Bob Schwartz

Month: January, 2020

I. Can’t. Say.

I. Can’t. Say.

ask me today
where I am from
I
can’t
say
ask me tomorrow
I
will
tell
you
I am not from where

© Bob Schwartz

Note: There is a cold morning rain in the desert. Waiting long enough there will be cloudless sun and scorching heat.

MLK: “There’s a king at the glory river”

Come on, people, come on, children
There’s a king at the glory river
And the precious king, he loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinking sun sang “We Shall Overcome”

I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can’t study war no more

Laura Nyro – Save the Country

Come on, people, come on, children
Come on down to the glory river
Gonna wash you up and wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down

Come on, people, come on, children
There’s a king at the glory river
And the precious king, he loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinking sun sang “We Shall Overcome”

Come on, people, sons and mothers
Keep the dream of the two young brothers
Gotta take that dream and ride that dove
We can build the dream with love, I know
We can build the dream with love

I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can’t study war no more

Save the people
Save the children
Save the country

The binary and the infinite: What we learn from computers, the I Ching, the Bible and breathing.

We live today and have long lived in what seems to us, at first glance, a binary world. So it seems.

At their most basic, computers are binary machines. Countless combinations of yes/no, on/off decision circuits, adding up, as speed and the number of decisions increase exponentially, to processes that mimic (or exceed) human thought.

The I Ching begins its panoramic presentation of world with a simple binary calculation: either a solid yang line or a broken yin line, combined into eight trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams, from which the entire nature of life and time is profiled, if not actually predicted.

Traditions, such as Taoism, Zen and others, suggest non-duality. That reality exists between those choices we are so attached to. That it is not either/or, not neither/nor. Computers agree. Reduced to each of the billions of digital decisions, binary means nothing. The I Ching reduced to a single line means little. The meanings, all of them, are in the matrix of combinations.

The Bible agrees. It would seem, in its rules and lists, to promote binary behavior. The Ten Commandments are a prime example. But at the literal first moment, if we immerse ourselves in the question of what is between existence and non-existence at creation (contemplation that according to one legendary interpretation drove the Talmudist Ben Zoma crazy), the answer may be everything. The Book of Ecclesiastes, famous for saying that all is ephemeral vapor and listing the binary poles (a time to laugh, a time to weep…), is telling us we live now and ever in the changes in between. Not unlike the I Ching.

Physics has also given up on the binary. Simplistic analysis has given way to acknowledgement that as much as we would like to hold on to a concept of this or that, now or then, the physical world at a foundational level exists in simultaneous multiple states.

Not everything about our organic human lives is binary, but plenty of it is. Ten has its place (fingers, toes), but a distinct second place to two. Two arms and hands, legs and feet, eyes, ears, lungs.

Lungs bring us to breathing, the penultimate binary. Inhale, exhale. There is nothing in between. The failure of that binary leads to the ultimate: life, death. Some do posit an alternative to that binary, a third option. But if we just stick to life/death, what do we learn about either one from this discussion of binary?

Things as they are are not exactly binary, except we make them so. This doesn’t mean that one can think away breathing or death. No inhale/exhale, no life happens. But the values in between—the digital fabric, the I Ching, the space between existence and non-existence, the time between laughing and weeping, the quantum states—are where it is at.

Trump threatens Iranian cultural sites: A breach of civilized laws and conventions. An appeal to his nationalist Christian supporters.

Naghsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran. Constructed between 1598 and 1629. UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

Ordering or carrying out the destruction of cultural sites in Iran or anywhere else as a part of hostilities is unequivocally illegal under American and international law, reprehensible and worthy of condemnation, and unworthy of civilized nations.

This didn’t stop Trump from threatening such destruction multiple times in the past few days. This has led top civilian and military leaders in the administration, when asked about it, either to deny that Trump said it or to say that we would of course follow the law, though they never explicitly say the words “no cultural sites.”

This has been labeled just some more transgressive and unconventional bluster from Trump, spouting things he doesn’t understand and doesn’t really mean.

There is something else going on.

We begin with Iran, home of one of the oldest and culturally richest civilizations. It has 24 of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with more under consideration (see picture above).

Persia was a Zoroastrian empire before being conquered by the Caliphate in 651 CE, when it became an increasingly Islamic nation, now 99% Muslim. Note that at no time has it been a Christian nation, which makes all of its cultural progress and heritage theologically “suspect” or “evil” according to some people.

There is little in that previous paragraph that Trump knows or understands. What he does know is that a portion of his most loyal supporters respond enthusiastically to anything that threatens people and their culture who are not American, not white, and not Christian (for some of those supporters, but only some, Jews get a pass because they are part of the pathway to a Second Coming).

That is why Trump threatens Iran’s cultural sites. It is possible, given his belief that he is the Supreme and Irrefusable Leader, that he thinks the military would carry out such an order. They won’t. Mostly, though, carried out or not, he thinks it shows that he is on the side of those nationalist Christian supporters. He is.

Rationale for any bad behavior: I’m just a regular person, so if it’s okay for a president, it’s okay for me.

From an interview with Mark Galli, retiring editor of Christianity Today, whose editorial criticized Trump’s immoral conduct in office and called for his removal:

Do you think evangelicals’ willingness to excuse Mr. Trump’s behavior will translate to a more broad willingness to forgive bad behavior by politicians, or does it seem to be Trump-specific?

I think his supporters would say it is limited to Trump. But I will say that some of his closest followers are, in a sense, being discipled by him. Mr. Trump’s typical response to a critic is to frame the entire conversation as a competition between success and failure.

The question is too narrow. The question should be: Do you think evangelicals’ willingness to excuse Mr. Trump’s behavior will translate to a more broad willingness to excuse their own bad behavior?

The answer is yes.

In fact, the willingness of evangelicals, Republican politicians, and many others to excuse Trump’s behavior is precisely based on that. Trump is a get-out-of-hell-free card. “I already told you that it isn’t wrong for him to [fill in the blank]. So obviously it isn’t wrong for me.”