Julian Branson (Ph.D.) Explains:

September 20, 2006

3. LETTERS FROM MY READERS

I have received exactly 642 lb. and 3 oz. of mail expressing opinions about the Potter article published some time ago on this same daily blog. I must emphasize that, although I was a member of the assembly that decided the course of action, it was not me who designed such a plan. A strict set of rules prohibits me to state whether I voted for or against the plan, but I consider only fair to give voice to my readers. So I have chosen one message, at random, so no one can say that I am one-sided: Here is the accurate transcription of the text:

Dr. Branson,
I love what you wrote in your column and I agree with everything you say.
Mary T.

Let that be an example for journalists all around the world, and also an answer to this solitary letter:

How can you write such atrocities about little Harry? I am a mother of three and a wife of two, and we all love all the books that Gena Rowlands has written, and will keep buying them 'cause she's a master of the Scottish genre (which we adore). We read a lot of paper in this house, monsieur, and we need no professor of this and the other to come ruin our pensees.
Besides, my eldest son will be 16 soon, he has learned to shoot birds already, and he will your donkey down if you keep writing this kind of imbecilities deprived of all sentiment.
Yours truly, Jacintha Badden.

April 25, 2006

HOW TO KILL HARRY POTTER

After two months of intensively questioning people from around the globe about the problems that need urgent solution, we have wrapped up the enterprise with unprecedented success. As it was only to be expected, the issues of global warming, poverty in Latin-America, famine in Africa, slave-workers in Asia and things like that have managed somehow to crawl their way up to the lists, which is probably the media's fault; but they are dwarfed by the major source of concern of the man and woman of our time: the Potter Issue (or the "Potti Affaire", like a few relentless journalists call it).

Some will say: it is too late. How can you get rid of something that is, to the point of dizziness, almost ubiquitous? Our team of experts at Miskatonic University have been working full time, conscientiously dedicating the complete amount of the available funding —provided by tax-payers like you (and we would like to take a moment to say: thank you)— to the enterprise, and even more (i.e., I had to pay for my own lunch on one occasion) in order to reach a satisfactory plan of action. It was not an easy task, as you can imagine, and it involved long hours of ardent restless discussions.

Now, some of our readers, in an unsurpassed heap of philanthropic mail, have suggested to safely retrieve our children and raise them in beautiful underground concrete-built resorts, guarded by a crew of devoted androids and caring Rottweilers.
In their tender, loving, discreetly unconnected cubicles, kids could grow up freely and uncontaminated by the dangers of publicity and the trivialities of mass-media.

I gladly strolled down the campus' sycamore avenue, carrying a purple folder under my armpit and, as it is only my duty, took this proposal to the experts for its evaluation. Although deeply moved by the involvement of the citizens in the resolution of such an important issue, they found complications. For instance, some mothers would complain. And we would also have to take into consideration that not so small a sector of adults also fell under the influence, and would have to be dealt with in a similar manner, a choice that would severely drain the work forces of the nations.

At that moment Dr. Atkinson rose. There were some murmurs of approval. Dr. Atkinson put on his glasses, picked up a paper from the table and let his brass voice fill up the room:

"So the team of Anthropological and Psychological Studies has come up with a viable plan. We have already 'planted' editors, printers and other personnel loyal to our cause in every key task along the processing chain.

"The idea is to pick passages taken from classic books and tactfully infiltrate them in every future reprint of the H.P. ones. So, for example, we would have one of the characters suddenly exclaim: "I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me;" or would find an actual interesting descriptive passage taken from Nabokov, or an exciting competition scene from Pindar or Homer.

"In that way, only unfeeling detached readers could fail to notice the abrupt change in the quality of the writing and not start wondering how is it possible... The seed will be there already, smuggling sense, growing into a stimulating definitive question: where can I find more stuff, similar to the good passages displayed?

"The theory is that they will develop a natural aversion towards the bad ones. Now, we won't stop here to consider the question of what is "good" writing and what is not. For that we have printed out a little experiment designed by one of our graduate students, which you can take home and try by yourself [*See the "Note" at the end of this article].

"Going back to our plan. What happens next? There will follow one of these two alternatives: either the editors of Potter will try to get the books out of the stores, with the excuse of their having plenty of "misprints", or they will keep quiet and pray that nobody notices anything.

"Either way we win. If the events take the first course, we will have plenty of time and space in the media to point out where those "misprints" originally come from, deviating the interest of H.P.'s reading public towards those other titles and authors of which now they will want to know more about ('Who is Rabelais?''That young lad, Kakfa, is promising.').

"If the events take the second course instead, then nothing will prevent us from making yet another edition, in this case "Annotated and with Bibliographical References." In that case we will be able to directly note that, for instance, passage number 1 is from Melville, passage number 2, from Tu Fu, passage number 3 from Kabir, etc. By the time people have finally lost the fear for good writing, Madame Bovary, Gargantua and Sancho Panza, will have crept in and obliterated the Harry Potter creatures. And the rest will be literature.

"This method could be used on a number of well-selling books, not necessarily the above named. It is not hate that moves us, but the possibility of a world a little less stupid and ready to take anything that is presented as being both 'easy' and 'the best' at the same time."

More than one, forgetting for a moment the impartiality of science, let out some emotional little sreams of joy. Dr. Atkinson concluded:

"I think we can safely say that we have found the best and easiest way to deal with this problem."

The whole assembly —me included— gave Dr. Atkinson a standing ovation. Hymns were sung, papers were signed and then we were off for warm food and cold beer —in my case, a chocolate milk shake did the trick.

And as I was walking back home —the moon and the stars tilted slightly the sphere of the world— I thought of tomorrow, of that bright future that had been uncovered for us that evening, and I finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to preserve the Potter copies that I keep under my bed, for they will be appreciated as scientific documents of our Age. Somebody may even start up a Counter-Renaissance with the slogan "Too much culture is... too much" or something like that and then... The original books will be sought after. And they will be most valued.


******


[*] NOTE: Here is the paper distributed by Dr. Atkinson. I have not try it myself yet. I'm afraid it can explode.

HOW TO TELL A GOOD BOOK FROM A BAD ONE

For starters just do the following experiment: pick an article from today's newspaper [Element A], then a copy of, let's say, Don Quixote [Element B]. Put them in the freezer for better conservation. In about a week time, take both elements out of their enclosure and start reading. If you still find them to be of equal quality, put them back in the cryogenic box and test them out again in 20 days or little more. Whatever the amount of time required, at some point you will observe how Element A starts fading away into natural oblivion and Element B maintains its strength intact. (Remember: we are testing here the quality of the text, not the right to be informed). Then you are ready for more advanced tests. You can capture, for example, a more recent specimen, i.e. The Da Vinci Code, and re-do the experiment. It make take a little longer to achieve a definitive result (for beginners maybe... a couple of months? a couple of years for some people? That's OK as long as you don't die before the experiment is completed. Otherwise it would have been a wasted life). You can also change Don Quixote for some other specimens available (Rumi's poetry, Cao Xueqin's Story of the Stone, Borges' prose pieces, etc. Nature has been generous in writers of genius). A classic is like a good wall, that outlives the breaking storm and the kicking of time. It is, at the same time, the storm, the kicking and time.

April 19, 2006

HOW TO SOLVE THE IMMIGRATION PROBLEM

Technological development has reached a degree of delicate specialization, that widens not only the horizon for the resolution of problems, but our very understanding of them. According to this, the first option —a very humanitarian and useful one, and very 21st Century, too— would be to briefly train all illegal immigrants at NASA (they are aliens, after all) and send them to the moon, where they could employ their skills in the construction of cities and human-friendly environments of diverse kind. When the time comes for the rest of us to finally move there —the time will come, it has been scientifically predicted—, then we'll send them to Mars, then to Venus and so on.

The second option is more democratic —democracy, that foreign, Greeky concept, I wonder whether we should...— Anyway: it involves the quest for a true, legitimate non-immigrant that can objectively decide the matter. At first I thought a council of African-Americans would be the best choice, because of their close knowledge of the pains and agonies minorities have to go through in our society. But one of my students —a pink, feverish boy from Texas— pointed out that they had been "imported" only a century ago, and therefore could not be considered legitimate non-immigrants. White people of European stock should be the ones to decide. Fair is fair.

We set out to make a list of names who would make an objective, point-blank jury for this matter; and we would have completed our task in less than a week, had our Department of Anthropological Studies not received a letter in which it was reasonably well explained that Indians had inhabited this land a long time before pilgrims and settlers launched their nutshell shaped cargoes. Therefore they were the only impartial judges that we were to find. Spot on.

Only later I found out that Native-Americans had slipped through the Bering Sound, from northeastern Siberia into Alaska, some 30,000 years ago. So the first Americans were actually Russian. I consulted a group of experts who explained me the movements and migrations that took place before that. It seems nobody in that period spoke English—at all. It must have been a very primitive time indeed. Very indecorous, too. But it all boils down, they tell me, to a little tribe in Africa, some 150,000 years ago, from which we all humans are descendants.

The oldest human fossils were identified in Ethiopia. The obvious conclusion is the following: the soundest judge for the matter of immigration would be an Ethiopian. Not the president nor any of its authorities, for they have an agenda, interests and motivations that are foreign to this matter. In the cities people are too busy, too nervous, trying to catch up with life. They can't focus. But if we were to take a trip down to the interior of the country and stop by in a village on, let's say, either side of the Omo River—even a dusty town of unknown name will do, for there we would find, among its most permanent inhabitants, without a doubt, a merchant of some kind whose family has never left the place—that for 150,000 have stepped on the same earth and are foreign to nothing. But even he would, maybe, get the news, catch a glimpse of some paper from time to time, and therefore be still too biased. No: the immaculate being that we are looking for would be his delivery-boy, for he won't have any preconceptions at all, he would be as objective as a stone, as a stick on the ground.

So it is to him we should direct the ultimate question: what to do with immigrants in America?

Don't be discouraged if he hesitates —this is a grave matter—, or if he loses his astute, malleable eyes in a vanishing cloud and then asks "What is America?": he will have an answer in the end.

Of course there is always a chance —but aren't laws, as well as law-makers, elements of chance, too?— that he will simply shrug his shoulders, say "Send them to the moon", and walk away. In which case out of two options, we would have only one, validated by our rigorous scientific approach.

P.S.: Since I first published the conclusions of our research, I have received plenty of letters and emails, for which I am most grateful. Among the people who wrote me, there are some that sustain that we are all foreigners on this Earth, because we all are descendants from tiny oceanic creatures. But the thought of being a fish living in cold water is most uncomfortable and, therefore, it can't be true.