Bob Schwartz

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Summer Music: The Four Seasons Recomposed by Vivaldi + Max Richter

Summer has arrived and with it the music of summer. Which means music with summer title or theme or with a summer feeling. Thousands of compositions and tracks. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is famous as seasonal music, most successfully arranged in new form by the masterful Max Richter.

Abraham Joshua Heschel on Delusions and Deceptions

“Mendacity is the enemy of man, and yet more and more love is lavished on guile and lies. Truth is homeless in our world.”

From A Passion for Truth by Abraham Joshua Heschel:


A World of Phantoms

For most of us, life is a series of evasions, pretensions, substitutes, and rationalizations. We do not see the world as it is but as a projection of ourselves, and so we are prisoners of delusions that hold us in their spell even after we become aware of their deceptiveness. Gradually pretensions are converted into certainties, rationalizations become entangled, and madness sets in.

So many people become salesmen of their delusions. So few people are fully conscious of the non-finality of our here-and-now world.

In analyzing and discussing problems of Jewish Law, possible solutions are often advanced in the Talmud with the introductory words, “I might have thought,” “I might have been led to believe.” After proving that these arguments are mere suppositions or hypotheses, a conclusion is usually reached.

One must learn to understand thoroughly the precise meaning of these phrases, Reb Bunam said. For the world in which we live is a mere supposition or hypothesis. The conclusion is still to come. “At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord” (Zephaniah 3:9).

How did the Kotzker, who was consumed with a passion for veracity, for eternity, look at people whose whole life was spent serving spurious goals?

Falsehood is not merely a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant. It twists and distorts the basis of a man’s life, deceiving him into believing he lives in a reality that does not exist. A person living a lie and taking it to be the Truth moves in a world of self-delusion.

Falsehood is not just a stigma that sullies man’s thinking. A healthy life consists in knowing what one wants, seeing an ultimate goal ahead, and hoping to reach it by means of clearly understood actions. And mendacity is a disease that binds a man’s entire existence. As a result of it, our perceptions are false. We regard as real what can be measured and controlled; what defies measurement and control we reject as irrational and unreal.

In Jewish mystical literature the world here and now is called “the world of falsehood”; each grain of truth may be surrounded by shells of falsehood. Our truths are often half-truths, acquired piecemeal and preserved precariously, their only refuge being the lips of a few dying men. For so many people die for the sake of a lie. So many who profess truth really shun it. Their solemn proclamations are often veiled deceptions.

This is what Abraham did. He forsook community and deception to live with Truth in solitude.

Genuine solitude is the prelude to a new community. However, if you do not withdraw but remain part of “the world,” your supreme effort must be not to deceive yourself. Clearly one of man’s strongest inclinations is to deceive himself.

People do not know whether they are alive and where they are. The world abounds in misrepresentation—lives without design, movement without aim, roofs without walls. They think they dance, yet they are paralyzed. Delusion holds them enraptured. They feel so comfortable in the clutches of their self-deception that when Satan himself embraces them, they think he is in love with them.

Mendacity is the enemy of man, and yet more and more love is lavished on guile and lies. Truth is homeless in our world. We suffocate for lack of honesty. As a result, man dies while yet alive. Who can speak of resurrection when life itself has become death?

Coarse and swaggering, men make insolent speeches and engage in presumptuous dealings. But they are dead, while Truth, though buried in the grave, is alive. Sometimes a voice cries out from underground, and a few isolated individuals sigh and weep.

When a man does not delude himself, he does, at the least, recognize the world’s falsehood. As long as he believes that his delusion is ultimately coherent, that his conceits have final meaning, he lives in a realm of phantoms. Though idle, he is convinced of his achievements. Even as he lies dying, he persuades himself that he is alive.

Each person should wrestle with this question: am I living in a world of phantoms? Is my life, are all my concerns mere delusions?

Baseball and the Arizona Diamondbacks: The Curse of the Audit

Curses are a part of Major League Baseball. Take the Curse of the Bambino. The Boston Red Sox had been a successful team, winning the 1918 World Series with Babe Ruth on their roster. They sold Ruth to the Yankees, and did not win another championship until 2004. Eighty-six years.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have been a somewhat successful team before. In the last full season in 2019, they finished 85-77 (.525), second in the National League West.

In this 2021 season, having played 70 games so far, they are 20-50 (.286), losing their last 14. That puts them in the company of the worst winning percentages in MLB history. At this pace, for the full season they will win just 46 games out of 162.

There are so many reasons that MLB teams play so poorly, too many to list. In this case, though, it is pretty obvious that the reason is the clownish election audit—sometimes called a “fraudit”—being conducted in the D-Back hometown of Phoenix. It has been going on for weeks, as has the D-Back season. The dismal results have been the same.

When will the Curse of the Audit come to an end? We don’t even know when the audit will end, though we hope soon. If I was the D-Backs, I’d send a delegation to the Arizona Senate Republicans and to the Crazy Ninjas running the circus and beg them to stop. Maybe then, the D-Backs can start winning again.

Ridiculously hot temperatures are compelling

We live in a desert city that has very hot summers. And pretty hot springs and falls too. It’s a desert.

Right now, it has been extra hot for days, even for here. Days higher than 110, nights barely dipping into the 80s. That’s hot.

The advice is simple. Stay out of the heat if you can. And hydrate because, well, you know, it’s a dry heat.

It is wise not to spend too much time outside. But I admit that when I do venture into the midday sun, I get a little bit of a charge. I am not stupid and I would not expose myself for any extended time. But the feeling of that supernatural heat is an experience. It is beyond meaning and analysis. It just is, very present, very forceful. I am not nearly so enlightened as to transcend the desire for comfort. That’s why there is blessedly air conditioning in the house.

And yet, dipping into that heat is as bracing as dipping into the ocean. Like the ocean, it has its own rules and its own ways, and invites you to share…if you can, if you are willing. I am willing, for a few minutes, to be surrounded by air that feels—not objectionably—like the inside of an oven. Smartly, I stay just a few minutes. Then back inside.

“Strangely enough, it all turns out well”

Tom Stoppard’s best-known work is probably not one of his brilliant and award-winning plays. It is the popular and award-winning movie (7 Oscars) Shakespeare in Love (1998), co-written with Marc Norman.

Many of Stoppard’s familiar themes and conundrums are here. It is about Shakespeare as a frustrated genius playwright, but mostly about love, specifically about Shakespeare in an impossible love affair. He is in a hurry to write—he needs the money—and the play he suggests is Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter, a comedy. The play he ends up writing is a complete tragedy, ending with the death of the lovers Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s life in the movie is between comedy and death. His lover is forced to marry and cross the ocean, permanently separating them. He then writes a romantic comedy about her, Twelfth Night.

In Shakespeare there is the repeated question of how things are to turn out, the question every creative writer and every human being faces. Again and again, this is the answer:

FENNYMAN
So what do we do?
HENSLOWE
Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
FENNYMAN
How?
HENSLOWE
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Of course “well” is a loose term, and even with stretching, sometimes there is no way to say it is the way things turn out. But as much as we do and plan to do, as mechanical as we may believe things are, think uncertainty. Sometimes there is nothing to do about life and love. It’s a mystery.

Defund the Police, Critical Race Theory: Progressives used to be better messengers

It is essential not just to pick your battles. You have to define and describe what you’re fighting for or against.

In 1957, after the testing of world-destroying hydrogen bombs began, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was organized. Its tools included a slogan, Ban the Bomb*, and a now-famous symbol of peace, both of which swept the world with a concise and pointed message. (That the movement failed is not the fault of messaging, just the fault of greater misguided forces.)

The civil rights movement, and its later partner the Vietnam War protest movement, are known for good messaging, especially musical. These movements had more success than Ban the Bomb, though much is left unfinished, or is sliding backwards.

The first big sign that progressive messaging had lost its way is Defund the Police. On first hearing, I mumbled WTF. The long and complicated explanation, at least from some quarters, is that this means reallocate funds to initiatives that will improve justice in law enforcement. Not take away all money from police, which is exactly what it sounds like to normal English speakers.

Now comes Critical Race Theory. We do desperately need better discussion and understanding of American racism, and appropriate action in response. But I guarantee that having that discussion revolve around a topic that sounds like the name of a college sociology course is not the way to get that going.

Messaging requires collaboration, not dictation. It appears that so many smart and well-meaning people are so stuck in their own heads and good intentions that they’ve lost the ability to listen and hear what they sound like. Because if no one else is listening, or is questioning you because your messaging sounds messed up or dangerous, you are not doing good and you are doing no good.


*Bob Dylan never missed a chance to make fun of America. Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream (1965) is a funny slice of history and commentary (Columbus, Moby Dick, etc.):

I went to get some help, I walked by a Guernsey cow
Who directed me down to the Bowery slums
Where people carried signs around, sayin’, “Ban the bums”

Music: Set Adrift on Memory Bliss (1991) by P.M. Dawn

Don’t be concerned about details: Who P.M. Dawn was, how big an international hit Set Adrift on Memory Bliss was (big), etc.? Just listen to this music and watch this video and remember why and how we feel good and how good people and sometimes especially artists can be. True then and true now.

Corduroy Shorts

I don’t know when I first learned about corduroy shorts. I hadn’t grown up with them or hung around people who wore them.

When I did discover them, it was a revelation. Corduroy. Shorts. Together. It just seemed so right.

Still does, although my old pairs are showing wear. I just unearthed them from the deep shelves. I am back in relationship with a favorite item of clothing.

Why the affection? Corduroy. Shorts. Means: Corduroy is a wonderful fabric (except maybe for the wide wale kind, the one that has fat stripes). It feels good to touch and looks good too (obviously looks good only if you like corduroy, which you have found out I do.) But sometimes you just have to wear shorts.

Two style experts argued. Shorts are for hot weather, for summer, shouted one. Corduroy is for cooler weather, for fall or winter, shouted the other. King Solomon listened and solved the problem. Grabbing a pair of shears, he cut off the pants legs. True story.

Will the corduroy shorts go back in storage, taken out of regular rotation? I don’t see how.

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

Trump “reinstatement” talk is the best evidence yet of how ignorant—or dangerous—some Americans are

There has been talk recently about Trump being “reinstated” as President, maybe as soon as this summer. Including talk by the ex-president himself.

It is hard to know how many of the people promoting this idea are in earnest, and how many are doing it for political effect.

People who subscribe to this are either ignorant or dangerous.

Even compared to the stolen election talk, this is ridiculous. There may be no evidence at all of a stolen election, but at least the concept of election fraud is plausible, even if the fact is unsupported.

The office of President is founded in the Constitution: qualification, election, inauguration, removal, succession. The only way “reinstatement” reaches constitutional stature is by amending the Constitution (which may be what some people have in mind, but they haven’t said). While some amendments have been ratified quickly by the states, many take years and years, so the ex-president could well be in his 90s by that time. That the people talking about this don’t know that is unsurprising, since their knowledge of the Constitution, aside from vague understanding of the First and Second Amendments, may be thin or non-existent.

Unfortunately, for some, reinstatement doesn’t mean any such constitutional process.

It means January 6. It means our former National Security Adviser and admitted and pardoned crook Michael Flynn last week promoting an American coup.

All of which leaves us with a conundrum. Would we rather learn that some number of Americans—not a small number—are ignorant about citizenship or that they are traitors?

Birds

Two poems about birds. What else would poems be about?


I asked the bird
Its preferred pronoun
It sang


A bird doesn’t know its song
The birds don’t know their songs
The music of knowing
Can’t match the infinite choir


© 2021 Bob Schwartz