Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Oct. 21, 2003 / 25 Tishrei, 5764

Michael Ledeen

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Curses: Diamonds and Naples | I think I got into bed in the middle of the seventh inning, had my life-preserving shot of grappa, and dozed off, with the radio on to the game. A bit later, as Little went to the mound the first time and left Pedro in the game, I woke up and heard the Yankees tie the score. When Little went out the second time, Joe Morgan confessed: "Now I believe in The Curse. I never did before, but now I do. I just don't understand anything about the eighth inning."

And that's exactly right, which is why I am writing a book on Naples, where curses and other forms of magic are simply accepted as a part of life. Life is full of terrible and wonderful things, and for the most part they are all very hard to explain. We hyper rationalists of the Enlightenment Faith constantly try to find material, causal explanations for most everything, but that enterprise is doomed, both by the limits of human understanding and by what my father — an engineer — called the "innate perversity of the inanimate."

You will be told that The Curse is not really an explanation, let alone scientific, but in fact it meets all the requirements for good science. First of all, it thoroughly explains the phenomenon: The deranged owner of the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and so the baseball gods punished him for his monumental error by causing the Red Sox always to lose. You can't ask for a more complete or convincing explanation than that. Second, the results can be replicated, as they have been for endless decades. Third, the theory accurately predicts future results (the eighth inning, for example, which, as Joe Morgan pointed out, cannot be explained any other way). Fourth, there is no convincing alternative explanation for the data. And fifth, it passes peer review. The players, owners, coaches, and fans of the Red Sox (the same can be said of the other accursed team, the Cubs) may say they don't believe it, but of course they do. They must.

While we refuse to accept magic in our lives, the Neapolitans embrace it. And since they embrace it, they are better at identifying it, and in so doing they avoid some of the miseries that afflict modern man. Take envy, for example. Poor Neapolitans (which is to say, most Neapolitans) are astonishingly free of envy of those more successful than themselves. In many of the old neighborhoods, rich and poor live on top of one another (Literally. In a single palace you can find dirt-eating poor on street level, and gradually higher-status folks moving up the stairs, until you arrive at the luxurious flat of the aristocrat on top), and the poor take pleasure in the grandeur and comfort of the rich. They would love to live that way, but since they believe that luxury is usually bestowed magically rather than earned (yes, they know it was sometimes stolen, but that's another story), they hope for similar good fortune. On the other hand, they know that most of them will not get good fortune, but rather...a form of The Curse.

Donate to JWR

Much of Neapolitan life revolves around the most likely source of great fortune: the weekly lottery. Tradition has it that Neapolitans' dead ancestors — who are omnipresent in current events — always know the winning numbers in advance. And they are desperately trying to transmit those numbers to their progeny — through dreams. Not just any dreams, but dreams with a special numinous "feel" to them, usually dreamt shortly before awakening.

There are thick volumes of dream interpretations that translate dream images into numbers (I have a small collection of such books, even though I am not yet a lottery player), and there are sages and masters of the occult who can help you judge whether your dream is the right sort, and how to extract the numbers from the dream images.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of conversation about dreams and numbers — Naples is the chattiest city in the world — which is to say about magic. And, like The Curse, the theory has been confirmed many times, as lottery winners share their winnings with the dream readers, to the great satisfaction of the public.

A great miracle, and thus a great mystery, lies at the heart of Neapolitan life: the miracle of San Gennaro, the city's (recently downgraded) patron saint. Beheaded by the Romans, his congealed blood is in a small vial in a special chapel of the cathedral, and three times a year the vial is taken out by the archbishop, and the faithful pray over it, and yell at San Gennaro to perform his miracle and liquefy his blood. Most of the time, the miracle takes place quite rapidly, but sometimes it takes hours (bad sign) and rarely it does not happen at all (terrible sign, usually followed by an eruption of Vesuvius or a new cholera outbreak or war or some such). Scientists have of course tried to explain (or explain away) the miracle, but have thus far failed (thank goodness!). And so Neapolitans continue to believe that if San Gennaro's miracle succeeds, the city will have good fortune, but if it fails, The Curse is on them.

As it most certainly is on the Red Sox. And that's science, baby. Not that junk you read about in the learned journals.

Like this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.


10/15/03: Into the Quagmire: Important days ahead for Iran
09/18/03: The Ayatollahs’ bomb: An invulnerability strategy
09/12/03: You can't make peace until the war is won
09/11/03: Ron Paul, dishonorable congressman
09/03/03: The Latest Horrors: Still organized
08/29/03: The Peace Trap: Back to the war, please
08/27/03: Angrier and Angrier: Self-deception, big-time
08/25/03: Iraq's terrorists have friends in high places
07/10/03: The Future of Iran: Armitage might want to rethink that "democracy" line
07/02/03: Looking Toward July 9: Independence Day in Iran?
06/24/03: Iran: Back the freedom fighters
06/17/03: The Iranian Revolution, 2003: Regime change in the air
06/05/03: Academic Standards: A Middle East scholar has his way with the truth.
05/28/03: The Moment of Truth? U.S. policy could determine Iran's destiny
05/15/03: Iran's Path: Stopping the mullahs in their tracks
05/13/03: The Nuclear Axis of Evil: The people solution
05/08/03: Inside the Dark: Applebaum's ‘Gulag’
05/06/03: Tough Guy: Powell's curious priority list
05/01/03: Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it
04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
01/29/03: No Leader: France's Chirac is all about personal interest
01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
01/13/03: How we could lose
01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
12/13/02: The Heart of Darkness: The mullahs make terror possible
12/12/02: The Real War
12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen