Bob Schwartz

We would need superhuman superheroes to fix the American mess. What we have are very human politicians.

At the time of World War II, superhero comic books were growing in popularity. Even more so in the following decades.

A big question emerged: Why didn’t Superman just end the war quickly? He certainly could have.

The answer is obvious, even to those who admire him. He is a comic book character. Like all great characters of myth and fiction, he may exist as an all-powerful ideal in the psyche, spirit and imagination, but not in the real hard world.

We are thankful we do have human heroes in dire situations, and that is exactly how the force of evil was vanquished in World War II. In the overall social and political sphere, once in a while we do find individuals who can help “bend the course of history with their bare hands.” But we shouldn’t count on it.

Instead, as deep into undemocratic evil as we are sinking, what we have are very human politicians, which means that some will try their best, or what they think is best, which may not be enough. If we are waiting for Superman, or superheroes, or just heroes, know this: they are us.

The Arizona election audit* will falsely claim Trump won the state. That is the point of no return for America.

You knew the plan all along, or should have. Arizona Republicans hired a company called Crazy Ninjas (officially Cyber Ninjas) to lead an audit* of the Maricopa County, Arizona ballots. Incompetent and partisan, they have worked chaotically and as much as possible in secret. When it is over, they will declare Trump the winner in Arizona. What choice do they have?

That declaration would carry no official weight, as the Arizona election has been officially certified. But that wouldn’t matter. Republicans in other states would use this as proof of their claim that the election had been stolen, and insist that their states should pursue the same type of audit*. Millions of Trump supporters who had been screaming “Stop the steal!”, accompanied by an invasion of the U.S. Capitol, would now scream “We were right!”

And that would be it. No turning back.

When lying and cheating no longer matter at all, not even a little, what’s to stop liars and cheaters? You might say that lying and cheating have been in grand style since the previous president took office, and you’d be right. But there was hollow hope that once he was stripped of his powers, official America would resume the status quo ante.

No. When the Arizona audit* issues its false finding, every American election will be vulnerable to a charge (without evidence) that it is fraudulent. Many of the new voter suppression bills just passed remove final election determination from the officials who have traditionally performed that sworn function (Secretaries of State, Supervisors of Elections, etc.) to the state legislatures. Those legislatures could change the election results, based on their own investigation* and on audits* conducted by companies like Crazy Ninjas.

It would be so heartening, so democracy-affirming, if none of this happened. But all this talk of Trump’s “reinstatement” (not an actual constitutional thing) says that Trump Republicans are thinking about just such a future.

Read about the last deluded days of Hitler

“Though the Third Reich was going up in flames and explosions, Hitler could not bear to die without naming his successor and dictating the exact composition of the government which that successor must appoint.”

I’ve been thinking about powerful men deluded into thinking that their lost cause isn’t lost.

That led me to my copy of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The last chapters chronicle the last days in the Nazi bunker in Berlin. If you don’t know that story, or the entire history of the Third Reich, there is no better place to start than this book. (Note: Maybe read the 1,250 pages in chapters and bits.)

Hitler’s conduct in the bunker, as the Russians overtook Berlin, is by now famous. Up to the end he was appointing a successor and was dictating plans for the future of the movement. And up to the end, he was blaming his disloyal and incompetent generals, but mostly still and forever blaming the Jews.

Powerful men past their power and deluded in thinking otherwise is a classic theme, and in some creative hands (e.g., Shakespeare), the story can elicit pathos. The story of Hitler’s inglorious defeat—a Thousand Year Reich gone in twelve—is pathetic. So pathetic and so incalculably tragic.

If you happen to see an old man stewing away deluded in his bunker, planning for his return to power, it is pathetic. Please be mindful that the tragic damage he and his kind can yet do remains immense.

From The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich


[dictated in the bunker]

These two documents survive, as Hitler meant them to, and like others of his papers they are significant to this narrative. They confirm that the man who had ruled over Germany with an iron hand for more than twelve years, and over most of Europe for four, had learned nothing from his experience; not even his reverses and shattering final failure had taught him anything. Indeed, in the last hours of his life he reverted to the young man he had been in the gutter days in Vienna and in the early rowdy beer hall period in Munich, cursing the Jews for all the ills of the world, spinning his half-baked theories about the universe, and whining that fate once more had cheated Germany of victory and conquest. In this valedictory to the German nation and to the world which was also meant to be a last, conclusive appeal to history, Adolf Hitler dredged up all the empty claptrap of Mein Kampf and added his final falsehoods. It was a fitting epitaph of a power-drunk tyrant whom absolute power had corrupted absolutely and destroyed.

The “Political Testament,” as he called it, was divided into two parts, the first consisting of his appeal to posterity, the second of his specific directions for the future.

More than thirty years have passed since I made my modest contribution as a volunteer in the First World War, which was forced upon the Reich.

In these three decades, love and loyalty to my people alone have guided me in all my thoughts, actions and life. They gave me power to make the most difficult decisions which have ever confronted mortal man…

Next he placed “sole responsibility” not only for the millions of deaths suffered on the battlefields and in the bombed cities but for his own massacre of the Jews—on the Jews. Then he turned to the reasons for his decision to remain in Berlin to the last.

After six years of war, which in spite of all setbacks will one day go down in history as the most glorious and heroic manifestation of the struggle for existence of a nation, I cannot forsake the city that is the capital of this state… I wish to share my fate with that which millions of others have also taken upon themselves by staying in this town. Further, I shall not fall in the hands of the enemy, who requires a new spectacle, presented by the Jews, to divert their hysterical masses.

I have therefore decided to remain in Berlin and there to choose death voluntarily at that moment when I believe that the position of the Fuehrer and the Chancellery itself can no longer be maintained. I die with a joyful heart in my knowledge of the immeasurable deeds and achievements of our peasants and workers and of a contribution unique in history of our youth which bears my name.

There followed an exhortation to all Germans “not to give up the struggle.”

the seed has been sown that will grow one day… to the glorious rebirth of the National Socialist movement of a truly united nation.

What the pandemic should have taught Americans but sometimes didn’t: Admit ignorance, study hard, learn.

It is an unspoken motto of good schools and teachers: admit ignorance, study hard, learn. In real life one or more of those elements might be missing. It is an ideal. During the pandemic, when it matters most, this is not always followed.

We should still be admitting our relative ignorance, as even the smartest experts do. At the beginning, Covid was referred to as a “novel coronavirus” because it was new. And to a great extent still is. What we don’t know—how long natural immunity lasts or how long vaccine immunity lasts, for example—continues, because, for example, outside of trials, the population has been vaccinated for six months or less.

Even if people were willing to admit ignorance, which some weren’t and aren’t, the pandemic provided a confusing array of information, some of it tentative (see novelty), some of it simply wrong. The only way through that jungle was studying, which many people didn’t have time or inclination for, and some people couldn’t understand.

This is a reminder to remain fully and continuously informed by reliable sources. Keep learning. It matters because 924,000 Americans* have died from Covid so far, millions more Americans have been infected so far, some of whom are suffering chronic serious consequences. And while the pandemic has slowed for now in America, it is roaring in other parts of the world—the world we live in, among the people who are our human brothers and sisters.

Admit ignorance, study hard, learn.

* This number is from the respected Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, which says “To fully account for the impact of COVID-19, our estimates now include the total number of COVID-19 deaths, which is greater than what has been reported.”

Music: Something/Anything by Todd Rundgren

Two kinds of older pop music. Some you never want to hear again. Some that you never want to stop listening to, because it has qualities that make it—not to sound cliched but here it goes—timeless. Timeless doesn’t mean current, just music that transcends currency.

If Todd Rundgren was just a producer, he’d still be an all-time great, by producing distinctive albums that sold millions and millions (Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band or Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell), by producing albums that were critical darlings (XTC’s Skylarking), or by influencing generations of artists.

But he isn’t just a producer. Beginning in 1967 with his first band Nazz and later as a band leader and solo artist, he has shone as a song creator and performer. Never more notably than with his 1972 double album Something/Anything. It is stuffed with tracks, a some of them less than perfect and maybe skippable after a few listenings, but many others gems of songwriting and production. Also, since it includes studio outtakes, you can hear just how much fun is being had.

Following are just a couple of tracks, including his re-recording of the first Nazz hit from 1968, Hello It’s Me. Pay attention to how these are models of songwriting and production. Then listen to the whole album.

Note that even though he has been eligible for the Rock Hall since 1993, his induction in the class of 2021 was just announced a few weeks ago. The too frequent irrelevance of the Rock Hall (still second to the irrelevance of the Grammys) is not worth spending time on. Just listen and enjoy.

Cowards? Republican Senators who skipped town instead of voting on the January 6th Commission

The Senate vote on debating creation of a commission to investigate the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6th was 54 Yes and 35 No. It needed 60 Yes votes to move forward, so it was defeated. Even though Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told them to vote against it, six Republican Senators did the right thing and voted Yes.

But wait, you might say. 54+35=89. Aren’t there 100 U.S. Senators?

You are correct. There may be good reasons to head home for the holiday weekend and miss the vote. Two Democrats—Patty Murray of Washington and Kyrsten Sinema—did so. But we should concentrate on the nine Republican Senators. It is certain they would have voted No, so the result would have been the same. But by being absent, they will not have to defend that unconscionable and indefensible No vote.

In other words, unless there is a really good excuse—not “I had a Memorial Weekend barbecue to attend”—they are very likely cowards. If you’ve watched Republican politics for the last few years, you are not surprised.

Here is the list of Republicans who missed the vote:

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)
Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Mike Braun (R-Ind.)
Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
James Risch (R-Idaho)
Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)
Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)

Note that Senators Blunt, Shelby and Toomey are retiring and will not run for reelection in 2022. These three could have thrown a bone to core American values, to the integrity of the Constitution and the U.S. Capitol (where they work), and allowed the investigation to go forward. Instead it appears at first glance that they chickened out. The remainder of the Republican Senators who refused to show up are not even running again for at least almost four years.

Why are Republicans so adamant about blocking an investigation, either by voting No, or in this case, by leaving town? It is obvious that some elected Republicans were at least knowledgeable about the planned insurrection in advance or enabled its furtherance. If a bipartisan commission found that evidence, it would not be helpful. If it is discovered some other way, at least the Republicans can dismiss the findings as partisan, unreliable and tainted. That’s why obstruction or running scared are the best strategies.

Paul Ryan joins the Republican civil war. Democracy will take all the help it can get.

I am not a fan of Paul Ryan. He was once Speaker of the House. He was once a candidate for Vice President on the Mitt Romney ticket. He lost the speakership. He lost the election. I am glad any time he is at a distance from the levers of power.

Yet he now belongs to a small and hearty band of Republicans who are trying to rescue the party from its devolution into indecency and inhumanity. So far, a very small band and not notably hearty. Still, since the Republican Party is a growing and dangerous force in American life and democracy—sort of a virus—we should accept any help we get in curing it.

Paul Ryan, despite being ideologically anathema to me (see Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand), is actually a pretty smart guy, known as a policy wonk.

Which leads to my muted optimism. Maybe Paul Ryan is standing up against the dominant Trumpist forces because it is the right thing to do. But I think he is more calculating and ambitious, and believes that eventually—not soon or soon enough but eventually—conventional and traditional Republicanism will be back, and he will have a place in it.

He is after all an acolyte of Ayn Rand, who believed that unbridled selfishness is the path to optimal outcomes. In this case, if Paul Ryan’s attempted return to relevance makes a crack in the current malevolent Republican monolith, let him have at it. Right now, American democracy needs all the help it can get.

I Ching on Israel

Note: It is astonishing for me to realize that in the years I have been mining the I Ching for wisdom, I have never asked about Israel. The I Ching is, for me at least, a companion to the Hebrew Bible, a text just as old from a culture just as ancient. It is worth repeating that like all the best books of hard-won wisdom, the I Ching is not a directive problem solver; it is suggestive, a vision expander, moving us away from the narrow focus that humans are naturally prone to. There are other ways of proceeding in situations, actually infinite other ways, and always have been.

Note also: Some astute students of Judaism may note that this past week included the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the story of the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai, an event marked by fire, and sometimes referenced as…fire on the mountain. As always, generating this hexagram was random. Unless, of course, one adopts Jung’s concept of synchronicity (he was a student of the I Ching), in which case little or nothing is random, least of all generating I Ching hexagrams.


Fire on Mountain

Lü means to travel, to move from place to place. In ancient times, an army of five hundred soldiers was called Lü.

Sequence of the Gua: If abundance proceeds to the utmost and becomes poor, surely one would lose his home. Thus, after Abundance, Traveling follows.

Wilhelm translates Lü as The Wanderer, and Blofeld translates it as The Traveler. In this book I adopt Traveling.

It was challenging to create an ideograph to express an act of moving. The ideograph of this gua employed the image of an army chasing its enemy to express traveling. The left half of the ideograph is an ancient character, fang. During the Shang dynasty and the beginning of the Zhou dynasty, the minorities on the northern border were called fang.

The ideograph of fang looks like a dancing warrior with his two arms swinging in the air. The minority groups usually performed a dance ceremony before fighting. On the right side are three soldiers. The leader at the top moves forward with two soldiers following him. The heads of the soldiers face the minority warrior, and their feet move toward him, suggesting that they are giving chase.

This gua is the inverse of the preceding one, Abundance. Abundance denotes a time of outstanding greatness and plenitude. However, this period cannot last very long. Abundance advises people to treasure and use well the plenitude and to sustain the state of abundance as long as possible. The gua Traveling suggests that after the declining of Abundance, one should move forward, exploring the new world and starting a new cycle. Staying at the old place and moving with the old pace is only to stagnate. Thus, Abundance and Traveling are opposite in content but still complementary.

The structure of the gua is Fire above, Mountain below. The image of fires burning on the mountain, their flames blown by the wind from place to place, is where the name Traveling came from. When one is traveling, life is not stable, and everyone is a stranger. Moving from place to place makes one physically and emotionally tired. Under every circumstance, a traveler should remain steadfast and upright. In this way there will be good fortune.

Little prosperity and smoothness.
Being steadfast and upright: good fortune.

Little prosperity or smoothness.
The yielding is central in the outer;
It follows the solids.
Keeping still and clinging to the brilliance,
There is chance for a little prosperity and smoothness.

Being steadfast and upright: good fortune.
The time and significance of Traveling are truly great!

Fire on Mountain.
An image of Traveling.
In correspondence with this,
The superior person is prudent and precise in punishment
And does not lengthen the period of imprisonment.

This gua expounds the principle of stability and unity. When abundance reaches the extreme, an unstable situation arises. Further progress and advance is not as easy and smooth as before. The gua takes the image of traveling to display the truth of change and development in human life. Life is a journey, and we are all travelers. Every event in our daily lives is part of a continuum of change and development. Time and space are a process. Every individual event enhances change and development. We must respond to the changes and discover the most suitable way to deal with them. Responding to isolated changes merely leads to a little success. Only by responding to the changes within the whole process can great success be achieved. This is the key to success. In this gua, all the yielding lines bring good fortune because they are docile and tend to be central and harmonious with others. On the other hand, all the solid lines are not that auspicious because they tend to be willful and opinionated and difficult for others to deal with.

During King Wen’s sitting in stillness he recalled the changes and development of the Shang dynasty as well as that of the Zhou. He realized that the life of a country, and of a person, is a journey. Before one settles down, chances for progress and success are few. Only being steadfast and upright can bring good fortune. The Duke of Zhou describes the different situations in one’s life journey. Dwelling upon trivial things, one cannot create good fortune. With a place to stay, enough money, and a companion, one’s life is better.

The Complete I Ching
Taoist Master Alfred Huang

Meditating your way home

I write a little about Zen, but not much. There are so many more who write about it, more experienced, able and articulate, that I am humiliated into quiet. Besides, I don’t really know what to say.

What I will say today is that Zen sitting, like all earnest meditation, is a way home, to a home you didn’t know you had. That is not a feeling or belief, just a fact. All the places that have been or are home for you are real and really yours. But the one that is really, really yours, underneath all these others, is the one that you in-habit when you meditate. Welcome home.

Music: Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) by Marvin Gaye

“Make me wanna holler
Throw up both my hands”

Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On (1971) is getting attention on the 50th anniversary of its release. As it deserves. You’ll see lots about it, its creation, its qualities, its significance. All you really need are ears to listen and eyes to know a little about America in 1971 and 2021.

The title track, first on the album, may be the best known. But the last track, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), is the crown.

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Before we see it you take it

Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

Bad breaks
Set backs
Natural fact is
I can’t pay my taxes

Make me wanna holler
Throw up both my hands
Make me wanna holler
Throw up both my hands

Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God knows where we’re heading