Weekly Review — March 7, 2017, 6:20 pm

Weekly Review

Donald Trump accuses Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, Chicago records its first January and February without snow in 146 years, and veterinarians in Bangkok remove 915 coins from the stomach of a turtle named Piggy Bank.

HarpersMagazine-1853-12-bootsU.S. president Donald Trump tweeted that former president Barack Obama was a “bad (or sick) guy” who tapped his phone during the election.[1] House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz said he had “not seen anything” that would support Trump’s accusation, Republican congressman Trey Gowdy said he had no evidence of a wiretap, and FBI director James Comey called on the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claim, which the department did not do.[2][3][4] Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department’s head, recused himself from any investigations of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election after it was reported that he had twice met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign, despite swearing under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”[5][6] Vice President Mike Pence, who during the election implied that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton broke the law when she used a private email server as secretary of state, confirmed that he conducted official business as governor of Indiana using a private AOL email account, which had been hacked.[7] Trump suggested that a series of recent bomb threats against Jewish community centers and acts of vandalism against Jewish cemeteries could have been an effort by his opponents to make his supporters “look bad,” gave a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he condemned hate crimes, and rejected the notion that his senior staff should take an ethics-training course.[8][9][10] “This is,” Trump tweeted of his wiretap allegations, “Watergate.”[11]

Snap, Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, went public at $17 a share, making it the largest offering since Alibaba in 2014; Lyft reportedly sought $500 million from investors; and Travis Kalanick, the 40-year-old CEO of Uber, who is worth an estimated $6.3 billion, said he needed to “grow up” after a video surfaced of him telling a driver who complained that he had lost almost $100,000 working for the company that “some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.”[12][13][14] Millions of viewers spent what equates to more than a thousand years watching a live stream of a pregnant giraffe, which has not yet given birth, and the Belvedere Zoo in Tunisia announced it would close temporarily after visitors stoned a crocodile to death.[15][16] A blizzard struck Hawaii, Chicago recorded its first January and February without snow in 146 years, and landslides and rainstorms contaminated the drinking water of at least 4 million people in Santiago, Chile.[17][18][19] The World Health Organization reported that pollution kills 1.7 million children annually.[20] In Canada’s Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt, scientists found fossils that may be as much as 3.77 billion years old, and in New Mexico a 99-year-old man beat a 92-year-old man in a 60-meter dash.[21][22]

An intoxicated man in Austin, Texas, was arrested for allegedly “having sex with a fence” while a woman filmed him, three men at a bazaar in Pakistan were caught masturbating to the rhythm of a beating drum, and the body of a Japanese man was discovered on top of his six-ton porn-magazine collection, which he had fallen on after suffering a heart attack.[23][24][25] A woman in Fort Pierce, Florida, found marijuana inside a couch set she bought online, the owner of a charity store in Wales discovered plans for a British nuclear sub in the briefcase of an anonymous donor, and veterinarians in Bangkok removed 915 coins from the stomach of a turtle named Piggy Bank.[26][27][28] In the Chinese province of Jiangsu, villagers divorced en masse after discovering that they could claim more money from a government buyout of their homes if they were single.[29]

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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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