Bob Schwartz

Month: August, 2019

Mike the Squirrel

This is a picture of a metal squirrel in front of a cactus. The squirrel was a gift from a beloved friend to mark our departure as a neighbor. I named him Mike. That was one of our many departings from friends and neighbors and Mike goes with us. He is never banished to a closet or storage room. He currently lives openly in a desert backyard. This friend and I do not stay in touch much. Mike the squirrel does not mean to nag but he is a reminder of missed opportunities for more moments with cherished friends. After posing for this picture, Mike returned to his usual spot on the back porch. I return to my chair where I can see the cacti and palm trees backed by mountains here before me and here after me. Maybe I will reach out to that friend and tell her how Mike is doing.

Watch the Hannah Gadsby special Nanette on Netflix. Just don’t read anything about it first.

“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”

Watch the Hannah Gadsby comedy special Nanette on Netflix now. It will change how you see things—and how you see yourself.

It is conveniently classified as “standup comedy”, but that is totally inadequate. “Theater” or “art” might be closer, but “experience” is even better.

For maximum impact, don’t read anything about the show before you watch it. You can read the rave reviews after, but like the inadequate label of “standup comedy”, the praise of the critics falls short.

You will laugh, cry, feel and think. And most likely never forget what you’ve seen.

The White House is the civic car crash we can’t take our eyes off of

There are many who say the occupant of the White House is incompetent, ignorant, corrupt and crazy, at the least. Yet when we try to stop thinking and talking about him, many of us utterly fail.

It is a cliché to say that people often can’t take their eyes off a car crash, particularly a gruesome one. Clichéd and true.

For better or worse, American civic life is centered on the White House. The situation there can be described as a horrible and chronic car crash. The fire department never arrives to put the fire out. The tow truck never arrives to haul the wreck. The ambulance never arrives to carry the sick and injured away.

We keep calling 911, but no one answers. So we just keep gawking.

OBEY T-Shirt

OBEY is the extension of artist Shepard Fairey, “Manufacturing Quality Dissent Since 1989”. He is a remarkably productive and effective artist-activist, most famous for his Obama “Hope” poster:

Now OBEY is selling a special OBEY T-Shirt:

It was not offered specifically to coincide with the tragic events of the past few weeks, but is more appropriate than ever. OBEY explains:

We’re overwhelmed by the support and dialogue around our “This Is An OBEY T-Shirt” T-shirt. The timing of the release of the shirt was not intentional to fall in the aftermath of the recent sufferings in our country such as the shootings in El Paso and Dayton or the ICE raids in Mississippi. This shirt was designed months ago and was part of the Fall 2019 collection that is being introduced to the market now. This shirt touches on so many topics that deserve attention in the US and around the world, and we would like to take the opportunity to do some positive while we have everyone’s attention.

OBEY Clothing will be donating its profits from the sale of these items. For those of you familiar with the brand you know about our OBEY Awareness program founded in 2007, designed to do just this sort of thing. All profits for the project will be donated to several 501c3 designated non-profit organizations, helping in the aid of the families of shooting victims as well as defending the rights of those that can’t defend themselves.


Clearing the Chessboard

Searching for Bobby Fischer is a movie about a real life chess prodigy. In a memorable scene, his teacher sweeps the pieces off the chessboard, so the child can better concentrate on the actual state of play, undistracted by the apparent state of play.

Meditation and related attention practices are all about clearing the chessboard. What comes next depends on the context, whether it’s a way to relax or a search for enlightenment. The point is that the apparent state of play, the pieces on the chessboard, are distractions and may become obsessions. Only by focusing on the empty chessboard can you see the game for what it is.


From Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends (1919)

“Demons are spirits that act malevolently against human beings, usually in the form of disease, illness, confusion, or misfortune.”

“The malevolent effects of demons are many: they cause illness and death, especially for the vulnerable (children, women in childbirth), they trouble and deceive the mind, and they cause contention in the community of mortals. The appearance of demons varies, but is always terrible.”

“Intriguingly, there is a strand of tradition that holds a mortal can work constructively with demons, if one knows the proper rituals of power to control them.”

“Usually spirits must be controlled magically, captured, and coerced to do the will of the adept. By the same token, anything that smacks of demon veneration or worship, such as making offerings or burning incense to a demon, is expressly forbidden.”

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism (Second Edition)


Depending on one’s religious beliefs, demons may be characters in complex stories embellished over millennia or may be very real presences in an equally complex existential scheme. Either way, like so many traditional visions, they offer opportunities to see the world we live in and the people we live among with fresh eyes. If demons do happen to be in our midst, this information may come in handy.

From The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism (Second Edition) by Geoffrey W. Dennis


Demons are spirits that act malevolently against human beings, usually in the form of disease, illness, confusion, or misfortune. Judaism has not produced one uniform attitude toward the demonic, its origins, nature, or functions. Jews do have traditions of demonic creatures which are ontologically distinct from humanity (Such as Samael, Asmodeus, and Lilith), yet an equally large body of Jewish thought regards these same evil spirits to be malevolent byproducts of humanity: incomplete human Souls, the malevolent dead, or spirits spawned by human action. While there are a few pre-existent spirits, demons are usually understood to be spiritual byproducts of human criminal and immoral sexual activity. Moreover, it is not until the Middle Ages and the rise of classical Kabbalah in the 13th century, that one can read of demons that fit the Christian mold of hell-spawn that threaten the very fabric of the cosmos; the majority of sources from antiquity view shedim, mazzakim, and kesilim as other traditional cultures have imagined djinns, sprites, and elves—cruel, mischievous spirits who afflict humanity with miseries, both great and small.

While the Hebrew Bible devotes remarkably little attention to demonology, it does make mention of evil spirits (Lev. 16:10; 1 Sam. 16:14–16; Isa. 13:21, 34:14), including satyrs and night demons, but does not provide a great deal of detail. In fact, the language of the Bible is so ambiguous, it is often difficult to discern whether the author is referring to a named demon, or poetically reifying an abstract concept, such as Death, plague, or pestilence (Jer. 9:20; Hab. 3:5; Ps. 91:6).

Clear-cut and more elaborate stories about demons appear during the Greco-Roman period. The Gospels, which provide us with a comparatively detailed picture of Jewish life in 1st-century Palestine, record several accounts of confrontations between Jesus and demonically possessed people (Mark 5). Select demons—Belial and Masteman—are mentioned repeatedly in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Josephus also includes some reflections on the subject (War 7; Ant. 8:2, 8:5)….

The Talmud begins by asserting that they are a creation of the twilight of the sixth day (M. Avot 5.6). The suggestion is that these spirits are partly formed souls, unfinished beings left over from God’s creative process. The Talmudic sources do not specify whether demons are an independent creation, or whether they first appear as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, which in some traditions also happened at twilight of the sixth day. Whatever the case, they are tied to humanity, for they cannot procreate on their own; they used semen from Adam in order to make more of their own kind (Eruv. 18b). A celebrated elaboration on this tradition is that of Lilith, the first woman, having transformed herself into a witch-demon using the Tetragrammaton, takes the nocturnal emissions of men she seduces to procreate demons (AbbS). Eve was also seduced by incubi, producing a line of malevolent offspring, beginning with Cain (PdRE 21; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan 4:1)….

The malevolent effects of demons are many: they cause illness and death, especially for the vulnerable (children, women in childbirth), they trouble and deceive the mind, and they cause contention in the community of mortals….

There are numerous strategies to stop the predations of demons. Reciting certain psalms repels evil spirits (Pss. 29, 91, 121), as do other key verses of Scripture (Num. 7:4–6). Magical phrases and incantations have also been recorded that can combat their malevolent effects….

Intriguingly, there is a strand of tradition that holds a mortal can work constructively with demons, if one knows the proper rituals of power to control them. This idea premised on the implications of absolute monotheism—all things are created by God purposefully. This belief that man can direct demonic energy to beneficent purposes is first articulated in stories about Solomon controlling demons (Testament of Solomon). One Sage in the Talmud permits demon summoning, provided one does not violate Torah in either the manner of the summoning or what is asked of the spirit (Sanh. 101a). Eliezer of Metz (ca. 12th century) permitted the use of imps in spells and amulet writing: “Invoking the demons to do one’s will is permitted … for what difference is there between invoking demons and angels?” Demons can be turned against other demons (Lev. R. 24). Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague permitted communication with demons, but solely for the purpose of divination (B’er ha-Golah 2).

Sometimes the demon will help a human willingly, which is taken as evidence that even demons serve God, however inscrutably (Pes. 106a), but usually spirits must be controlled magically, captured, and coerced to do the will of the adept. By the same token, anything that smacks of demon veneration or worship, such as making offerings or burning incense to a demon, is expressly forbidden (Sanh. 65b).


For RJ and EB

They loaded all they owned, all life had collected, on a cargo ship. The ship crossed the Atlantic. Before it reached Liverpool, they stood on deck and one by one threw the items overboard. Big heavy things that sank immediately. Small light things that floated and stayed afloat as long as they could see. After they threw the last thing over, they embraced.

The captain was watching, concerned that they might be polluting the ocean, concerned that they might throw a crew member or themselves overboard. He asked why.

Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer.*

I do not speak French, the captain said.

And now you will never have to. What does that matter anyway? We wish to be married again. Will you perform the ceremony?

I would be pleased to, the captain said.

And so he did, with the Atlantic sky and the Atlantic sea as witnesses.

*Free man, you will always cherish the sea.
Charles Baudelaire, L’Homme et la Mer

“Dear God, Are You There? We are in a deep spiritual crisis that can’t be relieved by politics, or philosophy.”

This is excerpted from the New York Times. Please read it in its entirety.

Dear God, Are You There?

We are in a deep spiritual crisis that can’t be relieved by politics, or philosophy.

By George Yancy

George Yancy is professor of philosophy at Emory University. His latest book is “Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly About Racism in America.”

Aug. 7, 2019

Dear God,

This letter was prompted by the 22 precious lives taken in El Paso on August 3, 2019, by a 21-year-old white supremacist gunman. He told investigators that he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as possible — people who Donald Trump, in his campaign for the office of president, described as criminals “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime,” and as “rapists.”

Just hours after I sat down to write, I heard about the horrible killings of nine more people, this time in Dayton, Ohio, carried out by a 22-year-old white male gunman. How much can any of us take? We are failing ourselves. We are not asking the right questions; we are failing to use truthful and courageous discourse to describe the suffering from human violence, the sort that is nationally and globally predicated upon forms of white nationalism.

Regarding those killed in El Paso, President Trump said, “God be with you all.” Personally, I’ve had enough of empty rhetoric and religious hypocrisy when it comes to naming white supremacy.

I have no idea what Trump means when he utters those words, or what they amount to, other than an effort at mass distraction and obfuscation. To sow seeds of white racist divisiveness, hatred and xenophobia, and then cynically use the words of a healing spiritual message stinks of religious duplicity; it is discourse steeped in denial….

I’m tempted to say that for Trump and his vast evangelical following enough is never enough. And if this is so, something has gone theologically awry. We have not become more loving as a nation. As James Baldwin writes, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” Baldwin doesn’t mean to offend; he is, I’m certain, a prophet of love.

So, why write this letter? Ralph Waldo Emerson argues: “Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticisms. The foregoing generations beheld God face to face; we through their eyes. Why should not we also have an original relation to the universe?” Emerson emboldens a legitimate question, though one with a theological inflection: Why can’t I have an original relation to You, God? There is nothing about our universe that proves a priori that this letter will not be heard by You. So, I’ll just take the leap.

I realize that the act of writing such a letter is itself hasty as it assumes that You exist. Of course, if You don’t, and there is no absolute, faultless proof that You do, then this letter speaks to nothing at all. The salutation is perhaps a bit silly. Yet, that is the risk that I take. In fact, it is a risk worth taking….

This letter is not meant to proselytize, to convert. Rather, the letter is meant to entreat that which is perhaps beyond all of the major religions and yet inclusive of all of them, hoping that perhaps each one has something to say partially about You. I say all of this even as I define myself as a hopeful Christian theist, the kind who hopes, without any certainty, that You exist and that the strength of agape, Christian love, is possible and liberating in a world filled with so much existential, social and political catastrophe, where anguished parents cry long into the night because their children have been taken too soon by acts of mass violence.

This letter is a lamentation; it speaks to our human pain and suffering, but it also speaks to this philosopher’s dread in the face of apparent silence. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “It is not just that we are in search of God, but that God is in search of us, in need of us.” That is not a philosophical argument, but I eagerly respond: I am here!…

The weight of myopic fanaticism and dreams of white national purity takes its toll. I’m thinking of the nine who were killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015; the 11 who were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018; the 51 who were killed at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019.

So, it is with this letter that I seek You, that I ask for something more than we seem to be capable of, more than the routine prayers that are said in response to tragedy and sorrow. I don’t want to simply repeat clichés and recall platitudes. I am a philosopher who weeps; I am a human being who suffers.

This letter is not for me alone. It can’t be. The suffering of others is too great not to be moved by it, not to feel somehow partially responsible for it. So, it is with this letter that I seek an original relation, one that seeks our collective liberation, one that desires to speak especially on behalf of children and to free them from our miserable failure as adults to honor their lives more than we honor flags, rhetorical mass distraction, political myopia, party line politics, white nationalistic fanaticism and religious vacuity.

Assault rifles are personal weapons of mass destruction (#PWMD)

Personal Weapons of Mass Destruction (PWMD)

Assault rifles are personal weapons of mass destruction (#PWMD). America fought a war in Iraq to eliminate imaginary WMDs. These WMDs are very real (250 American mass shootings so far in 2019).

That millions of Americans are supportive of and motivated by social hate—Americans from the president on down—is a difficult problem that won’t be easily fixed. Reducing the availability of assault rifle PWMDs is easier:

Assault Weapons Ban of 2019
S.66 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)
Introduced in Senate (01/09/2019)

This bill makes it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon (SAW) or large capacity ammunition feeding device (LCAFD).

The prohibition does not apply to a firearm that is (1) manually operated by bolt, pump, lever, or slide action; (2) permanently inoperable; (3) an antique; or (4) a rifle or shotgun specifically identified by make and model.

The bill also exempts from the prohibition the following, with respect to a SAW or LCAFD:

importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession related to certain law enforcement efforts, or authorized tests or experiments;
importation, sale, transfer, or possession related to securing nuclear materials; and
possession by a retired law enforcement officer.

The bill permits continued possession, sale, or transfer of a grandfathered SAW, which must be securely stored. A licensed gun dealer must conduct a background check prior to the sale or transfer of a grandfathered SAW between private parties.

The bill permits continued possession of, but prohibits sale or transfer of, a grandfathered LCAFD.

What if Hillary had to face these contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2016?

This is a thought experiment.

Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton presumed that she would be the front runner for the Democratic nomination and would be the eventual winner. Then along came the phenomenon of Barack Obama, who wrestled the nomination from her because…well, because Hillary is no Obama.

In 2016, it was planned that Hillary Clinton would have little opposition for the Democratic presidential nomination. Maybe a token opponent to make it look competitive and democratic, but little more than that. Somehow, the most un-Obamaish candidate imaginable came along to almost spoil the party for her again. Bernie Sanders didn’t make it, Hillary became the nominee. Being less than the perfect candidate, Hillary was unable to close the deal in the general election, even against the most reprehensible Republican candidate—one who went on to be the most reprehensible president.

What if we retroject all the current Democratic candidates for the nomination back to 2016—including Joe Biden (who didn’t run against her) and Bernie Sanders (who did)? Do you think she would have still won the nomination?

There are reasons to think she might not. One thought is that her unique status as the only woman candidate would be immediately gone; six women are currently running, two of them high in the polls. Another thought is that while Hillary was severely tested by Obama in 2008, she faced less testing in 2016 before she faced Trump as the candidate. Would she have withstood the attacks that are natural from such a huge field? Would the Democratic Party establishment have been able to “protect” her and still seem fair-minded and even-handed?