Bob Schwartz

Month: September, 2020

Reviewing the Debate Musically: Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) or Peace Train (Yusuf/Cat Stevens)?

‘Cause out on the edge of darkness,
There rides a Peace Train
Oh Peace Train take this country,
Come take me home again
Peace Train by Yusuf/Cat Stevens

My vocabulary includes lots of musical allusions. So after watching just minutes of the presidential debate, Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne started playing in my head.

Spot on, to be sure, but not really helpful for our much needed sanity in this moment. So I accessed other “train” songs in my mental database.

I settled on Peace Train by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. For those who don’t know him, over decades he has been one of the most talented and humane musical stars in the firmament. To mark the 50th anniversary of his breakthrough album Tea for the Tillerman (1970), he just released an entire rerecording of the disc.

Peace Train is from his 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat (which also includes hit tracks Morning Has Broken and Moonshadow).

Peace Train

Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it’s going to come

‘Cause I’m on the edge of darkness
There ride the Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take me home again

Now I’ve been smiling lately,
Thinkin’ about the good things to come
And I believe it could be,
Something good has begun

Get your bags together,
Go bring your good friends, too
‘Cause it’s getting nearer,
It soon will be with you

Now come and join the living,
It’s not so far from you
And it’s getting nearer,
Soon it will all be true

Oh Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train
Come on now Peace Train

Now I’ve been crying lately,
Thinkin’ about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating,
Why can’t we live in bliss

‘Cause out on the edge of darkness,
There rides a Peace Train
Oh Peace Train take this country,
Come take me home again

Pandemic debacle is the outcome of style over substance

We usually talk about the failure of the U.S. to respond effectively to the pandemic as a matter of ignoring or denying science. Along with that, though, is the dominance of style over substance.

The concern for some important leaders was how the situation looked, sounded and felt. If things seemed bad, people would conclude they were bad. Dress up the situation—hiding this, highlighting that, adding some makeup—and everything would seem fine. Even if it was demonstrably not.

Style has always mattered. It is a way of making things or yourself look distinctive, look better. It can also be a way of making things or yourself look better, or at least different, than they are.

Style is more dominant than ever, easier to fashion than ever. Whether or not something is substantial, it is possible for more people and producers to make it look and sound substantial.

Which brings us back to the pandemic and its leaders. Selling something that’s nothing, or less than nothing, is a skill approaching art. They have for the better part of a year now styled the pandemic in ways that didn’t match the substance. The Wizard of Oz, P.T. Barnum. They are continuing that today, and will continue for as long as there are people who will buy the style, no matter how ugly the substance.

Return on Yom Kippur: Ashamnu אָשַמנוּ (We Have Transgressed) and Al Cheit  עֵל חֵטְא (For Our Sins) 

Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul.
Return to who you are.
Return to what you are.
Return to where you are born and reborn.

Ashamnu אָשַמנוּ (We Have Transgressed)

We abuse, we betray, we are cruel, we destroy,
We embitter, we falsify, we gossip, we hate,
We insult, we jeer, we kill, we lie, we mock,
We neglect, we oppress, we pervert, we quarrel,
We rebel, we steal, we transgress, we are unkind,
We are violent, we are wicked, we are extremists,
We yearn to do evil, we are zealous for bad causes.
For all of these sins, O God of mercy, forgive us, pardon us,
and grant us atonement.

Al Cheit  עֵל חֵטְא (For Our Sins)

For the sins we have committed through arrogance and selfishness:
For being obsessed with our own concerns,
For choosing rudeness over common courtesy,
For loving our egos.

For the sins we have committed by defrauding others:
For using people in pursuit of our ambitions,
For manipulating the love of others,
For gossiping.

For the sins we have committed through denial and deceit:
For creating theories to rationalize our behavior,
For faking emotions for our own benefit,
For using the sins of others to excuse our own,
For claiming that ends justify the means.

For the sins we have committed through greed and overindulgence:
For using force to maintain our power,
For poisoning our planet,
For remembering the price of things but forgetting their value.

For the sins we have committed through hardening our hearts:
For accepting poverty as inevitable,
For staying silent when we should speak out,
For resenting the young and ignoring the elderly,
For abandoning proper outrage.

For the sins we have committed through hypocrisy:
For condemning in our children the faults we tolerate in ourselves,
For condemning in our parents the faults we tolerate in ourselves,
For neglecting our promises.

For the sins we have committed by narrow-mindedness:
For passing judgment without knowledge,
For denying our baseless hatreds.

For the sins we have committed against You through sex and love:
For confusing love with lust,
For pursuing fleeting pleasure while disregarding lasting hurt,
For withholding affection to control the ones we love.

For all these sins, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

Days of Awe: You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen mural in Montreal

The Days of Awe (Jewish High Holy Days) are coming to a close with Yom Kippur. It has been my practice to share words of wisdom this time of year. There seems so much foolishness around right now that wisdom is a tough sell.

(And, by the way, if your finger is pointing to the most obvious big fools, consider that we are all fools. The difference is not just degree but self-awareness. Remember the log in your own eye.)

Leonard Cohen (1934-2106) is one of the most astonishing poet/songwriters of a generation. He took inspiration from many sources, including his native Judaism. For Yom Kippur, an obvious example is Who By Fire, his version of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer recited on that holy day. I’ve posted about that before.

Shortly before his death in 2016 he released the track You Want It Darker. It contains a direct reference to a profound expression that appears multiple times in the Torah: Hineni. Here I am. In the Bible it is in answer to a call from God. In the song, it is equally stark, coming from a man unwell and near death: Hineni, hineni/I’m ready, my lord.

The song is a poem, so subject to interpretation by the creator and by us, the listeners. It inspires in me a number of thoughts, including this: Light and dark, defiance and acceptance, help and abandonment, are the nature of things. Things as they are. We are reminded in this holiday to practice teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah—turning/repentance, prayer and charity—and we may try. We work to relieve suffering, eliminate folly and light candles. But suffering abides, we are also fools, and we may negligently or purposely allow the candles to go out, or even snuff them.

It is a new year. It is Yom Kippur. Here we are.

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame


TV Laughs: The Goes Wrong Show on Amazon Prime

Farce: A comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.

I need laughs right now. Real repeated laughs. Not just a smile or “isn’t that witty.” Laughs that make me feel good and forget, just in case there is something going on in the world that is best forgotten, even if for a half hour. Maybe you need that too.

I don’t laugh at plain physical comedy and slapstick. What I laugh at is physical comedy combined with outrageousness. That is funny. That is farce.

The Goes Wrong Show (Amazon Prime) is a BBC series from the creators of The Play That Goes Wrong, a West End and Broadway theater hit.

The series has a very simple premise. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society undertakes some very ambitious plays that far exceed their talents and production abilities. With each play, things go horribly wrong, but the amateur actors carry on earnestly in the face of catastrophe. We in the audience are the beneficiaries of these theatrical disasters.

Farce is not for everybody, and this may not be for everybody, but please give it a try. You have nothing to lose but incessant wallowing in the dour and depressing alternative of the news. All episodes of this first season are recommended, but my current favorite is A Trial to Watch.

One more thing. You may be tempted to watch some of the many clips that are available. My unusual advice is don’t. Much depends on set up and premise, without which these clips look only like little comedy bits. With complete set up and premise in the context a full episode, you will get why, at least for me, this is the funniest show on TV.

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

This is the fifth time in the last few years I have posted about 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action by the late Gene Sharp (1928-2018) of the Albert Einstein Institution–the last time this past April.

These methods were developed over decades as creative and practical tools of change in resistance to authoritarian regimes. Which is to say: they have worked.

I raise it again now, just five months after the last time, for a couple of reasons.

As optimistic as I want to be about emerging sometime soon from dark governmental and political times, that day may not be tomorrow, or November, or January, or 2021.

If you study the list, you will find a number of methods that have been tried, but also a number that haven’t been tried or even considered. All of these may not be “good ideas” under the circumstances (impractical, too costly, dangerous, counterproductive), but there are bound to be some methods that simply haven’t been thought about. Think about them–all of them. And please pass it on.

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

Formal Statements
1. Public Speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public statements
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a Wider Audience
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group Representations
13. Deputations
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
16. Picketing
17. Mock elections

Symbolic Public Acts
18. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
19. Wearing of symbols
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures

Pressures on Individuals
31. “Haunting” officials
32. Taunting officials
33. Fraternization
34. Vigils

Drama and Music
35. Humorous skits and pranks
36. Performances of plays and music
37. Singing

38. Marches
39. Parades
40. Religious processions
41. Pilgrimages
42. Motorcades

Honoring the Dead
43. Political mourning
44. Mock funerals
45. Demonstrative funerals
46. Homage at burial places

Public Assemblies
47. Assemblies of protest or support
48. Protest meetings
49. Camouflaged meetings of protest
50. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and Renunciation
51. Walk-outs
52. Silence
53. Renouncing honors
54. Turning one’s back

The Methods Of Social Noncooperation

Ostracism of Persons
55. Social boycott
56. Selective social boycott
57. Lysistratic nonaction
58. Excommunication
59. Interdict

Noncooperation with Social Events, Customs, and Institutions
60. Suspension of social and sports activities
61. Boycott of social affairs
62. Student strike
63. Social disobedience
64. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from the Social System
65. Stay-at-home
66. Total personal noncooperation
67. “Flight” of workers
68. Sanctuary
69. Collective disappearance
70. Protest emigration (hijrat)

The Methods of Economic Noncooperation: Economic Boycotts

Actions by Consumers
71. Consumers’ boycott
72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
73. Policy of austerity
74. Rent withholding
75. Refusal to rent
76. National consumers’ boycott
77. International consumers’ boycott

Action by Workers and Producers
78. Workmen’s boycott
79. Producers’ boycott

Action by Middlemen
80. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott

Action by Owners and Management
81. Traders’ boycott
82. Refusal to let or sell property
83. Lockout
84. Refusal of industrial assistance
85. Merchants’ “general strike”

Action by Holders of Financial Resources
86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
89. Severance of funds and credit
90. Revenue refusal
91. Refusal of a government’s money

Action by Governments
92. Domestic embargo
93. Blacklisting of traders
94. International sellers’ embargo
95. International buyers’ embargo
96. International trade embargo

The Methods Of Economic Noncooperation: The Strike

Symbolic Strikes
97. Protest strike
98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural Strikes
99. Peasant strike
100. Farm Workers’ strike

Strikes by Special Groups
101. Refusal of impressed labor
102. Prisoners’ strike
103. Craft strike
104. Professional strike

Ordinary Industrial Strikes
105. Establishment strike
106. Industry strike
107. Sympathetic strike

Restricted Strikes
108. Detailed strike
109. Bumper strike
110. Slowdown strike
111. Working-to-rule strike
112. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)
113. Strike by resignation
114. Limited strike
115. Selective strike

Multi-Industry Strikes
116. Generalized strike
117. General strike

Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures
118. Hartal
119. Economic shutdown
The Methods Of Political Noncooperation

Rejection of Authority
120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
121. Refusal of public support
122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens’ Noncooperation with Government
123. Boycott of legislative bodies
124. Boycott of elections
125. Boycott of government employment and positions
126. Boycott of government depts., agencies, and other bodies
127. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
128. Boycott of government-supported organizations
129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
131. Refusal to accept appointed officials
132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens’ Alternatives to Obedience
133. Reluctant and slow compliance
134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
135. Popular nonobedience
136. Disguised disobedience
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
138. Sitdown
139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
140. Hiding, escape, and false identities
141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

Action by Government Personnel
142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
143. Blocking of lines of command and information
144. Stalling and obstruction
145. General administrative noncooperation
146. Judicial noncooperation
147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents
148. Mutiny

Domestic Governmental Action
149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International Governmental Action
151. Changes in diplomatic and other representations
152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
154. Severance of diplomatic relations
155. Withdrawal from international organizations
156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
157. Expulsion from international organizations

The Methods Of Nonviolent Intervention

Psychological Intervention
158. Self-exposure to the elements
159. The fast
a) Fast of moral pressure
b) Hunger strike
c) Satyagrahic fast
160. Reverse trial
161. Nonviolent harassment

Physical Intervention
162. Sit-in
163. Stand-in
164. Ride-in
165. Wade-in
166. Mill-in
167. Pray-in
168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids
170. Nonviolent invasion
171. Nonviolent interjection
172. Nonviolent obstruction
173. Nonviolent occupation

Social Intervention
174. Establishing new social patterns
175. Overloading of facilities
176. Stall-in
177. Speak-in
178. Guerrilla theater
179. Alternative social institutions
180. Alternative communication system

Economic Intervention
181. Reverse strike
182. Stay-in strike
183. Nonviolent land seizure
184. Defiance of blockades
185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
186. Preclusive purchasing
187. Seizure of assets
188. Dumping
189. Selective patronage
190. Alternative markets
191. Alternative transportation systems
192. Alternative economic institutions

Political Intervention
193. Overloading of administrative systems
194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
195. Seeking imprisonment
196. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws
197. Work-on without collaboration
198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

Birds on Rosh Hashanah

I asked the birds about their plans for Rosh Hashanah, now that the temples would be closed. Not sure how observant or knowing they were, I explained that the name of the holy day meant “head of the year”, that is, the new year. It begins the ten days, called the Days of Awe, that end with Yom Kippur, the “day of repentance”. Sometimes we fashion Rosh Hashanah as the birthday of the world, the anniversary of creation. This year, instead of dressing up in fine clothes to mingle and sing, we will be on Zoom. Maybe we will dress up, maybe we won’t.

Will you be on Zoom for Rosh Hashanah, I asked. Will you dress up? Will you gather together to sing? Will you repent? Will it be awesome?

I got my answer.

Stones along the way

Stones along the way

Today I collect
only green stones
along the way
tomorow brown
the next day red.
Is there a system
a pattern an explanation?
Why those colors on those days?
Why not?

© Bob Schwartz

The only way Donald Trump Jr. got a “bestseller” is to publish it himself and make it free

The only way Donald Trump Jr. got a “bestseller” is to publish it himself and make it free.

I admit to being a little curious about what Donald Trump Jr. had to say in his book, just published a week ago. So I went to Kindle, figuring I could at least read a sample for free.

What a surprise! The entire book is free on Kindle, at least to the many customers who are part of the subscription Kindle Unlimited program, which allows you to read a large selection of books for free. It turns out that Junior’s Liberal Privilege is one of those.

This made me more curious to learn which reputable publisher had actually signed him up to write this book and then offered it free. Again surprised, but maybe not, the publisher of this “bestseller” is…Donald Trump Jr.


I still haven’t opened the book, and may not. If I do, any urge to share will be outweighed by our need to focus, as much as practically possible, on the true and the good. It’s been challenging enough constantly hearing, reading and repeating the words of Senior, who remains a genuine threat. Junior seems to have inherited his father’s unlimited sense of self-importance. But really, he’s just a pipsqueak with a beard.

Trump: Since I’ve led you distrust everybody, you might as well trust me.

It is a diabolical bit of black magic, but history sadly tells us it sometimes works.

First, the demagogue destroys trust in everything and everybody. When it comes to trust, this creates—as strange as it seems—a level playing field. That is, if you can’t trust everyone, you might as well trust anyone.

Second, the demagogue says: If you might as well trust anyone, why not me? I’m no less trustworthy than anybody else.

A logician can blow holes a mile wide in this, but people are not logicians, they are people. People “think” with their feelings (it is common for Trump to reach conclusions about what he “feels” where others would usually offer thoughtful support).

Where suffering could be alleviated by thinking and truth, demagogues offer feelings and lies. Where chaos is self-inflicted, demagogues offer promises of order. Where trust is eliminated, demagogues say “trust me.”