Weekly Review — November 26, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The countries and companies responsible for climate change, nuclear options in Congress and Iran, and the extinction of Darwin’s frog

A kinkajou, 1886.

A kinkajou, 1886.

The World Coal Association hosted a clean-coal summit on the western bank of Warsaw’s Vistula River, and representatives of 132 of the world’s poorest countries staged a walkout at a U.N. climate-change conference held on the river’s eastern bank, claiming that wealthier nations had derailed talks. “It helped clear the air,” a negotiator said of the walkout. “They wore T-shirts and gorged on snacks,” an activist said of the Australian delegation.[1][2][3][4] In Canberra, a Labor minister ate his own hair.[5] A British oceanographer named Grant Bigg was co-awarded a £50,000 grant to track a Chicago-size iceberg that recently detached from Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, and technicians at the Tongonan geothermal field on Leyte Island, in the Philippines, tested components at the field’s sole remaining cooling tower after Super Typhoon Haiyan.[6][7] Flooding and landslides caused by Cyclone Cleopatra killed 18 people and displaced an estimated 2,700 in Sardinia, where nearly a foot and a half of rain fell in 90 minutes on Monday night. Municipal officials on the island blamed the inadequacy of their response in part on Italy’s Civil Protection Department, which initially warned them of the cyclone by fax. “A water bomb exploded with incredible intensity,” said the mayor of Olbia, the town most directly affected by the storm. “Our vineyards of the sea have been destroyed,” said a group of Olbian mussel growers. “Even the elderly people say they can’t remember something like this happening,” said forest guardsman Antioco Bus.[8][9][10][11][12][13] Climatologists determined that 90 companies are responsible for two thirds of the greenhouse-gas emissions generated since 1854. “The decision makers — the CEOs or the ministers of coal and oil,” said one researcher, “could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”[14]

The U.S. Senate voted 52–48 in favor of the so-called nuclear option, a change in procedural rules that enables confirmation of certain executive- and judicial-branch nominees with a simple majority rather than a supermajority. “You’ll regret this,” said Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). “And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”[15] In negotiations with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, Iran agreed to halt high-grade-uranium enrichment for six months in exchange for the relaxation of international sanctions. “We will begin the program,” said Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, “by the end of the Christian year.”[16] Vatican officials denied that a newly restored fresco in the Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman proves the existence of female priests in early Christianity, and the General Synod of the Church of England voted 378–8 to move forward with the ordination of women. “This is a fairy tale,” Vatican heritage superintendent Fabrizio Bisconti said of the fresco. “That is reality,” the Right Reverend James Langstaff said of the vote.[17][18] Mary Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, denounced her sister, Liz, a U.S. Senate candidate in Wyoming, for Liz’s opposition to same-sex marriage. “This isn’t like a disagreement over grazing fees,” said Mary Cheney. “Compassion is called for,” said Dick Cheney.[19][20] Two members of the presidential turkey flock were scheduled to meet the governor of Minnesota. “They will not be pardoned,” said the turkeys’ breeder. “They will be processed.”[21] Sirhan Sirhan, the man who shot and killed Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, was transferred from a prison in central California to one in the southern part of the state on Friday, the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. “The date of the move,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, “is simply an unfortunate coincidence.”[22] Sponsored products featured in Google search results were found to be 34 percent more expensive on average than nonsponsored products.[23]

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Darwin’s frog was declared extinct.[24] Evolutionary biologists found that the sap-sucking sea slug Elysia timida does not need sunlight to survive. “It’s very difficult to digest,” a researcher said of the news.[25] Two Canadians saved a Greenland shark from choking on a moose.[26] British archaeologists sampled a pharaonic beef-rib mummy, and NOSH, a program to encourage breast-feeding among low-income mothers, launched in Derbyshire. [27][28] Europe formed a drones club, German teenagers exhibited a new subtype of boredom, and Russian police reported that 18 medical-school students had been expelled for dancing the lezginka.[29][30][31] In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, a 101-year-old pensioner trained for his segment of the Sochi Winter Olympics torch relay by jogging while holding aloft a frozen humpback salmon. “This guy Ruslan gave me four small dumbbells,” said the man, “but they’re hard to hold.”[32] Ikea omitted an interview with a lesbian couple from the Russian version of its customer-loyalty magazine, citing recently passed legislation banning “gay propaganda.” “We have two guiding principles,” said an Ikea official. “The first is home interior design. The second is following the law.”[33] The Swedish Transit Authority was found to have rejected more than 100 applications for vanity license plates since 2009, including KÖRFORT, ÖKÄND, and SCROTUM, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $100,000 to the developers of a condom made from reconstituted animal collagen. “I could yank all day,” said an engineer, “and not break this thing.”[34][35][36]


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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.”

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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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