Monday, December 29, 2003



your chances of making an arrest in a new murder case fall off drastically after the first 24 hours.

that's why, in mdpd, when your team's up for the next homicide and one comes in, you work around the clock that first day. there's a frisson to the work with everyone aware that the cosmological clock is ticking on them. breaks in the work are few, fewer for some than others.

the homicide prosecutor's job description at such scenes is to consult and advise the detectives on any legal issues that come up, to take the long view toward trial when they might take the more immediate view.

i was on homicide duty one week and got called out to a scene at some guy's house. i forget the context. the body was in the living room.

i was standing next to the lead detective, a big, intense, florid-faced cop who i'd known for years. he was taking notes feverishly. a few streams of perspiration ran down his cheeks.

the most horrid smell wafted to my nostrils. homicide scenes are not for the easily offended of sights and smells but this was unusual. it wasn't decomposition, it wasn't anything i could associate with the crime.

"what the fuck's that smell?", i said to jim.

"i just took a shit in my pants," he said, not raising his pen or eyes from his notepad.

"are you kidding me?"

now he looked at me. "i had to take a shit but we're busy."

-benjamin harris

Sunday, December 14, 2003

the capture of saddam hussein needn't mean it's over for the democrats. it IS over, because howard dean will be the nominee but imagine if lieberman or edwards or even kerry would be? the democrats would be innoculated against attacks that they are soft on foreign policy and would have been free to hammer bush on economics.

imagine if the nominee were clinton. he would do the next best thing. "the war's over. bush wants to live in the past. don't stop thinkin' about tomorrow. it's the economy stupid."

but no, we get dean. "let's refight the war politically. i was/am/always will be against it. DOES EVERYBODY HEAR ME? I WANT EVERYONE TO HEAR THAT. but i'm in favor of us staying there. to finish the job. getting hussein doesn't mean the job's finished. i don't know what 'the job's finished' means. i'll let you know. what i do know is that bush doesn't understand foreign policy. i do. i had to negotiate sensitive maple syrup tariff issues with the canadians. tough negotiators, those canadians."

-benjamin harris

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Coffin's Corner


william sloane coffin, the great divine of the 1960s, was the subject of a little new yorker article this week.

the occasion was proximity to the divine's 79th birthday and, owing to a bum ticker, his own proximity to the GREAT BEYOND. ominously, coffin spoke, according to the interviewer, "with flies buzzing around him."

the divine's guidance was sought on the war with iraq. he allowed as how he was against it. having dispatched that subject, he expounded on the weltanschauung that informs his opinions.

unlike the floppers who see good and evil in simplistic terms like good and evil, the divine has a more nuanced view owing to the nuance and subtlety of his own mind which is of course the hallmark of end-state intellectual evolution, to wit:

"nothing is more dangerous than misunderstanding evil. evil has an irremediable stubbornness about it. and it must be recognized, it has to be constrained, but it can never be resolved."

"an honorable pacifism recognizes that the mystery of evil is beyond its solution."

this is subtle. this is complex. this is The Great Insight.

the intellectual architechtonus being laid, the divine then concatenated historical events with a manner of creativity hitherto unknown among those who concatenate events for a living:

"poor old woodrow wilson said 'we're ending world war I, we're making the world safe for democracy.' as a result we opened all kinds of doors to every kind of dictator, from ataturk all the way to salazar, and in between franco, mussolini, hitler and stalin."

with this last, the interviewer, ben mcgrath, noted that even the coffins dog, a dalmatian, "sat quietly nearly seeming almost to listen." at such perspicacity even the beasts of the earth are stilled.

black fles buzzing ("it's sunday. i guess i'm getting worked up"), the divine expanded on the theme of american responsibility for "ataturk, salazar, franco, mussolini, hitler and stalin":

"and that's what's so pernicious, so dangerous, about bush [to end the suspense, coffin's for howard dean]. that he just doesn't understand the stubbornness of evil, and he just doesn't understand american complicity."

coffin's own axis of evil, mcgrath recorded for posterity, comprised "environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash in weapons."(at this point it was observed that there were two lap dogs in the room, interviewer mcgrath having descended to all four fours, chin resting on the divine's chair seat).

rev. coffin is a quote-monger, a veritable walking bartleby's, who keeps binders full of pith. in the course of this short interview he managed to squeeze in references to wilson, moses, hamlet, oliver wendell holmes, the new testament, and this one from st. augustine: "yea, my pride-swollen face has closed up my eyes."

ungenerous readers of rev. coffin's views, those disrespectful of their elders, those not of as nuanced an intellect may have been reminded of another quote:

"fetch here the stocks, ho!
you stubborn ancient knave, you reverend braggart
we'll teach you."

-benjamin harris

Sunday, November 23, 2003

the attacks by islam on the west, in iraq continuously and ever bolder, in saudi arabia, spectacularly twice in turkey, are harbingers. whether we "degraded" al qaeda with our post-9/11 riposte or whether they were just lying low and in the r&d phase of the next round, the signs are ominous that a new attack on america, in america, is coming, and it's imminent.

-benjamin harris

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Freddy Adu to Play for United


D.C. united, that is, not manchester united. quite a coup for major league soccer. the best young player in the world will make his debut next spring at rfk stadium and will appear on letterman tonight.

mls is unlike the four major team sports leagues. it is a "single entity owner" structure, much more centrally controlled than the franchise structure in the nfl, mlb, nba and nhl. only other league to attempt the single owner concept was abe saperstein's old american basketball league.

the benefits are classical economic economies of scale in purchasing and licensing but also makes the league, theoretically, better able to deal with dislocations and unfairness caused by a george steinbrenner or a donald trump who single-handedly destroyed the united states football league. players sign a contract with the league, not with the individual teams, and are assigned to one of the teams, which also helps competitive balance.

mls has never been able to break through the american sports public's conscious, not even close, not even close to the extent that the old north american soccer league did. adu could change all that. the u.s. is such a personality/celebrity driven culture that a player with real star power could allow the "beautiful game" to poke through. pele did it for nasl. d.c. has always been one of the league's glamour franchises. teaming adu with the incomparable ray hudson is a marketing dream.

the signing gives credibility to mls on two other fronts. first, since its inception, the league has had to loan or sell some of its best players abroad for much needed cash. that made it look like--because it was to some extent--a minor league masquerading as a first-division league. making the financial committment to adu (no details announced), and outbidding man-u and other european teams reverses that image.

second, just keeping home grown talent at home is all soccer will have to do to succeed here. there is a huge soccer public in the u.s. not a potentially huge, an actually huge. manchester united sold out everywhere it played in the u.s. this year. the cosmos drew 77,000 to matches at giants stadium. the tampa bay rowdies and ft. lauderdale strikers drew very well.

what america will not pay to see is second-rate anything. the american world cup team has proven it can compete with the best in the world, and was supported as such. more freddy adus peppered throught the ten mls teams will result in a very attractive product on the field, sorry, pitch.

so congratulations to mls. adu and american soccer could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

-benjamin harris

Saturday, November 15, 2003

the philadelphia inquirer reported on wednesday that a secret cia report has warned that the continued guerrila attacks on coalition forces in iraq are convincing the iraqi populace that america can be defeated there and that more and more iraqis are supporting the insurgents.

after "the end of major combat operations" in may a couple of soldiers per week were being killed; that was inevitable. but over the last few months the attacks have been obviously well-coordinated and more deadly. the attack on the palestine hotel when paul wolfowitz was staying there was a brilliant public relations coup to show the world that hussein loyalists had not been vanquished and in fact were able to attack at will what one would have assumed to have been an impregnable target. the look of anger, fear, and embarrassment on wolfowitz' face at his press conference afterwards was a bit humorous and said it all.

this week 26 italian soldiers were killed in the deadliest single attack yet.

in the face of all this the administration has announced that it is going to accelerate the timetable for turning over control of the country to civilian authorities.

so secretive is this administration, so isolated is this president, so deceiving have they been with what they know and what they're thinking that it amounts to little more than guess work to imagine what they're up to.

the cia report has the ring of truth. psychology is an important weapon in war. it is what kept the north vietnamese and viet cong going against the pounding of the b-52s.

the north koreans were being defeated and were demoralized at their prospects going up against the military that had just won world war II, until the chinese came to their aid. their whole psychology changed and they became a coherent, successful fighting force. you can never let your enemy think that he has a chance of success.

what SHOULD be done in iraq is clear: more troops, many more, should be deployed and there should be massive, ruthless application of force (1) to find and kill saddam hussein and the remaining 15 jokers in the pentagon's deck of cards and (2) to communicate to the islamic masses in the only language they understand that every man, woman and child will be slaughtered by the greatest military force in world history if they violently resist the coalition.

so what is the administration up to? as with any large organization where several major actors are involved in decision-making, there certainly is not any one explanation. there are a number of cross-currents effecting our response to events.

to go back to before the beginning of time, in 1998 i believe it was, paul wolfowitz, donald rumsfeld and others signed a full-page ad in major newspapers calling for the use of military force to oust saddam hussein. at papa bush's urging, that team was installed in the pentagon and that philosophy dominates input from there.

rumsfeld came to the pentagon after one prior stint. in an interview once he said that any new defense secretary is floored by the dog-and-pony show the military can put on for him to demonstrate their extraordinary capability, to engender awe and encourage deference. he related an anecdote from 1975 where the secretary of navy came into his office with a video showing how a u.s. sub had so artfully evaded soviet defenses that it slipped undetected into a russian military harbor and took a video of the port through it's periscope.

rumsfeld said he soon learned not to be cowed by such spectacles and to adopt an independent and appropriately skeptical view of military intelligence.

rumsfeld is the most radical, creative secdef the united states has ever had. he came to his second act with an agenda to transform, modernize and streamline what he saw as a huge, bloated, entropic organization. those efforts have been applauded in this space.

the showpiece for rumsfeld's new military was of course the iraq war. he proved what previously had been thought disproved in vietnam and elsewhere, that a war--or the "major combat operations" portion of it-- could be won with air power and a minimum of ground forces.

what is hard to understand is the memo he wrote that the war "could" still be won but that we were in for a "long, tough slog." the language and the tone certainly suggest that there is something he's not telling us about the capability of the enemy but even with the increased boldness of the guerrila attacks they are nothing more than pop-gun actions against the 135,000 troops we now have there much less the number we should have there. these attacks, even if they went on ad infinitum, would not defeat the coalition.

perhaps he was talking about the apparent failure of wolfowitz' "shining city on a hill" vision for the arab world but the memo did not seem to be talking about that. it seemed to be a purely military view.

whatever, it says here that the administration will not commit more troops for two reasons. one is rumsfeld's influence. if he had to admit that more ground forces were needed it would look like (although it wouldn't be) a refutation of his high-tech war strategy.

the second reason is purely political. polls show that most americans support the decision to have invaded iraq. they believe that that operation was a success. if significant numbers of new troops were deployed it would put the lie to bush's aircraft carrier pronouncement and open the subject for debate again, thus giving howard dean, bush's probable opponent, more ammunition where at present dean is preaching to a choir that only exists to the left of the pulpit.

besides rumsfeld a second major actor, and as maureen dowd wrote this week, perhaps the most important, is vice president dick cheney. i don't believe that cheney was a signator to that '98 policy statement on iraq but from all reports he has a very dark, that is to say accurate, view of the world america finds itself in and consequently a very hawkish foreign policy view. he meets daily with the president, is considered, because of his age and health, to be an honest broker without any personal agenda and because he is loyal and discreet almost nothing is known of exactly what it is he tells the president in their daily sessions.

what is known from his public statements makes cheney a reinforcer of rumowitz' hawkish views and as seymour hersh has written extensively, both relied heavily on the "intelligence" they were getting from the secret basement-dwelling group of spooks rumsfeld installed in the pentagon to find evidence of iraq's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons even where none existed.

because the president is unabashadly uninformed about what is being reported in the press and because of his previous lack of foreign policy experience, he relies extremely heavily on the information he gets from this remarkably narrow group of advisors. the result, in one instance, was the inclusion of laughably--and as hersh has written, possibly deliberately and mischievously planted as a dark practical joke--wrong information on the nigerian yellow cake matter. this information was fed to bush and he insouciantly included it in his state of the union address.

thus the president exercises no skeptical detachment over the information he is given, as rumsfeld said he learned to do after his first stint at the pentagon.

it could be that the fallout from yellow-cake and the continued irritation of the iraqi guerrila activity is giving the president pause in his reliance on the pentagon. the recent announcement that condelleza rice would be put in charge of the post-iraqi planning group was obviously taken by rumsfeld to be a snub. perhaps this will also bring secretary of state powell into a position of greater influence in the president's policy direction. all of this would mean greater hope for a wrong-headed moderation in u.s. foreign policy and the greater involvement of our western allies and the u.n.

from the time rumsfeld took over as defense secretary, his irascible personality, the hatred of him that exists in and outside the pentagon among career officers, and the president's aversion to conflict among his advisors, led many to believe that he would be the first of bush's cabinet secretaries to go. that talk faded with the adulation he received after the iraqi war was "won" so quickly but now it is back again.

the "other" major actor of course is the president. who knows for sure what effect all of this has had on him, if he has grown disenchanted with rumsfeld, how, if at all, frustrated he is with the iraqi situation. he was a tabula rosa in foreign affairs when he came to office. it was always the suspicion here that he was far more likely to go along with a recommendation to invade iraq because of saddam hussein's attempt to assasinate his father. would we have invaded another deserving islamic nation, like syria?

we know that bush is a man of confidence in his convictions. by all accounts he never wavered on the correctness of the course he set on iraq. he was sure and determined. like many conservatives, he seems to see the world in black and white. he is deeply religious. his attorney general is as manicheanistic a man as has ever held the position. does the president really believe in his heart that "the war is not with islam" as he said after 911? apparently so. after a recent demonstration he was heard to say to an aide "do they really think we think all muslims are bad?"

what about rumowitz, do they see this conflict in civilizational terms? peter boyer's article in this week's new yorker on general wesley clark quotes clark as saying that he was told by a three-star general that after 911 the pentagon's civilian leaders "devised a five-year plan to topple the regimes in iraq, syria, lebanon, libya, somalia, iran, and sudan." best plan i've heard so far but i don't trust clark on this, it seems highly unlikely that such a plan could be hatched without anyone finding out about it besides some disgruntled three-star and where the hell is the evidence for it? this space was all broke out with excitement when it looked like the administration might be rattling their sabres in syria's direction in the spring but that petered out.

could the bushies be biding their time? right now, the president looks to be a good bet to be reelected, the economy seems to be getting on track and criticism of the war doesn't seem to have much traction with joe in peoria. why rock the boat? once a second term is secured might we see an expanded conflict?

predictions are irresistible but there is so much uncertainty here, so much secretiveness. oh well. the guess here is that we will muddle through in iraq in 2004 without committing any more troops, there will be a major push, as appears to have been begun, to get saddam hussein, which will be a major public relations coup and a not insignificant accomplishment, then a similar concerted effort to find osama bin laden. bush will be reelected and we will continue to fight the war on terrorism piecemeal. rumsfeld will be replaced in the second term, maybe by condi rice, and the other terror crescent countries will be safe for "four more years."

-benjamin harris

some wag once said of antonio vivaldi that he did not compose 400 pieces of music, he composed one piece of music 400 times, so distinctive and similar was his repertoire.

the same could be said of frank gehry's late architecture. they're all beginning to look like bilbao and son of bilbao.

there's no gainsaying the significance of the original. it is the first post-modern building, one of the most important in the entire 20th century. and it is dramaticus maximus. when i first saw a--small--picture of it in the new yorker my jaw must have dropped. there had never been a building like it, with it's billowing, windowless titanium skin and it's raucous shapes.

that first picture i saw was a view of the "petals" but i didn't see horticulture. i saw a nuclear explosion captured by a still camera, an unfolding of a violent awe-inspiring drama, and in the metallic color of those atomic bomb detonations captured a split second after detonaton. in that way too it seemed to me the perfect emblem of this particular fin de siecle. gehry conveyed movement, quite a feat in the design of a building.

i bought a couple of coffee table books on gehry after that and was disappointed to see so much of bilbao in places other than bilbao, in toledo (ohio), cleveland (ohio), minneapolis, and dusseldorf. bilbao had not been a creation that sprung full-blown like athena from the head of zeus. this was the culmination of a process. at least it seemed a culmination.

detestable los angeles has finally gotten around to honoring it's native son by scraping together enough jingle to complete the interminably-delayed walt disney concert hall. what a deflating experience.

paul goldberger of the new yorker sniffs at the unimpressed. disney "is more refined that that of the guggenheim, and more sumptious..." "gehry has not repeated himself here so much as he has expanded his architectural vocabulary." those who see disney as epigonic "are missing an architectural experience of immense power and subtlety."

i'm with those unrefined philistines who see a constricted vocabulary and want to shout, "the bilbao mold--lose it!"

-benjamin harris

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

anything that presents an obstacle to howard dean getting the democratic nomination for president is ok with me but the confederate flag flap is a sign of the democratic distemper not of the vermont sap's unelectability.

let's consider the different ways in which this issue does not apply to dean:

-dean believes the union was the right side to be on in the civil war.
-dean does not have a confederate flag sticker on the back of his pick up truck.
-dean does not even have a pick up truck (i'd bet)
-dean is not a racist (except in the sense that all elitists, of which he is one, are racists). all the other candidates who spoke on the issue last night conceded that.
-dean does not support policies that would harm or are insensitive to minority rights.
-dean does not have some "southern strategy" where he is going to subtly appeal to southern racists.

so where's the beef? are you john edwards telling me you didn't have, or would have disavowed if you had, ONE pickup truck driving supporter who had a confederate flag on the back of said truck? in NORTH CAROLINA?

and al sharpton? AL FRIGGIN' SHARPTON. HE is a racist. one of the greatest outrages by a public figure in the last thirty years was his libel, on new york city radio, of a state prosecutor who he accused of being involved in the non-existent rape of tawana brawley.

this is what passes for legitimate discourse in the democratic party these days. a major candidate, the presumptive nominee, gets raked because he recognizes that one of the party's big problems is that it only has 22% of white male voters AND HE WANTS TO APPEAL TO THEM ON ECONOMIC ISSUES! he wants them to get past race and see the democratic party as standing up for his economic interests. and that is topic A on his opponents agenda? pathetic. just pathetic.

howard dean is a symptom of what is wrong with the democratic party, but not on this issue. it is just the reverse. it is the "reverse racism" of those like al sharpton and the pandering to the loony left of john edwards, who this page expected better from, that is the larger problem with the democratic party.

-benjamin harris.

Thursday, October 30, 2003


today's commerce department figures, 7.2% quarterly economic growth, "the strongest in nearly two decades," and 57,000 new jobs in september (not great but a good start per the cognescenti). unless the president gets caught with a live boy or a dead girl, that's about all she wrote for the demos.

unbelievable that this knucklehead, this gentleman's "c" legacy, this failed oil man, who LOST the 2000 election, who has run an arrogant, ruthless, very right-wing administration, THIS guy is going to get reelected in a landslide. and the democrats will counter with the most illegitimate, laughable opponent, someone who will reinforce all the polity's fears about them. this could be a landslide of epic fdr/lbj proportions.

happy halloween.

-benjamin harris

the university of southern california, whose nickname is the "trojans," plays washington state university ("cougars") today in a college tackle football game. usc is favored to win by 12 points. they won't.

additional lingering doubts about our founding fathers faith in the wisdom of the common man are raised by the predictions that oklahoma will beat oklahoma state by 16 points or more and that THE ohio state university will squeak by (+6) THE pennsylvania state university. interest rates are at all time lows. a home equity loan placed on these two outcomes will return handsome dividends.

take the pittsburgh "panthers" getting one point against the boston college "eagles."

-benjamin harris

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Good News, Bad News


the best overall indicator of the vulnerability of an incumbent president has always been the "right track, wrong track" question. the latest polls show that the president is in trouble. 53% say the country is on the wrong track. not as important, but reinforcing that result, is bush's approval rating, also at 53%, it's lowest since before 9/11.

but there are more ominous signs for the democrats. the lead economic story today is the robust corporate earnings report and the reinvigoration of the economy in general. this was also the story in sunday's times. this is a quote from today's article:

"the strong corporate profits are being reported as the economy
appears to have had its strongest quarter of growth in almost three
years [OUCH], spurred in part by the tax cuts earlier this year [DOUBLE
OUCH]. when government data are released later this month, economists
are expecting to see growth in the gross domestic product near 6% for
the third quarter, and they are forecasting strong growth--if slightly
lower--for the remaining three months of the year."

let's be realistic. the democrats have no shot, none, zero, zip, zilch, nada, of winning back the white house if these figures, or anything like them, hold up in 2004.

in a healthy two-party system them's the breaks. sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug. as has been said here before though, what the democrats have to avoid is illegitimacy and the appearance of illegitimacy.

and there's more bad news on that front. some democratic poobahs were on the diane reem show this morning handicapping the candidates. the first significant sign this political season that howard dean was going to be a force were the early reports of his phenomenal fund-raising. this year he has raised more money than any democratic candidate EVER besides bill clinton in 2000.

what i did not know is that there is an iron law of politics: whoever is the fundraising leader at the end of the year preceeding the start of the primaries (that would be this year) has NEVER failed to win either party's nomination, and unless something really unexpected happens, that is going to be howard dean.

this is on top of the bad news that two major centrist figures, gen clark and sen lieberman, have decided to bypass the iowa caucuses. say what you will about that political strategy; what it can't help but do is dampen efforts by both to raise more money. that great snapping sound you just heard? that was the sound of wallets throughout the Democratic Nation snapping shut when lieberman comes calling for cash.

this page has spoken often and at length at the disastrous prospect of a dean nomination on the democratic party. so to avoid repeating myself, i'll let david brooks say it this time. his column today is titled "rescuing the democrats" it deserves to be quoted at length.

"john edwards has the most persuasive theory [of what's wrong
with the democrats]. he argues that most voters do not place
candidates on a neat left-right continuum. but they are really
good at sensing who shares their values. they are really good at
knowing who respects them and who doesn't. edwards's theory
is that the democrats' besetting sin over the past few decades
has been snobbery."

"edward draws an implicit contrast between himself and howard
dean and johny kerry...

"he draws an explicit contrast with george bush, arguing that the
bush administration rewards wealth and punishes work. this is
not about economics, he says; it is about values. the bush admini-
stration disrespects working americans. it lowers taxes for people
who sit around the pool and collect capital gains..."

this is EXACTLY right. the one thing i would disagree with brooks on is the following. after acknowledging that edwards campaign has not caught on he writes,

"but that doesn't mean edwards's theory is wrong, OR THAT THE

it's not that they, the democratic primary voters, don't understand the party's plight. they do. they're very "bright." it's that they don't care. they are selfish, self-centered elitists and they have one of their own in howard brush dean III and they don't care what happens to the democratic party.

brooks quotes edwards as saying "not only will i run for the real america, i will run in the real america...democrats too often act like rural america is just someplace to fly over between a fund-raiser in manhattan and a fund-raiser in beverly hills."

the problem for edwards and the democrats is that those elitist jet-setters are overwhelmingly influential in the democratic primaries.

brooks ends his column with this:

"except for bill clinton, democrats have nominated presidential
candidates who try to figure out middle american values by
reading the polls, instead of feeling them in their gut. if they do
it again, the long, slow slide will continue."

-benjamin harris

Monday, October 20, 2003

big political news today. gen. wesley clark and sen. joseph lieberman have decided to pull out of--bypass is their word--the iowa caucuses.

reason: in clark's case, too late a start. a caucus state puts a premium on organization, which puts a premium on locking up key figures and groups in the state early. whatever clark's strengths as a candidate they were going to be dimished by the political machinations needed to do well in iowa.

lieberman though has been in the race for a long while. he certainly has had the time and has the money to have organized the state. his problem: iowa's leftist activist democrats, disproportionately powerful in the state, were never going to be receptive to a strong supporter of the iraq war and of free trade policies.

very risky strategy by both. noone has succeeded in doing this before. al gore punted on iowa in '88 hoping for favorite-sonism in the south, and although he did well on super tuesday, he was overwhelmed by big mo from iowa and new hampshire.

gore was a marginal candidate though in '88, very much like john edwards is this year, too young, too green, not enough previous exposure on the national scene. gore's run in '88 was a trial balloon for future efforts and to make himself visible as an attractive veep candidate for whomever won the nomination that year. in fact, michael dukakis went south for a running mate but went for maturity and someone who knew the intricacies of capitol hill rather than a fresh southern face.

it has been the suspicion all along, here and elsewhere, that this is gen. clark's strategy, to run for veep. he was a consultant to howard dean and others before entering the race himself and while his anti-war bona fides are almost as strong as dean's he had no chance of matching dean's or gephardt's organizational head start in iowa.

the problem for lieberman is that the race doesn't just go from iowa into super tuesday. the new hampshire primary is in between. gephardt must win in iowa to stay viable beyond. his campaign has explicitly stated that. but right now, dean is the favorite in iowa and all the other major candidates are mounting major efforts there.

let's say dean and gephardt come in one-two in some order in iowa with kerry third. that would be a major accomplishment for a governor from vermont. he would go into new hampshire with momentum, as a favorite son, and with a commanding lead in new hampshire's polls. gephardt would limp along and compete in new hampshire but barring a major upset he would be all but gone. new hampshire would then be waterloo for kerry. if he didn't win there he would be effectively done.

new hampshire has a way of shaking things up (see buchanan v bushI and mccain v bushII) and an outsider like clark might surprise in the primary there. if clark finished second to dean, kerry would certainly be done. if kerry finished second and clark even third, clark would live to fight on super tuesday.

lieberman and clark are hoping, in the new york times words, to put an asterisk beside the iowa caucus results to stop big mo. lieberman is a very smart man, a very shrewd politician and he's got a lot of money. it would be foolish to underestimate him. if somehow his strategy succeeds he will have forever changed the democratic nomination process, all to the good, in the opinion here.

if a dismal finish in iowa was inevitable, might as well make a virtue of a necessity. but pulling out removes the possibility of a surprise. if lieberman even finished third in iowa, behind say dean and gephardt, that would seriously hurt kerry and give lieberman, who is from connecticut after all, a real chance to narrow the race to him and dean in new hampshire.

but it seems far the more likely outcome of all this that lieberman will be permanently mired in the second tier of candidates and one more obstacle will be removed from howard dean's path to the nomination.

-benjamin harris

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Some Look at the World and Ask 'Why?' Others Look at the World and Ask 'Why Not?'"


there's probably some mlb rule against this, but why i don't know.

nosebleed seat tickets for world series games in miami are going for three and a half bills. primo seats are going for ten times that. that's through scalpers of course. the face value is for something like $65 and $150. all that extra money people will pay for these seats goes to someone other than the supposedly cash-strapped, definitely season-ticket deficient marlins.

mlb clearly has some say in, if not complete authority over, the setting of prices for the "fall classic." fine. but what would be wrong with this: all those bandwagon jumping marlin fans (like me and a per-game average 48,000 others), all those yankee-loving, south florida-living cockroaches who want to go to a world serious game, you have to buy tickets to a whole bunch of games next year.

doing the math as they say, it'll work out the same for mr and mrs cockroach but give the club more money and avoid the scalping laws as well as the charge of price gouging. during the regular season--hell, during the division series against the gints--marlins tickets ran from about $9-$50, face. decide what you're going to charge for season seats next year--$10-$75?--. seats in section 430 row z going for $350 for the world series through scalpers? we will sell you a ticket up there to see the yankees but you have to buy tickets to 35 games next year too, our choice by the way. hey, you'll enjoy seeing the padres in may.

you mr. big-spender willing to part with $3500 for a box seat with a $150 face, you must buy 23 tickets to games next year, again our choice of dates.

this has been done for years in other sports. at the university of pittsburgh for instance, to get a ticket to this years game against notre dame you either had to buy a season ticket or bundle your purchase with tickets to two other attractive games, ball state and kent state. they've been doing that for years. single game tickets against notre dame? you've got to be kidding, bud.

public relations fallout. bull----. the public relations fallout in miami is over all these bandwagon jumpers and evil empire fans who are not "real" marlins fans. it would be treated as it is in pittsburgh, as a deliciously clever, understandable and fair way for the team to keep "its" money and provide some security for the future.

obviously, it's too late for the marlinskis to do anything like this now and as i said there's probably some mlb rule against it but there shouldn't be.

-benjamin harris

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Reincarnation, Cont.


"by forty a desreputable series of matrimonial scandals had been varied, and sometimes advertised, by a succession of [his] publications."

"...his [mirabeau's] reputation was such that he was barred by the not very sqeamish society of the paris drawing rooms..."

Friday, October 17, 2003

True Crime Stories: Bailey/Haversham

TRUE CRIME STORIES: Bailey/Haversham

robert johnson sat at his desk reading a box file. he had gone through all of the meat of the case, the reports and statements, and now because of his obsessive-compulsiveness, he had begun reading the case-law that his predecessor had pulled and stuck in a folder.

the concentration required to parse the more important documents not needed, he sat back in his chair and read easily. he read the headnotes and the case summary and then moved on to the next one.

it was about the fourth case, jerome e. bailey v state. "jerome bailey, jer-ome bailey," where had he heard that name before? common enough name; the way the brain works, it was probably a false connection with some receptor that housed the memory of a basketball player or a porn star.

two sentences into the case summary it clicked and robert johnson sat up straight.

the brain is an automaton at these moments and all of the associated memories came back to him instantly, unconsciously.

he had been in the city only a couple of weeks when he first read about the case the first and last time until now. that was in june of 1982. he remembered exactly where he was when he read about it, in the open-air lobby of his apartment building one steamy morning waiting to give a friend a ride into work, the same work he had had for the last 21 years.

his mind riveted on the story, he could still see the photographs of the defendant, one from 1955, looking handsome but slick and, mouth slightly open, a bit deer-in-the-headlights overwhelmed by the phalanx of media reporters that he was trying to push through; and the other current photograph, looking old and haggard and smoking a cigarette. he had just been released from prison so that he wouldn't have to die of the cancer inside the institution. he remembered bailey's quote, "i knew what was going to happen, i could have prevented it, but i didn't."

robert johnson's friend came down to the lobby and they left. he didn't remember if he had finished the article or just left the newspaper there in the lobby. he was 27 and starting his career and he was in a hurry.

he thought of the case often over the years, had thought of going to the library and researching it, but he was in a hurry and over time details were forgotten. first to go was the defendant's name. jerome bailey was just too common.

for a long time after that he remembered the other name, h.d. haversham, so typical for 1955, so anachronistically anglo and southern for 1982.

no city had ever been transformed so suddently and completely and shockingly as miami had been, first in 1959 then again in 1980. and yet the past was so near. new york, as one contrast, has always been diverse and chaotic and edgy and ethnic and violent. you could go back one hundred years and find stories like this probably.

miami was new but with its past close by the contrast was more stark and it was easy to imagine the shock created by such a black act in that simpler, slower time.

robert johnson read the case intently now. he passed over the legal issues and tried to find the factual summary, to have his memory refreshed on the details. a defense attorney had told him once that you can always tell how the appellate court is going to rule in a big case by the detail they go into in the factual summary. the more detail, the more they reveal of the the heinousness of the crime, the more likely it is that they will affirm the conviction.

elizabeth haversham? he had forgotten. the wife had been murdered too. drowned, both of them. but there were no facts just "murder" drowning" and the legal reasoning.

it wasn't here but at least now he had the mother lode. he typed jerome e. bailey's name into westlaw and there was the companion case.

h.d. haversham, judge h.d. haversham. murdered by the procurement of jerome e. bailey, judge jerome e. bailey.

this wasn't even miami. this was palm beach. what was palm beach in 1955? wealthy and privileged and waspy. beautiful and natural and peaceful. staid, closed, clannish. proper. scandals, if at all, kept behind closed doors. the kennedy's longtime winter home. what a great name for palm beach, h.d. haversham. "judge" should be prefixed to that name.

robert johnson remembered from the newspaper article. there had been a scandal. haversham had caught bailey doing something and raised hell and went public with it. robert johnson remembered reading between the lines and thinking there was some bad blood there, maybe blueblood versus the ariviste bad blood, at least to the extent haversham made it so public. no black curtain of silence shielding the brethren here.

when the judge and mrs. haversham turned up dead, everyone in palm beach knew who had done it in the way everyone in small towns knows everyone else's business. it was an open secret yet bailey had not been indicted until 1960 and robert johnson recognized the irritation in the court's circumspect language. "the evidence reveals that despite the complete information obtained by law enforcement officials regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding the murder event...the state nevertheless continued its investigationn without charging or arresting any of the suspects awaiting the time when further evidence might be developed..."

but even in the opinion in judge haversham's murder there was no factual recitation beyond mentioning "murder" drowning." bailey's status as judge was buried in both opinions, on page 13 of the 17-page opinion in h.d. haversham's case, on page 4 of 7 in his wife's. not a black curtain of silence, but of whispering at least.

a judge having another judge murdered was like incest in 1955. one simply didn't speak of it in polite society like the small, closed, clannish, polite legal community in palm beach in 1955, where every member of the bar knew each other as was reflected in the courtliness in both opinions paid to the "able attorney for the defendant."

but the details were kept out so that the case could be forgotten and lawyers generations later would not really know what had happened. this was one case where robert johnson's defense friend was wrong. this case was too big, to scandalous, too painful to remember. decide the case and forget about it. "we shall utter their names no more," is how it was put after the lincoln assasination conspirators had been tried, convicted, and hung. so robert johnson was left with his memory and the details would have to be sought in another forum, at the library or on google.

robert johnson read both opinions straight through now. the deference only went so far. the irritation in the delay in the arrest, "despite complete information," and the outrage at the act was evident in the legal "reasoning" affirming each conviction.

"much emphasis is placed by appellant upon the statements of counsel for the state that appellant when testifying in his own behalf 'took the fifth amendment.' the trial record discloses that appellant's counsel failed to object to such argument..." and further "once a defendant elects to testify, as did the appellant herein...argument directed to what he says and does not say is justified." robert johnson laughed out loud.

another point of error asserted was to the pre-trial and in-trial denial to bailey of access to "certain...tape recordings secretly made by investigating law-enforcement officers under the direction and supervision of the state attorney--some tapes recording the voice of defendant bailey and other tapes recording the voice of the [hitman who testified against bailey]." "the defendant failed to properly object to the procedure he complains of as to discovery." "PROPERLY" object. the opinion reflects that able counsel for the defendant damn well had objected, early and often, but apparently not "properly" so, in the court's opinion. johnson laughed. one must always take care to be "proper" in palm beach in 1955.


there were eight other cases that came up in robert johnson's westlaw search of "jerome e. bailey." his convictions were affirmed in per curiam opinions by the florida supreme court and his petition to the united states supreme court was denied.

a related case involved one of the hitmen. in 1957 the florida legislature passed an extraordinary law authorizing the payment of $100,000 for information leading to arrest and conviction in the case. one of the hitmen took the bait and contacted the lawyer who promptly made a deal with the state. the lawyer then sought to collect the reward. that was denied.

in 1959 bailey applied to withdraw from the florida bar. in its opinion granting the application the supreme court wrote that "approximately one year ago the grievance committee...conducted hearings concerning the applicant and that he believes that shortly he will be afforded the opportunity of offering testimony in connection with further proceedings in said matter but that he does not wish to avail himself of the opportunity to do so [at this time]."

in 1958 jerome e. bailey represented one j.c. clinton, who was convicted for possession of moonshine whiskey. that conviction was affirmed too.

the next to the last entry in the westlaw search was a 1953 workmen's comp case. bailey represented the employer. the appellate court ruled in bailey's favor, "reversing the judgment of the circuit court of palm beach, h.d. haversham, judge."

-benjamin harris

Saturday, October 11, 2003


"mirabeau [french revolutionary leader] was the life-long victim of two passions. he could not see a pretty woman without falling in love with her, nor encounter a subject of controversy without writing about it. "

-benjamin harris
money-making opportunities abound today in college tackle football, perhaps not for followers of the advice offered here, but in general.

i think the penn state "nittany lions" will get closer to the purdue "boilermakers" than the 12 1/2 point line.

were i to offer wesley clark more economic advice i would recommend a home equity loan placed on michigan state to beat illinois by more than 3 1/2.

similarly, i think las vegas is wildly wrong in the nebraska-missouri game. take the "cornhuskers" giving 7.

wake forest will not beat georgia tech by 4 1/2 or more.

my contrarian personality is offended by the chatter on fsu-miami. i wouldn't have touched this game except for reading this morning, in the miami herald, of predictions of a seminole rout. fsu is snake-bit against miami! these games almost always come down to a field goal. so, just to be a punk i will take miami getting 7.

finally, i like the notre dame "fighting potato, or is it potatoe? eaters" getting 9 1/2 against pitt.

-benjamin harris


Tuesday, October 07, 2003


what a disgrace this recall is.

let's take one of the most plausible scenarios. you really want davis recalled, you really want bustamente to replace him, but you really don't want schwartzeneger to win. what do you do?

if you vote for what you really want, yes to the recall, and for bustamente, you will probably end up with gov. arnold.

if you vote no on the recall and vote for bustamente you're voting for something you don't want with vote-one which may in fact cancel out vote-two.

so you have to try to predict probable outcomes. what do you want more, davis recalled or no arnold? what is more likely to happen if you vote this way or that?

the result therefore is not a democracy, a registration of voters wishes; it is perhaps more so, a demonstration of their
predictive (dis)abilities.

i bet there are a lot of californians who are in exactly this position right now; hispanics and women who are fed up with davis but who are more opposed to a nazi groper who supported prop. 54.

what a horrible position to put voters in.

voters shouldn't be thrown into these existential dilemmas. they have enough trouble with punch cards.

-benjamin harris

Friday, September 19, 2003




obviously, domestic issues are those on which you're most vulnerable. don't attempt to take a crash course in economics. forget rolling back the bush tax cuts for the wealthy. forget a middle class tax cut.

go on the stump right now and tell everyone in middle america to take out a second mortgage, contact their bookies and take the buffalo "bills" and the three points against the miami "dolphins" this sunday night.

this will result in the biggest wealth transfer since the institution of the progressive income tax.

if you'd like to discuss this further i can be reached at vip sports bet in the bahamas.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003



penguin books are great. inexpensive editions of the classics available at book sellers everywhere (not at books & books on lincoln road mall of course, but everywhere else) even in airports. who else publishes a $9.95 edition of the odyssey, a $14.95 issue of the koran?

a mild discomforting note was struck though when i read penguin's bhagavad gita a few years ago. the translator was someone named juan mascaro, curious hindu name, i thought. his bio said he was born in majorca and quoted from his times of london obituary in which he was described as one who had "achieved the unique feat of translating from languages not his own (sanskrit and pali) into another language not at first his own (english)."

"unique feat." like dr. johnson's comment on the dancing three-legged dog ("it's not that it's done well but that it's done at all"), one can appreciate the feat while still wondering about the quality. then followed this from the times obit: "his aim--DECRIED BY SOME ACADEMIC CRITICS...--was to convey the essence of the original in pure poetic english." my sanskrit being weak, i would have suffered a dusty, boring, old translation that was not "decried by some academic critics" to make sure i got the full intent of the original.

then i bought a copy of marcus aurelius' meditations, translated from the ancient greek by maxwell staniforth whose c.v. reads "plans for an academic career frustrated by war in 1914...infantry officer...railwayman in argentina...leaving with the rank of assistant traffic manager...returned to england...25 years as parish priest."

in his translator's note, assistant traffic manager staniworth lays out the case for his new translation, pronouncing the first WIDELY READ english edition as, in his opinion, "utterly unreadable." another "closely accurate version" he rejects because it "hardly lends itself to being read for pleasure." he then breezily states that "there is no attempt here to reproduce the CURIOUS PROSE STYLE OF THE ORIGINAL," and advises that the best current edition of the meditations, a comprehensive scholarly work "however is meant for a different class of reader." HEY!

now i come to penguin's odyssey. reading homer to begin with requires an incomparable leap of faith because he and his works' providence are so murky. no one really knows if homer even existed but the best scholarly guess is that he probably lived in the 8th century b.c. (b.c.e. for howard dean supporters) and was blind and illiterate.

the iliad and odyssey therefore were supposedly oral poems which itself strains credulity. the intro to the odyssey says that an oral presentation of its 12,000 lines would have taken between 20-30 hours to complete. "who could possibly listen to them?" who could LISTEN to them?

the first written edition that we have, and the one that all others are based on, was compiled in the 3rd century b.c. for the great library in alexandria, by which time there were already several versions to choose from.

the translator for the original penguin edition of the odyssey was e.v. rieu, who had been editor of penguin classics from 1944-64. his credentials, according to the introductory notes, seem impeccable.

the edition I read however was translated by his son, d.c.h. rieu who, penguin thought it important to note, had "joined the west yorkshire regiment and was wounded at cheron in 1941." he had thereafter been headmaster at a grammar school in canterbury and translated the acts of the apostles for penguin. the intro then completes the one paragraph summary of d.c.h. rieu's life with this sentence: "on retirement he worked for cruse bereavement counseling and, until sacked, for the samaritans." "UNTIL SACKED?" as in fired? what else could that mean? real sensitive word, "sacked."

with thoughts of another greek myth, that of oedipus, in my mind i charily read rieu the younger's preface. as did assistant traffic manager staniworth, d.c.h. rieu tackles head-on the world's need for his translation in light of that of his illustrious father.

"what need is there now for a revision of his odyssey? it had many virtues." (oedipus, knife in hand, walked stealthily toward his father's back...)

"it had joie de vivre." (step...)

"it did not read like a translation." (by step...)

"there were no echoes of the authorized version or other archaisms." (oedipus drew nearer...)

"it has been enjoyed by millions." (and nearer...)

"but in my opinion it does have failings." (his eyes grew wide...)

"one is over-elaboration." (he raised the knife in his hand...)

"e.v.r. sometimes attempts to add poetry to homer's poetry." (the light glinting off the blade...)

"some of e.v.r.'s modernisms seem out of place." (and swiftly brought it down...)

"in two respects e.v.r. misrepresents the greeks." (and PLUNGED the knife into the back of his unsuspecting father...)

"when we [he and a consultant] set out we gave ourselves the task of retaining the joie de vivre of e.v.r.'s version but being more accurate and faithful to homer." (who gasped once and then crumpled to the floor, DEAD.)

for the record, penguin's koran was translated by a man named n.c. dawood whose credentials appear beyond challenge and whose translation was not "decried by some academic critics." the quotes about jews being evil and animals--i have no reason to doubt them.

-benjamin harris

for an update on this subject see David Remnick's "The Translation Wars" in the November 7, 2005 issue of The New Yorker-bh (2-19-06)

Saturday, September 13, 2003

no oceans of white hands in the photograph on the front page of the times today.

i see more black hands and brown hands, there's an asian hand in the lower right, than white hands. oh, and those hands are saluting.

no, even without the guy in the center of the picture you'd know right away this isn't a howard dean rally.

"if you were to pick a presidential candidate on the basis of social
standing--and really, darling, who doesn't--you'd have to pick howard
brush dean III over george walker bush."

the quote is from david brooks' op ed piece in the same issue of the paper.

bush and the republicans are economic elitists, always have been. bush was born a cultural elitist but grew up and made his mark, such as it was, in texas and so acquired a bit of a texas accent and a few other common folk characteristics. unfortunately, the democrats are about to nominate a man who is even more cultural elitist than bush and whose neo-smoot-hawley economics will hurt the middle class even more than bush's tax cuts for the rich.

this is not to say that dean is sui generis. the democrats have their aristocrats, fdr, jfk, jay rockefeller. but dean's elitism is the democrats problem today. it's a noxious, and obnoxious, combination of middle class contempt cloaked in a faux liberalism.

part of the cause of that elitism is symbolized in today's front page photograph. the brown and black and yellow, those with blue collars and red necks, did not, could not and did not attempt to, escape service during vietnam. they went and they fought and died.

howard brush dean III, george walker bush, bill clinton, and j. danforth quayle on the other hand did not serve. they were "bright," or socially and politically connected and so loopholes were fashioned for them or they fashioned them themselves.

dean was particularly creative, he must really have "done well" on his sat's. he somehow got himself declared 4-f but then fought through his disability and, according to brooks, "spent his time skiing in aspen." it's that kind of creativity, of thinking outside the box, that we need in a leader today.

brooks says bush and dean are the products of a culture that believed in the aristocratic notion of greatness achieved through "virility, courage, self-discipline and toughness." quite. one can see h.b.d.III's courage in tackling his first black run, perhaps during tet?, his toughness and self-discipline in overcoming physical adversity. we await accounts of the virility he displayed apres ski.

this is the difference between their generation and their fathers. george herbert walker bush was a bona fide war hero as was jfk. they each could have avoided the war if they had wished, bush's dad was a connecticut senator, jfk's of course was ambassador to the court of st. james. but they didn't. they served.

bush, quayle, clinton and dean ran. but crimminy, at least the other three did SOMETHING: national guard, oxford, SOMETHING. dean became a ski-bum and so has become the hero of all ski bums and "aging flower children and the tongue-studded next generation," whose idea of service is a maid and whose idea of real america is 92% white vermont.

-benjamin harris

Friday, September 12, 2003

richard clarke, former bush II nsc advisor said on mcneil/lehrer tonight that we are running on a treadmill in the war on terror because "while we have the support of the governments of saudi arabia and pakistan and egypt, we do not have the hearts and minds of the people in saudi arabia and pakistan and egypt."

here's how far out of the mainstream i am. here's how wrong clarke is. i'm in complete agreement with his statement. HE says therefore we should be winning those hearts and minds with "diplomacy," he actually said that, and something else like it, you know, pick one "international cooperation," "u.n. aid," "leave no child behind," "seed and weed," "it takes a village," whatever.

I say we should have used atomic weapons on afghanistan, thereby ensuring that we would not be playing the day's version of "where's waldo," "where's osama."

we should have in our minds the scope of this war. it is with islam. it is with the hearts and minds--and bodies--of the burghers of riyadh and islamabad and cairo. eventually all of islam will have to be defeated militarily by judaism/christianity. that will come at fearful expenditure of life and lucre. there is no other way.


uttered a bitter, gutteral "baahhh" tonight at the news that, at our behest, the u.n. was now going to lift sanctions against libya because it had admitted to bombing pan am 103 and was making recompense to the families.

baahh. the truth of that has been known for so long. it should have been the prelude, at any time in the last 15 years, including now, to make war on libya. instead we let that coward, that murderer, our enemy, in power, in charge of a government that we still say is a state sponsor of terrorism.


baahh. and bommbbb. that is what i have been preaching for two years now. i may be preaching it 20 years from now. if so, it will not be without genetic precedent. my dad never got over the great depression. every time the stock market broke through another ceiling dad's prediction was the same, "going to be a depression." "keep that money in the bank, or in t-bills, not in the stock market." dad predicted five of the succeeding zero depressions.

i am his son, like him, often wrong always certain.

-benjamin harris

Thursday, September 11, 2003

the cover of this week's NEW YORKER, the sept. 11 anniversary issue, is a skyline of the city with each of its buildings twinned. inside is a feature article on the war against religious understanding and the jews in particular. the article recounts the threat and quotes such as abraham foxman of the anti-defamation league and various scholars and theologians in the ecumenical movement.

the story is on an--unreleased yet--movie by the actor mel gibson on christ's passion. on the anniversary of the attacks by followers of the religion of islam on the united states and the murder of 2,800 innocents in new york city the magazine that bears that city's name does a feature on a b-movie actor's movie.

i see a political cartoon here. two bookish sorts with "new yorker editor" on their shirts, one reading "mel gibson's screenplay," his/her mouth distorted with indignity saying "OUTRAGEOUS RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY!", the other wearing one of those koo-koo clock beanies on his head with the plastic propeller that spins in the wind, reading THE KORAN upside down and saying, "HMM, VERY INTERESTING BUT WE MUST NOT RUSH TO JUDGMENT. WE MUST TRY TO UNDERSTAND THEIR PERSPECTIVE."

-benjamin harris



on the back of a car, two bumper-stickers,an american flag logo with MAKE LOVE NOT WAR on the left side and HOWARD DEAN, FOR AMERICA on the right.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003


"it's not our place to take sides," said the democratic nominee for president, one-term, former vermont governor, dr. howard dean on the israeli-islam issue.

liberman called him on it in the debate last night as he did on dean's neo-protectionist economic policies last week saying, "the bush recession will be followed by the dean depression."

liberman is wisely taking a confrontational tone with dean and appealing to the democrats moderate/conservative center. the primary season will turn into a two man, dean-liberman contest for the ideological heart of the party.

-benjamin harris

nebraska (-10) will cover this saturday against penn state.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

occasionally, the electricity in my apartment building goes out for short periods of time. when it does, my smoke detector makes an intermittent beeping sound as it would if its battery were low. it happened again at 3 am last night and woke me up. i tried to disconnect it but gave up after five minutes or so and shortly after that the electricity came back on.

this morning, i was reading and smoking my pipe and took a break. i decided to again try to disconnect the smoke detector so i stood on a chair and started twisting and pulling on it. i got it off its wall bracket but there were these red and blue wires coming out of the wall that were attached with a plastic buckle to wires coming out of the unit. i briefly tried to unhook the buckle but then thought i might have live electrical wires hanging loose, i didn't know what all, and so abandoned the idea.

at that point the alarm went off for real right in my face, that loud continuous, panicked, wail. it so startled me i almost fell off the chair. i started pushing the reset button and gave another tug on the plastic buckle but just gave up.

when you don't know what you're doing, you don't know what the outer limits are when things go awry and so in an instant, in the way the brain works in these situations, i thought of all sorts of apocalyptic outcomes. is this setting off alarms in all the apartments in the building? will the fire department automatically be called? will the building have to be evacuated? will a petition be circulated to force me to move?

i stepped off the chair and an instant later it stopped and i realized that i had been trying to disconnect a smoke detector while smoking a pipe.

-benjamin harris


dean will choose gen. wesley clark as his running mate.
real opening for the democrats on the cost of reconstructing iraq. heard on npr just now that the administration has submitted a budget calling for $60-$70 billion.

they are turning the iraq issue from one of foreign policy, their strength, to one of the economy, their weakness.

-benjamin harris.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

"Oceans of White Hands"


the how-do express rolls on. he's up 38%-17% in new hampshire over kerry. he's in the middle of his "sleepless" tour and, according to the new york times is drawing "staggering, "protest-size" crowds. he's raised $10.3 million, more than any democrat EVER except president clinton in '95.

dr. do-little is running, literally, all over the country. he's on the cover of time, newsweek and twice this week on the front page of the new york times. boob herbert has written an op-ed column on him and even joe klein, who has his clear-headed moments, is impressed. dean's democratic opponents seem stunned, deer-in-the-headlights paralyzed. and the green mountain green is emboldened by new polls showing support for bush DOWN, support for his handling of the iraqi war--how-do's signature issue-- DOWN.

when how-do gets the nomination he will be the most unqualified major party nominee in history. he is a one-term, former governor, with no foreign policy experience, even extra-governmentally, has never served in the congress or senate or in anyone's cabinet and his day job is being a doctor.

the state he was, for one term, governor of is one of the smallest (three electoral votes) and least representative in the country. it is as homogenous (92% white) as utah, rural (largest "city" burlington: 40,000), and has the only socialist member of congress.

for the republicans this is a god-send. i heard the chariman of the republican national committee being asked what he thought of bush running against dean. he actually had to swallow a chuckle and then got his game face on and in practiced seriousness said, "i think the democrats should nominate dean. i think they need to get back to their roots."

i have mixed feelings. to the right of bush on foreign policy, i wish we had a democrat like pat moynihan or scoop jackson or jfk who had the credentials and gravitas to debate HOW aggressive we should be--not whether we should be aggressive or not. hell, even bill clinton ran to the right of bush-1 on china policy.

but on the other hand my devilish humorous side that likes to see fools made fools of wants this guy to win the nomination SO bad. just for the fun of watching the train-wreck and seeing the body parts of the birkenstock men and ladies in sensible shoes, lying about. i admit i've watched an episode or two of real tv.

and maybe some good will come of it. i'm hopeful that after the general election debacle to come, one in a string stretching from mcgovern, to carter, to mondale, to dukakis and now dean, i'm hopeful that some kind of party realignment occurs. i don't think it will actually, historically that has taken a major national trauma like a depression, not just nominating some dippety-do, but maybe something along the lines of the creation of the dlc can occur, which came into being after "mike" dukakis' razor-thin 45-5 loss in '88. it's time to dismantle the democrats "big tent." there are too many tweety birds flying around inside and they're killing the party.

the new york times, aug. 27:

"the feisty crowds were filled with birkenstock liberals..."

"the folks buying 'the doctor is in' buttons were mostly aging flower children and the tongue-studded next generation."

"there were few union members, african-americans or immigrants [at the dean rallies]..."

"holding oceans of blue dean placards at every stop were nearly all white hands, a homogeneity the campaign tried to counter with a rainbow of supporters on stage, which only drew more attention to the lack of diversity in the audience."

that's the problem of the democrats elitism in a nutshell. they don't share the values of african-americans or union members or immigrants, the values of hard work, love of country, faith and material prosperity. the tongue-studded students don't work, the aging flower children are still stoned and "work" as librarians or writers or professors, the birkenstock liberals fled the "material culture" for back-to-the-earth places like vermont, 92% white. they fled the diversity of real america for all-white vermont just as they despise and label as racist the middle class for having fled the cities for the suburbs.

elitism is exclusion. there are no african-americans at dean rallies because these "liberals" don't champion diversity, they don't want to live with african-americans, they want the "simpler" life, the all-white life of vermont. the people who support howard dean are elitists and in this sense they are racists. they are high-i.q., cultural, intellectual, or intellectual wannabes, who reject and ridicule the middle class and its values. their coin-of-the realm is being "bright," one of the least relevant characteristics for leadership. "bush is so dumb! dean is SO smart." listen to them, it won't take five minutes before they say something like that. "mike" dukakis' campaign slogan when he ran for governor was "michael dukakis SHOULD be governor." has there ever been a more elitist campaign slogan in modern history? he's ENTITLED to be governor see, because he's SO "bright" and went to harvard and is an intellectual like us!

"[dean's] not running a campaign, he's running a movement," the new york times quotes a person as saying. "but it is unclear what the movement is for."

his "movement" is about anger, frustration and hatred. his supporters are angry because they are so bright but have accomplished so little in their lives. they are frustrated at seeing themselves ignored by more sensible people. "pay attention to me! i'm smart!" and they hate, they hate the middle class, they hate those who work hard and achieve, they hate the material rewards of that hard work, and they hate america for letting it all happen. it's not about bush, it's not about iraq. it's about them. it has always been about them.

last march, as the iraqi war began, my son's 8th grade class went on a trip to spain. at a concert in madrid the tufts university choral conductor shocked the audience by turning to them before the start of the concert and saying "today, i'm ashamed to be an american."

"for the second time in my life, i'm ashamed of my nationality," said karin overbeck at a dean rally. " i was born in germany and i was ashamed; now i'm ashamed to be an american."

so run howard run. "take back america," take your delusions and your delusional supporters back to 92% white vermont and leave your membership in the democratic party behind. better yet, leave the country you despise and are, as karin is, ashamed of. go somewhere else where you won't be "ashamed."

-benjamin harris.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

just heard on npr that the expected cost of reconstruction in iraq is now at $16 billion "and will likely be much higher."

what the f*** is this? we did not do 16 bill worth of damage to iraq. we should repair what we damaged, give them a copy of the federalist papers and be done with it. $16 billion? what, are we putting gold leaf on all the mosques?

jfk told a joke about going to his father late in the 1960 campaign for more money and the old man replying, "i'll pay for a victory but i'll be damned if i'm going to pay for a landslide."

no landslides here, no shining cities on a hill.

howard dean, or whomever, will lead bush in the polls after the democratic convention.

bush will lead after the polls close on second tuesday.

ohio state will NOT repeat as national champions of college tackle football.

yeah, they have 17 starters back, blah, blah, blah. they won something like 5 games last year by 7 points or less. they won't be that lucky this year. they'll lose and they'll lose early.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Adieu Adu?


article yesterday in nyt on freddy adu, the lebron james of american soccer, no, no the embryonic michael jordan of american soccer. even scouts from european teams like juventus and manchester united pronounce him a possible a once-in-a-generation talent.

made me recall a conversation i had with a soccer fan friend of mine a few weeks ago. i said what i said above, that mls should sell the farm to keep this kid home. my friend said, "i hope he goes to europe so he can develop.

the sentiment was so foreign to me that i paused, not knowing quite what to say, then just essentially repeated myself. the THOUGHT that freddy adu would wind up with manchester united or someone had crossed my mind, as it has that of every soccer fan in america, but the SENTIMENT that an american soccer fan wuld WANT freddy to go to europe had not.

sometimes exposure to an opposite point of view can be mind-expanding. there's no doubt that adu would see better competition in the epl or serie a or the bundesliga than in mls, and because of that he would probably devlop more. i go on that assumption anyway.

the issue for my friend was the individual's interest, what's best for freddy. my interest was the opposite, or at least different, what's best for american soccer. soccer has always clung to life on the american sports scene. mls has always augmented its meager coffers by loaning or selling tis best players abroad--joe-max moore, brian mcbride, casey keller, etc. this deligitimizes mls and is something every league official and every american soccer fan recognizes, as does fifa, which looks askance at mls anyway.

if mls got freddy adu, and if that increased league revenues to the point where mls could stand of its own without loaning/selling its best players, soccer might gain a football in the u.s.

those are a lot of "ifs" and "maybes," too many for my friend, but not for me. i want american soccer to grow. i want to see the adus and zindanes and beckhams on AMERICAN fields, not have to go to some soccer bar to see them. maybe that's selfish. maybe even jingoistic. "boycott french wines!," "keep freddy adu home!"

these opposing values are not exclusive of course. i think my friend wants mls to succeed, i certainly hope adu develops to his potential, but the "equities" of this case, the point on the continuum where this case lies between "best for freddy" and "best for american soccer" are so skewed toward the latter that my friend's position seems as incomprehensible to me now as it did then.

america has got some great futbol players, our world team is ranked 10th or 11th depending on the week (we flip flop with england, by the way). conceedingly mls is not anywhere near as strong as the epl but it is major league, given the "first division" imprimatur by fifa. it's not like i'm wanting adu to stay home and play in the a-league for the pittsburgh riverhounds. freddy would develop just fine in mls.

and on the other side you have the enormous potential benefit to american soccer vs the drop-on-the-ocean effect he would have in europe. freddy adu would do nothing for man-u or real madrid compared to what he would do for mls. sometimes exposure to an oppositie point of view can be mind-expanding. sometimes not.

alas, my friend will probably get his wish. the times article also reported that adu is being pursued eagerly by...manchester united.

-benjamin harris

Monday, August 18, 2003

Things that You'll Like and that Are Good for You Too

Things that You'll Like and that Are Good for You Too
-Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. Roman emperor, one of the founders (along with a slave) of stoicism, Aurelius had absolute power over the then known world. He exercised that power justly, with reflection before and after, and with restraint. There's a saying that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship, it being thought impossible. Marcus Aurelius was a benevolent dictator and the Meditations are his philosophical diary. He was the greatest human being who ever lived. This is Public Occurrences.

Monday, August 11, 2003

there was an op-ed piece in the times recently that cautioned against using the internet as a model for governmental regulation of the media because dominance by the few there is even more pronounced than in the convential media. something like the top three websites have as many hits as the next fifteen combined while the top three conventional media conglomerates are as big as the next ten.

the article noted that part of the reason for this on the internet is that search engines like google list websites according to popularity within their category, which of course, just reinforces their prominence.

is this a valid metaphorical use of the heisenberg uncertainty principle. the original applies to the bizarre contingency of quantum material. here a thing is a piece of matter, here an energy wave and the principle says that the act of observing affects the state we're seeing.

i once read that principle was analgous to an attempt to take the temperature of a glass of water by sticking a thermometer in it. the act of doing that changes the temperature of the water at some level far to the right of the decimal point, but still changes it so that ontologically we can never really know the "real" temperature of the water.

obviously the usage as applied to google is by no means precise but itsn't it true, isn't it the point of that op-ed piece that google's act of measuring affects the measurement?

-benjamin harris
certainly i am not the only one who thought it odd, uh curious, off-putting, dare i say, unpatriotic that our de facto national newspaper, the new york times used it's lead editorial to give political advice to tony blair, to mend fences with his british constituents he should decouple england from american and emphasize where the two countries disagree. does the "gray lady" now aspire to be the "gray Lady?"

don't suppose this is making the rounds in republican salons as another example of liberal "treason," do you?

Saturday, August 09, 2003

throughout colonial history there were those in leadership, jefferson and franklin prominently, who viewed religion negatively. not just anglicanism or catholocism but the claim of any religion to a position of moral or temporal power. religion was associated with oppression obviously, but also with illogical mysticism that was counter to the tenets of the enlightenment.

however private they might keep their views, the religious-based arguments against paine that man was inherently "bad" and therefore the masses were unfit to govern was viewed dismissively. they were not egalitarians but they were empiricists and they saw that the common man was doing exceptionally well by contemporary standards in america. the idea that the aristocracy MUST consume and not work, and the common man MUST work and not consume,and that this was the natural and only way that society could be ordered flew in the face of their experiences in america. as did the idea of a materially "disinterested" aristocracy, much less the need for one. increasingly, and by the time of the constitutional convention, predominantly, it was interests, many of them, that seemed in need of balancing, not the three anachronistic post-medieval estates.

paine's "common sense" did not carry the day but it did survive to live another day that was soon coming. in the meantime a constitution was drafted and ratified and the meager nod to the need of an aristocracy was an appointive upper legislative chamber. society was not divided three ways, but power was, to make sure that power of the new, emerging and clamoring interests of different groups in society did not capture the whole of government.

despite all of this history however modern republicanism, elitism, aristocracy was not dead. the federalist party led by alexander hamilton worked for the establishment of an american aristocracy all over again in post-independence america. they made the same old arguments and this time they were opposed by jefferson and the republicans (the ancestor of today's democratic party).

contemporary politics seems so stale to me. geo-politically the world changed after 1989 and then again after 9/11. domestic politics has changed too. the old divisions between the parties over civil rights, taxes, the size of government and crime don't exist anymore.

the civil rights struggle is over. that is not a contradiction with my earlier suggestion that we should hammer the gop on it forensically but that was a tactical point over a matter of legitimacy. no republican supports repeal of civil rights legislation so SUBSTANTIVELY, if not tactically, the issue is dead.

bill clinton ended, for now at least, the split over taxes. taxes were THE issue in the '80's: prop 13, "tax and spend" and so on. clinton cut taxes, giving the republicans apoplexy because it took away their issue. my sense is bush's recent tax cut largely fizzled with voters, not that they don't want more money in their pockets, but as a rallying cry. i think voters thought it was sort of stale old-school.

clinton also innoculated the democrats from the charge of being the party of big government. he "ended welfare as we know it" and bush, the republican, has created a new cabinet department, drastically increased military spending and driven up the deficit.

and finally, the decline in the crime rate in the last 10 years has wiped that issue off the political map, and i don't think voters give either party credit for it, clinton for the economic boom or the republicans (giuliani) for the "broken windows" theory.

i think all of the above is beyond dispute. the world of american politics, domestically and abroad, is vastly different than it was 14 years ago. but politics is still being practiced according to the same paradigm it has been since the '60's.

when pollsters ask people to explain their party affiliation they still get the answers they did 40 years ago. people say they're democrats because the party represents the working class or the little guy. republicans say their party stands for smaller government, lower taxes, and more individual responsibility, but those are not wedge issues anymore.

the terms of the debate between the parties will change eventually of their own weight but what the democrats need to do is to force that change so that it is on terms favorable to us. "he who defines the terms of the debate wins the debate."

ignoring the specifics of the old divide, there is still a generalization that can be made that is still true: the social referrent of the two parties was and continues to be different, in emphasis at least. the republicans referrent is the individual, the democrats is some larger social unit.

these referents, the individual and the community, have been at the center of american politics since before the revolution.

"tocqueville came to the conclusion that there was an inherent
struggle in america between two opposing impulses: the spirit
of rugged individualism versus the conflicting spirit of community..." (1)

that explains a lot about american politics in the last 200 years and of the ideological differences that voters still see between republicans and democrats. walter isaacson wrote though that,

"franklin would have disagreed. a fundamental aspect of franklin's life
AND OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY he helped to create was that individ-
ualism and communitarianism, so seemingly contradictory, were inter-
woven." (2)

those two traits certainly can be in conflict and often have been in our political history but they NEED NOT BE and franklin was the proto-american who embodied this synthesis. it's my argument that it is the republicans today who are, in the main, responsible for keeping these two in conflict and that the democrats are positioned to resynthesize them into the unique american character that franklin embodied. if the democrats do this and let the synthesis guide their policies, as they have not done in the last 40 years, then they will recast the modern political debate to their advantage.

republicans are proud to "conserve" things, especially traditions and values from other eras that have a nostalgic patina and a presumption of correctness for "having stood the test of time." they wear their little adam smith ties to their federalist society meetings and urge fealty to the "original intent" of the framers and a return to the values that inspired "our founding fathers." i believe that our entire heritage is consistent with a democratic vision of america and that the PART of our heritage that republicans want to conserve is the defeated elitism that their federalist party stood for.

the republicans should be engaged on this claim they have to conserving the "best" of america, not in a political campaign, but doctrinally and historically. the history of elitism, wealth, work, privilege and politics in america is an intense history.

by the mid 18th century the common man, today and then the man republicans wish to ignore and demean, and his interests dominated american politics. but it did not start out that way.

the peopling of the colonies began with englishmen who had just overthrown and executed the last of the stuart kings in the glorious revolution. that revolution did not just replace one king with another. it devolved power from the monarchy to parliament. this institutionalized monarchical weakness which made it distinctive from the monarchies of europe. the greater freedom that this created for the average englishman was celebrated by all aspects of english society, including the crown.

the institutional increase in the power of commoners also resulted in a de facto blurring of class distinctions in everyday life, in dress, in manner of speaking to members of higher classes and so forth. criticism of government in the press and on the street became more common. all these aspects of this new anti-authoritarianism were accelerated by the rationalism of the enlightenment. both in everyday life and in the intellectual tenor of the times man was given more say over the conditions of his life and the society he found himself in. as concomitant to all of this, and probably owing something to inherent character, englishmen were notoriously hard to govern and insolent

the religious feelings of the early settlers contributed here also. a society's dominant religious institution normally reinforces the legitimacy of the social order but the pilgrims left anglicism behind also as a dominant, legitimizing institution. from the earliest days there were religious conflicts etween the colonies and great britain.

secondly, the pilgrims viewed man as inherently corrupt and the goal of society to protect man from himselv, by avoiding concentration of power and by promoting only thoroughly vetted virtuous men to occupy positions of power.

finally, the pilgrims thought that they had a divine responsibility to recreate english man in a purified form in america and to establish a government that reflected all of these principles and brought god's kingdom to earth.

this then was the legacy brought to america by the earliest settlers.

the new world the pilgrims settled was by definition one without a governmental structure or social hierarchy. whatever form of local government and class system was going to occur would be determined by the colonists themselves.

the nature of north america also was important here. wild, untamed, dangerous, it called on all of the rugged individualism a man could muster BUT it also demanded committment to community. no matter how self-sufficient an individual was he was unlikely to survive long in the difficult this difficult territory and if he did would revert to hunter and gatherer status without helping and being helped by others.

in the minds of many contemporary historians, all of these factors made the revolution to come almost socially and historically pre-determined. and independence may have been. but the nature of the new country was not and its eventual character would have been an unbelievable and horrific site to the earliest colonial leaders.

the english were proud of their distinctive monarchy and the pilgrims, viewing themselves as a purified version of english man, were also a concentrated version. they were more loyal to the crown and more hard to govern at the same time. they accepted the social hierarchy of english society without question and literally could not conceive of an alternative. to the eve of lexington they wanted to preserve some kind of affiliation with england that would preserve monarchical authority in america.

intense as their devotion was to the crown it was exceeded by reverence for the english constitution, that "perfect" instrument, in john adams' description, that exquisitely preserved the power and rights of the three post-medieval estates, the monarchy, nobility and commons.

even putting aside slavery and the status of women, colonial society, by modern standards or those of objective anthropology, was obviously hierarchical, but the important point for history is that it was less so than in europe and the trend line was distinctly, maybe inexoraly, less hierarchical.

from the beginning the colonists tried to order their new society along english lines. they already had a monarchy and the commons estate but they didn't have an aristocracy and this caused great concern because that meant that the only alternative was republicanism, which was a slippery slope to dreaded democracy. a concentration of power was a concentration of power was a concentration of power whether that power was concentrated in the monarch, the nobility or the common man. of the three, democracy was most feared because of the presumed unsuitability of the common man to govern.

there was no inherited nobility of course in america and so there were proposals to create an american aristocracy, as was actually done in canada. naturally, the wealthy landed gentry was an inviting talent pool for these proto-repbulicans.

the (republican) thought behind this was that only a man with no individual interests could be virtuous enough to hold power. so in england the nobility were of such great wealth that they didn't have to work and therefore they didn't have monetary interests. it was also thought that a life free from workaday concerns was necessary to provide the dedication to advanced learning necessary to govern.

these were socially complex attitudes toward work and wealth. the protestant work ethic was firmly in place, but only for commoners. wealth was necessary and was in that sense "good" but the pursuit of it (i.e. work) was not, and so in THAT sense the emerging merchant class was looked down on more than the base worker because he was seen as having social pretensions based only on the greater amount of money he had.

although there were some fabulously rich people in colonial america, rich enought that they didn't have to work there were not enough of them to create a "class" and in a version of the adage "no man is a hero to his valet" there was a lack of mystique about these noveau riche that the ancient families of england had going for them. five years prior today's man of leisure might have been a cobbler, so great was social mobility and the opportunity to acquire wealth in america.

in the end the idea of an american aristocracy was hooted down, helped along immensely by the publication of thomas paine's incindiary "common sense" which for the first time dared argue passionately the idea that common people (i.e. non-republicans) could govern themselves.

john adams was a conspicuous opponent of paine's idea and their debate reflected the differences that existed between the views of the original settlers and that of paine and his new american man on issues of religion, society, government and man himself.