Bob Schwartz

Category: Uncategorized

Maybe Myths Will Save Us

You can’t fight and eliminate myth. You can try. You can drive it away and banish it, but it will always turn up within the city walls. Because it is inside you and all the citizens.

When I began reading comic books, I didn’t know those stories were myths. When I first heard the stories of the Bible, I didn’t know those were myths. In the big world, something about these myths proved to be irresistibly and unstoppably popular. Comic book myths became an entertainment mega-industry. Religious myths laid the foundation for the beliefs of billions.

Enlightenment and modernism took on the task of demythologizing. That project has never been wholly successful. It is instead like whack-a-mole: bash one myth down and another will pop up. You may not recognize something as myth, but there it is. Bigger than life, embodying truths that defy everyday experience and evidence. Not only bigger, but more significant.

As the essayist Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Maybe instead of trying to stop telling ourselves stories, maybe instead of trying to loosen our embrace of myths (both impossible anyway), maybe we keep conscious of the myths, try to let go of the unhelpful ones, and try to choose better and more beneficial ones.

 

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Trump’s Ten Commandments Checklist

The Ten Commandments constitute the most concise and famous list of moral values in the Western world. There are other lists, of course (see, for example, the Beatitudes). But if you want a quick checklist, the Ten Commandments are handy.

We don’t expect ourselves or others to achieve a perfect score, which could mean keeping every one or breaking every one. But the list does provide a way of keeping track and keeping score, in hopes of improvement.

For Trump:

You shall have no other gods beside Me: Unknown.
Trump appears to have little or no theological knowledge or belief. But until he expressly claims to be an atheist or polytheist, we can’t know what’s in his heart.

You shall make you no carved likeness: Broken.
This is the idolatry commandment. Trump has made an idol of himself. And in those rare cases when he can stop idolizing himself, he has occasionally made idols of others—often unworthy others.

You shall not take the name of God in vain: Broken.
This is commonly treated as the cursing commandment, and it is commonly broken. If it is cursing we are talking about, we are certain that Trump, whose private language is known to be crude, has broken this one.

Remember the sabbath day: Broken.
The Sabbath commandment is so regularly broken that Trump’s failure is hardly remarkable.

Honor your father and your mother: Kept.
Giving Trump his due, he seems to have genuine reverence for his parents—though the relationships were complicated. If this includes being a good parent, that may be another story.

You shall not murder: Kept.
We suppose not, certainly not directly, but given the sorts of people he has long associated with, we just don’t know.

You shall not commit adultery: Broken.
On a scale of 1 to 10, this goes to 11.

You shall not steal: Broken.

You shall not bear false witness: Broken.
As with adultery, this goes to 11. Or 12.

You shall not covet: Broken.

That makes seven Broken, two Kept, and one Unknown. How do you think it stacks up?

Trump’s Breakdown

Crazy, I just cannot bear
I’m living with something’ that just isn’t fair

Mental wounds not healing
Who and what’s to blame?

I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train

Ozzy Osbourne, Crazy Train

Trump has broken down.

The first week after the midterm elections provided clear and convincing evidence. It is admittedly hard to tell with someone so publicly erratic and eccentric in the first place. “Trump is just being Trump, just a little more so” is an easy if uncomforting excuse.

But this is different. And not at all surprising. Whatever his preexisting psychological disorders, there are realities and pressures that even his walls of denial are struggling to contain.

One of the many signs this past week is his disappearance at events that even he knew were appearances he was expected to make and could have used as opportunities for his usual grandstanding. Not once but twice he missed high-profile events honoring American veterans. And two high-level Asian conferences that he was scheduled to attend will now see Mike Pence instead.

His immediate firing of Jeff Sessions and his attempt at appointing a loyal lackey as Attorney General is the first step in what will be a sea change in his inner circle. He feels more personally besieged than ever. He is demanding complete and utter loyalty, no questions asked, no internal resistance allowed. One could look at this as simply strategic in the face of great difficulties. But one could also look at it as the workings of a troubled and paranoid leader who believes the world is against him, and no counter attack is too extreme. This is war, and he needs a war cabinet around him.

If Trump has already broken down, or is in the process, there may be little we as citizens can do about it. He has a world-class powerful bureaucracy at his personal command. Congress, even with the upcoming Democratic House, can do little, even if there was bipartisan will, which there isn’t. Removal from office through impeachment requires two-thirds of the Senate to convict, which won’t happen. The 25th Amendment disability procedure is even more unlikely, since that provision begins with his Vice President and Cabinet. That won’t happen either.

The only “better” possibility is if Trump goes so far over the edge and over the top that even Republican Senators, and Pence and the new Cabinet, face the fact that psychologically, Trump can no longer be trusted with the office, having reached the point where “Trump being Trump” is no longer acceptable. Do we want to wait for that? Do we have a choice?

Sympathetically Misrepresenting anti-Semitism to Protect Trump

In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, there is universal recognition and condemnation of anti-Semitism. But there is a subtle split on the approach to this commendable sympathy and call for improvement. Some want to look at the big picture, some want to focus on the individual elements that brought us to this moment.

Among the big picture painters is the Wall Street Journal:

Americans would do well to ignore this toxic habit of political blame for murderous acts by the racist, anti-Semitic or mentally disturbed. We are all responsible for our rhetoric, and that includes Mr. Trump, as well as Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder.

But the blame artists are distracting attention from the real sickness, which in this case is anti-Semitism, a hatred that goes back millennia. That is the toxin to banish as much as possible from American life, even if it can’t be purged entirely from human souls.

There is something missing, something not quite right, something intended to misdirect the focus. As long as anti-Semitism is broadly presented as one of history’s most durable social diseases, as long as the “blame game” is dismissed as missing the point, we are not even half-way to self-awareness, let alone a solution.

Antisemitism is people. People as victims and targets, and people as perpetrators, enablers and ignorers. The Holocaust demanded that we break such a huge phenomenon down into its most significant pieces: the individuals who suffered and the individuals who, directly or indirectly—but culpably—made the horror possible.

There is nothing wrong in using this incident to bring generalized attention to anti-Semitism in America, which has persisted under the surface even as progress has been made. But treating it mostly as a pernicious social phenomenon avoids dealing with the individual responsibility for those who either actively promote or at least turn a blind eye to it.

When Trump references the “goodness” of the anti-Semitic marchers in Charlottesville (“Jews will not replace us”), when he calls himself a “nationalist” (though not that kind of a nationalist, we are assured), when he says and does a hundred things that promote hate and intolerance as the way to a Great America, of course anti-Semites, stable or crazy, are going to take it as an endorsement and seal of approval.

Anti-Semitism is people—perpetrators, fellow-travelers and enablers. All the rhetoric in the world won’t change that. And Trump is one of those people.

Meditation is not about meditation

zafu-and-zabuton

Meditation is not about meditation.

Many meditate. Many think about meditation. Many talk about mediation. Many write about meditation.

The Zen expression “just sitting” is helpful. So many ways, with or without meditation, and so many ways of meditation. “Just” says it is enough in its unadorned, undecorated, uncomplicated way. Whether it is Zen or some other practice, “just” does not stop people from decorating, as they would a bare-walled house.

Without adding to this, without hanging one more picture on the wall, the thought arose: meditation is not about meditation. Not an original thought, but an essential one, maybe the essential one. Rather than explain it, I just repeat it. If you are meditating in any way, or thinking about meditating, or talking about meditating, or writing about meditating:

Meditation is not about meditation.

Birthday

Birthday

For K

The birds don’t keep a calendar
or mark occasions.
Every day is an event
for celebration and music.
But today from the first slice of sun
that is their cue
I heard the wordless symphony
include you in the manifest of wonders.

Trump’s Scorched-America Strategy

scorched-earth: relating to or being a military strategy involving deliberate and usually widespread destruction of property and resources (such as housing and factories) so that an invading enemy cannot use them.

Trump knows nothing about history or about military strategy. He is, as his closest advisers have said, an idiot. But instinctively, he recognizes that anything or anyone that cannot help him or that might harm him must be destroyed.

A scorched-earth strategy has been used throughout history. In America, this has happened a number of times, including most famously during the Civil War. General Sherman’s March to the Sea, including the burning of Atlanta, caused $100 million (1863 dollars) in damage to Georgia.

Trump’s March includes the attempted destruction of government institutions, public servants, the free press, the rule of law, truthfulness, core American and moral principles, and more. In this, he has been aided and abetted by numerous Republican enablers, who either don’t realize that this is a scorched-America strategy, or who do recognize it and want to be part of the victorious army.

In war, it must be devastating beyond description to watch the land you love, live in, and have developed be totally destroyed. In America, we are learning how that feels.

Republicans are either stupid (in a stupor) or think people are stupid. Either way, the fix is in for Kavanaugh.

 

Even before the limited FBI investigation is completed, at least one Republican Senator has incongruously announced that there is “no corroboration” from an investigation that isn’t done yet.

This is the latest illogical move in a process never designed to approach the truth.

There is never going to be corroboration under these circumstances. Only three eyewitnesses: Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, both of whom testified, and Mark Judge, who no doubt repeated to the FBI that due to his blackout drinking he has no memory of the event. Blackout or not, neither Kavanaugh nor Judge are about to own up to activity that is a crime.

Instead, the Republicans are appropriately being asked to determine, in the absence of corroboration, which one is telling the truth. The current position being taken by Republicans is that they really don’t want to call Ford or Kavanaugh a liar. Which position is untenable when two people tell totally inconsistent and opposite stories.

What Republicans really want to ignore is growing corroboration that, aside from the question of the sexual assault, Kavanaugh lied about himself repeatedly throughout his hearing.

Maybe Republicans really are simple-minded and haven’t noticed any of this. Or maybe they are smart enough to know that they are being illogical and deceptive, but expect that American people are stupid enough to believe and support their position.

Would you rather have Senators who are stupid, or Senators who think you are? That may be the question of our time.

The Kavanaugh Hearing and Investigation: A Tiny Preview of What Happens After the Mueller Indictments and Report

As expected, the small accommodation and reasonableness following the Kavanaugh hearing are almost certainly an illusion.

The White House has not just limited the scope of the FBI investigation; it is essentially managing it. Trump and Trump-servile Republicans are more committed than ever to getting Kavanaugh immediately on the Supreme Court—despite his clearly lying, not just about a sexual assault, but about his life. He also exhibited temperament unsuitable for any judge, let alone a Supreme Court Justice: angry, belligerent, evasive, weirdly emotional, and particularly defensive about his drinking. Besides rambling on about how much he liked beer, he rudely asked not one but two United States Senators what they drink. At times, it seemed less like a hearing and more like an intervention for a functioning alcoholic.

The Republicans don’t care. There are going to be plenty of legal questions and cases involving Trump and his associates coming before the Supreme Court. It is essential that Trump have someone fighting for him not just at the Court but on the Court. Nothing can stand in the way of that.

Kavanaugh is tainted, thanks to his own behavior, and will remain so if and as long as he sits on the Court. He is in his fifties, those who knew him, worked with him, and socialized with him are in their fifties or younger. For decades, revelations will keep coming out about the real Brett Kavanaugh. As angry as that may make him—and us—he will have the ultimate advantage if he is on the Court, as one of the nine most powerful people in America—with lifelong tenure.

The bigger point is that this has been a preview of what Trump, his executive staff—including the Justice Department and the FBI—and the Republicans will do as soon as the cascade of indictments and the report come from Mueller. If you thought last week was crazy, fasten your seatbelts—it’s going to be a wild and bumpy ride.

A Republican Supreme Court Nominee Lied in a Senate Confirmation Hearing

ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Rule 3.3 – Candor Toward The Tribunal
(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly: (1) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer;…(3) offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.

Brett Kavanaugh, outraged and defiant, lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about a number of matters in the hearing yesterday:

Washington Post:  Here’s where Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony was misleading or wrong

A Republican Supreme Court nominee lied in a Senate confirmation hearing.
A Republican Supreme Court nominee lied in a Senate confirmation hearing.
A Republican Supreme Court nominee lied in a Senate confirmation hearing.

Forget about the allegations of sexual misconduct. Forget about the chronic drinking. Forget about any other suspected behavior. Forget about all of that and focus only on that one sentence:

A Republican Supreme Court nominee lied in a Senate confirmation hearing.

The drama continues, with Jeff Flake’s equivocation leading to a request for an FBI investigation strictly limited to the incident with Christine Blasey Ford. If Mark Judge agrees to talk to the FBI, which he may not, it is expected that he will continue to maintain no memory of it. The limited scope insures he won’t be asked about any other matters concerning Kavanaugh.

The Republican fix is in, the leadership has been clear on that, and relenting on a limited investigation doesn’t change that.

Instead, just look back and forth between that sentence and every Republican in office who demonstrates spineless disregard for American values and norms. Every citizen, every lawyer, every decent American should look. Look at those Republicans, then look at this:

A Republican Supreme Court nominee lied in a Senate confirmation hearing.