Tuesday, December 28, 2004

On Gaddis, Dobbins & Luttwak


this is what passes for analysis in foreign policy these days.

edward n. luttwak, in the current edition of foreign affairs magazine, states that ..."the best strategy for the united states [in iraq] is disengagement."

continuing in the introductory paragraph of an article illogically entitled iraq: the logic of disengagement he asseverates that, "in a reversal of the usual sequence, the u.s. hand will be strengthened by withdrawal..."

but he says lubriciously, if his arguments on the succeeding eleven pages fail to persuade on that point, "nevertheless...the withdrawal should still proceed..."

this is logic, if anafractuous logic, of the highest order. we are witnessing a deep and nuanced mind at work.

luttwak's principia is preceeded by james dobbins' exegisis under the clear-headed title of iraq: winning the unwinnable war. such an engagingly contradictory title, so indicative of "insight" into the problem, such evident complexity in the analysis.

the united states is at war in iraq. it is clear that dobbins believes that. his apercu occurs on the first page, "the beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the ongoing war in iraq is not one that the united states can win."

ok, a clear statement of position. BUT, and to paraphrase ross perot, here comes the intellectual part, "the war can still be won..." ??? i thought the war could NOT be won.

the endpoint of wisdom is that "the war can still be won--but only by MODERATE IRAQIS..."

ignorant and sloppy readers may have missed the insight, so let's go over it again.

the u.s. is at war in iraq, a war which it cannot win;

but the war can still be won,

by moderate iraqis.

those who ask if therefore it follows that at some point the u.s. was/is/will be NOT at war outward indicia--such as having troops and material on the ground and shooting and getting shot at--to the contrary, are obviously mistaking appearances for reality.

similarly those who ask if moderate iraqis CURRENTLY are involved in the war are being quarrelsome.

those who ask what exactly it was when the regime of saddam hussein fell if not victory in a war, are being deliberately obtuse.

dobbins, like luttwak, sees a u.s. damned if it does withdraw and damned if it doesn't:

"yet if keeping u.s. troops in iraq provokes further resistance,
withdrawing them prematurely could provoke much worse: a
civil war and a regional crisis of unpredictable dimensions."

what to do?

dobbins complies: "a middle course is the best option." THE MIDDLE COURSE, OF COURSE! WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY THINK OF THAT BEFORE?

what is this middle course?

"wielding [ed note: action verb, languid point] the promise of withdrawal...could give washington valuable leverge..." uh-huh. this is sounding positively luttwak-ian.

how so?

by "compelling [ed note: see above] iraqis, iraq's neighbors, and much of the international community to look beyond their desire to see the united states chastened and toward their shared interest in iraq's long-term stability."

ooh, isn't that a little disappointing even to dobbins fans? first of all, "compel" seems inappropriate. is this really going to "compel" anyone to do anything? to "force" anybody to do anything?

but then that mushiness: "iraq's neighbors and, much of the international community..."

how much?, which much?--will be "compelled" "to look beyond their desire to see the u.s. chastened...?"

two of iraq's neighbors are iran and syria. mr. dobbins is seriously arguing that "wielding the promise of withdrawal" will "compel" iran and syria to work toward a long-term stable iraq.

let's also pause on this statement, "to look beyond their desire to see the u.s. chastened."

isn't that suggestive that the opposition to the u.s. presence in iraq is motivated by petulance and self-interest by states such as france, germany and russia? that is, isn't it suggestive that our international standing, as a consequence of the iraqi war, has nothing to do with fears of the u.s. as a "clear and present danger" (to use john gaddis' words below), of the u.s. acting as an international "policeman," and so on?

professor gaddis says many complementary things about whatever it is that president bush is doing. bush has achieved, he says,

"...far more...than any previous american administration
has achieved in the middle east."


"the military campaign [against iraq] proceeded as anticipated..."


"...on october 9, 2004, millions of afghans lined up to vote
in an election that had no precedent in their nation's long
history. had anyone predicted this three years ago, the
response would have been incredulity--if not doubts about


"the narrowest gap between bush's intentions and his
accomplishments has to do with preventing another
major attack on the united states."

but professor gaddis takes the bushies to task for "conflating" the doctrines of "pre-emption" and "prevention." the former is good because "international law and practice had long allowed such actions to forestall clear and immediately present dangers."

prevention-"reserv[ing] the right to pre-empt perceived dangers by starting a preventive war"-is fraught with dangers because...

BECAUSE, "the united states itself will appear to much of the world as a clear and present danger,"

BECAUSE "for the world's most powerful state suddenly to announce that its security requires violating the sovereignty of certain other states whenever it chooses cannot help but make all other states nervous,"

BECAUSE, "as the political scientist g. john ikenberry has pointed out, washington's policy of pre-emption has created the image of a global policeman who reports to no higher authority and no longer allows locks on citizens' doors."

BECAUSE, "americans within a year and a half [of 9/11] found their country widely regarded as an international pariah."

let all of that sink in.

the united states is "WIDELY REGARDED" as an "INTERNATIONAL PARIAH."

the united states, in pursuing a course of prevention, will appear, to "MUCH OF THE WORLD" as a "CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER."

wow. "widely regarded," "much of the world;" not as bad as "universally regarded" or "most of the world", but still a lot obviously. question though: is gaddis' "much of the world" the same as dobbins "much of the international community." it seems that the same analytical precision informs both.

who exactly?

france? does it think that "whenever it chooses" america may decide to "violate its sovereignty?"

china? do the chinese really think we are a "clear and present danger" to them?

germany, russia, india, brazil, canada, are they "nervous" that the u.s. may attack them?

how about if we take it by continents.

europe, anybody here for the u.s. as a "clear and present danger?" do i see one hand? poland, i can't see you back there? luxembourg, where are you hiding?

professor gaddis, which country(ies) in europe feel that the united states is a "clear and present danger?" is there one?

how about asia? japan, the u.s., pariah or no? cambodia? tibet? richard gere, what say ye?

is there one? professor gaddis, who am i missing?


sub-saharan africa? south africa, is it true you're building underground bomb shelters and instructing your school children in the art of "duck and cover" because the u.s. may a-bomb johannesburg? you're not?

south america. you brazilians, chileans, argentines, anybody battening down the hatches down there?

who in south america, professor gaddis?

professor gaddis is a practiced user of bogeyman overstatement masquerading as scholarship.

and of the straw man argument. for example he states that, "the president and his advisers seem to have concluded" that the international "status quo everywhere needed shaking up. once that had happened, the pieces would realign themselves in patterns favorable to u.s. interests."

yes, one sees in one's mind's eye paul wolfowitz, dick cheney and donald rumsfeld sitting in the basement of the pentagon saying to each other, "i think if we just shock & awe the world a little and really shake things up the pieces will just naturally realign themselves in our favor."

and what, in the paragraph above, was just a "seeming" mode of thought on the part of the bushies, becomes in gaddis next paragraph, on page 15, a fact:

"the assumption that things would fall neatly into place
after the shock was administered was the single greatest
misjudgment of the first bush administration."

how did we get from here to there?

for all three of our worthies, the solution to all of these problems is international involvement in all of its forms.

for gaddis, bush's "strategy of pre-emption by consent did not get consent, and this was a major failure."

for dobbins it is not only that cohort of moderate iraqis who must win the war--that they may or may not have been, or be, in--but that the war can only be won if those iraqi swing voters "concentrate their efforts on gaining the cooperation of neighboring states, [and] securing the support of the broader international community."

this is the dobbins plan: the bush administration should name a special iraq envoy" to "launch"[ed note: see above] "several simultaneous sets of consultations on the issue":

"one...should center on major u.s. allies, in particular the united kingdom, france, and germany...

"another...should involve all of iraq's neighbors and other regional states." so we shall see disinterested democratic neighbors such as iran and syria at the bargaining table.

also, "expanded roles for the un, nato, the arab league, and the organization of the islamic conference...should also emerge from these consultations."

how one man, our special envoy, is to "simultaneously" be in all these places is the least problem here. or perhaps there is to be one big, BIG table for all the participants.

substantively, this is just mansuetude nonsense, career civil service, academic, think tank, wonk talk. nothing is going to be compelled of these nations by our promise of withdrawal and nothing, other than divvying up iraq's spoils, and counterbalancing u.s. power, motivates states such as russia, germany and france.

regional groups like the arab league and the organization of the islamic conference were impotent to prevent or ameliorate any number of regional catastrophes like the iran-iraq war, iraq's invasion of kuwait, the takeover of afghanistan by the taliban, the continuation of the israeli-palestinian conflict; they were unable to prevent saddam hussein from gassing his own people or to persuade him to submit to un weapons inspections.

if they had had power they would have wielded it. they didn't, and they dont.

the u.s., the only nation that does, should not invite those who can do and who have done nothing to the table to decide what is to be done.

luttwak's argument must get extended treatment here. he, of the the-u.s.-hand-will-be-strengthened-by-withdrawal-but-even-if-it-is-not-it-should-still-withdraw position, gets himself so tangled up in complexity and nuance that, to borrow from gaddis, he "seems" to be sitting in a corner of a room playing with a ball of string and suddenly finds himself all tied up.

now follow along. we must withdraw because:

(1) to "the vast majority of iraqis...[a]s opinion polls and countless incidents demonstrate, americans and their allies are widely [ed. note: "widely," see gaddis above] hated as the worst of invaders, out to rob muslim iraqis not only of their territory and oil, but also of their religion and family honor." (p. 28)

(2) "the plain fact is that there are not enough aspiring democrats in iraq to sustain democratic institutions." (p. 30)

(3) "an already difficult task has been made altogether impossible by the refusal of iraqi teachers, journalists, and publicists-let alone preachers-to be instructed and to instruct others in democratic ways" (p. 29)

that's a pretty compelling litany for withdrawal it must be allowed. but we MUSN'T don't you see.

you don't?

luttwak explains: "yet iraq cannot be evacuated..." because "civil war of one kind or another would almost certainly follow."(p. 30). in the next paragraph luttwak continues, "the probable consequences of abandoning iraq are so bleak, in fact, that few are willing to contemplate them. that is a mistake."

luttwak allows as how he is one of the few, the proud, the contemplators. in the optimistically titled section "how to avoid a rout," luttwak says,

"it is precisely because unpredictable mayhem is
so predictable that the united states might be able
to disengage from iraq at little cost, or perhaps even
advantageously." the brain whirls.

luttwak calls for a "well-calculated retreat," and shows clearly how the u.s. hand could be so strengthened in the eyes of helpful peace partners like iran and syria.

on iran: "iran, for its part has much to fear from anarchy in iraq, which would present it with more dangers than opportunities." further, along the same train of thought, "anarchy in iraq would threaten not merely iran's stability, but also its territorial integrity."

to avoid this holocaust (which luttwak admits the present iranian government is doing much to foster (false consciousness, perhaps)), iran need only take baby steps. as dave barry would say, i am not making this up. this is actually what luttwak says:

"washington would not need to demand much from
the iranians: only the end of subversion, arms trafficking,
hostile propaganda, and hezbollah infiltration in iraq."

not "much," "only" those things. oh yeah, well we'll just send a copy of foreign affairs over to the ayatollah and that'll do the trick.

TWO pages later, on page 35, in turning his attention to how a well-calculated u.s. retreat would also benefit the saudis, luttwak gets his hands all tied up,

"an anarchical iraq would endanger the saudi regime...
not least by...offering iran a tempting playground for

so an anarchical iraq both threatens iran and presents them with a "tempting playground for expansion." heads you win, tails we lose!

as with iran, so with syria. the light is so clear for opthamologist asad to see,

"for all its anti-american bluster, the syrian regime is
unlikely to risk confrontation [in upsetting the u.s. well-
calculated retreat] especially when so little is asked of it:
a closure of the syria-iraq border to extremists and the
end of hezbollah activities in iraq (funded by iran but
authorized by syria)."

see, bashir?

both gaddis and luttwak use history to inform their positions and both invoke the example of world war ii.

luttwak concedes that,

"if iraq could indeed be transformed into a successful
democracy by a more prolonged occupation, as germany
and japan were after 1945, then of course any disengagement
would be a great mistake. in both of those countries, however,
by the time u.s. occupation forces arrived the local populations
were already throughly disenthralled from violent ideologies,
and so they eagerly collaborated with their occupiers to construct
democratic institutions." (p. 27)

this is how gaddis uses world war ii:

"it is easy to say that this [international support] does not matter--
that a nation as strong as the united states need not worry about
what others think of it. but that simply is not true. to see why,
compare the american and soviet spheres of influence in europe
during the cold war. the first operated with the consent of those
within it. the second did not, and that made an enormous difference
quite unrelated to the military strength each side could bring to
bear in the region. the lesson her is clear: influence, to be sustained,
requires not just power but also the absence of resistance..." (p. 6)

what both scholars elide here is the persuasive effect that actions such as the atomic bomb and the firebombing of dresden had on "disenthralling" our wwii enemies of their "violent ideologies." those were the empyrean of "shock & awe," a phrase gaddis uses. the "absence of resistance" can be efficiently accomplished by killing those who resist. but to follow through on the wwii parallels that they themselves introduce, to define for themselves and their readers what they mean by "war" and why a nation's full military arsenal should not be available to it in "war, to think these thoughts, is infradig. better to assert that the war is "unwinnable" and urge a "well-calculated retreat."

the united states did not need its allies consent to declare war after december 7. the united states did not need it after september 11, nor does it now.

gaddis, dobbins and luttwak are all esteemed members of the foreign policy intellegentsia in america, as is foreign affairs itself, and they are part of the problem.

we are in a doctrinal vacuum; gaddis is right when he says that it "seems" that the bushies are doing foreign policy by the seat of their pants, but he, and luttwak and dobbins contribute nothing, they muddy the waters to make them look deep.

we are in a doctrinal vacuum but they fail to articulate the most fundamental premises of such a discussion and fail to present anything like the superstructure that america needs to confront the post-9/11 world, a superstructure that george kennan provided in his famous "mr. x" article in the same pages of foreign affairs a half century ago.

where have you gone, mr. x, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

-benjamin harris

Thursday, December 09, 2004

We Must Not Hate.

We Must Not Hate. This is Public Occurrences.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

ugh, richard wagner. what do you do about him? i put him on tonight and got the pick me up i needed. so stirring, emotional, MASCULINE. but he was a proto-nazi.

first time i heard him was last year at carnegie hall with michelle. got tickets 'cause i had never been to carnegie hall. didn't care what the program was. when we sat down i pointed it out to michelle and told her if she wanted to go it was fine with me. we stayed. daniel baranbohm conducting. didn't know him or the significance either.

first "cole ne vay"(ph), the familiar jewish piece. michelle was moved to tears. then something else. then wagner. wagner is dramatic to WATCH. one part of the orchestra begins, the others silent. then another comes in, tentatively then more strongly, then another part of the orchestra is involved.

wagner pits one section against the other. the spirit of the music just builds. baranbohm conducted masculinely. he has a little stern look anyway and his concentration was intense. he looked angry. he ORDERED the different sections of the orchestra with his baton. he thrust with his other hand to another section. his hair flopped. it was like he was a general in battle.

the music swept through the stage and out into the audience like a sunami. i was immersed as i watched and listened, elbows on knees and was PHYSICALLY moved, actually knocked back a few inches as the music built and built and then crescendoed into the hall.

intermission was welcome. michelle and i looked at each other like, "what had we just seen?"

but what do you do about his politics. and here, he deliberately merged politics and music. his music was SUPPOSED to have the effect it had, unsuspectingly, on michelle and me. hitler's favorite composer. baranbohm, jewish, conducting. and conducting it in israel, to loud protests. isn't that almost deliberately provocative? isn't that a too over-the-top demonstration of...what, "tolerance" for diversity, keeping art "pure", what?

and what of us who paid to hear him?

-benjamin harris

Monday, December 06, 2004

On Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

On Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. *

the case of oliver wendel holmes, jr. just went from ambivalence to poignancy with me.

when i was in grad school i had read mark dewolfe howe's "shaping years" bio of holmes. at the time i thought the book was a little hagiographic but the reality of holmes needed no embellishment. he was brilliant, accomplished, famous, urbane, tall, handsome and a war hero, one who makes you want to just throw up your hands in disgust because he had it all and excelled at everything.

when he enlisted in the civil war he was on a moral crusade. he had been a body guard for one of the most fiery abolitionist orators of the day. after ft. sumter he abruptly dropped out of harvard and when he found out his regiment wasn't slated to head south and fight he joined one that was.

the civil war changed holmes, i knew that. he had been seriously wounded on three different occasions and saw his share of the slaughter that that war is infamous for. he had come out of it steeled, even more rationally inclined than before and he had lost much of his pre-war empathy for people. he never disavowed his abolitionist sentiments but he became cynical about any cause and contemptous of those, like his earlier self, who espoused them.

he was born a boston brahmin and after the war lived the part as intellectual, jurist, well-deserved elite. i remember the later pictures of him in howe's book. he was a very intimidating man even to look at and read about.

i don't know if i knew then about his infamous opinion in the sourth carolina sterilization case ("three generations of idiots are enough") but i remember feeling a coldness and heartlessness in holmes that kept me from placing him in my own personal pantheon of heroes. he and his wife were childless and i wondered about that. howe did not address it. a lack of intimacy with his wife? she was HOT but that didn't necessarily mean anything. maybe he disliked children, which would go along with his coldness.

thus my ambivalence. he was a titan in every way but i don't like elitists even elitists with cause, i don't like mean people, and i don't like people who don't like kids.

now i read louis menand's account of him (1).

menand's book is about the men, holmes being one of them, who instantiate pragmatism, a philosophy that is uniquely and distinctively american and which is criticized as being without a moral center, where "eternal values" are instead seen as historically contingent and where there are many, or no, truths. it is a philosophy that could be created by a brilliant man who had just seen his own values and truths, and so many lives, shattered by war. what i did not know was that the war shattered holmes too.

"he told me, a friend said, "that after the civil war the world never seemed quite right again."

why did he not have children? because "this is not the kind of world i want to bring anyone else into."

sixty-seven years after the war, when he was 93 years old "holmes tried to read aloud to marion frankfurter, felix frankfurter's wife, a poem he liked about the civil war, but he broke down in tears before he could finish it."

holmes never got over the civil war. as he once wrote to his father, "i am not the same man.' the truth is that man was dead now, and the corporeal holmes, the "remains," mourned him every day for the rest of his life. as menand says, the tears he shed before marion frankfurter "were tears for what the war had destroyed." he had to remain aloof. his coldness was his way of coping. "he doesn't show emotion, not because he doesn't feel, but because he feels so deeply."

in the late winter of 1934, holmes began quietly getting his affairs in order. he thought much of the war, of henry abbott, of ball's bluff and antietam, of his wounding and his terror and his resolve never to let it show. he sat in his library thinking of these things and he scratched out something on a small piece of paper. he then rose unsteadily and walked over to the small closet in the library where they were kept and pinned the piece of paper to them:

"these uniforms were worn by me in the civil war and the stains upon them are my blood."

*dickens, a tale of two cities.

-benjamin harris

(1) the metaphysical club

Friday, December 03, 2004


we used to vacation every summer at a lake in upstate new york. there is much merit to vacationing in the same place all the time. it's a home-away-from-home but it's more than that because at home dad had to go to work and we had to go to school. a vacation home has none of that responsibility and none of the daily humdrum, yet you're with your family and in a house you have come to think of as a home.

so you have this idyllic care-free time that you experience over and over again in the same place. and all of the sensations in your memory are good ones and bring back the experience of the whole. even now i can still smell the way our cottage smelled, i can still hear the sound the water made as it lapped at the shore, i can still hear the sound our footsteps made on the wooden outside steps and on the porch.

we always stayed in the same place, rew's cottage. mr. rew had yellow buck teeth and had his own house next door. the cottage was just that, exposed beam ceiling, spartan. we didn't stay there because it was "charming" or "quaint" but because that's what mum and dad could afford. dad was the sole breadwinner of course and there were four children.

lake chatauqua was renowned for a couple of things, neither of which were the reason we went there. one was the world-famous chatauqua institute, a medium-brow intellectual and cultural center with its own potemkin village of truly charming pastel-painted gingerbread cottages. the institute sponsered concerts and lectures--woodrow wilson spoke there once if memory serves--and the concept became quite popular in fin de siecle america. "chatauquas" sprang up all over the country.

the other draw of lake chatauqua was the fishing, specifically its muskelunge fishing. the muskelunge, or "muskie", is a deep, cold-water lake fish, a cousin of the pike, and is prized for its fighting ability. the muskies grew huge in lake chatauqua and pictures of fishermen holding them, 4'-5' in length with the distended bellies of the prize catch were in all the fishing cottages along the lake.

my dad didn't fish so we never went muskie fishing out on the lake but when i was eight or nine years old my oldest brother introduced me to fishing. we fished streams where the catch was trout. after that i fished off the dock at lake chatauqua whenever we were there.

our white dock extended out 30'-40' into the lake and to a point where the lake was then about 6' deep and unpleasantly cold at the bottom, even in june.

one summer there when i was ten or eleven and had been fishing for 2-3 years i noticed a female rock bass that had made its nest under a portion of the dock at a depth of maybe 4'. the water was clear and you could easily see the fish. it was decent size, maybe 8"-12", larger than normal for a fish that close to shore and i concentrated my fishing "skill" on catching her.

i don't know if the species has the reputation for wiles but this one did. because it was under the dock, i couldn't cast to it in a way that brought the bait by it in a convincingly natural way and the bass would not stray from the shelter of the dock to come out for the bait. dozens of times from every conceivable angle and at all times of day i cast, hoping to lure the rock bass out. i tried leaning over the dock and throwing the bait under to get it to settle by the fish. she would have nothing to do with me. fish can't smirk but this one almost did at my efforts. she would look up at me with those fish eyes and then turn her tail to me dismissively. she was like a pretty girl at a party who you make a clumsy pass at and who is more uninterested by the clumsiness of your attempt. i had as much chance of getting that fish on its back on the dock as i did getting marilyn monroe on her back on the dock.

as you grow up you learn the value of certain qualities. you learn for example that persistence can overcome clumsiness and hone technique, and that summer i learned the value of persistence. one day at dusk, while the rest of the family was in the cottage i went down to the dock to make another pass. cast-rejection, cast-rejection. i then had a "eureka" moment which led to another realization, that ingenuity and creativity can make a female make a BIG MISTAKE. i decided to drop the bait down between the slats in the dock, the way ice-fishermen drop their line through a hole in the ice. the salmon egg dropped into the water and drifted down. it drifted right in front of the rock bass' mouth and i can still see it open its mouth wide and swallow the bait.

she fought gamely, a trait of the bass species, but she was hooked good. i had her, or thought i did. my ingenuity had come hard up against one of my inherited limitations of which i am constantly being reminded: low intelligence. after all, i come from a stock of people who, like many others, left the old world for the new and its streets paved with gold. my people were coal miners in cold, harsh, mountainous northeast england and so decided the place for them was the cold, harsh, mountainous northeastern united states where they became, coal miners.

i began reeling the fish in but realized that my eureka moment had not accounted for the dock being between me and the fish and that there was no way for me to get her topside.

in my excitement i repeatedly yanked at the line, which produced nothing more than a rock bass with a bloody nose as it bumped against the underside of the dock. i screamed for mum and dad and tom, my younger brother. they came bolting through the screen door and raced to the dock to see me frantic with a punch-drunk fish on the end of my line.

ingenuity gave way to persistent clumsy attempts again. i grabbed the line and tried to flip the fish onto the dock. she proved too strong at first but weakened and in that way i finally got her up on the dock. the tables then turned again. when she hit the top of the dock she began thrashing about in the usual manner and dislodged the hook. i pounced on her but she squirted through my arms, off the dock and back into the water. i jumped in after her.

now she was back in her medium and i was out of mine. while back in the safety of the water however she was stunned from all the fighting and didn't swim away right away. i grabbed her and held her against my t-shirt and brought her back onto the dock.

i cleaned and filleted her and that night we ate her and recounted the evening's action, the story of the one that didn't get away.

-benjamin harris.

Monday, November 29, 2004

this WILL get better, right?

you know how when you're madly in love you say things that you think are so profound and universal that they must speak to all of mankind? how when you read your old love letters you want to shoot yourself in the head at the puerile melodrama?

once, early on, but after i'd fallen completely in love with b i wrote her a love note in which i compared my inevitable loss of her to the sentiment expressed by churchill when his wife died: "the light in my life went out forever." that's pretty bad.

allowing that the comparison of a breakup with a girlfriend to the the death of a spouse is over the top, what i also said to her many times, that i may never get over her, may turn out to be true. it has lasted a year and a half which is approximately a year and five months longer than i thought when we finally pulled the plug.

had another blood-rush-out-of-my-head moment today. a friend told me she's getting married in january.

besides being broken up for a year and a half, (1) i've known for a year that she was so in love with a new man that she and he had each met the other's parents and had talked about marriage. (2) i've known for about six months that she had bought a house with him. (3) earlier this month in a blood-rush moment i saw her with what i thought was a wedding band on her finger. i guess it wasn't, but it was apparently a matter of when not if.

so today i hear what i already know and i almost faint. ever since, all day, i've been in a fog.

i am NOT going to let this blog morph from a war blog into a proust blog into a breakup blog. i WON'T, goddamn it.

what the fuck is the matter with me? 49 years old, divorced DOS and i've felt like a love lorn teenager for a year and a half???

b, your kisses were like the sweetest wine, i shan't be able to go on without you, my love is like a river overflowing its banks.

oh jeezus, somebody give me a gun.

-benjamin harris

Saturday, November 27, 2004

"i thought then of all that i had been told about swann's love for odette, of the way in which swann had been tricked all his life."

i have written here previously of how much i have learned about my relationship with b from having read the section in remembrance of things past called "swann in love."

i have also previously acknowledged what was very painful for me to acknowledge, that i am jealous of, and therefore still in love with b.

there is more though to my pain. there is the additional quote from proust above, that is also applicable. "swann in love" concluded with his marriage to odette and it bothered me because of the obvious suggestion that i had made the wrong decision.

i don't know how proust is going to wrap up the swann/odette subplot--i am only a little over half done with the book--but here in volume two is the judgment above and more in like vein. swann also dies in volume two.

"the lift-boy swore to me with the sincerity of most false witnesses..."

"the wife had a round face like certain flowers of the ranunculus family, and a large vegetable growth at the corner of her eye. and the generations of mankind preserving their characteristics like a family of plants...an identical growth...protruded below the eye of the son...the wife and son, blessed with a vegetable nature, listened composedly."

"for theories and schools, like microbes and corpuscles, devour one another and by their warfare ensure the continuity of life."

"we ought never to lose our tempers with people who, when we find them at fault, begin to snigger. they do so not because they are laughing at us, but because they are afraid of our displeasure. let us show all pity and tenderness to those who laugh." taking away the condescending "pity," this is a very subtle thing to understand and a very spiritually generous thing for proust to write.
"there is however an inanimate object which is capable of a power of exasperation to which no human being will ever attain: to wit, a piano."

"for it is necessary that even those who are right, like francoise, should be wrong also, so that justice may be made an impossible thing."

"...there is a world of difference between real grief...which literally crushes the life out of one for years if not forever, when one has lost the person one loves--and that other kind of grief, transitory when all is said...which passes as quickly as it has been slow in coming, which we do not experience until long after the event because in order to feel it we need first to 'understand' the event; grief such as so many people feel..."

"in front of strangers--among whom we must always reckon the one to whom we lie the most because he is the one whose contempt would be most painful to us: ourselves--..."

"this indolence seemed to the mistress to be actually an additional gift, being the opposite of hard work which she regarded as the lot of people devoid of genius."

"after a certain age, and even if we develop in quite different ways, the more we become ourselves, the more our family traits are accentuated."

"calmed by...confrontation..."

"jealousy belonging to that family of morbid doubts which are eliminated by the vigour of an affirmation far more surely than by its probability."

"it is human to seek out what hurts us and then at once to seek to get rid of it. statements that are capable of so relieving us seem all to readily true; we are not inclined to cavil at a sedative that works."

Monday, November 22, 2004


"if i had an arse of a camel
and i had the wings of a crow
i'd fly over old trafford tomorrow
and shit on the bastards below."

"hello, hello
we are the city boys
hello, hello
we are the city boys
and if you are a man u twat
surrender or you'll die
we all follow the city."

i saw my shrink on saturday and confessed my latest sins. he opined that i was "rebellious" and "a maverick."

i think my loyalty to man city has got legs. i sense that they have fans like me, those who, if they ever went to personal therapy, would get kicked out for being "too difficult."

the city half of the manchester derby is in march. i think i'll go. and "if i die in the kippax street, whoa-oh woah-oh; if i die in the kippax street, there'll be ten red bastards at my feet, whoa-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh."

-benjamin harris


kill two birds with one stone.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

the rice appointment is bad, but typical.

there has never been any purpose to bush's life. he was (1) the accidental governor, then (2) the accidental president, then (3) the accidental war president.

wanting the administration to speak with one voice on foreign policy is good but when you have nothing to say it is meaningless.

this administration will continue with a reactive, ad hoc foreign policy where the only quality that matters in the president's men and women is loyalty to the president.

-benjamin harris

Sunday, November 14, 2004


in the poorest, most lawless area of the city the poorest, most lawless part is known as "the triangle," a roughly accurate geographical description of the enclosure of three major streets.

a man was found shot dead in his car, balled up on the passenger's seat. his long blonde hair had been caught in the passenger door when it was shut. his blood had flowed down from the passenger seat and out the lower door jam and had trickled into a small puddle on the pavement. one of the man's pants pockets was turned inside out and his wallet and any id were gone. it was clear that the murder had happened somewhere else and the car driven to the location where it was found.

the police ran the tag number and cross-referenced the registered owner with missing person reports and discovered that the victim was a man from the suburbs, who had had a cocaine problem but had been clean for awhile.

speaking to his live-in girlfriend they discovered that the man had gone on a bender the previous night, was jonesing, and had gone to the triangle three or four times to get rocks. there was a well-known drug hole in the parking lot of an abandoned gas station a couple of blocks from where the car had been found.

that's all the police had. no info at all on a suspect. the lead detective was barry donlan. per protocal he and his team did an "area canvass" of the triangle, meaning they went door-to-door and stopped people on the streets and asked for information.

door-to-door canvasses don't work well in the triangle. there aren't a whole lot of doors to knock on and citizen-pedestrians are chary to cooperate with the police because of their own experiences, or anticipated untoward consequences from executives and their salesmen in the local pharmacological trade. barry's assurances to them that he was not investigating, nor would he arrest anyone for their own involvement in, the drug business did not win confidence.

so after two or three days of "i ain't know nothins" barry set upon economic sanctions. he brought a folding chair with him to the drug hole, took it out of his car and set it down right in the middle of the old gas station's parking lot.

as motorists drove up and asked for drugs--"are you holding?"--in the local patois barry approached their vehicles and said, "hello sir, i'm det. donlan, would you like to sign my DARE petition?," DARE being the acronym for a county anti-drug program. the motorists quickly departed and thus the gas station drug hole once again became abandoned property.

the local merchants were put off.

"i'll leave as soon as someone talks to me," barry said. cooperation was not immediately forthcoming but eventually barry's sanctions worked. after a couple of days a local dealer known as "happy knot" took barry aside and, gesturing with his head, said that he had heard that the gentleman standing across the street had done the robbery and murder. "the cracker bumped the jack and jit shot him."

barry waited a prudent amount of time before turning to see the suspect and by that time he was gone.

anytime a murder happens in this area of town the homicide detectives, who handle the murder investigations for many of the smaller municipalities, turn to the local beat officers to help them. these are officers who work the streets every day, sometimes they've grown up there. when they're good, they are proactive. they get to know the people in their districts, they talk to the kids on the streets, they know the families and the dealers and the users. they are like anthropologists. if you need to know what's going on there you have to go to one of these experts.

in this area of town there was only one anthropologist-cop who mattered, "charley." that's how he was known to other cops, that's how he was known in the triangle.

barry had called on charley immediately after being assigned the case. now that he had a nickname for the suspect he called on charley again.

"jit" is a very common streetname in poor african-american neighborhoods, similar to "black" or red." that didn't really narrow the pool of suspects down very much but with the added physical description--height, weight, age, skin-tone, hair style--charley was quickly able to identify the guy. knowing that this jit lived with his grandfather, charley drove up to the house and made inquires. jit was not at home. "tell him to call me, " said charley.

a day or two later charley saw jit walking not far from his grandfather's house. jit avoided eye contact. charley parked his car and got out. "come here," he said.

jit stopped and kept his eyes down. "some homicide detectives want to talk to you about the white guy who got shot in the hole last week. now jit, don't make me run after you. i'm fat and i just ate. i promise you you won't be hurt, i'll take you down there myself. are you ready to go?"

jit asked if he could go to the house and tell his grandfather and charley said ok. charley waited outside and a few minutes later jit came out and got in the back of charley's car.

in interrogating jit, barry used a common and effective police technique. building on what he knew, he deduced what would be probable and presented that to jit as a certainty. barry knew the car had been moved, he knew that the victim hadn't driven it there after being shot. he plausibly believed that the killer had driven the car there. all of those were near certainties and if they were then the killer would know he was the driver of the car too and would know that it was possible that his fingerprints were in or on the car.

that's the part barry lied about. he told jit they had found his prints in the car. this is a long-established, legal, perfectly proper thing to do by the police. it is not considered coercion, which can get a confession thrown out, the theory being, if the suspect was NOT in the car he would immediately deny it and dismiss the possibility that his prints were there.

it's a zero-sum game. if you, as the cop, are wrong, then you've lost all credibility with the suspect. you can't get caught bluffing.

barry was right. after denying involvement, barry hit him with the prints bluff and jit put his head down and confessed on tape. at trial he was convicted as charged of first degree murder and armed robbery.

-benjamin harris

Saturday, November 13, 2004

great things happen at notre dame.

less commonly, great things happen to notre dame, especially in notre dame stadium.

just now, university of pittsburgh quarterback tyler palko threw for five touchdown passes to beat the irish. that's the most td passes ever completed against notre dame, at home or away.

anthony davis' five rushing touchdowns, the boston college field goal that broke lou holtz' heart, tony dorsett's marvelous running, legends are born at notre dame, and one was born just now.

tyler palko walks among giants tonight.

-benjamin harris

headline to an op-ed piece by daniel sneider of the san jose mercury news, reprinted yesterday in the miami herald.

the text was not as hopeful as the headline. the chatter turned out to be from think-tank intelligentsia types not administration officials, but combined with the newsweek mini-article several weeks ago and the presumed emboldenment that the election gave bush, it raises hope.

bush has got four years to mark his 43rd presidency with a legacy. bush is a legacy. he should now be proactive in creating one for himself. that will require boldness, clarity, and "the vision thing."

the opportunity is there. on september 11, 2001 the united states was losing more lives to a foreign attack on its own soil than it had ever lost before.

saddam hussein, who had tried to assasinate george h.w. bush, who had gassed his own people, and those of iran, and who had been close to acquiring a nuclear weapon in the '90's was in power in iraq.

the taliban, the most ruthless, mad regime since pol pot's khmer rouge was in control in afghanistan and giving safe haven to osama bin laden and al qaeda.

libya and muhammar qadaffi were refusing to cooperate with wmd inspectors.

today, saddam hussein is in prison and his regime ousted. the hopeful among us look forward to free elections in iraq in january.

in afganistan, the taliban has been utterly routed and free and fair elections--more problem-free than those in florida in 2000--have already taken place.

after regime change took place in iraq, qadaffi opened up libya to weapons inspectors.

al qaeda has been sufficiently "degraded" that it has been unable to mount any attacks against high-profile and impossible-to-defend events such as the athens olympics and the u.s. presidential election.

the bushies are right that islamic terrorism cannot survive without state sponsorship. john kerry and the democrats are wrong that it could be eradicated by police action as an organized crime problem.

to secure america and his place in history, bush should act on his beliefs. he should bomb iran's nuclear facilities and remove that threat. he should force regime change in iran, syria and saudi arabia, et al.

will he?

there is psychology and genetics to contend with here. bush may feel emboldened by the election but the sense here is that he has had about his fill of war. the iraqi war was draining in every sense: of time, of american lives, of american money and, as a consequence of all those, of the president's will.

this is a president who has never wanted to work hard. he got into yale because he was his dad's son; he made his money because he was his dad's son; became governor of texas because he was
his dad's son; he became president because he was his dad's son.

given his personal history, can you imagine a more perfect job for bush than the presidency as it appeared to be in 2000? how easy. he would inherit a booming economy and a country at peace, its old soviet enemy having imploded. he could win the thing, not work too hard and one up his more gravitas-charged brother and dispel his own manque label.

now he has one-upped his dad and gotten reelected. is a person with this history likely to seize an opportunity for greatness? did 9/11 transform him and enable him to become a transformational president for all of us? not promising.

then there's the genetic handicap. bush41 famously lacked "the vision thing." in one of his books on bush43, bob woodward relates a time when, on the eve of the iraqi war, he asked bush how his thoughts of history's judgment were weighing on him. bush replied with something like, "history? who cares, we'll all be dead then."

if saddam hussein had not invaded kuwait at a time when western leaders were gathered in aspen, colorado the gulf war may not have happened. bush41's instincts were to waver and vacillate. margaret thatcher saw this and told him "this is no time to go woolly in the knees, george." i literally searched through woodward's books for bush43's thinking that led to the start of the iraqi war. there was none. he just got carried along by events. he did not shape events.

bush43 prides himself on his "instincts" in evaluating people and situations. that is a lazy man's excuse for not wanting to think too much. it was his gut that told him that vladimir "poot-poot"putin was a good guy, that led him to announce in the oval office, with poot-poot looking down in embarrassment that he had "looked this man in the eye" and found a kindred soul in the ex-kgb apparatchik.

there is much reason to doubt that a man such as this will do the things necessary to defeat the islamic threat. if bush has been transformed and is to become transforming we should know shortly. there is no better time to force events than now.

-benjamin harris

Thursday, November 11, 2004


take pitt getting the points against the notre dame "fighting potato eaters."


-nail in the coffin

-tip of the iceberg

Friday, November 05, 2004

for two years this was a war blog. it's turning into a proust blog. more proust-isms:

"the translator was capable only of a mediocre book, if that book had been published as his original work. offered as a translation, it seems a masterpiece."

i have praised previously in the highest degree the translation i'm reading of remembrance... by moncrieff and kilmartin. the above fits them perfectly.

"but it is all the same a pleasant thing, and one which is perhaps exclusively french, that what is fine in all equity of judgments, what is admirable to the mind and the heart, should be first of all attractive to the eyes..."

"Like stockbrokers, doctors employ the first person singular." this was the concluding sentence in a paragraph about overhearing two men talk and hearing the doctor say about his chosen remedy, "i should prefer glycerine."

"how many they are in our memories, how many more we have forgotten--those faces of girls and young women, all different, on which we have superimposed a certain charm and a frenzied desire to see them again only because at the last moment they eluded us!"

on the same topic of the above, a girl who abruptly cancelled a dinner engagement with proust: "i began to sob. i shiverred, not only because the room was cold, but because a distinct lowering of termperature...is brought about by a certain kind of tears..."

this could be said of b, who i wrote about earlier tonight: "she to whom one gives everything is so quickly replaced by another that one is surprised to find oneself giving all that one has afresh at every moment, without any hope of future reward."

-benjamin harris

in college tackle football tomorrow take the university of pittsburgh "panthers" getting the points against the syracuse "orange."

in english football on sunday take the manchester city "overpaid underachievers" to beat the manchester united "yankees."

-benjamin harris
a few days ago i read the folllowing in remembrance of things past, that love and its inverse, jealousy, are still there,

"...until time has enabled one to regain one's
composure and to learn one's successor's
name without wilting."

i smiled when i read that because i knew that when i learned the name of b's new love i would still wilt. and, of course, i was angry at her and myself.

i realized today how jealous of and in love with her i still am because i saw her with a wedding band on and felt the blood rush out of my head. i had not known. although i knew that she had bought a house with him.

it has been a year and a half since our breakup and it's still there. i have never had this before. in that year and a half i have told myself that i was not in love with or jealous of her, i have written it but as i was doing those things i was also aware that if i had been put under hypnosis my deepest soul would have acknowledged what my conscious was only dimly aware of and in denial about.

i have less jealousy in me than any person i know. i suppose the converse of that must also be true, that i have less love in me. but though i have been willing to admit to myself and others that i have many other faults, temper, pride, a mean streak, i have never been able or willing to admit to anyone that i am jealous.

i think that must be because of my feeling of abandonment by my brother, and surrogate father, mike when i was a teenager. i loved him more than he loved me and at an unconscious level i think maybe i decided i wasn't going to let that happen again.

i've been married twice, in love three more times, and in all cases but this one with b, i was the one to have broken it off. to be more accurate, i was the one who, by infidelity, caused the relationships to end. there's a difference there. the one is direct and active, the other is passive aggressive.

maybe that's not entirely true. this one, with b, i tried to break off more than once but she balked and i remained. even the final breakup was a completely mutual decision. but i was still in love with her and i've never gotten over it.

she was in love with me too for a short while after the break up but within two months had fallen in love with her now husband. that that "bothered" me is self-evident but does so on so many levels, some of them completely unrelated to a proper definition of love/jealousy that a complete discussion of the subject is, as they say, "beyond the scope" of this writing. but that i was not in love with the others when the break occurred and was still in love with b when it did, is correct.

it's incongrous to me, but quite typical i'm sure in the psychology of these things, that i should still be in love/jealousy and still know (1) that the break up was occasioned by my refusal to marry and have a family with her (2) that marriage would never have worked out between b and me. i was too old and exhausted from two failed marriages to embark on number 3. (3) most importantly, i had my children, long away from their majority, and it was just not possible for me to start a family with b when i had one already. (4) i have never sought contact with her, much less a reconciliation, since the break up. in fact i have rebuffed repeated efforts by her to stay in touch.

(5) too, i came to see so many faults in b in the last year's death throes that i had serious doubts about whether i could stay with this new person i was discovering. it was so disconcerting, literally at times breathtakingly so, that i wondered after the breakup and now, whether i ever really knew her all that well.

when i first met b, as her supervisor, i did not trust her. as a supervisor one becomes attuned to faux respect and friendship. i was so suspicious of her on this score that i documented every interaction we had so that she could not later say that i had not adequately supervised her (a complaint that has been made of me). but once our relationship started that all ended and i NEVER, with anyone else felt more secure and more loved.

so even with all of the five above--all truly true--i guess it is the last, the feeling, that trumps them collectively.

i am a difficult, eccentric, "enigmatic,"--in one of my friend's words--man. i have always run up against situations, with women or in male friendships, where i was being myself and insouciantly thought i was being completely transparent, only for one of those people to say something that startled me at their misunderstanding. it's not necessarily that what they said was negative or critical, it was just such a completely incomplete understanding of me that i was taken aback and, as is my wont, i withdrew.

for a person like that, the way that b told me that she loved me was the most powerful thing that had ever been said to me:

"you told me never to say this, so i won't. i'll
write it. i love you benjamin harris, whoever
and whatever you are, i love you."

the blood rushed out of my brain on that occasion also.

i know the distinction, made by nietzsche and others, between the mind and emotions and the sometime irreconcilability of the two.

proust has also greatly helped me with the central point of remembrance that our memories are not of one life with different stages but really of completely different lives, of different people, ours and the others we "know." i am still in love with the b i knew from august 10, 2001-august 9, 2002. that is a different person than who b is now, and has been for the last two years. i am haunted by the thought that even that person was a chimera, that i really never knew b. but i am still in love with that person and i still grieve the loss.

but damn, even understanding all of tha i still would have "thought" that i wouldn't be so vulnerable to the feelings i had today.

and i still don't know his name.

-benjamin harris

Friday, October 29, 2004

What a Wonderful World Department

What a Wonderful World Department

Louis Armstrong's song "What a Wonderful World."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

tomorrow, god's will be done, i will be voting, and voting my fears rather than my hopes.

that's so often why republicans get elected president. fear of crime and communism elected nixon. fear of impotence and lack of respect elected reagan. fear of willy horton and other demons elected bush41.

not that those fears have always been illegitimate. there was a culture of anarchy that was threatening the social fabric in the 60's just as communism was a real enemy in the outer world.

jimmy carter's inexperience and insouisance produced a leadership vacuum that concerned even our allies.

the attacks of sept. 11 were the worst one day loss of life to a foreign enemy on american soil in our history. the fear is legitimate. but as time passes the justification for basing policy decisions (like voting) on an event of more than three years ago becomes less and less rational.

i just read an article in newsweek from august. the cover story was on the threat that al qaeda would disrupt the presidential election. in the same issue was a story on the athens olympics, also supposed to be a high value target for a.q. and similar groups.

no attacks occurred at the olympics of course and none are going to occur to disrupt the u.s. presidential election. hell, a.q. couldn't even disrupt the AFGHAN elections.

i have never been convinced that this administration has any idea what, how or where al qaeda might attack us again. right after 9/11 the bushies told the american people that another attack was almost certain. they spun likely scenarios of dirty bombs, computer hacking that would release the sluice gates of hoover dam or cause nuclear power plants to melt down. crop dusting planes with a cargo of anthrax was another one.

this page went on record early with the opinion that all of this chatter revealed profound ignorance and a prophylactic motive. that is still the opinion here.

i suspect, a suspicion that is not quite yet a conviction, that al qaeda has been sufficiently degraded that we are safe now. not safe in the long term or permanently but right now. i have a deep suspicion that is closer to conviction that i will come to be embarrassed by my vote tomorrow.

but the fear is still there. i am still convinced that america is in the crosshairs of islam and that it will strike whenever it is ready and able. i think that 9/11 and the invasions of iraq and afghanistan have produced many nascent al qaedas because islam produces people who are willing to soldier in that manner against america.

so tomorrow, for the first time in my life, i will vote my fears and also for the first time, vote for a republican for president.

-benjamin harris

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

i won't believe that the boston red sox have the world series wrapped up until the final out is made and i see the replay on videotape.

-benjamin harris

Saturday, October 23, 2004

in an earlier post (see sept. 16) i had quoted a section from remembrance of things past that i thought was so wise and i wrote that although at 3,000 pages the book is daunting there are so many similarly wise things that you don't want your mind to drift for fear of missing one.

below are some more of these. proust continually inserts sentences like this that are so RIGHT. listed seriatum they may sound like those bits of philosophy you find in fortune cookies or on hallmark cards but there is a context for them, 3,000 pages of context. in context they mean more but even out of context they're great:

"but true beauty is so individual, so novel always, that one does not recognise it as beauty."

written in the early twentieth century, remembrance was highly influential on the ideas of artists who, like picasso for example, was making art that not everyone at the time recognized as beautiful.

"mme de guermantes, who often met the bulgarian at dinner at the prince de joinville's,...had said to him once, when he asked if she was not jealous [of her philandering, but rich, husband]:
'yes, your highness, of your bracelets." oooh, is that exquisite.

"...of all the flying seeds in the world, that to which are attached the most solid wings, enabling it to be disseminated at the greatest distance from its point of origin, is still a joke."

one of the lecturers on one of the teaching company's tapes said one time that of all human activity--war, love, hate, crime, etc.--the least seriously written about is humor.

"love?" [mme leroi] had once replied to a lady who had asked for her views on love, "i make it often but i never talk about it."

"god, whose will it is that there should be a few well-written books in the world, breathes with that purpose such disdain into the hearts of the mme lerois, for he knows that if these should invite the mme villeparisis to dinner, the latter would at once rise from their writing tables and order their carriages to be round at eight."

i have to give the quote above, which is hard to improve upon standing alone, a little more context because proust does improve it with context:

"...the salons of the mme de villeparisis of this world are alone destined to be handed down to posterity [by memoirs], because the mme lerois of this world cannot write, and, if they could, would not have the time. and if the literary dispositions of the mme de villeparisis are the cause of the disdain of the mme lerois, in its turn the disdain of the lerois does a singular service to the literary dispositions of the mme de villeparisis by affording those bluestocking ladies that leisure which the career of letters requires. god, whose will it is that there should be a few well-written books in the world, breathes with that purpose such disdain into the hearts of the mme lerois, for he knows that if these should invite the mme villeparisis to dinner, the latter would at once rise from their writing tables and order their carriages to be round at eight."

"we strive all the time to give our life its form, but we do so by copying willy-nilly, like a drawing, the features of the person that we are and not of the person we should like to be."

"the only real social advantages are those that create life..."

"how many women's lives...have been divided thus into contrasting periods, the last being entirely devoted to the reconquest of what in the second has been so light-heartedly flung to the winds!"

remember how i wrote in my earlier post on remembrance that you sometimes have to read his sentences three times, once straight through, once taking out all the modifying clauses and parentheticals to get the most important meaning and then once again straight through? the above is one of those sentences. this is how it appears in all its spaghetti complexity:

"how many women's lives, lives of which little enough is known (for we all live in different worlds according to our age, and the discretion of their elders prevents the young from forming any clear idea of the past and taking in the whole spectrum), have been divided thus into contrasting periods, the last being entirely devoted to the reconquest of what in the second has been so light-heartedly flung to the winds!"

DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN? isn't that hilarious?

all of the above, by the way, are culled from only 56 pages of chapter one, the guermantes way, of the second volume of the work. as i said, sentences like that are sprinkled throughout the book so you don't want to take a lap when you're reading.

i hope you also get a sense for how amazing the translation here by moncrieff and kilmartin is. when you can render a literary masterpiece in one language into another with this level of subltety and nuance that itself is masterly.

-benjamin harris

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"at the end of what is called 'sexual life' the only love which has lasted is the love that has accepted everything, every disappointment, every failure and every betrayal, which has accepted even the sad fact that in the end there is no desire so deep as the simple desire for companionship."

-graham greene, "may we borrow your husband?"

Sunday, October 17, 2004

ever since 9/11 i have wanted a national debate on who our enemy was and what was to be done about it.

the president quickly announced that we were in a "war" and every political leader and opinion-maker quickly fell in behind the characterization.

this blog was started because of my frustration at that lack of debate and my exasperation at the bushies for not prosecuting the war as a war. i hurled at them the most serious charge that i could make, that they were conducting this war as if it were a police action.

i still don't know how the bushies really feel in their heart of hearts but the democrats, specifically of course john kerry, has made it clear now how they view it, as a police action, despite all of their, and his, rhetoric up to this point.

the revelation, the umasking, occurred starkly in last sunday's new york times magazine cover story. richard holbroke, a plausible kerry choice for secretary of state flatly declared that we were not at war. the candidate himself not just made the conceptual analogy to police work in reducing the threat to inevitable quality of life "nuisances" like prostitution and drugs, but, dropping the analog, stated explicitly that that's how he would fight it, by more effectively cutting off funding, by arresting terrorists, and the like.

in his op-ed piece last week thomas l. friedman made the point for all democrats, that the administration is "addicted to 9/11," which struck me the same way as did jimmy carter's infamous statement that we ought not have an "inordinate fear of communism."

i feel so foolish. i used to have a kerry bumpersticker on my car. when my friends asked me if i really thought that kerry would do anything much different than would bush i had to admit that i didn't. it never occurred to me that this was how kerry really felt. i believed him when he said that we were at war. i believed his sincerity when he voted for the use of force authorization and his recommittment to it in his grand canyon speech.

i first felt the gulf between me and kerry in the times magazine article when the author described, and kerry confirmed, that he had not really been changed by 9/11. my knit-browed curiosity and puzzlement gave way to jaw-dropping wonder by the end of the article and the full expostulation of kerry's, and his would-be administration's, view.

the reason for the polarization of the country is now clear to me, the hatred of bush too. we are divided between those, like me, who believe that we are at war, and those who believe that we are not.

i am still troubled by doubt. maybe it IS just a police issue. isn't that conceptually consistent with the strategic implementation of "sharon-izing" our response that i proposed here just recently? we HAVEN'T been attacked on the homeland since 9/11 which i've said many times is the best argument against my view that we are at "war" with "islam."

i am not all broke out with genius, i can be obsessive-compulsive like my father who never got over his own "inordinate" fear that another economic depression was right around a corner that our economy never did turn. i admit to being "often wrong, always certain."

being a democrat is so much a part of my self-image. i was, and am, alone in that affiliation in my family. i have never voted for a republican for president, never voted for a republican for anything, except once for congress when the democrat was an eccentric, hapless nobody who the democrats had to nominate because they had a line on the ballot.

but 9/11 changed me, maybe it warped me. that was the view at any rate of my ex-wife. but i can't help how i feel. i've read enough, i've talked enough, i've written enough about this issue. count me among those who are "addicted to 9/11," who were changed by it, and who are on the side of those in this polarized country who believe in their hearts that we are at war.

-benjamin harris

Sunday, October 10, 2004

john kerry had been tough-talking (if vaguely) enough for me up to now to ease my doubts to the point that i put a kerry-edwards bumpersticker on my car.

then came the first debate.

i "watched" it on radio and thought bush had won on substance and style.

the kerry campaign's decision to draw out their candidate's distinctions with the president on foreign policy erased the vagueness, and the tough talk.

i was distrubed by what i heard and would have voted for bush that night. i got a copy of the transcript to make sure i had not misheard or remembered things out of context. there it was: a "global test" for american military intervention, reaching out to "moderate" muslim nations, pounding the president's failure to go back to the u.n. for yet another resolution on iraq, for not building a "meaningful" coalition.

these are antithetical to everything this page has advocated for 2 1/2 years.

and a new concern: kerry wants bilateral talks with north korea, a subject i thought was closed. i had always thought that there was consensus that bilateral talks were just what kim il jong wanted and that we benefited enormously by having others, most notably china, at the table with us.

off came the kerry bumpersticker.

then i picked up a copy of newsweek and in a little boxed article on page 8 was the news that some pentagon planners were working on "regime change" in syria and iran (conventional war almost out of the question, covert destabilization more likely).

that's more like what i've wanted. my bitter criticism of the bushies has been that they haven't done ENOUGH war-making, not that they've done too much. it's hard for me to justify the iraq war unless it was to be the first step in a broader civilizational battle.

then today's cover story in the times magazine: "really. what does he think? john kerry and the post 9/11 world."

it couldn't have been worse for me. kerry said 9/11 hadn't really changed him. further,we are not in a war at all, forget with islam, not even in a war on terrorism, according to richard holbroke, a plausible kerry secretary of state designee. the thing we should be doing is treating al qaeda like a particularly dangerous drug cartel, i.e. as a law enforcement issue, not a military one.

"we are not in civilizational war said kerry in a speech at u.c.l.a. in march." missed that one.

this page has always advocated caution on american military intervention. i have argued that a new doctrine is needed that establishes the threshold at a "direct threat to our national security" rather than the squishier one of our "national interest." i have opposed the use of american military power in bosnia and somalia. but i have argued that when the conditions are met that then we should adopt the powell doctrine of overwhelming force.

i believe that we are at war (a different kind, admittedly) with islam and that to win this war the entire islamic world (that means saudi arabia and pakistan too) must be changed and that american military power will be needed to effect this change.

neither political party has all of this that i'm looking for, no wing of either party does, but given kerry's "clarification" of his positions on these issues i am much closer philosophically to george bush and the republicans.

-benjamin harris

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

the recent beheading of another american in iraq made me wonder again why people who are about to be executed don't resist; criminals who are led into the death chamber, these poor souls in iraq.

it's not that i'm calling into question their courage. resisting would do nothing. but that it would do nothing is also the point: if compliance cannot conceivably effect an improvement in your circumstances, why not at least get in a shot at your killer(s)?

i remember ted kennedy saying once that he just hoped that if someone was going to try to assasinate him that the killer would do it from the front so that he could at least get a swing in at the guy.

obviously, there's something psychological going on here. is it that the fear of death is so overpowering and certain that you don't want to get yourself all worked up for nothing? or you can't move, a la deer-in-the-headlights, or that resisting might turn a swift, relatively painless death into a torturous one?

file this under the category of "easy for you to say" but you know that "the ultimate act of defiance" cartoon of the eagle swooping down on the field mouse and the field mouse giving the
eagle the finger? i'd like to think that if i knew that i was going to be beheaded and that it was being videotaped that i would act as the field mouse and fight back or utter an islamic curse, or say something like "you're just mad because i fucked your mother in the ass last night," or SOMETHING.

i hope i'd be a mouse and not a man.

-benjamin harris

take the university of pittsburgh "panthers" getting 7 at the university of connecticut "poodles."

-benjamin harris

-double-edged sword

-lion's share


Thursday, September 23, 2004


"bring on arsenal." that was the headline quote from manchester city manager kevin keegan on espn's soccernet today.

the article itself didn't have keegan uttering those words but if he did--or said anything close--then he is a fool for putting a bee in arsenal's bonnett.

the reason for keegan's bluster: a 7-1 pounding of poor barnsley in an fa cup match, preceeded by a 2-1 win at crystal palace, by far the most overmatched team in the premiership this year.

not exactly like consecutive squashings of man-u and chelsea.

arsenal just broke england's premiership record for consecutive matches without a loss. they are a well-coached, disciplined, talented and proud team.

man city (beloved by me though they are) is an overpaid, underperforming, weak-kneed bunch with a skittish goaltender and a manager who has never played, or coached, defense.

this is my "football" pick of the week. whereever you can find the line, whatever the line is, take arsenal to win.

-benjamin harris

Monday, September 20, 2004

i'm reading donald kuspit's new book "the end of art. i like kuspit a lot. i've read a couple of his books before this one.

you know that scene from the woody allen movie where he tries to pick up the girl who's staring at the painting on the wall in the museum? allen goes up to her and says, "what does it say to you?", and the girl replies with something like, "it speaks to me of the incredible blackness of the universe; of the void and man's insignificance in it." "whaddya doing friday night," allen asks. "committing suicide," the girl says.

that's a pretty good description of the art world--artists and critics--today. it is so dark and gloomy.

i don't mean by that art's subject matter. historically art's themes often have been about suffering and pain--the crucifiction, war, etc.--because art is so empathic and empathy means to experience what someone else is feeling and we often want others to feel the pain that we feel or see.

rather, what i mean is that art--artists and critics--is so negative and takes itself so seriously. "the end of art." how much more negative, how much more seriously can you take yourself as to proclaim that? "art after the end of art," by arthur danto and "art after the end of art and after," by joseph kosuth are two more very well-regarded books on art theory.

the end of art. really? is it that bad? kuspit is critical, bitterly so, of post-modern art. from what i can tell the post-modernists deserve to be flayed. but are frank stella, allan kaprow, cindy sherman and damien hirst, et al charlatans, who have always been charlatans? really, that's what kuspit says. have they succeeded in fooling most of the cognescenti most of the time?

from my job experience and belief system i can accept that there are people who are born charlatans. and those who are born saints; those who are born criminals, and those who are born leaders. but in my experience and belief system such people are exceedingly rare. most of us are a combination of all of those personalities, good and evil.

so it's hard for me to believe that all of those prominent contemporary artists, or "artists," had a charlatan personality type and decided that of all the snake oil that they could get by with selling that it was art that they chose.

i tend to think that they and the other post-modernists are as well-meaning and serious about trying to do good art as donald kuspit is trying to do good art criticism. their art is apparently not his art and my art may not be your art but to be so dismissive of an entire movement and of so many artists seems fishy.

for a very long time now art has been seen as searching for itself. there is no accepted way of doing art. the most fundamental issues about the field are open for debate: what is art, what is good art, how do we judge art. all of those questions are on the table and have been for 40-50 years.

it's very disconcerting. i have argued here previously that i do not think the art world is in "crisis", that just as it always has been, it is now the future of what society and other serious fields, like physics and philosophy, will become, that is decentralized, without a dominant "paradigm" to answer a priori those fundamental questions for us before we even start, but that's the hokum "theory" of a diletantte and sometimes however you answer or want to address those fundamental questions you just need to step back. and enjoy. enjoy art, and life. look at what's being made today under the guise of art and try it.

it seems to me that the bitter criticism in art today, and the categoricals used by kuspit and others are a mask for all this uncertainty.

anytime someone or something is characterized in terms a synonym for which would be "demonization," alarm bells go off in my head.

donald kuspit is critical, bitterly so, of the

it is not the dark subject matter

Friday, September 17, 2004


nebraska is a 4 point favorite to beat the university pittsburgh in a college tackle football game tomorrow. putting a 2 in front of the 4 would be closer to the truth.

empty your savings account and bet it all on "N."

-benjamin harris

Thursday, September 16, 2004

the excerpt from "remembrance of things past" in the preceding post is one of those rare "impressions" that will stay with me for the rest of my life, like when i first heard bach's brandenburgs, the first time i heard sarah vaughns singing, when i first tasted uesquebach scotch on my first night in cambridge at a restaurant in harvard square, when i had a particular cake with successive layers of chocolate, raspberries, and almonds at dinner at the rose inn in upstate new york one christmas vacation many years ago.

i read that excerpt this afternoon and immediately knew that i had to post it as one of the most profound things i'd ever read. although "remembrance" is a novel, that excerpt is philosophy. as i typed it a little while ago i was reminded, in its wisdom, economy and especially tone, of "desiderata,"--you know "go placidly...", etc.--that was so popular in the 1970's and was actually put to song. i'm sure "desiderata" is scoffed at by others and the comparison to proust considered outrageous but to this lump of mediocrity "desiderata" was beautiful, instructive and wise.

a more well-received comparison would be with marcus auerilius' "meditations." i remember prof michael sugrue's lecture on the "meditations" in one of the teaching company's tapes. he said that there has never been any book like it, so measured, reflective, spiritually generous, practical, instructive and wise, AND that was written by the most powerful man in the world at the time.

as it turns out, prof sugrue was also the teaching company's lecturer on "remembrance." he said that of all the world's literary masterpieces it is probably the least read. i am on page 924, and am less than one-third the way through it. that's undoubtedly the most important reason. too, proust wrote in hegelian-length sentences with so many clauses and parentheticals that you have to read many of the sentence three times, once straight through as you come onto it, another skipping the parentheticals so that you can get the primary import, and then again straight through.

third, it is a translation from the french. i have written here previously on the hazards of reading translations (see "lost in translation" from the summer of '03). there is just no way that something, especially a work of literature with its nuances of tone and emotion, can be translated with 100% fidelity into a different language even though the translation that i'm reading, by moncrieff and kilmartin is almost miraculous. now, i don't read french but i've read enough translated books to know, or at least sense, that this translation could not possibly have been done better.

fourth, however transcendent the message, a 3,000 page novel written by a "foreigner," and set in a foreign culture is a distancing piece of work. the places are not familiar, the names don't have familiar sounds, there is far less of the congruity of shared history and experience that reader and author have than in a work of american fiction.

finally, proust was just an odd guy, a confessed and obvious neurotic who literally saw nerve-fraying complexity in the physics of the kiss.

the mind tends to wander when reading this book.

but the mind wanders at its peril because there are so many, and so frequently occurring , passages of INSIGHT comparable to the excerpt that i posted, that you want to go back and re-read because of the chance that you glossed over something great.

there's no point in someone like me trying to sum up the novel, hell i'm only 1/3 of the way through it, and i won't be capable of doing that when i'm done either. even for sugrue, it must have been embarrasing for him to be given the job of summarizing the book in two 45 minute lectures.

but there are many passages similar to the above and most importantly for me personally "remembrance" has given me, in the section "swann in love," a start at understanding the great love of my life, and the loss of that love. as proust says at one point, sometimes when we understand something intellectually we can put it in a place in our brain that the rest of us is safe from. we can contain it.

i never went through anything as hard as i did last summer and fall in trying to understand my own situation and i failed. proust's section on charles swann's relationship with odette de crecy gave me an intellectual archetechtonicus to begin to understand it. an emotional and spiritual resolution may or may not follow. i always think about the writings of nietzsche, kirkegaard and proust on the seperation of intellect and soul and the impossiblity, sometimes, of understanding to overcome or salve an unwell soul.

but i've got 2,000 pages to go and proust has already given me reason to believe that "we must not repudiate" any of the "lives," however difficult, that we have lived because they are part of our individual journey, "proof that we have really lived," and in the end we may have "extracted something that transcends them."

-benjamin harris

" 'there is no man,' he began, 'however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is so unpleasant to him that he would gladly expunge it. and yet he ought not entirely to regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man--so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise--unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded. i know that there are young people, the sons and grandsons of dstinguished men, whose masters have instilled into them nobility of mind and moral refinement from their schooldays. they may perhaps have nothing to retract from their past lives; they could publish a signed account of everything they have ever said or done; but they are poor creatures, feeble descendants of doctrinaires, and their wisdom is negative and sterile. we do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. the lives that you admire, the attitudes that seem noble to you, have not been shaped by a paterfamilias or a schoolmaster, they have sprung from very different beginnings, having been influenced by everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them. they represent a struggle and a victory. i can see that the picture of what we were at an earlier stage may not be recognisable and cannot, certainly, be pleasing to contemplate in later life. but we must not repudiate it, for it is a proof that we have really lived, that it is in accordance with the laws of life and of the mind that we have, from the common elements of life, of the life of studios, of artistic groups--assuming one is a painter--extracted something that transcends them.' "

-marcel proust, "remembrance of things past."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


'member that line from "as good as it gets?"

i have grown weary of shop-worn (there's another one) metaphors, so when i assume full dictatorial powers the following shall be banished from the language:

"Gordian knot."

"between a rock and a hard place."

"[(s)he took to it like a duck to water."


"landmark," as in "landmark decision" to describe an allegedly important ruling by the supremes.

"achilles heel."

"pandora's box."

"pyrric victory."


"landslide." some metaphors are almost exclusively context-specific. ever hear of a sports team winning in a "landslide?" why is it that ONLY in politics is a one-sided defeat described with use of this metaphor? see below.

it's hard to write, as i've discovered in the last 2 1/2 years here, and the use of such hackneyed language is just a crutch for us when we get lazy about writing. instead of trying to write something simply and clearly we lean on this crap. maybe we think it makes us sound smart but it really just makes us sound lazy and cliched.

(more to come)

Sunday, September 12, 2004



how 'bout dem wrinkled grapes! fresno state followed up their win at the university of washington with a 45-21 thrashing of kansas state in manhattan. the only downer there is that one of our beloved state schools was the victim, but ksu has had a lot of success the last good while. this win was good for underdogdom generally.

it was altogether a good saturday for underdogs in college tackle football. southern mississippi beat nebraska 21-17; TROY STATE, TROY FRIGGIN' STATE! BEAT THE RANKED MISSOURI "SHOW-ME'S" 24-14.

there was some cognitive dissonance a la fresno/ksu though in boise state's thumping of the "beavers" of oregon state 53-34 and mississippi state got killed by auburn 43-14.

other underdog losers were the new mexico state "deserts" in a 41-14 squeaker to cal and the washington state "apples" lost 20-12 to one of my most-hated "university ofs...", the colorado "rapists". but hey, you can't be an underdog without such depressing setbacks.

-benjamin harris

Friday, September 10, 2004


heard on npr a little while ago that the composer of that little jingle from 1971 died last week. his name was billy davis.

god, i hadn't thought of that song in so long. i've had "love will keep us together" get stuck in my head a few times since 1971 but not the coke song.

pop songs bring back memories of course. i don't know why that is exactly but we sometimes precisely associate them with an event, often a romance. such-and-such was "our song, "etc.

significantly this song brought back a mood, a happy, light mood that was in stark contrast to it's era. arthur danto has written that the 1970's were a cultural dark age, as dark as the 10th century. for all of us who came of age in that decade: ouch. but think about it; it's hard to argue with that. the 70's was the era of gerald ford, jimmy carter, disco, the captain and tenille, leisure suits, barry manilow, and baseball uniforms with shorts.

i have written here previously that of course what we mean by a cultural era of this decade or that decade is not defined by a 10-year span. the turbulent, violent 60's didn't begin in 1960. i would argue that they began on november 22, 1963 and lasted until nixon's resignation in 1974.

the goofball, culturally bankrupt 70's began then and lasted, probably till reagan's election with it's "it's morning in america" theme and the start of the "me decade."

"i'd like to buy the world a coke" therefore properly belongs to the sixties. it was a utopian song that went along with some of the utopian "philosophy" of the time, peace symbols, flowers in your hair and all that. in fact, it sounded like it was sung by peter, paul, and mary or the mammas and the pappas, two quintessentially sixties pop groups.

the npr report reminded me that that damn little song was sung ALL OVER THE WORLD. it really did have universal appeal. it made everybody sing and smile. it was also turned into a hit single, the references to coke being replaced by "to sing."

npr's classical music critic said that there are similarities between "coke" and beethoven's "ode to joy," now the anthem of the european union.

classical-pop similarities are always suspicious--you know, basketball to ballet--but in this case the comparison rang true. both "songs" are emotionally soaring. you FEEL joy when you hear "joy" just as we did everytime we heard "coke."

whoever-he-was also pointed out that there are structural similarities. the first "part"--i don't know what it's really called in music--in both pieces ends with a "musical question" that is "answered" in the second part. and of course the answer is a resounding affirmative: yes to joy, yes to happiness, yes to hope, yes to our dreams.

the npr guy also said that the lyrics to "joy" were taken from a poem by shiller, some of the lines of which, man's brotherhood for example, are extremely similar to those of "coke's" mankind "holding hands."

so here's to billy davis; he wrote something that lept the bounds of advertising into american popular culture and then soared over those bounds to all the civilizations of the world when that world looked like it could be blown up at any moment.

here's to billy davis. have a coke and a smile.

-benjamin harris

Thursday, September 09, 2004

the poor democrats, they just can't keep their feet out of their mouths on foreign policy, can they?

this is a little dated now but john kerry's grand canyon comment that he would still have voted to give the president authorization to use force in iraq reinforced (1) voters doubts about the demos ability to deal with f.p. issues, and (2) their doubts about kerry's alleged vacillation tendencies.

that is a rare thing, putting both feet in one's mouth at the same time.

the day kerry made the comment i saw my ex-wife at her house and said that i thought he had hurt himself. she is EXTREMELY partisan in this election and replied exasperatedly, "i don't know why, that's what he's been saying all along."


then i guess that i and about 50,000,000 other voters missed it. i and fifty million of my closest friends had thought we had heard kerry giving speech after speech for six months lambasting bush for the war.

kerry spent significant time in his convention speech trying to explain that the criticism of him, that his positions on issues are too "complex," was actually intellectual honesty and not triangulating vacillation. then he blows it at the grand canyon.

it's so frustrating because this needn't have happened. i don't know if kerry was playing to his base with his criticisms or what but he or someone in that campaign should have realized that the natural follow-up to those speeches was going to be "ok, so knowing what you know now, how would you have voted?"

kerry is a good man, the weightiest candidate on military matters that the demos have had in a long time. he voted for the force authorization resolution. he should have left it there and SHUT THE FUCK UP. he should have turned his focus onto economic issues, his, and the demos, natural strength.

the way for a democrat to beat bush this year is/was to be pretty quiet about f.p., say all the platitudinous things about "the war on terror" and COUNTERPUNCH when flight boy started making his comparisons to churchill.

here's complexity for kerry that even his complex intellect apparently can't grasp. most voters still view the decision to go to war as the right thing to do, even though they don't like the way the post-end-of-major-hostilities period went and the cost of the whole thing.

but iraq as an issue is pretty much dead. it's over. we've turned over authority to the iraqis and while voters don't like americans continually getting killed over there they accept that our presence there is needed and will be for some time.

now, since voters think all of those things, where exactly is the political opening for a candidate to criticize the war? IT ISN'T THERE!

the best thing for kerry to have done/do is to wait for bush to overplay his hand and then counterpunch. instead it was kerry who, for "complex" unknown reasons overplayed his hand.

now voters are left with these doubts about where kerry really stands and who he really is. they don't know if they can trust him with being commander in chief.

it's still early and kerry is a famously strong finisher and there apparently is going to be a shakeup in his campaign to develop a simple (i.e. not complex) message and stick with it. he can still pull this out but he's dug himself a hole and then stepped right into it.

the dumbass.

-benjamin harris