Bob Schwartz

Month: March, 2021

Passover and the lonely toaster

It is Passover, which means no bread for eight days. The story says that traditional Jewish ancestors couldn’t let bread rise in the wilderness, leaving them to bake dry flatbread. Leaving us, by way of acknowledging the tradition, to buy boxes of dry flatbread—matzo—and to avoid eating bread.

On the first night of Passover, tidying the kitchen, I looked at our toaster. Its four wide slots stood ready to receive whatever baked goods might need hot wire treatment. Bread, bagels, English muffins, other national muffins.

But no, not this morning, or for some mornings to come. The toaster is temporarily useless and lonely. I had never considered trying to toast matzo, for good reason. Not only is it already toasted, but it slips right through slots made for much wider slices.

Sorry toaster. Unlike other kitchen gadgets that don’t get daily or even weekly attention, you are there serving us almost every day. But not this day. Not tomorrow. Not this week.

We will be back together soon. Maybe I will pop you down once in a while anyway, just to let you know that you are not forgotten. Happy Passover, my trusty friend.

Covid is a required graduate course for some adults still in elementary school

I have read a lot about Covid in the past year, both about its presence in my community, state and nation, and about its science. And why not? It is not only a defining event in our lives, but an epochal one in modern history. Above all, shaping our behavior to meet the moment seems a sound way to get through this.

One thing you realize is that this is not easy to understand. Besides all the unknowns still to be determined, grasping the basic concepts can be a challenge. Things like “testing”, “vaccine efficacy and effectiveness” and “herd immunity” are thrown around almost blithely, as if everyone understands all the nuances in meaning.

Except it isn’t everyone, or even most people. Early on I noted that you could not understand the pandemic if you didn’t understand the basic concept of exponential growth, and many people probably do not get the idea of exponential growth. And exponents are hardly the most complex of Covid core concepts.

One thing that began to be said and can’t be said too often: Covid doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about politics or ideology or beliefs or understandable frustration. The only things that matter are understanding Covid as well as possible and conscientiously taking actions based on that understanding. Understanding doesn’t necessarily require earning a degree in Covid science. But an effective response will be aided by something besides know-it-all attitudes followed by careless or contrary action. Maybe we allow children to skip classes and fail to learn because they are children. If we are adults, we should recognize the learning required to work through the most difficult challenges, or face the consequences. Which in the case of Covid, have been and will be dire.

Why the conventional analysis of Republican politics is wrong

Note: The following was drafted in early January, days after the invasion of the Capitol, days before Trump officially left office. Having just reread the draft, I believe it still has merit.

The conventional analysis of elected Republican politics goes something like this:

Most of the elected Republicans stuck with Trump even during his most heinous days—through active support or silence—because they feared the electoral wrath of him and his base. Their prime directive was to stay in office. Not a profile in courage or integrity, but a simple path anyone might understand if not condone: keep your job.

The actual story is more like this:

Many elected Republicans believe that the only future for America is one in which the forces of progressivism—even moderate moves toward equity and fairness—are turned around. They initially opposed and criticized Trump. But once they had to accept him in power, they saw that he could be useful for that plan. Yes, his behavior in office was extreme and distasteful. But it was a small price to pay for restoring America to its former glory.

So while Trump and his conduct are more reprehensible and toxic than ever, we read this headline from the Washington Post, days after the storming of the Capitol:

“Republicans largely silent about consequences of deadly attack and Trump’s role in inciting it.”

Of course they are largely silent. They are holding their fire as they wait for the emergence of a smarter, smoother, more attractive demagogue. Where, for example, is George Wallace when you need him?

So Republicans remain patient and, with some exception, silent or equivocal. They never wanted an invasion of the citadel of American democracy, nor did they want anyone to be killed. All they want is a captain to steer the ship of state in the right direction—one who isn’t quite so problematic and crazy. Next stop 2024.

Colorado has had 6,149 Covid deaths. How many were reckless disregard killings?

This may, I think, be misunderstood or misconstrued, so I will try to speak carefully.

During the pandemic, Colorado, like many states, has seen citizens who were untested, unmasked, undistanced, unvaccinated and unconcerned, walking the streets and the aisles of their supermarkets. Each one is a potential loaded gun, aimed at anybody they come in contact with. Some of these same people also loudly denied the virus and decried any attempts at the simplest mitigations and restrictions. Do you think that any of those citizens, or all of them, are responsible for at least ten Covid deaths because of their reckless disregard? Ten deaths out of 6,149?

Gun violence, as in yesterday’s Colorado shootings, is only one in a cascade of American tragedies. The killer and the victims of course deserve our attention. But so do Americans who, out of selfishness or ignorance or both, raised a virus to a deadly scourge and who, by any definition, are killers. How about endless coverage of them and their crimes?

What if Moses had come down the mountain and joined the party?

As the story is told in the Bible, while Moses was away on the mountain, the people crafted a golden calf to worship. When he returned, he found an abominable scene (Exodus 32):

Moses turned, and went down from the mountain, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand; tablets that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tables.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is the noise of war in the camp.”

He said, “It isn’t the voice of those who shout for victory, neither is it the voice of those who cry for being overcome; but the noise of those who sing that I hear.” It happened, as soon as he came near to the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing: and Moses’ anger grew hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mountain. He took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, ground it to powder, and scattered it on the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

That same scene is made more salacious in another scripture, the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments. There Moses (played by Charlton Heston) comes upon a wild party:

The cauldrons are gone, and in their place are great spits where men and women are roasting and basting an ox as well as lamb and fowl. From the turning spits, the fires illuminate the scene with a strange and varying play of light.

An air of tense expectancy is upon the crowd now, dressed in the gay colored fabrics of Egypt and Midian. Horn goblets, clay bowls, alabaster containers are ready to be filled from wine skins.

At a signal from Dathan, ten young men with gleaming torsos thrust the Golden Calf high into the air. There is a great shout of triumph from the crowd: “Hallel! Praise to the Golden Calf!”

The light from the coals in the receptacle beneath the stomach of the golden god filters through the grille work, suffusing the idol’s underside with a flickering evil glare.

Drumbeats mingle with the clash of cymbals and the blowing of pipes and horns, and strumming of lutes. As the Calf starts to move in a great circle around the camp, a spontaneous Saturnalia bursts forth. Aaron ­ swinging a golden censer – and Miriam, dancing with a timbrel – move before the golden idol, giving praise. Elisheba circles the Calf, waving a second, smaller censer toward the idol. A dancing girl with incense weaves through the procession. Another girl, dancing before the god, dips an ivory-mounted horsetail into a bowl she is carrying, flicking perfume first upon the god and then upon the people.

A girl riding high upon a man’s shoulders, arches her tawny body to hang a garland of acacias upon a horn of the god. Still other women are borne aloft to deck the idol with their ropes of jewels and silver chains.

In complete abandonment to pleasure, men and women mingle in wild Dionysian dance, whirling around the idol and before it, throwing wine and flowers at the god.

Thinly clad girls dance with clashing timbrels, now and again seized by a man who rips away a scarf, flinging it into the litter of the god where the fire curls it in devouring flame. It is an eruption of pleasure without pattern, without form, the joyous release of centuries of bondage. A dozen or more girls with harps rhythmically swing beside the idol, filling the air with sensuous harmony.

What if the story is told differently? What if Moses, instead of angrily smashing the tablets, took a more understanding and less severe approach? He knew the people were tired and discouraged. He himself was more than tired, having climbed the mountain, encountered God, and trudged back down with the stone tablets. Might he have considered setting the tablets aside for a little while, letting the people blow off some steam, maybe even joining the party himself? Instead of making the children of Israel drink the ground up golden calf, could he, after the fun was over, more calmly explain the massive cosmic significance of his latest adventure and of the message in the tablets?

Music: This Is (Not) Beethoven

The practice of playing with (not just playing) classical music is as old as the music itself. This can include adjustments in arrangement, instrumentation and technology. An excellent contemporary example is Max Richter’s Recomposed – Vivaldi (2014).

Just as highly recommended is the recent This Is (Not) Beethoven (2020) from Arash Safaian and Sebastian Knauer:

Once heard you will not forget and will go back for more and again. Those who play with and on the shoulders of giants can shine new sound and light. Enjoy.

The pandemic and Trump stripped Americans bare. How do we look?

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Genesis 2:25

Clothing is a way to hide our imperfections, to make the most of what we are, to make the least of what we may not want others to see.

The overlapping phenomena of Trump and the pandemic have had many effects. One is that Americans were pushed by circumstance to make hard choices about what they did and said—choices that sometimes profoundly revealed what they really believe and who they really are.

Many people showed us what wars always show: we have heroes among us, models of who we can aspire to be.

Others were understandably conflicted, torn between an increasingly complex set of realities, in an environment of knowns and unknowns, of confusing information, so that the right and good wasn’t always apparent.

Others took the opportunity to shed whatever cover they once had, and without shame reveal that they had at some point abandoned common principles of right and good—if they ever had them at all.

Americans are stripped bare. How do we look?

Americans are holding rallies to burn masks. Science books and witches are next.

Washington Post, March 7, 2021:

Anti-maskers encouraged kids to burn their face coverings on the Capitol steps in Idaho

Cheering parents watched as children tossed surgical masks into a fire outside the Idaho Capitol in Boise on Saturday as more than 100 people gathered to protest mask mandates as an affront to their civil liberties.

The rally was one of several held statewide in opposition to the coronavirus-related requirements, which health experts have said remain crucial even as vaccines are distributed and the number of new reported cases has dropped.

Next are science books and witches.

Orange à jus

Orange à jus

Small and round
near perfect sphere
whispering sweetness
to brighten a morning
refresh a night.
But bite
and your mouth
is filled with pits.
Spit or swallow
pay the price
for juice
in seeds of desire
and delight.

© 2021 Bob Schwartz