I was raised on words. They tumbled off the kitchen table onto the floor where I sat: grandfather, uncles, and refugees flung Russian, Polish, Yiddish, French, and what passed for English at one another in a competitive cascade of assertion and interrogation. Sententious flotsam from the Edwardian-era Socialist Party of Great Britain hung around our kitchen promoting the True Cause. I spent long, happy hours listening to Central European autodidacts arguing deep into the night: Marxismus, Zionismus, Socialismus. Talking, it seemed to me, was the point of adult existence. I have never lost that sense.
Recreating—if that is the right word—the daily routine of mass murder at Auschwitz with miniature puppets made of plasticine may not seem a promising enterprise. However artfully done, it could make what actually happened look trivial, like a kind of game. And yet Kamp, staged at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in the first week of June, by a Dutch group called Hotel Modern, was weirdly gripping.
On Monday, June 14, the Supreme Court declined to hear Maher Arar’s case, conclusively shutting the door on the Canadian citizen’s effort to obtain redress from US officials who stopped him in September 2002 while he was changing planes on his way home to Canada and shipped him instead to Syria, where he was tortured and imprisoned without charges for nearly a year. In so ruling, the Court refused to reconsider the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, sitting en banc, which had ruled in November 2009 that Arar’s case raised too many sensitive issues of national security and confidential information to permit its adjudication in a court of law. If he is to obtain any remedy now, it must come from Congress and the President. The courts have washed their hands of the affair, but that does not mean that it is resolved.
Four days after Israeli commandos stormed a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, killing nine passengers and igniting an international firestorm, several hundred Palestinian demonstrators guided a nine-meter wooden model of the raided boat, the Mavi Marmara, on a march through the West Bank village of Bil’in. Adorned on both sides with the star and crescent of the Turkish flag, the patchwork vessel had been mounted on a car and steered toward the Israeli-built security fence, which cuts through the village and has since 2005 inspired regular protests there. After the procession pulled to a stop, two marchers dressed as pirates and armed with fake swords leapt aboard the deck and began assaulting the Palestinians standing on it. The performance stopped when Israeli soldiers flooded the area with tear gas and chased the demonstrators away.
It was a symbolic reenactment of the bloody confrontation that took place at sea a few days earlier. It was also a sign that, even as the “proximity talks” promoted by the Obama administration founder, some quieter but arguably more noteworthy developments have been taking place in the West Bank.
Can we make any sense of Israel’s policy toward Gaza? I think we can—a rather sinister sense—but only if we look beyond the mass of sometimes conflicting details that have emerged since the attack on the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” on May 31. On the face of it, it’s hard to understand how any government could have decided to do anything so obviously self-defeating. At the very least Israel has handed Hamas a major propaganda victory, one that should easily have been foreseen. On the other hand, there is surely something about the whole foolish, deadly episode that is emblematic of Israeli’s current approach.
Despite the countless promises over the years by various governments in Belgrade that Ratko Mladic would be arrested shortly, and the many widely-publicized actions in which special police units were seen on television searching some building where he was supposed to be hiding, the man indicted on charges of genocide for organizing the July 1995 massacre of some 8000 Bosnian Muslim men in the Bosnian town of Srebrenic is still on the run.
Recently, I wrote a book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, in which I took issue with a number of currently popular education strategies that I had once supported, and now, seeing their questionable outcomes, challenge. Since then, I have been traveling across the country and have made three dozen speeches. What started out as a conventional book tour—with stops only in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—turned into something else: a whistle-stop campaign to warn against some of the education “reforms” currently in vogue.
It may be that Latin America is the last great reservoir of innocent art. Or at least, one could happily arrive at that conclusion after watching a video on YouTube, “En tus tierras bailaré” (“In Your Lands Someday I’ll Dance”) that has gone way over the million-hit mark. It features three of the hottest video stars in the Andes: La Tigresa del Oriente (The Tigress of the East), Little Wendy Sulca, and Delfín Hasta el Fin, a name I declare myself incompetent to translate, though “All the Way with the Dauphin” is a start. La Tigresa, Little Wendy, and the Delfín were brought together virtually for this video, and among its many marvels is a joyful, if not proficient, use of technology.
Not long after the iPad went on sale in early April, the Ilinois Institute of Technology announced that it would be providing each member of next fall’s freshman class with one of the new Apple devices. School officials said that the iPad would allow students to take notes, check email, and read books. Which books they had in mind is not precisely clear except for this: they are not likely to be textbooks.
In Arizona we have racial profiling. Now, around the world, wherever the Catholic church holds sway, we have sexual profiling. In The New York Times, Paul Vitello reports on the new screening tests the church is implementing to weed out would-be seminarians who are gay or who are considered prone to pedophilia. In Arizona, police are meant to demand papers from anyone they sense could be an illegal alien. In the church Rev. David Toups, director of the secretariat of clergy for the United States Conference of Bishops, says of his own gaydar: “It’s more like one of those things where it’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.”