Weekly Review — March 3, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Vladimir Putin’s political adversary is assassinated, Venezuela bans George Bush and Dick Cheney from entering the country, and two people in Seoul are swallowed by a sinkhole

HarpersWeb-WeeklyReview-Popkey-bigAn Islamic State militant known in the press as Jihadi John, who in 2014 is believed to have beheaded at least five Western aid workers and journalists in Syria, was identified as a Kuwaiti-born Londoner named Mohammed Emwazi. His parents told investigators that their son had said he was leaving home to do humanitarian work, and his former boss at a Kuwaiti IT company described him as “the best employee we ever had.” “He didn’t smile,” said the man. “But he wasn’t bad.”[1][2][3] Boris Nemtsov, a former first deputy prime minister of Russia who was an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, was fatally shot four times on a bridge near the Kremlin. Nemtsov, who was recently asked by a reporter if he feared Putin might kill him, had said he was “somewhat worried, but not as seriously as my mother.” World leaders including Putin condemned the murder, and tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow.[4][5] Zakir Naik, an Indian television preacher who has repeatedly said that 9/11 was an “inside job” orchestrated by former U.S. president George W. Bush, was given the King Faisal international prize by Saudi Arabia for “service to Islam”; Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro announced that Bush, former vice president Dick Cheney, and former CIA director George Tenet, whom he called “terrorists,” were banned from entering the country; and police in Sweden stormed a student’s house after seeing two balloons that appeared to be shaped into the letters “IS,” the initials of the Islamic State, displayed in the window. “Extremism should always be taken seriously,” said the student, whose boyfriend bought the balloons, shaped like a “2” and a “1,” in celebration of her 21st birthday. “And we did take the balloons down immediately.”[6][7][8]

The Federal Communications Commission approved new rules to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, and President Obama signed a seven-day funding extension for the Department of Homeland Security 10 minutes before allocated monies were to run out.[9][10][11][12] In response to a civil suit filed by the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a police officer last November while playing with a toy gun, the city of Cleveland argued that the child’s actions “directly and proximately” caused his death.[13] There was a run on cases of 5.56mm M855 green-tip rifle bullets, after the White House moved to ban their manufacture and sale because they can pierce police armor.[14] During the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker responded to questions about how he would deal with the Islamic State if he were elected president by referencing those who opposed his efforts, in 2011, to weaken public sector unions. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters,” he said, “I can do the same across the world.” He later clarified his remarks. “I want to make it clear right now,” he said, “I’m not comparing those two entities.”[15][16]

After South Korea’s highest court struck down a law banning adultery, stock prices for makers of condoms, emergency contraceptive pills, and pregnancy tests surged.[17] A study of U.K. sex workers who had voluntarily chosen the profession found that 71 percent had previously worked in health, social care, education, childcare, or charities, and that 38 percent had an undergraduate degree. “I didn’t get into sex work until I was in my late 40s,” said one former healthcare worker in her early 50s, “but I wish I had started sooner.”[18] A Wisconsin man burned his face while setting fire to a house that a registered sex offender was set to move into, and a man in New York was issued a summons for driving in a high-occupancy vehicle lane with a fake passenger. “I noticed that the front seat passenger was not a person,” said the officer. “It was constructed as if it was Popsicle sticks, large Popsicle sticks.”[19][20] An unidentified group in Worplesdon, England, bolted a toilet, sink, and toilet paper holder to a bus stop shelter, it was reported that a man and a woman were swallowed by a sinkhole as they got off a bus in Seoul, and a 20-year-old Alabama man who grew 46DD breasts as a result of having been prescribed the antipsychotic drug Risperdal as an eight year-old was awarded $2.5 million in damages. The man’s quality of life “was significantly improved,” argued a spokeswoman for the drug manufacturer, “during the time he was taking Risperdal.”[21][22][23]

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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.”

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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)

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