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      Op-Ed: Earth Calling Amiri Baraka

      Published: Sunday, September 29, 2002 11:42 PM
      I just had a brief telephone conversation with New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka. Baraka made a fool of himself in public last week when he recited a poem titled "Somebody Blew Up America," in which he said: Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers To stay home that day Why did Sharon stay away?


      I just had a brief telephone conversation with New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka.
      Baraka made a fool of himself in public last week when he recited a poem titled "Somebody Blew Up America," in which he said:

      Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
      Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
      To stay home that day
      Why did Sharon stay away?

      Baraka has refused New Jersey governor James McGreevey's demand that Baraka resign as poet laureate and the governor does not have the legal means to force the resignation.

      So I looked up Baraka's phone number and called him to ask where he got the information that 4000 Israeli workers were told to stay home last September 11. I reached him at his home in Newark shortly after 8pm Eastern Time today. Based on the jazz that was playing in the background, I can report that at least he has good taste in music.

      I mentioned that I heard about the recent controversy and asked him where he got his information.
      He was largely incoherent, but said that he got it off the Internet from the Israeli web sites "Yadiot" [his spelling] "Haaretz" and "Shabak". Shabak is the Hebrew acronym for the security agency which is generally known in English as "Shin Bet", and if they even have a public website, it is not called "Shabak". What he calls "Yadiot" would most likely be daily newspaper "Yediot Aharonot", whose website is solely in Hebrew, a language which Baraka gave no hint of understanding. I asked for references to exact pages, and with great confidence he referred me to the Jordanian newspaper Al-Watan. He couldn't give me a single URL. (Perhaps he got his information from this report, attributed to the Hizbollah Al-Manar TV station, and not independently verified.)

      I told him that I saw a story about his poetry reading on Haaretz (the website that he cited just a moment earlier) and he asked me how to spell that. So I spelled it, and he repeated "H-A-R-C-V"... I gave up and ended the conversation. I felt sorry for the guy. If he's not simply a garden-variety idiot then he probably suffers from a medical condition or substance abuse. Either way, the State of New Jersey should be able to find a way to completely distance itself from him.

      His phone number, by the way, is easily found by doing a WHOIS lookup for amiribaraka.com
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      Stefan Sharkansky comments on the Mid East and other issues. He can be reached at
      www.Usefulwork.com/shark