Bob Schwartz

Category: Media

Twilight Zone America: Characters in Search of an Exit

The strange and uninformed version of history that Sean Spicer recounted today is just one more episode in what increasingly seems like Twilight Zone America. The Washington Post:

Spicer brought up Hitler unprompted during Tuesday’s White House briefing while emphasizing how seriously the United States takes Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a, you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. “So you have to if you’re Russia, ask yourself: Is this a country that you, and a regime, that you want to align yourself with? You have previously signed onto international agreements, rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country.”

Later in the briefing, a reporter read Spicer’s comments back to him and gave him the opportunity to clarify. Spicer’s answer only added more confusion.

“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said, mispronouncing Assad’s name. “I mean, there was clearly, I understand your point, thank you. Thank you, I appreciate that. There was not in the, he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that. What I am saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of towns, it was brought — so the use of it. And I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.”

Twilight Zone America. Consider the episode Five Characters in Search of an Exit (see image above), in which an Army major finds himself in a room with an odd assortment of four other people. Rod Serling explains at the opening:

“Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, and an Army Major—a collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation; just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we’ll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we’ll only explain it—because this is the Twilight Zone.”

And closes with this:

“Just a barrel, a dark depository where are kept the counterfeit, make-believe pieces of plaster and cloth, wrought in a distorted image of human life. But this added, hopeful note: perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love. A clown, a tramp, a bagpipe player, a ballet dancer, and a Major. Tonight’s cast of players on the odd stage—known as—the Twilight Zone.”

Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, Army major. And Sean Spicer. Yep, that’s Twilight Zone America.

Media and trump: The Reverse Cry Wolf Effect

The media are suffering from the Reverse Cry Wolf Effect. That is, not shouting out a warning when a real danger approaches.

Instead of pointing out what might actually be a serious danger, when trump raised the preposterous and unsupported issue of Obama’s birth, the media treated it as interesting, reportable and sort of funny. And then kept it alive, forever.

Since then, trump has continued to make preposterous allegations and statements. To put it less politely, to chronically lie about matters big and small. The media, having already decided that everything he said and did was interesting, reportable and sort of funny, kept right on treating it as normal, if a bit quirky.

The latest interesting, reportable, quirky, sort of funny thing that trump claimed without any evidence is that Obama (“Bad (or sick) guy!”) wiretapped trump tower. You can tell that the media is on the verge of saying what plenty of respectable commentators are saying: objectively, trump is trying to distract us from his incompetence and real problems, he has always had an irrational hatred of Obama, and he may also be a little bit unstable.

But the media isn’t sure whether anybody will believe them. Why should we?

More New York Hate Attacks—On a Muslim Cop and a Subway Worker

aml-elsokary

Just as you probably didn’t see any national coverage of the assault on a Muslim college student riding the New York subway, you also probably didn’t see stories about more attacks in the last few days—including one on a New York City cop.

Sunday

‘I will cut your throat!’: Man attacks Muslim cop and her son

A suspect was arrested Sunday in the Brooklyn attack on an off-duty Muslim cop wearing a hijab.

“Go back to your country,” the man yelled at NYPD Officer Aml Elsokary during the incident Saturday.

He also targeted the cop’s 16-year-old son — shoving him and shouting a slur that referenced ISIS — before telling them both, “I will cut your throat! Go back to your country!” sources said.

The incident is being probed as a hate crime.

The suspect, whose name was not released, lives near the scene of the attack, on Ridge Boulevard and 67th Street in Bay Ridge.

Elsokary made headlines in 2014 when she helped rescue an old man and a baby from a burning building.

Monday

Muslim MTA worker in hijab pushed down stairs, called ‘terrorist’

A Muslim New York City Transit employee who was wearing a hijab with her uniform was injured when she was pushed down the stairs at Grand Central Terminal Monday morning by a man who called her a “terrorist,” officials said.

The 45-year-old woman was on her way to work at 6:20 a.m. when the man confronted her on the 7 Train.

“You’re a terrorist and you shouldn’t be working for the city,” the hate-monger spewed at her while the two were on the train, as he jabbed at her MTA patch.

He followed her off the train and pushed her down the stairs. Her ankle and knee were injured and she was taken to NYU Langone Hospital.

We have to start facing a few realities, though strategies to deal with them are still to be determined. One is not just the presence of hate and intolerance—an age-old problem—but the growing aggressive expression of that hate, possibly in light of the current political climate. Another is a certain willingness to stand by while that happens—also long-standing—because we will always have such people and that’s just the way things are. A final reality is much of the news media, which, with all due respect, spent the presidential campaign focused on all kinds of nonsense and missing all kinds of truth, sometimes in the name of being “objective” and not judging or having opinions.

These latest examples of necessary truths are not matters of opinion. What’s wrong is wrong, and if the media is uncomfortable reporting or analyzing it, maybe they have outlived their usefulness and relevance.

Making America Crazy Again: How to Survive and Thrive After the Election

make-america-crazy-again

You don’t want to hear this, but things may get crazier after the election.

If Hillary Clinton wins, she will be the least liked, least trusted President to ever take office. All the assumptions and suppositions about how the Clintons’ good intentions have been mixed with and compromised by expedient centrism, ambition, greed, secrecy and overall ugliness have been confirmed.

Progressives who tried an insurgency within the Democratic Party will learn that if they have a place at the table, it will be set with modest meals, if not mere crumbs.

Republicans will be gleeful at the prospect of obstructing everything and unwinding anything, without much of a plan of their own. Their glee is misplaced, since there is no Republican Party left, not one recognizable as such. Instead, it is merely the shaky platform for another set of would-be Presidents to start jockeying for position as the candidate in 2020.

And then of course there’s Donald Trump, whose hat should have first read Make The GOP Crazy, then Make The Election Crazy, and finally Make America Crazy Again. He is good at each of these. There is no doubt, whatever form his public pathology takes, he will help make 2017 a year we will not forget, just as 2016 is an election we will not forget, no matter how we try.

And so, some suggestions for getting on with our lives, not just surviving, but thriving, after the election.

  1. Religion, spirituality, philosophy, or something like them. Principled views of reality and the world can be very helpful. There is nothing inherently wrong with making stuff up as we go along. Except that when the wind blows, which it does pretty much all the time, and sometimes with hurricane force, we might want to have something to keep us steady.
  1. Media diet. When I see the ad for that cheeseburger with six strips of crisp bacon on top, something in me wants one. Except I don’t eat cheeseburgers any more, don’t eat bacon anymore, and if I did, I don’t think it would be in that particular configuration, since I plan to live a long and healthy life. The news media, even the supposedly respectable ones, are mostly offering us the equivalent of 1-pound burgers with an entire package of bacon on top, hour after hour. If you don’t want to be crazy unhealthy, please watch what you eat.
  1. Learning. You don’t have to learn about anything or anyone. You can learn exactly as much as you need to get on with your life and through the day. If you do choose to be interested in something, including public affairs, do try to learn and discern. We have spent the past year in a storm of misinformation and disinformation, lies and nonsense. That is not going to stop after the election. In fact, it could get worse, hard as that is to believe.
  1. Silence.

Donald Trump Stays Up All Night Tweeting About National Security (Just Kidding)

Twitter Bird

The Twitter bluebird never sleeps. Neither does Donald Trump.

Last night, his tirade of overnight tweets wasn’t actually about national security, the economy, or anything else significant. Instead, he couldn’t sleep because of, among many other topics, a comment Hillary Clinton made in the Monday debate about the possibility that Trump is rudely disrespectful toward women/human beings. Specifically, toward Alicia Machado, a past winner of his Miss Universe pageant, who Trump mercilessly criticized for gaining weight during her royal reign. (Note the times of the tweetstorm, which began around 3:00am, and here resumes after 5:00am.)

Trump Tweets

Millions of people stay up all night tweeting nonsense. It’s a free country and a free social medium, and God bless those who have the time for this or don’t need the sleep. But Donald Trump, as has become apparent, is not one of the millions. He is one in a million, maybe one in a billion. And he is running for President.

It might be interesting to learn what he would be tweeting in the middle of the night if he becomes President. But not nearly interesting enough to have anything to do with helping to make that happen.

TFZ (Trump-Free Zone)?

I intend and promise to make this blog a TFZ (Trump-Free Zone). Very soon. Maybe. For a while. I run away from my favorite news channels, sometimes for hours, while he is showcased. So I understand not to contribute to the overexposure.

But to torture the famous words of St. Augustine:

Lord make this blog a Trump-Free Zone. But not yet.

Thanks for your patience.

The Eulogy

Obama Charleston Eulogy

Almost always, the great speech is also the right speech.

President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the eight other victims in Charleston was great and right.

We are accustomed these days to speeches from leaders and wannabe leaders that are mediocre and content-free, and if there is content it is calculated, self-serving, and passion-free. Welcome to this or mostly any other presidential contest.

Of course, Barack Obama is the exception to the run of the political mill. In fact his sometimes supernatural rhetoric ended up being a burden, as some wondered whether he was all talk and no action. Without getting into the measure of his still unfinished presidency, which this week looks pretty good, remember that under the right circumstances talk is also action, when action means talking about the thing that needs doing.

One remarkable aspect of the eulogy was the President’s use of pronouns. We and our, he repeated, and he did not mean we Americans. He meant we black Americans. In a situation that called for the highest leader and a black man, it so happens that the highest leader is a black man.

I’ve written before about my beloved Barbara Jordan, maybe the greatest American orator of the late 20th century, with multiple entries on the list of all time speeches. Before the eulogy, it may not have been clear where and if Obama belonged in that pantheon. If it wasn’t before, that has now been settled.

The eulogy was everything it could and should have been. It was a painting of a significant scene by a skilled and inspired artist. Like a great painting, it is more than even the greatest photograph can show us. Look here, he said, think about this, remember this, all the while appealing to the heart and soul of his audience and of the nation. We have watched hours of news coverage of the events in Charleston, reviewed and analyzed and opined upon. But the magic of a speech or a painting is that by adding words and pictures, the obstacles to our really seeing are removed, the scales fall away, and we look as if for the first time. And with that vision, maybe move on to act wisely and appropriately.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’

Laudato Si'

The Pope’s new encyclical, Laudato Si’, has been much in the news. Whatever you’ve heard about it, if you haven’t seen it, you really don’t know the whole story.

You’ve heard it is about the environment and climate change, which is in small part true. You’ve heard Catholic presidential hopefuls such as Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal admonish the Pope, their spiritual father, telling him to stick to religion and stay out of politics.

The encyclical is much bigger than climate change, the environment, and certainly bigger than Bush or Jindal or dozens of politicians. It is a big statement about the moral and religious shortcomings of this modern world and us modern people. You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or faithful or religious to read and appreciate it. You just have to read it.

It is full of inconvenient and uncomfortable truths. Which is probably why the coverage has focused on the environmental exhortations, rather than on the broader cultural, media, technological and social ones. In essence, it is nothing less than a call for radical evolution, in the spirit of the radical evolutionary upon whom the church is built. There are plenty of established institutions and powerful interests and individuals, including the media, who could be forced to change if such radical evolution came to pass. And many of them don’t want to change, and don’t even want us to listen to the Pope talking about it.

The encyclical is a long and deep but very readable work. Download it, sample it. You don’t have to read it all, or all at once. It is naturally grounded in theology, and in some particular theology, but be assured that the observations and conclusions don’t require you to hold any sectarian beliefs. It only requires that we believe that things are far from perfect, and that after we take a close look at ourselves and others, we believe that we have the power and obligation to make things better.

It is filled with so much quotable inspired thought and inspiration. Here is just one brief excerpt:

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

Laudato Si’ PDF

Laudato Si’ epub and Kindle

NFL Priorities

NFL

Which of these three NFL issues deserves the deepest continuous attention by the league, by fans, by the media, and by the public?

1. Frequent on-field concussions that demonstrably lead to players having permanent brain damage, diminished quality of life, and premature death.

2. Frequent off-field antisocial and possibly criminal behavior by celebrated players.

3. A possibly deflated football.

Note: It is possible that more scientists have been covered talking about the football that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have had deflated than about the concussions in the NFL.

New Year Non-Resolution: Less Nonsense

Maxfield Parrish - Winter Twilight

No New Year resolutions for me, for many reasons. Here is a related thought from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:

When we reflect on what we are doing in our everyday life, we are always ashamed of ourselves. One of my students wrote to me saying, “You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have failed!” Dogen-zenji said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one single-minded effort.

It is hard to talk about what is and isn’t nonsense. Waiting with anticipation for the new season of your favorite TV series or playing games is not necessarily more nonsense than discussing political affairs. And don’t even get started on food and sex, which can be critically important, nonsense, or both at the same time.

It is a matter of attention, depth, and priority appropriate for you at the time. A way to determine this is discernment, keeping just quiet enough to hear the voices coming from above, below, outside, and especially inside, that suggest just how much of what might be good for you.

Examples abound. More than ever, there is the theoretical possibility of paying attention to just about everything, and no possibility—even with multi-sensing capabilities we are equipped with—of actually doing it. Even when you do limit and choose, you may find that the coverage or talk is just repeating versions of the same stuff—nonsense—over and over, without its going much of anywhere except around in circles.

So for me—call it a wish or a perspective or a direction but not a resolution—I will try to discern who and what matters, pay better attention to those, and avoid some of the rest. This is not necessarily a matter of serious or world-changing: the new seasons of Downtown Abbey and Mad Men will have my attention. But as things come along, I will try to listen to just which way they might be moving me. Just a little less nonsense.