Weekly Review — September 24, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Deadly terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Peshawar, House Republicans attempt to defund Obamacare, and a bookless library opens in San Antonio

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

In Nairobi, two groups of gunmen stormed the upscale Westgate shopping mall on Saturday and killed at least 62 people, then took some shoppers hostage and began a standoff with Kenyan security forces that continued into Monday night. The assailants, who were believed to belong to the Somali terrorist organization Al Shabab, reportedly told Muslims to flee while other shoppers hid in ventilation shafts and behind mannequins. The International Criminal Court excused Kenyan vice president William Ruto from his trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity so he could help resolve the hostage crisis, while Kenyan forces launched a rescue mission on Sunday night, with operations continuing through Monday amid government reports that 11 soldiers had been wounded, that the gunmen were a “multinational collection,” and that all hostages had been freed. “We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew was among the dead. “Let us continue to wage a relentless moral war.”[1][2][3][4] A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 78 worshippers at a church in Peshawar, and the Pakistani government released one of the founders of the Afghan Taliban from prison.[5][6][7] Iran freed more than 90 political prisoners, announced that its sole Jewish parliamentarian would attend the United Nations General Assembly, and said that it was not pursuing a nuclear-weapons program. “We consider war a weakness,” said Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. “He will smile all the way to the bomb,” said Israel’s intelligence minister.[8][9][10][11] A Chinese court sentenced former Communist Party official Bo Xilai to life in prison for corruption and abuse of power. “I could suffer even greater miseries,” said Bo, who is expected to appeal the sentence. “I will wait quietly in the prison.”[12][13] A federal judge ordered the retrial of five former New Orleans police officers convicted of civil-rights violations related to the 2005 deaths of two black men after it was revealed that a prosecutor had commented anonymously about the case on a newspaper website, and a Texas appeals court overturned the conviction of former House majority leader Tom DeLay for illegally funneling money to Republican candidates. “This was an outrageous criminalization,” said DeLay, “of politics.”[14][15]

House Republicans passed a bill cutting $40 billion from the federal food-stamp program, passed another bill that would fund the U.S. government until December only if all spending for the Affordable Care Act were eliminated, and threatened to allow the country to begin defaulting on its debts when its borrowing authority runs out in mid-October. “If we don’t raise the debt ceiling,” said President Barack Obama, “America becomes a deadbeat.”[16][17][18] Citing the ongoing federal budget sequestration, a Brooklyn judge rejected a request to sequester the jury in a murder trial.[19] Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that he would not relinquish his senate seat despite a conviction for tax fraud earlier this year and a police investigation into his alleged solicitation of underage prostitutes. “Berlusconi is on trial for living with women,” said Russian president Vladimir Putin. “If he were homosexual, nobody would dare touch him.”[20][21] Italian lawmakers staged a same-sex kiss-in during a parliamentary session, and Pope Francis said in an interview that the Catholic church’s pastoral ministry needed to soften its preaching about the evils of homosexuality and abortion. “The moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards,” said Francis, “losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”[22][23] Sweden’s National Food Agency confirmed that the anal secretions with which beavers mark their territory can be used as vanilla flavoring in baked goods.[24]

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Former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden claimed that terrorists prefer Gmail and defended the right of the United States to police the Internet. “We built it,” said Hayden. “It was quintessentially American.”[25] Brazilian hackers seeking to attack the NSA embedded the message “Stop spying on us” on several websites belonging to NASA.[26] Facebook apologized for permitting an online-dating site to run an ad featuring the photograph of a girl who committed suicide after she was gang-raped then taunted on Facebook, and Coca-Cola apologized to the family of an autistic girl after her sister discovered the words YOU RETARD printed under a bottle cap.[27][28] A bookless library opened in San Antonio, a former Amazon executive was killed by a van delivering Amazon orders, and Randolph County, North Carolina, banned Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from its schools. “It was a hard read,” said board of education chairman Tommy McDonald.[29][30][31] A Florida man was arrested after he beat his daughter to the rhythm of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”[32] The French senate passed a bill banning child beauty pageants, in an attempt to combat the hypersexualization of minors, and Norwegian social anthropologists credited school-supervised “positive touching” with improving the sociability of young boys.[33][34] Several University of Alabama sororities accepted their first minority students after systematic segregation in the Greek system was revealed by the school’s student newspaper, the Crimson White.[35] Leith, North Dakota, was considering a plan to condemn the home of neo-Nazi Paul Craig Cobb in order to prevent him from building a white-supremacist colony in the town. “Legal paperwork is being drafted,” said a commander of the American National Socialist Movement, “to ensure the civil rights of Mr. Cobb.”[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
Article
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

Chance that a woman in one of the U.S. military’s three service academies claims to have been sexually harassed:

1 in 2

Stimulating people’s brains with an electric current while they sleep can improve their powers of memory.

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

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun

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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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