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On Politics

Here’s Pie in Your Eye

April 1, 2014 | by

Pieing for fun and profit.

pietoface

“I used to throw pies for a living.”

The story usually elicits a good chuckle or two. It’s the perfect gambit when dinner-party conversation lags—a legendary prank executed long ago in my rascal past, a kind of April Fools’ joke.

But what my audience never knows is this: they’re talking to a guy who once commanded a hit squad of domestic terrorists that carried out a slew of public attacks in broad daylight and got away with it.

Well, mostly. An enraged crowd of Trekkies nearly stomped me to death after I’d boldly gone and pied William Shatner, their beloved Captain Kirk, at a Star Trek convention. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Read More »

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My Day in Istanbul: A Tear-Gas Tourist’s Notes

June 4, 2013 | by

Taksim Square and Gezi Park had been triumphantly peaceful since the weekend. But there’d been heavy action overnight in the nearby Beşiktaş and Dolmabahçe neighborhoods. Monday morning I left our apartment on the slope just below Taksim and walked down to Kabataş to get a glimpse of the damage. Kabataş lies right beneath on the Bosphorus; Dolmabahçe and then Beşiktaş are directly north from there along the shore. To our south rise the headland of old Constantinople, the minarets of Aya Sofya, and Blue Mosque.

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At Kabataş I started up the shore road. It’s always jammed. But northward now, an almost inert standstill. There was debris from some of last night’s blockades, brilliant in the sunshine. Read More »

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What Would Happen if the Three Jonathans Rewrote Mitt Romney?

October 15, 2012 | by

Following Romney’s strong performance at the first presidential debate, we found ourselves wondering why the candidate did not deliver a more stirring speech to the Republican National Convention. The logical next step was to ask: what would happen if we gave his original text to several contemporary writers for a rewrite. The following is an approximation. —A.A.

Romney:

Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than what divides us.

When that hard-fought election was over, when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have—optimistic and positive and confident in the future.

That very optimism is uniquely American.

It is what brought us to America. We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.

Lethem:

Four years ago before our last presidential election, Americans feeling fresh excitement about a new president, after late summer, before the leaves fell off the trees. Read More »

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Kim Jong-Un’s First Speech, Interpreted as Doggerel

May 16, 2012 | by

On April 15, Kim Jong-Un, the new leader of North Korea, gave his long-awaited maiden speech, on the hundredth anniversary of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder. Befitting the occasion, enormous crowds attended, and male and female soldiers marched with goose-stepping precision.

North Korea-watchers considered it an important moment to gauge the new leader, and he did not disappoint, celebrating the particular take on history that distinguishes North Korea from all other nations.

A full transcript has just been provided by a North Korean website, but for the readers of The Paris Review, a condensed version has been prepared, in poetic form.
Read More »

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Letter from the West Bank

August 2, 2010 | by

A bar mitzvah outing—at a West Bank shooting range.

Photograph by Scott Pargett.

It’s not easy to get directions over the phone from someone who works at a shooting range. I was pretty sure Eran had said that Caliber-3 was accessible by public bus, but it was hard to hear him over the gunfire. So I took the bus into the West Bank, through various IDF checkpoints, down highway 60 with its anti-sniper barriers and razor wire, past the giant, snaking “Wall of Separation,” to a settler outpost, a pleasant little heavily-armed suburb.

“You are not in the right place,” Eran is now telling me on my cell. “You are in the wrong place.”

The right place, it turns out, is a forty-five minute walk to a remote hill. I embark on a cautious solo West Bank hike along a road where Hamas militants once tried to kidnap a friend of mine. Empty cans of power drinks labeled in Arabic line the road—when these turn into empty cans of power drinks labeled in Hebrew, I know I am close.

Caliber-3 is located on a dusty slope of a dusty hill, between the Jewish settlement of Migdal Oz and the Arab town of Bayt Fajar. It is part of a settler industrial park built on land that nearby Palestinian villages claim as their own. Each company housed in the industrial park seems to play a role in the Jewish settlement enterprise: contractors, a land development corporation, a real estate management agency, a shady outfit that calls itself “Google Ranking Experts,” and an even shadier outfit that calls itself “The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud.”

I am here for a bar mitzvah outing. Since the party bus is late, I join three men sitting at a picnic table. They identify themselves as “French businessmen who live and work in China.” Why are they on the West Bank, at this shooting range? They are training for urban combat, they tell me. “We need it for work,” one of them explains.

Somehow this segues into an impassioned monologue. The lead Frenchman demands to know why the Americans get away with killing twenty-seven Iraqi civilians a day while the Israelis dispatch a few pirates and are roundly condemned. It’s an outrage! Under the table, I feel a foot cozy up to mine. I try to ignore this. The man, now pounding on the picnic table, continues to decry the hypocrisy of the international community; at the same time, he grows increasingly familiar with me under the table. He is now gently massaging the top of his foot over the top of my foot.

According to its website, Caliber-3 “works in close cooperation with the IDF in the field of counter-terrorism” and has “set up security installations in order to train both professionals and laymen in Israel as well as in Africa, Asia and Central America.” They also offer paintball to visitors who are willing to wear the required external jockstrap. Again, from its website, “[we] simulate urban combat using paintball. This is real fun for families and tourists and great entertainment for bar mitzvahs.”

At long last, the bar mitzvah bus arrives. It is a large group of men, women and children dressed for a day of golfing. Chinos, polo shirts, belted plaid shorts. Many are also wearing official bar mitzvah apparel: navy blue baseball caps and tote bags emblazoned with a giant Ralph Lauren Polo-brand logo over the words DAVID’S BAR MITZVAH. They are snacking. It is Friday. Today they shoot guns, real guns, not paintball; tonight they pray at the Western Wall, followed by a Sabbath buffet dinner; tomorrow, young David is called to the Torah. Read More »

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