will have a firm iron foundation which, allied with the unity of the National Socialist People’s State and with your recognition of the eternal nature of the will of Adolf Hitler, will endow your own sphere of decision with the authority of the Third Reich, and this for all time.

That seemed plain enough, as did a new Civil Service law of the following year (January 26, 1937), which called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for “political unreliability.” Furthermore, all jurists were forced to join the League of National Socialist German Jurists, in which they were often lectured on the lines of Frank’s talk….

Such was the government of the Third Reich, administered from top to bottom on the so-called leadership principle by a vast and sprawling bureaucracy, having little of the efficiency usually credited to the Germans, poisoned by graft, beset by constant confusion and cutthroat rivalries augmented by the muddling interference of party potentates and often rendered impotent by the terror of the S.S.-Gestapo.

At the top of the swarming heap stood the onetime Austrian vagabond, now become, with the exception of Stalin, the most powerful dictator on earth. As Dr. Hans Frank reminded a convention of lawyers in the spring of 1936, “There is in Germany today only one authority, and that is the authority of the Fuehrer.”….

What was left of Poland after Russia seized her share in the east and Germany formally annexed her former provinces and some additional territory in the west was designated by a decree of the Fuehrer of October 12 as the General Government of Poland and Hans Frank appointed as its Governor General, with Seyss-Inquart, the Viennese quisling, as his deputy. Frank was a typical example of the Nazi intellectual gangster. He had joined the party in 1927, soon after his graduation from law school, and quickly made a reputation as the legal light of the movement. Nimble-minded, energetic, well-read not only in the law but in general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music, he became a power in the legal profession after the Nazis assumed office, serving first as Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without Portfolio and president of the Academy of Law and of the German Bar Association. A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg,* was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. Apparently it omitted none of his barbaric utterances.

“The Poles,” he declared the day after he took his new job, “shall be the slaves of the German Reich.” When once he heard that Neurath, the “Protector” of Bohemia, had put up posters announcing the execution of seven Czech university students, Frank exclaimed to a Nazi journalist, “If I wished to order that one should hang up posters about every seven Poles shot, there would not be enough forests in Poland with which to make the paper for these posters.”

Himmler and Heydrich were assigned by Hitler to liquidate the Jews. Frank’s job, besides squeezing food and supplies and forced labor out of Poland, was to liquidate the intelligentsia. The Nazis had a beautiful code name for this operation: “Extraordinary Pacification Action” (Ausserordentliche Befriedigungsaktion, or “AB Action,” as it came to be known). It took some time for Frank to get it going. It was not until the following late spring, when the big German offensive in the West took the attention of the world from Poland, that he began to achieve results. By May 30, as his own journal shows, he could boast in a pep talk to his police aides of good progress—the lives of “some thousands” of Polish intellectuals taken, or about to be taken.

“I pray you, gentlemen,” he asked, “to take the most rigorous measures possible to help us in this task.” Confidentially he added that these were “the Fuehrer’s orders.” Hitler, he said, had expressed it this way:

“The men capable of leadership in Poland must be liquidated. Those following them… must be eliminated in their turn. There is no need to burden the Reich with this… no need to send these elements to Reich concentration camps.”

They would be put out of the way, he said, right there in Poland.

At the meeting, as Frank noted in his journal, the chief of the Security Police gave a progress report. About two thousand men and several hundred women, he said, had been apprehended “at the beginning of the Extraordinary Pacification Action.” Most of them already had been “summarily sentenced”—a Nazi euphemism for liquidation. A second batch of intellectuals was now being rounded up “for summary sentence.” Altogether “about 3,500 persons,” the most dangerous of the Polish intelligentsia, would thus be taken care of.

Frank did not neglect the Jews, even if the Gestapo had filched the direct task of extermination away from him. His journal is full of his thoughts and accomplishments on the subject. On October 7, 1940, it records a speech he made that day to a Nazi assembly in Poland summing up his first year of effort.

My dear Comrades! …I could not eliminate all lice and Jews in only one year. [“Public amused,” he notes down at this point.] But in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be attained.

A fortnight before Christmas of the following year, Frank closed a cabinet session at Cracow, his headquarters, by saying:

As far as the Jews are concerned, I want to tell you quite frankly that they must be done away with in one way or another… Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews.

It was difficult, he admitted, to “shoot or poison the three and a half million Jews in the General Government, but we shall be able to take measures which will lead, somehow, to their annihilation.” This was an accurate prediction….

Everything possible was squeezed out of Poland by the greedy Nazi conquerors. “I shall endeavor,” said Dr. Frank, the Governor General, “to squeeze out of this province everything that is still possible to squeeze out.” This was at the end of 1942, and in the three years since the occupation he had already squeezed out, as he continually boasted, a great deal, especially in foodstuffs for hungry Germans in the Reich. He warned, however, that “if the new food scheme is carried out in 1943 a half-million people in Warsaw and its suburbs alone will be deprived of food.”

The nature of the New Order in Poland had been laid down as soon as the country was conquered. On October 3, 1939, Frank informed the Army of Hitler’s orders.

“Poland can only be administered by utilizing the country through means of ruthless exploitation, deportation of all supplies, raw materials, machines, factory installations, etc., which are important for the German war economy, availability of all workers for work within Germany, reduction of the entire Polish economy to absolute minimum necessary for bare existence of the population, closing of all educational institutions, especially technical schools and colleges in order to prevent the growth of the new Polish intelligentsia. Poland shall be treated as a colony. The Poles shall be the slaves of the Greater German Reich.

 

Lock Screen Pure Land

“If you are a smartphone user, you look at the lock screen—the opening screen you swipe to get into your phone—maybe a hundred times a day. Just a second at a time, but seconds add up to a real experience and impression. The pre-loaded images on lock screens are pretty banal, meant to show off the screen’s high-resolution capability without offending or overexciting anyone.”
The Art of the Lock Screen

A while ago—okay, a long while ago in Digital Time—I wrote about the creative possibilities of the lock screen on your mobile devices. Since then, my own devices have gone through a lot of different lock screen looks.

My latest lock screen art is shown above. It is a Tibetan thangka circa 1700, done in ink, pigments, and gold on cotton, depicting Amitabha in Sukhavati Paradise. Amithaba (Amida in Japanese) is the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life. Sukhavati Paradise is also known as the Pure Land, and is a centerpiece of Pure Land Buddhism—not as well-known in the West as other traditions such as Zen, but the dominant Buddhist tradition in Japan.

What the Pure Land is, where the Pure Land is, and how to get to the Pure Land are big topics for another time. But just look at that image. Even if you know nothing about what it means, seeing it each time you open your phone can certainly be a help in making things better.