(From my Israel journal, 13 March 2008.

I’m typing this in completely unedited. I wrote it in a mode of complete desperation. To be completely honest with you, I’ve been almost deliberately avoiding re-reading this. I don’t know how to deal with this place. I may not know how to deal with this place ever. But I know I have to deal with this place.)

still don’t know how I write about what I saw in Jericho.

First, the checkpoint. The space between the Israeli check and the Palestinian check is a half mile of straight wasteland. Once you reach Jericho, you are…

…it’s poverty. I have never known how to deal with poverty. But it’s not just poverty, because if it was, we could propose solutions, and establish order. And we try. You see signs for the Palestinian authority, for the UN, for the European Union, even the good ol’ U-S-of-A, supporting this or that public works project (your foreign aid dollars at work!). But does that even matter if Israel won’t allow industry to grow?

The major industry in Jericho is tourism. The city’s major landmark now is the Intercontinental Hotel that rises over the horizon, presumably for someone to come in and stay and see the sights. (The parking lot is not full.) There are random shops, residences with barren gardens…and I can’t think of anything to complete that list. (I remember seeing the office door of a dentist. It was gated and locked.)

There are hopeful signs of life – the Catholic school, with children pouring out. Many children had parents waiting on them patiently, seeming to know that this was their hope. But Palestinians have been among the best-educated of the Arab peoples since the early 1900’s. Without the opportunity, what then?

We stopped at what was proposed to be the tree that Zacchaeus climbed when Jesus visited Jericho. What appeared to be a Palestinian family, the older men wearing “VENDOR” tags (approved by the Palestinian authority), with young boys in tow, came out of a small building in back, selling souvenirs. You’re always told to beware of children in this type of situation – have they been trained to be pickpockets? – but what do you do if you know that’s all this family might have to depend on?

(I retreated back to the bus quietly. Afraid? Me? You think?)

As to what happened next, Robert Wallace can tell the story better than I can.

(My writing ends here. However, Robert Wallace has taken to keeping his own blog, and at this point, I can quote him.)

In Jericho, several Palestinians said to each of us, “Please tell the people of America we want peace. Please don’t let a few radicals make them think we are all like that.” One man whose words will stay with me for a long time said, “How many fingers do you have?” I replied, “Five.” Showing me his hand, he said, “Same as me. Please tell them we want peace. We need peace.”

News flash – it’s baseball season again

From the Moveable Type blog, April 9, 2008.

(Permalink…and THAT happened.)

For those of you who are true geeks, you might recognize that as the Tokyo series between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A’s. Some dork – who sounds like he knows baseball better than he lets on, if you listen closely – scored nice seats behind home plate, and provides sufficiently dorky commentary.

“I’m not sure what that means!” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard baseball commentary so beautiful in my life.

Oh, by the way, apparently the guy is a pretty decent guitarist.

(I have to confess, I find it cool when famous people do vaguely anonymous stuff online.)

College where they need it the worst

From the Moveable Type blog, April 4, 2008.

It is absolutely essential for me, in times like these, to remember how good I have it.

After an up-and-down week, where I still can’t find a way to make the highs anywhere near as high as the lows, my random bouncing around the internets brought me to desperately needed perspective, in the form of two stories from Bunker Hill Community College written by Wick Sloane.

The first, written last year this time, is a piece mourning the death of a 19-year-old student named Cedirick Steele and how this impacted the English class he had been taking. The second, written today, is a broader picture of the experience at BHCC, captured in single snapshots, nothing terribly coherent because “these pages keep spinning out in rage and gibberish. I can’t circle longer, looking for the perfect storyline on this problem ‘too big to be seen.'”

Here’s the part of the second piece that absolutely killed me (edited so that Baptist-college-stylee SonicWall doesn’t start hating my guts – go back to InsideHigherEd for the unedited version):

Slide Five: A Thursday last spring. A textbook publisher has brought lunch for two students whose essays she wants to buy for a new book. On Tuesday, one student had e-mailed his lunch order. Thursday morning, he canceled. He had to quit school. No explanation.

Slide Six: The final paragraph of his essay.

“My stomach begins to churn as I start the last phase of my pilgrimage. The last phase consists of walking out of the train station, down the walkway and into BHCC. I compare this walk to the walk death row inmates take before they are executed. As I take this walk I begin to ask myself, “What the f___ am I doing here?” Within seconds my sensible half answers, “You’re here so that you don’t have to live like the rest of your family. The rest of your friends are in school, and lord knows half of them aren’t half as smart as you. Lastly, we already paid for this s___ so get it done, lil’ n___a.” With BHCC right in front me, I take a deep breath and end this pilgrimage by entering the Mecca that will start me on the path of reaching my pinnacle.”

Why is it that the people who need education the most desperately – and who know it, and are hungriest for it – are the very same people who find it the hardest to get?

(And, of course, this is “first in a series.” I’ll be reading this some more.)


Your Cornford reading for the day

From the Moveable Type blog, April 3, 2008.

We interrupt the steady stream of Israel-blogging to bring a reminder of the real world, via Part VI of Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica (last making appearances in this place here and here):

You will begin, I suppose, by thinking that people who disagree with you and oppress you must be dishonest. Cynicism is the besetting and venial fault of declining youth, and disillusionment its last illusion. It is quite a mistake to suppose that real dishonesty is at an common. The number of rogues is about equal to the number of men who act honestly; and it is very small. The great majority would sooner behave honestly than not. The reason why they do not give way to this natural preference of humanity is that they are afraid that others will not; and the others do not because they are afraid that they will not. Thus it comes about that, while behaviour which looks dishonest is fairly common, sincere dishonesty is about as rare as the courage to evoke good faith in your neighbours by showing that you trust them.

No; the Political Motive in the academic breast is honest enough. It is Fear — genuine, perpetual, heartfelt timorousness.

Never chalk up to malicious intent what can be just as easily ascribed to raw, unadulterated scaredy-pantsness?

There is a lot of truth in that. A whole heapin’ lot.