Weekly Review — December 30, 2016, 3:50 pm

Weekly Review

The U.N. Security Council condemns the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an ordained Pagan priest receives permission to wear goat horns in his driver’s license photo, and snow falls in the Saharan town of Ain Sefra for the first time in 40 years.

WeeklyAvatar-SM.pngPolice in Italy shot and killed a man suspected of driving a truck into a Berlin Christmas market, after he refused to present identification papers in Milan’s Sesto San Giovanni neighborhood.[1] The suspect, a 24-year-old Tunisian man, had previously set fire to a migrant center on the Italian island of Lampedusa, been transferred to various Sicilian prisons for bad conduct, and been identified as a threat by both the Italian and German authorities, but had not been deported because he did not have a valid passport, which arrived two days after the Berlin attack.[2][3] U.S. president-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the United States should greatly “expand its nuclear capability,” and the Pakistani defense minister reacted to a fake news story claiming that Israel had threatened to use its nuclear arsenal by reiterating that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal as well.[4][5] The United States abstained from voting for a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israel claimed it had “rather hard” evidence that Barack Obama was behind the resolution, and Trump called the United Nations “a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time.”[6][7][8] Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari congratulated troops for pushing Boko Haram insurgents out of Camp Zero, their last stronghold in the Sambisa Forest.[9] Kurdish-led fighters approached the ISIS-held Euphrates Dam in northern Syria.[10] A cafeteria manager in Turkey was detained after saying he would refuse to serve the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a cup of tea.[11]

In Russia, a plane carrying the Red Army Choir, which was scheduled to serenade troops in Syria on New Year’s Eve, crashed into the Black Sea moments after taking off, killing all 92 on board.[12] In New York, debate continued as to whether the Radio City Rockettes would be forced to perform at Trump’s inauguration.[13][14][15] “This Christmas,” the Republican National Committee said in a statement, “heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King.”[16] Queen Elizabeth II missed Christmas church services because of a “heavy cold,” and the principal of a Taiwanese school resigned after students staged a Nazi-themed Christmas parade.[17][18] South Korean protesters in Santa costumes held a candlelight vigil to call for their president’s resignation.[19] In Sri Lanka, the 2016 Joy to the World Festival mistakenly printed the lyrics to Tupac’s “Hail Mary,” which read, “we all wrapped up in this livin’ life as thugs.”[20] A Libyan Airbus A320 was hijacked at Malta International Airport, disrupting the filming of a movie about a 1976 plane hijacking in Uganda.[21] An Indian court told airlines to stop dumping feces during flights, and a transatlantic flight from Paris to New York stopped in Ireland so passengers could use the bathroom.[22][23] U.S. Customs and Border Protection began asking certain foreign travelers for lists of their social-media accounts, and Korean Air said crew members are now permitted to use stun guns.[24][25] Scientists said the discovery of a fossilized wing bone belonging to the prehistoric Tingmiatornis arctica suggests the North Pole was once as warm as Florida, and snow fell in the Saharan town of Ain Sefra for the first time in 40 years.[26][27]

Biologists studying Inuits in Greenland identified a gene variant from an extinct group of humans that promotes heat-generating body fat.[28] Maine resident Phelan Moonsong, an ordained Pagan priest, received permission to wear goat horns in his driver’s license photo.[29] It was reported that the number of emergency calls in Sweden dropped by 20 percent between 3 and 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, when Swedes gathered to watch “Kalle Anka och hans vanner onskar God Jul,” a Donald Duck Christmas special.[30] A&E Network changed the name of an upcoming documentary series from “Generation KKK” to “Escaping the KKK,” then canceled it altogether after it was revealed that producers had paid members of the white supremacist group for access.[31] Walmart stopped selling shirts reading “Bulletproof: Black Lives Matter” after receiving a complaint from the Fraternal Order of Police, and a man charged with the murder of a 52-year-old UPS driver in a Walmart parking lot said in court that he “shot and killed Donald Trump purposely, intentionally, and very proudly.”[32][33] A man in California prepared to fight a DUI charge for driving under the influence of caffeine.[34] Wyoming police used DNA collected from a half-eaten peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to arrest a burglary suspect.[35] Investigators in Russia’s Yakutia region examined footage of a brown bear being repeatedly run over by two off-road trucks in the Siberian tundra.[36] Inmates escaped through the wall of a Tennessee jail that had been eroded by water damage from a broken toilet, the Chinese government announced a “toilet revolution,” and New Delhi’s municipal council launched 28 inflatable mascots that will blow a whistle when they detect public defecation.[37][38][39] In Miami, London, and Brazil, Burger King invited customers to exchange unwanted gifts for Whoppers, and in Chicago, a bus driver filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s for consumer fraud, explaining that purchasing an Extra Value Meal is 41 cents more expensive than purchasing two cheeseburgers, a medium fries, and a drink separately.[40][41] Trump tweeted that the world is “gloomy.”[42]

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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.”

At the time, most everyone thought Reagan was right. The twentieth century had been dominated by media that delivered the same material to millions of people at the same time—radio and newspapers, movies and television. These were the kinds of one-to-many, top-down mass media that Orwell’s Big Brother had used to stay in power. Now, however, Americans were catching sight of the internet. They believed that it would do what earlier media could not: it would allow people to speak for themselves, directly to one another, around the world. “True personalization is now upon us,” wrote MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 bestseller Being Digital. Corporations, industries, and even whole nations would soon be transformed as centralized authorities were demolished. Hierarchies would dissolve and peer-to-peer collaborations would take their place. “Like a force of nature,” wrote Negroponte, “the digital age cannot be denied or stopped.”

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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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.

The story of my people is filled with bitter ironies. The Kurds are one of the world’s oldest peoples and, as pioneers of agriculture, were once among its most advanced. Though the rest of the world now largely overlooks that it was Kurds who were among the first to create a civilization, the evidence is there. In 1995, German archaeologists began excavating a temple at Göbekli Tepe in northern Kurdistan. They found a structure flanked by stone pillars carved with bulls, foxes, and cranes, which they dated to around 10,000 bce. At the end of the last Ice Age, and seven thousand years before the erection of Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza, my ancestors were living together as shamans, artists, farmers, and engineers.

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]

Four of the six people living here are in their tents now, next to their cookstoves, two by two, warming up and preparing their suppers. I’m the fifth of the group, almost motionless at the moment, a hundred yards south of the tent cluster, kneeling on a patch of bluish ice in the midst of a great expanse of white. I’m trying to discern a small object entombed there a few inches below the surface. Against the porcelain whites of this gently sloping landscape, I must appear starkly apparent in my cobalt blue parka and wind pants. I shift slowly right and left, lean slightly forward, then settle back, trying to get the fluxless sunlight to reveal more of the shape and texture of the object.

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.

However, I have to ask—and I know what I’m requesting isn’t easy for you—that you consider things for a moment from a non-American point of view. I don’t mean “from a French point of view,” which would be asking too much; let’s say, “from the point of view of the rest of the world.”On the numerous occasions when I’ve been questioned about Donald Trump’s election, I’ve replied that I don’t give a shit. France isn’t Wyoming or Arkansas. France is an independent country, more or less, and will become totally independent once again when the European Union is dissolved (the sooner, the better).

Illustration (detail) by Ricardo Martínez
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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)

Estimated number of times in the Fall of 1990 that George Bush told a joke about his dog asking for a wine list with her Alpo:

10

French researchers reported that 52 percent of young women exposed to Francis Cabrel’s ballad “Je l’aime à mourir” gave their phone numbers to an average-looking young man who hit on them, whereas only 28 percent of those exposed to Vincent Delerm’s “L’heure du thé” did so.

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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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