Weekly Review — May 13, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Obama Administration tries to publicize climate change, secessionists stage a referendum in eastern Ukraine, and teenage boys hold a prom-date draft in California 

Babylonian LionTwo teams of American climatologists published research confirming that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun to collapse, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment, which noted that average temperatures in the United States had increased by between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, predicted that in the absence of human intervention those temperatures could rise by another 10 degrees during the coming century, and attributed recent adverse weather events such as floods and droughts to climate change caused by humans. To publicize the report, President Barack Obama appeared in prerecorded interviews that aired on local television weather segments. “Trusted messengers are hugely important,” said White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri. “No one thinks these meteorologists have an agenda.”[1][2][3][4][5] In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad officially began his campaign for reelection, and antigovernment forces began withdrawing from Homs, which is known as “the capital of the revolution” for its central role in the uprising against Assad.[6][7] A Vietnamese patrol boat and several Chinese vessels shot water cannons at each other near an oil rig towed earlier this month by China to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.[8] Pro-Russian militants declared the secession of the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk following a referendum in which voters in some cities placed their ballots in transparent boxes, posters in Krasnoarmiysk urged Ukrainians to vote for secession and reject the “European Jewish choice,” and an electoral commission formed by militants in Donetsk reported that 89 percent of voters had chosen “yes.”[9][10][11][12] Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Crimea for the first time since it was annexed and signed a law banning cursing in public performances. “It is a common practice to swear,” said Russian philosopher Vadim Rudnev, “among the intelligentsia.”[13][14] A dolphin trainer at a tank in Donetsk announced the birth of a calf named Peace.[15]

Following a circuit-court decision striking down Arkansas’s ban on same-sex marriage, Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton became the state’s first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license, in Eureka Springs. When the deputy clerk tried to close the office before issuing any licenses, an 80-year-old man named Paul Wank waved a cane at her. “You’ve been hateful to people like me for years,” said Wank. “Keep up.”[16] Nintendo apologized for building an English-language version of a Japanese life-simulation game that doesn’t allow same-sex relationships; Tom Neuwirth, a bearded Austrian drag queen, won the annual Eurovision song contest; and the St. Louis Rams selected linebacker Michael Sam with the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, making him the first openly gay player in North American professional football. After receiving the news by telephone, Sam wept in his boyfriend’s arms, kissed him, and smeared cake on his face. “We drafted a good football player,” said Rams coach Jeff Fisher.[17][18][19][20] Male students at a Newport Beach, California, high school were found to have held a prom-date “draft,” for which they reportedly scouted girls and traded picks. “A lot of the girls respect the draft and stick with those dates,” said a student.[21][22] In a video showing an estimated 130 of the 276 girls abducted from a Nigerian school last month, the leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram claimed that the girls in the video, who wore the hijab and recited prayers in Arabic, were now Muslims, and offered to release those who had not converted in exchange for the release of Boko Haram prisoners. “These girls you occupy yourselves with,” he said of the converts, “we have indeed liberated them.”[23][24][25]

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In Manhattan, Cecily McMillan was found guilty of assaulting a police officer whom she had elbowed in the face during an Occupy Wall Street protest after he allegedly grabbed her right breast from behind with enough force to bruise the skin. “Most just wanted her to do probation,” said a juror after the verdict was delivered, “But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous.”[26][27] A Brooklyn woman sued the New York Police Department for repeatedly searching her apartment for her husband, who died in 2006 of diabetes.[28] China blocked the release of the Darren Aronofsky film Noah because of its religious themes, and the U.S. Social Security Administration reported that in 2013 Noah was the most popular name for American baby boys, a position held by Jacob for 14 years. “You compare ‘Jacob’ with all its hard, punchy consonants, versus ‘Noah,’ ” said Babynamewizard.com founder Laura Wattenberg, “you can really see where the style is heading.”[29][30][31][32] Paleontologists announced the discovery of Qianzhousaurus sinensis, nicknamed “Pinocchio rex,” a long-nosed tyrannosaur unearthed at a Chinese construction site, and France launched a €3 million campaign to save the Great Hamster of Alsace.[33][34] In Colorado, Rene Lima-Marin was rearrested six years after a clerical error led him to be released 90 years before the end of his sentence for armed robbery, and in Missouri, a judge ordered the release of a man who in 2000 was sentenced to 13 years for robbery but wasn’t summoned to report to prison until last year.[35][36] Chamindu Amarsinghe, a Melbourne janitor who found more than $100,000 in a bin next to a toilet, was allowed by a judge to keep $81,597 of the money. “I just want to spend my life in a normal way,” said Amarshinghe, “[and] find a job in IT.”[37][38]


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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

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Kavanaugh is confirmed; Earth’s governments are given 12 years to get climate change under control; Bansky trolls Sotheby’s

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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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