The Peril from the East



I’ve been reading a collection of Joseph Roth’s newspaper journalism, came across a piece published in 1920, in which Roth visited a Berlin boardinghouse crammed with bedraggled refugees. In those days they were mainly Jews in flight from pogroms and the chaos of the Russian civil war. “We know them as ‘the peril from the East,’” Roth wrote, contrasting the panic in the press over hordes of savage and criminal migrants with the exhausted, broken bodies he found huddled together, “millennial sorrow” in their eyes.

The photo above is from Calais, the “new camp” in which the French government intends to house refugees who find themselves stuck on the coast while attempting to cross into England. As opposed to the old camp, which is referred to by both its inhabitants and those who wish them gone as “the Jungle,” as loaded a term as they get. My piece on Calais just went online in the London Review of Books. I was there two and a half weeks ago, a few days before riot police and bulldozers moved in and began demolishing the Jungle’s southern half, before French authorities blamed the clashes that followed on outside “extremists,” before several migrants protested their silencing by sewing their own lips shut and announcing a hunger strike, before Belgium partially closed its border with France to keep the Calais migrants out, before Slovenia closed its borders and Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia followed suit, effectively shutting down the route through which more than a million migrants have sought refuge in Europe this last year. Thwock thwock thwock, the doors slam shut. Is it worth reiterating that there is something rather odd about this "crisis"? That most of the refugees have either fled countries visited in recent years by European and American troops and bombs or ruled by regimes that the US and the major European powers have happily and profitably armed? The “refugee crisis” works a neat bit of magic: Europe’s outside refuses to stay out, stubbornly streams back in. And so the fences go up and the gates shut, too late: all the violence and ethnic hatred that Europe liked to pretend existed only far outside its borders is now on full display in Brussels, in Vienna, in Paris, in Calais. Millennial sorrows all round. 


In the meantime



It's been a while, I know. And there was a holiday. And there's another one coming up. And one day I'd like to do something with this site other than all-too sporadically memorialize people killed or otherwise damaged and/or disappeared by what in other contexts we would simply call "armed groups," but for now, this is what I have for you: Miguel Angel Cano, 34 years old, known to friends and family as Michael, or as Drifter, and shot to death by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department on November 9, 2015. The details are here. When I wrote the piece, it seemed pretty likely that Cano would be the last man the LAPD killed for the year. It didn't work out that way. So yeah. One day. In the meantime, here are birds, and clouds. 


One Year Ago Today


Mohammad Abu Khdeir, 16 years old, was abducted outside his home in the Jerusalem neighbohood of Shu’afat. His body was found that same morning, though two days would pass before the police agreed to release it to his family. He had been burned alive. At the funeral his body was concealed in a simple green wooden casket. It's there in the photo below, above the heads of the mourners. He was by all accounts a sweet and very funny boy, always joking. You can see the laughter in his eyes in the banner that hung from the family home. For a while, the police tried to force the family to remove it, threatening to fine them about $500 every day it stayed up. It's been a long year. 



This was yesterday or maybe the day before. Late morning and hot already. I was standing at the corner of Wilshire and Alvarado, waiting to cross the street. A busy spot most hours of the day. The sort of place that if you’re at all like me makes you happy to be human. Proud even. People selling hot dogs and Jesus and most things in between: all the usual contraband, plus tamales, raw clams still dark with mud, hand lotion, peanuts roasted in their shells, hats and sunglasses, cell phone chargers, bronze giraffes. Beside me stood a dead-eyed young man I had seen around before. Head shaved, a little heavy, a lingerer on sidewalks and corners and the platform of the Metro, far too lost to effect any conventional hustle. They were really something his eyes. Unblinking, almost droopy, neither warm nor cold, far away. He said he had a question for me. The light was still red. 
What’s up? I said.
He wanted to know, he said, why so many people went to college but there were still so many dumbasses.
That’s a problem, I said.
Yeah, he said. It is a problem.
I suggested that it was not the kind of problem that could be fixed.
There’s no solution, he said.
That’s right.
He added another layer to the conundrum: Some of the dumbasses, he said, thought they could be smartasses.
I don’t know what I said to that.
But the thing is, he said, you can try. You can try to fix yourself. 
I agreed. You could try.
Sometimes, he admitted, even he could be a dumbass. But he tried. 
Me too, I said. I tried too.
Then the light changed.
Take care, I said, and that was that.



“Is that where we’re going ... ? Across the sea? Across the Empty Ocean, to the remnants of that wound, that fracture? It’s not just the land that was broken open—the sea, too. So is that where we’re going? To mine the possibilities in what’s left of that great… cosmic laceration?”

—China Mieville, The Scar