Weekly Review — July 23, 2012, 10:27 pm

Weekly Review

saluting_the_town_350x278 In Aurora, Colorado, a man wearing a gas mask and other tactical gear entered a midnight screening of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, set off a tear-gas canister, and fired hundreds of bullets at the audience, killing 12 people and injuring more than 50. The suspected shooter, 24-year-old former neuroscience Ph.D. candidate James Eagan Holmes, was believed to have posted a profile on the website Adult Friend Finder in which he described himself as a “nice guy.” “Well,” he wrote, “as nice enough of a guy who does these sort of shenanigans.” Holmes reportedly had with him at the theater a shotgun, two semi-automatic pistols, and a semi-automatic rifle outfitted with a high-capacity ammunition clip, all loaded from a 6,350-bullet stockpile he had purchased online. After he was apprehended in the parking lot, Holmes identified himself as the Joker and directed police to his apartment, which had been booby-trapped with trip wires, chemicals, and improvised grenades, and where techno music may have been rigged to play while the shooting was taking place. “Make no mistake,” said Aurora’s police chief, “this apartment was designed . . . to kill.”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] Insurgents launched at least 40 simultaneous attacks in 15 cities across Iraq, detonating car bombs and storming marketplaces, government offices, and military and law-enforcement targets. At least 106 people were killed in one day, making it the deadliest in Iraq in over two years.[10][11] Syrian rebels bombed a crisis meeting at the National Security headquarters in Damascus, killing the country’s national-security chief, defense minister, and deputy defense minister, who is also the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad. Obama Administration officials said the United States would “accelerate” the strengthening of groups seeking to overthrow Assad, and a Syrian foreign-ministry spokesman said his country would use its chemical and biological weapons only against foreign aggression. “If they exist,” he later added.[12][13][14][15][16]

Mitt Romney insisted he would not make public the income-tax returns he filed for years prior to 2010. “You know, you should really look at where Mitt has led his life and where he’s been financially,” said his wife, Ann, in a TV interview. “He’s a very generous person.”[17][18][19] The American Saddlebred Museum in Lexington, Kentucky, put up for auction Chevaux, a signed painting by a nine-year-old Friesian horse named Justin.[20][21] In an interview with the Hoover Institute, George W. Bush explained his decision to retire from politics. “Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful,” he said. “But . . . I crawled out of the swamp and I’m not crawling back in.”[22] The town council of Royston, England, voted unanimously to begin culling local pigeons, which have been coating the town in excrement, rather than feeding them contraceptives or using fire gel to fool them into believing their roosts were ablaze. “There is an advantage to this method,” said a retired councilor. “Shot pigeons give us a food source.”[23] A bobcat broke into a Washington State prison.[24] A teenaged bear roamed from a Walmart to a J.C. Penney to a Sears store at a mall in Pittsburgh.[25] Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta abandoned a tandem flight from Oregon to Montana in lawn chairs lofted by helium-filled party balloons when a thunderstorm forced them to make an emergency crash landing. The pair—who met after Lafta sent Couch, a longtime lawn-chair balloonist, a letter saying he hoped to fulfill a childhood dream inspired by the 1980s cartoon show Care Bears—said they were training for a joint flight over Iraq to cheer orphans. “I made a commitment to Fareed and the orphans of Iraq,” said Couch. “Otherwise I’m on the ground for good.”[26]

Microsoft, which posted a quarterly loss for the first time ever, apologized for including the code “B16B00B5” (BIGBOOBS) in one of its programs.[27][28] The manager of the Damson Dene hotel in Crosthwaite, England, replaced his rooms’ bedside Gideon bibles with copies of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. “The Bible remains a source of comfort and inspiration that many people do find helpful,” said local vicar Michael Woodcock.[29] Medieval bras discovered in an Austrian castle were described as a “missing link” in the history of women’s undergarments.[30] Coastal waters near Cape Lookout and Florence, Oregon, were found to be unusually caffeinated.[31] Sewing needles were discovered in turkey sandwiches served to passengers on four Delta flights from Amsterdam.[32] A blind Native American man sued a hospital in South Dakota for leaving him with surgical scars spelling out “KKK” on his abdomen.[33] As Ramadan began, Muslim Olympians debated whether to continue their fasts during the 2012 Games. “I can do it after Ramadan and Allah will accept it because there was an important reason,” said an Egyptian kayaker.[34] Representatives from the gay-hookup app Grindr denied that the influx of Olympic athletes was responsible for a system crash affecting users in East London. “We’d love to believe,” said a spokesperson, “that the best-built men in the world all dressed up in Lycra and congregating in one place can generate a huge increase in Grindr traffic.”[35][36]

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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

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