Weekly Review — June 3, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Three brutal crimes against women in Asia, a controversial Taliban prisoner swap, and a human-skin heist in Connecticut

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

In Uttar Pradesh, India, police fired water cannons at hundreds of women gheraoing the office of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to protest the alleged rape and murder by five men from Yadav’s caste of two teenage Dalit girls, who were attacked on their way to relieve themselves in a field and hanged from a mango tree. “You’re not facing any danger,” said Yadav to reporters inquiring about the deaths. “What’s it to you?”[1][2][3][4] In Kelantan State, Malaysia, police detained 13 men suspected of participating in the gang-rape by 38 men of a 15-year-old girl, and in Lahore, Pakistan, police arrested five men and sought two others believed to be responsible for the murder of Farzana Parveen, a pregnant 25-year-old woman who was bludgeoned en route to a courthouse to contest a case filed by her family against her husband, Muhammad Iqbal, whom she had married without the family’s consent. “She was the best wife anyone could ask for,” said Iqbal, who killed his first wife in order to be with Parveen.[5][6][7] A court in Niger convicted a man of slavery because he had taken an unofficial, fifth wife.[8] More than 1,000 migrants rushed razor-wire barriers in an attempt to get into the Spanish North African territory of Melilla, and an Australian school apologized after a teacher shaved the armpits of a 14-year-old girl as part of a classroom life-skills demonstration. “It’s not to say that shaving armpits needs to occur,” said the school’s principal. “It’s an option.”[9][10] Mahbod Moghadam, a co-founder of the annotation service Rap Genius, was fired for posting such comments as “MY GUESS: his sister is smokin hot” and “This is an artful sentence, beautifully written” on the manifesto of Elliot Rodger, who wrote of wanting to “punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex” before murdering six people in Isla Vista, California, on May 23.[11][12][13][14] The writer Maya Angelou, best known for her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, died in North Carolina at age 86. “A fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman,” said President Barack Obama. “Rest in peace, phenomenal woman,” said Beyoncé.[15][16][17]

Obama announced a timetable for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, with the current force of 32,000 scheduled to drop to 9,800 by the end of 2014, to roughly 5,000 by the end of 2015, and to a vestigial force of less than 1,000 by the end of 2016. “This is how wars end in the twenty-first century,” said Obama. “Afghanistan will not be a perfect place.”[18] Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of veteran affairs after the agency’s inspector general reported widespread fraud in VA clinics and confirmed that a VA facility in Phoenix had placed 1,700 veterans on an unofficial wait list in order to conceal treatment delays.[19][20] Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, was released after five years in captivity to a U.S. special-forces team near the border with Pakistan, following an agreement to exchange him for five Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo Bay. The deal was brokered by Qatar, where the freed Afghan detainees will be required to stay for a year. “I’m your father, Bowe,” said Bergdahl’s father, in Pashto. “Thanks to God,” said Mullah Omar. “[Qatar] enabled us to have confidence that these prisoners will be carefully watched,” said national security adviser Susan Rice.[21][22][23] It was reported that 31 FIFA officials had been paid a total of $5 million by a Qatari lobbyist in exchange for their support of the country’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup, and that North Korean scientists had developed a sports drink made from mushrooms.[24][25] The Obama Administration proposed an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that would establish the country’s first official limit on carbon emissions, targeting a 30 percent reduction by 2030 in carbon pollution from power plants compared with 2005 levels. “Today’s proposal from the EPA could singlehandedly eliminate [our] competitive advantage,” said the CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.[26][27] A Norwegian man found a tree stump whose rings resemble the face in The Scream, and Sweden’s ATMs all broke down simultaneously.[28][29]

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A Connecticut man was charged with stealing more than $350,000 worth of human skin. “To take this into the criminal arena,” said his lawyer, “is a bit draconian.”[30] A vampire grave was reportedly unearthed in the Polish town of Kamien Pomorski, and the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Intelligencer Journal apologized to readers for publishing a profile of a witch who was later revealed to have been arrested for prostitution. “Everyone,” said the witch to the reporter, “is born with psychic abilities.”[31][32][33] A Ukrainian TV personality punched Brad Pitt in the face at the Hollywood premiere of Maleficent.[34] The surviving Beastie Boys testified against Monster.[35] The actor Macaulay Culkin’s band, The Pizza Underground, was booed offstage in Nottingham, and doctors reported stimulating a passion for the music of Johnny Cash in a 60-year-old Dutchman. “It has a certain rhythm,” said a neurosurgeon.[36][37] NASA scientists confirmed the value of the Love number, which measures the stiffness of the moon, and revealed that the lunar surface bulges in concert with the motion of the earth.[38] A Cornish man was sentenced to five years in prison for threatening to kill a family who tried to stop him from entering their farm and rolling around naked in cow dung, and a male pheasant accused of terrorizing visitors to Wood Farm in Hail Weston found a mate. “I sincerely hope he will settle down now,” said the farm’s owner. “As long as he’s not henpecked.”[39]


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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.”

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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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)

Estimated number of times in the Fall of 1990 that George Bush told a joke about his dog asking for a wine list with her Alpo:

10

French researchers reported that 52 percent of young women exposed to Francis Cabrel’s ballad “Je l’aime à mourir” gave their phone numbers to an average-looking young man who hit on them, whereas only 28 percent of those exposed to Vincent Delerm’s “L’heure du thé” did so.

Migrant children were teargassed; carbon dioxide levels have reached three to five million year high; missionary killed by remote tribe

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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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