Weekly Review — April 29, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The U.S. Supreme Court and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling remark on race and opportunity, the FCC prepares to end net neutrality, and white supremacists propagandize children’s Easter eggs

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an amendment to Michigan’s constitution that bans the consideration of race in admission decisions at the state’s public universities. In the controlling opinion for Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared that such policies — whose adoption in some states has been followed by increases in the gap between minority enrollment at major public universities and minority college-age population — do not entail intentional discrimination and are therefore constitutionally permissible when decided by voters. In a dissent longer than the four affirming opinions combined, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that the U.S. Constitution necessitates laws protecting minorities, in light of the country’s history of racial oppression. “We ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter,” she wrote. “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” wrote Kennedy. “It is about who may resolve it.”[1][2][3] Football players at Northwestern University held a secret vote on whether to form the first union in college sports.[4] Five former members of the Jills, the cheerleading squad for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, filed suit against the team, alleging that they were forced to perform as many as 20 hours of unpaid work a week and to do jumping jacks while coaches administered a “jiggle test.”[5][6] The NAACP rescinded a lifetime-achievement award it was planning to give Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, after the leak of an audio recording in which a man believed to be him makes racist remarks. “I support them,” said Sterling of his team’s black players, “and give them food and clothes and cars and houses.”[7][8] In Bunkerville, Nevada, Cliven Bundy, who previously threatened federal agents with armed resistance when they came to remove 500 of his cattle that had been illegally grazing on public land, gave a speech to supporters on American democracy and race relations. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” said Bundy. “I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves?”[9]

Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority after President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party agreed to form a unity government with Hamas.[10][11] In northwestern Libya, a group of Salafist fighters led by a former associate of Osama bin Laden had reportedly taken control of a U.S. counterterrorism training camp.[12] Brunei delayed the implementation of new sharia punishments, such as execution by stoning for adultery and the severing of limbs for theft.[13] An Egyptian court recommended the death penalty for Mohammed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and 682 of the group’s supporters.[14] At a celebration prior to the joint canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, an Italian man was crushed by a 98-foot-tall crucifix.[15] The Supreme Court of Oklahoma lifted a stay on two planned executions after affirming that the inmates had been informed of the otherwise secret identities and dosages of the drugs for their lethal injections.[16] Critics contended that a Federal Communications Commission proposal to allow Internet service providers to charge companies more for faster delivery speeds would violate the principle of net neutrality, under which all content is treated the same regardless of its source. “This is a worst-case scenario,” said Erik Klinker, CEO of the file-sharing company BitTorrent. “Creating a fast lane for those that can afford it is by its very definition discrimination.”[17][18] The Justice Department urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject an appeal by a New York Times reporter who was ordered to testify about confidential sources used in his reportage on CIA efforts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program, and the State Department launched its annual Free the Press campaign.[19][20] A 15-year-old Somali immigrant living in Santa Clara, California, landed safely in Maui after stowing away in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 in hopes of reuniting with his mother.[21][22]

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People magazine named 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o the most beautiful person in the world, and the Father’s Day–Mother’s Day Council named New Jersey governor Chris Christie the U.S. Father of the Year. “Their initial reaction,” said Christie of his children, “was to laugh.”[23][24] A Houston middle-school teacher was charged with a felony after performing a lap dance for a student on his fifteenth birthday.[25] Russia deported four American English-language teachers for “propagandizing American values.”[26] The Sri Lankan government offered a British tourist a free vacation after she was arrested in Colombo for having a tattoo of the Buddha, and authorities in Kansas ruled that a man with a neck tattoo reading MURDER could wear a turtleneck during his trial for first-degree murder.[27][28] A SWAT team featuring helicopters and more than 60 officers surrounded a home in Long Beach, New York, after someone who had just lost an online game of Call of Duty called police in the guise of the winner and said he’d killed his mother.[29] At a courthouse in Salt Lake City, a federal marshal shot and killed the defendant in a gang trial after he lunged at a prosecution witness.[30] Twitter users posted photographs of police brutality in response to the New York Police Department’s invitation to tweet photos of themselves with officers, using the hashtag #myNYPD.[31] Children celebrating Easter in Richmond, Virginia, collected eggs stuffed with white-supremacist propaganda.[32] Oscar Meyer recalled 96,000 pounds of Classic Wieners after a customer called to complain that they contained cheese.[33] Art historians recovered a collection of Andy Warhol digital paintings stored on 30-year-old floppy disks, and three men were charged with selling $33 million worth of forged paintings they claimed were by world-famous artists including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. “Today’s charges,” said the prosecutor, “paint a picture of perpetual lies.”[34][35]


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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

Chances an American who voted for Ross Perot in 1992 can no longer recall having done so:

1 in 2

People tend to believe that God believes what they believe.

Nikki Haley resigns; Jamal Khashoggi murdered; Kanye visits the White House

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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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