Bob Schwartz

Category: Uncategorized

The White House is the civic car crash we can’t take our eyes off of

There are many who say the occupant of the White House is incompetent, ignorant, corrupt and crazy, at the least. Yet when we try to stop thinking and talking about him, many of us utterly fail.

It is a cliché to say that people often can’t take their eyes off a car crash, particularly a gruesome one. Clichéd and true.

For better or worse, American civic life is centered on the White House. The situation there can be described as a horrible and chronic car crash. The fire department never arrives to put the fire out. The tow truck never arrives to haul the wreck. The ambulance never arrives to carry the sick and injured away.

We keep calling 911, but no one answers. So we just keep gawking.

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Assault rifles are personal weapons of mass destruction (#PWMD)

Personal Weapons of Mass Destruction (PWMD)

Assault rifles are personal weapons of mass destruction (#PWMD). America fought a war in Iraq to eliminate imaginary WMDs. These WMDs are very real (250 American mass shootings so far in 2019).

That millions of Americans are supportive of and motivated by social hate—Americans from the president on down—is a difficult problem that won’t be easily fixed. Reducing the availability of assault rifle PWMDs is easier:

Assault Weapons Ban of 2019
S.66 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)
Introduced in Senate (01/09/2019)

This bill makes it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon (SAW) or large capacity ammunition feeding device (LCAFD).

The prohibition does not apply to a firearm that is (1) manually operated by bolt, pump, lever, or slide action; (2) permanently inoperable; (3) an antique; or (4) a rifle or shotgun specifically identified by make and model.

The bill also exempts from the prohibition the following, with respect to a SAW or LCAFD:

importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession related to certain law enforcement efforts, or authorized tests or experiments;
importation, sale, transfer, or possession related to securing nuclear materials; and
possession by a retired law enforcement officer.

The bill permits continued possession, sale, or transfer of a grandfathered SAW, which must be securely stored. A licensed gun dealer must conduct a background check prior to the sale or transfer of a grandfathered SAW between private parties.

The bill permits continued possession of, but prohibits sale or transfer of, a grandfathered LCAFD.

Trump Couldn’t Get Hired to Manage a McDonald’s (Though He’d Love It)

For so many reasons, starting but not ending with incompetence, and including his reputation as a sex offender, Trump could not get hired to manage any public or private enterprise of any size. This includes managing a McDonald’s, which is in many ways his dream job (he doesn’t realize that managers don’t get free food).

And yet he is nominally Chief Executive Officer of the United States, the biggest enterprise in the world.

Leaders everywhere, the “beautiful” dictators who should be our enemies and the less “beautiful” allies who should be our friends, all know this. Aliens from other planets, if they are watching, know this. More than half of all Americans know this.

Years from now, in the unsettled and uncertain future, Trump’s “management” of America will be the stuff of hundreds of business school case studies. Even at Wharton, which he claims without proof as his alma mater, MBA students will have to read the story and be asked by their management professors, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

The right answer is: everything.

Scenes from a Wedding

Note: Some of this happened, some of it only seems to have happened. Initials are used for the cast of characters. Some characters share the same initial (so many Ks!) that it will be impossible to tell who is who and which is which.

1. The wedding ceremony between T and B is perfect. The summer wind and birds play and sing along in approval.

2. The reception is perfect. Many, many happy people, including especially T and B.

3. Late in the reception, C and K suggest that B join them at the fire pit outside. But in the confusion of a wave of guests leaving, C and K disappear. B unsuccessfully searches for them.

4. The wave of guests is heading for a bar at a local resort. But when B and K arrive at the resort, they find dozens of guests not at a bar but gathered outside the front entrance, like children with noses pressed against a toy store window. Someone has brought two portable coolers filled with beer and a canned drink containing sparkling water, fruit flavoring and some kind of alcohol.

5. An official from the resort comes by to say that the people and drinking are fine, but that the coolers must leave the public space and go to a room.

6. K picks up a cooler and takes it inside. K eventually returns and announces that the situation is greased. It turns out that K has set the cooler down in the back of the lobby, next to an ATM.

7. K, C and B overhear a complicated and hard to-follow-conversation between J and N. They are discussing how best to whiten a christening gown. Looking back, it appears this may have been a theological debate, though it didn’t seem so at the time. The final word is that Oxi-Clean is better than bleach.

8. B suggests to C that they steal the guest cart parked next to them at the front entrance. Despite many opportunities, this scheme fails to materialize.

9. K, C and B explore the parking lot. B tells a subtle and philosophical joke about a farmer and a pig (punchline: “What’s time to a pig?”). After they are finished laughing, K and C abandon B, who returns to the resort entrance. No one is left there, however, because the remainder of the guests are inside at the actual bar.

10. B and K drive back to their hotel. K is hungry and wants to eat a Filet-O-Fish sandwich at the McDonald’s next door to the hotel. They walk over to it, where the inside counter is closed but drive-thru is open. They determine that walking through the drive-thru is impractical, so they walk back to get the car. They want to stop by their room first, but discover they have both forgotten their keys. They must first go to the front desk for replacements, and then drive to McDonald’s. K drives the wrong way into the drive thru, but eventually turns around and lands in front of the display menu. K and B study the menu for five minutes, but discover no Filet-O-Fish sandwich. They drive back to their hotel, disappointed.

The Weight

Everyone carries a weight, some lighter, some heavier. The question raised is how best to bear it. Some say it depends solely on you, some say it depends solely on an Other. Whatever works is one approach. The best approach may be that carrying the weight depends on you and on an Other. Anyone trying to carry a long piece of lumber knows this.

Everyone who is not you carries a weight, some lighter, some heavier. The question raised is whether you have any responsibility to help, especially since you are already carrying your own weight. Some say you have no responsibility, some say you have absolute responsibility. Some say an Other will come along to help, some say that the Other is you.

Path

Path

some paths paved
others worn by travelers
this one obscured and obstructed
by trees and brush
the obvious way here

©

Location and Dislocation: Where Are You?

Half of a compass from Pompeii

you are here
you are there
here is there
there is here
here is nowhere and everywhere
there is nowhere and everywhere
here is not there

Dislocation is basic. It suggests more than being in one place and then another wholly intentionally and voluntarily. It may not be forced in the sense of dictated; it might be circumstantial or incidental. One thing somehow leads to another, one place somehow leads to another. What is this place? How did I get here? Where am I?

Religious and spiritual traditions spend much time on location and dislocation in many contexts. People are forced to move out and wander. People are judged and forced to go to good places and bad places after death. Or maybe the good place or bad place is right here, except we don’t know it. Or, to quote Neil Young, everybody knows this is nowhere. Or, this is somewhere and then nowhere and then somewhere.

We are not always prepared for dislocation, or for ultimate dislocation. The traditions confuse us, sometimes because they themselves are confused or misleading, sometimes because they want us to work on the matter of location and dislocation ourselves. If you think you know exactly where you are and where you’re going, think again. Or stop thinking. Find a compass, throw away a compass. Here you are.

We are in a monster movie. Some scientists say impeachment will defeat it. Some say that will only make it stronger.

All great monster movies include heated debates among scientists about how best to deal with the devastating creature. Some desperately suggest fire, some say electricity, some say atomic bombs. Others warn that fire or electricity or atomic bombs will only make it stronger, maybe invulnerable.

That is exactly where we are on the impeachment debate. As the damage mounts spectacularly, there are some who say we have no choice but to try anything and everything to save the nation. Others warn that this will only make the creature bigger, angrier and more destructive.

Who is right? What do the monster movies tell us? Sadly, they are just movies, and in any case, there is no single certain resolution or happy ending. Sometimes the combative scientists are right and the monster is destroyed. Sometimes the skeptical scientists are right and the weapons only make the monster bigger and meaner. Sometimes the monster skulks off for the moment, but returns, or has children, and they return. Nothing to do then but wait for the sequel.

Absolute and infinite compassion

Compassion is hard. Absolute and infinite compassion is much harder.

Even in the close and dear circle of those you love, there are moments and circumstances in which they test you. The next circle out of acquaintances and colleagues also seem to occasionally act in ways that demand compassion be stingily parceled out; you are, after all, not a saint. By the time you reach the outer circle of current news, there will be those who might need compassion, but as thoroughly evil leaders and bad actors, do not deserve any of ours, and you will deny them. Who could blame you?

Absolute and infinite compassion does not mean ignoring, forgetting or forgiving what darker things we know about others or, for that matter, what they may know about us. There those things are. In the face of that, though, we hold compassion as a valuable currency, from some perspectives our most valuable. We can spend it freely on anyone, without condition or limit, no matter the circumstances. For those who favor economic metaphors, instead of compassion being devalued because of such free spending, flooding the market, the value goes up, way up.

Is this some idealistic, head in the clouds, good-hearted theory? You may think so. Is it hard? Very, sometimes seemingly impossible. Is it good for us? It is good for you and everybody.

When you see that guy in the news (and it could be any number of guys these days, take your pick), you may think “I am not spending any compassion on that,” it is not surprising. It is an understandable struggle. But as odious as it is, give it a try anyway. You are in possession of a superpower, and as every superhero knows, the real challenge is using your power on the worst villains.

The Surprising Boost You Get From Strangers

I say, “Please don’t talk to strangers, baby”
But she always do
She say, “I’ll talk to strangers if I want to
‘Cause I’m a stranger, too”
Randy Newman, Have You Seen My Baby?

Elizabeth Bernstein writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The Surprising Boost You Get From Strangers
Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day, providing comfort or helping to broaden our perspective

Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day. A pleasant encounter with someone we don’t know, even a nonverbal one, can soothe us when no one else is around. It may get us out of our own head—a proven mood booster—and help broaden our perspective.

“People feel more connected when they talk to strangers, like they are part of something bigger,” says Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, in Colchester, England, who studies interactions between strangers.

In research studies, Dr. Sandstrom has shown that people’s moods improve after they have a conversation with a Starbucks barista or a volunteer at the Tate Modern art museum in London. She’s also found that people are happier on days when they have more interactions with acquaintances they don’t know well and that students enjoy class more when they interact with their classmates.

And yet most people resist talking to strangers, she says. They fret about the mechanics of the conversation—how to start, maintain or stop it. They think they will blather on and disclose too much—or not talk enough. They worry they will bore the other person.

They’re typically wrong. Dr. Sandstrom’s research shows people underestimate how much another person will like them when they talk for the first time. And in a study in which she asked participants to talk to at least one stranger a day for five days, 99% said they found at least one of the conversations pleasantly surprising, 82% said they learned something from one of the strangers, 43% exchanged contact information, and 40% had communicated with one of the strangers again, an indication they might be making friends.

Scientists believe there may be an ancient reason why humans enjoy interacting with strangers. To survive as a species, we need to mate outside our own gene pool, so we may have evolved to have both the social skills and the motivation to interact with people who are not in our tribe.

You don’t even have to talk to complete strangers to reap the benefits. Multiple studies show that people who interact regularly with passing acquaintances, or who engage with others through community groups, religious gatherings or volunteer opportunities, have better emotional and physical health and live longer than people who do not. The researchers believe that engaging with someone we don’t know well is more cognitively challenging than interacting with loved ones: Rather than use the verbal shorthand that develops in close relationships, we have to speak in full sentences, engaging more of our brain.

Why do we enjoy talking to people we don’t know? An encounter with a stranger, when pleasant, fulfills four basic human needs, according to Rachel Kazez, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago, who advises her patients to talk to strangers when they are feeling low. It gives us a sense of control, because we can choose whether to talk or not, and how much information we disclose.

We feel connected—it can sometimes be easier to open up and have an intimate conversation with a stranger because we know we won’t see that person again. We get to feel capable, because they don’t know our insecurities or setbacks. And the encounter may give us a sense of meaning or purpose, especially because a stranger doesn’t have to be nice to us.

“If you are feeling lonely and have a nice interaction with a stranger on a bus, you can suddenly feel like: ‘Oh, I fit in. I’m part of this city,’ ” Ms. Kazez says.