Weekly Review — February 11, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Winter Olympic Games open in Sochi, Al Qaeda splits with ISIS, and a cat named Quiver survives an arrow shot

Saluting the Town (Weekly)At the opening ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, an 11-year-old recited the Cyrillic alphabet and guided an 18-segment presentation of Russian history that skipped the gulags and the Stalinist purges, a choir from the ministry of internal affairs performed the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky,” and one of five lighted snowflakes that descended from the stadium roof failed to open up into an Olympic ring. Russian state TV aired taped footage of the five rings joining properly, and of President Vladimir Putin seated next to a Persian leopard that later attacked two journalists at a Black Sea animal sanctuary. Foreign reporters complained of hotel rooms lacking doorknobs, locks, heat, working toilets, and floors. “We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall, and then leave the room for the whole day,” said deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak. “My hotel has no water,” tweeted a Chicago Tribune reporter. “If restored, the front desk says, ‘do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.’ ”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] Crew on a Pegasus Airlines flight to Turkey fooled a passenger who had threatened to detonate a nonexistent bomb with his phone unless the aircraft was diverted to Sochi into believing that they’d landed there instead of Istanbul.[9][10] Russian authorities detained 37 people protesting the occupation of the Caucasus, 23 gay-rights activists, two environmental activists, and the leader of a group against arbitrary prosecutions, and blocked the delivery of Greek yogurt to American athletes. “Human rights,” said an activist in St. Petersburg, “are generally violated in Russia.”[11][12] Workers in Sochi were euthanizing stray dogs and painting brown grass green.[13]

American officials blamed Russia for disseminating a leaked recording of a phone call between assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in which Nuland said “Fuck the E.U.” “Pretty impressive tradecraft,” said Nuland of the bugging.[14][15] Human Rights Watch released a report showing that Iraq was illegally holding and abusing thousands of female prisoners, the Canadian electro-industrial band Skinny Puppy billed the U.S. government $666,000 for allegedly using their music to torture Guantánamo detainees, and Al Qaeda officially cut ties with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “Nothing says hard-core,” said an American scholar of militant Islam, “like being cast out by Al Qaeda.”[16][17][18] North of Baghdad, 22 ISIS members died during a suicide-bombing training class when the instructor accidentally detonated a belt packed with explosives.[19] The United States and Libya destroyed the final two tons of Muammar Qaddafi’s 26.3-ton chemical-weapons stockpile.[20] The Syrian government missed a deadline to relinquish its stockpile of chemical weapons and continued to barrel-bomb Aleppo but agreed to a ceasefire allowing hundreds of civilian residents of Homs to evacuate. Aid trucks entering Homs turned back under fire from roadside bombs and mortar shells, for which government and antigovernment forces blamed each other.[21][22][23] In advance of international talks about its nuclear program, Iran agreed to discuss its plans to construct exploding bridge wire detonators, which are most often used in atomic weapons, and Iranian foreign minister Mohamad Javad Zarif highlighted the need for mutual trust between the negotiating parties. “Believe me, you do not possess the monopoly on mistrust—there is a lot of mistrust in Iran,” said Zarif. “We should watch very carefully,” said Israel’s defense minister, addressing the conference after Zarif, “how this regime is going to manipulate, to deceive.”[24]

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The deaf Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi was found to have had his compositions ghostwritten and was accused of not being deaf.[25] In Milwaukee, a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin that had been stolen by burglars who shot its owner with a stun gun following a performance was recovered unharmed.[26] In Washington, Utah, a cat named Quiver survived being shot through the head by an arrow.[27] Vice President Joe Biden compared New York City’s La Guardia Airport to “some third world country,” and the ruins of a prehistoric village were found in downtown Miami.[28][29] Salvadoran fisherman José Salvador Alvarenga, who washed up on the Marshall Islands, 8,000 miles from the coast of Mexico, reportedly told officials he had left 13 months earlier on a shark-fishing expedition then been cast adrift, surviving on fish, birds, and turtle blood. “The hardest thing I had to do to survive was to drink my own urine,” said Alvarenga, whose teenaged colleague died of starvation four months into their journey and had to be thrown overboard. “He was not really thin compared to other survivors in the past,” said Marshall Islands foreign-affairs secretary Gee Bing. “I may have some doubts.”[30][31][32] The Mexican walking fish, the axolotl, was feared extinct, and officials at Heathrow Airport in London seized 13 endangered San Salvador rock iguanas that had been stuffed into socks for transport from the Bahamas to Düsseldorf.[33][34] The Copenhagen Zoo killed a healthy young giraffe named Marius to prevent him from inbreeding, then skinned him and fed him to lions in front of a group of schoolchildren. “We have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe,” said zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro.[35] Moscow’s park-squirrel population was reportedly dwindling because poachers were selling them as pets. “We should gather people together and pelt the person who does that,” said a Muscovite woman, “with snow.”[36]


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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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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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“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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