“Snooki” is the stage name of 23-year-old Miss Nicole Polizzi, who shares a beach house with seven coevals in the reality-TV show Jersey Shore. Cast members in the show live the vacation lifestyle of young white-ethnic working-class Americans — clubbing, drinking, sunbathing, gossiping, fighting, and “hooking up.” For reasons unfathomable to us, Jersey Shore has colossal viewing figures: 8.45 million for the 2011 season premiere. Snooki’s extramural activities have included participation in a tag-team bout on Wrestlemania (her team won) and a minor conviction (fine, community service) for being, in the words of the judge, “rude, profane, obnoxious, and self-indulgent” on a public beach when drunk. This résumé so commended Miss Polizzi to the Programming Association of Rutgers University that they paid her $32,000 to appear in person for two Q&A sessions with students. Over 2,000 people showed up at the events, to their everlasting shame. They heard such pearls of scholarship as: “When you’re tan, you feel better about yourself,” and: “Study hard, but party harder.” Annual tuition fees at Rutgers are $23,466.
One of the lesser transient sensations of early April was the “gay caveman” story, as follows. From the late Stone Age to the early Bronze Age (2900 to 2400 b.c.) northern and eastern Europe was dominated by peoples known collectively to archeologists as the Corded Ware culture. These folk were very particular about proper burials. A male was customarily buried lying on his right side facing west, with weapons and tools around him; a woman was buried lying on her left side facing east, surrounded by necklaces, earrings, and household pots. Imagine, therefore, the bewilderment of archeologists in the Czech Republic on finding a Corded Ware male skeleton buried female-style. “The man was probably homosexual or transsexual,” archeologist Katerina Semeradova told an April 5 news conference. Two British newspapers picked up the story and within hours the Internet was alive with commentary about the gay caveman. In vain did more conservative archeologists point out that Corded Ware peoples were pastoralists and early farmers, several millennia removed from paleolithic cave dwellers, and that determination of sex from skeletal remains is an approximate science. The story was “too good to check,” and offered too many opportunities for tasteless humor.
Frank Lampl was born in 1926 in Brno, in Czechoslovakia, the son of a landowner. He was still a teenager when the Germans deported him first to Auschwitz and then as a slave laborer to Dachau. He was the only member of his family to survive. After the war, he was a “bourgeois undesirable” in the eyes of the Czech Communists, and they condemned him to more slave labor in the mines. In the Prague Spring of 1968 he escaped to England, where he rose eventually to become chairman of Bovis, turning it into a huge international construction company. An extraordinary triumph in itself, this was also fitting revenge for so much earlier injustice and evil. Dead at 84, R.I.P.
Mike Campbell was a farmer and a proud African — and no less so because he was white. Robert Mugabe saw things differently. In 2000, Zimbabwe’s dictator began a “land-reform program” — the seizure of farmland possessed by white Zimbabweans and expulsion of its owners. The seized land was awarded to Mugabe loyalists who lacked the ability to farm or the inclination to learn how. Resisting Mugabe is tempting death, so most white Zimbabweans resigned to fate. But Campbell wouldn’t cede his edenic Mount Carmel. He appealed to Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court, and was dismissed. So he appealed to the Southern African Development Community — and Mugabe loyalists kidnapped, savagely beat, and retained in indoctrination camps him, his wife, and his son-in-law — an ordeal that Campbell barely survived. Improbably, on Nov. 28, 2008, the SADC ruled in Campbell’s favor, though his head injuries prevented him from understanding the ruling. An African court declared Mugabe’s land seizure racist: an important symbolic victory, but only symbolic — law alone could not restrain Mugabe. In April, the Campbells were beaten again; in September their house was burned, and the intimidation became too much. They moved away, effectively dispossessed, though the son-in-law promises more litigation. Mike Campbell never fully recovered from his beatings. He died on April 6, at age 78, of brain injuries tracing to his kidnappings — a life sacrificed to the exposure of a tyrant. R.I.P.