The Ground We Stand On

I had studied social movements most of my academic life, so when some kind of rhythmic popular mobilization put in an appearance in American presidential politics in 2008, I paid attention. By February, when it arrived in my neck of the woods, the Research Triangle of North Carolina, the pundits were calling it “the Obama ground game.” I signed up so I could get a close look.

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Guilt & Grace

A defender of Israel’s Gaza incursion emailed anti-Islamists the following excerpt from a front page story, “Fighter Sees His Paradise in Gaza’s Pain,” in the January 9 New York Times:

21 year old militant with Islamic Jihad awaits treatment for shrapnel wounds:

“Hurry, I must get back so I can keep fighting…We are fighting the Israelis…When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast. We run into the houses to get away.”

He continued smiling. “Why are you so happy?,” the reporter asked.
“Look around you. Don’t you see that these people are hurting?”

“But I am from the people too.” he said with his smile incandescent.
“They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”

I’d seen the original story in the Times where that bright, shining smile lit up the madness of Jihadis. But there was something vital missing from the e-mailer’s excerpt. Right after Times reporter Taghreed El-Khodary entered her own story to address the happy militant – “Look around you.” – she brought readers inside the hospital’s emergency room:

A girl who looked about 18 screamed as a surgeon removed shrapnel from her leg. An elderly man was soaked in blood. A baby a few weeks old and slightly wounded looked around helplessly. A man lay with parts of his brain coming out. His family wailed at his side.

Only then did El-Khodary turn back to ask the militant: “Don’t you see that these people are hurting?”

Her story of the smiley Jihadi stuck with me in part because she nailed the pain the wannabe martyr refused to take in. But it seems the Jihadi wasn’t the only imperfect witness. I suspect the “pro-Israeli” e-mailer cut El-Khodary’s passage on the victims in that hospital because it brings home the excruciating consequences of the Gaza incursion. Jihadists who provoke Israel bear much responsibility for causing the suffering of Palestinian civilians but so do Israeli politicians and the population who overwhelmingly support the operation in Gaza.

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Unwritten Rules

Excerpted from First of the Year: 2008 Copyright Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

It’s been an elegiac time for our crew lately. In the past year, we lost (among others) Hans Koning, Ellen Willis, George Trow, Kurt Vonnegut and, a year before that, Benjamin DeMott. They were First readers as well as writers for our tab. You could count on them to give it to you straight and there were occasions when one of their opinions could outweigh all others due to its cogency. There are no substitutes for irreplaceable elders but we’ll try to sustain what they valued in First by finding new originals to help carry us into the future. Which, sorry to repeat myself, remains unwritten (despite the chorus of that slack Natasha Bedingfield song).

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Boom

George Trow sent us the following squib lampooning Tina Brown and her circle as he was composing “Is Dan Mad?” for First back in 1999. It shouldn’t be confused with his more serious “media studies,” but it’s not quite a throwaway either. Trow’s New York Times obituary gave Tina Brown the last word when it invoked his feud with her over the celeb-mongering turn at The New Yorker during her editorial tenure. This gives Trow a chance to talk back…

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A Free Woman: A Tribute to Ellen Willis

When the radical feminist and new journalist Ellen Willis died last fall, a black rock critic mourned her as “the Mother of us all.” Another well-known black writer – and notorious macho man – referred to Ellen as “God” when she was editing his pieces at the Village Voice. Ellen may have come to be identified with a distinctive bohemian nexus in the Village, but her work worked on people outside the Downtown milieu. Someone once compared Ellen’s 60’s talks pushing second wave feminism to the Howling Wolf tour of the UK that inspired a generation of British rockers.

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Boom

George Trow sent us the following squib lampooning Tina Brown and her circle as he was composing “Is Dan Mad?” for First back in 1999. It shouldn’t be confused with his more serious “media studies,” but it’s not quite a throwaway either. Trow’s New York Times obituary gave Tina Brown the last word when it invoked his feud with her over the celeb-mongering turn at The New Yorker during her editorial tenure. This gives Trow a chance to talk back…

Read more

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