Friday, December 09, 2005

"The Cold Fusion Yo-Yo"

"The Cold Fusion Yo-Yo"

"by Duncan, a high-tech precision 62g aircraft aluminum yo-yo with steel ballbearigs. World record 7 minute spins. Red and black special edition limited to 1600 pieces. $90 plus $6.00 S&H."
"Infinite Illusions"

This page did not go looking for the above. As with "Dead Sparrow Overshadows Domino World" it simply appeared in perusal of mainstream pubs.

(ASIDE: perusal has to be the only word in the English language with two opposite meanings. The first, preferred, usage is to read thoroughly. The second, discouraged, but much more common, is to skim.)

"Cold Fusion Yo-Yo" was encountered in a quick thumbing of a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Even moreso than with "Dead Sparrow" the mind cracked when stumbling across "Cold Fusion Yo-Yo."

"Cold Fusion" is as synonymous with scientific quackery as perpetual motion machines. When conjoined with "Yo-Yo," itself a substitute for daft-ness, the implication is of something with the gravitas of the pet rock, or a spoof in the spirit of Orson Welles.

Perhaps it is, since the undersigned will not be paying $90 + S&H to find out.

Perhaps it is a goof on the middle-brow readership of The New Yorker, or a hermeneutic for that ethnological subgroup.

It says here though that it is not a goof. However, there is cultural meaning.

The undersigned believes that if you send the money to "Yo-Yo guy" at "Infinite Illusions" you will get the objet d'art pictured in the ad. I believe that the object is truly manufactured by Duncan, which is to the manufacture of Yo-Yo's what Apple is to the manufacture of personal computers.

In the undersigned's (childhood) experience, a Yo-Yo by other than Duncan was the equivalent of wearing "sneakers" by other than Converse, that is, an irrebuttable presumption that you ate paste made of nose dirt and still slept with your mommy.

It is inconceivable to the undersigned that Duncan would lend itself to a goof like this here.

Too, the specs of this object, "62 g aircraft aluminum," and "steel ball-bearings" has the ring of validity, as appealing to those of normal I.Q. but super-normal bank balances and super-super-normal social ambition,; to those who want "the best," who get their gifts and their gift-giving ideas from The Sharper Image, who pay super-normal prices to buy their normal I.Q.'d children admission to The Dalton School and like that.

In short, this object seems to have been marketed to it's perfect target audience.

All of this still seems to leave unexplained the object's description. A "cold fusion yo-yo" would seem to raise red flags with even non-Mensa members but even the undersigned (who is NOT eligible for Mensa membership) knows of the snake-oil reputation of cold fusion.

The description is alerting enough that the undersigned can imagine questions of the type, "Geoff dear, what is cold fusion?," but the undersigned cannot imagine even know-it-all men like Geoff replying with, "Why, it's the newest advance in Yo-Yo's Heather, you dumb-ass. I read about it last month in Men's Health."

But it must be so because Duncan is the manufacturer and a journal with the social standing and ambition of The New Yorker would not allow itself to be so hood-winked.

The undersigned has to believe that there is such a critical mass of dumb-asses out there, and that they read The New Yorker in such numbers, as to make the cold-fusion yo-yo the perfect holiday gift for the likes of Geoff and Heather.

Which is why the undersigned is reconsidering his opposition to the death penalty, nay to mass murder.

-The Undersigned

Monday, December 05, 2005

Books and Covers

Books and Covers

During the transition from the Carter to the Reagan administration William F. Buckley, Jr. said that he anticipated that there would be less hugging and cheek-kissing between the new American president and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union than there had been previously.

Buckley went on to wonder aloud about the psychology behind this literal embrace of the dictator of a hostile superpower by the leader of the Free World.

Jimmy Carter's insouciance was part of the reason for his desire for a personal bonding with Leonid Brezhnev but there has always been the belief in diplomacy that a personal connection can lead to greater understanding and hence to conflict resolution.

The opposite is also felt to be true, personal animus makes dealing with the issues that are really at stake more difficult.

The perils of following these truisms need no itemization. As a conscious act of diplomacy personal friendliness as a means to the strategic end of conflict resolution is a proven failure.

It is not a rational act, or at least not just a rational act. It is purely an emotional human thing.

People want to like other people and to be liked by them. When we meet political figures whose views we share we want to have that political commonality conjoined with personal warmth. When we meet those with whom we disagree politically we often experience dissonant feelings if they have pleasant personalities.

I met William Kristol and Maureen Dowd at a bookfair recently.

One's political leanings--as opposed sometimes to one's views on a particular issue--are more instinctive than studied. Genes, upbringing, family, friends, teachers--and some facts--produce an inclination that is perhaps dignified by the term "world-view" but is something like that.

In me those factors have formed an opinionated, confrontational, angry, yelling, right-leaning, curious, reasonably bright, pretty well-read, pretty standard-issue, know-it-all American male.

My world-view is approximate to that of William Kristol. Kristol's avuncular TV persona is reinforcing to this political commonality.

I cannot ever remember a political issue on which I have identified with Maureen Dowd and her op-ed persona grates on me, as it does on many, especially on men. She was at the bookfair promoting her book "Are Men Necessary?"

My girlfriend holds dual French and American citizenship. She moved to the U.S. at 13, and is strong, intelligent, highly analytical, empathetic and modest in stating her political opinions on specific issues.

Her world view is that of a left-leaning Democrat.

When my girlfriend and I went over the book fair agenda I had enthusiastically circled Kristol's talk, to which she assented (by silence). She is still personally fond enough of me to sit peaceably with me through a talk by William Kristol.

Dowd and Kristol spoke on the same day in the same lecture room. Dowd's talk was before Kristol's.

Dowd was bright, witty, personable, generous with her questioners, modest. In an admittedly gender-engendered reaction she was also attractive. She has a beautiful face and gorgeous Irish red hair but I had seen pictures of her before. It was her personality that added so much to her attractiveness.

Curiously I didn't take any note of her figure until Lorna and I got to the front of the book-signing line. I leaned over the table behind which she was seated to ask her if she had heard about the domino-toppling Dutch sparrow and noted that she was wearing a pretty low-cut top that highlighted a full bosom.

During her thirty minute talk Dowd mentioned her mother, who died over the summer, three times. The references were appropriately placed in her talk but after two it was clear that she was still deeply affected by it. At the third mention her voice almost cracked.

The reserved, almost shy, way in which she looked at my girlfriend and me was so natural and unaffected. She responded to my sparrow news alert with nothing in particular, something like "No I hadn't heard of that. I'll have to check that out when I get done here," but it was not dismissive. It was not delighted but it was responsive.

The tone of her reply, the way she looked at us and the tone and content of her talk all suggested to me, correctly or incorrectly, that she was feeling vulnerable, maybe even clinically depressed. She was just so human.

I ran into Kristol as he was entering the lecture hall. He is short of stature which I hadn't expected.

"Mr. Kristol it's a pleasure to meet you," I said.

"Bill Kristol," he replied distractedly as if he was introducing himself to me and hadn't heard that I had just used his name so as to make it unnecessary for him to repeat it. He made only the briefest, most flitting eye contact.

Before Kristol spoke I gave Lorna a brief bio of him which was self-satisfyingly echoed by the man who introduced Kristol. "Bill Kristol is the editor of the most influential, most read magazine in Washington..."

The editor of the most influential magazine in Washington then gave a thirty minute talk exclusively promoting a book which was a compendium of essays from his magazine's first ten years; a Greatest Hits of The Weekly Standard. It was a bit crass.

There was nothing about "the state of the world" or even of current Washington, D.C. in his talk. No insight from one so influential with the Bushies. The smiles that he sprinkles about frequently when he speaks, which are so effective a part of his TV package, appeared more like facial tics in person. They were displayed randomly, often non sequiters to the subject.

I grew restless, impatient and then embarrassed. My girlfriend, with her world view, not wanting to rub it in, sat beside me respectfully in silence but this time it was not a silence of assent. Finally I voiced the frustration that we both felt at this disappointing presentation.

After his talk was over I attempted to speak to him.

"Mr. Kristol, do you have time for a question or do you have to go?"

"Well, I think I have to go to the book-signing," he said with the same distraction and disinterest.

My political leanings didn't change from approximate to Kristol to approximate to Dowd as a result of meeting these two cognoscenti but I'd sure rather my girlfriend and I have Maureen Dowd over for dinner than William Kristol.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On "Dead Sparrow Overshadows Domino World"

On "Dead Sparrow Overshadows Domino World"

I did not know that there was a "Domino World."

I have heard of a "Raider Nation," I was aware that there were groups of people dedicated to coin collecting, bird watching, surviving cancer and drunk drivers, sexual bondage (dedicated to, not surviving, I think), but I did not know of a "domino world."

I know where Holland is, I know that it's people are called Dutch, I don't know why the people of Holland are called Dutch though, I know of their windmills and wooden shoes, I know Amsterdam is their capital, that it has a famous red light district and a museum dedicated to Van Gogh. But I did not know that Holland was the, or a, center of this domino world.

I don't know why Holland would be a center of a domino world, if it is a national pastime, or if there's some hermeneutic wood thing between the shoes and the domino.

I had never considered the Dutch to be obsessive or prone to overreaction. My image of them had been as a placid, content, moderate people. I had no referent for a Dutch psyche that would attempt to break the world record for domino falling, or for it being televised, or for it being taken so seriously that a wayward bird would be extinguished for interfering, or for the shooter to receive death threats, for the creation of an impromptu web site on the incident, for 5,000 Dutch to sign a condolence card for the bird, for the head of a Dutch bird group to appeal to the people of Holland for calm.

I did not know.

The bird was the common sparrow, officially on some endangered list in Holland, but one whose even current diminished numbers were still 1,000,000 mating COUPLES.

I don't know what the Dutch reaction to the killing of a domino-interfering Bald Eagle or Ivory-billed Woodpecker would have been.

I don't know why this story appeared on

There are so many aspects to this: the true nature of the inscrutable Dutch; the limits of one person's, or one people's, ability truly to understand another; the limits of knowledge generally; trans-species empathy; the allure of falling dominos; air-pistol control; what passes for culture; what passes for entertainment; the qualifications of the person who edits; the concept of responsible journalism; the impact of televised violence.

I do not know.

-Benjamin Harris

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"Dead Sparrow Overshadows Domino World"

"Dead Sparrow Oveshadows Domino World"

Linguists like Noam Chomsky have given examples of meaningless sentences that can be constructed by using the rules of the language.

The dead sparrow sentence above is not one of these however.

It was the title of an article on a couple of days ago.

Clicking on the article I learned that some Dutch TV station had been trying to break its own record for falling dominos when the doomed sparrow accidentally knocked one over causing 23,000 others to fall before the China Syndrome was stopped.

A security guard then shot the bird dead with an air pistol and the TV station went on to break the record with over 4,000,000 dominos falling.

The assasination of the bird had been witnessed by a crowd however and they were distraught by the incident, hence the "overshadowing."

A web site was instantly created and over 5,000 people signed a petition in memory of the bird.

The marksman received death threats.

The head of a Dutch bird group called for channeling the passion into constructive efforts to save birds and urged calm in the nation.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Art and Science Piece; Abstract, Draft One

Art and Science Piece; Abstract, Draft One

Economically, militarily, technologically, scientifically and culturally America is to varying degrees the world's only superpower today. In all of these areas America inherited the tradition of the West and built upon it.

This Western Way separated Man and Nature as a unity by making Man an observer and Nature the observed.

It separated Man himself as an intellectual, physical, and spiritual unity by elevating the intellectual over the spiritual.

It separated man's unity as a physical being with five senses by elevating the sense of sight over the others.

From the Renaissance onward the West's goal has been to pursue a complete "accounting for," which became for it the Truth.

While breaking the unity of Man and Nature, and of Man himself, the West united two separate things, method and outcome.

The Western Way was method-driven and outcome-neutral. The method, scientific inquiry, was to be followed and by definition truth would result. The method could not be questioned and so the outcome could not be questioned. Thus method became outcome, description became meaning, [and meaning--truth--became description.]

Until after the beginning of the Renaissance, the Western Way also united the separate disciplines of art, philosophy, and science. All pursued the same goal and used the same, scientific, method. The spiritual and emotional components of art and philosophy, like those of man, were subsumed to their scientific components and to scientific purpose.

In the Arts, poetry and music were comparatively devalued to painting. Painting was intellectual and could pursue the West's goal of description while music and poetry were spiritual, and could not.

The West strove for this truth, this perfect description, and in its pursuit of the perfect description only perfect subjects were painted. Human beings only in perfect, youthful, physical appearance--that is no "real" human beings at all, but rather idealized forms of human beings--were painted.

The Western Way thus further abstracted--removed--Man from its method, which was its meaning, which was its Truth. This idealized human form, this meaning, this truth, was Beauty and it became the measure of a painting's greatness.

Working in tandem with science, painting, the West's premier art form, the most advanced of the West's disciplines, achieved its goal of verisimilitude during the Renaissance. A completed paradigm had been accomplished and western painting and science thereafter diverged.

They diverged because western painting's brief had been so modest, which is not to devalue its achievement. Western painting's goal had been to describe, mirror, or copy, to account for:

(1) the physical world removed from the spiritual, that is as man and nature separated.
(2) to so account for the physical world as comprehended only by man's sight, not by any of his other senses in combination, not by the sight of people in other cultures and not by any other species--e.g. eagles, bats, dolphins--and any of their senses.

After the Renaissance western science pushed its goal beyond the human ocular to the sub and super ocular.

In western art Rembrandt began to push painting into a more spiritual direction. His portraits aimed at revealing more of the spirit or character of the person rather than a purely physical, or physically idealized, form. Rembrandt painted his human subjects with less beauty.

Philosophy broke with science in the late 18th c when Kant succeeded in his argument that it was a "foundational" discipline.

In contrast to this Western Way is the Chinese civilization which existed as an island in relation to the West.

China's Zen religion is method-neutral and outcome-driven, the opposite of the Western Way.

Chinese art forms were valued more for their spiritual component than in the West. Music was valued more highly. "The Three Perfections" in Chinese art were painting, poetry and calligraphy. Painting and poetry had the same status, the opposite as in the West and precisely because of their spiritual component.

In Chinese painting the spiritual was elevated over the intellectual, again the opposite as in the West. A Chinese painting's quality was evaluated by reference to six factors. First was "spirit consonance," sixth was verisimilitude.

The apex of verisimilitude, as devalued in Chinese painting, was reached during the Sung dynasty between the late tenth and thirteenth centuries. The apex of verisimilitude, more valued, in the West occurred in the fifteenth century.

China and the West existed as islands in relation to each other. The social, political and economic influences were different yet after reaching its apex of verisimilitude Chinese painters began painting in a style that has been explicitly analogized to that of the Impressionists and to the post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne.

Despite being an island, China had its "Renaissance" in verisimilitude, but two-five centuries before the West's Renaissance. Despite being an island, China had "Impressionism" and "post-Impressionism" after its renaissance but two-three centuries before the West had its Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Art Piece, Draft Two, Part Two

Art Piece, Draft Two, Part Two

A passenger on one of the first trains in England breathlessly wrote to her mother about what it was like for a human being to move at 35 mph. The English countryside became a blur, moving by too fast for the human eye to focus. Humans had not just conquered nature, they were in a real sense outside of it. They were observers but speed had negated their ability to even see, the one sense that the Western Way was based on.

Near the end of the post-Renaissance/pre-Impressionist art period, and two-thirds the way through the Industrial Revolution itself, technological science gave Western man the camera. Among other things the camera allowed human beings to stop time.

Not since the days when scientists like Leonardo were working on their discoveries in human optics, perspective, and anatomy had a scientific advance had such an effect on Western art. However, the effect was not the result of science and art working synergistically as in the past; like all other areas of human activity, art was changed by science as an external force and that force itself was driven by a methodology that had never been challenged. After the invention of the camera, what was art's brief? It must have seemed to an aspiring artist as if there was nothing left to be done.

Around the time of the invention of the camera, western writers like Dickens ("David Copperfield," 1849-50) and Thoreau ("Walden," 1854) began to challenge the results of the Industrial Revolution. More implicitly than explicitly, science, which created the Industrial Revolution, was questioned also. Description and meaning, previously united and considered inviolate were coming to be seen as distinct.

In 1844 Friedrich Nietzsche was born. He grew up in the industrializing west, the results of which Dickens and Thoreau were challenging, in a time when constants like motion, space, time and mass were being perceived and experienced as less constant by the day.

Nietzsche was fifteen years old in 1859 when Darwin published his "Origin of Species." Like Copernicus and Galileo before him, Darwin was a further challenge to the spiritual heritage of the West. Natural selection not supernatural intention was the explanation. Once again western science had provided an emotionally and spiritually shattering outcome-neutral accounting for.

In the early 1870's art began to reflect the changes that had been occurring in society as a result of science. The Impressionists painted in a "blurry" style, just as the railroads first passengers saw the landscape as it went by. The results of their work and their methodology was a break with the Western Way.

The Impressionists were also experiencing the fall of standards in motion, space, time and mass and were searching for new essences to replace them. They painted light, they turned away from traditional subject matter and painted peasants. They turned from the West entirely and painted peoples and places and in styles of "primitive" societies such as Tahiti.

With standards--truths--falling all around them, the Impressionists looked for and found many truths. They painted themselves, but not as portrait objects. They painted themselves into their art as personal, expressive, emotional beings into and onto the canvass. Brush strokes were no longer to be hidden. They were to be seen and experienced as part of the finished art work.

The Impressionists broke with the Western Way but they did not break with all of humankind's way of painting. Rather, however unconsciously, they were painting with the mindset that Chinese artists had been painting with at least seven centuries before.

Su Shi, an eleventh century poet/painter/statesman, wrote "One can enter a state absolute concentration in which an object is grasped through total identification and then arrive at a fusion of the subject and object--the artist, or viewer and the work of art."

This was a new Western essence however, a new truth and it was personal and emotional, methodologically neutral and outcome-driven. Method and object, description and meaning were being separated in painting too.

The Impressionist painter was not a scientist whose instrument was a brush; he was an autonomous, atomized human being who was fusing his personal spiritual consonance and his art. The scientific dichotomy of observer and observed was broken. The scientific method was broken as an artistic method.

In 1873, as the Impressionists were abandoning the scientific method, challenging its truth and revealing other truths which were emotional, Nietzsche wrote philosophically of the non-objectivity of truth.

Nietzsche challenged the results of science as Dickens and Thoreau had done, he broke with the scientific method as the Impressionists had done but he also challenged--attacked--the ethical and moral foundations of the West. In doing so Nietzsche proposed a reformulation, a reconceptualization of what a human being was.

He argued that the whole of Western civilization had taken a wrong turn at Socrates when it should have taken Homer's road. He wrote as passionately as Van Gogh painted and argued that human essence was in a drunken, half-mad, emotional "Dionysian" state, not the rational, logical "Apollonian" way that the West had adopted instead.

Nietzsche wrote that "[The Dionysian artist] is now at once subject and object, at once poet, actor, and spectator, that '[The Dionysian artist] is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art."

Nietzsche was not only arguing for recasting Western man in Homer's mode rather than the Apollonian way. He was, consciously or not, casting the Western artist precisely in terms of the Chinese and precisely in the terms of the post-Impressionists.

If the essence of humanity was its spirituality, not its intellect, if man could not be reduced to Rene Descartes "brain in a vat," then the rational, scientific outcome-neutral method of science, philosophy and art was "untrue" because that conceptualization of man was untrue.

At a time when nothing looked certain, when everything looked relative not even good and evil could go unquestioned. In 1886 Nietzsche wrote "Beyond Good and Evil." At this same time Paul Cezanne was searching for new truths in mere shapes.

Nietzsche died in 1900, at precisely the historical endpoint of the Industrial Revolution. He, the Impressionists and the post-Impressionists worked and lived in a world that was described by high science according to the model of Isaac Newton. The Newtonian model was both description of the physical world and methodology. Even the truths of Newtonian physics and high science's model were to be challenged, and shortly.

In 1905 Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, in 1912 his paper on general relativity.

-Benjamin Harris

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

The Aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

799-0. That is the number of dead as a result of the two hurricanes as reported in CNN this weekend (apparently the 25 dead in the bus fire didn't count somehow).

Katrina was a bit stronger than Rita and New Orleans was infinitely more vulnerable than Houston, and Galveston, although almost as vulnerable as New Orleans, had only 57,000 people to evacuate.

And Texas had the lesson of Rita to learn from. And former International Arabian Horse Chief of Stewards Mike Brown had resigned post-Katrina and pre-Rita and the Bush administration reacted better.

No two things are the same but even with those differences there's one that in my view explains more about that 799-0 difference.

"Texas is ready," said it's governor, and it was. Louisiana wasn't.

Louisiana's governor said there were thousands of dead. New Orleans' mayor claimed 10,000 and embarrassingly cried in a profane radio interview. Criminals shot at rescue helicopters and ambulances and raped women in New Orleans shelters. That didn't happen in Texas.

Even with it's greater vulnerability, New Orleans with 300,000-400,000 people, had about 1/10th of the population that Houston had to evacuate and aside from the mother-of-all-traffic jams it did it.

Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco showed an astonishing lack of competence. Bill White and Rick Perry acted as competent political leaders should.

Bush has taken political heat for his government's handling of Katrina. We'll see if Nagin and Blanco do but I have not heard a hue and cry.

799-0 sounds like it could be the electoral outcome in a typical Republican-Democratic presidential election but it's not. It's the number of people who died in a catastrophe that was anticipated in one state, governed by Democrats, and the number of people who died in a catastrophe that was anticipated in another state, governed by Republicans.

Instead of paying a political price, my guess is that Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco will be speakers at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

-Benjamin Harris

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Art Piece, Draft Two, Part One

Art Piece, Draft Two, Part One

Until about the mid-fifteenth century in the West the presently distinct disciplines of philosophy, art and science were united.(1) They had the same goal, a complete "accounting for" of the physical world as perceived by humans with their eyes(2)and philosophers too, from Socrates to Descartes to the early Wittgenstein had the same goal and used the same methodology as did scientists and artists. That methodology was viewed as rational, empirical, incremental and cumulative.

This Western Way was driven by just one of the human senses, sight, not sound or taste, etc. It was also the physical world as physically--not emotionally or spiritually--experienced by just this one of the five physical senses that was the goal, that was to be accounted for completely and precisely by the three disciplines. In art this "accounting for" was often termed "describing;" in science "explaining;" in philosophy "proving."

The methodology of the West was not just rational and intellectual, or non-emotional and spiritual but in fact explicitly anti-emotional/spiritual. Even thus circumscribed the West considered achievement of this accounting for to be the "Truth." There was no other.

Thus conceived and pursued, Truth could be approached closer and closer in a linear manner. "Progress" could be made. Derivatively, and with more far-reaching consequences , the Western Way was method driven and outcome neutral. Whatever outcome resulted from the method was the Truth, or a closer and closer approximation of it. Thus the methodological became the metaphysical. Descriptive "truth" was the same as meaning.

Because of the above, the West's dominant art form was painting. In Thomas Kuhn's view painting was the cumulative discipline of the Renaissance and before.(3) Western painting's goal was to describe or "mirror" the (sight limited) physical world. Music, experienced with a different sense, and emotional, was comparatively devalued.

By contrast, in China, the most continuously great of the world's civilizations, a painting's greatness was evaluated according to its achievement of six goals in descending order of importance. Ch'I-yun or "spirit consonance," was first. Verisimilitude was last. Music was a more important art form in China than in the West because of its emotional content.

Plato put poetry at the bottom of his list of worthwhile endeavors. The Shih Ching, "The Book of Documents," an early Chinese text on art, lauded poetry precisely for its mimicking of music's ability to put sentiments to song.

As the West's way proceeded it changed humankind's physical, intellectual and spiritual relationship with what it was seeking to completely account for. In cyclical manner the observer was affecting the observed which was affecting the observer.

Nature in the West was demystified, described, understood and conquered. The Way removed humans from nature. This was viewed as "liberating" humankind.

By force of logic and empirical proof western methodology forced western spiritual institutions to accommodate, or acquiesce, to it.

By force of understanding, nature was made to give up more of its bounty.

By conquest large parts of nature were destroyed and replaced by human creations for habitation and other desiderata.

At least in historical perspective to some, perhaps most, contemporary art historians, a complete accounting for, the truth, was obtained in painting by the mid-fifteenth century. Portraits were painted with uncanny verisimilitude, physical objects were captured in exacting detail, more detail in fact than the human eye could see.

Ernst Gombrich for example wrote that for an aspiring art student in the Renaissance it must have felt as if there was nothing left to do. Other scholars in different fields arrived at similar conclusions. Claude Levi-Strauss wrote that after van der Weyden art became nothing more than a game of technical refinement.

According to Richard Rorty philosophy broke with science in the late 18th century when Kant succeeded in transforming philosophy from a hand maiden of science to a discipline that was held out to be the "foundation" of all others. In language similar to that of Gombrich, Rorty describes philosophy student's dilemma in the shadow of the collossus science, " is hard to imagine what philosophy could have been in the age of modern science. Metaphysics--considered as the description of how the heavens and the earth are put together--had been displaced by physics."(4)

In the view of Thomas Kuhn, art "diverged" from science in the mid-fifteenth century when it "completely renounced" verisimilitude and turned to learn from "primitive" cultures instead. The days when a Leonardo could move seamlessly between art and science and philosophy were, in the West, in Kuhn's view, over.

It was not the same in China where the aim of art was "spirit consonance." The sciences in China, though advanced, did not explode in descriptive power and practical effect on Chinese life in the way that they did in the West and the spiritual Way was different also. By even commonplace understanding a Zen approach to the world is a non-linear, no-incremental Way.

Importantly, in the West method drove outcome. Even today the scientific community prides itself on its detachment, this outcome neutrality. Do the experiment rigorously, follow the evidence and the result will be the truth. The method was considered validated, thus so were its results. The Zen way by contrast was explicitly to take a non-methodological Way.

The West the Standard Model is that the great flowering in art and culture occurred in the Renaissance, the literal rebirth, when the West turned back to its Greek and Socratic methodology. But if this Standard Model is correct then the apex of--the final truth in--painting was achieved in he early Renaissance and the rest of even that great time was only an extension or "refinement."

If this Standard Model of Western art history is true then there is a dissonant ring of inertia and comparative non-creativity to the rest of the Renaissance and to the next 300 years until at least the Impressionists.

During that same time however it would not have appeared to a Western prospective scientist that there was nothing left to do. During those years western science physically changed the western landmass, western man's relationship to nature and his spiritual relationship with whatever was left.

The Western artist had achieved complete descriptive power at and slightly beyond the human ocular level by the early Renaissance. The Western scientist now pursued the truth to the sub and super ocular levels. There was indeed more there than met the eye. During this period western philosophy worked in tandem with science and according to the scientific method and its most influential figure was Rene Descartes.

In the Standard Model's view, post-Renaissance/pre-Impressionist art is creatively stale, aesthetically mediocre, almost embarrassingly so, and, as in the views of even those outside the field like Levi-Strauss and Kuhn, disconnected. Disconnected from science certainly, but also from society, for it was during this interregnum that the Industrial Revolution took place.

Art, and the scientific methodology that so effected it, had supposedly achieved a perfect description, the truth, by the early 1500s but that art did not describe the truth, the reality, what the human eye saw and the rest of the human being experienced, beginning in 1700.

As "high" science first challenged and then forced Western spiritual institutions to adapt to it, technological science, going beyond high science's descriptive truth, now changed the truth. It changed the physical world and Western man's relationship to it. The observer had changed the observed.

For the first time in all of humankind's existence, man's relationship to time itself changed. That relationship was no longer cyclical and measured by the changes of the earth's rotation and available sunlight or by the seasons of the year. Western man in the Industrial Revolution began to--was forced to--experience time in much smaller increments and now as measured by clocks.

The Industrial Revolution also changed Western humankind's relationship with motion. Previously, the human speed limit was set by the pace of his walk, his run, then the pace of nature's animals that he learned to domesticate. With the invention of locomotive power, initially exclusively rail power, man was able to shatter the old speed limit.

Rebecca Solnit has marvelously described man's difficulty in adjusting to the new speed. An English M.P. standing on railroad tracks had his leg cut off by a train whose speed he miscalculated because he had no referent for it.

(1) See e.g. Gombrich, The Story of Art, p. 361. Danto, The End of Art, and Belting, Vision and Presence argue that art as currently understood did not begin in the West until around 1400.
(2)The world as perceived by, e.g. eagles, or dolphins or even other human societies like the Chinese was not considered.
(3) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p.161"
(4) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p.132.
(4) River of Shadows.

-Benjamin Harris

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Today is Sept. 11

Today is Sept. 11

I'm not near over this yet.

-Benjamin Harris

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Barbara Bush,Class, Race and the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Barbara Bush, Class, Race and the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Barbara Bush is in her dotage but it is a Republican dotage. Age, like booze, clouds judgment but sometimes the elderly, like the drunk, speak more of what is truly in their hearts unclouded by judgment. She does not get a pass on her comments about the "scary" thought that the Katrina refugees, overwhelmingly African-American, might want to stay permanently in Texas, nor that, because they were "underprivileged" to start with, being housed in a sports arena hundreds of miles from home probably isn't so bad for them.

I am so weary of race and discussion about race. For a long time I had truly thought that the best way to "deal with" the race relations in America was just to shut up about them. In the '60's Atlanta had a slogan for itself, "The City That's Too Busy to Hate." That was the approach I decided was best. Let's all get busy and stop all this talk. And I do think we talk too much about EVERYTHING.

But then, in examining my own reaction to the criminal activity in New Orleans after Katrina passed ("Medium, Message, Race and the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," Sept.3)I realized that I at least had to think more about my own attitudes toward race. And that was depressing and wearying. I thought I had gotten past that. Hell, I never thought I was in that, i.e. in having a "race problem." And of course we seldom do. All of us think that we're fair-minded people. Few if any of us can admit to ourselves, much less to others, that we may not be as color-blind as we hold ourselves out to be.

I think racism, such a harsh word, maybe "racially jaundiced thinking" is more accurate, at least more palatable, is spread fairly evenly across the political spectrum. The Republicans are more harsh--more likely, for example, to use the Willy Horton ad to further their presidential ambitions--than the Democrats, but the Democrats, in the choices they make and don't make about where to live, who their real friends are, what schools they send their children too, how they protesteth too much by trumpeting their black friends, supporting black candidates and policies like affirmative action and liberally throwing around the racist label at others with whom they disagree, the Democrats too think race consciously. We all do. Not just Republicans but Democrats. And not just white people but black people too. There is black racism too.

What surprised me more about Mrs. Bush's comments was the "class-ism." The refugees were underprivileged so this isn't so bad, maybe even a step up! I don't think a Democrat would ever say, or think, that. Democrats truly believe, as I do, that to a significant extent a society's greatness can be measured by how it treats it's least fortunate. There is more caring, heartfelt caring, there than in the Republican world view.

Kevin Phillips, no Democrat, has been the most persistent popular writer on this subject. His views are a little too conspiratorial for me, a little too fearful of Bush-like elitism being a threat to democracy in general but there's bad news on the class front also. Those distribution of wealth statistics, that the top 1% have 20-30-whatever percent of wealth in American and the bottom 20-30-whatever percent have 1% of the wealth, those really do bother me. I cannot justify them with a "rising tide lifts all boats" insouciance or a meritocratic "they get what they deserve" thought. And then to say that the refugees are better off for being underprivileged in the first place, that they feel the displacement less than the overprivileged would because the place they were displaced from sucked worse...well.

I feel so naive, so stupid. Unfortunately those are not unknown feelings to me either. I thought we were better than all this. I thought I was better than this.

We still have a lot to talk about.

-Benjamin Harris

Friday, September 09, 2005

Annabel Lee's August 25 article "Why I'm Divorced And why you're next," is a delightful piece. I found it on Arts and Letters Daily. The original is here, I hope I do this right:

Monday, September 05, 2005

Part Two

Part Two

The Industrial Revolution was treated socially, politically and scientifically as unstoppable and as the most glorious manifestation of the West's ability to progress. The linearity of time and history that was willed us by the Greeks, the scientific method of inquiry of Socrates and Descartes, the inexorability of history and the inherent goodness of the technological advances were considered by these decision-makers to be self-evident, but just at this time writers like Thoreau and Dickens were revealing what was being lost and questioning the human and natural cost of what was being gained.

Friedrich Nietzsche was born five years after the invention of the camera, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, of all these changes in man's relationship to time and nature, of all the questions that were being raised by Dickens ("David Copperfield," 1849-50), by Thoreau ("Walden," 1854) and others.

In 1873, at just the time when the Impressionists were painting in ways that challenged the "truth" of traditional western painting, Nietzsche wrote of the metaphysical nonobjectivity of truth.

Nietzsche not only broke with the method of western philosophical inquiry he also broke with its ethical and moral foundations in "Beyond Good and Evil" (1886) and "On the Genealogy of Morals" (1887). At this same time Cezanne and the post-Impressionists furthered their artistic break with their own traditions.

During the time of the Industrial Revolution political and social revolutions occurred between England and America and in France, more evidence of the break with the past.

America had its Civil War from 1860-65 and out of that and the more general context of the West came the American variety of questioning fundamental truths. The philosophy of Pragmatism was begun by John Dewey, William James and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the latter a thrice wounded veteran of the war. Not even slavery was beyond the Pragmatists scope of questioning fundamental evil. Holmes came to have deep reservations about his own strident pre-war anti-abolitionist sentiments. The greatest contemporary advocate of pragmatism, Richard Rorty, has had to defend himself against the charge that he too, with his philosophy, implicitly makes slavery a non-moral, strictly pragmatic, issue.

Humankind's dealings with the physical world changed in practical ways with the Industrial Revolution, they changed in aesthetic ways with the Impressionists, literature challenged the results of all these changes, in Europe Nietzsche now challenged the very moral and ethical bases that produced them and in America the Pragmatists did the same in their own way.

Nietzsche died in 1900 and Einstein published his papers on the theory of special relativity in 1905 and general relatively in 1912. The theoretical scientific view of the physical world now changed too, utterly and in the same fundamental ways as the changes in the other areas.

The challenge that relativity posed to western philosophy was that time was neither linear nor progressive nor inexorable. It might be possible to stop or even reverse time. It could certainly be slowed down. A young person who left on a spaceship for a year's journey at near the speed of light would come back to earth aged only that year but with his contemporaries elderly or dead. Were we destined to go back to the cyclical conception of time that we had experienced for all of humankind's history up till the Industrial Revolution? At least we could not view it--or experience it-- in the linear, Cartesian way that characterized it during the preceding two centuries.

Long before Einstein it had been proved that the earth was not the center of the universe, nor even of our galaxy. Late twentieth century discoveries in astronomy demonstrated that we as a species on this one planet were in the "suburbs" of a very ordinary galaxy, of which there were millions and that the age of this thing we have always called the universe made our religious notions of our beginnings folk tales.

The Death of God philosophy of Nietzsche and the "moral relativism" of Pragmatism were good fits for the fin de siecle West. They became better fits with World War I-- the Great War, the war which was to end all wars--with the Russian Revolution and finally, apololyptically with Hitler and World War II.

Art in the first half of the twentieth century seemed to go off in a hundred different directions: cubism, surrealism, dadaism, social realism, ism after ism. There were no standards in art any more, there was no agreement even on what art was. In 1917 Marcel Duchamp displayed a urinal and called it art. Everything was questioned.

The truism was that art and science had broken with one another 500 years ago and were now on different planets entirely. The truism was that everything, from our conceptions of art, to those of time, space, matter, even good and evil had now gone into existential crisis.

The center of Western art moved from Paris in destroyed Europe to New York after World War II.

-Benjamin Harris

Part One

Part One

In the West from ancient times until about the mid-fifteenth century (1) art, philosophyand science were essentially the same thing with the same goal, pursuing a complete depiction and understanding of the physical world as humans perceive it with their eyes.

In their studies of the physical world, art, philosophy and science shared knowledge, in optics (2) in anatomy, etc.

After that time art and science diverged. At the most macro level, art did not change its emphasis from ocular verisimilitude until much later. The turning point could be taken to be with the Impressionists, with Cezanne and the other Post-Impressionists, or still later.

Science however can be viewed at this macro level as still pursuing verisimilitude, not at the ocular level but at the sub and super-ocular levels. Science, in this view, still is in search of a complete paradigm, a Grand Unified Theory, to explain the physical universe.

With string theory and loop theory science is now at a point where it may not be possible to come up with a theory of everything, most fundamentally because the universe itself may be a misnomer. Respected theoretical physicists for some time have considered whether there are not many, or at least many possible, "universes," some with physics different from ours and unknown to us.

In loop theory, the "everything" that scientists are pursuing a theory of may be as many as a ten dimensional phantasmagoria that our three dimensional universe is only a section of.

Not only were scientists and artists at one time working together, often in the same person as in, among others, Leonardo's case, but they also were necessarily philosophers and often serious ones.

The Western philosophical canon began with the Greeks. Nietzsche believed that the West made a wrong turn away from Homer and chose Socrates instead.

The progressive--or cumulative, or incremental--view of Western scientific history owes itself to those Greeks and to the philosophy of Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century.

Philosophy broke from science in the late 18th c with Immanuel Kant's claim that philosophy was the foundation of all other disciplines (Rorty, Mirror. p.132)

The exploration, change, and conquest of nature began with unprecedented speed with the technological science of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. For the first time humankind's experience of time changed. It was no longer cyclical and measured by the changes of the earth's rotation and available sunlight or by the seasons of the year. Humankind in the Industrial Revolution began to experience and be governed by time as measured by clocks.(3)

The Industrial Revolution was officially over when Einstein published his papers on special relativity in 1905 and on general relativity in 1912. They represented the end of that era from the perspective of the theoretical science of the physical world and the beginning of the current era.

Einstein's work was revolutioniary becaue it revealed the limitations of Newtonian physics at the quantum and cosmological levels of physical reality and explained light, gravity and mass in conceptually new ways.

Einstein's theory of relativity changed humankind's experience with time at the theoretical and intellectual level as profoundly as technological science changed people's practical everyday experiences with time. Under relativity, time slows down as a necessary consequence of motion as it approaches the speed of light.

The Industrial Revolution changed our perception of mass, also as a consequence of speed. In train travel at speeds of 35 mph the landscape, mass, became blurred to our sight, made to appear less substantial.(4) Similarly Einstein changed humankind's intellectual understanding of mass by demonstrating that multiplied by the speed of light squared it was the equal of energy.

Technological science gave humankind the still camera in 1839. By the 1870s artists began their own revolution by painting in their blurred, impressionistic style.

(1) See e.g. Gombrich, "The Story of Art," p.361; Levi-Strauss, "The Savage Mind," p. 28, Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," p.161
(2) See e.g. Hockney, "Secret Knowledge."
(3) See e.g. Solnit, "River of Shadows."
(4) Solnit.

-Benjamin Harris

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Preventing Another Katrina

Preventing Another Katrina

FACT: Hurricanes in the southeast in summer are as predictable as frost in Vermont in October. They cause billions of dollars of damage and human fatalities each year. We must do something to protect our people, property and economy.

OPINION: As posted here August 30, we should try any of the scientific possibilities that have been floated over the years to stop or degrade hurricanes.
The president should create an emergency group of governors and scientists to develop a consensus of what to do.

FACT: Some cities, e.g. New Orleans and Miami are extremely vulnerable to catastrophic hurricane damage. As bad as Hurricane Andrew was it did not strike the population and economic heart of Miami, which still awaits The Big One. As bad as Katrina was it was not a Category 5 in New Orleans nor did it make a direct hit on the city. New Orleans still awaits the Big One.

OPINION: House Speaker Dennis Hastert said that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. Keith Olberman just about jumped out of his seat when he reported that. It sounded callous but obviously Hastert was not speaking about abandoning the people, he was voicing the reality that you could hardly plan a city to be more vulnerable than New Orleans is, situated in a basin below sea level between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain, the latter held back from indundating the city in the best of times only by levees.

News reports are that New Orleans has been abandoned to "the dead and dying." If its structures and infrastructure are significantly destroyed, build a NEW Orleans on safer ground.

In Miami there is a boom in bayfront highrise residential construction that hasn't been seen in at least a generation. It should never have been allowed to go forward and it should be stopped in its tracks. Miami Beach, the cultural and economic signature of Greater Miami, is, like New Orleans, positioned between two bodies of water, the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. New construction on Miami Beach should be stopped and no new residents should be permitted to move into the city.

Mandatory evactuations should mean what they say. In Miami mandatory means you should leave. When a Category 4 or 5 hurricane is reasonably within striking distance the local police should begin forced evacuations and the National Guard and military if necessary should be brought in immediately to forcibly take people out. And take them out to pre-selected, ready-for-them shelters, not whatever's-available, unready places like the Superdome.

-Benjamin Harris

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Medium, Message, Race and the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Medium, Message, Race and the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

I have no television, no computer, and I don't listen to the radio. I get the news from my cell phone links to CNN and ABC.

The print medium is a burlesque, revealing and concealing and leaving to the imagination what is concealed. It can be just as emotional, evocative and provocative than the electronic media with their direct imagery and intonation changes but their effects are different. The medium affects the message.

I read first in surprise at the difficulties in the post-storm relief efforts. That gave way to bewilderment at how things could have apparently gone so wrong. Then, typically of me and I believe a critical mass of other Americans, in anger at those who were responsible.

Then came the reports of criminals shooting at helicopters trying to land at the hospitals and most painfully for me the stories of women who were raped when they tried to go to the restrooms in the Superdome and the convention center.

I pictured the criminals as all black and I was furious at yet another example, as if we needed any more, of the social, moral and functional bankruptcy of the black community in America.

The decision-makers I blamed were the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana in that order. The federal government and President Bush I had together at a distant third.

I imagined the mayor and governor to be Democrats and I was furious at them and at the Democratic party, believing their inaction to be symptomatic of the party's timidity in crises. The next day I goaded my yellow-dog friends with an email asking if the mayor and governor were in fact Democrats, honestly not knowing if they were. Their abashed reply fueled my anger and growing cynicism.

Two nights ago I was over at my babies mamma's house and for the first time saw the television images.

It had been so long since I had looked at TV that the location of the different channels on the dial had changed. CNN used to be channel 13, MSNBC used to be 11, Fox used to be 64. They weren't in their usual places so I had to channel flit until I found a news station. As it happened the first I found was Fox.

Bill O'Reilly was hosting the segment and I saw the images of the looters, all African-American with O'Reilly's voice-overs of condemnation and disgust, both proper in my view, both of the criminals and of the day-late and dollar-short relief effort.

I then lit on MSNBC. Keith Olberman was cracklingly angry, again appropriately from where I sat, at the apparent failure of the relief effort. Olberman was particularly angry at Rush Limbaugh's assertion that those who stayed in New Orleans could have gotten out but chose not to. Olberman termed Limbaugh "clueless," which I thought appropriate.

To answer these charges from the clueless Limbaugh, Olberman brought on the Rev. Al Sharpton. Click.

Yesterday at lunch when I told my girlfriend about my chronology of television news gathering and clicking away the moment Sharpton appeared she asked if I was not dismissing the message for the messenger. I said that I had but that it was MSNBC's choice to have Sharpton, a liar, charlatan and pedagogue to make the anti-Limbaugh case and that their choice had debased the message.

I went back to Fox and noticed that the same loop of footage was being rerun Groundhog Day-like. A policeman pushing a young Hispanic man out of a looted store, a teenage black boy turning over a garbage can at the feet of another policeman. O'Reilly was now saying that he had predicted this violence and that in his view those who had refused to evacuate had done so deliberately because they saw this "opportunity" to loot, shoot and rape coming. That did not sound convincing to me. So many messengers, so little time in which to dismiss them all. Click.

I found CNN. Their footage was about the same, the interior shots of the Superdome, the dead woman in the wheelchair, the girl who went into diabetic shock. But there wasn't the endless loopty-loop of Fox's lawless minorities against white police officers.

Then I began to see on all the networks--it was there from the beginning I had just not seen--that virtually all of the refugees were black, so many were old, sick, infirm, very young and very poor, that (1) It did not appear to me that they could have gotten out without being forcibly evacuated, i.e. it did not appear to me that they had made a choice to stay. (2) They appeared to me to be good law-abiding citizens in hopeless situations (3) The property being looted was overwhelmingly foodstores and the like.

I had read stories of looters brazenly displaying for the cameras stolen clothing and I have no reason to doubt those stories but I did not see it, nor did I see the corollary that I expected, young black men and women pushing shopping carts with stolen TVs in them.

(4) Most ashamedly for me I now imagined what I knew to be true from my work as a prosecutor, that the victims of the young black male lawlessness were, as they almost always are, black also, young, old, poor, female, all vulnerable. It was not, or was not just, doctors and policemen, presumably mostly white, who were the victims. It was, I bet, overwhelmingly black people who were raped and otherwise personally assaulted.

And now that my thinking, or maybe more accurately my reactions, had so "evolved" I had to ask myself some questions. First,why did I first concentrate on the race of the perpetrators?

Second,why did I not at first think what the likely race of the victims was?

Third,was I more angry than I "should have been" at the black criminals when I hadn't considered the race of the victims?

Fourth,what difference "should it" make that the victims were of whatever race?

Fifth, was I more sanguine when I realized, as a white man, that the victims of black violence were likely to be black?

I'm thinking as I'm writing (the better way being to think and then write) and I'm feeling defensive right now but there's some value in expression under these circumstances too.

My answer to the first question is because I just knew it to be true. The criminals were going to be black. A few years ago a well-publicized study showed that something like 40% of all black men between the ages of, say, 18-35 were either in jail, serving prison sentences, or on probation or some other form of community control. I still comfortable with my reaction.

The answer to the second question is not as easy for me. I know from twenty-three years of prosecuting that almost all victims of black crime are black, but that was not what first came to my mind when I read the reports. The reports left me with the impression of white victims: store owners, police officers and doctors but I can't blame the media for that impression. I know too well the truth.

It is painful to me to have to admit that the answer to the third and fifth questions is yes. My anger abated when I realized that the victims were likely to be black also. I will say in my defense that my anger did not leave an emotional vacuum of indifference. It was replaced by sadness that the loopty-loop of black male violence on vulnerable black people was replaying itself Groundhog Day-like again.

The answer to the fourth question "should be" no. It wasn't but as I reflect on my thinking I honestly think that I was concentrating on the status of what I was being told the victims were, doctors, police officers and business owners. Yes, those people are and were in my mind overwhelmingly more likely to be white. But status differences, and the reaction to them is appropriate in my view and in the view of the law and common sense.

For as long as we have had the modern incarnation of the death penalty the status of the victim has been a lawful, in my view appropriate, consideration in whether to seek the ultimate penalty.

It is an "aggravator" under Florida law that the victim was performing his duties as a police officer because a murder of a person of that status strikes at society as a whole in the way that a murder of a non-governmental official does not. For example if Hillary Clinton had killed Bill Clinton upon discovery of his affair with Monica Lewinsky that would not have been a death penalty aggravator under Florida law. If Rush Limbaugh had killed him because he was the president that would have been an aggravator. Similarly if the victim is a child or an elderly person, that status of being particularly vulnerable is a death penalty aggravator.

So I cannot fault myself for being particularly outraged that ambulance drivers, helicopter rescue pilots and doctors were the targets of the snipers.

The rape reports affected me as I think rape does most people, men and women, white and black. It is such a personal violation, etc. etc. But it also plays on cultural stereotypes. I am not as offended by homosexual prison rape as I am by male on female street rape for more than one reason but one of them is the status of sex with a female. Culturally it is still something that men must seek as a reward, that women give only to those who are worthy and that men should never take forcibly. I don't know if that if a "valid" reason for outrage or not.

I don't remember if I had a particular image of the rape victims in my mind when I first read the reports. I believe the first reports I heard were of roving bands of rapists accosting women on the street, rather than as I understand it more to be the case now, that the rapes happened in the shelters.

I do find it more reprehensible that gangs of young men would go marauding through the streets looking for women to rape. That is heightened premeditation and social pathology rather than the more "opportunistic" rapes that would occur when tens of thousands of desperate people are thrown together in a shelter.

It is not clear to me upon reflection that I presumed the race of the rape victims to be white but I cannot say that I did not presume that. Giving myself no benefit of the doubt, that is that at some level of consciousness or subconsciousness I did picture a blonde white girl who was caught "in the wrong part of town" and was gangraped by a group of young black men, then that is a "wrong" reaction.

Her status, which is solely her race, and the rapists status, which is solely their race, should be irrelevant. But as I write this, even not being sure that race did play a part in my reaction, as I write of a blonde white girl getting raped by a group of black steeet criminals I am more emotionally effected than I would be if the victim were black and I feel very, very bad about that. I am ashamed and I want to change that in my feelings.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricane Finis

Hurricane Finis

"But for the grace of God..." is the reaction of many that Hurricane Katrina did not make a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category Five. As bad as it is, and it may get worse, the doomsday scenario of tens of thousands of deaths thankfully seems to have been avoided.

However it says here that another piece of folk wisdom is more apt, "If we can land a man on the moon why can't we" blankety-blank.

All residents of southeastern coastal cities have a three month knot in their stomachs every summer. Last year four hurricanes hit Florida, two went through the same town.

During one of my twenty-three knots in Miami I had one of those Eureka flashes you sometimes get just before you fall asleep: Why not tow a big iceberg in the path of one of these storms?

It sounded stupid even to me the next morning but then last year someone wrote in one of the mainstream news publications about some of the scientific possibilities after talking to some actual scientists and the iceberg thing was one of the possibilities mentioned.

From memory another one was seeding the clouds with something which I believe they'd actually done experimentally. Another I believe was putting a big patch of iron shavings in the ocean path which would bring down the temperature of the water or air or both.

I think another was detonating a small atomic bomb in the eye of the thing. I may be wrong but honest to god I think that really was one of the proposals. I would certainly like to see that tried especially when the hurricane was close to an Islamic country.

All of the possibilities were ultimately dismissed by the 'tists as impractical, inefficacious, dangerous, whatever.

But look, let's approach this syllogistically:

(1) Hurricanes/tropical cyclones are the most dangerous storm systems on the planet. They cause billions of dollars of damage each year and kill however many people a year.

(2) They are as slow as Technology Review editor Jason Pontin on heroin. There's so much lead time. Hurricane forecasting is swiss watch precise compared to earthquake or tornado predicting.

(3) They are very quirky, fragile things. Katrina just dropped from a cat-5 to a cat-4 and then to a 3 before it hit land. They are at the mercy of steering currents, high and low pressure systems elsewhere, biorhythms, upper level wind shear or something like that, a zillion things. When Katrina was a 5, Max Mayfield said that conditions have to be perfect for a storm to develop to that strength.

A couple of years ago some monster was heading right up Cuba toward Miami when the damn thing just disappeared. It was wind shear or something.

(4) While you should be able to reduce the number of human casualties to near zero with better evacuation plans you cannot move buildings and offices so the economic devastation is still going to be there and when a major economic center like New Orleans or Miami gets hit, an entire state's or region's economy--and it's people--are going to suffer.

In my view the "therefore" that should get tacked onto the end of that syllogism is "we have to try something." The present manner of "dealing with" hurricanes is just unacceptable. If we can land a man on the moon we ought to be able to stop or degrade a hurricane.

Or at least try.

Louisiana and New Orleans are eccentric enough that I am surprised that either the governor or mayor didn't propose something...creative, when Katrina was at a five and experts were predicting 10,000+ deaths. Dump all the iron in Birmingham (if they still have any) in the path of the thing. Seed those clouds. Commandeer all civilian aircraft in the state to fly over the top of the hurricane to try to help that wind shear thing along. Do something. What have you got to lose? This is just not acceptable anymore. We have to try something else.

Americans have always been about trying. We conquered an entire continent (and seriously degraded its natives), we built a transcontinental railroad then a transcontinental highway, we invented flying, the telephone and the internet, we're 9-1 in wars, 9-2 at the very least. We try. We don't often take "it's impossible" for an answer.

Voltaire, although not American, said a wise thing once, probably more than once. He said that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." We just should not be deterred from pursuing a good solution to the hurricane problem because we don't have a perfect one. And anything would be "good" compared to what we're doing now.

-Benjamin Harris

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Re-wilding North America

Re-Wilding North America

By now this idea under this title has gained a certain level of popular currency. First appearing in the 18 August 2005 issue of Nature it proposes the gradual reintroduction of camels, elephants and the like onto the Great Plains of America.

It has been greeted with a general expression of "Just when we thought we had heard of everything..." even among other scientists, and perhaps it is a wacky idea. One thing one comes to appreciate in subscribing to Nature is the intense competitive pressure that that publication experiences from its American rival Science, pressure no less intense despite the presumed rigorous vetting before publication in the premier science journal in the world.

Scientist/scholars of course also feel that "publish or perish" pressure. Even Darwin rushed his "Origin of Species" into print upon receiving a letter from a callow amateur asking for his thoughts on precisely the evolutionary theory Darwin had been working through for years.

Acknowledging all of that, that this re-wilding idea may turn out to have all the staying power of Pons and Fleischman's cold fusion idea twenty years ago, one does not come away from a reading of the article itself with the thought that this is junk science.

The authors, principally Josh Donlan of Cornell, lay the pedalogical groundwork for their proposal in simple terms. "Megafauna" were indigenonous to North America as we all know from the discovery of mastadon, t-Rex, and other dinosaur fossils.

Two, they're already here on private land in other parts of North America. "For example, 77,000 large mammals (most of them Asian and African ungulates, but also cheetahs, camels and kangaroos) roam free on Texas ranches..."

Three, the Great Plains is empty, with all sincere respect to our fellows in the Dakotas, Kansas, et al. This proposal would be irresponsible if the venue were almost anywhere else. These animals are obviously going to need their space both for their sake and ours and the Great Plains is available.

The re-wilding would start with wild horses and asses, then move to large tortoises, then to camels and large cats such as cheetahs then to elephants and would conclude with the largest cats of them all, lions. All of this phasing in, from start to finish, could be done in only fifty years.

Donlan writes modestly seeming to sense the ridicule that he's inviting and he's scientist enough to anticipate the legitimate objections: the stress put on the current animal population, the potential for species-jumping diseases, the logistical difficulties of fencing the reserves, and so on. He properly terms his proposal a "vision" rather than a detailed programme.

But here's to visionaries. It's a breathtaking idea and we need more people who dare the ridicule and the dismissal to see far. It says here that this is going to happen if for no other reason than Donlan has got another visionary on his side.

Ted Turner, who had the chutzpah to turn an ignored cable television station in Atlanta into a "superstation," and then build on that and found the Cable News Network, laughingly dismissed by it's initial critics as the "Chicken Noodle Network," Ted Turner is the largest private land owner in the United States and has been approached by the proponents of this re-wilding vision. He is enthusiastic.

America's astonishing creativity has to be in part a product of the sheer size of our continent. Our geography has made a virture of the necessity to see far even if all we wanted to see was our family and friends. We have gotten used to the idea and we have produced and continue to produce visionaries like Leland Stanford, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, Bill Gates and Ted Turner.

We can also thank Josh Donlan for getting Turner's attention and perhaps sparing us
another $1 billion gift to the U.N. Sheesh, talk about wacky ideas.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, August 16, 2005



I hate dreams.

In my late teens, having had one too many of these phantasmagoria, I adopted a mantra that I had read about in, like, Reader's Digest. When you go to bed if you repeat to yourself, "I will not dream, I will not dream, I will not dream, " you won't! Or at least not remember them.

The Reader's Digest trick is not foolproof however. Occasionally a dream slips past my defenses. I've had the standard aging yuppie dreams, about almost drowning, just barely keeping my head above water (overwork), being late or unprepared for an exam (deadline pressures), but I've had a pleasing one for the last year or two about being able to fly.

The other night I had a variant of the flying dream that I'd also had before, of being able to fly but with someone else present who didn't seem to notice that I was flying.

That someone was my new girlfriend and I didn't think it took Sigmund Freud to figure it out: I believed that I possessed Hidden Abilities that others didn't see. I felt Underappreciated. I have delusions of grandeur.

What a nightmare.

I was totally depressed and ashamed. I did a quick survey of my life. Are there other instantiations of my grandiosity? I started this weblog three years ago and named it after the first newspaper published in North America and billed it as "A continuation of" that paper. Ooh.

So I immediately changed Publocc's heading to the more modest "Dedicated to." I have not had the courage yet to change the blog's name to something more realistic, like

As I've done a few times before, to verify the meaning of at least general flying dreams, I looked in the index of Interpretation of Dreams under "flying."

None of those in the general index was anything like what I supposed my garden variety to be. One had to do with some reaction to having teeth pulled which resulted in the rising and falling of the lungs, I don't know.

In another section Freud was almost dismissive, saying, "I have no experience of my own of other kinds of typical dreams [oh, EXCUSE ME], in which the dreamer finds himself [misogynist] flying through the air to the accompaniment of agreeable feelings..." He related one to the childhood experience of being held parallel to the ground by an adult who then runs a few steps; another one was riding down a banister.

I turned to the next to the last entry. It referred me to page 420 where I read at the bottom of the page "..flying dream...dreamt by...a young man with strong homosexual leanings [uh oh], which were, however, inhibited in real Life [OH SHIT]."

Then on the top of page 421,

"He was attending a performance of 'Fidelio'
and was sitting in the stalls at the Opera
beside L., a man who was congenial to him
and with whom he would have liked to make
friends. Suddenly he flew through the air
right across the stalls, put his hand in his
mouth and pulled out two of his teeth."

NO! Whew.

So I left the General Index and went to "Index of Dreams, part A, Dreamt by Freud Himself," to see what interesting, complex, not "typical" dreams Himself had.

"Keeping a woman waiting." Oooh, real interesting.

But then I saw,

"Dissecting my own pelvis" and in the "F"'s section,"Funeral oration by young doctor." Dreamt after "Dissecting my own pelvis," perhaps.

Intrigued, I now turned to part "B" "Dreamt by Others."

"Arrest in restaurant" dreamt by a young man, seemed straightforward enough.

"Barrister lost cases," I could, alas, relate to also.

"Big dish with big joint." If we update the imagery to the current symbolism, that would be pretty typical, I think.

But some of the others, "Caviar, legs covered with (girl)." I don't want to know.

"Daddy carrying his head on a plate (Boy aged 3 yrs, 5 months)." Whoa! I hope Freud fingerprinted that lad.

"I must tell the doctor that (Man patient)." I dissected my own pelvis?

"Hat as genital (agoraphobic woman patient.")! Followed immediately by "Hat with crooked feather (Man)."!!

"'Who is the baby's father' (Woman patient)." Wilt Chamberlain.

"Revolution of 1848 (Experimental Dream)"
"Roman Emperor assassinated"
"Sitting opposite the Emperor"

Americans don't have dreams like that.

"Three theatre tickets for 1fl. 50kr (Woman patient)." What if it had been 2fl. 50kr? Or 50fl. 1kr?

I don't know, I think I'm going to stick to "I will not dream, I will not dream."

-Benjamin Harris

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker: "Lord God"

Lord God

For sixty-one years a spectacular species of bird has clung tenaciously and anonymously to life in an obscure wetlands area in Arkansas.

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is the largest of its genus, with a wingspan out to four feet. It is also beautiful even by the high standards of its cousins. For these reasons it acquired the quintessential American nickname of the "Lord God" bird for the exclamation uttered by so many when they first saw it.

Partly also for these reasons the story of the bird's discovery has broken out of the ornithological community and into the mass media. These "subjective" reasons for popular attention are no less compelling or legitimate than the "objective," that a species presumed extinct is in fact extant.

We know so much about so much that the ability of this attention-grabbing but very private bird to survive undetected despite humankind's best efforts has stimulated some purely human feelings. Delight that this plucky creature foiled us for so long, wonder at the tenacity of life, delight that even the scientific method, that most relentless and result-oriented of our branches of knowledge, occasionally leaves a stone unturned. That has also made us, however briefly, more modest, which most of us agree we could be more of.

It also assuages our guilt--another uniquely human feeling--a little. The Ivory Bill has been driven to the point of extinction by us. We have done that to many other species. This gives us another chance when we know that there few second chances in life, fewer in saving life.

All of these feelings came together for the discoverers. When, paddling in their kayak the Ivory Bill flew right in front of the researchers, one of them openly wept. Lord God. And, taking advantage of our second chance we are now cutting down some trees to increase the bird's food staple, the beetle, which feeds on decomposing wood.

We, the public, would not have reacted as we have to the Ivory Bill if it had been an endangered species of cockroach that had been found. Cockroaches are not as big as Ivory Bills, except in Miami, and they are not beautiful.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder only if the beholder is human and, perhaps conceitedly, it is the spirituality, in among other things, our recognition and appreciation of beauty that marks us as distinct from all other life forms.

When we discover life elsewhere in the universe it will almost certainly not be beautiful. It will be plainly organic like bacteria or simple organisms like Technology Review editor Jason Pontin. Nor will there by any "practical" consequences of its discovery such as posing a threat of invasion, providing us with the Grand Unified Theory, or explaining the infield fly rule. The Ivory Bill and the cockroach will not notice. But it will be the most momentus event in humankind's history because it will effect us as beauty does, spiritually, ethically and philosophically, that is fundamentally as human beings.

The discovery of the Ivory Bill is a human story as much as a bird or scientific story, something that only our life form can celebrate with a species-wide, "Lord God."

-Benjamin Harris

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Society of Professional Journalists: "Death Threats can be fun."

"Subject: SPJ LEADS: Death threats can be fun (and other moments of jocularity)"

Actual email I received from them today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005



I have been accepted into the Society of Professional Journalists. Li'l respect, please.

Their--our--magazine is entitled "Quill," redolent of a wooden desk in a wood-paneled study, of a learned (wo)man dressed in one of those cool great shirts that Macchiavelli is always pictured in, thinking...contemplating...writing. Repeat.

I expected an impressive acceptance ceremony along the lines of those given to Nobel Laureates. Maybe instead of the King of Sweden we'd have Ben Bradlee presiding over the whole thing, mace in hand seated on a throne. I'd be dressed in a tuxedo and would approach his Quill-ship in a slow reverent walk and bow to allow the membership medal to be draped around my neck. I'd be told the secret password that i'd whisper to gain entree into any newsroom in the country, "Don't Fake the Funk on a Nasty Dunk," or like that.

I imagined that after induction all of us new inductees--laureates--would proudly Mingle with our now peers, sipping champagne, discussing the ravages of carpal tunnel syndrome and attempting to insert our quills into any willing ink well.

It wasn't quite like that. I "applied" online, waited for the membership committe to vet my journalistic credentials, which took a whole week, and then was emailed an "acceptance letter." Oh, and I had to fork over some dough.

Then a week later I got my "membership card" printed on genuine stiff paper and looking like it and a thousand more were run off just that afternoon at the Kinko's down the street.

And then I got "Quill" (no article needed, just the noun). The subtitle of the June/July issue is "Emotional, Enlightening, Enthralling"(Emenen?). Huh? What is this a creative writing fraternity? Whatever happened to "All The News That's Fit to Print," or even "Fair, Balanced," and whatever-it-isn't, "Objective."

I thought "we" were just supposed to report and comment on the news and leave the Enthralling, Emotional stuff to that other "if it bleeds, it leads" electronic medium.

I got an email from SPJ dated 7-29 that, I am not making this up, began with "IF I RULED THE WORLD. Want power? Want prestige? Boy did you pick the wrong profession." You think?

This is what has become of The Press in 21st century America. It truly is the Fourth Estate or the Fourth branch of government except that this one has no checks and balances on it. Apparently you go to pencil school now with the thought of wanting to "rule the world," of acquiring "power" and "prestige."

We now have ink-stained wretches interviewing ink-stained wretches for news, talking head shows, not with politicians or, like, actual members of the government, but of wretches talking to other wretches.

The first email I got after my acceptance had the subject head of "College newspaper woes, FREE trips to Vegas, Jumpstarting a j-career." (emphasis in original). Maybe Quill's sub-head should be "If it ain't FREE, it ain't journalism."

My induction coincided with the Valerie Plame/Cooper/Miller affair. A real cause celebre with us. On July 5, I was sent a sober email sparely titled "Statement from the Society of Professional Journalists on Miller and Cooper cases" (Plame not mentioned: irrelevant to larger issue). Gravely, we were informed that sister Miller and brother Cooper might enter the Gray Bar Hotel on the morrow.

We were informed that The Newspaper Guild had asked its members to observe two minutes of silence at noon on July 6 in solidarity with the cause of outting a CIA agent under deep cover.

The author of the Statement, SPJ president Irwin L. Gratz, asked society members "and all journalists, to mark the appointed time as you see fit." Well, that's taking a stand!

President Gratz also asked "the public to ponder the potential impact of [the hoosegowing] on the practice of journalism in the United States."

Heeding my president's words I pondered and then I "mark[ed] the appointed time" as I saw fit. I responded with an email,

"At noon today I will be wearing a party hat and weilding noise-makers and if [at our annual convention in "Vegas"] in mid-October, brother Cooper and sister Miller are still in the hoosegow, I will observe a moment of silence for the rule of law."

Bitchy, thumb-in-your-eye, holier-than-thou juvenalia, I know. But hey, I'm a professional journalist now!

-Benjamin Bradlee, er Harris.

Saturday, July 30, 2005



For about a year I've had a bumpersticker on my car, "ISLAM HAS BLOODY BORDERS." I've gotten remarkably few reactions to it positive or negative. One negative, one of those Sunday morning bicycle riders, the ones with the compression shorts on and those absurd looking helmets that make them look like praying mantis's when they're riding, like a plague when they're in a group.

I had parked my car in front of an Einstein Bros bagel shop and as my daughter and I were leaving, Tights was crossing the street and literally stopped in his tracks. "Is that your car?" "What does that mean?" he said, screwing up his face in exagerrated faux puzzlement. "It's the quote from Samuel Huntington's book "The Clash of...," I began.

"Samuel Huntington, Samuel Huntington," he replied actually looking perplexed this time. "But what does it mean?"

"I think we're at war with Islam...", I began again.

"It's such a hateful message," he interrupted again. "You ought to be concerned for your safety, especially your little girl's."

It bothered me that he thought it was a hateful message; I don't hate, don't want people to think that I hate but I believe the message and it has grounding in, and maybe therefore provides me with the psychological fig leaf of, scholarship.

"Oh I haven't had any problem with that," I said, referring to his safety advisory, which I hadn't seriously considered previously either.

"If you'd read as much military history as I have, you'd know that generals are the greatest peacemakers," he said, changing subjects. Now I laughed. He was one of Those.

"I've read some military history," I rejoined but now bemusedly. "I've also read the Koran and a few books on Islam and I believe that we're at war with Islam..."

"Such a HATEful message. You really ought to be concerned about your safety."

He said that a time or two more. Was Tights actually threatening me in a veiled way? My temper can go from 0-60 in nanoseconds but the idea that this fruit fly would actually be calling me out was comical. Still, pleasing images of a fallen praying mantis lying in the middle of the street, his bicycle wheels spinning forlornly in the breeze popped into my mind.

"Well what do you think?," I asked.

"Well, of course, we are sort of at war with them," he improvised, perhaps trying to recall a pithy quote from one of his generals but then broke off with, "It's such a hateful message."

"What do you think?," I asked again, truly, if amusedly, curious.

"Oh my thoughts are too complex for you," he stated, gazing off in the direction of Complexity. I swear to Allah, he actually said that, "My thoughts are too complex."

The stereotype that praying mantis's have of Warmongers is that we (Warmongers) are simple-minded and see things too simply. For P.M.s evil is not a matter of good and evil, it is more "complex" than that.

The stereotype that Warmongers have of P.M.s is that their compression pants and helmets are on so tight that they can't see or think straight, much less make decisions. All they can do is bitch. "I don't know what to do about terrorism but whatever Bush is doing is wrong." As Eddie Murphy said to the limo driver in Trading Places, "Thanks, you've been very he'pful."

Tights continued explaining that he could give no explanation to me owing to my complexity deficit and then, distracted again, he called to "Heather" who, unseen by me, apparently had emerged from Einstein's and was leaving, having turned a corner nearby.

"I want to continue this conversation, I really enjoy this conversation, hold on a minute," he lied and then, a praying mantis in heat, went off running after Heather, his bike cleats clicking on the asphalt like high heels,"Heather, Heather!

That was the one negative reaction. I live in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. On Saturdays they walk, machinery being against the wishes of God unless operated for them by Gentiles. A family walked by the house and saw my car with the bumpersticker. I was leaving at the time and walking to the car. The man paused and took a couple steps back to read it.

"Is that your car?," he asked.


"It's a pleasure to meet you, " he said and gave me the thumbs up sign. That was my one positive reaction.

Then yesterday. I was driving to my little girl's end-of-camp iceskating show, the one that all summer camps provide to parents to justify their expense, when a car pulled alongside me and the passenger rolled down the window. He was twenty-something, olive-skinned, but who isn't in Miami, and made a gesture to the rear of my car. It was an ambiguous gesture, but being the sunny-dispositioned chap that I am I decided to interpret it as an endorsement and flashed him a thumbs up.

That wasn't what he meant. He continued to gesture, this time drawing out his hands in elongated fashion to refer to the bumpersticker but still with ambiguous intent. He was not smiling but his face was not distorted with rage either. Still, now having no doubt as to what he wanted to converse with me about, I thought it prudent to call my office answering machine to leave a suicide note. "If I am found killed I am being followed by a car, a gray sports car; the passenger is twenty-something, medium-dark skin, round face, close-cropped hair." I couldn't get the license plate number.

Something, let's call it Stupidity, still didn't take the moment in all of that melodramatic seriousness and I decided to pull over and see what the gent wanted.

I exited the off ramp, and rush hour traffic being rush hour traffic, it took a few blocks before I could pull over. I lost the gray car and thought perhaps he had lost me too. Then I saw the guy running towards me, his car still out of my sight.

He was a completely decent fellow, a Saudi with the Christian name (irony intended, Complex-thinking P.M.s) of Rakim as best I could understand it.

"What does that sign mean?," he said, the conversation now beginning precisely as did the one with Tights. I explained.

"There are two sides to every story," he said, "Would you be interested in hearing the other side of the story?"


"I have a tape I want to give you. It's not Islam, it's a small group of terrorists."

"Rakim, I have nothing against individual Muslims but I believe that Islam is a fascist ideology in the guise of a religion."

When we speak, we don't have time to reflect fully, to choose the most right way of expressing ourselves. Neither of the two statements that I had made to Rakim was what I would have, say, written to him. I do have something against individual Muslims, I think that anybody who is Muslim, who believes even semi-literally what the Koran says, has Nazi-like thoughts.

I do not advocate rounding up all Muslims and putting them in concentration camps like we did Japanese-Americans in World War II. But I might in the future, depending on who attacks us, and the issue would be of greater moment to me if I were British.

The difference, to me, is that a person belonging to the Japanese "race" or ancestry or whatever the proper anthropological term would be, tells me little about what (s)he believes. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz has written (pre 9/11) that we have to come to consider our thoughts AS action. Maybe not that far for me, but one's thoughts and beliefs clearly are relevant to one's actions.

In my view, it would be P.M.s-head-burying to ignore a group of people living in America who worship the same religion--or who follow the same ideology, as I prefer to think of it--as those who attacked us on September 11. Especially since Islam, as widely noted and bewailed, has not gone throught its Reformation.

The Koran is MUCH more literally followed throughout the Islamic world than is the Bible anywhere in present-day Christendom. And although I believe what I told Rakim about Islam being fascism in religion's guise, I would not have been I had the time to think that is a condition precedent to writing.

I would like the U.S. to consider some policy of extending the prohibition that we have against certain types of hate language to Muslims and I would like to have a debate on whether it would be constitutional, efficacious and just to regulate in some way the gathering of Muslims, obviously in Mosques among other places, again as we at least have attempted to do with Nazis and Communists in the past and with the Aryan Nation and Posse Comitatus now.

And I certainly do not advocate individual violence against individual Muslims. Psychologically, I prefer to do it from planes. I haven't had a lot of success in convincing people of the necessity of that.

Those were the thoughts that were going through my mind as I briefly spoke to Rakim. I also felt bad. It is one thing to write impersonally--and anonymously-- about these things but here I was face to face with a Muslim, a real live person holding beliefs that I find abhorrent, racist and dangerous. And his demographics couldn't have been worse from my point of view. He was Saudi, as were fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. He spoke to me plaintively about his religion, plaintively also asking implicitly for understanding.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would be the first two Islamic states attacked in a Harris dicta... er, administration. Saudis practice the most dangerous branch of Islam, Whhabism. I seriously doubt that Rakim is one of the "good" Muslims in, or from Saudi Arabia, who take the Koran's teachings "with a grain of salt."

Rakim allowed as to how his country was "corrupt" but reiterated that the problem was not his religion, that I needed to hear the other side of the story and that he wanted to give me a tape. I was now late for my daughter's recital, I was standing in 95 degree heat. I told him I would keep an open mind but that I had to go now. I gave him a business card and told him to call me, that I would be glad to have lunch with him and he could bring me his tape.

-Benjamin Harris

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

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

Remembrance of Remembrance

I can count on about one finger the number of books I've reread. So many books, so little time. And of all books, Remembrance of Things Past, dense and 3000 pages long, would seem the absolute least likely candidate for a reread especially by me, a slow reader. It took me six months to finish it the first time and I had to take about a month's break after Part II to give my brain a break. The book I had read immediately before "Remembrance..." was "War and Peace," which seemed like a Reader's Digest condensation in comparison.

So as I neared the end of "Remembrance..." I put in an order for a new batch to Barnes and Noble and immediately upon finishing "Remembrance..." eagerly picked up a new book.

There's the proverbial "something" about "Remembrance...", though. Maybe it's just as simple as the beginning being so long ago from the time I finished that I had a hard time remembering how it began. Maybe too that anytime you read a work of Literature you know that you're missing a lot of nuances in a first read.

But in addition to those things I think it was the feeling that I had that this was The Book, that it was the Story of Life or something. I remember being in the middle of my next book, Thomas Kuhn's "Essential Tension," and just lifting my eyes up and stopping and getting up and going over and taking the first part of "Remembrance..." down and beginning again.

A couple of days later I was in my "reading room" at work, the one with the porcelain fixtures, and was reading a recent issue of Newsweek. They had a small obit on Shelby Foote that mentioned that he loved Proust and had read "Remembrance..." NINE times. I was in good company. There's something about that book.

-Benjamin Harris