Weekly Review — June 17, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

ISIS launches a major offensive in Iraq, the 2014 World Cup begins, and Florida keeps on being Florida

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and stole $450 million from its central bank, then captured Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, and other cities as they advanced toward Baghdad and consolidated territory near the Syrian border. Iraqi soldiers abandoned government checkpoints and sold their service weapons, and the military bombed one of its own bases in an attempt to keep militants from seizing more arms. As many as 500,000 residents fled Mosul, and ISIS fighters posted photos online of what they claimed were the mass executions of 1,700 soldiers in Iraq’s northern Saladin Province.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] President Barack Obama announced that the United States would send an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and deploy about 275 soldiers to provide support for embassy and military personnel, and Iran sent two units from its elite Revolutionary Guard to help fight militants. “We have to turn to the heavyweights,” said an Iraqi cabinet minister. “Iraq has not emerged from the fog at any point after Saddam.” “To just go in and burn up more resources on a place that seems bent on destruction? We had an opportunity there,” said Howard McKeon (R., Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “We blew it.”[8][9][10] Five American Special Operations personnel and at least one Afghan soldier were killed by a U.S. Air Force bomber that accidentally struck their position in Afghanistan’s southern Zabul Province.[11] Syrian president Bashar al-Assad issued a decree granting amnesty for all crimes except terrorism, announced the release of an equestrian who had been imprisoned for 21 years after winning a race against Bashar’s brother Bassel, and reportedly ordered the bombing of northern Syrian ISIS strongholds in coordination with the government of Iraq. [12][13][14] Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford urged the United States to provide arms to moderate forces fighting Assad’s government. “More hesitation and unwillingness,” said Ford, “simply hasten the day when American forces will have to intervene.”[15]

Al Shabab militants killed 48 people in an assault on the Kenyan coastal town of Mpeketoni.[16] In Ukraine, security services thwarted an assassination attempt on President Petro Poroshenko; pro-Russian rebels shot down a military aircraft, killing 49 soldiers; and the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom stopped supplying natural gas over what it claimed was an unpaid $2 billion bill. “This is not about gas,” said Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk. “This is a general plan for the destruction of Ukraine.”[17][18] Organizers of an event at the University of Reading claimed that software designed by Russian and Ukrainian programmers had become the first to pass the Turing test, by convincing more than 30 percent of its interrogators during a series of keyboard conversations that it was actually a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy.[19] The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot request private information from Internet service providers without a warrant, and YouTube denied the Egyptian government’s request to remove a video of a woman being sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square during a celebration for the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.[20][21] Guccifer, the Romanian hacker who leaked images of paintings by former president George W. Bush, was sentenced to four years in prison for breaching the email accounts of world leaders.[22] A 10-year-old Sacramento boy graduated from high school, and a California superior-court judge eliminated the state’s tenure and seniority system for public-school teachers.[23][24] A mother of seven died in a Pennsylvania jail cell while serving a 48-hour sentence related to an unpaid $2,000 bill for her children’s truancy.[25] A 15-year-old Oregon boy brought an AR-15 rifle in a guitar case to his high school and shot and killed another student before killing himself, and the Oklahoma-based manufacturer of the Bodyguard Blanket, a $1,000 bulletproof cover designed to protect children in the event of a school shooting, revealed that sales in the product’s first ten days had been “very spirited.”[26][27][28] Pope Francis announced that he would no longer use the bulletproof Popemobile. “Let’s face it,” said Francis, “I don’t have much to lose.”[29]

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In Brazil, the 2014 World Cup began; doctors, housing advocates, and transit employees went on strike to protest the government’s overspending on the games; and a police officer was filmed firing a live round on demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro.[30][31][32] Two macaws, three Gentoo penguins, and a loggerhead turtle accurately forecast a victory for Brazil in its opening game against Croatia, and the Chinese government barred panda cubs at a Chengdu zoo from offering match predictions.[33][34][35] House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that he would step down from his position after he lost the Republican primary for his seat by 11 percentage points to Tea Party–backed candidate Dave Brat.[36][37] The Minnesota Republican Party denied knowing that its state Supreme Court candidate, Michelle MacDonald, had a DUI case pending. “When I was being interviewed,” said MacDonald, “they were saying this is a good thing.”[38] A Massachusetts law firm that specializes in processing foreclosures was evicted for failing to pay its rent.[39] In Fresno, California, a burglary defendant was stabbed to death by his sister’s boyfriend hours after being mistakenly freed by a jury that had checked the wrong box on a court form.[40] Florida authorities discovered 23 grams of marijuana hidden in the rolls of a 450-pound man’s stomach fat, confirmed that a woman named Crystal Metheney had fired a BB gun into a car carrying three children last month, and arrested a man who had attempted to solicit a prostitute without money. “You got food?” the undercover agent had asked. “I’ll give you a blow job for a salad.”[41][42][43][44]


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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

Chance that a country to which the U.S. sells arms is cited by Amnesty International for torturing its citizens:

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A newly discovered lemur (Avahi cleesei) was named after the comedian John Cleese.

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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