Weekly Review — February 19, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Meteoric tidings, a paraplegic piglet’s wheelchair, and Chubby Checker’s Chubby Checker check

A meteor struck Earth’s atmosphere over Russia, releasing a 300-kiloton shock wave that shattered two million square feet worth of glass in the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, collapsed the roof of the city’s zinc factory, and injured 1,200 people before degrading into a 10-ton meteorite that landed in nearby Lake Chebarkul. Old women cried out doomsday prophecies in the streets, a nationalist politician suggested that the explosion was the test of a new American weapon, and Russia’s deputy prime minister called on world leaders to cooperate on asteroid-defense technologies. “So we stood there,” said a Chelyabinsk barmaid. “And then somebody joked, ‘Now the green men will crawl out and say hello.’ ” Fireballs streaked across the skies above Cuba and the San Francisco Bay, and a 150-foot-long asteroid that scientists had been monitoring for more than a year passed 17,150 miles[*] over Indonesia without incident. “This is a wake-up call from space,” said a former NASA astronaut who is developing asteroid-detection programs. “Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?” “This all gives us reason to think,” said a Chelyabinsk deacon in the Church of the Transfiguration. “Is the purpose of our life just to raise a family and die, or is it to live eternally?”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] A lightning bolt struck St. Peter’s Basilica; an underground nuclear test in P’unggye-ri, North Korea, triggered a seismic event measuring 4.9 on the Richter Scale;[*] and hackers in Great Falls, Montana, broadcast an emergency alert warning of a zombie uprising.[9][10][11][12] In Quetta, Pakistan, a bomb hidden in a water tank was rolled into an outdoor vegetable market on a tractor-trailer and detonated by a remote control that may have been stowed in a rickshaw, killing 81 people.[13][14] Thirty-seven people were killed in a series of car bombings in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad; 103 nomadic herders were killed during a machete, RPG, and spear raid in South Sudan; and 36 pilgrims died in a stampede at a gathering of 30 million Hindus in Allahabad, India.[15][16][17]

[*] These two items were corrected after publication.

“Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who competed in the 400 meters for South Africa at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.[18] Former Los Angeles policeman Christopher Dorner, who killed four people during a series of attacks on police officers and their families, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after police fired incendiary tear-gas canisters into the cabin at Big Bear Lake where he had taken refuge. Dorner’s supporters marched in protest of the police corruption he believed had led to his dismissal and of the manhunt conducted to find him. “I really, really believe he was innocent,” said one protester. “In the firing case.”[19][20] Mississippi formally notified the U.S. government that it had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery.[21] This year’s State of the Union address, in which President Barack Obama asked Congress to draft legislation on gun control, climate change, and immigration, was found to have been written at a tenth-grade reading level. As Obama entered the Capitol to deliver the speech, a female greeter wiped from his cheek the lipstick left by another female greeter.[22][23][24] In his final State of the City address, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed that the city lessen the punishment for marijuana possession and ban the plastic-foam packaging used in to-go boxes.[25][26] Iceland was considering a ban on Internet pornography. “If we can send a man to the moon,” said an interior-ministry adviser, “we must be able to tackle porn on the Internet.”[27] France’s parliament voted to allow gay couples to marry and to adopt children.[28] The International Olympic Committee voted to eliminate wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games, in order to make room for one of baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding, or wushu. “Gays,” said a Russian wrestling coach, “will soon run the whole world.”[29][30]

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Musician Chubby Checker sued HP over a Palm OS app bearing his name that estimates penis length based on a man’s shoe size.[31] A Rhode Island mother knocked down a 12-foot snow penis built by her 16-year-old son. “It’s just a big pair of balls now,” she said.[32] A Mankato, Minnesota, woman flung a used tampon at police officers who were attempting to strip search her.[33] While celebrating a $75,000 lottery win, two brothers in Wichita, Kansas, blew up their house with butane purchased to fuel lighters for their bongs.[34] Mountain Dew announced plans to release a breakfast soda called Kickstart, and Bud Light was found to be the most popular alcoholic drink among the underage.[35][36] “Patient John,” the volunteer spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, died of a heart attack he suffered outside the restaurant.[37] A falling lifeboat killed five members of a cruise ship during a safety drill in the Canary Islands, and the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was towed into harbor in Mobile, Alabama, five days after it went adrift without electricity or plumbing in the Gulf of Mexico. Guests slept on feces-soaked carpets, defecated into plastic bags, bartered diapers for cigarettes, and created a tent city on the ship’s swimming-pool decks. “The bathrobes,” tweeted @CarnivalCruise, “are complimentary.”[38][39][40][41][42] A carnival parade in Cologne displayed a float depicting Angela Merkel as a sow suckling hungry European nations.[43] Paraplegic Florida piglet Chris P. Bacon was given a custom-built wheelchair, a volunteer fire department in Orleans County, New York, received death threats for organizing a weekend “Squirrel Slam” hunting competition, and an affenpinscher “monkey dog” named Banana Joe bested a sheepdog named Swagger to win the 137th Westminster Dog Show in New York City. “A fantastic face, a great body,” said the competition’s Best in Show judge. “I’ve never had my hands on a better affenpinscher. Ever.”[44][45][46][47]


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“The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip,” Ronald Reagan said in 1989. He was speaking to a thousand British notables in London’s historic Guildhall, several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reagan proclaimed that the world was on the precipice of “a new era in human history,” one that would bring “peace and freedom for all.” Communism was crumbling, just as fascism had before it. Liberal democracies would soon encircle the globe, thanks to the innovations of Silicon Valley. “I believe,” he said, “that more than armies, more than diplomacy, more than the best intentions of democratic nations, the communications revolution will be the greatest force for the advancement of human freedom the world has ever seen.”

At the time, most everyone thought Reagan was right. The twentieth century had been dominated by media that delivered the same material to millions of people at the same time—radio and newspapers, movies and television. These were the kinds of one-to-many, top-down mass media that Orwell’s Big Brother had used to stay in power. Now, however, Americans were catching sight of the internet. They believed that it would do what earlier media could not: it would allow people to speak for themselves, directly to one another, around the world. “True personalization is now upon us,” wrote MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 bestseller Being Digital. Corporations, industries, and even whole nations would soon be transformed as centralized authorities were demolished. Hierarchies would dissolve and peer-to-peer collaborations would take their place. “Like a force of nature,” wrote Negroponte, “the digital age cannot be denied or stopped.”

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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Ihave had many names, but as a sniper I went by Azad, which means “free” or “freedom” in Kurdish. I had been fighting for sixteen months in Kurdish territory in northern Syria when in April 2015 I was asked to leave my position on the eastern front, close to the Turkish border, and join an advance on our southwestern one. Eight months earlier, we had been down to our last few hundred yards, and, outnumbered five to one, had made a last stand in Kobanî. In January, after more than four months of fighting street-to-street and room-by-room, we recaptured the town and reversed what was, until then, an unstoppable jihadi tide. In the battles since, we had pushed ­ISIS far enough in every direction that crossing our territory was no longer a short dash through the streets but a five-hour drive across open country. As we set out to the north, I could make out the snowy peaks in southern Turkey where they say Noah once beached his ark. Below them, rolling toward us, were the wide, grassy valleys and pine forests of Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris where our people have lived for twelve thousand years.

The story of my people is filled with bitter ironies. The Kurds are one of the world’s oldest peoples and, as pioneers of agriculture, were once among its most advanced. Though the rest of the world now largely overlooks that it was Kurds who were among the first to create a civilization, the evidence is there. In 1995, German archaeologists began excavating a temple at Göbekli Tepe in northern Kurdistan. They found a structure flanked by stone pillars carved with bulls, foxes, and cranes, which they dated to around 10,000 bce. At the end of the last Ice Age, and seven thousand years before the erection of Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza, my ancestors were living together as shamans, artists, farmers, and engineers.

Fighters of the YJA-STAR, the women’s force in the PKK, Sinjar, Iraq, November 2015 (detail)
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To get oriented here is difficult. The light is flat because the sky is overcast. The sun’s weak rays create only a few anemic shadows by which to judge scale and distance. Far-off objects like mountain peaks have crisp edges because the atmosphere itself is as transparent as first-water diamonds, but the mountains are not nearly as close as they seem. It’s about negative-twelve degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind is relatively calm, moving over the snow distractedly, like an animal scampering.

[caption id="attachment_271890" align="aligncenter" width="690"]True-color satellite image of Earth centered on the South Pole during winter solstice © Planet Observer/Universal Images Group/Getty Images. True-color satellite image of Earth centered on the South Pole during winter solstice © Planet Observer/Universal Images Group/Getty Images.[/caption]

Four of the six people living here are in their tents now, next to their cookstoves, two by two, warming up and preparing their suppers. I’m the fifth of the group, almost motionless at the moment, a hundred yards south of the tent cluster, kneeling on a patch of bluish ice in the midst of a great expanse of white. I’m trying to discern a small object entombed there a few inches below the surface. Against the porcelain whites of this gently sloping landscape, I must appear starkly apparent in my cobalt blue parka and wind pants. I shift slowly right and left, lean slightly forward, then settle back, trying to get the fluxless sunlight to reveal more of the shape and texture of the object.

A multiple-exposure photograph (detail) taken every hour from 1:30 pm on December 8, 1965, to 10:10 am on December 9, 1965, showing the sun in its orbit above the South Pole, Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station © Georg Gerster/Panos Pictures
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In all sincerity, I like Americans a lot; I’ve met many lovely people in the United States, and I empathize with the shame many Americans (and not only “New York intellectuals”) feel at having such an appalling clown for a leader.

However, I have to ask—and I know what I’m requesting isn’t easy for you—that you consider things for a moment from a non-American point of view. I don’t mean “from a French point of view,” which would be asking too much; let’s say, “from the point of view of the rest of the world.”On the numerous occasions when I’ve been questioned about Donald Trump’s election, I’ve replied that I don’t give a shit. France isn’t Wyoming or Arkansas. France is an independent country, more or less, and will become totally independent once again when the European Union is dissolved (the sooner, the better).

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The prepositions you’re most likely to encounter after the title of a poem are “for” or “to” and sometimes “after”—“for my daughter”; “to Bobby”; “after Pound”; etc. They signify dedication, address, homage, imitation. In the recent poems of Fred Moten, we encounter “with,” a preposition that denotes accompaniment. The little difference makes a big difference, emphasizing collaboration over the economy of the gift, suggesting that the poet and his company are fellow travelers, in the same time zone, alongside each other in the present tense of composition. (Given Moten’s acclaimed critical work on jazz, the “with” is immediately evocative of musical performance, e.g., “Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins.”) Not all “withs” are the same—there is a different intimacy in the poem “fifty little springs,” which is “with aviva,” Moten’s wife’s Hebrew name (which means springtime), than there is in “resistances,” which is “with” a critic and an artist, interlocutors of Moten’s. (The poem “13. southern pear trees” has no preposition after the title, but is excerpted from another responding to the work of Zoe Leonard, and so is still a work of fellowship.) The scale of that “with” can be small (“with aviva, as if we were all alone”) or vast (“with everybody we don’t know”), but either way the poem becomes an instance of alongsidedness instead of belatedness; the poems request, with that subtle prepositional shift, that we think of ourselves as participants in the production of meaning and not mere recipients of someone else’s eloquence.

“Untitled,” 1989, by Zoe Leonard © Zoe Leonard (detail)

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