Farewell, Sally Bowles

Jill Haworth died January 3 in Manhattan at age 65. The British-born actress originated the role of Sally Bowles in the musical “Cabaret” in 1966

On January 8, I read the news to see five people connected to WikiLeaks had their Twitter accounts subpoenaed by a grand jury that had previously been operating in secret. Among the Twitter accounts subpoenaed was that of an American, Jacob Appelbaum, someone I’ve never met, but have spoken with on the telephone once or twice.

“Cabaret” takes place in 1931 Berlin. Times are hard, economically. Violence is rising, in the political discourse and the streets. Much of the action takes place at the Kit Kat Klub, a down-at-the-heels nightclub tolerant in way much of Germany – and the rest of Europe – was not.

Mr. Appelbaum, who has at times been the public face of WikiLeaks in the US, was stopped at customs last summer, returning from the Netherlands. His computer was searched, receipts he had with him were copied. Three cell phones were taken away and not returned.

The other locus of action in “Cabaret” is a boarding house where many of the characters live. Everyone gets along and helps each other out. The middle-aged landlady is ready to marry her gentleman friend, but is warned away from doing so – because he’s Jewish.

I was still digesting the WikiLeaks news Saturday when the reports from Arizona began to break. I read updates for a while but soon had to turn off the computer.

It’s clear Jared Loughner is mentally disturbed. It’s not clear if his actions were motivated by an election season of violent rhetoric. It’s clear the First Amendment guarantees a right to expression, especially political expression, even if that political expression is hateful. It’s abundantly clear politicians who express themselves with violent images – or allow their supporters to do so on their behalf – are undeserving of public office.

The solution to behavior we find distasteful is not to go off on a vigilante rampage, either by citizens or the police. Jacob Appelbaum has been charged with no crime, yet is serially harassed by “law enforcement” authorities. (On returning to the US this week, he was detained by Customs and Border Protection again.)

Some politicians called for violence against Julian Assange, Wikileaks’s founder. Some called for him to be charged with treason. (How this would work, I don’t know. Mr. Assange is Australian. You can’t betray a foreign country.) I think the people involved in WikilLeaks deserve our gratitude for exposing what our government does. Some people disagree. I’m not going to punch anyone over it.

I took a long walk Saturday evening. I couldn’t shake the feeling of claustrophobia, that our society is pressed from all sides, by a bad economy, by unethical politicians, by people who are scared and easily led into intolerance and xenophobia, maybe into violence. I kept thinking about “Cabaret” (although I’ve never seen it) and the Weimar Republic.

I was soothed by the snow-clad streets of Burlington. I’m reassured to live in a community steeped in the traditions of local democracy and mutual aid. I wish all Americans could be so fortunate.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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