Weekly Review — November 2, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: The pope cast into hell.]

The Bush Administration reversed itself and declared that non-Iraqis captured fighting in Iraq are not protected by the Geneva Conventions; such prisoners, it was reported, have already been transferred out of Iraq in recent months and could be taken to Egypt or Saudi Arabia where torture is more common than it is in the United States.ScotsmanFour British citizens who were held without charges in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, filed suit against Donald Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials, and claimed that they were tortured while in custody. The Pentagon responded that the men were “enemy combatants” and thus had no right to sue.ReutersA newly released document revealed that F.B.I. agents witnessed Iraqi prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib but failed to report it because they saw nothing unusual about the abuse. One agent said that what he saw at Abu Ghraib was similar to what goes on in prisons in the United States.New York TimesA new study found that Iraqis are 58 times more likely to die a violent death than before the American invasion; the study concluded that 100,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion, and that coalition air strikes, which mostly kill women and children, were the primary cause of civilian deaths.BBCPresident Bush suggested that the missing explosives from the Al Qaqaa military facility might have been removed before the invasion, and he claimed that by criticizing him John Kerry is “denigrating the action of our troops.”Washington PostSeveral news agencies confirmed that their embedded reporters were present at the facility with American troops and that they saw boxes labeled as explosives; KSTP Television in Minneapolis broadcast footage taken at Al Qaqaa of boxes of high explosives. KSTP also photographed the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which indicates that the explosives were known to be associated with Iraq’s former nuclear program.KSTP.comRudolph Giuliani went on television and said that it wasn’t the president’s fault that the Al Qaqaa explosives weren’t secured; on the contrary, he said, “the actual responsibility for it would be for the troops that were there.”NBCThe Pentagon extended the Iraq tours of 6,500 soldiers, and aNew York Timesfederal judge ordered the Defense Department to stop giving troops the anthrax vaccine and said that the Food and Drug Administration broke its own rules by approving it.Washington PostCongress approved a measure that will permit soldiers and their families to seek reimbursement for combat equipment, such as body armor, that they have purchased with their own money.New York TimesU.S. forces were preparing for another large military assault on Falluja, and nearby Ramadi was said to be “slipping into chaos.”New York TimesOsama bin Laden released a new video message and said that it was U.S. foreign policy, particularly U.S. support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, that led him to plan the September 11 attacks. “Bush says and claims that we hate freedom, let him tell us then, ‘Why did we not attack Sweden?'”CNNBush-Cheney campaign officials were happy to hear from Osama: “We want people to think ‘terrorism‘ for the last four days,” said one. Another said that “anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush.”NY Daily News

Voter suppression campaigns were reportedly underway all around the country, though all indications were pointing to an historically high turnout.Talking Points MemoWisconsin Republicans were trying to challenge about 37,000 voter registrations in Milwaukee, and thereJournal Sentinelwere reports of gay-marriage push polls in Michigan.Talking Points MemoIn South Carolina a letter purporting to be from the NAACP claimed that voters will be arrested at the polls if they have outstanding parking tickets or child support payments and said that voters must provide a credit report, two forms of photo ID, a Social Security card, a voter registration card, and a handwriting sample.Associated PressEarly voters in Florida, especially in heavily Democratic districts, were standing in line to vote for up to six hours.Talking Points MemoBroward County’s election supervisor said that up to 15,000 absentee ballots would be resent to voters whose ballots mysteriously disappeared.New York TimesA federal judge said that political parties in Ohio may not station challengers at polling places and said that to do so would create a “substantial likelihood that significant harm will result not only to voters, but also to the voting process itself.”Associated PressA Sarasota man failed to run over Florida Republican representative Katherine Harris in his car. “I intimidated them with my car,” he said. “I was exercising my political expression.”Associated PressThe Bush Campaign was forced to withdraw an ad that had been digitally altered to increase the number of soldiers in an audience listening to the president speak.New York TimesThe IRS decided to investigate the tax-exempt status of the NAACP.New York Times

Mobs of machete-wielding Christians and Muslims were slaughtering one another in Liberia,Associated PressLatvia’s government collapsed, and thereNew York Timeswas violence between Han Chinese and Hui Muslims in central China.New York TimesA teenage suicide bomber killed three people in Tel Aviv when he set off his explosives in a vegetable stall.ReutersFidel Castro banned the U.S. dollar, andNew York TimesPakistan’s lower house of parliament passed a bill that would impose the death penalty for honor killings, which have traditionally been ignored.New York TimesGovernor Rick Perry of Texas refused to proclaim “UN Day,” and aNew York Timesnew study found that up to 21,000 people are injured every year from air rifles, paintball pistols, and BB guns.Associated PressChief Justice William Rehnquist, who underwent a tracheotomy last week, was recovering from treatment for thyroid cancer and was unable to return to work.ReutersA clinic in Cleveland was hoping to perform a face transplant using skin and the underlying fat from a donor.USA TodayScientists announced the discovery of a species of hobbit-like humans on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali, that lived as recently as 13,000 years ago. The adult hobbits, who apparently hunted pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons for food, were about the size of a three-year-old modern human child.National Geographic, New York TimesNew research found that it is better to be bullied for the first time as a young child than as an adolescent.New ScientistIt was discovered that the stem cell lines approved for federally funded research in the United States are tainted with mouse characteristics, theNew ScientistWorld Health Organization announced that avian flu probably has not mutated into a form that can pass from human to human, and researchersNew York Timesin South Carolina concluded that high-fat diets can cause brain damage.New ScientistYoung mice treated with Prozac, a study found, grow up to be depressed.New ScientistScientists in California successfully implanted a brain prosthesis in a dish of rat brain slices.New ScientistThe widow of former French president Francois Mitterrand auctioned off some of her designer furniture to raise money for the defense of her son Jean-Christophe, who is under investigation for selling arms illegally to Angola.New York TimesBritain’s House of Commons voted to stop calling visitors “strangers,” andAssociated PressRussia’s Federation Council ratified the Kyoto Protocol.New York TimesThe U.S. murder rate was up.New York TimesThe Boston Red Sox won the World Series.New York Times

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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
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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
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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
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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:

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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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