Wrong Number(s)

Harper’s Magazine, September 2013




A favorite article in this issue: “Wrong Answer – The Case Against Algebra II,” by Nicholson Baker. The article speaks the truth about the central flaw to reason and intellect, centered in this case about Algebra. Mathematics as a  language, a shorthand to understanding the world about us, can lead both everywhere and nowhere as its complexity grows. So why not keep it simple in school?

Then there’s William T. Vollman’s report, “My Life As a Terrorist – Uncovering my FBI File,” on his discovery that he was/is being investigated by Homeland Security as a terrorist. Once again, such pursuits can lead anywhere, depending on the search parameters, and improperly done, they can put one at risk, as this one did with Vollman.

And in Andrew Cockburn’s fine article, “A Perfect Instrument – The Ferocity and Failure of America’s Sanction Apparatus,” sanctions are, in Robert McBrien’s words, “…the soft edge of hard power.” But depending on the pluck of the groups being sanctioned, these measures can either work or fail spectacularly. Once we find them in failure mode, it’s all but impossible to change or revoke them. Hence we often look the other way when it comes to flawed programs.

There’s also in this issue an excellent photo spread from a “name withheld” photographer of life in Iran. Obviously pictures such as these can tell us much and tend to reject the urge of spin.

And fiction writer, Lydia Davis’ very short story, “The Two Davises and the Rug,” lets us in on the potential for conflict arising from the fact of two persons named Davis.



Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.


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