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