Weekly Review — January 14, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Boko Haram raids 16 villages in Nigeria, a bomb is detonated outside an NAACP office in Colorado, and a Muslim cleric bans snowmen.

WeeklyReviewCrocAvitarTwo Muslim extremists in Paris shot and killed 12 people in an attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. French police killed the two suspects after the militants took hostages at a printing shop; a third man who claimed allegiance with them held up a kosher grocery store, killing four, before being shot by police.[1][2][3][4] Ten thousand French troops and 5,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country to protect “sensitive sites”; 1.5 million people protested in Paris; the anti-Islam group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West held a rally attended by 25,000 people in Dresden, Germany; and Charlie Hebdo announced that it would print 3 million copies of its next issue, which will feature a cartoon of Muhammad crying below the words “all is forgiven.”[5][6][7] Hundreds of members of the extremist group Boko Haram, which killed 10,000 Nigerians in 2014, raided 16 villages, murdering as many as 2,000 people. “Dead bodies litter the bushes,” said a local government official.[8][9] In Nigeria, two young girls who were estimated to be 10 years old blew themselves up in a crowded market, killing at least four people, and a 10-year-old girl detonated a bomb she was wearing in another market, killing 20 people.[10][11] A suicide bomber killed 12 people near Baghdad when he drove a car filled with explosives into a group of Shiite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers; a police officer in Istanbul died after a suicide bomber walked into a police station and detonated explosives concealed under her coat. “It’s snowing,” said a tea seller who witnessed the attack, “So there was nothing suspicious about her big coat.”[12][13]

The FBI and Justice Department recommended that felony charges be brought against retired U.S. general David Petraeus for allegedly sharing classified documents with his former mistress.[14] FBI investigators were unable to definitively determine the motive of an attacker who detonated a bomb outside the NAACP office in Colorado Springs.[15] A 77-year-old man told a court he tried to blow up an antique grenade on a bus in Zhejiang, China, because he was upset with the driver for previously having failed to stop in the proper location.[16] A court in Cairo acquitted 26 men who were arrested at a bathhouse last month on charges of debauchery and “indecent public acts.”[17] Russia barred transgender people from getting driving licenses; Britain announced that, to improve diversity, its armed forces will begin asking recruits if they are gay.[18][19][20] Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would not attend an event in Poland marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.[21] Cuba freed 53 political prisoners at the United States’ behest; Cuban state media reported that Fidel Castro, who had not been heard from for three months, broke his silence by writing a four-page letter to soccer star Diego Maradona to discuss global oil consumption and quash rumors of his death.[22][23]

In India, at least 23 people died from consuming a batch of bootleg liquor; 69 people died in Mozambique after drinking homemade beer suspected to be contaminated with crocodile bile; and an analysis of a 700-year-old fecal sample revealed that a patron of Dante, who was also an Italian warlord, died from ingesting a poisonous “brew or foxglove decoction.”[24][25][26] Two nine-year-old students in Elba, New York, were suspended for plotting, with a third student, to poison their teacher by coating her personal belongings with hand sanitizer.[27] Researchers published a method for developing antibiotics from bacteria in dirt.[28] A man had a heart attack while parading a statue of Jesus down the street in Manila in anticipation of the arrival of Pope Francis.[29] Spike Lee announced that he would sell his latest film online, ahead of its theatrical release. “I’m hyped,” said Lee, “to get my new joint, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, out to the world.”[30] The former highest-ranking U.S. cardinal blamed “radical feminists” for the Catholic Church’s pervasive child molestation. “The Church,” he said, “has largely ignored the serious needs of men.”[31] In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim cleric issued a ruling that forbids Sunnis from building snowmen. “It is imitating the infidels,” one supporter said. “It promotes lustiness and eroticism.”[32]

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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
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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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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 times the word motherfucker appears in Miles Davis’s autobiography:

333

After becoming the first animal to conceive in space, a Russian cockroach named Nadezhda (“Hope”) gave birth.

Brett Kavanaugh’s calendars; Stormy Daniels describes sex with Trump; China sponsors content in the Des Moines Register.

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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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