The initial reaction to Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article on General McChrystal was disturbing. The emphasis has been on the early parts of the article, with McChrystal’s dismissive attitude toward the President and his administration. Instant discussion focused on the person McChrystal—should he be fired, or resign, or have his resignation accepted? That does not matter. The Hastings article is powerful and important because of what it goes on to report from Afghanistan, building to a crushing conclusion, that the general was unable to command even the respect of Hamid Karzai and McChrystal’s own troops—for the very good reason that he has been given an impossible assignment, one that gets more surreal and absurd every day. His removal will not make the Afghan war go any better, for the simple reason that nothing will do that.
I first saw Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) sometime in the Sixties in a miserable 16-millimeter print under 90 minutes in length. Drastically cut not long after its premiere engagement in Germany, the film had been slashed ever further in subsequent editions. One of the most influential films ever made—the font of cinematic dystopias, a source of imagery reflected in films from The Bride of Frankenstein to Blade Runner—is only now being recovered in nearly its intended form. The 2001 restoration which brought it to 120 minutes was a revelation; that has now been surpassed, thanks to the discovery of additional footage in a Buenos Aires archive. At 147 minutes, the new Metropolis is just six minutes shy of the original running time, even if the newly restored footage is in sadly deteriorated condition. It hardly matters: to see Metropolis in its original form is to discover not just the new material but all the rest; the restorers have not simply added deleted episodes but expanded existing ones, and the film’s rhythms and internal rhymes are disclosed as if for the first time.
Twenty-five years ago, when I was twenty-eight and trying to write a novel, I sent this fan letter to John Updike. I lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, back then, and my girlfriend, now my wife, lived in Boston. I printed the letter out all on one page, with narrow margins, using my new Kaypro computer and Juki daisywheel printer. Updike didn’t answer—he couldn’t, because I didn’t put a return address on the envelope.
Wasn’t that a good game! I think it may be the first time in history that Mexico actually has a real team, with three bright young players—Javier Hernández, Giovani Dos Santos, and Carlos Vela—who were on the team that won the under-17 World Cup in 2005. This bunch doesn’t seem to carry the weight of defeatism that has burdened previous teams in every single World Cup Mexico has qualified for, and they’re in top physical condition. By the end of the first half, they’d thoroughly tired out the panting French.
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.