The Magazine

Particles in Motion

Jul 16, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 41 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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This is the third time that the emails of top Syrian officials have been published. In February, the Internet activist group known as Anonymous hacked into Assad’s account and those of other top advisers. In the spring, more emails were released after a source said to be placed inside the presidential palace in Damascus provided access to private correspondence between Assad and others, including his wife, Asma. The emails portrayed a vain and violent regime, reflecting the character of its chief. But there was something even worse in those emails than regime thugs blowing air kisses at each other while Syrian streets ran with blood. There was the correspondence with outsiders who showed no scruples when it came to petitioning this murderous regime for favors.

The Scrapbook has been keeping tabs for some time now on the American figures who came on bended knee to Damascus, and we’ll hardly be surprised to see them appear once again in the Syria Files. There are the journalists—like Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Bob Simon, among others—who flattered Assad for the sake of an interview, long after the death toll should have counseled against granting him a platform.

Then there are the policymakers. Maybe Nancy Pelosi will make an appearance. After all, she traveled to Damascus in 2007 merely to lend color to her criticism of George W. Bush—in the process lending legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror who had helped kill American troops in Iraq. The man who might very well replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, John Kerry, was practically Assad’s personal envoy to Washington for a time, praising his reformist credentials until there was finally too much blood in the streets to ignore.

Yes, there will be lots of material from the Syria Files that should prove embarrassing, but probably won’t. It’s not as though the character of the Assad regime was a mystery prior to the regime’s murder, torture, and imprisonment of thousands of Syrians. The foreign courtiers who came to meet with Assad surely understood who the man was, and how he and his father before him had governed. All the regime has done for the last 15 months is turn on Syrians the same weapons that it used against its external enemies for 40 years—Lebanese, Israelis, Jordanians, Turks, Iraqis, and Americans—and none of the Assad regime’s interlocutors were ashamed then. Still, we’re looking forward to seeing what scatters when the rocks are turned over.

Required Reading

Despite its Luddite tendencies, The Scrapbook is sufficiently au courant to be aware that many of its readers are no longer packing canvas bags of paperbacks for their summer vacations but loading up their e-readers of choice. So let us recommend to the non-Luddites that they download contributing editor Joseph Bottum’s new Kindle single, The Summer of 43: R. A. Dickey’s Knuckleball and the Redemption of America’s Game. Bottum’s winning essay on the New York Mets’ celebrated pitcher will charm baseball fans especially, but like all the finest writing on that quintessentially American game, it is a treat for nonfans as well. Here’s a short sample:

A-Dieu-va, French sailors used to call out as the command to bring their wooden ships about—a more difficult maneuver than you might think, turning one of those old high-masted vessels and hoping it had enough momentum to swing it through the eye of wind and over onto a new tack. A-Dieu-va: We must take the chance, the phrase came to mean in ordinary French, and trust to God.

The throwing of a knuckleball has something of the same quality about it. You grip the ball with your fingernails, lean back, and push it toward the batter, across the eye of the plate. And then you wait to see what happens. Sometimes it just floats, a slow, easy pitch any good hitter will crush into the bleachers. Sometimes it drops suddenly, as though it had rolled off the edge of a table, batters swinging futilely a foot above it. Sometimes it flutters like a sail taken aback. Nobody knows what will happen, not the pitcher or the hitter. Not even the catcher who had signaled for the pitch: “You don’t catch the knuckleball,” Joe Torre once famously complained, speaking for long-suffering catchers everywhere. “You defend against it.”

And to our fellow Luddites, we can only say that Bottum’s Kindle singles (this is his third so far) are a powerful inducement for making your peace with this new technology.

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