Essays and Analyses for a Generation that doesn't really like to Read
THREE WEEKS, VOLUME 1 ISSUE 2 - November 6, 2001
"A tyrannous public opinion is as great an enemy to liberty as tyrannous laws."
On Turkey, by Henry William Brownejohns
Anthrax and Our Self-Esteem, the Editors
Telesurgery, by Ephrain Underhill
On Patriotism, by Alexander Swartwout
Yankees, by Jonathan Ephrain Underhill
On the Infrequent Appearance of Pictures in this Paper
Visit to a Rally, by Henry William Brownejohns
Less Than Two Billion Years from Now, by Alexander Swartwout
The Weather, by Eliza Anne Bonney
Return to Three Weeks Issues
An Amalgam of Facts Appropriate for this Season
What You Don’t Know, and We Do, About the Main Course
For the Advancement of the Reader’s Holiday Dinner Conversation
by Henry William Brownejohns
The world is full of confusion, and there is not one person in any country who can speak to another, or listen to them, and have the ways of communication be completely clear, where every meaning is fully grasped and every implication well understood. Here is a miniscule example, and the beginning of its resolution. Namely, a brief treatise on turkey.
First, let the obvious be stated for the unswift: Turkey is a republic, situated upon the Anatolian peninsula, in Asia Minor, with a small annex on the other side of the Sea of Marmara, in what was known as Thrace. There are almost 66 million Turks in 301,000 square miles; 9 million of them live in the magnificent city of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. Until World War I, what is today the Republic of Turkey was then the seat of the Ottoman Empire, which was dissolved and replaced in 1923 by the modern state. Turkey is a member of NATO, and an aspirant to the European Union, even as it is a Muslim country, and a neighbor and ally to the keystone nations of the Middle East. The landscape is picturesque, the climate is extraordinary, and Turkey possesses perhaps the richest historical legacy in all the world; encompassing Paleolithic and Neolithic societies, the founding of agriculture, the earliest civilizations through Greece, Rome, the early Christians, the Byzantines, the emergence of Islam, and the expansion and golden age of Muslim culture. With that hasty summary, the reader now can no longer boast total ignorance of this remarkable land, and with this foundation laid, we may move on.
In the days just before Europe realized the world was round, her wealthiest citizens were beginning to develop an acute taste for exotic imports, such as silk, spices, and hitherto unimagined knick-knacks from the ends of the earth. Among these extrinsic predilections, the European upper-crust developed a taste for a certain imported bird known as the Pintado, more commonly the ‘guinea fowl’ (Numida meleagris), after its presumed country of nativity. But inanimate goods, such as fabric, gems, and spices, travelled far easier than those poor birds ever could, and so the Portuguese merchants, whose nation had the greatest taste for guinea fowl, established breeding colonies in Asia Minor much nearer to home, and thus a much fresher product. As this region had previously become known to Europeans by the name of its reputedly barbaric people - the Turks - as Turkey, these Turkish-bred guinea fowl came to be known informally as ‘Turkey cocks’ same bird, new name.
It was this escalating desire for things exotic that ultimately led the European aristocracy to come upon our own hitherto underused continent. The Americas were revealed by spice-hunters and questers after bric-a-brac. But with its discovery, there suddenly existed a whole new world not only of people and baubles, but of flora and fauna, and none of it had any names. Among the multitudes of native objects lacking monikers, there was a large, big, nasty fowl bird, which, other than its size and temper, resembled the old delicious guinea fowl from back home. Flat out of inspiration, this new bird (Meleagris gallopavo) was also called a turkey cock - though it was not the same creature as the guinea fowl at all - and began a great career of being feasted upon by the new settlers. It is due to this lackadaisical christening that the Americas suddenly became populated with ‘turkeys’. By the middle of the sixteenth century, the American turkey had been exported to Spain, Portugal, and England - as it was considerably more resilient and adaptable to Europe’s various climates than the guinea fowl - and was so popular there that it supplanted the guinea fowl in the center of the banquet tables. That latter bird soon relinquished its nickname to its larger New World cousin altogether, and was left to its own devices, in its own country.
For its ferocity, size, and ubiquity, the American turkey was briefly considered for the animal emblem of the nascent United States, sponsored most famously by Benjamin Franklin; but for its flavor, amplitude, and ease of capture, this noble bird was preferred as a centerpiece of holiday feasts. For obvious reasons of national morale, it could not fulfill both roles, and so we have it today not upon our flags and our coins, but upon our tables. And this evolution occurred so discretely that most harmless Americans wonder at least once in their life, in ignorance, why there was a country half way around the world named after such an ungainly bird.
(As for the source of that word, Meleagris - genus of both the guinea fowl and the American turkey it is a Greek word which comes from the story of Meleager, one of the participants in the legendary Calydonian hunt. A great warrior, Meleager was cursed at birth, and slayed his uncles when they mocked him for his infatuation with the huntress Atalanta. His mother, Althea, was compelled by the gods to enact the curse, which killed him, and consequently Althea killed herself out of guilt. This typically Greek chain of events left his sisters, the Meleagrides, with no relatives left on earth, and their crying was so incessant and uncontrollable that the goddess Artemis mercifully transformed them into guinea hens, and sent them to live on the island of Leros (off the Turkish coast), where they were ever after free to wander about in their grief and madness, clucking and muttering gibberish to themselves. This paper regrets giving such short shrift to such a long and venerable legend as that of Meleager and the Calydonian Hunt, but it has felt lately that the Greeks have gotten too much credit for everything, and making references to their ancient myths has become something of a cottage industry for academics and seekers after credibility. Also, a treatise on turkey, or Turkey, runs the risk of combustion if there is too much talk of Greece, ancient or no - you see, the Turks and the Greeks have gotten on badly throughout the ages; but it’s much too much to go into while we are still constrained by parentheses.)
The misappellation of the American turkey is so pervasive and unremarked-upon in this, the New World, that many Americans make visits to Turkey, and, having failed to do their proper research, they regularly embarrass themselves and their nation, by asking a Turk, over tea, what his word for ‘that bird’ is. Well, the readership may now consider themselves enlightened: there are no turkeys in Turkey, and thus, there is no word for them. Or more correctly, the word is the Turk’s to begin with.
Following is a brief, hypothetical exchange meant to illustrate how a conversation between an American and a Turk might progress on the subject of Meleagris gallopavo:
“So what is the word around here for a turkey, like the bird?”
“How do you say turkey, when you mean the bird?”
“Which bird is that, my friend?”
“You know, in America, there’s a bird, which we call a turkey, and we eat it sliced up on sandwiches, and on the fourth Thursday of every November, and it’s the same word as this country, Turkey. So what do you call the bird? Don’t you ever eat turkey?”
“Turkey is my country.”
“Sure, but it’s also a bird. You know, it goes gobble-gobble-gobble.”
At this the Turk will smile, because he knows exactly what the American is talking about, and has known all along, but he also knows that this conversation, which he has had with countless other Americans, inevitably ends with the Westerner flapping his arms and saying ‘gobble-gobble-gobble.’ Only after he is granted the satisfaction of this display does he see fit to clarify the fact that there is no word in his language for the bird, because there is no bird. He does so, of course, with the utmost courtesy. It has not yet been mentioned, but should be, that they are some of the friendliest and most obliging people in the world, there in Turkey.
THREE WEEKS CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROGRAM
For some, it may seem like service enough to one’s nation and species to illuminate every twenty-one days truth and reason, in a world overrun by savagery and senselessness. But to us, it is only a first step. Therefore, THREE WEEKS here announces a new program in which its editors offer to perform the duties of mediator and civil judge in any conflicts that seem too petty, too dependent upon ethics, or too complex, to be presented to an actual court of law. This service shall be provided free and upon the singular condition that we choose our cases, and we shall write about them, as a means of assisting troubled readers while also filling ample column space. This program is inspired in us by a series of trivial conflicts in our own lives, which, had there been anyone as sensible and rational as ourselves in a position to objectively judge the situation, would have been happily avoided, or thwarted early on. A call thenceforth goes out to all disputees, who find themselves irretrievably snagged in some kind of conundrum: send your matter to us, and to the best of our considerable abilities, we shall sort it out according to reason and right.
ANTHRAX AND OUR SELF-ESTEEM
When the initial attack came against the Sun of Boca Raton, it seemed as if our antagonists were targeting the purveyors of the American lowbrow, in a not-too-surprising display of their lethal uptightness. At the time, we didn’t even think to be insulted.
When the dreaded envelopes arrived at NBC news, ABC news, and CBS news, it was still none too evident that this was anything but a predictable attack against the lowest common denominator of American mass culture.
But when the famous powder was unleashed at the New York Times, that scion of middle class unobjectability, our hackles were raised. The pattern was broken, our terrorists had shown that they had no method at all; they were after any American institution with a mailing address. So we bought a set of rubber gloves and began waiting.
We are waiting still, and meanwhile, the New York Post, the governor, the House, and the Senate have all got their anthrax, and frankly it is beginning to bother us.
Now, we do not hanker to be targeted as any badge of legitimacy, per se, or even as an acknowledgement of our centrality to American thought and culture - our egos are well provided for already. But, we simply think that enough things are written in this publication attesting to our reason, our rationality, and our enlightenment that it is a worthwhile focus for the ire of today’s Dark Age villains, who have come out so forcefully against those ideals. We think we deserve to be targeted not because we are merely Americans, or merely run an American newspaper, but because we aspire to embody those better principles that America itself is founded upon. Perhaps it is a subtle differentiation, but the terrorist’s failure to make it indicates to us just how misguided their war is. While we are a little disappointed in the lack of acuity shown by our nemeses, we refuse to be belittled by the neglect of a few cave-dwelling cultists. We shall be fine, thank you.
AN ADVANCE IN DOING THINGS WITHOUT BEING THERE
For those readers whose capacity for being impressed has lately overflowed, and consider themselves jaded beyond all recovery, listen up: a woman in Strasbourg, France was recently surprised to wake up in a hospital room without her gallbladder, and was even more surprised to learn that it had been taken out by doctors in New York City, 6,000 miles distant.
To be truthful, the surprise of the woman is overstated - she was well aware that a team of doctors in America was prepared to try out a new system of remote robotic surgery on her. Still, it has to have come as some surprise to her to wake up and discover that it had actually worked. Using high-speed fiber-optic transmissions and elaborate motion-control mechanisms, the doctors, from their easy chairs in New York, were able to perform a delicate operation on the other side of an ocean - incising, extracting the organ, repairing the tissue, and stitching her up. A live image of the patient and the operating room appeared to them on their TVs in the Great City, where they maneuvered a delicate set of proxy surgical instruments which delivered signals to actual surgical robots all the way there in France. The time it took for the New York doctors to wiggle their virtual scalpel, have its real-world robotic counterpart wiggle in France, and then see the results on their screen in New York again was 155 milliseconds. A delay of only a few blinks of the eye; enough to react to most foreseeable contingencies. For those instances requiring quicker reflexes, a few nurses were obliged to stand by in France, mopping up and shooing away flies.
The benefits of such a system are apparent even to simpletons. The thing enables doctors to work from wherever the climate and conditions suit them, and provides patients the opportunity to be butchered and mended by surgeons of their choice, regardless of nationality or geographic location. It doesn’t do much at all for nurses, who, for lack of any considerable research establishment working on their behalf, will still need to be on the front lines of medical treatment. And for the paranoid, too much worry needn’t be expended on the prospects of organ theft from across enemy lines - the robots and computers necessary are considerably bulky entities, and can’t very easily be sneaked into one’s bedroom at night, without detection. And that goes double for the anesthesiologist.
As for those remaining skeptics who know a thing or two about the French character, and want to know how the heck doctors in America, of all places, were ever permitted to violate a French citizen so readily and at such a distance, it should be noted that while the doctors were in New York City, they were in fact French persons, abroad. The head of the operation - Operation Lindbergh, yes - was a certain M. Jacques Marescaux. Thus, the woman’s gallbladder never left Gallic ‘hands,’ and hereafter, if you ever find yourself needing an organ removed while you are on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas or on safari in Kenya, yours never need be touched by any but your own countryman’s either.
AN EXAMINATION OF THIS LATELY OMNIPRESENT FEELING, FOR THOSE WHO ARE SKEPTICAL ABOUT SUCCUMBING TO ITS GRIPS
by Alexander Swartwout
At least since old Mr. Cobain sold a hundred million unquestioning youths on his catchy message of misanthropy and rebellion, a generation has grown up almost groundlessly pessimistic, and skeptical of all things official, or mainstream, or beholden to the Establishment. And yet most of them could not have told you why, specifically, they felt that way. Still, wave a flag, or hum the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and brace yourself for disapproving glances from the kids.
Well the world has gone through some changes lately, and as our singular nation suffers its first wounds of war in a lifetime, this dispossessed generation suddenly finds itself wearing an uncomfortable patriotism, for lack of any of its own convictions. The ‘counter-culture’ - which for a while now has actually been in the majority - suddenly is getting choked up by ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and they can’t figure out why, or whether there’s anything wrong with that.
It has been a good ride, but the age of dogmatic skepticism has run its course. Yes, astoundingly, we must at last actually discover our principles for ourselves. Those most surprised by their nationalistic stirrings have no recourse but to examine their values closely, and determine which of them they cherish, and which of them have been adopted unwittingly, or borrowed altogether, from marketing executives or their muses, like old St. Curt.
This does not mean an outright abandonment of doubt and independence; rather, to adhere to the contrarian stance, legitimately, one must now ground themselves in reason, instead of reflex, and must defend their position meaningfully, not perfunctorily, against the prevailing wind of yahooism. Otherwise, patriotism is at risk of becoming servitude, and even dissent is no more fruitful than role-playing.
First, to reassure those conflicted young rebels suddenly poised reluctantly to stick American flag decals on the bumpers of their Volkswagens: there is nothing wrong with your glimmerings of national pride. You have not been hypnotized; you are not selling short your individuality. Patriotism is quite normal, quite natural, and in moderation, can indeed be quite admirable, even as it stirs conflict within us. And if we at least understand patriotism’s origin, we might legitimize what anthems we are inclined to sing these days, and what colors we show.
The geographical facts of any person’s birth and upbringing are going to predispose that person to a certain amount of patriotic feeling. This is not a political feeling; at this stage, it is not even an acquired feeling. It comes from a familiarity with one’s surroundings, and a certain trust in these surroundings; it comes from a natural devotion to friends and family, and by extension a desire to see them protected. And patriotism comes from the essentially human characteristic of tribal preference - no matter how enlightened we consider ourselves, initially we prefer our own kind to strangers. This is not to say that patriotism must necessarily limit us in our allegiances and prevent our openness to outsiders, only that its roots are deeply held, and are universal.
Additionally, elements of patriotic feeling are taught, both overtly and subconsciously. It is typical for the children of any region or population to learn the history and tradition of their region, or their people, in preference to those of others. Again, when this occurs, familiarity will breed favoritism, and the sense of historical continuity - of participation in a lineage - felt by the young initiate for their land and country will turn to patriotism. The patriotism of any group, by correlation, will be inversely proportional to the extent of their education in other cultures. Cosmopolitan people, well-informed in the cultures of others, will inevitably possess a more tempered and basic patriotic feeling, than those who are only familiar with their own traditions. This learned aspect of patriotism, the beginning of the political aspect, is also the one that is prone to be developed by governments for their own advancement against foreign influence. A central political entity can nurture a patriotic streak in its people, by controlling the availability and universality of their education, and using to its advantage the natural and inherent presence of such tribal, nationalist feelings as mentioned above. Arguably, it is immoral to exploit political influence over children, who are bound by circumstance to be educated by their society, and yet it is desirable for any government to do so, to some extent, in order to reinforce the foundation of the culture upon which it stands, and over which it governs.
Lately, the Board of Education of the City of New York has mandated the reading of the pledge of allegiance to the American flag at the beginning of any school day, while making a point of the fact that students will not be punished for failing to recite it. Still, in conditioning the educational environment of its children so prejudicially, a moral democratic government oversteps its authority, and breaches its responsibility to democratic principle. The experiment of American democracy is whether a totally open society - a collection of absolutely free intellects - will prefer their less rigid, more liberal, system enough to defend it as vehemently as subjects of a more oppressive regime would theirs, at the insistence of their oppressors.
Patriotism is very much a form of pride, but it is not necessarily one akin to the sinful sort. The aim of patriotism is admirable: the merging of the individual with his society for the benefit of the whole, and some of the world’s most stirring models of nobility are individuals who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the preservation of their countrymen. Here is a deep feeling of connection with one’s society, that engenders the finest impulses within the human animal. In discovering such percolations of national pride within their disaffected little hearts, perhaps the angry young men of America are not so misguided after all. Yet, before the whole generation pledges its unwavering, unquestioning allegiance, and tattoo screaming eagles upon their every limb, let us consider also the shortcomings of unexamined patriotism.
Most disconcerting is its appetite for ignorance. Returning to a previous point, patriotism is tempered by knowledge of other cultures and traditions, and when this knowledge is acquired, patriotism can be replaced by something more noble yet - human empathy. While patriotism is born in us to preserve ourselves and those whom we directly depend on to survive, it can just as easily be used to arouse irrational prejudices against other countries. As the sorely missed Mr. Russell wrote, “A world full of patriots may be a world full of strife.” An enlightened patriot must ask himself for what his flag is waving: the dignity and ideals that his own country represents, or the shortcomings that he sees in another country, and which he feels must be defeated. The two positions are barely distinguishable, even semantic. Thus, patriotism falls short in a multifarious - that is, global - society.
Our current patriotic fervor was born largely from the subconscious of our nation. We needn’t feel uncomfortable with it, because it represents our collective pride in our society, and illuminates our willingness to deliver ourselves as individuals for the good of our neighbors. However, as the breadth of this new feeling is exposed to the light of day, it sours. It shows us how little we know of our world, and how insular we are in our loyalties and trust. If we could extend the central impulse of patriotism, to general empathy, we would better serve humanity at large.
Where the skeptical patriot must draw the line is where flag waving and nationalist rhetoric cease to express a love for what is best about his nation, and begin to suggest what is flawed about another. An American patriot has every reason to be emotional about his country’s high ideals, and regardless of America’s failings, he may rightfully sing and pledge his loyalty. But as soon as this pride turns outward, and implies inherent flaws in another culture or government, then patriotism is political, it has become jingoism. The patriot becomes a militant; for his government, the patriot becomes a pawn.
Although they never wittingly knew it, this is exactly what the present generation of dissidents have been aligned against all along. They knew that they mistrusted the American establishment, they were disdainful of military service, and they kept mum during the national anthem at their younger siblings’ Little League games, fearing for their credibility. But with the recent abrupt arousal of the dormant national character, they feel guilty, and find their stance insubstantial. Indeed, it feels intuitive at times like this to merge oneself into one’s society, to acknowledge one’s similarities with others’, and to sacrifice some of one’s self for the benefit of their country. Only to do so, one must not necessarily sacrifice their individuality, and it is worth reconsidering the scope of what we Americans consider ‘society.’ The adoption of a broader patriotism - of humanism, in fact - is exactly the sort of action that America was intended to perform, and it is a belief in just such a founding principle that rouses in us, even the skeptical, a surprisingly deep-seated love of country. 3W
AN ATTEMPT TO ENRICH THE INTELLECTS OF RABID HOOLIGANS
An Almost Certainly Unwelcome Explanation of What a ‘Yankee’ Exactly Is
Thoroughly Researched, with an unfortunate deadline in the middle of the World Series
by Jonathan Ephrain Underhill
A sure method of draining the fun and interest out of a sport is to expostulate academically on its origin and the derivation of its rules and traditions. No remark is as certain to receive jeers and groans from football fans as the well-tried “Football, you know, around the world, is the word used to describe what we call soccer;” and you cannot make a greater breach of baseball etiquette than to point out its relation to cricket, and its invention by British mercenary soldiers and Union fighters during the Civil War, and the falsity of the Abner Doubleday myth. Here at THREE WEEKS, this cerebral reductionism, and the resultant dampening of enjoyment that it provides, is a beloved pastime in itself, and all of us take a deep, quiet pleasure in exasperating sports fans and devotees. It does not need to be pointed out to us that we are ruining the fun of games, and are missing the point of them; we know that already, and are pleased to let everyone know that this is how we get our kicks.
And so, as it is autumn in New York City, and, even though at this writing the World Series is yet a few days from resolution, it is presumably safe to say that by the time our readers converge on this sentence, the famous New York Yankees will already be victors and the baseball season will be at a bittersweet end. In honor of this potentially enjoyable time for baseball fans and the legions of nearly autistic trivia buffs among them, and to compensate for the absence of any actual interesting information among the reams of speculative, statistics-based waffling in the sports pages, here is an overlong and thoughtful explanation of what exactly a Yankee is, because almost certainly, you, our humble reader, do not know.
A Yankee is one of those formless designations that shifts its intent with the circumstances of its usage. To an Englishman, a Yankee is any American; to a Southerner, he is any Northerner; and to a Northerner, a Yankee is a very specific breed of New Englander, who has cashed in his ability to pronounce ‘r’ for the ability to wear tweeds and plaids together.
Neither is the derivation of the term yankee in any way certain. The only thing any of the sources can agree on is that yankee was originally a derogatory name. Its first attributions appear in the early part of the eighteenth century, and several can be found that place it in use during the French and Indian War, where Americans were already being used as expendable infantry units, due to their low status and generally coarse reputation. The British General James Wolfe, writing in response to a request for the dispatch of American soldiers in his command, says, “My posts are not so fortified that I can afford you two companies of Yankees, and the more as they are better for ranging and scouting than either work or vigilance... (Yankees) are in general the dirtiest most contemptible cowardly dogs that you can conceive. There is no depending on them in action.” (1758)
Also, “(The British soldiers) abused the watch-men on duty, and the young children of Boston by the wayside, making mouths at them, calling them Yankeys, shewing their posteriors, and clapping their hands thereon.”(1775) These are unkind words, indeed, and nothing any Bronx rooter would want to hear uttered about his pinstriped vicars. Coincidentally, here also witness in this last quotation an early reference to the venerable practice of mooning, also still frequent in conjunction with Yankees.
Prior to this, the origin of the word yankee is shrouded in that impenetrable fog of poorly documented history. There is hearsay about a CaptainYanky of New Amsterdam, an Indian tribe called the Yankos, and the American natives’ inability to properly pronounce ‘Anglais’ - a dodgy speculation, which presumes that the French settlers would be speaking very often to the Indians about their English competitors, and in anything but their most colorful diction.
Slightly more promising are some sketchily evidenced theories that yankee comes, appropriately, from the early days of New York, in the seventeenth century, when it was alternately a Dutch and an English trading post. Just as the English are known to those less imaginative detractors by the general nickname John Bull, and we might mildly slander a German with the overall designation of Dieter, or Kraut, so were the Dutch, in their heyday, cursed by the name of ‘Jan Kees’ - John Cheese. Soon, the historian is left to assume, all New Amsterdammers were known by the name yan-kees, and in a hundred years, by the time of the French and Indian War and the aforementioned coinages, this contemptuous nickname held for any American.
It was sometime during this conflict that “Yankee Doodle” itself was first penned, according to a likable narrative that is itself as unverifiable as any of the rest. Whether the facts of the story are accurate, its conclusion is correct: that “Yankee Doodle” was a derisive taunt, a song sung by the British which mocked the condition of their American counterparts. The legend has it that the wife of the British Colonel Thomas Fitch, seeing the poor state of the Americans under her husband’s command, insisted on some semblance of dignity for the group, and gathered feathers from her chicken coop, and tucked one in each man’s cap. “Soldiers should wear plumes,” we are supposed to believe she said. Regardless, when a particular British surgeon, a Dr. Sheckburg, witnessed the ragged and befeathered company, he joked how they looked like macaronis - which, for the initiate in eighteenth century British slang, was a common term for a dandy. He applied his wit to a popular tune of the time, and came up with the first verses of “Yankee Doodle.” Reputedly, there are hundreds of verses, added as the song gained popularity. When it came time for the Americans to turn and fight against the British, they had developed a few new verses of their own, which made the song a patriotic one, to rebuff the jeering of the redcoats.
By the time of the Battle of Lexington, in 1775, not only was “Yankee Doodle” an American marching song, but a myth had circulated through the colonies explaining away the derisiveness of the term, about how the fictive Yankos Indians, who had been so impressed by the strength and talent of the New England settlers, that they surrendered not only their land, but their name, and henceforth referred to their conquerors as Yankos. This bit of propaganda reaffirmed the pride the Americans felt in being known as Yankees, even as the British thought they were hurling invective.
And ever since, pride has been inseparable from Yankeehood; unless of course we are vexed by our untimely printing deadline and are off the mark with our prediction, and somehow the Arizona team comes up with an upset in the Series.
ON THE INFREQUENT APPEARANCE OF PICTURES IN THIS PAPER
Whole forests have been cleared, milled, pressed, typed upon, and left in our mailbox complaining about THREE WEEKS’ dearth of pictures. Rather than appease these fanatics with pages of meaningless visual pleasantries, we would like to explain our policy on pictures, and why so few shall be found in these hallowed pages.
The truth of the matter is, there are artists in our ranks. We will spare them full disclosure, but indeed at least one of us has a considerable background in the visual arts, and the rest of us are at minimum connoisseurs. Thus, we do not shy away from publishing art because we are intimidated by it, but because we are exhausted of it. Our world has become all pictures, to the point of infuriating us - having done so much looking at, and learned so little in doing it. A too rarely uttered point: most pictures are simply no good. To sacrifice space to them because they are simply pictures, or inoffensive filler, is a concession to mediocrity, which, so far, we aren’t prepared to make.
It pleases us more to tell our readers things, than to pictorially reproduce them. Excessive illustration of prose addles the brain in detrimental ways, so that comprehension of the words themselves is diluted. Also, the unrestrained littering of our paper with imagery would cause THREE WEEKS only to vanish even further into the indistinguishable mass of contemporary culture, as it is made available at your bookshop or newsstand.
Pictures communicate in too vague a way to satisfy us. Here, we want to get things off our chest, and not have them hover about us indeterminately while our meaning is interpreted. What we mean, we will say.
What pictures we do print shall be simple, meaningful, practical, and we think beautiful. And they shall be in black and white, and shall not lend themselves to the speculations of a city full of semioticians. There shall be no photographs whatsoever, as this, of all picture-making, is as perverse and fruitless an occupation as we know of. That all of these restrictions fall in line with what our printer has demanded of us to qualify for his most generous discount is merely serendipity.
Let the world ogle at the daily deluge of imagery around them, and come away with nothing. Here, they will be subjected to no such decadence. Our pages shall be homely and spare, according to our preference, and unless all honor is dead, we expect that some small number of you will begin to see why this is itself beautiful.3W
VISIT TO A RALLY
VARIOUS PERSONS PROTEST MULTIPLE THINGS SIMULTANEOUSLY IN THE SAME PLACE
THREE WEEKS visits Times Square to Witness the Condition of the Opposition Movement
Also the current exhibit at the Public Library is gone over, and deeply admired
by Henry William Brownejohns
On Saturday the 27th, a rally was held in Times Square to protest not so much the war, but more generally any war. It was entitled “War and Racism are not the Answer,” and I was so intrigued by such a clear-cut and hairless statement that I thought I might go and find out then what the answer was. Donning a pair of spectacles and tucking a pencil behind my ear, by way of a disguise, I boarded a train to go and see this rally.
As a contextual detail, it is worth mentioning that I spent a half an hour stalled upon that train, while it waited for one of those ‘police actions’ to unfold a few cars down. I do not know if this particular one was resolved by subduing a true enemy of the state, or by merely apprehending some good old fashioned teenagers on a crime spree, but it has become an unremarkable routine these days, to wait and wonder. Whether war is or is not the answer, it is very much upon us.
Arriving at last at the rally, I encountered about seven or eight hundred marchers, all, apparently, of the opinion that war and racism were not the answer. Besides that, they agreed on very little else. Most glaringly, they lacked a consensus on what the answer otherwise might be. Indeed, they did not entirely cohere even on what the question was.
In a democratic body, the presence of doubt and dissension is the immune system of the society - every marcher and soapbox orator an antibody - ensuring that whatever ailment the society may be afflicted with, its remedy is adaptable, and the society shall in time heal itself. At the present moment, our world is clearly ill with a new and quite specific ague, and yet at this early stage, our democracy’s immune response is only so general as to fight off a common cold.
The opponents of America’s present campaign of belligerence - or self-defense - lack the requisite organization, coherence, and delicacy of consideration, to play the necessary part of foil in the cultural debate. While dissent is always to be admired - being as difficult and as necessary as it is - carrying signs denouncing war and racism is nary more pointed than coming out in favor of well-paved roads and clean public restrooms.
The attendants of the Times Square rally were variously in favor of diplomatic resolution to the conflict (though, those who were asked further were unsure with whom, exactly, the negotiations ought to take place); total and unconditional American withdrawal from the entire vicinity of the Middle East, on the preadolescent model of taking one’s toys home when the game becomes unpleasant; the cessation of American corporate, cultural, and military influence around the world; an end to America’s reliance on oil (again, without any specific stratagem); the liberation of women around the world, the end of homophobia, and the democratization of world governments; the release of that ubiquitous fellow ‘Mumia’; the establishment of an independent Palestinian state; the creation of jobs for every able-bodied person in the world; the empowerment and uprising of workers in the industrialized world; the resignation of Mr. Bush; and the ending of terrorism altogether. That all of this cannot happen at once, or in the same universe, is obvious; and that it was all demanded in Times Square - the ultimate G-spot of our carefree capitalist republic - while Starbucks Coffee employees handed out free samples to the marchers, is only worth noting for the awful heavy-handedness of the irony.
Signs were displayed reading “Zionism Equals Terrorism,” “Bush Equals Racism,” “No More Terror,” “and “Defeat U.S. Imperialism, Defend Afghanistan and Iraq,” - among others - signaling the ambivalence of the movement as a whole. My own favorite, “Tom Ridge is Watching You,” was the only one that seemed to demonstrate the nuance of skepticism, and the wit, that we must hope the opposition parties will eventually develop more fully. Without exception, however, there was simply no explanation of any of the mottoes, other than with more mottoes.
The streets, for six blocks in every direction, were lined with police barricades stacked in rows, corralling nothing. The rally only occupied one block, and even there the avenue remained open. Police officers were present in such numbers that it seemed as if there were an officer for every marcher - either as a gesture on the city’s part of courteous personal service for the demonstrators, or a drastic over-estimation of the size of the expected crowd. A block to the South, a counter-demonstration of exactly fifteen people leaned into the street, awaiting their targets. They clutched American flags and yellow ribbons, but, to their chagrin, the marchers, once they began to move, went North instead. The counter-demonstrators disbanded, the squadron of police officers began to collect the barricades, and the rally was on the move, walking on the sidewalk North to 42nd Street, then West along the theater row, escorted by policemen on mopeds, keeping the marchers out of traffic. The whole thing was remarkably orderly, and it took three blocks of this strolling along before I noticed that not a single television crew had been dispatched to document the event. Without that incitement to expression, and that affirmation of being heard in living rooms around the world, the march was somewhat wan, and though noisy, it was uninspired. The whole thing called to mind an expedition of trick-or-treaters rambling along a neighborhood sidewalk, more than it did masses of civil-rights marchers, overwhelming city blocks with pride and purpose.
They waved flags: Palestinian, Peace, Earth, and a star-spangled banner with various corporate logos in place of stars - but each had to be dipped to pass beneath the awnings of the Disney Store, the AMC Empire Cinema, the “Lion King,” and the brand-spanking new wax museum, with a paraffin Whoopi Goldberg presiding. A few of the city’s less stable bystanders shouted epithets at the marchers - mainly sticking to the themes of treason and sissyhood - but this was not any more than these fellows would have been shouting at passers-by on any day. For the most part, people saw the march as something inevitable, even necessary, even while they might not agree with its purpose. The world has got some disease, the spectators are all well aware, and here is the stuffy nose and the headache that in their own way indicate that the process of recuperation is at least under weigh.
And the rally came and went this way, without ever improving on the simplistic implications of its theme. Tired, I broke away from the bongo players at the tail end of the procession, no little bit disappointed that here there were no answers to be had at all.
The afternoon was still new, though, and as the sky had meanwhile become overcast and the air cold and damp, I went East, for food and sanctuary. As my excursion continued, I would develop a sense that my afternoon was being scripted for me by the laziest of television screenwriters, with a fatigued imagination, a clumsy way with irony, and a foreigner’s dreamy distorted image of New York City.
It began when I was inspired to have two hot dogs on the steps of the Public Library, between the lions, in what is allegedly a “Quiet Zone,” if signage is to be believed. But the fantasies of the cosmic script hack were at work, and I was all the while serenaded by a curbside saxophone player, who seemed to know only “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the accursed “God Bless America,” Mr. Berlin’s sinister mid-century knife-in-the-back of our stable secular state. It was news to me that anybody really actually still played saxophones out of doors; I searched every corner for cameras, but could find none. Reeling from the overstimulation, I went into the library itself, relying on that kind old matron to provide the sanctuary I sought, from not only the drizzle just begun, but from ironic juxtapositions and skewed starry-eyed mirages known to neophytes and out-of-towners as ‘New York scenes.’
I could not have been better provided for. The doomy old hall of the library is currently papered with selected treasures from the National Archives, including a voting record from the Constitutional Convention, Washington’s inaugural speech, the Louisiana Purchase treaty, and the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The actual Proclamation itself is scheduled to appear between November 16 and 19, something like the headlining act at a Catskills resort, but the show is the most understated and essential display in the city, even without its Lincolnian top-biller.
Every page rests frail and dim in its glass case, the writing on most of them so fine and in such arcane hands that reading them, at length, is a chore for the patient and the myopic. But it is enough, with these documents, to only glean the first few words, or any few phrases, or even to only study the meticulous decoration, to suddenly be awed. They are tissue-frail papers, faint and elegant, and yet each of them has a presence as pronounced as any Classical building. It is a dry, spare show, and one only ever visited by a perfectly manageable little stream of people at any one time, but it is a profound one, and there is not a body perusing those old tracts that is not, at one moment or another, holding its breath in deference.
Each document in the archives show is a shining example of eloquence and gravity, somehow risen from its own clouds of chaos and uncertainty. The excitement of the hand that filled in every vote of the Constitutional Convention roll is evident, but never does it hasten into inelegance. The note penned by Mr. Safire, for the president to read in the event of a disastrous 1969 moon landing, is a gem of poise snatched from the terror of the unknowable: “...fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”
And the faint filigree script of Lincoln’s first Emancipation attracts curious gazes and turns them into respectful stares, as everyone begins to try to read, and then, underserved by their contact lenses and their capacity for appreciation, they remain hovering there, simply deriving satisfaction from the presence of the thing.
A few feet away, another letter, this one from the King of Siam, relieves the tension of the solemn room. The good king, in 1861, offered to send young America a shipment of elephants, having heard that this country, unthinkably, had none. They could be “turned loose in forests and increase till there be large herds.” It was Lincoln also who replied to that, lacking, for all his genius, the vision to let elephants run rampant across the American prairies. He politely points out to the king that the climate and geography of this country did not “favor the multiplication of the elephant.” Even in rejecting the introduction of pachyderms to his troubled republic, Lincoln is focussed and mellifluous, and all sides in our current conflict ought to crave one iota of his facility. From there, the visitor moves on to the German surrender of 1945, and the inaugural address of President Kennedy, and on through one paradigm after another of tact and sanity in the midst of history’s whole arsenal of tribulation and turmoil.
Everything outside is left behind when the Archives gallery is entered. The disparity of the protesters four blocks West is forgotten; the intimations of superficiality that plagued me as my afternoon seemed to be no more than the brainstorm of some metaphysical tenth-rate screenwriter are dispersed; and the uncertainty and upheaval of the whole ruined present is belittled - all by the eloquence proven possible by those flimsy pages.
For now, I do not think we stand much of a chance of being graced with eloquence - or coherence, or absolute conviction - in the midst of our present confusion, by any party, any time soon; but I do not think that we will have completely emerged from this abyss, or have arrived at any meaningful answer - however sure we are of what the answer is not - until this grace we are capable of does at last return.
LESS THAN TWO BILLION YEARS FROM NOW
Perspective on our Problems
Whatever you are doing, whether exercising on a treadmill or filling in a crossword puzzle or burning incriminating evidence, do it with this in mind: in one billion years, the sun will have grown ten percent brighter and hotter, and life on Earth will not be possible. Of course, we all know the old fact that in five billion years, the sun will explode and then collapse on itself, but that’s really too far in the future to be relevant. A billion years, however, will be here before we know it.
And so it is with tremendous relief that I report that someone out there has already devised a plan of rescue for our doomed planet. A group of researchers with exceptional foresight have calculated how to move the Earth from its present orbit into a wider one, using the gravitational effects of giant asteroids controlled by man-made rockets. Italics are used here to indicate the sheer gumption and courage which emanate from the idea.
The researchers, at the University of California at Santa Cruz - which is a real school, and one that I feel should now be considered the world’s greatest - have calculated exactly how an asteroid weighing 1012 metric tons could be placed in a roughly regular orbit around Earth and Jupiter, with minimal rocket-aided nudging, so that by virtue of the Laws of Conservation of Energy and Momentum, our planet’s orbit would gradually widen out from the sun, keeping comfortably within the region of the solar system known as the ‘life-belt.’ The reader should see clearly that to stray outside of the ‘life-belt’ would be catastrophic, leaving us irretrievably in the ‘death-zone,’ or ‘infertile crescent.’
Once this program of orbital readjustment got under weigh, say the scientists at balmy Santa Cruz (where suspicions of the Sun’s overreaching its authority are common to every citizen), we would need another gravitational noodge about once every six thousand years. This seems at first awfully frequent and something of a hassle, just to keep our planet’s climate viable for life, but in time I believe the Noodge Year, as rare as it would be, would become an occasion for wonderful celebration, and yearlong parties could be held as the planet drifts out through space, and children could play symbolic games in which they shove each other into lukewarm pools of water. The human race will turn every endeavor into a ritual of partying and play, and the re-orbiting process, once every six millennia, would be no different - only better.
The only significant drawback to the plan is that once we re-orbit ourselves, the moon will be lost. It turns out the moon is a complicating factor in the careful choreography of orbits, and for mathematical and gravitational reasons, it would be bound to float off into deep space forever. In all likelihood, of course, it would be taken up by some other planet, as would any cast-off maiden be asked to dance by predatory gentleman hovering on the outskirts of the ballroom.
And if this is really the worst result of gaining four billion more years on Earth, then so be it. Any reasonable person would cash in his smaller, weaker companion’s life for another week of survival on a lifeboat. As would one not hesitate to throw his gang’s slowest and least cunning thug to the police, if it means the group can escape the law for another day; or hand over a stowaway alien at the border to keep safe his stash of Mexican tequila.
The moon has grown tiresome anyway. It is entirely predictable, and, rather than being reassuring and endearing, it is really just a nightly certification that Nature is out of ideas. But not those practical Nostrodami of U.C. Santa Cruz. With only a billion years to spare, they have hatched a plan to save us all from a fate as unpleasant as an ongoing July in New York City, and it is a stunning display of humanity’s greatest talent: perverting the elegance of Nature towards our own ends, and surviving, at any cost, and in any condition we can.
At this date, I would like to lend my full support to the plan, and for being one of the first to publicly do so, I expect to be appropriately revered by my human descendants a billion years down the line. A statue would be satisfactory, but I don’t think it would be unmerited to have
one of those helpful asteroids named after me. If not that, then I would also accept the dedication, to me, of the spot in the sky where the moon will have once shone from.
AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION
- Oh I don’t feel well at all.
- Are you sick?
- You know I’m not a doctor.
- I know, but I thought you might know if you were sick, if you felt sick.
- I don’t feel well, that’s what I know. Sick is a whole other thing.
- Can I get you anything? Some hot tea? A magazine?
- No just
- No. Just
- Just what? Some tea?
- No, no. Just Just let me
- You don’t look too well. Do you think maybe it’s stress?
- I don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist.
- But you almost were. You could still go back to school for one more year and you would be. I don’t see why you don’t. You’d be much better off. I mean, look at yourself. You don’t look too good and you photocopy documents for six and a half dollars an hour. I wouldn’t feel well either.
- I’m going to lie down.
- Okay. Here’s a pillow.
- Thanks. Ugh.
- Do you want another one? Two pillows? A blanket? Some hot tea? Where do you feel ill?
- No, no. Just all around.
- Your stomach?
- That’s a delicate organ, all right. What about your head?
- Light. Kind of dizzy.
- Are you Do you think that, do you still want to go Do you still think we’ll get to the ballgame? Or no, don’t worry about it, if you feel too badly...
- I’m just going to lie down, just for a minute
- No, nothing. We can go another day.
- Just give me a moment. I don’t want you to waste your tickets.
- Well you don’t look too good, so don’t worry bout it.
- I mean anyway, if you finished school and were a psychiatrist it would be no big deal to have field level seats to a game and not be able to use them. With psychiatrist money you could buy field level tickets whenever you wanted.
- Maybe you should be a psychiatrist. See how you like it.
- For psychiatrist money I would do it for a year. Did you say yes to hot tea?
- No. No, just In a moment. We’ll go.
- Not if you’re sick. You should relax. You shouldn’t worry about it. You’re under a lot of stress. That photocopy place is one of the busiest ones around.
- Just a second. We’ll go in just a second. These tickets were hard to get, we’ll, just in a second.
- Because big clients come in there and they expect their documents always lined up just perfectly between the little marks on the glass, and they don’t tolerate dust specks or crooked copies and when these things happen, and they do, of course - these things do happen - they get so bent out of shape and they take it out on you. They call you names and threaten your job and say you’re an idiot. And none of them has any idea that you’re an intelligent person who is this close to being a psychiatrist. I think this is why you’re feeling so poorly. It’s stress. Stress can do that.
- I don’t know.
- Well you said that you didn’t think you were sick.
- I only said I don’t know. How would I know? I’m not a doctor.
- You’re one year from being a kind of a doctor. And anyway a person knows when they’re sick. If you don’t know than you probably aren’t, in which case I think it’s stress. I think if you can get up the ballgame will relax you. Plus these are great seats. Do you think you can get up?
- I don’t know. Just a second.
- Is it any better? Is it in your back?
- Kind of achy. Stiff.
- What about your hands?
- What about them?
- Do they feel bad too?
- N- No. My hands are okay I’m not really thinking about my hands... I feel just, generally, bad. Through the middle.
- Well I should make some hot tea.
- No! Don’t. Look, we’ll go to the ballgame, just a second, here, I’m getting up... Ugh
- Can you make it? Great. I’m glad, I think anyway it really will be good for you, you’ll relax. And great seats, too. We might catch a ball!
- Oof, there, I’m up, let’s go. You’re driving. I might sit in the back.
- Oh, sure. And plus, if you’re sick they’ll have doctors already there. Maybe one of them can talk some sense into you.
- I suppose I feel a bit better than a moment ago...
- You see?
- Well, no. My head. Ugh. I really don’t feel well at all...
- Gosh, do you actually suppose you might be sick for real?
- I definitely might be.
- Oh, I want to go get my cap. Here, let’s go. Just think about something pretty, you’ll be fine.
- You know, now I can feel it in my hands. I really feel poor all over.
- No, you don’t look real well.
- I think I might lie down. I think I might just have to dream this ballgame. But please, you should go. Without me. I want you to go.
- Oh, crud. You know if one of us was a psychiatrist this would be no problem. And you know I’m nowhere near to being a psychiatrist.
- You should go to the ballgame. I don’t think I’m up to it. I tried. I just don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t think I’d be up to it. I’ll go another time. I don’t think I’m up to it.
- Well okay. Do you need another pillow? I tell you I think it’s stress, but do you need another pillow? Hot tea? Of course I’m no doctor but I can still take a guess. Non-doctors have to be worth something too.
- Actually, hot tea’d be good.
- Hot tea and then turn on the TV so you can see me in the crowd at the ballgame. 3W
OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS, STILL
Even our most touchy reader cannot be as concerned as we are about the continued absence of any of our foreign correspondents in this issue, and our inability so far to unload any of our column space upon those of our associates overseas. Optimists for now, we suppose simply that everybody everywhere is as busy as we are, and will report to us soon enough. For those readers whose patience with us is at an end, and who crave words composed overseas, simply take a good look at yourselves, and loosen up.
A THING SAID WELL ENOUGH ONCE
Although we routinely wrangle the complications of the world into the most decent, readable prose possible, we are not so brash as to say that nobody has done it before, on occasion, better than we could. If we ever find that somewhere, at some time, a thing that we wanted to say has been said better, by somebody else, then we shall throw both pride and our lawyers’ advice to the wind, and print it, in its best form. For example, we here offer a little item by Mr. E.B. White - a model which puts us at risk of being shamed by contrast - but it is nevertheless a perfectly made thought, and worth repeating:
“Possibly you have noticed this about New Yorkers: instinctively, crossing a one-way street, they glance in the proper direction to detect approaching cars. They always know, without thinking, which way the traffic flows. They glance in the right direction as naturally as a deer sniffs upwind. Yet after that one glance in the direction from which the cars are coming, they always, just before stepping out into the street, also cast one small, quick, furtive look in the opposite direction - from which no cars could possibly come. That tiny glance (which we have noticed over and over again) is the last sacrifice on the altar of human fallibility; it is an indication that people can never quite trust the self-inflicted cosmos, and that they dimly suspect that someday, in the maze of strong, straight buildings, something will go completely crazy - something big and red and awful will come tearing through town going the wrong way on the one-ways, mowing down all the faithful and the meek. Even if it’s only a fire engine.” (1932)
The air these past weeks has had a startlingly nostalgic character to it. Every time I am obliged by an appointment or a shortage of milk to step outside, the sensation of the wind and its scent and its chill recall for me instantly a hundred days exactly like it, from years past.
During the summer months, the brain is bludgeoned by the heat and the heaviness of the air, and memory is stifled. In the winter, only occasionally will the mere atmospherics of a moment summon up any recollection of similar times. But in these days, every excursion into the outside air is an excursion into days already breathed; the chill of a schoolyard, the nip of a Halloween night, and even a sweatered stroll taken with a departed sweetheart. The cool air arouses cravings in one’s system the existence of which a month before would have seemed doubtful, like an urge to toss a football around, a taste for rhubarb, a yen for a good pair of gloves and wool socks, and a hankering to throw oneself into piled leaves, regardless of the wormy dampness and cool that inevitably lurks in the heap.
What this incessant evocation of past autumns soon does is remind me just how quickly the year in between has passed, and then, when the wind kicks up just enough to chill, and carries on it some particular scent from a fall even longer ago, suddenly time seems to have totally escaped me, and I become dreary for having wasted so many intervening years. Autumns pile up on top of each other, in the memory, and because they are so inclined to remind you of themselves, even a walk down to the corner for pumpkin pie filling - if the air is a certain way - will be enough to soften up your optimism and make you pensive. All the seasons repeat themselves, but there is something in these autumn days that makes it more evident, a familiarity that is first reassuring, then melancholy.
And while it has been mild enough to walk about in light jackets and the occasional sweater, there is a steady wind going which keeps the air refreshed, the dust unsettled and in any unguarded eye, and behatted heads bowed. The beauty of these days is not like the inviting beauty of spring or summer, but is instead a beauty one must endure through, and pay attention to. It is not possible to sit idly outside and read, oblivious to the conditions of the air; in these weeks, the condition of the air is the only thing anyone is allowed to notice, as it relentlessly flips the pages of books and newspapers, calling attention to itself. There is nothing to be done but to concentrate on what the air feels like, on what can be heard in the distance, on what scents are carried on the wind; and this leads us back to the autumnal effect of anamnesis.
Standard Time, meanwhile, has been resumed, disconcerting millions with the first premature setting of the sun, and initiating the process in each of us, somewhere between the shoulder blades and the subconscious, of ‘hunkering down’ for the winter. With Standard Time have also come the clouds. These are the first high, bright grey blankets of clouds - as solid and indefinite as the blue of the sky has been for the three weeks prior. And these are the clouds that are bound to produce in the months to come those short, quiet days when snow seems to come from everywhere and endlessly, and is not an event, but a circumstance. For now, the clouds are just passing through, as if Nature, acknowledging the frailty of the human animal to shocks and surprises, was announcing her intent to have Winter a month in advance, so that we wouldn’t be too overwhelmed.
Winter will be welcome, in my eyes, not only for its own charm, but for its less potent effect upon the memory. For now, there is an enormous new reservoir of sense-memory in everybody, and it is only a year away when inevitably there shall be an autumn day, mild but not warm, cloudless, when the wind will turn a particular way and there will be a trace of an old familiar unnamable scent, and once again autumn will be a somber reminder of other autumns.