Monday, May 31, 2004


were i president i would be satisfied that the definition of our enemy should be expanded beyond, what in shorthand i have referred to as "al qaeda incorported," to include other people/groups based on (1)the "quantity" of their activities (2)the "quality" of their activities (3) the extent of their influence and (4) if they have practiced violence, even if not against us and (5) the risk in not attacking them, e.g. if they seek wmd.

i would view the madrid and bali bombers as part of a.q.i., so they would be part of the first category of our enemy, not this second, expanded, category of militant islam.

i am thinking out loud here, but having considered the example of hezbollah in "reassessing I", my inclination would be not to include hezbollah but rather to assasinate those thinkers/leaders/clerics who preach the same thing that was taught to obl.

that sounds bizarre, but until shown to my satisfaction otherwise, i would view hezbollah as "an israeli problem." i am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that hezbollah at present does not pose a direct threat to the national security of the united states.

those who teach/write/think/preach however--even if they don't act--i would include in the definition of our enemy because they are what directly inspired al qaeda.

having promised myself in "reassessing I" that i would always stop and think when i took another step, i acknowledge that including propogandists, for the lack of a better description, in my definition of the enemy, is a radical step which will effect all that follows.

we americans don't often punish speech. that prohibition is ingrained in our constitution and our common sense ("sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me," etc.).

still, not all speech is protected. we do not have the right to yell "fire!" in a crowded theater, and like famous examples.

i have inveighed about the teachings of islam many times in this blog. to just remind myself of some that come to mind:

(1) the article written about 1 1/2 years ago in the times magazine on what is taught in pakistani schools.
(2)the al jazeera interview of a 3 1/2 year old girl who when asked her opinion of jews said "i hate them." when asked why, she said "because they're pigs and snakes; when asked where she learned that, "from the koran."
(3) the cleric, so respected that he was part of the saudi delegation that visited president bush in crawford who had just a few months before preached a sermon calling for the enslavement of jewish women for the pleasure of muslim men.
(4)my own reading of the koran
(5) my own reading of "in the shade of the koran."
(6) public opinion polls in different arab societies showing support for obl
(7)the censored video of palestinians celebrating in the streets at the news of the 9/11 attacks.

i am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the current mainstream teachings of islam are THE PROBLEM in our war, just as mein kamph was, as william shirer wrote, the blueprint for the nazism.

there is an old islamic saying that "the first person to reason by analogy was the devil." the point is a sound one. i see many similarities between nazism and islam, including the centrality of a basic text. but i know that our war with our current enemy is different and will be fought differently than was wwII.

shirer wrote in "the rise and fall of the third reich" that what amazed him was how closely nazi policy hew to mein kamph and how mein kamph was ignored or explained away or rationalized when, if it had been taken seriously, the west should have taken the threat much more seriously.

"a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing" is another of those bits of fortune-cookie philosophy that i have to keep in mind, and i do. i aware of my "incomplete" education on the issue of islam and the koran's teachings. but i have been overwhelmed by the consistent message i have gained from the koran itself, commentary on it, articles in the popular press, and the anecdotes i've related above.

as president i would want this question addressed exhaustively by my advisors, but on what i know now, i'm convinced.

the next level we must think about for an expanded definition of our enemy under the concept of "militant islam" is the state level.

we have already expanded it to that level. we have warred against afghanistan with world approval.

we have also, more controversially, warred against iraq.

further, president bush included two other countries, north korea and iran as part of the axis of evil that he defined as our enemies.

i reject the inclusion of north korea for reasons stated previously on this website and i believe that that is consistent with the thinking of most serious people.

but what of iran and other states?

iran is certainly a militantly islamic state and one that is believed to possess or trying to possess wmd.

what of libya, which did directly attack the united states, in the panam 103 bombing?

syria? a long-standing member of the u.s. government's list of states who sponsor terrorism.

pakistan? a nuclear power, a country in which the u.s., with the cooperation of the pakistani authorities, captured the number two man in a.q. and in which obl himself is widely believed to be hiding.

saudi arabia? the home of 13 of the 19 9/11 hijackers and the base for wahiddism, the most radical, violent sect of islam.

-benjamin harris

Sunday, May 30, 2004


if i were suddenly made president, what would i do about this war?

the first thing i'd want to be certain about is the definition of our enemy.

the second thing is, what is our enemy's objective?

third would be what our objectives are

fourth would be what i would do to attain those objectives.

in trying to answer both of these questions (which of course have a lot of subparts) i'd want to be clear about my bases for answering them:

(1)what are the facts?
(2)i would want to be exceptionally satisfied in identifying any underlying assumptions and equally certain on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of those assumptions.
(3)besides hard facts, i'd want to know what i know, or believe to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.
(4) besides those, i'd want factors i could be reasonably correct and reasonably incorrect about
(5)in rumsfeldian terms, i'd want to know what the "known unknowns" are.
(6) and what the "unknown unknowns" are.


the dictionary does not help us define, for our purposes, what "enemy" means so i will take it to mean in this context as that group that i as president will mobilize my military to defeat

first let's be satisfied with who our enemy is not.

again, for our purposes here, it is not "terrorism." that's too general. we are not at war with all terrorists everywhere.

I. is it with al qaeda and/or with al qaeda-related or inspired groups?
clearly it is that, but is that all that it is? is that the
extent of our enemy?

II. is it with "militant islam" as some are now saying, and if so,
what is "militant islam?"

III. is it with islam, as i (and almost noone else) have said?

what are the facts on this question of who our enemy is?

I. is our enemy al qaeda and related groups alone?

the fact is we have not been attacked by anyone other than al qaeda, before or after 9/11. that's a strong rebuttable presumption that our enemy should be so properly limited.

the fact also is that al qaeda appears to have metastasized, as in the madrid train bombings but noone has attacked us since 9/11.

what are the assumptions behind our belief that our enemy should be limited only to al qaeda "incorporated?"

one would be that we would expect not to be attacked again once al qaeda is destroyed.

by definition, an expectation can not be known beyond a reasonable doubt. most thinkers and decision-makers believe that destroying al qaeda inc. would not completely end the problem. one can reasonably believe or not believe that. i believe it.

something else we must consider is to what extent we believe that al qaeda is synonomous with osama bin laden. in other words, if we killed/captured obl, would that in itself end al qaeda.

again, a point on which reasonable people can disagree. most informed people believe that that would certainly cripple/retard al qaeda but that there are too many followers out there who have been trained in his philosophy and methods to think that al qaeda would be destroyed if obl were.

one hopeful sign in this regard though is the success that israel has had in stopping/reducing the number of attacks from hamas by assasinating hamas' leaders. EVERYONE agrees that at least in the short term that has worked.

when we get to the second question of what i would do as president to defeat our enemy, might assasination be a tool?

II. is our enemy with "militant islam?"

let's take this as a definition of "militant islam": those who argue for and support al qaeda inc. though they have no participation in its attacks.

in considering expanding the definition beyond a.q.i. we must be aware of a danger that our minds fall into, the slippery slope.

as you move away from facts into things not facts but which you believe beyond a reasonable doubt and from there to things that it is reasonable to believe but also not to believe you get farther and farther away from certainty, a legitimate concern when you're talking about what to kill and be killed for.

equally important though must be the realization that few policy decisions are ever based only on certainty, that it is not only unrealistic to set the bar for action that high but that there can be adverse consequences also.

most sensible people would not want to wait for a direct attack before we responded. this can be but is not intended at this point as an argument for "preemption." it is just to caution about reality.

for example,although there were certainly legitimate grounds for deciding not to assasinate adolph hitler before he got the wehrmacht running on all gears, there are, especially in hindsight, equally legitimate grounds for believing that that would have been the best thing to do, and those "america firsters" who argued that we should not get involved in the european war, have long been relegated to the proverbial dust bin of history.

so expanding the definition of our enemy beyond a.q.i. is frought with difficulty and requires the absolute best set of available facts and the shrewdest judgment in which at every step we must ask ourselves: am i getting too far out on the limb of speculation and conversely am i sticking my head in the sand?

so what are the facts?

there are lots of muslim clerics, political leaders and groups who preach and urge "jihad" on america and the west and have done so for a generation or more.

it is also a fact that obl was directly motivated by these teachings to create al qaeda and to officially and publicly declare war on the united states.

therefore i am exceptionally satisfied that the definition of our enemy should be expanded to include at least some of these persons/groups. but who?

those persons/groups that specifically taught obl? yes in my opinion.

all people who that person/group taught? they would be high on the list.

should we then include different people/groups that preach the same thing to others that he/those preached to obl? probably.

we would be reasonably expanding the conceptual definition of our enemy but at some loss of individualized clarity. who are these people? can they be reasonably identified for attack?

there are going to be some, maybe a lot of people/groups that fall into a gray area: is one speech/sermon/writing enough? probably not.

how many then? dunno. we could reasonably rank them on a scale that would take into account both "quality" (what they say), "quantity" (how often they say it), how extensive their influence is, and whether they practice the violence that they preach.

it would be sort of like the deck of cards on the iraqi leadership, or like nfl draft day. every player gets ranked somewhere between 1-300 and we start at the top.

let's take the concrete example of hezbollah some respected people are saying our enemy should be expanded to include them. they have been taught and teach the same things as al qaeda. they are organized and have carried out deadly attacks against israel, but not against us.

are there any hard facts that hezbollah is going to attack us, join with or actively assist al qaeda, inc. not that i know of.

is it equally reasonable to believe and not believe that hezbollah is going to attack us, join with, or actively assist aqi? at this point based on what i know and don't know i'd have to say it is unreasonable to believe that.

are those things capable of being known? I don't know them, but i do believe that the cognescenti do and i think that if there was evidence that hezbollah was so involved that they would tell us, meaning the american people.

but hezbollah would seem to be at "face card" level in our war, would we really exclude them based on the fact that they haven't attacked us and we know of no support they have given to a.q.i.? are we turning a blind eye? a very difficult problem.

same thing with the madrid bombers.

one of the fudge factors that we would have to employ in making reasonable judgments about things is the risk involved. do we err on the side of caution for our safety with a group like hezbollah and attack them or do we not?

what are the means of attack available to them? do they have or are they seeking wmd? from what i know, a.q. is. is hezbollah? if they are then in my judgment the risk, given the other substantial common ground that they have with a.q. would make me include them in the definition of our enemy.

making judgments about risk, we must also take into account factors such as ease or difficulty in defeating them, the ramifications on other concerns like support at home and abroad for our war, the psychological effect on others who are enemies (i'm thinking here of the effect that our invasion of iraq had on muamar qadaffi), etc.

-benjamin harris

Saturday, May 29, 2004


why do i blog?

one reason is because, as i found out, writing is hard. it is good brain exercise. even as a prosecutor i do it; i write out everything, my voir dire,opening, directs and crosses of witnesses, my closing.

i don't so much outline police reports as i copy them over in my own words.

i do all this, including blogging, because it forces me to slow down and to think.

it also helps improve my vocabulary.

but, so why not just keep a diary or make this blog non-public? because i would not have the discipline to keep at it in those forms.

every medium of communication has it's own particular psychological effect. we talk in a completely different way than we write.

we email in a different way than the pre-internet equivalent, letter-writing.

when i first started this blog i realized that only by making it public would i be able to keep at it because just knowing that the POSSIBILITY existed that someone might read it (1) made me want to keep it current and (2) made me a little more thoughtful in what i wrote.

for every war-post that i actually publish, for example, i leave another or more in draft.

but god, publishing a public blog makes you humble.

i have now been at it 2+ years so i have a body of "work" to look back on and read over.

i feel so, so passionately about the post-9/11 world and i have tried so hard to think deeply about these issues and write thoughtfully.

but when i go back in my archives and read what i've written i get humble. depressed. sick to my stomach. because i've not written well or persuasively, i've come up with no original thoughts; noone is going to read what i've written and think "god, this blogger, this amateur, is really onto something here!"

i've just finished reading WAR AND PEACE, one of the central conclusions of which is that, human events, even individual histories are determined by a larger something so that events are (1) not determined by anything that we intend, and (2) we cannot even understand them; in fact when we do try to understand evemts with our puny tools like science and logic, we get it all wrong.

i have written passionately, bitterly and angrily about the post-9/11 world. i am a middle aged white male. i am therefore the "angry white male" of stereotype. do i have these views inevitably as a consequence of my demographics?

by all measures, i am a reasonably bright, well-educated individual. i am also viewed as more intelligent than most others by most others. why then, despite all my efforts, and some reading to brace my thoughts, have i been able to come up with nothing--forget original--that even convinces my friends?

am i a modern day babbit, locked in genetic mediocrity, destined by demographics to hold the views that i hold, determined by psychological makeup to feel the necessity of inflicting these views on others?

am i living proof of tocueville's warnings about giving voice to those of such modest gifts that all would be better off if they were left voiceless?

i know that one of the pathognomonic signs of schizophrenia grandiose-type is believing that one is correct and the rest of the world is wrong.

the words of john kenneth galbraith that i read 25 years ago in THE NEW REPUBLIC--a critique of whom i do not remember, that "he has the certainty, not of one who knows, but of one who doesn't know that he doesn't know,"--those words often recur to me.

am i the village idiot with only the idiot's hope that sometimes the village idiot is right?

as epileptic fits are sometimes brought on suddenly when the sufferer hears a particular noise, this bilious catharsis was caused by having read my post on "international federalism" that i posted on june 30, 2002.

i worked weeks on that. i see a doctrinal gap in american foreign policy that i consider dangerous. i tried to provide a new doctrine, something like george kennan's famous "mr. x" article that made containment the doctrine of the cold war.

i've felt so strongly about the need for a new doctrinethat i've emailed real thinkers about it, people like david brooks, richard perle, maureen dowd, charles krauthammer. got no response of course.

i've felt so strongly that i've considered advertising my blog, to get someone to read it--not necessarily "international federalism" but my yell that we need a new doctrine-- in the hopes they'd see what i see or at least be stimulated to do something on their own.

but when i re-read "international federalism" it struck me as just vacuous pretension. i would have been embarassed if i had advertised public occurrences and smart people had read it. re-reading it, i am glad that this blog's readership consists only of lost wayfarers on the information highway.

maybe in the future i can point to the current post when the men in white coats come after me with a butterfly net as proof to them that i "am too!" aware of the nature of my mental illness and am not in need of involuntary hospitalization.

but maybe not.

-benjamin harris
gosh dang, just finished reading WAR AND PEACE.

it's hard to even begin a reaction to it, which is common according to john bayley who wrote the intro to the signet edition that i read.

i remember on one of THE TEACHING COMPANY'S tapes, the lecturer, michael sugrue i think, told of a scene in one of woody allen's movies. someone asks, "what is WAR AND PEACE about? and allen's character pauses and says "it's about russia."

it is about russia; and france, and war, and peace, man and woman, marriage, man and god, life, death, and god.

a "wonderful mass of life" is how henry james described it, intended as a put-down according to bayley, because it seemed so shapeless and didn't fit into any standard western literary category.

tolstoy himself categorically denied that it was a novel. it "is what the author wished and was able to express in the form in which it is expressed," is how he described it.

in that sense of being difficult to categorize, of being not quite western and not quite eastern, it is like russia itself.

it is also about BEING russian, about being fatalistic and about suffering, about living in a cold climate and as a consequence of all of these, having a certain coldness about oneself.

but it is not about being pessimistic although there is much that happens in the book that could cause pessimism.

it was surpisingly humane to me and life-affirming. tolstoy's message is that life is good and in life in all of it's forms one can find god.

it is a profoundly spiritual work and is utterly dismissive of attempts to understand events as other than the mysterious work of an unseen almighty.

whether history or logic or science, any attempt by man to explain things comes under withering, contemptuous assault by tolstoy.

the book's setting is the war of 1812 between russia and napoleonic france. the french invasion and the early routs of the russian army are not due to napoleon's greatness or russia's political and military ineptitude. they occurred because they were meant to be and could not have been otherwise under those precise circumstances.

moscow's abandonment by its citizens and the city's burning were not the result of the muscovites cowardice or of their wily strategy. it was what they did and only what they could do.

that the burning of moscow and it's sacking by napoleon's troops turned out to be their denouement, that it resulted, after five weeks of occupation, in their simply leaving the city and beginning the march home, the same: it could not have been otherwise.

there is so much duality in WAR AND PEACE, so many contradictions all to make the point of the meaninglessness of human will and direction and of the purposelessness, as seen from the human perspective, of nation and world-changing events:

-napoleon's triumph in "capturing" moscow was neither a capture nor a triumph but the beginning of the end for him.

-count pierre bezukhov's imprisonment as a p.o.w. is the time in his life when he is, and feels himself to be, the most free.

-only on his deathbed does prince andrei bolkonsky first begin truly to live.

-the lassitude of the russian commander in chief, general kutuzov, becomes the "quality" that lets events of the war run their course and results in the destruction of napoleon's army and the liberation of russia.

-there is compassion shown by captors toward their captives, but in the context of course of war, where thousands are killed and where the captives will eventually die either of starvation, exposure, or exhaustion but also by being mercilessly executed by those who in a different setting had shown them such humanity.

all of this is very zen-like, very consistent with those eastern philosophies that hold that the surest way of never reaching one's goals is to pursue them. and vice versa.

it is only by faith that we can come to understand. in this way tolstoy is very much like soren kierkegaard, utilizing human intellectual constructs like science and logic and all the rest but believing that their utility is confined to circumscribed areas of the human experience.

like WAR AND PEACE, human existence is what god wished and was able to express in the form in which it is expressed.

-benjamin harris

Monday, May 24, 2004

there some pertty, pertty pitchers in this month's vogue.

nicole kidman by irving penn is stupendo. the cover photo is stunning, some of those inside, even more so.

on the cover and on page 263 kidman is wearing this christian lecroix oyster satin gown that is called a "sheath." whatever it's called it's sensational fashion.

the lighting in both photographs is a dramatic background that fades from light-brown/gray to black from right to left.

each of the photos discretely focus on one fashion segment--hair, front of sheath, back of sheath--and the lighting really enhances what's being focused on. in the cover photo it is the incredible huge, jewel-brooched black bow that is the coup de grace of the back of the gown.

the photo on page 262 focuses on the upper back and kidman's hair-do. her back is so strong in that soft, feminine way and her stawberry hair is in a bun that is itself a fashion segment. it looks like a strawberry colored bird's nest. maybe that doesn't sound so beautiful but it really is. great job by the stylist

that same photo also has this cool little hidden gem in it. kidman's face is in barely 1/4 profile from the rear. you see her fine chin but most strikingly, you see on close inspection that her right eyelashes show that she is looking down in demure femininity. wonder if penn told her to look down or it just turned out that way?

you can best see how special the lecroix gown is in the photo on page 263. it is cut so perfectly that it drapes like the fabric is made to look in those ancient greek statues. it seems more substantial than mere fabric, like it was sculpted.

satin also does such wonderful things with light. the folds look buttery or like a waterfall. a sculpted buttery waterfall. or something like that.

on page 260 is a black and white photo with lighting similar to that in the colors and kidman is in a karl lagerfeld outfit consisting of a mannish coat and a flapper-style skirt.

the focus in this photo though is this incredible hat she's wearing. it's by leah c. couture millinery and is bowler-like with feathers drooping over the face. it has a little of the effect of a veil. kidman's eyes look to her right, adding mystery-by-indirection to the mini-veiled effect.

i bet also this is kidman's favorite photo because the black and white and the lighting softly but clearly define the planes and angles of her face so that that face could not look more beautiful.

finally the photograph on p. 259, with the same background lighting in the others, shows the face direct and head-on. you see her stunning blue eyes for the first time and her hair is all teased out so that it looks like flames. what amazing hair. and then her whole head, the eyes, the hair, the face is dramatically framed by a massive, velvety black collar that is part of a valentino cape. jeezus crimminy.

best pitchers in vogue in a long, long time. i bet this issue is gonna be saved by fashion-photog types.

-benjamin harris

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Books: War & Peace

Books: War & Peace

the most meaningful description of the death experience that i have ever read i have read just now in WAR AND PEACE of the death of prince andrei.

it is the leave-taking of the soul from the body and the manifestations of that leave-taking on the physical and on those of the loved ones, here, natasha, prince andrei's lover and princess marya, his sister.

tolstoy's description begins with natasha explaining to marya the course of prince andrie's condition and its ups and downs:

"'but two days ago...THIS suddenly happened.
i don't know why but you will see what i
mean.'" (original emphasis)

it was not a new physical ailment like pneuonia or gangrene that had set in, it was the physical manifestation of the soul's leave-taking.

this is how it looked to princess marya:

"when natasha opened the door...and let
princess marya enter the room...[marya]
understood what natasha meant by the words:
'two days ago THIS suddenly happened.' she
took it to mean that he had suddenly softened
and that this softness and susceptibility were
signs of approaching death."

"'how are you, marie? how did you manage to
get here?' he said in a voice as even and
aloof as his gaze."

"if he had uttered a desperate shriek, that
cry would have been less horrifying to
princess marya than the tone of his voice."

"'and have you nikolushka [his son]'? he
asked in the same deliberate, even tone
and with an obvious effort to remember."

"'how are you now?'" asked princess marya.."

"'that, my dear, you must ask the doctor,"
he replied, and with a manifest effort to
be gracious, and speaking with his lips
only (his mind was clearly not on what he
was saying)..."

"she understood the change that had come
over him two days ago. in his words,
his tone, and above all in his almost
hostile look, could be felt that alienation
from all things earthly that is so terrible
to one who is alive. evidently it was difficult
for him to understand anything living; YET IT
WHOLLY ABSORBED HIM." [emphasis added]

when my mother was dying there was a similar affect. i would say something to her or ask her something and she would say "what?" in an almost annoyed way.

at first i thought she was not hearing. but after awhile i realized that she was not all there, not in the sense that the drugs had made her goofy but in the way tolstoy describes it, that her soul was leaving and she was absorbed in other thoughts.

tolstoy continues on this point:

"...he was indifferent to everything,
indifferent because something of
far greater importance had been
revealed to him."

"the conversation was cold, desultory,
and continually broken off."

"'andrei, would you like...would you like
to see nikolushka? [marya asked]."

"for the first time there was a barely
perceptible smile on prince andrei's face,
but princess marya, who knew his face so
well, saw with horror that it was not
a smile of pleasure or of affection for his
son, but of gentle irony at his sister's
using what she believed to be the ultimate
means of awakening his feelings."

after seeing nikolushka briefly marya began crying in andrei's presence. now tolstoy describes what andrei is thinking and experiencing:

"when princess marya began to cry he
understood that she was crying at
the thought of nikolushka being left
without a father. he made a great effort
to come back to life and see things from
their point of view."

"'yes, to them it must seem sad,'" he thought.
'"but how simple it is!'"

..."'they don't understand that all these feelings
they set such store by--all our feelings,
all those ideas that seem so important to us
DO NOT MATTER. we cannot understand one
another,'" [emphasis in original]

tolstoy continues the description from andrei's perspective:

"[he]...knew...that he was already half
dead. he was conscious of an alienation
from everything earthly, and of a strange
and joyous lightness of being."

"during the hours of solitude, suffering,
and partial delirium that he spent after
he was wounded, the more deeply he reflected
on the principle of eternal love that had
been newly revealed to him, the more he
unconsciously renounced earthly life. to
love everyone and everything, always to
sacrifice oneself for love, meant not to
love any one person, and not to live this
earthly life."

before my mother died she had a presentiment of her death. for many years she had had a recurring dream in which she was standing on the edge of a field and on the opposite end was her father, long dead.

in her dream, her father smiled at her and said "come on, honey; come on, dear." and mum had not gone. she said "daddy, i'm not ready." she told meher father "had put his head down and turned away with the saddest look on his face."

mum always said that she knew that if she had gone to her dad that she would have died. "so you see benjamin, i know that when it's my time, my dad will come for me."

a week before her death, after a couple of days of noticably declining health she had the dream again. she awoke that morning and told my brother, "tim, my dad was here last night." tim asked what she meant and she said "my dad was here, he was in the bed with me all night."

tolstoy describes prince andrei's epiphany:

"...what natasha referred to when she
said: "THIS suddenly happened" had
occurred two days before princess
marya's arrival. it was the final
spiritual struggle between life and

"it happened in the evening." he fell asleep:

"he dreamed he was lying in the room
he actually was in but that he had not
been wounded and was well. a great many
people...appear before him. he talks to
them...they are preparing to go away...
gradually,imperceptibly, all these persons
begin to disappear, and are supplanted by
a single problem: the closed door."

"he gets up and goes to the door to bolt
and lock it, EVERYTHING depends on whether
he succeeds in locking it in time."

"he starts toward it... but his legs will
not move...IT stands behind the door....
that ominous something is alreay pressing
against it and forcing its way in. something
inhuman--death--is breaking in and must be

"his efforts are feeble and ineffectual...
once more IT pushed from outside...IT
entered, and it was DEATH. and prince
andrei died."

as with my mother's epiphany though, that was just THE SIGN. neither my mother nor tolstoy's character actually physically died at that moment although both were aware that IT was now irrevocable:

"but at the very moment he died,
prince andrei remembered that he
was asleep, and at that very moment,
having exerted himself, awoke."

"'yes, that was death. i died--and i awoke.
yes, death is an awakening!"

"and his soul was suddenly sufused with
light..and from then on that strange
lightness did not leave him again."

"this is what happened to him two days
before princess marya's arrival."

"with his awakening from sleep that day,
there began for prince andrei an awakening
FROM life." [emphasis added]

my mother went quietly at about 6 am on april 5, which had been my father's birthday. lucy, our hospice nurse, called tim and told him she thought he should come over because mum had stopped breathing.


"when he was in the last throes and the
spirit left the body, princess marya and
natasha were present."

"'is it over?'" asked princess marya after
the body had lain motionless for some moments,
growing cold before their eyes."

"natasha went up to it, looked into the dead
man's eyes and quickly closed them."

i was not present when my mother died but i had been present for the events after THE SIGN, had flown back home and then came back up the day she died.

i got to her house a little before dusk. i entered the house, empty except for her cocker spaniel.

buddy greeted me in his usual friendly way. i went through the kitchen and stood at the entrance to the hallway that led down to mum's bedroom.

buddy had scampered ahead of me and was standing at the entrance to the bedroom, looking into the room where mum had so recently lain, and then looking at me,looking into the empty room and then back at me.

i wept as i walked down the hallway and when i entered the bedroom and saw her hospice bed gone but the imprints on the carpet that the legs of the bed had left were still there.

i smelled her smell still in the room and saw her clothes. i wept when i went into her bathroom and saw everything just as it had been a few days before and yet with everything irrevocably different now.

mum was 85, had survived skin cancer, two episodes of breast cancer, bladder cancer and had finally succumbed to liver cancer.

i wept of course because she was my mother and because i missed her and felt the loss so much. but i also wept because of the strange, awesome death process that i had witnessed. it was like as tolstoy describes the feelings of natasha and princess marya:

"[they]also wept now, but not because
of their personal grief; they wept
out of a reverent emotion that filled
their souls before the solemn mystery
of a death that had been consummated
in their presence."

-benjamin harris

"What a Wonderful World" Department

"What a Wonderful World" Department

Dave johnson's horse racing calls. I was coming home from work last Saturday, turned on sportsradio and it happened just about to be post-time at the preakness.

The start was delayed and then delayed again and again. Then they had trouble getting some horse in the gate. I was already home by now but just drove around the block in circles so I wouldn't miss Johnson's call.

Finally the race started. Johnson not only has a signature phrase but he also calls a very good race. You can see the race through your radio. Very articulate too. No stumbles, no mispronunciations. And then,


Gave me a tingle down my spine. Always does.

-Benjamin Harris

Friday, May 21, 2004

was just spending my 15 minutes a day channel surfing and reminding myself how exasperating tv is when i happened onto clinton's speech at the university of kansas today on c-span.

what an amazing, amazing man he is. his ability to communicate and connect is just incredible.

he thinks "big thoughts," like at his renaissance weekends, and even though his communication skills were, of course, evident during his presidency, you don't often have the luxury of giving big thought speeches when you have to deal with mundane matters like the budget and getting your ass impeached.

today at ku, with no portfolio, with no election to think about, with none of the minutia of the capitol to occupy his time, he just talked, it appeared without notes.

i just saw the last maybe 15 minutes of his speech but the general topic was apparently how he thought we could best deal with terrorism. i'm sure he touched all the common military issues but his larger point was that we had to change the way we think.

as he said, "this is going to sound a little flaky, but i believe it." he recounted a white house evening with bennet cerf and some harvard biologist/geneticist. what a pairing, and he said that of all the interesting things that were said that night, the most striking for him was that the biologist said that all human beings are 99.99% genetically identical.

ok, it is a little twee and his point is obvious. we have to come up with ways to identify with others based on that 99.99% commonality and not let the .01% blind us. "the next time you want to demonize somebody, think of that," he said.

i don't know, maybe it's just because i'm so sick of hearing bush and the contrast in intellectual depth was so stark, (and maybe because i was on adderal) but the esp-like connection he always made with people just came right through the tv screen. for the people watching and hearing him in person, it was always said he was even more "connective."

such a complex man psychologically. the inclusiveness theme obvious to a first year psych student as the product of trying to keep a family with an alcoholic, abusive father together. the bizarre, near death-wish risk taking that he engaged in.

but man, how gifted and how brilliant. he was an incredible politician and a great president. i miss him.

-benjamin harris

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

why does the new york times continue to give a forum to william safire?

his hiring was widely believed to be the result of an affirmative action program for conservatives, to put a voice from the right on the op-ed page to counter right-wing charges of liberal bias.

even at the time i thought the choice an odd one. safire was a political hack, a nixon lackey, the author of spiro agnew's rants against the "nattering nabobs of negativism," and such like. there was really noone better?

alliterative political red-meat is not the same thing as astute commentary or good writing and safire has little in the way of either of those.

above all, he is a writer who lacks intellectual honesty. he is incapable of admitting that he is, or ever has been, wrong.

he defends to this day nixon and his association with him, agnew and his association with him.

after 9/11 he was nattering nabob number one in publicizing a czech intelligence report that one of the 9/11 operatives, i believe mohammad atta, had met with an iraqi diplomat in prague.

the reported meeting did, as it should have, generate much follow-up investigation by czech and u.s. intel officials.

when these investigations began to raise doubts that the meeting occurred, safire continued to make the assertion and started hinting at a coverup and conspiracy.

when the story was finally discredited safire persisted, raising the volume of his voice to compensate for its lack of substance and now bitterly complained of a coverup (and HE should know cover-up).

the safire m.o. is to build an argument on sketchy facts or half-truths and then to respond with attacks of incompetence or duplicity on anyone who disagrees with the argument or who questions the underlying facts.

today he's at it again, this time on the news that an artillery shell found in iraq may contain the nerve agent sarin. this column is safire at his shrill, conspiratorial, insinuating, ad hominem, denying, worst.

knowing the factual insufficiency of his argument he starts with the attack:

"you probably missed the news because it
didn't get much play..."

so right off the bat we're conditioned that something fishy is going on here. there is "news" and "it didn't get much play." the implication is that a REVELATION is forthcoming and that others in the media didn't give it the attention it deserved because of incompetency or worse.

in the same sentence he then begins to lay out his "case":

"...a small, crude weapon of mass destruction
may have been used by saddam's terrorists
in iraq this week."

well the FACT (which you may have missed because he doesn't give it much play) is that an artillery shell was ACCIDENTALLY DETONATED by AMERICAN SOLDIERS and that the powder inside was a BINARY compound that included small amounts of sarin.

lest the evil be missed the next paragraph makes it with the subtlety of a sledgehammer: sarin was first developed by the nazis and was used by japanese terrorists in the subway attack of a few years ago.

to label this ONE shell as a "weapon of mass destruction" is irresponsible and typical of safire's method. take a small fact and exaggerate it into a larger evil.

and those who point this out, those who say "one or two poison-gas bombs USED SO FAR does not a 'stockpile' make"? they are "our lionized apostles of defeat."

that is just outrageous. first, the ONE found so far was not "USED." WE, U.S. soldiers ACCIDENTALLY DETONATED IT!. and second those who disagree are subjected to an ad hominem attack.

"you never saw such a rush to dismiss this
as not news," noting that usatoday saw fit to bury the story on page ten as a "brushoff."

he then writes:

"u.n. weapons inspectors whose reputations
rest on denial of saddam's wmb pooh-poohed
the report. 'it doesn't strike me as a big
deal,' said david kay."

so anyone who disagrees that this is big news is dismissed as trying to save his reputation.

but there may be something more malicious in that paragraph. wasn't david kay the U.S. weapons inspector? wasn't he OUR, the U.S.'s, the bush administration's, weapons inspector?

if i'm wrong, if kay was a u.n. guy, then safire is still attacking those who disagree with him for being more concerned with their careers than the truth but if kay was, as i remember, a U.S. inspector then that entire sentence is so malicious and so misleading that it should never have made it past the editors of any respectable newspaper, much less those of the new york times.

more attacks: "even the defense department," "on the defensive, STRAINED not to appear alarmist, saying confirmation was needed for the field tests." so waiting until confirmatory tests are done before telling the world that a WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION has been found is "straining," it's the result of a defenive, timid dod. rummy has been accused of a lot of things, timidity has never been one of them.

he then lists "the Four noes" of "the defeatists' platform, the first one of which is that no wmd were found in iraq. to that he says bizarrely that even at this late date it is a rush to judgement if "the absence of evidence is taken to be evidence of absense," and that "when the pendulum has swung" and today's "cut-and-runners" are shown to be wrong there will be books written about this and "these MAY WELL reveal the successful concealment of wmd, as well as prewar syria..."

further, "in a sovereign and free iraq, when...scientists are fearful of being tried as prewar criminals their impetus will be to sing--and point to caches of anthrax and other mass killers."

what can you say about that? the guy is in denial, he is intellectually dishonest, his argument is now being based, not even on half-truths, but on speculation into the future. opinionist or not, he should have no right to write such rubbish in a respectable newspaper.

maybe the times is getting tired of his irrational act. in an unusual move, it issued an editorial to accompany safire's irresponsible screed. after giving a fairer treatment of the facts it refers to "the dwindling band of die-hards who remain convinced that mr. hussein squirreled away stockpiles of illicit weapons..."

members of that irresponsible, dwindling band should not be given a forum in the "gray lady."

-benjamin harris

Friday, May 14, 2004

those most basic principles show iraq, and brooks' commentary on iraq in a new light. the muddled thinking and writing on iraq are part of a larger muddle on foreign policy doctrine.

in 1989 the cold war ended but america's thinkers did not replace george kennan's cold war doctrine of containment with a new doctrine to meet the new world. we responded reactively and tentatively, sometimes with trial ballons of a new world order, but mostly with keeping on keeping on. bob dole said after the implosion of the soviet union, "this is no time to be cutting military spending." oh,why not? we never had a debate on that.

we maintained, and still maintain, cold war structures and alliances fifteen years after their raison d'etre ended. nato has been expanded rather than disbanded. we have kept our treaty obligations to defend taiwan and south korea even though an attack on either, horrendous though it would be, certainly does not have the meaning that would have had during the cold war.

we went along piecemeal in our responses to world crises. we intervened in bosnia and in haiti, two ultimately bloodless forays but without any overarching answer to the question "why?"

9/11 came along and showed that that question and its answer were not just academic. we had/we have, no doctrine for understanding and framing a response to 9/11.

president bush said immediately thereafter that our war was not with islam. why not? we never had a debate on that either.

so we hit afghanistan, a no-brainer as the home of the taliban which housed al qaeda. but from the beginning the president defined the war broader, as a war on terrorism and rumsfeld immediately wanted to strike somewhere else. why? the only reason was that he didn't want all of our eggs to be in one basket, he didn't want the success of our initial response to be defined by what we did in a place where the word "quagmire" had been accurately used to describe the soviet's venture.

so he asked if 9/11 hadn't given us the "opportunity" to hit iraq. that was the extent of the thinking that went into it. we needed to diversify our portfolio. let's take a swing at hussein. we've been there and done that, we can do it again.

i do not fault the administration for invading iraq. i supported the war and i believe that we are marginally better off today than we were with hussein in power but the lack of doctrine has led to confused thinking about how success of that mission should be defined, of why we really did it, of what we really accomplished, and what we should do next.

bush has, justifiably taken hits for basing the war on hussein's non-existent possession of weapons of mass destruction.

other conservative thinkers wanted to ground the war in a higher moral purpose, the liberation of iraq, on establishing a "shining city on the hill" as a model for arab democracy.

the president took up the cudgel. when baghdad fell his father called him to congratulate. "it's a great day for america," said bush41. "it's a great day for the people of iraq," said bush43.

the raison d'etre for the war had shifted or had been augmented by liberation thinking, which is exactly the kind of "nation-building" that bush and the conservatives had dismissed liberals as proposing.

without wmd though they were left with a pale horse indeed to ride strategically and so reacted ad hoc, as american foreign policy had been doing since 1989.

so you have the startling situation of neocons like brooks and protocons like william safire both proclaiming that success in iraq will be defined by the establishment of a democracy there.

where did the conserative focus on national security at all costs--of real politik, of the difference between authoritarin regimes and totalitarian regimes, of the difference between "our" dictators and "their" dictators--where did all of that go?

it went out the window in 1989 and wasn't replaced by any new doctrine.
david brooks is "crushingly depressed" over the events of the last few weeks and of the situation in post-war iraq generally.

william safire attempts to lift the spirits of hawks like him and brooks, "those...who believe in the nobility of exporting freedom," under the headline "hold fast, idealists."

maureen dowd unloads on "the administration's demented quest to conquer arab hearts and minds," with their fixation on "making the middle east look more like america..."

it is disturbing to read brooks writing squishy things like "we were blinded by idealism," "we can't do good without losing our innocence," and there's still a chance, if elections are held that "we will have succeeded in doing what we set out to do."

it is shocking to read an old manicheanistic hardliner like safire buy into these terms of debate by chasting brooks and his old weekly standard crowd by reassuring them that "hope for iraqi freedom is in the wings. wait and see."

it is crushingly depressing to be in agreement with maureen dowd (whose email address, b.t.w., is "").

let's be clear about what should be and then proceed from there.

america should not involve itself militarily in another country, much less wage war, unless its national security is threatened. period.

america won the war in iraq. our military goal was to affect regime change and to capture or kill saddam hussein. we accomplished that.

that should have been the definition of success that all hawks should have accepted.

however, there is no post-9/11 conservative foreign policy doctrine any more than there is a liberal doctrine.

that is what has changed most alarmingly since sept. 11. before that, or i would argue, before 1989, the conservatives had a foreign policy doctrine, a resolute containment of communism first articulated by george kennan.

through the pressures of the sixties and seventies they persevered while the democrats floundered about, lurching from neo-isolationism to nation-building as a justification for military intervention.

since 1989 however, conservatives have kept working within the cold war structures, as by say, expanding nato when the entire justification for the alliance ceased to exist, without changing doctrine to fit a new world and by acting, and reacting, after 9/11 without any doctrinal superstructure.

the point is not just an intellectual one any more than capitalism was just an economic theory or das kapital just a political science book. doctrine dictates policy which dictates strategy which dictates tactics.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

The Night Vigil, Shen Zhou

The Night Vigil, Shen Zhou

"On a cold night sleep is very sweet. I woke in the middle of the night, my mind clear and untroubled, and as I was unable to go to sleep again, I put on my clothes and sat facing my flickering lamp. On the table were a few folders of books. I chose a volume at random and began to read, but tiring I put down the book and sat calmly doing nothing. A long rain had newly cleared, and a pale moon was shining through the window. All around was silence."

"Then after a long time absorbing the fresh brightness, I gradually became aware of sounds. Listening to the rustling of the wind stirring the bamboo gave one the feeling of going bravely and unwaveringly onward. Hearing the harsh snarling of dogs gave feelings of barring out evil, of opposing marauders. Hearing the sound of drums, large and small--the small ones thin, and the far ones clear and deep and uninterrupted--stirred restless thoughts that were lonely and sad. The official drum was very close, from three beats, to four and then five, gradually faster, hastening the dawn. Suddenly in the northeast the sound of a bell, a bell pure and clean through rain-cleared air, and hearing it, came thoughts of waiting for the dawn, rising and doing. It was inevitable."

"My nature is such as to enjoy sitting in the night. So I often spread a book under the lamp going back and forth over it, usually stopping at the second watch. Man's clamor is not at rest, and yet the mind is bent on learning. Seldom does he find the outside calm and the inner world at peace."

"Now tonight all sounds and shapes bring this stability and calm. Thus can one purify the mind and spirit and realize one's will. But one should remember that it is not that at other times these sounds and shapes do not exist like this, nor that they do not reach the eye and ear of man, but that appearance is the servant of a thing, and yet hastens to follow it."

"True perception through hearing lies concealed in sound like that of a drum and bell, whereas perception through seeing is hidden in any pattern. Thus things usually harm rather help men. Often is it like tonight's sounds and shapes, for they are really no different from other times, and yet striking the ear and eye they become so firmly and wonderfully a part of me. And so this existence of sounds and patterns is not what prevents me from gaining wisdom; for things are not enough to enslave men."

"When sound is broken and shape shattered and the will rises free, what is this will? Is it within? Or is it without? Or is it in a thing? Or does it cause the thing to be? Is there not a way of defining the difference? Most certainly, and I perceive the difference."

"How great is the strength to be gained sitting in the night. Thus, cleansing the mind, waiting alone through the long watches by the light of the candle becomes the basis of an inner peace and of an understanding of things. This, surely, I will attain."

-Shen Zhou, the calligraphy he put on his painting "The Night Vigil" (1492; in The Three Perfections by Michael Sullivan.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

manchester city should fire manager kevin keegan.

this will be considered sacrilege because city has just clinched a third straight season in the premiership but this "underachieving, sorry" team, in the words of espn's soccernet, should never have been in the position of having to fight for survival, perhaps literally, down to the 36th game of the season.

this is "king kev's" third year at the helm of the blues and he has two years left on his contract. immediately after being promoted from the nationwide league two years ago, city was thought to be so talented and so well-coached that some predicted qualifying for the champion's league. they finished 9th last year--and that only after a late season flourish--and 17th this year.

this despite the proverbial carte blanche that was given keegan to get the talent he desired, and the fact that city moved into a brand new facility this year, guaranteeing a substantial increase in revenue. keegan spent widely and often, buying steve mcmanaman, david seamen, claudia reyna, paulo wanchope, and most notoriously robbie fowler. stealing from some wag, the city board gave keegan an unlimited budget and he exceeded it. if city had been relegated this year it might well have meant the bankruptcy of the team, so great were its wage debts, combined with its mortgage payments. as my criminal law professor used to say, "i could have lost that case for a lot less money."

keegan made his reputation as a master motivator at newcastle united where he took the magpies to second place in the premiership. he then was honored with the coaching position of england's national team but that foray ended with the infamous, ignoble 1-0 defeat to germany.

if motivation is keegan's coin of the realm that currency has been seriously devalued by his performance at city. there is far too much talent on this team for them to have finished 9th last year, much less 17th this year. the team has been maddeningly inconsistent, winning the manchester derby last year, drawing this year, but inexcusably losing at home to vastly inferior squads both years. the low point was its 3-1 debacle against southhamptom at eastlands late this season, a match of supreme importance to the blues. the supreme motivator's team looked scared and tentative, not only in that match but for much of the season. as of this writing, city has as many wins at eastlands as on the road. inexcusable.

the turning point was his signing of robbie fowler from cash-strapped leeds late last season. fowler played for keegan's english national team and at one time was a superstar in the making, a dangerous and prolific goal scorer. city won a big match right before the signing, in fact when it looked like the deal would fall through, but right after getting fowler, city began its late season swoon and the underachievement and inconsistency just continued this season.

keegan has always put a premium on scoring--which was the reason for the fowler signing--to the detriment of defense and that deficiency has shown itself this year especially. at times city has been a sieve. and fowler has not near made up for the defensive deficiencies by goal scoring. he has been near invisible and has been benched both seasons. his signing has been an unmitigated failure and keegan, naturally, has stood by his man, reluctant to admit failure.

fowler was also subtraction by addition because it resulted in the replacement and eventual release of city legend shaun goater, who was the hero of last season's victory over manchester united.

the city board should step in now, for the immediate and long-term survival of the club in the premiership. selling off fowler and wanthrope and replacing them with hungry "muckers" as they would be called in hockey not only makes financial but football sense. that will not happen however as long as "the boss" is in charge, which means king kev should be the first one to get the axe.

seventeenth place? i could have coached them to that, and for a lot less money

-benjamin harris