Weekly Review — September 12, 2006, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Lost Souls in Hell, 1875]

President George W. Bush confirmed the existence of secret extra-territorial prisons operating beyond the scope of American law.ABC NewsThe U.S. Army promised to stop intimidating prisoners by placing hoods over their heads, or by simulating their drowning, or by threatening them with dogs,New York Timesand President Bush emphasized the fine line between “alternative” interrogation methods and torture.CNNThe Iraqi government took control of its own army,Times of Londonand the United States increased the number of troops in Iraq by 15,000.Houston ChronicleAn official at the Baghdad morgue said that last month’s death toll was actually triple the number first reported.Christian Science MonitorSecretary of State Condoleezza Rice compared critics of the Iraq war to Northerners who sought peace with the South during the Civil War. “There were people who thought the Declaration of Independence was a mistake,” she said.New York TimesA declassified CIA intelligence report concluded that prior to the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward,” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Al Qaeda, New York Timesand the White House warned of a “WMD-terrorism nexus” emanating from Iran.New York TimesFour prisoners in El Salvador’s maximum security Zacatecoluca prison were caught coordinating crimes using cell phones hidden in their bowels,Yahoo News via Nerve.comand Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said Palestinians were wrong to think war with Israel would transform them into “some kind of golden child.” Instead, he said, it made them “a shit child.”The New YorkerA spokesman for the Republic of Georgia confirmed that a surface-to-air missile had been fired at a helicopter carrying U.S. Senator John McCain,Azcentral.com via the Drudge Reportand Kenya’s Human Rights Commissioner said Kenyans “get a thrill out of seeing a white man in a powerless position.”New York TimesPrime Minister Tony Blair described a junior defense minister who called for his resignation as “discourteous.”CNNIn Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said he was “very happy to hear” Pakistan was not sponsoring terrorist attacks on his country,New York Timesand “Little America,” a model city built during the Cold War, came under attack by Taliban forces. “Our government is weak,” said one resident. “Anarchy has come.”New York Times

Joseph Lieberman returned to the Senate for the first time since losing the ConnecticutDemocratic primary, and Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) offered to buy him a dog.Washington PostFormer Iranian president Mohammad Khatami predicted that “prudence and wisdom” would prevail and that the United States would not attack Iran.Washington PostMassachusetts Governor Mitt Romney refused to guarantee Mr. Khatami’s safety during his trip to his state.Boston HeraldThe U.S. Office of Special Counsel was criticized for advising its female workers that before “choosing a skirt to wear, sit down in it facing a mirror.”Washington PostResearchers at the University of Southern California determined that celebrities exhibit higher rates of narcissism than the general population,Breitbart.com via the Drudge Reportand pop star Prince disputed Justin Timberlake’s claim to have “brought sexy back.” Contactmusic.com via Nerve.comActress Lindsay Lohan said she didn’t want anyone to know she was in favor of voting. “It’s safer that way,” she said.BBCA poll found that New Yorkers were more concerned about terrorist attacks than are people living elsewhere,New York Timesand many Germans were “startled” to learn that they could be terror targets.Los Angeles timesBritain’s Royal Preston Hospital unveiled the “Inter-Faith Gown,” a hospital garment modeled on the Muslim burka,Breitbart.com via the Drudge Reportand an Orthodox Jewish man was removed from an Air Canadaflight because his praying made other passengers nervous.CBC

A group of masked men burst into a bar in Michoacan, Mexico, and tossed five human heads into a crowd of dancers.BBC NewsCalifornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized for saying that Cubans and Puerto Ricans were “very hot,” due to their mixed “black blood” and “Latino blood.”New York TimesPolitical analysts debated whether Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s 100-pound weight loss would harm his presidential aspirations in the South,New York Timesand visitors to the Texas State Fair were enjoying deep-fried Coca-Cola.Local6.comEnglishscientists were conducting experiments to determine whether sea horses could be tempted into adultery,New York Post via Nerve.comand Scottish researchers learned how chimpanzees safely cross roads. BBCThree men in Lancaster, Wisconsin, were arrested after attempting to steal a corpse from a cemetery in order to have sex with it.WCCO.comThe White House announced plans to name former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.Breitbart.com via the Drudge ReportTwo teens in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, attacked a man and beat him with his own prosthetic leg, CNNand Dapoxetine, a pharmaceutical believed to prevent premature ejaculation in men, remained in “regulatory limbo.”Medpagetoday.com via Google NewsActor William Shatner turned down a free seat on the Virgin Galactic spaceship. “To vomit in space,” he said, “is not my idea of a good time.”The Daily Mail

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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
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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:

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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