Weekly Review — April 16, 2012, 9:29 pm

Weekly Review

saluting_the_town_350x278 North Korea commemorated the hundredth anniversary of Great Leader Kim Il Sung’s birth by unveiling a new portrait of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, formally naming new leader Kim Jong Un as head of the National Defense Commission, and launching a long-range rocket bearing a satellite called Bright Shining Star. The rocket, which was estimated to have cost the equivalent of six years’ worth of food for North Korea’s 24 million citizens, flew for one minute before disintegrating over the Yellow Sea. “This stuff is really hard to do,” said a theoretical physicist not involved with the launch. Hours after the rocket’s failure, Kim Jong Un laughed with commanders at his first public speech, where he unveiled another, possibly fake, missile and called the strengthening of the military his “first, second, and third” priorities. A tour guide inadvertently drove a busload of foreign reporters, invited for the centenary celebrations, into a Pyongyang slum. “I hope that the journalists present here report only the absolute truth,” said one chaperone.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] It was reported that more than 150,000 North Koreans were being held in secret government labor camps; that Ukraine had refused to permit the release of a movie depicting Ukrainians as Nazi collaborators; and that a Gori, Georgia, museum honoring Joseph Stalin was being remodeled to focus on his atrocities. “Stalin was a great man,” said one Gori resident. “As to the purges, they did take place, but there were significantly fewer victims than the number we hear today.”[9][10][11] Cuban “Harlistas” participated in hot-dog-catching and no-feet motorcycle-riding competitions at the country’s first nationwide Harley-Davidson rally, and Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins suspended manager Ozzie Guillen after he was quoted saying “I love Fidel Castro” in an interview. “I was thinking in Spanish and said it wrong in English,” said Guillen. “It was misinterpreted. I said I cannot believe someone who has hurt so many people is still alive.”[12][13]

George Zimmerman, whose lawyers quit after he stopped responding to their calls and text messages, emerged from hiding in Florida to plead not guilty to the murder of Trayvon Martin.[14][15][16] The executive director of the NRA expressed his support for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, arguing that it could “literally save your life,” while Ben Crump, the Martin family’s lawyer, said he would call for its repeal. “We’re not the wild, wild West,” he said.[17] Rick Santorum suspended his presidential candidacy, while Newt Gingrich vowed to stay in the race.[18] Former Republican candidate Herman Cain released an anti-tax video in which a farmer is eaten alive by chickens.[19] Politicians in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu offered a reward of $2,000 for the capture of vampires accused by townspeople of sucking blood from cattle, and police in Brazil arrested a three-person sect for luring women with offers of lucrative babysitting jobs, then turning them into human empanadas and selling them to neighbors.[20][21] Crematoria in Germany were found to be melting under the strain of increasingly obese corpses; ten protesters deposited on the doorstep of the German embassy in Athens a pile of fake human feces covered in gold paper and topped with a photo of a busty Angela Merkel–headed eagle; and in Los Angeles, a man stood up and shouted “Heil Hitler!” in the middle of a city-council meeting. “This city’s going to hell in a handbasket,” he said. “So I guess I’ll just salute you.”[22][23][24]

Eleven U.S. Secret Service agents had their security clearances revoked following allegations they’d entertained prostitutes at a hotel in Cartagena. A ten-year-old Colombian gave birth to a baby girl.[25][26][27] El Salvador celebrated its first murder-free day in nearly three years.[28] Charles Manson, who recently bragged to a prison psychologist that he was “a very dangerous man,” was denied parole for the twelfth time, at a hearing he refused to attend.[29] One of a group of marauding black bears charged Vermont governor Peter Shumlin after he ran naked from his house to save his birdfeeders from them. “You almost lost the governor,” he said. “I was within three feet of getting ‘Arrrh.’”[30][31] Newark mayor Cory Booker suffered smoke inhalation and burns after he rushed into a neighbor’s burning apartment building and “whipped her out of bed.”[32] A San Francisco man fashioned a replica of the Titanic from a single toothpick, French police seized 13 tons of tiny contraband Eiffel Towers from a Paris souvenir shop, and 2 World Financial Center in New York was evacuated after UPS delivered a novelty grenade ordered by a Japanese investment-bank employee.[33][34][35] A British army bomb squad exploded a World War II–era hand grenade that a Somerset woman had mistaken for an egg after she found her son standing on it during an Easter egg hunt. “Everyone keeps saying how stupid I was to try to pick it up,” she said. “But it was such a natural reaction.”[36]?

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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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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
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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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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

Number of toilet seats at the EU Parliament building in Brussels that a TV station had tested for cocaine:

46

Happiness creates a signature smell in human sweat that can induce happiness in those who smell it.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun

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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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