Bob Schwartz

Category: Television

The Buddha on 66

The Buddha on 66

The Buddha said to Todd and Buzz
The route is wide and useful
Now a bit neglected
All things die
Even highways
Lend me your Vette
Then walk down the road
To the Blue Swallow Motel
Sleep if you must
But be sure
To wake up

Note: The route is Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Once the great American highway, it has been somewhat passed over by the Interstate, but not surpassed. Some motels and other businesses catering to travelers are gone. The Blue Swallow Motel remains, and is not mere nostalgia. It is a place that allows the past to be present, not because the past is better but because it is different. Todd and Buzz are also past, heroes of a 1960s TV show Route 66, in which they drove around the country in their Corvette, having dramatic adventures. The Buddha is the Buddha, never in Tucumcari, never drove a Corvette, though the route is the way.

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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.

I x P = D! The Will Robinson Governmental Danger Formula

danger-will-robinson

Danger, Will Robinson!
Robot B9, Lost in Space

Here is a simple formula to determine the level of danger posed by the actions of a government leader.

The theory is that the danger (D) posed is directly proportional to the idiocy of the leader (I) and the power of the leader (P):

I x P = D!

Thus, as the idiocy or the power increases, so does the danger.

You may find this formula handy.

Note: The exclamation point (!) does not denote an element of the formula. Rather, it indicates that the mere word “danger” does not convey how intensely dangerous the state of affairs might get, under the least optimal circumstances.

 

The Beverly Hillbillies Go To Washington

clampetts-in-washington

I was thinking about a very rich family with more money than sense, and about their beautiful daughter and a son who thinks he is a lot smarter than he is. They eventually go to Washington.

The Clampetts of The Beverly Hillbillies.

In 1970, for the first three episodes of the hit show’s ninth and last season, the Clampetts (Jed, Granny, Elly May, Jethro) go to Washington, initially to solve the pollution problem.

It is a very long, complicated, politically incorrect and stupid story. At one point, Jed buys the White House from a fake Native American so that the Clampetts can move in. He later buys the Capitol. And that’s not even the stupidest part (taken to the Psych ward, Jethro tries to figure out where the countries of Paranoia and Schizophrenia are).

Following are descriptions of the episodes (from TV.com) and links to the videos. The descriptions are fun. As for watching the videos, you will not laugh once, you will occasionally cringe, but you may come away thinking that the Clampetts buying and moving into the White House is not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard.

The Pollution Solution (9/15/70)

Drysdale is trying to get his money back, while Jed is trying to prevent him from doing so. And Jethro is trying to come up with a way to beat the smog problem. Drysdale sends Jane over to get the money, posing as a guard. When Jed doesn’t give it to him, Drysdale tells him what he’s got is a drop in the bucket, and only the President could really do anything. Jed returns the money and says he plans to give all his money to the President. To help out, Jethro comes up with the electric car, after inventing the smog-causing steam car, and says he can drive them to D.C. in it. Drysdale arranges a comic to pose as the President over the phone to keep them from giving their money away, telling him Jed thinks he is worth 95 million. Rich Little, posing as Nixon, tells them to do what the man in the white coat says. When a milkman at the mansion reads a note Granny left and tells Jethro the message says they’re going to Washington, the Clampetts get on a plane, and Drysdale is too late to stop them. They tell the stewardess about their plans when they meet Mr. President, which sound outrageous, and when Jed asks her how high they are flying, she tells them a lot higher than the plane.

The Clampetts in Washington (9/22/70)

The Clampetts head to Washington D.C. to give their money to the President, and Honest John and Flo follow. Honest John convinces the Clampetts that he knows the President and that they can give him money, which he will in return give to the President. Flo poses as Sitting Hawk, the last of the District Of Colombia Native Americans. She sells Jed the White House for one million. After that, the Clampetts go to the White House to move in, but are stopped by the guard. They use some of their new District Of Colombia words to the guard. He sends for a car to take the Clampetts away. They get in the car, expecting to go visit the President, when in reality they were taken away in a police car.

Jed Buys the Capitol (9/29/70)

The Clampetts are confused after being taken to a place called a Psych ward and being called “Paranoiacs and Schizophrenics.” They ask Honest John what it is about. He tells them it is a mistake and promises they can see the President, just as soon as some trouble is settled. He returns to Flo and tells her he is going to take the Clampetts for another two million. She wants to go to Guatemala, but he gets her to pose. They sell Jed the Capitol, and much more of the property. Meanwhile, Jethro is trying to figure out where the countries of Paranoia or Schizophrenia are. Jed and Granny return to say they’ve bought more land. Honest John sells them more and more property, and at the end, he has ten million in property sold. But Elly is looking for a kitten and walks in on Honest John and Flo. The Clampetts all see this and think he is still the salt of the earth for taking in a 150 year old Native American woman. He admits she is his wife, and they are crooks. They misunderstand and still praise him, and he tears up the checks worth ten million. The Clampetts think they have over-praised him yet again.

Obama: The Superstar of the Troubled Democratic Show Is Leaving

obama-slow-jam-the-news

Did you ever watch a TV show that was only just okay, but you kept watching week after week because you really liked the star—someone so special that he made even the worst episodes watchable and enjoyable?

Then that superstar left the show. Contract differences. Elections. Whatever. And then the show was over. Canceled.

Barack Obama has left the Democratic show. In the month since the election, we have gotten a preview of what it will be like without him. The Democrats thought, as producers do, that they were really the show, and not some guy that they had helped turn into the superstar he became.

Producers quickly learn that you can’t force people to watch your show. You can’t expect people to watch your show just because you tell them how great and important it is, and how terrible the other networks and shows are. While it’s an advantage to have a superstar, it’s better still to write good scripts, employ creative directors, and cast good people in interesting roles. Better to give people what they want and what they need. As viewers or as citizens and voters.

Star Trek Koan

kirk-mccoy-scott

Captain Kirk faced a crisis on the Enterprise. He summoned his ship’s doctor and his ship’s engineer. Bones says, “Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor, not an engineer.” Scotty says, “I’m an engineer, Captain, not a doctor.” Who is right?

The Weird Randomness of Life

The Catcher in the Rye

I went to the gym this morning for my regular morning workout. The TV was on, but nobody was there. I saw that the remote control was gone. I climbed on a chair, pushed the power button and turned the TV off.

On further search for the remote, I discovered a handbag on the seat of stationery bike. I didn’t want to pry, but I peeked in to see if the remote had ended up there. Instead, I saw a copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Are people still reading The Catcher in the Rye? They should and apparently they are. It is a great and famous novel. Once upon a time controversial, when it was published in 1951, because Salinger included the word “fuck” multiple times.

After this novel, another novel, and a book of stories, Salinger disappeared, like the remote control. He is considered the most reclusive and mysterious of contemporary fiction writers. W.P. Kinsella included a character based on Salinger in his novel Shoeless Joe, which became a character in the movie version Field of Dreams. The character in the movie is played by James Earl Jones, a big black man with a booming voice. Salinger was a white Jewish man, as far as we can tell regular size and regular voice.

In high school, I wrote a book report on The Catcher in the Rye, one that was supposed to be read aloud. The English teacher was one of those young, hip women, so I thought it would be alright. I was a little concerned about some of the quotes, specifically the ones that included the word “fuck.” In that class was a girl who was a friend, not a girlfriend, who read it before class and urged me to read it just as it was. She was a popular and cool girl, but mostly I wanted to seem cool to her because she was pretty and had really big breasts.

So I read the report out loud. This is one of the passages I read. The confused and questioning adolescent Holden Caulfield says:

I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another “Fuck you” on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible.

I wasn’t particularly confused, but I was punished. Someone in the class took offense and told the principal. I was called down to his office, and despite his liking me a lot and despite my record as a star student, he believed some sort of sanction for my indiscretion was necessary. The sentence was that my entry into the National Honor Society was to be delayed one year.

If I had it to do all over again, I would know that none of this mattered. I read the book, still love it, and maybe my book report led someone else to read it. If I was somebody else, then or now, I might have said something to the principal that was clever and super-meta, such as “Go fuck yourself.” I didn’t and wouldn’t.

On the other hand, if I go down to the gym tomorrow, and still can’t find it, I might say to myself—only to myself and not out loud—“Where’s the fucking remote?”

Saturday Night Political Comedy and Science Fiction

Manchurian Candidate

There were two moments of comedy from Saturday night politics, one spontaneous, one planned. And a weird science fiction scene in between.

Comedy. The chaotic opening of the Republican debate was described by Politico as a “train wreck.” But a really funny train wreck:

As Gov. Chris Christie walked out on stage, moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz called out Dr. Ben Carson. A camera backstage showed Carson starting to walk out, but he stopped himself once he heard the moderators announce the next candidate, Ted Cruz.

Cruz walked out, and Carson stayed put as a stage manager tried to wave Carson on stage. He didn’t move. Donald Trump then walked up next to Carson as his name was called, but also stopped next to Carson.

Marco Rubio was called up next, walking past both Trump and Carson onto the stage, as did Jeb Bush. John Kasich initially didn’t make it out onto the stage at all.

The moderators thought they were done. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates.”

But they weren’t. “Dr. Ben Carson, please come out on the stage. He’s standing there, as well. Dr. Carson.

“And Donald Trump,” they added.

Then Carson chimed in. “I can introduce Kasich?”

“Yes, yes, we’re going to introduce Ohio governor John Kasich,” the moderators said.

All that was missing from the botched introductions was the candidates colliding with each other and falling all over the stage. Keystone Cops style (that’s for you, Mitt Romney). This hilarious mess didn’t quite make the endless hours of blah blah that followed tolerable.

Then there was this bit of absolute weirdness at the debate:

Science fiction. Chris Christie attacked Marco Rubio for giving the same canned speech every time, no matter what the question. Rubio responded by giving the exact same speech he had just given. Later in the debate, Rubio did it again, word for word. And then again.

It was like a sci-fi movie where a robot is running for President and the mission is to push him to the point of meltdown. The only way we did know that Rubio was not a robot is that later on he began to sweat. Aha!

Or maybe it was like The Manchurian Candidate, where Christie would show Rubio the Queen of Diamonds from a deck of cards, and Rubio would walk off stage in a hypnotic trance.

Comedy. Bernie Sanders went on Saturday Night Live with his doppelganger Larry David. SNL concocted a bit in which Larry David was the captain of a Titanic-type ship that was sinking. The captain was trying to jump ahead of the women and children getting into the lifeboats. Bernie appeared on deck as a radical immigrant who had had “Enough! Enough!” of the privileged one-percent pushing ordinary people around. The happy ending is that the ship has hit not an iceberg but the Statue of Liberty. Bernie did a charming and self-effacing job of delivering his lines with comic gusto.

Hanukkah as Game of Thrones

The Hanukkah story of the Maccabees and the Hasmonean dynasty they founded is not for children. The aftermath of the overthrow of the Seleucid overlords is for grown-ups, a history of empire, guerilla wars, massacres, alliances made and betrayed, power marriages, expansionism, hegemony, and subjugation. And of course faith—the right kind, the wrong kind, and none at all.

It is the sort of story that belongs in Game of Thrones. You won’t see that series on HBO. We want simple tales of faith and miracles, for ourselves and especially for the kids. And why not? In troubled times and a troubled world, no one can begrudge any injection of light or miracles we can find or conjure up.

For a summary of this history, see this from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: A Brief History of a Violent Epoch: Judas Maccabeus’ death would mark the end of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks – and the start of the extremely unstable Hasmonean dynasty.

Here is a chart that outlines the chronology of the Hasmonean Dynasty:

Hasmonean Dynasty

Hanukkah has never been a major Jewish religious holiday, not on a par with Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and the rest. The events celebrated on Hanukkah do not appear in the Jewish bible. The canon of the Tanakh was closed before the Books of Maccabees could be included. Some of those books, though, can be found in Christian versions of the Old Testament.

Hanukkah was elevated, especially in America, as a seasonal companion to Christmas, for Jews living in decidedly Christian cultures. For a complete treatment of this phenomenon, see the book Hanukkah in America: A History.

The comparison to Christmas does suggest why we don’t have an epic series devoted to the Maccabees and their historical legacy.

The Christmas story has an even bigger and more significant and spectacular sequel. The newly born Jesus grows up to become the foundation of the faith and one of the great teachers in world history. The next part of his mission is told in the story of Easter. Sequels don’t get any bigger, clearer or cleaner than that.

The historical follow-up to the story of the Maccabees is more equivocal. It puts that era in Jewish history in a very real, human, political light that may clash with the simple idealized version of candles and dreidels.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t light the candles, eat the latkes, spin the dreidels, and commemorate the victory of God’s rule over the rule of the less godly. It’s just that sometime during the holiday, we might leave behind childish things and look at the history with eyes open. Not because it takes away from the holiday, but because it adds to it a fuller sense and understanding.

And because for two millennia, the exact same complexity has been unfolding in the exact same place. Not a children’s game. More like Game of Thrones. Only much more real.

Biden and Colbert

Whatever your politics, it was TV history last night on The Late Show. Joe Biden and Stephen Colbert talking, just two great guys leaning in and getting real, while millions watched, and many teared up.

It starts with Colbert. The question has been whether and how he would progress from being a character on The Colbert Report to a different character that is more himself. There was that moment on the final Daily Show when Colbert exposed his most sincere and unironic thanks to Jon Stewart, the man who gave him his chance.

But last night’s Late Show interview skipped all the midpoints of developing a Colbert talk show persona to transcending any idea of what a late-night host might be. Beyond showing himself as a man of faith, Colbert served almost as a therapist and priest. He didn’t stay away from the pain. He compassionately went right for it, not for spectacle, but for the healing truth, and to reveal the depths of Biden’s quandary.

Reflecting their shared history of family tragedy, it was like a reunion of two old souls. On top of that, Colbert wore not only his faith but his politics on his sleeve, something that just isn’t done in his position. It was clear that he was urging Biden to run not because it was a good idea, but because Colbert and the Nation needed him.

It doesn’t take much to get Biden to speak from his soul. Hello will usually do. But Colbert brought out an extra dimension of that. Where certain candidates now running make us cringe, Biden made me and plenty of others cry. Where certain candidates make us want to run the other direction, listening to Joe just made me want to be a better person.

In the moment, it didn’t matter that Colbert was in only the third show of his widely-covered new TV venture. Or that Biden was in the final weeks of the will-he-or-won’t-he candidacy drama. It just was what it was, and what it was was good and human, so humbly and nobly human. Something we don’t see much on TV. Or in politics.