Weekly Review — April 6, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Small Family, May 1874][Image: Killing Ground, May 1874]

A Small Family.
Killing Ground.

Four American mercenaries employed by Blackwater Security Consulting were pulled from their vehicles in Fallujah, Iraq, hacked to death, burned, and dragged through the streets; the remains of two were then hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River along with a sign that said “Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans.”BBC“Despite an uptick in local engagements,” said General Mark Kimmit at a press briefing a few hours later, “the overall area of operations remains relatively stable with negligible impact on the coalition’s ability to continue progress in governance, economic development, and restoration of essential services.”New York TimesPresident George W. Bush attended a fund-raiser that night and made fun of Senator John Kerry; he did not mention the killings in Fallujah.New York TimesA Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army rose up across Iraq in response to a call by Moktada al-Sadr, a militant cleric, to “terrorize your enemy.” Last week Sadr announced that he is “the beating arm for Hezbollah and Hamas here in Iraq.”New York TimesAttacks on occupation forces were averaging about 26 per day, and Bell Pottinger, the British PR firm, was hired to teach Iraqis about democracy.International Herald TribuneBush Administration officials were said to be disturbed that Caribbean countries have refused to recognize the U.S.-backed government in Haiti, and aReutersUnited Nations envoy said that peacekeepers might have to remain in Haiti for 20 years.New York TimesPresident Bush signed a law making it a crime to harm a fetus while committing another crime, andAssociated PressCanadian hunters were busy trying to club 350,000 helpless three-week-old baby harp seals to death.New York Times

The International Court of Justice ruled that U.S. courts must review the death sentences of 51 Mexican citizens whose rights under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations were violated; although international treaties are “the supreme law of the land,” according to the U.S. Constitution, Governor Rick Perry declared that “the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in Texas.”New York TimesGeorge Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, was splattered with mayonnaise by Ukrainian militants.GuardianFifty thousand protesters filled the streets of Katmandu, Nepal, demanding a restoration of democracy.Associated PressTaiwan’s opposition asked the country’s High Court to overturn the March 20 presidential election; the losing candidate, Lien Chan, has accused President Chen Shui-bian of election fraud and of staging his own shooting the day before the vote.Associated PressDozens of people died in a series of explosions and suicide attacks in Uzbekistan.New York TimesColin Powell admitted that the Iraqi National Congress, the U.S.-funded Iraqi exile group, was the source of “the most dramatic” bits in his notorious United Nations presentation on Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction.Miami HeraldThe White House acknowledged that it has withheld three quarters of the 11,000 pages of Clinton Administration documents that were supposed to be handed over to the 9/11 commission; after an outcry, administration officials agreed to reconsider.ReutersPresident Bush backed down from his refusal to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly under oath before the 9/11 commission, and aAssociated Pressformer FBI translator claimed that she could prove that the Bush Administration did in fact receive warnings in the spring and summer of 2001 that terrorists were planning to use aircraft to attack American cities.IndependentThe Treasury Department indicated that scholarly publications might be able to edit articles produced by evil countries such as Iran, Cuba, Libya, or North Korea without risking fines of up to $500,000 and ten years in prison.New York TimesRussia’s parliament agreed to amend a bill that would have banned almost all public demonstrations.New York TimesBudapest decided to revoke Joseph Stalin’s honorary citizenship, andAssociated PressSerbia’s parliament agreed to pay salaries and benefits to Slobodan Milosevic and other war criminals.Associated Press

The Department of Homeland Security announced that visitors from Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Australia, and 21 other countries will be photographed and fingerprinted when they enter the United States.New York TimesThe International Boundary Commission warned that the U.S.-Canadian border is becoming overgrown and could be lost in some places.New York TimesBulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined NATO; Russia was unhappy about NATO forces creeping so close to its border.New York TimesTreasury Secretary John Snow said that “outsourcing” of American jobs makes the American economy stronger.Cincinnati EnquirerThe trial of L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark H. Swartz, the former CEO and CFO of Tyco International, ended in a mistrial.New York TimesMicrosoft and Sun Microsystems made peace.New York TimesThe founder of Ikea, the Swedish furniture company, denied that he is now the world’s richest man, and scientistsAssociated Pressfound that purebred dogs really do resemble their owners but that mutts do not.New ScientistA brawl broke out at an anger-management seminar at a high school in Maryland.Baltimore SunIt was reported that the U.S. government’s main laboratory for mad-cow testing, which is located in an Iowa strip mall, is not secure enough to store dangerous pathogens.ReutersPrime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand made his 17-year-old daughter get a job at a McDonald’s in Bangkok.ReutersTwo street children in Zimbabwe were arrested after they stole 100 million Zimbabwe dollars (about $23,000) and bought food, clothing, and household goods for other street children.New York TimesAngola was planning to outlaw genetically engineered cereals, which would jeopardize a United Nations program that feeds 2 million people.New York TimesAn Australian inventor created an electronic gun that can fire one million rounds per minute, and aAustralian ITJapanese robot conducted the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.New Scientist A new study found that toddlers who watch too much television are more likely to have a hard time concentrating by age seven; anotherSeattle Post-Intelligencerstudy found that preschoolers are the fastest growing market for antidepressant drugs.Express ScriptsVillagers in Romania were having trouble with vampires.Seattle Times

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Checkpoint Nation

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Checkpoint Nation·

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Laura Sandoval threaded her way through idling taxis and men selling bottles of water toward the entrance of the Cordova International Bridge, which links Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. Earlier that day, a bright Saturday in December 2012, Sandoval had crossed over to Juárez to console a friend whose wife had recently died. She had brought him a few items he had requested—eye drops, the chimichangas from Allsup’s he liked—and now that her care package had been delivered, she was in a hurry to get back to the Texas side, where she’d left her car. She had a three-hour drive to reach home, in the mountains in New Mexico, and she hated driving in the dark.

Sandoval took her place in the long line of people waiting to have their passports checked by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). When it was her turn, she handed her American passport to a customs officer and smiled amicably, waiting for him to wave her through. But the officer said she had been randomly selected for additional screening. Sandoval was led to a secondary inspection area nearby, where two more officers patted her down. Another walked toward her with a drug-sniffing dog, which grew agitated as it came closer, barking and then circling her legs. Because the dog had “alerted,” the officer said, Sandoval would now have to undergo another inspection.

Checkpoint on I-35 near Encinal, Texas (detail) © Gabriella Demczuk
The Printed Word in Peril·

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In February, at an event at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in New York, while sharing the stage with my fellow British writer Martin Amis and discussing the impact of screen-based reading and bidirectional digital media on the Republic of Letters, I threw this query out to an audience that I estimate was about three hundred strong: “Have any of you been reading anything by Norman Mailer in the past year?” After a while, one hand went up, then another tentatively semi-elevated. Frankly I was surprised it was that many. Of course, there are good reasons why Mailer in particular should suffer posthumous obscurity with such alacrity: his brand of male essentialist braggadocio is arguably extraneous in the age of Trump, Weinstein, and fourth-wave feminism. Moreover, Mailer’s brilliance, such as it was, seemed, even at the time he wrote, to be sparks struck by a steely intellect against the tortuous rocks of a particular age, even though he labored tirelessly to the very end, principally as the booster of his own reputation.

It’s also true that, as J. G. Ballard sagely remarked, for a writer, death is always a career move, and for most of us the move is a demotion, as we’re simultaneously lowered into the grave and our works into the dustbin. But having noted all of the above, it remains the case that Mailer’s death coincided with another far greater extinction: that of the literary milieu in which he’d come to prominence and been sustained for decades. It’s a milieu that I hesitate to identify entirely with what’s understood by the ringing phrase “the Republic of Letters,” even though the overlap between the two was once great indeed; and I cannot be alone in wondering what will remain of the latter once the former, which not long ago seemed so very solid, has melted into air.

What I do feel isolated in—if not entirely alone in—is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying of literature’s light, although it’s surprising how little of this there is, but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable. I first began consciously responding, as a literary practitioner, to the manifold impacts of ­BDDM in the early 2000s—although, being the age I am, I have been feeling its effects throughout my working life—and I first started to write and speak publicly about it around a decade ago. Initially I had the impression I was being heard out, if reluctantly, but as the years have passed, my attempts to limn the shape of this epochal transformation have been met increasingly with outrage, and even abuse, in particular from my fellow writers.

As for my attempts to express the impact of the screen on the page, on the actual pages of literary novels, I now understand that these were altogether irrelevant to the requirement of the age that everything be easier, faster, and slicker in order to compel the attention of screen viewers. It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself.

Photograph (detail) by Ellen Cantor from her Prior Pleasures series © The artist. Courtesy dnj Gallery, Santa Monica, California
Nothing but Gifts·

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If necessity is the stern but respectable mother of invention, then perhaps desperation is the derelict father of subterfuge. That was certainly the case when I moved to Seattle in 1979.

Though I’d lived there twice during the previous five years, I wasn’t prepared for the economic boom I found upon this latest arrival. Not only had rent increased sharply in all but the most destitute neighborhoods, landlords now routinely demanded first, last, and a hefty security deposit, which meant I was short by about fifty percent. Over the first week or so, I watched with mounting anxiety as food, gas, and lodging expenses reduced the meager half I did have to a severely deficient third. To make matters even more nerve-racking, I was relocating with my nine-year-old son, Ezra. More than my well-being was at stake.

A veteran of cold, solitary starts in strange cities, I knew our best hope wasn’t the classifieds, and certainly not an agency, but the serendipity of the streets—handmade for rent signs, crowded bulletin boards in laundromats and corner grocery stores, passersby on the sidewalk; I had to exploit every opportunity that might present itself, no matter how oblique or improbable. In Eastlake, at the edge of Lake Union between downtown Seattle and the University District, I spied a shabby but vacant one-story house on the corner of a block that was obviously undergoing transition—overgrown lots and foundation remnants where other houses once stood—and that had at least one permanent feature most right-minded people would find forbidding: an elevated section of Interstate 5 just across the street, attended by the incessant roar of cars and trucks. The house needed a new roof, a couple of coats of paint, and, judging by what Ezra and I could detect during a furtive inspection, major repair work inside, including replacing damaged plaster-and-lath walls with sheetrock. All of this, from my standpoint, meant that I might have found a solution to my dilemma.

The next step was locating the owner, a roundabout process that eventually required a trip to the tax assessor’s office. I called the person listed on the rolls and made an appointment. Then came the moment of truth, or, more precisely, untruth, when dire circumstance begot strategic deception. I’d never renovated so much as a closet, but that didn’t stop me from declaring confidently that I possessed both the skills and the willingness to restore the entire place to a presentable—and, therefore, rentable—state in exchange for being able to live there for free, with the length of stay to be determined as work progressed. To my immense relief, the pretense was well received. Indeed, the owner also seemed relieved, if a bit surprised, that he’d have seemingly trustworthy tenants; homeless people who camped beneath the freeway, he explained, had repeatedly broken into the house and used it for all manner of depravity. Telling myself that inspired charlatanry is superior to mundane trespassing—especially this instance of charlatanry, which would yield some actual good—I accepted the keys from my new landlord.

Photograph (detail) © Larry Towell/Magnum Photos
Among Britain’s Anti-Semites·

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This is the story of how the institutions of British Jewry went to war with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn is another feather in the wind of populism and a fragmentation of the old consensus and politesse. He was elected to the leadership by the party membership in 2015, and no one was more surprised than he. Between 1997 and 2010, Corbyn voted against his own party 428 times. He existed as an ideal, a rebuke to the Blairite leadership, and the only wise man on a ship of fools. His schtick is that of a weary, kindly, socialist Father Christmas, dragged from his vegetable patch to create a utopia almost against his will. But in 2015 the ideal became, reluctantly, flesh. Satirists mock him as Jesus Christ, and this is apt. But only just. He courts sainthood, and if you are very cynical you might say that, like Christ, he shows Jews what they should be. He once sat on the floor of a crowded train, though he was offered a first-class seat, possibly as a private act of penance to those who had, at one time or another, had no seat on a train.

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the British media, who are used to punching socialists, crawled over his record and found much to alarm the tiny Jewish community of 260,000. Corbyn called Hez­bollah “friends” and said Hamas, also his “friends,” were devoted “to long-term peace and social justice.” (He later said he regretted using that language.) He invited the Islamist leader Raed Salah, who has accused Jews of killing Christian children to drink their blood, to Parliament, and opposed his extradition. Corbyn is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a former chair of Stop the War, at whose rallies they chant, “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free.” (There is no rhyme for what will happen to the Jewish population in this paradise.) He was an early supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its global campaign to delegitimize Israel and, through the right of return for Palestinians, end its existence as a Jewish state. (His office now maintains that he does not support BDS. The official Labour Party position is for a two-state solution.) In the most recent general election, only 13 percent of British Jews intended to vote Labour.

Corbyn freed something. The scandals bloomed, swiftly. In 2016 Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, was suspended from the party for sharing a Facebook post that suggested Israel be relocated to the United States. She apologized publicly, was reinstated, and is now a shadow women and equalities minister. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a political supporter of Corbyn, appeared on the radio to defend Shah and said, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” For this comment, Livingstone was suspended from the party.

A protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in Parliament Square, London, March 26, 2018 (detail) © Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

Chance that a country to which the U.S. sells arms is cited by Amnesty International for torturing its citizens:

1 in 2

A newly discovered lemur (Avahi cleesei) was named after the comedian John Cleese.

Kavanaugh is confirmed; Earth’s governments are given 12 years to get climate change under control; Bansky trolls Sotheby’s

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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