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What Happened: October 26, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Iranian drones; Tesla; Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, The Jewish Cowboy’s Cop-fighting Mom

The Scroll
October 25, 2021


The Big Story

Iran carried out a complex drone attack last Wednesday on American troops stationed at a base in southern Syria, according to U.S. officials. American media is analyzing the attack in terms of mounting tensions between the United States and Iran, but press accounts in the Middle East, including in Israeli publications, see it as Iran sending a message to Israel. The United States was reportedly tipped off to the impending attack in time to evacuate some 200 troops from the al-Tanf base, home to U.S. Special Operations forces and a U.S.-backed Syrian militia group known as Maghawir al-Thawra. Shortly after the attack, the Israeli news site Ynet reported that it was probably carried out “in retaliation for strikes on the militias at Deir Ez-Sur, killing Syrian soldiers as well as militia men, a strike that was attributed to Israel and believed to have been launched from the base.” While declining to discuss details of the attack on the record, anonymous U.S. officials told reporters Monday that they believe it was facilitated by Iran and carried out by local militias acting as Iranian proxies who utilized Iranian drones packed with explosives as unmanned kamikaze devices. American military forces were originally deployed to the base, on Syria’s border with Jordan and Iraq, to facilitate the counter-Islamic State mission in which the United States allied with local Syrian forces. Some 900 American troops are still stationed in Syria as part of that mission, but the base has also been rumored to provide support for targeted Israeli strikes on Iranian and Syrian forces in the region.

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Today’s Back Pages: Secrets of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot: The Jewish Cowboy’s Cop-fighting Mom

The Rest

-The Food and Drug Administration’s panel of expert advisers meets Tuesday to discuss authorizing the COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, has said that vaccine doses for children could be ready to distribute in early November if the shots are approved for use. According to Pfizer, vaccine doses for children were 90.7% effective at preventing symptomatic infection of COVID-19 seven days after the second shot. What’s not clear is why children would need to be vaccinated in a country where most adults have now received their vaccines—including ​​84% of adults over 65. Children are at minimal risk from COVID-19, and as The New York Times recently put it, “an unvaccinated child is at less risk of serious Covid illness than a vaccinated 70-year-old.” 

-At least seven people were killed in Sudan on Monday when soldiers opened fire on a demonstration outside army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum. It’s estimated that another 80 people were injured in the protests against the coup in which the military seized power Monday and dissolved the country’s transitional government. In response to the coup, the U.S. State Department said Monday that it was “pausing” $700 million in emergency assistance funding to the Sudanese government.

-A blind item and sign of the times: A Scroll reader passed along a letter they received from their child’s Brooklyn public school sent from a confirmed school email address informing them that teachers would be conducting a lockdown drill the same day the notice arrived. A lockdown drill is like a fire drill for a generation that has to worry about school shooters. But the part of the letter that really seemed to capture something essential in the spirit of pandemic-lockdown America is the part where the school administrator reassured parents that “students will NOT be asked to hide together in close contact.” 

-“I’d go to an auction, I’d run up the price of a medallion, then I’d run to my bankers and say, ‘Look how high the medallion’s priced! Let me borrow against my portfolio.’ And they let me do that,” George Friedman, who was once called the “taxi king” of New York, along with other even more colorful names, told The New York Times in 2019. Friedman, who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1976 and found his way into the taxi business through his cab driver father, died Sunday at his Manhattan apartment. He was 50.
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-Amazon is consolidating its novel position as the official warehouse of government secrets. Three British intelligence agencies just signed a deal with Amazon Web Services (AWS) worth $700 million to $1.4 billion over the next decade to host their classified secrets on the company’s secret data cloud. The terms of the deal have been kept secret, but the incentive for the British spy agencies, which includes GCHQ, the signals intelligence agency, as well as MI5 and MI6, is access to the proprietary data analytics and artificial intelligence algorithms available through the AWS cloud service. The addition of the U.K. agencies adds to an AWS business that already includes similar deals with the CIA and U.S. Department of Defense.

-The Elon Musk-owned electric car company Tesla shot past $1 trillion on Monday after making its largest sale ever to the rental car chain Hertz. The order for 100,000 Teslas comes as Hertz, which is just getting out of bankruptcy, implements a plan that will see almost its entire fleet of roughly half a million vehicles running on electricity instead of gasoline.

-What comes after modernity? Maybe it’s the flight from freedom.

Modernity was characterized by the expansion of options and choice, which became synonymous with freedom.

Today, to a society exhausted by the abundance of options and choices, algorithmic systems and ‘smart’ environments promise freedom from choice as a service.

— LM Sacasas (@LMSacasas) October 26, 2021

-David Dayen, editor of the liberal magazine The American Prospect, has a persuasive guest essay in The New York Times, arguing that if Democrats want to salvage the radical ambitions of Biden’s Build Back Better spending plan, they need to radically simplify. “For too many years, Congress has tried to resolve longstanding policy issues by erecting complicated systems that an untutored public must navigate,” Dayen writes. His counsel is instead to embrace “fewer programs, freeing funds to enact them in the simplest and best ways possible.”
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Correction: On Monday, The Scroll misidentified Janet Yellen as the Federal Reserve chair. In fact, Yellen is the former Fed chair but currently serves as the secretary of the Treasury. Thank you to the readers who pointed out the error.

The Back Pages

In Out of the Fog, historical detective Brian Berger digs through newspaper columns, clippings, and other clues to bring readers the fascinating, scandalous, and forgotten tales of the past. In this installment: "Secrets of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot: The Jewish Cowboy’s Cop-fighting Mom”
In the annals of Jewish American counterculture, few figures are more quirkily engaging, or elusive, than folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Still touring at the age of 90, and sharing the songs and the circuitously told stories that earned him the nickname “Ramblin’,” he remains, as Kris Kristofferson sang of him in “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” way back in 1971, “a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”

How does an artist invent himself so? It’s complicated, but perhaps one answer can be found in a tale that Elliott seems not to have told before about the rebellious spirit of his own Brooklyn mother.

The outline of the Elliott narrative is a simple enough tale of assimilation and reinvention. He was born Elliott Adnopoz in 1931. His father, Abraham, was a doctor; his mother, Florence, a teacher. Together with Jack’s brother, David, the family lived comfortably in a three-story house at 102 Linden Boulevard in Flatbush, the very heart of Brooklyn. Though not a bar mitzvah, Elliott was well educated and attended Erasmus Hall High School. His schooling ended when the cowboy-obsessed 16-year-old ran away to join a rodeo. With the help of police, Elliott was soon found and returned to his parents, and graduated Midwood High School in 1949.

Two years later, Elliott met the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie—an honorary Jew since the early 1940s, when he married Marjorie Greenblatt, a member of Martha Graham Dance Company, and moved to Coney Island. After a period as Guthrie’s acolyte, a role that would later be played by a young Robert Zimmerman on his journey to becoming Bob Dylan, Elliott moved to England, where he became an influential cult figure. Back in New York in the early 1960s, he—along with Dave Van Ronk—strongly influenced young Dylan, who had his own, then hidden, Jewish origins.

That is all part of the official Elliott biography, but it leaves out one of the best parts. On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 10, 1938—soon after, one presumes, Abraham picked Florence up from work at Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York, at Flatlands and Rockaway Avenues in Canarsie—a motorcycle cop, Patrolman John J. Kenevan, pulled the car over for speeding 38 miles per hour on a school street and wrote him a ticket.

That might have been the end of it had not the Adnopozes soon met Kenevan again, as the cop was admonishing another motorist farther down Flatlands, at Remsen Avenue. Though details of what happened next would differ, Florence was undeniably upset, and after daring Kenevan to arrest her, the patrolman tried to oblige. So unusual was the resulting scuffle, both the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Post reported it. Began the latter’s account: “In a school room it may be discipline, but when a schoolmarm slaps a cop, it’s disorderly conduct.” Crime stories in those days had a different flavor.

Arraigned in Pennsylvania Avenue Magistrate Court (a now-defunct system of neighborhood courts that could adjudicate low-level crimes), not far from her school, Florence said nothing to Magistrate Gasper Liota except for her plea: not guilty.

On June 10, she was back, with Magistrate Sylvester Sabbatino presiding. A four-hour-long hearing followed, during which Patrolman Kenevan and other corroborating witnesses offered their testimony. Initially reserving judgement in what the Eagle now headlined a “Cop Beating Case,” Sabbatino pronounced Florence guilty and fined her $25 three days after the hearing.

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