Bob Schwartz

Month: February, 2022

Q&A on the Ukraine War

Q: Will sanctions work?

A: Sanctions won’t work to deter Putin from continuing his taking Ukraine, which will take another day or two. Sanctions won’t work to force Putin to withdraw, which would be a massive embarrassment for him.

Q: Will sanctions backfire?

A. Very possibly. Removing Russia from the global banking system, for example, means that European nations who buy gas from Russia can’t pay their bills. Russia would then be in a legitimate position to cut off that gas.

Q: What is Putin’s plan?

A: Putin will occupy Ukraine, put a puppet government in place, and then claim it is once again a part of Russia. He will then continue his request that bordering European NATO nations stand down their military readiness, which is a security threat to Russian Ukraine. NATO will again refuse, setting the scene for possible—though not anytime soon—Russian action to demilitarize those nations.

Q: What did Putin mean by his threat against any nation that intervenes?

A: Not a nuclear threat. Instead, he can initiate massive crippling cyberattacks.

Q: Does it matter that this war may not be popular in Russia?

A: Not at all. Russia is a dictatorship. Putin’s hold on power is virtually absolute. Even those in his leadership who have long been close to him are frightened by him and, in some cases, want to be his successor in 2024 (not wholly unlike the American case of Trump).

Q: What about American cyber warfare against Russia?

A: Russia will regard this as an attack, no different than a military attack. For Putin, this will justify whatever he subsequently chooses to do.

Q: Putin is now regularly called an irrational actor or, sometimes, a madman. Is he?

A: This matters and it doesn’t. Yes, if his calculations are recognizably rational, it might be a better situation. But if he is following some personal agenda, this is just name-calling. The best surmise, from his talks, is that he is driven by fierce retro-nationalism, willing to do anything to reconstitute the “glory days” of the Soviet Union. Given that a number of Americans, at the highest levels, are driven by fierce retro-nationalism, we have to determine if this is madness.

Q: What about Trump (former Republican President) and Pompeo (his former Secretary of State) now praising Putin as a strategic genius?

A: Giving aid and comfort to the enemy is the definition of treason.

Before Maus there was Master Race

By 1955, publisher William M. (Bill) Gaines was already revolutionizing the comic book industry. His line of EC (Entertaining Comics) books took on all sorts of mature themes and genres. So much so that he had been called before the U.S. Senate, which was on a high-profile crusade to control a medium that it believed was corrupting American youth, in fact, Americans of any age.

(Speaking of corruption, Gaines went on to publish Mad Magazine for forty years, which influenced a generation to believe that American culture was basically absurd, stupid and funny. What me worry?)

Among the talents that Gaines featured was an artist named Bernard Krigstein. In 1955, as the cover story for the first issue of EC’s new publication Impact, Krigstein illustrated the eight-page story Master Race. It is a stark tale of a former concentration camp prisoner who sees a former Nazi camp commandant on a New York subway—and who pushes that tormentor to his death.

There is deserved attention recently to Art Spiegelman’s celebrated Holocaust graphic novel Maus. After the benighted school board of McMinn County Tennessee banned the book, it once again became a bestseller. Though it was not noted in any of the news, more than twenty years before Maus, Master Race had taken on the Holocaust in comic form.

Spiegelman is no stranger to Krigstein or Master Race. In a 2002 New Yorker article, he writes about Krigstein’s being one of his teachers and about the artist’s complex life and career:

Anyone interested in crossing the ever-narrowing divide between High and Low culture ought to contemplate the work and troubled career of Bernard Krigstein (1919-90), a postwar comic-book illustrator who had the privilege and the misfortune of being an Artist with a capital “A” working in an Art Form that considered itself only a Business. Krigstein was never associated with a specific character (the most sure ticket to comics success), and he never wrote his own stories (a handicap in a narrative medium). He wasn’t beloved by publishers, editors, or readers. What reputation he has rests on a handful of short stories he illustrated in 1954 and 1955 for EC comics (the folks who brought you Tales from the Crypt and Mad), but one of those stories, “Master Race,” was an accomplishment of the highest order—a masterpiece.
Art Spiegelman

Read Master Race online or find one of the many books featuring this and other EC comics.

Books: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami was given to me. I had never heard of or read Murakami. I don’t read as much fiction as once I did, and so don’t keep up with the most popular writers.

I have now learned that Murakami is not just a popular and critically appreciated writer but a global phenomenon. Millions of copies sold. Frequently mentioned in Nobel Prize conversations. And 1Q84 is not just any Murakami book. When it was published after years of anticipation, it was seen as a remarkable moment in his already prolific career. At over 900 pages, with 79 chapters, divided into 3 volumes, it could only be remarkable.

It took me weeks, a few chapters a day, to finish. Since I don’t have the frame of reference, as critics and fans do, of his work before this, I took it at face value, reading without prejudice.

It is stuffed with cultural allusions, which I now understand is a Murakami trademark. None more telling than a character in forced isolation working her way through Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Not that this was necessarily Murakami’s attempt at a Proustian magnum opus. But any reader, veteran of Murakami or new to him, compelled to keep reading, may hit a point when you ask: what am I doing here and what is Murakami (or Proust) doing here?

Which, strangely or appropriately, is central to 1Q84. Along with related questions such as: where am I (are you) and when am I (are you) and who am I (are you)?

On the day I finished reading it, I unrelatedly came across a 1963 essay by Susan Sontag about the philosopher Simone Weil. Far removed at first glance from 1Q84 and yet:

Perhaps there are certain ages which do not need truth as much as they need a deepening of the sense of reality, a widening of the imagination. I, for one, do not doubt that the sane view of the world is the true one. But is that what is always wanted, truth? The need for truth is not constant; no more than is the need for repose. An idea which is a distortion may have a greater intellectual thrust than the truth; it may better serve the needs of the spirit, which vary. The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.

Susan Sontag, New York Review of Books, February 1, 1963

This might be the justification for all who create what we call fiction, whether in writing or painting or any medium. So instead of an attempt at insightful critique or analysis of 1Q84, of which one more isn’t needed, I leave you with that quote. If you have read 1Q84, you will understand the connection. If you haven’t read it, you will be the better for doing so. “The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.”

Future Shock is now. So read it.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler published the book Future Shock. It was an immediate and long-time bestseller, with substantial influence on public conversations. Less so on action.

The premise, in my oversimplified summary: The rate of technological change is accelerating at an uncontrolled pace. But there are limits to our adaptability to change. The outcome is what he called “future shock.” There may be something we can do about it. Maybe if we study, learn and try:

This is a book about what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change. It is about the ways in which we adapt—or fail to adapt—to the future. Much has been written about the future. Yet, for the most part, books about the world to come sound a harsh metallic note. These pages, by contrast, concern themselves with the “soft” or human side of tomorrow. Moreover, they concern themselves with the steps by which we are likely to reach tomorrow. They deal with common, everyday matters—the products we buy and discard, the places we leave behind, the corporations we inhabit, the people who pass at an ever faster clip through our lives. The future of friendship and family life is probed. Strange new subcultures and life styles are investigated, along with an array of other subjects from politics and playgrounds to skydiving and sex.

What joins all these—in the book as in life—is the roaring current of change, a current so powerful today that it overturns institutions, shifts our values and shrivels our roots. Change is the process by which the future invades our lives, and it is important to look at it closely, not merely from the grand perspectives of history, but also from the vantage point of the living, breathing individuals who experience it.

The acceleration of change in our time is, itself, an elemental force. This accelerative thrust has personal and psychological, as well as sociological, consequences. In the pages ahead, these effects of acceleration are, for the first time, systematically explored. The book argues forcefully, I hope, that, unless man quickly learns to control the rate of change in his personal affairs as well as in society at large, we are doomed to a massive adaptational breakdown.

Alvin Toffler, Future Shock

Is this relevant, more than fifty years later? Have you heard the news? Have you lived life in 2022? Read or reread Future Shock.

Whoopi Goldberg suspension: Reflexive response isn’t the way to ameliorate society’s hate and intolerance

I don’t pay attention to Whoopi Goldberg or The View or ABC Television. Then came this week’s development.

Whoopi Goldberg has been suspended by ABC for saying that the Holocaust was not about race but about man’s inhumanity to man.

What the ADL and other worthy and well-meaning enemies of hate essentially expressed: The Holocaust was about race. She is spreading antisemitic disinformation. That disinformation must be refuted and she must be corrected and punished appropriately.

What ABC did: They corrected and punished Whoopi Goldberg by suspending her.

What ABC might have said and done instead:

Whoopi Goldberg was historically wrong, as she has admitted. But rather than suspension, since we are in the business of information and education (?) we will be producing a program exploring not only the racial motivation of Nazi antisemitism and the Holocaust but also featuring the important studies about the distinctly different types of antisemitism, including racial and religious antisemitism, all of them pernicious.  Many people, Jews and non-Jews, aren’t fully aware of that distinction. This should be of great interest to all our audiences, especially the audience of The View (?). We believe this is a more thoughtful, comprehensive, constructive and valuable response.

For those interested in exploring the topic, in 2019 the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College held an extraordinary two-day event about Racism and Antisemitism.