donkey o.d. too

My main site, donkey o.d. is moving here. Pardon the dust...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Three Weeks in Florida

In 2000, I was writer in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. It was a record-breakingly hot summer, and on the nightly news they had a map that showed exactly how much of the state was in flames. It was gripping.

The visual artist in residence was David Carson, someone whose work I’d admired for years. When we met, it turned out we were both children of air force jet pilots who drove silver Audi TTs, and it was slightly creepy. In any event, Florida, for me, was an exotic locale, whereas David grew up just down the Space Coast … which explains his design work in the best kind of way.

I kept a small notepad diary of my three weeks there – quick jots into a Word file using Helvetica bold – it was too hot to write properly. It was also too hot to eat during the daytime. All I ate for three weeks was Lucky Charms and Vitamin D milk around 10:30 each night. I lost eight pounds while I was there. It turns out that the flight school just down the road was where the Sept. 11 bombers trained. It was a strange little interregnum.

Here is a verbal/visual record of those weeks …

Friday, August 11, 2006

Line of Fire - Yitzhak Rabin, My Son and the War

When my son Yehonatan was six years old, in the summer of 1995, I took him to hear Yitzhak Rabin. The prime minister was speaking to a small, closed audience. I had entry passes for two people, my wife couldn’t come, and I wanted to give my son the experience of having seen one of the great men of the age. When my older sister was a child, my mother had taken her to see John F. Kennedy at a campaign stop, and she has spoken of that glimpse of history ever since. On that evening when I took my son and rode the bus downtown, I couldn’t know that a memory of Rabin would be framed by the same pain as a memory of Kennedy.

Rabin had the pale skin of a man who’d once had red hair. He stepped up to the dais with his shoulders back. At the lectern, he held his head a slight angle, and spoke in the gruff staccato of a company commander laying out the route of a forced march – not charismatic, but certain of himself, confident of his line of attack. Within a few minutes, my son’s head dropped onto my knees and he slept. I rested my hand on his back.

The audience was a group of Orthodox Jewish peace activists. But Rabin, the old general, had not become a late-life Isaiah, prophesying tanks refitted as tractors. As I remember, he spoke dryly of strategic choices. Israel had to make peace with the Syria and the Palestinians because it faced more distant and deadly dangers, especially from Iran. A country should devote its resources to preparing for the greatest threats. To confront the outer ring, we needed peace and even alliances with the closer ring. He was not promising that my son would grow up without the need to wear a uniform or carry a gun.

Outside that welcoming crowd, a wave of political fury was rising against the prime minister who would give up sacred land. Four months later, he was murdered.

History can never be run as a controlled experiment. We can’t know what would have happened had Rabin lived. His heir that grim winter, Shimon Peres, rejected the Beilin-Abu Mazen Document, a framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace crafted with Rabin’s views in mind. But there’s no reason to think that Yasser Arafat would have accepted the accord if Rabin had. As the Oslo process jerked onward, Arafat showed his own uncanny ability to miss opportunities for Palestinian independence.

Peres, a perpetual failure as candidate, lost the 1996 election. Rabin would have faced a tough race, but inspired much more trust. Had he won, there is no assurance he would have reached peace with Syria. He certainly appeared determined to try, and was willing to cede land to do so. We can’t know if Hafez al-Assad, then the ruler in Damascus, was capable of reinventing himself as peace would have required. Israelis sometimes appear divided between those who blame only the Arabs for the failure to achieve peace, and those who blame only the Jews. Each group would write too simple a story about what Rabin would have done in the years that he never had.

This summer, though, I can’t help thinking of his cold far-sightedness in recognizing peace as a strategic asset. We are still fighting in the quagmire of Gaza, a battle nearly forgotten most days because we are now, once again, fighting in Lebanon against Hezbollah, our cities under bombardment by missiles shipped from Iran via Syria.

If we had peace with the Palestinians, both we and they would be building our countries. At the least, our army would not have wasted years on manning roadblocks and reinvading Palestinian cities.

At the most, if we had reached accommodation with Syria as well, Hezbollah would be only a fundamentalist faction in Lebanon, proclaiming the praises of Islamic revolution but not equipped for war on this scale. Militarily and diplomatically we would be much stronger. Iran, on the other side of countries friendly to us, would be a more distant and isolated enemy.

My son is 17 now. The smooth face has sprouted a beard. Already, he has begun the physicals and interviews that lead to his draft date and placement in a military unit. I did not expect nation to have stopped lifting up missiles against nation by now. Perhaps, though, the enemy could have been further from our door.

---------------------
Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg, an American-born Israeli journalist and historian, is the author of "The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977" and "The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount." He is the Jerusalem bureau chief for the Forward and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect.


The Morning After the Morning After

[With apologies to Norman's dog]
August 11, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

With every war there are two days to keep in mind when the guns fall silent: the morning after, and the morning after the morning after. America, Israel and all those who want to see Lebanon’s democracy revived need to keep their eyes focused on the morning after the morning after.

Here’s why.

The only way that the fighting in south Lebanon will be brought to a close is if all the parties accept a cease-fire and the imposition of a robust international peacekeeping force, led by France, along the Israel-Lebanon border — supplanting Hezbollah.

The morning after that cease-fire goes into effect, everyone knows what will happen: Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah — no matter how battered his forces and how much damage his reckless war has visited on Lebanon — will crawl out of his bunker and declare a “great victory.” Hezbollah, he will say, fought the Israeli Army to a standstill inside Lebanon and rained rockets on northern Israel. Meanwhile, military analysts everywhere will write that Israel has “lost its deterrence” vis-à-vis Arab forces, and blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, been there, heard that, and I don’t buy it. What matters in war, alas, is the balance of destruction on the ground and the political weight it exerts over time.

On the morning after the morning after, Lebanese war refugees, who had real jobs and homes, will start streaming back by the hundreds of thousands, many of them Shiites. Tragically, they will find their homes or businesses badly damaged or obliterated. Yes, they will curse Israel. But they and other Arabs will also start asking Nasrallah publicly what many are already asking privately:

“What was this war all about? What did we get from this and at what price? Israel has some roofs to repair and some dead to bury. But its economy and state are fully intact, and it will recover quickly. We Lebanese have been set back by a decade. Our economy and our democracy lie in ruins, like our homes. For what? For a one-week boost in ‘Arab honor?’ So that Iran could distract the world’s attention from its nuclear program? You did all this to us for another country?”

As Michael Young, opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star, put it an article in Slate: “Hezbollah’s ... test will be to rapidly alleviate the suffering in its own community and, therefore, avoid losing its base. The party still has substantial backing among its coreligionists, and it is not about to see this disappear. But soon the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Shiites now living in schools, tent cities, and even public parks will be an overriding concern for Nasrallah. Many have fled areas partly or wholly destroyed, to which they might not return for months or years. ... Hezbollah will have to provide funding for reconstruction and rehabilitation that is likely to run into the billions of dollars. ... The party will have a monumental task to revive not only Shiite morale but confidence that Hezbollah can take care of its own. ... Even the party’s most optimistic interpretation of the current war — that it is a heroic achievement — will not spare it having to tiptoe very carefully through Shiite trauma.”

Moreover, if and when a French-led international force is placed along the Israel-Lebanon border, it will be a big loss for Hezbollah. The Shiite militia will no longer be able to directly touch Israel and start a war for Iran or Syria whenever it chooses. And, if Hezbollah tried to lob missiles over the peacekeeping zone, or penetrate it, it would clash with forces from France, Italy and Turkey, the likely peacekeepers. That means Hezbollah, Iran and Syria would not be able to hurt Israel without also hurting their own relations with the European Union.

Israel needs to keep its eyes on the prize. It’s already inflicted enormous damage on Hezbollah and its community, but Nasrallah will only have to pay the full price for inviting all that destruction once the guns fall silent on the morning after the morning after. So let’s get there as soon as possible. That will deter him. What would deter him even more, though, would be if the U.N. would go ahead and impose sanctions on Iran for its illicit nuclear bomb program. After all, it was Iran, Nasrallah’s master, that ordered up this war to distract the U.N. from doing just that. It would be nice to say to Iran: You ravaged Hezbollah for nothing.

Beyond those two limited objectives, there’s no storybook ending for Israel in Lebanon, and it shouldn’t throw more good lives after some elusive knockout blow. It’s just not that kind of neighborhood. As they say in the movies, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Summer in the City - Summertime Santas

Last Wednesday I read from my new novel at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble store. I used to live in that neighborhood and, as I was too broke most of the time to afford movies or meals out or nearly any other disportment, I would kill countless hours by mooching their magazines and standing in their aisles, reading and reshelving books I couldn’t afford to buy. So when I took to the lectern this week, angled the business end of the microphone my way, and started speaking, I experienced a frisson of something other than stage fright. It was a kind of stage exhilaration. I felt like a Frank Capra protagonist coming full circle in some important way. In fact, returning to New York City and reading at the very same bookstore from which I had filched so much pleasure seemed like I was being afforded a chance to right wrongs.

But microphones make me giddy and provoke some Tourettic center in my brain that can precipitate outbursts of obscenity or non sequitur. As I started reading from the prologue — one of the sadder parts of the novel — I suffered a stutter that elongated into a pause that became an awkward full stop, and instead of backtracking on the page, I was overwhelmed with the desire to utter something that would be unprintable on this site. And to confess my magazine sponging. And to make a public service message: “If you are going to freeload magazines and squat in the café without buying anything for hours on end, please think of the clerks and put your [expletive deleted] magazines back where you got them. Take it from me” — here insert expression of much discomfort of gnashing of teeth — “from someone who has made those mistakes.”

I also wanted to pump my fist and cry out, “San Dimas High School football rules!” but I managed to hold it back.

After a few moments I broke my caesura and finished the reading without incident. During the Q and A and the signing, when I was relaxed enough to really apprehend the crowd, I noticed how full of personal history it was. There were several of my former students from the University of Georgia, including one who now works in the marketing department at my publisher, one who teaches at a New York City school, one who works in the art industry and one who writes for a major magazine. I was touched that they came, but I was also proud of them and wanted to find an uncorny way of telling them so. I felt a kinship with them that I hadn’t felt in the classroom. Back then, there had been something germinal about them. Now we were part of the same thing — the glory and travail of life in New York City.

There was also a woman with whom I went to prep school.

And friends of friends. An ex-colleague. The son of a favorite professor of mine.

A punk-rock Asian woman I remembered from the reading of my first novel who thrust a copy of that book at me and said candidly, “I want you to sign the first book because I am not so sure that your second one is any good.”

This whole thing produced a powerful wave of nostalgia and made me realize, again, how in New York City history is alive in a way that it isn’t in a lot of places. It also distracted me and made me forget that I had brought treats for everyone. I had gotten word just hours before the reading that the Barnes & Noble had no air conditioning in the reading area. They were moving me to the café, which had some window units working, but it might still be uncomfortable. So I had packed up a cooler full of bottles of water and Popsicles and lugged it up and down the countless stairs of the G and the L train stations, and the downtown 6, all the way to Astor Place, with the intention of handing them out to suffering audience members.

But it never happened. I had been mesmerized by the power of the microphone and then beguiled by the figures from my past swarming around my table like benevolent apparitions out of Dickens, and didn’t remember the cooler until after the crowd had dissipated. But there was a consolation. I and a group of friends — some I had known for years, some I had just met — rolled the cooler out onto Lafayette Street and handed out refreshing chilled water and deliquescing Popsicles like a band of summertime Santas.

It was a New York spectacle — my old friend from Ohio hocking free Popsicles with the theatricality of a Yankee Stadium peanut vendor; a fellow writer assuring a profoundly sweaty homeless guy swathed head-to-toe in flannel that it was O.K. to take as many waters as he wanted. And I think we made the poor Greenpeace shills standing nearby, clipboards in hand, jealous. I hope so. And I hope that Frank Capra, wherever he is, might have seen us, and is pardoning some of the karmic debt I owe that bookstore.

Especially because I know I will do it again.

On the Recentness of What We Know

August 9, 2006
Talking Points

The other night I took the dogs for a walk in the pasture. It was a cloudless evening with low humidity, a rare event in this damp, northeastern summer. I always look up at the stars when I’m outside in the dark, but all too often, even here in the country, they’re obscured by haze. Not that night. They shone with a brightness, a clarity I’d almost forgotten. Cassiopeia, Corona Borealis, Lyra, the red light of Arcturus in the west, the diffuse band of the Milky Way arching overhead—their presence was overwhelming. And yet, somehow, when the stars look close to earth it’s easier to imagine how far away they really are. It was a warm July night, but I could almost feel the chill of space.

I’ve been watching the stars for nearly half a century now. Not much has changed up there. The sky is a memory in itself. I stared at the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter through a small telescope of my own when I was a boy in Iowa. I spent part of a summer watching meteors while I was helping my family build a house in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and part of a winter star-gazing from the top of a mesa on the Hopi Reservation, where somehow the smell of cedar mingled with the light of the moon. The only thing that has changed in all that time—apart from a few new satellites crossing the sky—is the state of my knowledge.

* * *

The same could be said for the whole of humanity. Besides a supernova here and there or a comet fluttering past, the night sky visible to the naked eye has barely changed as long as our species has been looking at it, unlike the stories we use to describe what we see up there. In a metaphorical sense, each human culture, separate in time or place, has lived under a different celestial roof. The metaphors for the heavens have changed over time, but not nearly as much as what we know about the universe itself.

I say “we,” as in what “we” know. I really mean what “they” know—astronomers, mathematicians, astrophysicists, cosmologists. Unlike scientists, most of us tend to live easily, almost unknowingly among our assumptions—another word for our ignorance. But the business of science is to formally test assumptions, better known as hypotheses. You can feel the tension between these two ways of knowing in a few lines from the movie "Men In Black" The scene is the Manhattan waterfront. Will Smith is still in shock after his first encounter with aliens. Tommy Lee Jones says to him, “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago you knew that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” Obviously, what everybody knows isn’t a very high standard of proof. And things that can be proven — matters of scientific fact — don’t always surface as common knowledge.

* * *

Every few years I go through a bout of cosmological reading, a reprise of what to me is now mostly a familiar story. In a way, it’s like re-reading Raymond Chandler or great chunks of Dickens. The plot comes back to me as I go, but with a new ending every time. I started in childhood with an oversized, illustrated book about the solar system, a place where everything was just as we would like to believe it might be, a cozy people living in a handmade cosmos. The last time I wandered off into the universe, literarily speaking, I found myself, a little confused, on the far shoals of M-theory and the various anthropic principles. I’m never sure what’s going to set me off. It could be a news item about a flyby of Saturn or a new photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope or even a walk with the dogs at night. But however it begins, it always turns into a desire to frame the small questions of life with the big question of existence itself.

Most books about cosmology for general readers begin by telling the story the way Tommy Lee Jones tells it in "Men in Black"—as the history of what we know. The authors walk you, step by step, through the sequence of astronomers who have taught us about the cosmos—Copernicus, Galileo and so on. What you learn about the nature of the universe in a history like that is less important, at first, than what you learn about the decay of dogma and improvements in scientific methodology and equipment.

There are good reasons for telling the story this way. You get a feel for the passion of discovery, and you confront one of the basic cosmological questions —"How do they know that?" But as the pages turn and the chronicle nears the present, the story changes. Suddenly, it’s no longer a history of the development of science, a book about the human capacity for learning. It turns into a book about the nature of the universe we actually live in. The night sky never looks quite the same again.

* * *

The last time I lost myself in a good book about cosmology, just a few months ago, I counted down, as always, from the past to the present—from Aristarchus to Einstein to Weinberg. Usually, the dates in the history of science seem abstract, almost equidistant in the past: 1543, 1632, 1905 — it’s all ancient history. But this time, for some reason, I found myself weighing the dates of various discoveries—the ones that define our present idea of the age and dimensions of the universe—against the time-scale of my own life and the lives around me. I tried to picture what the universe looked like — or rather what it was thought to look like — around the year my dad was born — 1926 —- or the year I was born — 1952.

It was like going the wrong way in one of those analogies meant to convey the immensity of time. You know the ones. “If the age of the earth is the distance from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Empire State Building , then mankind originated in the Garment District.” The current picture of the universe rests, of course, upon the ancientness of what we know—the long series of carefully tested assumptions that make each new accession of knowledge possible.

But I am overwhelmed by the recentness of what we know.

* * *

Take, for instance, a relatively fundamental set of facts, something "everybody knows." Earth belongs to the solar system, and the solar system, with the Sun at its center, belongs to a galaxy called the Milky Way, which is about 100,000 light years across. The Milky Way is one of perhaps a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe, each one containing perhaps a hundred billion stars. But until 1925, many astronomers believed — on the available evidence — that the Milky Way contained the whole of the observable universe, and that our galaxy was thus the only galaxy. Astronomers had seen and catalogued plenty of galaxies — they were called nebulae in those days — but there was no way to know how far away they really were.

In 1923, working at the Mount Wilson Observatory, near Pasadena, Edwin Hubble discovered a Cepheid variable star in the nebula called Andromeda, the first ever found in a nebula. Thanks to Henrietta Leavitt’s research on these stars — which vary in brightness over a period of time, with a predictable ratio between the two — Hubble was able to calculate the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy, as we call it now. It was vastly more distant than anyone had guessed. By his calculations, Andromeda was 900,000 light years away — well outside the Milky Way. In a sense, Hubble had turned the universe inside out.

Hubble was wrong about one thing. Andromeda is the closest galaxy to us, but it is actually 2.5 million light years away, not 900,000. You can see it with the naked eye if you look just below and to the right of the constellation Cassiopeia on a very dark, clear night. It’s worth knowing, somehow, that in another 3 billion years Andromeda will collide with the Milky Way. Perhaps "violently intersift" is a better way of putting it.

* * *

To a casual naked-eye observer on Earth it makes no practical difference whether the universe is the size of the Milky Way or much, much bigger. In fact, it makes little difference whether we’re looking up at stars scattered across empty space or at an empyrean of concentric crystalline spheres. The night sky overhead would look the same.

Or would it? Actually, I don’t think so.

What we see when we look up into the darkness of a summer night isn’t just a pattern of pinpoint lights. We’re also looking up at the state of our knowledge and the contents of our imagination. Does our own galaxy encompass the whole observable universe? Or is it only one among a huge number of galaxies in a vastly larger universe? The difference is enormous. Both are theories. One was plausible before 1925. The other is now true. The revolution in imagining who we are, or rather where we are, is nearly Copernican.

In the years since, there have been many, many discoveries more astonishing than Hubble’s path-breaking calculation of Andromeda’s distance, including his discovery, several years later, that the universe is expanding. But measuring that Cepheid variable in Andromeda fascinates me. It’s tempting to construe its effect solely in human terms, to say, with a vainglorious sniff, that it diminishes the place of humans in the universe. Ah, well. There is no end to that. One of the central problems of cosmology all along has been getting a true sense of scale. The age of the universe, its size, its origin, whether it’s static or expanding or contracting — these things are all interrelated, and they all depend on being able to measure distance accurately out to the far reaches of the universe. The more we know, the smaller we humans seem to loom against the universal backdrop. Luckily, what matters isn’t how big or important we are. It’s how interesting the universe we live in is.

My maternal grandfather, who was born in the 1880’s, used to marvel at the fact that in his lifetime humans had gone from horse-drawn carriages to the moon. I like to think of it a different way. He was born about the time astronomers finally proved that the ether — the peculiar light-carrying substance through which all celestial bodies were supposed to move — does not exist. He was married around the publication of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. He died a few years after Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson found the lingering echo of the Big Bang with a radio telescope in New Jersey. I cannot imagine that my grandfather was aware of any of these discoveries. And yet within his lifetime, the dimensions of the universe increased by a factor I am not mathematician enough to work out. Call it ten to the plenty.

* * *

In 1931, Edwin Hubble concluded that the universe was 1.8 billion years old, a nonsensical number since geologists had already shown that the rocks on earth are nearly twice as old. (Recent knowledge in itself!) In 1952, the scale of distance was recalculated with greater accuracy, and suddenly the age of the universe doubled to 3.6 billion years, much older but still a problematic figure. In 1955, the universe aged another 1.9 billion years overnight, again thanks to a clearer understanding of the things that shine in the dark. In the past 80 years the universe has expanded faster and aged faster — in the minds of humans — than it is doing in actuality. The current age of the universe, as measured in 2003, is now 13.7 billion years, give or take 200 million. That is another way of saying that the distance to the edge of the observable universe is 13.7 billion light-years.

What astronomers are seeing when they look at a galaxy like Abell 1835 IR1916 — 13.2 billion light years away — is light (or radiation) that was emitted 13.2 billion years ago, light that is about 3 times older than the planet we live on. Imagine a galaxy just a little farther away, at the extreme edge of what astronomers can observe. Suppose that it emits light even as you’re reading this sentence. How far away will the edge of the observable universe be when that light reaches us? The answer is somewhere between 78 and 90 billion light years. In fact, we — that is, "they" — have no idea how much of our universe lies beyond the threshold of observability. There is even sober speculation that our universe is merely one of a possibly infinite series of universes, that we live in a multiverse. Oddly, one of the best arguments for the multiverse is the simple fact that we exist.

* * *

Science is mostly a tale of continuity. Scientists today are working within the same professional framework — the same idea about how they do what they do, what hypotheses are, what evidence is — as scientists a century ago. That is the strength of the endeavor. The change from one picture of the universe to another is incremental, based on work that obeys the self-regulating, international standards of the scientific enterprise. But I find myself marveling at its discontinuity, too. What has changed, of course, is the technologies available to scientists, which have exploded at a revolutionary pace. The result is that you don’t have to go far back in time before the best idea of what the universe looks like is very different from the idea we have now.

In 1920 there was one galaxy and now there are one hundred billion.

In 1955 the universe was 5.5 billion years old. Now it is believed to be two and a half times older — an estimate with a considerably higher degree of precision.

For many years, the Big Bang was a conceptual possibility, the logical implication of an expanding universe. (What happens when you run the film of an expanding universe backwards?) But in 1965, Penzias and Wilsonfound an evenly diffused radiation permeating the sky, with a temperature of 2.7 degrees Kelvin. They had discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background — residual radiation from the Big Bang.

The Cosmic Microwave Background has been measured again and again, most recently in 2003 by a satellite called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, which occupies a stationary post 1.5 million kilometers from earth. Measurements from WMAP support a theory of inflation first proposed by Alan Guth in 1979 and since refined. It says — and the evidence confirms — that at an unimaginably short time after the Big Bang, the universe experienced an abrupt inflation, doubling in size over and over again until inflation stopped an unimaginably short instant later. The result is the relatively smooth and geometrically flat universe we find ourselves living in.

WMAP also suggests that the universe is made of 4 percent atoms (now called baryonic matter), 22 percent dark matter, and 74 percent dark energy. As an idea, dark matter first popped up in the 1930’s. Dark energy is the thought of the past few years. No one knows what either of them is, except that without them the behavior of the universe makes no sense. It’s worth remembering, too, that the modern idea of the atom — that is, the old-fashioned modern idea, well before quarks — only came together in 1932, when the neutron was discovered.

* * *

Someone, somewhere, is likely to be shouting, "Aha!" about now.

"You’re saying that our so-called scientific knowledge is only a projection of sorts and that there is no scientific truth, only relativistic assumptions — culturally created ideas — about the universe around us. Isn’t that what you’re saying?"

Thanks for asking. The answer is no. Science is a cultural enterprise, of course, like everything else humans do, and it sometimes suffers from characteristically human flaws. But the recentness — or, to put it another way, the evolution — of what we know about the universe around us doesn’t reveal the indeterminacy of science. It reveals the extraordinary intellectual and imaginative yields that a self-critical, self-evaluating, self-testing, experimental search for understanding can generate over time.

We know the universe to be a very different — and in every way more amazing — place than we did even a generation ago. We have no idea how much more surprising it will turn out to be in the years — not to mention the eons — ahead, should we manage to survive as a species that is able to do science. If what you want from life is a constant, fixed, unchanging truth, then the spate of fresh news from science can only seem bewildering. But the unchanging truths that people cling to in this inconstant world tend to rest on unexamined and untestable assumptions. At their best they are permanent ethical truths, which cannot be contradicted by the open-ended possibilities of scientific exploration. At their worst, they are mere dogma and deserve to be contradicted.

To me, the open-endedness of science isn’t its failing. It is its very beauty. Each answer is merely the prelude to the next question, and you never know when you’ll come upon an answer that forces you to rethink almost everything. This is as true in biology — itself overwhelmed by recent knowledge — as it is in cosmology. Yet many people can’t help hoping for a final set of answers. "So how old is it really — and how big is it really?" they ask about the universe, with an emphasis on "really." The fact that the answer depends on when you happen to ask it — 1931, 1955, 2003, today — seems to many people to imply that science has no answers worth giving.

But this is simply the bias inherent in living in the "now." Stated as a sentence, that bias goes like this: "We’re here now, so we expect some answers." Think about those analogies meant to convey the immensity of time. They always end in the present. Mankind emerges in the Garment District or at 11 seconds to midnight, and then what? The clock stops at the current time, as if the game is over. But there is no time limit on the questions science asks, and there is very little likelihood of a final set of answers. Humanity emerges, looks up at the stars, and soon there is a probe in space telling us that most of what exists is stuff we can’t identify. Who would want it any other way?

* * *

Thinking about the recentness of what we know is a way, I suppose, of thinking simultaneously about the strangeness of the past and the strangeness of the present — the reciprocal strangenesses that time brings about. I have a hard time trying to imagine the universe as it might have been in, say, 1920 — the whole of it packed into the Milky Way. But then I have an equally hard time imagining what it would have been like to be a hired hand on my grandfather’s farm in 1920. The changes in the way we live loom far larger in most of our minds than any changes in the theoretical model of a universe that most of us think about — if we think about it at all — only on a dark, clear night. But the changes go together.

I am at best the kind of cosmological reader who has to skip the math. As a result, my grasp on most of what astronomers have learned in my lifetime is largely esthetic. I admire the finished painting, but I have no real conception of what it means to apply the paint. And for me, in fact, the old forms of knowledge are hard enough. Not the ones rooted in dogma, but the ones rooted in a practical application of what astronomers have learned over the years. Understanding the motion of the moon through the sky is more complicated than it sounds, as I have discovered from trying to sort it out.

Knowing how and why the universe is expanding doesn’t change the rules of celestial navigation any more than it changes the stories people tell about the figures in the constellations. The recentness of what we know doesn’t annul the old knowledge; it transfigures it. Suddenly, what we used to know is now part of the story of how we go about knowing things and no longer a description of the universe around us. But go out on a deep summer night and there overhead are all the skies we have ever seen.

Lela Moore provided research for this article.

Buffett and Hezbollah

August 9, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Warren Buffett. The most important thing you need to know about Israel today and how it has performed so far in the war with Hezbollah is Warren Buffett.

Say what? Well, the most talked-about story in Israel, before Hezbollah started this war, was the fact that on May 5, Mr. Buffett, the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and the world’s most successful investor, bought an 80 percent stake in the privately held Israeli precision tools company, Iscar Metalworking, for $4 billion — Mr. Buffett’s first purchase of a company outside America. According to BusinessWeek, as a result of the deal, Iscar’s owners were “likely to pay about $1 billion in capital gains taxes into the Israeli government’s coffers — an unexpected windfall. With the Israeli budget already running a $2 billion surplus, the government is considering slashing value-added tax by one percentage point to 15 percent.”

In May, Israeli papers were filled with pages about how cool it was that Israel had produced a cutting-edge company that Warren Buffett wanted to buy. It was being discussed everywhere, pushing the Tel Aviv stock exchange to an all-time high.

That is where Israel’s head was on the eve of this war — and it explains something I sensed when I visited Israel shortly after the fighting started. Nobody wanted this war, and nobody was prepared for it. Look closely at pictures of Israeli soldiers from Lebanon. There is no enthusiasm in their faces, and certainly no triumphalism. Their expressions tell the whole story: “I just don’t want to be doing this — another war with the Arabs.”

Israeli soldiers were napping when this war started — that’s why they got ambushed — for the very best reasons: They have so much more to do with their lives, and they live in a society that empowers and enables them to do it. (Unfortunately, the Buffett company is in northern Israel and had to be temporarily closed because of rocket attacks.)

Young Israelis dream of being inventors, and their role models are the Israeli innovators who made it to the Nasdaq. Hezbollah youth dream of being martyrs, and their role models are Islamic militants who made it to the Next World. Israel spent the last six years preparing for Warren Buffett, while Hezbollah spent the last six years preparing for this war.

“Israel was not prepared for this war,” said the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi. “It came upon us like the crash of a meteorite. ... The whole focus of debate in the country before this war was on withdrawal.” The Israeli Army had just taken on its own extremists, the settlers in Gaza, and removed them against their will, added Mr. Ezrahi, “and the country had just elected for the first time a prime minister who promised voters to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank in return for nothing.”

In the end, Israel will do whatever it has to do to prevail. But what is so troubling for Israelis is that this war is about nothing and everything. That is, Israel got out of Lebanon, and yet Hezbollah keeps coming. It is all about Hezbollah’s need to justify its existence and Iran’s need for a distraction.

What is doubly sad is that Lebanon was getting its act together. Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, represented a whole new type of Arab leader — one who rose to power by being a builder and an entrepreneur. He understood that Lebanon, freed of Syria, was a country whose youth had the energy and skill to compete anywhere. He thought Lebanon could again be a model of how Arabs can embrace modernity. But Mr. Hariri was murdered, allegedly by Syria, and now Lebanon’s democracy is being murdered by Hezbollah. Once again, in the Arab world, the past buries the future.

Israel mustn’t get sucked into that same grave. Israel needs to get a cease-fire and an international force into south Lebanon — and get out. Israel can’t defeat Hezbollah, it can only hurt it enough to make it think twice about ever doing this again — and it has pretty much done that. It must not destroy any more of Lebanon, which is going to still be its neighbor when the guns fall silent.

Israel wins when Warren Buffett’s company there is fully back in business — not when Nasrallah is out of business. Because that will only happen, not by war, but when Arabs wake up and realize that he is just another fraud, just another Nasser, whose strategy would condemn the flower of Arab youth — who deserve and need so much better — to another decade of making potato chips, not microchips. Nasrallah can win in the long run only if he can condemn the flower of Israel’s youth to the same fate. Don’t let it happen, Israel.

Line of Fire - Meanwhile in Palestine …

While the focus of world attention has been on Lebanon, the situation has not improved in the south of Israel/Palestine where the people of Gaza continue to suffer.

For those with short memories, Gaza was being pounded indiscriminately in what many considered a collective punishment of the Palestinians to force them to release an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in late June.

It is too early to judge whether the war on Lebanon has helped or hurt the embattled Palestinians of Gaza. On the one hand, the vast majority of the political and media attention has shifted almost exclusively to put out the fires in Lebanon and the north of Israel, allowing the Israelis to continue punishing Palestinians without any international protest.

Palestinians continued to be killed on a daily basis — not only in Gaza, but also in Nablus. Nearly 100 Palestinians have been killed since the capture of the Israeli soldier. Many believed that the Hezbollah attack on Israel, in which they captured two Israeli soldiers, would reduce the pressure on Palestinians, but this has not been the case. The statements by Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, echoed by Hamas leaders, about negotiating a prisoner swap with Israel for all three captured prisoners seems to have further compounded the problem.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas quickly realized that this was a bad idea, one that would have negative results on Palestinians. He has tried very hard to separate the two cases, knowing full well that in this particular situation, dealing with one Israeli soldier held in Gaza is much easier than the case of those held by Hezbollah.

After much hesitation Hamas has recently accepted this fact and agreed to separate the two cases.

But while the war on Lebanon distracted attention from Gaza and complicated things, international leaders and experts were not as quick to discount the relationship. The visit of Condoleezza Rice to Ramallah, the statement of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the analysis of all key experts cited the resolution of the Palestinian issue as a key to any regional solution.

In a special cover report on July 31, Time magazine listed the need to address the Palestinian issue as second in a six-point answer to the best way to defuse the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The crisis between Lebanon and Israel has brought to the forefront two very important issues for the peoples of the region: prisoners and unilateralism. After the two concurrent attacks aimed at capturing Israeli soldiers, the wisdom of holding prisoners for a long time is now being questioned.

Those most likely to benefit from the present violence are Jordanian prisoners still held in Israeli jails. Jordan, a U.S. ally and only one of two Arab countries with a peace agreement with Israel, has not been able to win the release of its 30 prisoners, some held since before the Jordan-Israel agreement was signed in 1994.

Perhaps the biggest blow in this conflict will be to the notion of Israeli unilateralism. Both the uncoordinated withdrawals from south Lebanon and Gaza have proved that you cannot simply get out of an area, throw away the keys and forget about it. The needs of the population on the other side of the border can’t be ignored.

The unilateralism Israelis overwhelming voted for in the recent elections is based on the idea that security can somehow be achieved by erecting high cement walls. If anything, the barrage of rockets of all types, whether home-made or sophisticated, has shown the folly of such thinking. Although the West Bank has not seen the use of rockets against Israel, there is no reason why Palestinians will not resort to such weapons if the walls continue to be built deep inside their territories and the Israelis continue to act with arrogance and superiority toward them.

Military strategists would probably be the first to agree about the limits of military power in achieving long-term peace. It is time for political leaders on both sides, especially moderate ones, to understand that they need to work together, through negotiations, to solve the problems that simply can not and should not be solved by brute force.

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Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab, a journalist and columnist, is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University, in Ramallah and a founder of AmmanNet.net, the Arab world's first Internet radio station.


Line of Fire - Celebrations

Every night, just across the road from my apartment on the northeastern edge of Jerusalem, fireworks from the neighboring Palestinian village of Anata light the sky. When there have been large numbers of Israeli casualties from Katyusha rocket attacks in the Galilee, the fireworks, along with the booms of firecrackers, can go on for hours. It doesn’t seem to matter that the dead and wounded include Arab citizens of Israel. Instead, what matters is that Israel is being hit and humiliated, its deterrence undermined, and that Hezbollah’s supposed victory is being celebrated.

The other night I went to an Israeli celebration: a bat mitzvah party, in a Jerusalem restaurant, for the daughter of friends who had immigrated to Israel from the United States. Despite the dancing and feasting, no one tried to pretend the war wasn’t happening. One woman, in black evening dress and pearls, stood on line for the buffet holding her cellphone: She had a son serving in Lebanon, and wouldn’t leave the phone at her table even for a moment, just in case he called. “I guess this phone is now a permanent part of me,” she said.

Like my neighbors in Anata, the guests were preoccupied with Hezbollah’s success. After a month of Israeli bombing of Hezbollah targets, northern Israel remains helpless against Katyusha attacks, almost every red line of Israeli deterrence has been violated, and we still haven’t broken Hezbollah’s will and operational capabilities. Can a society that celebrates life, asked a veteran of Israel’s first Lebanon war in the 1980’s, win against people who celebrate death?

Despite Hezbollah threats to strike Tel Aviv, so far Katyushas have reached only as far as the town of Hadera, near Haifa. And so there are now two Israels: The Israel north of Hadera, where hundreds of thousands live in air raid shelters and from where hundreds of thousands more have fled; and the Israel south of Hadera, where restaurants are full and celebrants dance at bat mitzvahs. Is the ability of the Israel south of Hadera to maintain some sense of normal life an affirmation of Israeli vitality, precisely what has allowed the Tel Aviv stock exchange to continue attracting foreign investors despite the missile war? Or are we refusing to fully mobilize against an enemy that has declared our existence a religious affront?

During the four years of suicide bombings that began in October 2000, the answer was clear. By clinging to the pretense of daily life, we were affirming the promise of Zionism to create a normal life for Jews in their own state. We reinhabited the bombed cafes and restaurants, refusing to turn the places of our normalcy into memorials to atrocity. As a result, Israel learned, as few societies have, how to withstand daily, sometimes even hourly, terror assaults.

But with the missile attacks against northern Israel, the jihadist war that began against our homefront six years ago has taken a new turn. And Israelis are beginning to debate whether the feigned normalcy that helped us defeat the suicide bombers in the first round of that war is useful now, in a battle initiated by Iranian and Syrian proxies.

The bat mitzvah girl’s grandfather, Fima, a dapper Red Army veteran with long white hair and a pale blue suit, explained to me how Russia won World War II. “There was no choice but to keep going until we reached Berlin,” he said. “I was wounded and spent seven months in a hospital. I thought I would be sent home afterward, because my body was still full of shrapnel. But they sent me back to my unit at the front. If you want to win, that’s how you fight.”

A young woman juggled burning sticks. She grabbed the bat mitzvah girl, Ariella, and created a circle of fire around her. Ariella watched, wide-eyed with horror and fascination. It was her coming of age ceremony as an Israeli, her induction into a nation of fire jugglers.

We stood on the terrace, overlooking the Judean Desert and the West Bank village of Abu Deis. In the distance, the West Bank security wall, gray and winding, was clearly visible. I pointed it out, without apology, to several American guests who had come for the bat mitzvah. Once, I might have felt embarrassed celebrating in view of the wall. But the suicide bombings — the Palestinian leaderships response to Israel’s offer six years ago to create a Palestinian state and to share Jerusalem — have destroyed the Israeli guilty conscience.

This, then, has become the Israeli-Palestinian relationship: We ignore their suffering, while they, in their nightly fireworks ritual, celebrate ours.

One of the guests told me the latest news: A missile had hit a building in Haifa, and there were dozens of wounded. We spoke quietly, to keep the news from our hosts. But the news had clearly reached residents in Abu Deis: Just beyond the wall, the sky filled with fireworks. For a moment, watching the night explode in delight, it seemed to me as if we were celebrating together.

– Yossi Klein Halevi

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Yossi Klien Halevi

Yossi Klein Halevi, the author of "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land," is a senior fellow at The Shalem Center, an academic research institute in Jerusalem, and a correspondent for The New Republic.

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Viktor & Rolf

Bars

In 2002, Dutch designers Viktor & Rolf asked me to come up with names for 13 dresses they had designed for their fall collection. I decided to do names that were as weird and improbable as the era that was emerging. Viktor and Rolf are stunning designers and they occupy and define that wonderful and improbable yet deeply necessary territory of fashion where complex yet ephemeral ideas emerge and vanish and mutate and re-emerge. People like to think that fashion is silly or frivolous, but people like these are never, well …very fashionable, and they don’t quite understand that culture plays itself out loudly and colorfully and wonderfully on so many other levels than those that finally end up in textbooks 30 years after the fact. Naomi Klein and I disagreed on this point in an essay that appeared in BlackBook Magazine in 2004.

Bars
Bars2

The 13 dress names are composites formed from names of early 1950’s Nevada nuclear test-drops of atomic bombs, random snatches of life in the digital world, and three-letter acronyms germaine to the modern world. They appear above mutant TV test patterns.

Bars

Fun fact: TV test patterns, if completely desaturated, form perfect gray scales.


Bedspread Update

I’ve been informed by friends that for my birthday this year I will be receiving a supply of Bluestar Forensic latent bloodstain reagent which, in conjunction with blacklighting, will be able to detect all sorts of human protein residues on hotel bedspreads … just like on “Law & Order: SVU”! It’s kind of scary how much I am looking forward to it, and it actually makes me want to try staying in bad hotels just to get maximum use out of the system.

Up until now, my best present I ever got was a canister of liquid nitrogen my brother gave me for Christmas 10 years back. We froze everything in the house and then ran out of flash-freezables, so we went outside and flash-froze puddles. Did you know that liquid nitrogen is cheaper than milk? The only thing that’s expensive is the deposit on the canister.

A List of People Who Have Been a Little Under the Radar Lately and Who’ve Been a Little Bit Off the Radar Lately, and Who I’d Really Like to See a Bit More of …

Vaclav Havel

Jodie Foster

Peter O’Toole

Ann-Margret

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Everybody, Please Meet Elaine

Everybody, Please Meet Elaine

[Correction appended.]

Every city has one or two companies that provide service to publishers as media escorts. Your typical media escort is named Elaine. Elaine’s two kids just got into good colleges, and Elaine wants to put her arts degree (Kent State, 1978) to some use. Elaine drives a Chevy Lumina, or her husband’s Infiniti; she will not load luggage into her trunk and is always apologetic that the trunk is filled with crap that has to be shunted about and which will also stain your luggage. Elaine pretends to be reading your book and has a Danielle Steele novel on the center console with the bookmark near the end. Elaine enjoys a good stick of gum and keeps a bottle of Purelle within arm’s reach at all times.

Transformers
Left: Ultraman toy box (modified), Portland, Ore.

Everyone has to ride with Elaine: Al Gore, former second-in-command of the Western world, has to drive with Elaine. Should Al complain, his editors and publishers will tell him how expensive it is to publish a book.

Elaine is used to writers being crotchety, bored and sullen. There’s a part of her that wants to discuss Proust, but there’s a part of her that remembers the time a Pulitzer Prize winner screamed at her to shut up about her daughter’s lacrosse team’s weekend jamboree in Austin. She never knows what to expect from writers. It’s dawning on her that writers are, as a group, pathetic travelers who have found themselves locked inside a gruesome machine called “a tour” which exposes them daily, for weeks on end, to a long strand of physical and emotional indignities.

Natives
Section of photograph in hallway, Calgary, Alberta
Station
Rail station, Newscastle

Elaine noticed that writers became true monsters around 2001, when Amazon forced all English language markets around the world to publish simultaneously rather than waiting the customary six to nine months between markets. The ensuing rush for regional book sales forced writers to go for up to two months nonstop, entering them into a “Groundhog Day”-like netherworld in which they’re forced to discuss a book which exited their life a year and a half earlier, and which now taunts them daily, reminding them that the book they were working on most recently is being neglected and may even die as a result of tour-induced psychosis.

“I would think,” says Elaine, speaking to a writer currently sitting in the passenger seat, “any writer would be thrilled to tour, no matter how bad things get.”

Crane
Crane, Portland, Ore.
Bridge
Plywood, Newcastle; Bridges, Newcastle

The writer beside Elaine is having a food crash because the airline chose not to serve a meal on the flight, and the scheduled lunch break in the previous city was bumped because a cub arts writer for a Midwestern daily paper arbitrarily decided to switch the time of a scheduled interview. The photographer was late and had trouble with the flash attachment, and then traffic to the airport took an extra 45 minutes because of a stall on the Exit 24 offramp. “You would think so,” says Elaine’s hostage passenger. “But one must remember that from wake-up to bedtime, a writer on tour is at the receiving end of the screw-ups of hundreds of other people, from the person who forgets to give him his wake-up call, to the room service person who, at 11:03 p.m., takes astonishing relish in saying that the kitchen shut three minutes earlier. (‘Would you like a Domino’s Pizza flier sent to your room?’) So when you meet writers at the airport, they’re barely holding it all together, especially as you refuse to help them with their luggage, and as you chew gum in their face and douse yourself in one gallon too much scent.”

Monsters
Old toys, Portland, Ore.
Roy


“I’d never thought of that,” Elaine says. “I’m really looking forward to reading your book. The flap copy makes it sound so fascinating.”

Perestroika.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Summer in the City - Mad in the Streets

Five or six years ago, in the middle of an August heat wave, my wife finally prevailed on me to get an air conditioner. I like the heat, and for years I was able to get through New York summers without even the help of a fan.

But on this particular summer, the humidity was overwhelming. My resistance was overcome when, on a Saturday afternoon, we stepped outside into a city that looked like a set from some post-apocalypse movie. The air was filled with a fine, gritty, gray haze. The only people walking around were men with their shirts off, staggering about, waving their arms like survivors of some terrible catastrophe.

They were crazy, of course. Who else would stay outside on such an awful, muggy day? Summer brings the addled and the demented out into the streets of my Upper West Side neighborhood. I’m not talking about the homeless, who are always trying to survive out in the open, but that remarkable class of New Yorkers who seem completely out of their minds but are still somehow able to keep an apartment, even a job. They come out of an S.R.O. residence down on Broadway, or half-a-dozen other slightly dilapidated buildings in the area, and stand about the stoops and the street corners. Drunk or stoned, or just out of it; shouting or laughing hysterically at each other; more often brooding, looking haggard and dazed.

It’s the heat that brings them out, the tedium of staying cooped up in a close, stifling space. But it’s not just the poor or the already deranged who are driven mad by the weather. This is the silly season, when New Yorkers of all classes and incomes find their tempers flaring, their sanity loosening, and I’m not even talking about Park Avenue doctors blowing themselves up in their own townhouses. (That incident immediately set several people I know to speculating on how much more the cleared lot would be worth now that the house itself was gone — part of a more constant mania in this town.)

I suppose we should be glad that the city is now more staid and orderly than it’s ever been. Historically, summer is when things happen in New York. Tabloid murders and mob hits; blackouts and fires; strikes and riots; even, back in 1689, an attempted coup d’etat. Summer is when Beansy Rosenthal got it, drinking a horse’s neck down in Times Square; and Carmine Galante, dining al fresco at Joe and Mary’s, teeth clenched around his trademark cigar even in death. Summer is when Son of Sam and Crazy Joe Gallo both ran amok. It’s when the Stonewall rebellion took place, and the Dead Rabbit riot, and the draft riots, and the Orange riot, and the Harlem riots, and three separate Tompkins Square Park riots — and the police riot, when a pair of competing police departments brawled on the steps of City Hall. Summer is when the city is regularly stood on its head.

Small wonder that, back in the 19th century, the Board of Aldermen paid 50 cents for each head of an unmuzzled dog that anyone cared to turn in, fearful that any such strays could turn mad. It was said that the dogs developed an uncanny ability to disappear when the head choppers were about, but in any case one can’t help but wonder if the aldermen were wary of the wrong species. Who know what madness is simmering right now, within the walls of even our most stately domiciles?

A few days ago, I came across an anonymous letter left on a Riverside Park bench, calling the author’s fellow tenants to arms against a co-op or condo board. A page of pure vituperation excoriating the unfortunate board appeared under the sub-head: “So — now the revolt begins!”

Yes, indeed.

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Too Good

A friend of mine, Nell, has this saying — whenever the sky’s blue and the birds are singing, she’ll say, “Wow, what a beautiful day. Yessiree, nothing could possibly ever go wrong on a beautiful day like today.”

Clown
Microphones
BBC Radio 4 microphones, London

Such a saying was crafted almost intentionally for last night. In Stratford, Ontario — a dream audience on a beautiful Shakespearean stage. And me excited to try out an hour’s worth of new material from a new novel. Perfect sound. Dream lighting. Beautiful vibe. And of course I’m waiting for the disaster, and yes it happens: flies — an infestation that gravitates towards me as I’m beneath the only bright light in the building, a pin light aimed directly on my face. At first I swatted the flies away, and it got a few giggles, and then it stopped being fun and I realized that the only option I had was to ignore them, so I read for an hour with insects crawling over me. The show must go on.

I was taping something with CNN once, and I swallowed a fly on camera. It’s still in their vaults, just waiting to come out should someone ever decide to make a bloopers reel of my life.

Talk Show
CTV Talk Show set, Agincourt, Ont.
News Team
Star photos in CTV lobby, Agincourt, Ont.
Hallway
Microwave and cell tower, Portland Ore.; Hallway, CTV, Agincourt, Ont.

Moonbase

I got an e-mail message from a Danish reader who asked if I would judge her boyfriend’s entry in a Lego castle/moonbase design competition. I didn’t think it appropriate for me to do so, but you be the judge.

Time of Day
13:10:06 EDT, Toronto
London Hotel
Hotel, London

Scrabbled

My 10-year-old nephew is going crazy because in my new novel I put a list of all 972 three-letter words legally allowable in Scrabble plus one invented word which isn’t allowed. He refuses to cheat and check online or elsewhere. Perhaps you, dear reader, might be interested in finding the word yourself. Herewith, 972 words plus one fake, and for what it’s worth, my spell check rejects most of them:

AAH AAL AAS ABA ABO ABS ABY ACE ACT ADD ADO ADS ADZ AFF AFT AGA AGE AGO AHA AID AIL AIM AIN AIR AIS AIT ALA AL B ALE ALL ALP ALS ALT AMA AMI AMP AMU ANA AND ANE ANI A NT ANY APE APT ARB ARC ARE ARF ARK ARM ARS ART ASH ASK ASP ASS ATE ATT AUK AVA AVE AVO AWA AWE AWL AWN AXE AYE AYS AZO BAA BAD BAG BAH BAL BAM BAN BAP BAR BAS BAT BA Y BED BEE BEG BEL BEN BET BEY BIB BID BIG BIN BIO BIS B IT BIZ BOA BOB BOD BOG BOO BOP BOS BOT BOW BOX BOY BRA BRO BRR BUB BUD BUG BUM BUN BUR BUS BUT BUY BYE BYS CAB CAD CAM CAN CAP CAR CAT CAW CAY CEE CEL CEP CHI CIS CO B COD COG COL CON COO COP COR COS COT COW COX COY COZ C RY CUB CUD CUE CUM CUP CUR CUT CWM DAB DAD DAG DAH DAK DAL DAM DAP DAW DAY DEB DEE DEL DEN DEV DEW DEX DEY DIB DID DIE DIG DIM DIN DIP DIS DIT DOC DOE DOG DOL DOM DO N DOR DOS DOT DOW DRY DUB DUD DUE DUG DUI DUN DUO DUP D YE EAR EAT EAU EBB ECU EDH EEL EFF EFS EFT EGG EGO EKE ELD ELF ELK ELL ELM ELS EME EMF EMS EMU END ENG ENS EON ERA ERE ERG ERN ERR ERS ESS ETA ETH EVE EWE EYE FAD FA G FAN FAR FAS FAT FAX FAY FED FEE FEH FEM FEN FER FET F EU FEW FEY FEZ FIB FID FIE FIG FIL FIN FIR FIT FIX FIZ FLU FLY FOB FOE FOG FOH FON FOP FOR FOU FOX FOY FRO FRY FUB FUD FUG FUN FUR GAB GAD GAE GAG GAL GAM GAN GAP GA R GAS GAT GAY GED GEE GEL GEM GEN GET GEY GHI GIB GID G IE GIG GIN GIP GIT GNU GOA GOB GOD GOO GOR GOT GOX GOY GUL GUM GUN GUT GUV GUY GYM GYP HAD HAE HAG HAH HAJ HAM HAO HAP HAS HAT HAW HAY HEH HEM HEN HEP HER HES HET HE W HEX HEY HIC HID HIE HIM HIN HIP HIS HIT HMM HOB HOD H OE HOG HON HOP HOT HOW HOY HUB HUE HUG HUH HUM HUN HUP HUT HYP ICE ICH ICK ICY IDS IFF IFS ILK ILL IMP INK INN INS ION IRE IRK ISM ITS IVY JAB JAG JAM JAR JAW JAY JE E JET JEU JEW JIB JIG JIN JOB JOE JOG JOT JOW JOY JUG J UN JUS JUT KAB KAE KAF KAS KAT KAY KEA KEF KEG KEN KEP KEX KEY KHI KID KIF KIN KIP KIR KIT KOA KOB KOI KOP KOR KOS KUE LAB LAC LAD LAG LAM LAP LAR LAS LAT LAV LAW LA X LAY LEA LED LEE LEG LEI LEK LET LEU LEV LEX LEY LEZ L IB LID LIE LIN LIP LIS LIT LOB LOG LOO LOP LOT LOW LOX LUG LUM LUV LUX LYE MAC MAD MAE MAG MAN MAP MAR MAS MAT MAW MAX MAY MED MEL MEM MEN MET MEW MHO MIB MID MIG MI L MIM MIR MIS MIX MOA MOB MOC MOD MOG MOL MOM MON MOO M OP MOR MOS MOT MOW MUD MUG MUM MUN MUS MUT NAB NAE NAG NAH NAM NAN NAP NAW NAY NEB NEE NET NEW NIB NIL NIM NIP NIT NOX NIX NOB NOD NOG NOH NOM NOO NOR NOS NOT NOW NT H NUB NUN NUS NUT OAF OAK OAR OAT OBE OBI OCA ODD ODE O DS OES OFF OFT OHM OHO OHS OIL OKA OKE OLD OLE OMS ONE ONS OOH OOT OPE OPS OPT ORA ORB ORC ORE ORS ORT OSE OUD OUR OUT OVA OWE OWL OWN OXO OXY PAC PAD PAH PAL PAM PA N PAP PAR PAS PAT PAW PAX PAY PEA PEC PED PEE PEG PEH P EN PEP PER PES PET PEW PHI PHT PIA PIC PIE PIG PIN PIP PIS PIT PIU PIX PLY POD POH POI POL POM POP POT POW POX PRO PRY PSI PUB PUD PUG PUL PUN PUP PUR PUS PUT PYA PY E PYX QAT QUA RAD RAG RAH RAJ RAM RAN RAP RAS RAT RAW R AX RAY REB REC RED REE REF REG REI REM REP RES RET REV REX RHO RIA RIB RID RIF RIG RIM RIN RIP ROB ROC ROD ROE ROM ROT ROW RUB RUE RUG RUM RUN RUT RYA RYE SAB SAC SA D SAE SAG SAL SAP SAT SAU SAW SAX SAY SEA SEC SEE SEG S EI SEL SEN SER SET SEW SEX SHA SHE SHH SHY SIB SIC SIM SIN SIP SIR SIS SIT SIX SKA SKI SKY SLY SOB SOD SOL SON SOP SOS SOT SOU SOW SOX SOY SPA SPY SRI STY SUB SUE SU M SUN SUP SUQ SYN TAB TAD TAE TAG TAJ TAM TAN TAO TAP T AR TAS TAT TAU TAV TAW TAX TEA TED TEE TEG TEL TEN TET TEW THE THO THY TIC TIE TIL TIN TIP TIS TIT TOD TOE TOG TOM TON TOO TOP TOR TOT TOW TOY TRY TSK TUB TUG TUI TU N TUP TUT TUX TWA TWO TYE UDO UGH UKE ULU UMM UMP UNS U PO UPS URB URD URN USE UTA UTS VAC VAN VAR VAS VAT VAU VAV VAW VEE VEG VET VEX VIA VIE VIG VIM VIS VOE VOW VOX VUG WAB WAD WAE WAG WAN WAP WAR WAS WAT WAW WAX WAY WE B WED WEE WEN WET WHA WHO WHY WIG WIN WIS WIT WIZ WOE W OG WOK WON WOO WOP WOS WOT WOW WRY WUD WYE WYN XIS YAH YAK YAM YAP YAR YAW YAY YEA YEH YEN YEP YES YET YEW YID YIN YIP YOB YOD YOK YOM YON YOU YOW YUK YUM YUP ZAG ZA P ZAX ZED ZEE ZEK ZIG ZIN ZIP ZIT ZOA ZOO

Escalator
Toronto Metro Convention Center escalator; Open window louvre, seat no. 3A, 747-400, Oct. 13, 2001
Reader
Event attendee, London