Weekly Review — January 6, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Palestine is denied statehood, the NYPD stops worry about minor criminal offenses, and a farmer slaughters half of his herd of Nazi-bred cows

In celebration of the new year, Miami dropped a 35-foot orange, Atlanta dropped an 800-pound peach, Flagstaff, Arizona, dropped a six-foot pinecone, and Port Clinton, Ohio, dropped a 600-pound sculpture of a walleye fish.[1][2] About 600,000 people gathered across Rome, where 83.5 percent of the city’s police force called in sick to protest a proposed plan to pay low-performing officers less.[3] The Pope sent a New Year’s video message to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that congratulated the city on its 450-year anniversary. Dubai hung 70,000 lights on the world’s tallest building, breaking the Guinness World Record for largest LED-illuminated facade, and American model and actress Tara Reid posted a nude photo of herself from Mexico.[4][5][6] In Japan, nine people choked to death on the traditional New Year’s rice-cake mochi; fake money thrown from a window in Shanghai during festivities was said by some witnesses to have caused a stampede that killed 36 people and injured dozens more; an artillery shell killed 28 attendees of a wedding celebration in Afghanistan, where the United States officially turned over combat duties to the Afghan army; and a fortune-teller in Lebanon, who correctly foretold that Lebanon’s prime minister would resign in 2013, predicted that, in 2015, Gaza would be attacked, black people and white people would fight one another in the United States, and musicians would gain worldwide fame for covering Michael Jackson’s hits.[7][8][9][10]

Palestine’s application for statehood, which would have required Israel to withdraw forces from Gaza and the West Bank by 2017, was denied by the U.N. Security Council; Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas applied for entry to the International Criminal Court to seek war-crimes prosecution of Israelis; Israel announced it would withhold from the Palestinian Authority $127 million in taxes it collected on behalf of the territories; and it was reported that HarperCollins, citing “local preferences,” had omitted Israel from an atlas distributed to schools across the Middle East.[11][12][13][14] Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, the Chicago-born leader of the African Hebrew movement that brought hundreds of non-Jewish African Americans to Israel, died in a hospital in Beersheba. “We came here offering ‘shalom,’ ” Ben-Israel told reporters in 1971, but found “Jim Crow policies similar to what we left behind.”[15] Following the deaths of two NYPD officers shot in retaliation for police killings of unarmed African Americans, a memo circulated among officers calling for the department to make only “absolutely necessary” arrests, and crime enforcement in the city for minor offenses dropped 90 percent compared to the same week the previous year. “I would point out,” said NYPD commissioner William Bratton, “[that] it has not had an impact on the city’s safety at all.”[16][17] The department reported that 328 murders were committed in New York City in 2014, the lowest figure since at least 1963, when police began keeping track.[18] The Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has yet to be contained, killed 8,004 people last year. Wildlife epidemiologists published a study hypothesizing that the outbreak may have originated from bats living in a hollow tree trunk in the Guinean district of Guéckédou. Although no living bats carried a trace of the virus in their feces or blood, the study’s lead scientist announced that the researchers had killed all those they captured out of fears locals would say, “Look at those white people releasing bad bats.”[19][20]

An Iowa woman was cited for mailing three pounds of cow dung to her neighbors through the website poopsenders.com; a cow named Molly B that successfully broke out of a slaughterhouse in 2006 was given a new home in Montana; and a man in Devon, England, euthanized over half of Britain’s only herd of “Nazi cows,” originally bred by the Third Reich, because they were too aggressive. “Since they have gone,” the farmer said, “peace reigns supreme.”[21][22][23] PETA sent vegan caviar to Russian president Vladimir Putin and criticized Sarah Palin for a photo the former vice-presidential candidate posted online of her six-year-old son, Trig, standing on her dog. “Chill,” Palin wrote in response on her Facebook page.[24] Two frozen dogs were found in a garbage bag in Canada, a man walking his dog in Rhode Island found another dog nearly frozen to death in the street, and 275 dogs went missing following fireworks celebrations in Brisbane, Australia.[25][26][27] A police chief in Georgia accidentally shot his wife while she was sleeping on New Year’s Day, and a man claiming to be a “400-year-old Indian” smeared ash on his face, stole a Buick, and wished the car’s owners a Happy New Year.[28][29] A British tabloid alleged that a Hollywood special-effects studio was planning to recreate Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson as holograms, and it was reported that Jackson’s son Prince was planning to record an album with Justin Bieber. “It’s not as if he can turn to his family,” said a Jackson family acquaintance. “They’ve never really had time for Prince, Paris, or Blanket.”[30][31]

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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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“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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