Weekly Review — December 7, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A grasshopper driving a chariot, 1875]

Ukraine’s Supreme Court ordered a second presidential run-off to be held by December 26 after it ruled last month’s fraud-plagued election invalid.New York TimesSupporters of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the winner in the November 21 run-off, threatened to form a separate nation in the country’s east; theNew York Timesopposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who promises to increase Ukraine’s ties to the West, celebrated the court’s decision with thousands of protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square. Stricken by a mysterious illness that has left his face a mask of puffy, red cysts and lesions, Yushchenko said to the crowd, “This is the face of today’s Ukraine.”New York TimesAt a Moscow airport Vladimir Putin told Ukraine’s outgoing president that new run-off elections were unnecessary, andNew York TimesRussia blocked all exports from a breakaway region of Georgia because it did not support the candidate whom the region elected.New York TimesHours before a registration deadline, Marwan Barghouti gave word from his prison cell in Israel, where he is serving five life sentences, that he would run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. Barghouti’s popularity among Palestinian youths has caused fears that he could siphon votes from PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas and cause a split in the Fatah Party; Palestinian leaders urged Barghouti to withdraw his candidacy, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak endorsed Abbas, and Ariel Sharon said Barghouti would be able to campaign only from behind bars.New York TimesA French court reduced a political ban on former Prime Minister Alain Juppé for illegal party financing from ten years to one, making him eligible to succeed Jacques Chirac in the 2007 presidential election, andNew York TimesColombia’s congress voted to overturn a rule that restricts presidents from running for reelection, allowing Alvaro Uribe, an ally of George W. Bush, to run again in 2006.New York TimesJesse Jackson and candidates from the Green and Libertarian parties, citing numerous voting irregularities in Ohio, demanded a recount in the state, whose voting results John Kerry conceded on the morning of November 3.The GuardianA report filed with the Federal Election Commission last week revealed that Kerry did not spend $14 million of his campaign funds, money he kept in reserve in case legal challenges or recounts became necessary.New York TimesThe number of jobs created in November was half of what analysts expected, theAPdollar continued to fall, andBBCretail sales during the Thanksgiving weekend disappointed.ReutersPresident Bush, on his first official visit to Canada, ate local beef and announced that he was “still standing,” but heNew York Timesdid not say when he would lift a U.S. ban on Canadian beef or end tariffs on the country’s timber.New York TimesCanada announced that it would no longer grant temporary work permits to foreign strippers.New York Times

A team from the Red Cross that spent much of last June at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, accused the U.S. military of physically and psychologically torturing its detainees there, and moreNew York Timesphotos documenting the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq were acquired by American news sources. The pictures, many taken in the aftermath of raids, show Navy Seals abusing hooded and handcuffed men by sitting on them, holding guns to their heads, and stepping on their chests. A woman whose husband had served in Iraq had posted the pictures on a photo-sharing website, and an AP reporter found them through a Google search.APFormer head of the CIA George Tenet said it might be necessary to limit access to the Internet because terrorists could use it to attack the United States.Washington TimesSecretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson became the eighth member of Bush’s fifteen-member cabinet to resign since Election Day. At a press conference, Thompson expressed concern about the FDA’s flawed drug approval process, a possible global flu pandemic, and the vulnerability of the nation’s food supply. “For the life of me,” Thompson said, “I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it’s so easy to do.”New York TimesTom Ridge, who raised the color-coded terror alert to orange six times, announced that he would step down as secretary of homeland security. There were no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during his tenure.New York TimesPresident Bush selected former bodyguard, undercover cop, corrections officer, and New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik to replace Ridge; Kerik has made millions of dollars in partnership with Rudolph Giuliani in a post-9/11 security consulting firm and recently has been in Iraq training its police officers.New York TimesIn attacks this weekend in and around Baghdad, Mosul, and Tikrit, insurgents killed more than eighty Iraqis, mostly security officers and those working with American authorities, and 135New York TimesAmerican soldiers died in Iraq in November, tying last April as the deadliest month for U.S. forces during the war.CNNThe U.S. ordered more than 10,000 troops to extend their tours, raising the number of soldiers in Iraq to its highest levels since last year’s invasion. “It’s mainly to provide security for the election,” a military spokesman said.New York TimesRepresentatives from forty Iraqi political parties called for the January 30 elections to be delayed.New York TimesPresident Bush announced that he would be awarding the Medal of Freedom to George Tenet, retired Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, and former Iraq viceroy L. Paul Bremer.Washington PostThe State Department was discouraging smiles on passport photos.AP

In testimony before a federal grand jury that was leaked to the press, several professional baseball players confessed to using performance-enhancing steroids. Barry Bonds, who has hit more home runs in a season than any other player, told the court that his steroid use was accidental; he believed he was rubbing flaxseed oil and arthritis ointment on his aching muscles.San Francisco ChronicleThe International Atomic Energy Agency voted to accept Iran’s promises that it was halting its nuclear weapons program, and cocaineNew York Timesand heroin prices hit a twenty year low.Knight RidderFour people who received Botox injections in south Florida were hospitalized for botulism poisoning.New York TimesBrian Williams replaced Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News.New York TimesSheriff’s deputies searched the Neverland estate for two days and took a DNA sample from inside Michael Jackson’s mouth, andAPSotheby’s announced it would auction off items from five Kennedy family homes; items to be sold include Mason jars, broken china, used records, and old magazines.New York TimesPo’ouli birds took another step toward extinction, and theNew York TimesU.S. government refused to protect sage grouse and salmon.New York TimesA British artist publicly ate a fox to protest all the attention being paid to a ban on fox hunting. “Everyone gets really worked up about a furry animal,” the performance artist said after his meal, “but no one cares about each other.”Seattle Post-IntelligencerThe U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, resigned in order to spend more time with his wife of forty-seven years.New York TimesThailand was planning to drop origami birds on three restive provinces, and the prime minister called on each of the sixty-three million Thais to make at least one paper bird; television stations showed troops busily constructing flocks of doves, cranes, and pigeons.The GuardianMudslides killed more than 1,100 in the Philippines.New York TimesIt was revealed that a Hmong who recently shot five hunters in Wisconsin is a shaman.New York TimesA twenty-four-year-old man was killed in his trailer home by an exploding lava lamp.Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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More from Benjamin Austen:

From the February 2005 issue

The pen or the gun

Zakes Mda and the post-apartheid novel

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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
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
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
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 …
Checkpoint on I-35 near Encinal, Texas (detail) © Gabriella Demczuk

Percentage of people who go to the bathroom in New York’s Penn Station who do not wash their hands:


Cell phones cause bees to behave erratically.

Paul Manafort accepts a plea deal; Brett Kavanaugh accused of sexual assault; Jeff Bezos gets into the kindergarten racketon the clock

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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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