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

Weekly Review

The quixotic quest for a Gaza ceasefire; West African doctors face mortal peril; and Russian gecko porn, restored

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

More than 459 Palestinian civilians and militants and 76 Israeli soldiers were killed as Israel continued Operation Protective Edge, its assault on Gaza. Israel shelled three United Nations schools being used as refugee shelters; Hamas and Israel blamed one another for an explosion at a Gaza city park that killed nine children; Delta, U.S. Airways, and United canceled flights to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv following reports that a rocket had landed nearby; and U.S. secretary of state John Kerry failed to negotiate a proposed seven-day humanitarian ceasefire. “There is no option for a political solution,” said the director of an Israeli policy institute. “With Hamas there, there is no option but ‘mowing the grass.’ ”[1][2][3][4][5][6] In eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists handed over black-box recorders from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to a Malaysian delegation and sent 282 bodies and 87 body parts to the Netherlands via the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for examination. Thirty Dutch policemen sent to examine the crash site reportedly turned back because the Ukrainian government was failing to respect the unilateral ceasefire it had imposed on its conflict with the separatists, and two Ukrainian fighter-bombers were shot down by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles within 25 miles of the Flight 17 site.[7][8][9][10][11] Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped and snorted for nearly two hours before dying from a state-administered lethal injection. Wood’s attorneys filed an emergency appeal to stop the execution once it became clear the injection wasn’t working properly, and Arizona governor Jan Brewer (R.) ordered a review of the state’s execution process. “This man conducted a horrifying murder and you guys are going, ‘Let’s worry about the drugs,’ ” said the brother-in-law of the woman Wood was convicted of killing in 1989. “Why didn’t we give him Drano?”[12] The chief judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals suggested that states return to using firing squads.[13] Indian parliamentarians condemned Rajan Baburao Vichare, an MP from the Hindu-nationalist Shiv Sena Party, after a video surfaced of him force-feeding a Muslim cook who was fasting for Ramadan. “This was only,” said Vichare, “a protest against the quality of food.”[14]

Militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) blew up the reputed tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul, Iraq, and beheaded as many as 50 Syrian government soldiers in Raqqa. “The Islamic State has a clear vision to establish a state in the real meaning of the word,” said a Raqqa resident.[15][16][17] A doctor treating Ebola patients in Liberia died of the disease, the doctor in charge of Ebola treatment in Sierra Leone contracted the disease, and thousands of people in Kenema, Sierra Leone, threatened to burn down an isolation center after a former nurse told the crowd that the disease was a hoax. “Ebola was unreal,” she said, “and a gimmick aimed at carrying out cannibalistic rituals.”[18][19][20] Doctors quarantined 30,000 people in the Chinese city of Yumen after a man died of pneumonic plague.[21] A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., struck down the U.S. government’s right under the Affordable Care Act to provide subsidies for health insurance purchased on the national marketplace, and a federal appeals court in Virginia upheld the same provision of the act in a separate case decided hours later.[22] President Barack Obama signed an executive order that bars all federal contractors, including religious organizations, from discriminating against employees on the basis of their gender identities or sexual orientations.[23] The White House announced that the United States would start assessing the refugee status of potential immigrant children from Honduras while they were still in their home country, and Texas governor Rick Perry (R.) announced that he would activate 1,000 National Guard troops to monitor the Mexican border.[24][25] The incoming operator of a Mexican railway network known as the Beast announced that it would triple the speed of the network’s trains in order to discourage migrants en route to the United States from jumping on board.[26]

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In Setauket, New York, a 21-year-old woman who refused a ride from a friend she suspected of being drunk was struck and killed by his car as she walked home.[27] In Gainesville, Florida, a drunk man who jumped out of his pickup truck to yell at the driver in front of him was run over by his own vehicle.[28] A Pennsylvania couple was placed on probation for locking their five-year-old son in the trunk of their car in order to cure his fear of the dark.[29] It was reported that surgeons in India had removed 232 teeth from a growth inside a 17-year-old boy’s mouth, and that surgeons in Scotland had removed a sex toy that had been lodged inside a woman’s vagina for 10 years.[30][31] The musician Kid Rock was subpoenaed to produce a glass dildo as evidence in a sexual-harassment case against the band Insane Clown Posse.[32] Two New York City infants were diagnosed with herpes contracted when they were circumcised using the direct oral-suction technique practiced by some Orthodox Jews, the fifteenth and sixteenth such cases since 2000, and an Alabama man sued the hospital where he’d awoken from circumcision surgery to find that his penis had been amputated.[33][34] Russia lost, then regained, contact with a satellite carrying five geckos sent to copulate in zero gravity.[35] Queen Elizabeth II’s racehorse Estimate failed a drug test.[36] In Los Angeles, a memorial pine tree dedicated to George Harrison was killed by an infestation of beetles.[37]


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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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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
Article
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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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 …
Checkpoint on I-35 near Encinal, Texas (detail) © Gabriella Demczuk

Number of toilet seats at the EU Parliament building in Brussels that a TV station had tested for cocaine:

46

Happiness creates a signature smell in human sweat that can induce happiness in those who smell it.

Trump struggles to pronounce “anonymous”; a Sackler stands to profit from a new drug to treat opioid addiction; housing development workers in the Bronx are accused of having orgies on the clock

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun

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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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