Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

I have lived at my present address about fifteen years. Sometime, perhaps ten years ago, a man started aggressively panhandling me. Early on, I gave him money a few times--a cumulative ten dollars over a period of many months. After that, he would turn up almost any time I went outside. Once he saw me through the front window of a restaurant where I was having dinner wth my wife and I could see him physically wrench himself away from an impulse to come into the restaurant to talk to me. After that, I always said no and he would curse at me as he walked away.

He would disappear sometimes for a year or more and I would feel relief. But he would always turn up again.

Then he vanished for a longer time, maybe five years, and I thought he was gone for good. Yesterday, as I stood by my front steps he woke me out of a reverie: "Well, here I am. I bet you weren't expecting to see me." I looked at him and saw exactly the face of five years ago, but then he said something I thought remarkable: "I'm getting old now, I'm almost finished." And as if by the lifting of a spell, he oscillated and I saw that he was missing some teeth and his hair was gray. Which reminded me that the face I imagine I wear every day is also no longer mine.

Your email makes me feel younger, though (especially the high school student below who says I have "mad skillz"). I can be reached as always at jw@bway.net.

Jonathan Wallace

Year Zero
Dear Jonathan:

Re Gulfari and the Magic Button, It is quite refreshing for me to read insightful essays like this one written by someone who believes that America's reaction was proper and just, even though I do not believe such a thing. That you can hold my attention with your exacting analysis of the morality (manufactured or otherwise) of collateral damage is amazing to me, since I start by skimming the piece and end up reading it voraciously--fully agreeing and then completely disagreeing with one point or another.

To me this sort of honest and open-ended appraisal is what is needed instead of the howl for conformity that the punditry and the occupation government think is warranted.


Peter Stanislaw pstanislaw@peoplepc.com

Hi Jon:

Re Gulfari, It is a sad pleasure to watch someone wrestle with these issues as honestly as you are doing. It also gives me some hope. Those of us who are not Americans can only stand on the sidelines and criticise, but we are, as the US Government has shown, essentially powerless.

The ethical status of the rest of human history is now in American hands; whatever you choose will be the cornerstone on which we all will build. I'm glad that at least some Americans are doing what you are doing.

I'm forwarding the article to another American grappling with the consequences of his and his nation's ethical blindness. Lee Thorn at Jhai Foundation http://www.jhai.org.

Kind regards

Earl Mardle

Hi John,

I'm enjoying the emails, thanks. This line in Falling Flights and Meteorites is very important:

I've spent most of my life trying not to remember that we live in a universe of constant, unrelenting and insensate violence.

For most of the people reading the email, that violence is nevertheless safely out of range somewhere in the universe. That we can even begin to consider the problem on that scale is a sign of our insulation from it.

But your question is absolutely on the nail. "I asked how many hammer blows we could take". The answer is, vastly more than you might imagine. Just look at the lives of the people in the vast majority of the world who wake every morning to more hammer blows in a day than you and I experience in a decade, probably a lifetime.

The real question is, how do these people still manage to love their children, care for each other and greet strangers with courtesy and kindness when their lives are an endless litany of misery, exploitation, violence, sickness and disaster. And what would it take on top of that not to hate those whose lives as kept easy and clean and safe and prosperous at our expense.

The wonder is not that suicidal assaults on your country and mine happen at all, but that they don't happen every hour. The miracle of human strength is not in our ability to change the world to suit our whims and desires, but in our ability to remain human when there is no earthly reason why we should.

Take care.

Earl Mardle

This is one of the wisest and best letters I've ever received.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am a political science professor teaching constitutional politics, and presently covering some materials on civil liberties in wartime. A Google search led me to your essay, Military Tribunals. It is the best general article I have found on Quirin and on Yamashita and their connection to the Bush tribunals order. For what it's worth, I also find your conclusions about the Bush order well supported.

Some, including both William Safire and liberal critics of the Bush order, say that the tribunals were really intended to cover up FBI incompetence in initially rejecting Dasch as a crackpot. I gather from your essay that it didn't take Dasch long at all to convince them! You mention that Hoover attempted to take credit with FDR for his excellent detective work; I found one source saying that Hoover in fact won the Medal of Honor for his work in this case. Is that right? Elsewhere, I have read that the FBI desired the secret trial in order to preserve, for the Germans, the illusion that the FBI had penetrated German sabotage operations -- a related but somewhat more laudable motive. Do you find that credible?

When I teach this material in future, I would like to provide a link to your essay in my course website so my students can read it. May I have your permission to do this?


Randall Calvert calvert@artsci.wustl.edu
Professor of Political Science
Washington University
St. Louis MO

Everything else

. . .Wow. I'm a high school senior with an avid interest in many of the things your article covers. I've just finished reading through most of your articles from '95. Not only do you have mad writing skillz, but you write lots. What's more, the articles on issues I thought dead and buried made me think. Kudos. Your homepage has joined the hallowed ranks of www.thehappyheretic.com and www.mrlizard.com in my bookmark file.

My thoughts on E-books:

Have you been on the IRC channel #bookwarez? There, you can download free books, in HTML, PDF, or TXT format. When I hear e-books, I think of those, not some plot to take away rights.


I know enough to know that I don't know enough to have an opinion. I also know that most situations in which experts can look at identical incidents and draw exactly opposite conclusions from them are rarely solved via reason.

9/11, and our response:

Alright, maybe I missed something. Last time we declared war on an idea (drugs), we lost. More to the point, our enemy had a rational goal (make money) and was rarely willing to sacrifice him- or herself in the name of said goal. Now, multiply that by the damage a kg. of cocaine does to society, as opposed to what a kg. of C4 could do in the right place. What was our plan again?

Robert Liguori robertliguori@hotmail.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re your review of Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

I wholly agree with you on every comment that you made about the handling of possible survivors, such as Beck Weathers. I think that the people who had abandoned Weathers and Namba should've considered going back for Namba as soon as they saw Beck Weathers walk into camp. No one believed he would make it through the night, yet he made it off Everest.


Dea Mr. Wallace:

Regarding Mumia Abu-Jamal, you might want to update readers that his death sentence has now been thrown out, and his conviction upheld, by federal judge William Yohn. Here's USA Today's report on it:


While it's possible that a new trial could reinstate the death sentence, that outcome's not very likely.

Those who have questions about the original trial will most likely want to read the court transcripts to make their own judgments on the fairness of the trial. The only source of full transcripts of the actual trial that I'm aware of is


They might also be interested in pre-trial jury selection (voir dire) transcripts. Refuse and Resist seems to have the most material here, with some partial transcripts, but not the whole set (See http://www.refuseandresist.org/mumia/court.html for their copies.) I'm not aware of any site, pro- or anti-Mumia, that has the whole set online.

John Mark Ockerbloom ockerblo@pobox.upenn.edu