Weekly Review — September 5, 2018, 1:32 pm

Weekly Review

John McCain is eulogized; Rodrigo Duterte goes to Jerusalem; a new study shows goats prefer happy people

Six-term senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain died, aged 81, hours after Kelli Ward, a Republican Senate candidate from his home state of Arizona, suggested that McCain’s decision to stop seeking treatment for brain cancer was timed to hurt her campaign.1 2 McCain, who once almost got into a physical fight with Strom Thurmond on the floor of the Senate, justified his use of the slur “gook” by stating it only referred to his Vietnamese captors, and was one of five senators who tried to block the investigation of Charles Keating, was remembered by Tran Trong Duyet, the former director of the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, who said he was “sad” to hear of McCain’s passing.3 4 5 Henry A. Kissinger, who assisted in the sabotage of Lyndon B. Johnson’s peace talks to stop the Vietnam War in 1968, gave a eulogy at the former prisoner of war’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral, as did George W. Bush, whose campaign made robocalls during the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary claiming McCain’s then-eight-year-old adopted daughter from Bangladesh was actually his “illegitimate black child,” and Barack Obama, who criticized McCain during the 2008 presidential race for voting with George W. Bush “90 percent of the time.”6 7 8 9 Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, criticized the “excesses” of Romania’s anti-corruption program, a stance contradicted by the State Department’s official position, and then announced that he was paid by the Freeh Group, a global consulting firm, to take that position.10 11 Israel praised Trump for cutting funding to a UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees and welcomed Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, who once favorably compared his treatment of drug dealers to Hitler, to Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial.12 13 Duterte, who has presided over an anti-drug campaign resulting in the deaths of an estimated 20,000 Filipino citizens, said that Israel shares his “passion for human beings”; he addressed the high rate of sexual assault in his hometown of Davao by explaining, “As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases.”14 15 16 A district attorney in Pennsylvania found that police were justified in chasing and running over a suspect with a bulldozer, the 11th inmate died in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections in the month of August, and protesters appeared outside a Tulsa courthouse after a former officer who was acquitted for killing an unarmed black man held a class on “surviving officer-involved shootings.”17 18 19 California announced that it will end the cash bail system, and Missouri became the first state in the country to regulate use of the word “meat.”20 21

China culled over 38,000 hogs after the country’s seventh outbreak of African swine fever in August.22 Saudi officials concurred with the Joint Incident Assessment Team, an investigative unit that the kingdom had helped set up, that an air attack that killed dozens of Yemenis, including children traveling on a bus, was unjustified, and announced plans to dig a canal that would turn Qatar into an island.23 24 Kuwait’s Ministry of Commerce closed a fishmonger’s that was caught sticking plastic googly eyes on fish to make them appear fresher than they were.25 Fishing boats collided and stones were thrown when 40 French boats tried to stop five British boats from legally fishing for shellfish off the Normandy coast.26 Officials in Paraguay found that a cache of dozens of automatic rifles in a police station had been replaced with replicas made of plastic and wood.27 Chilean prosecutors announced that investigations into abuse within the Catholic Church had tripled, and Australia’s Catholic Church stated that they would not implement a recommendation made by a royal commission to mandate that priests who are told about acts of child abuse and pedophilia during confession share that information with police.28 29 Bishop Charles H. Ellis III apologized for being “too friendly” with performer Ariana Grande during the funeral service for Aretha Franklin, who died aged 76. “It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast,” Ellis said.30

Bottles of blood pressure medication were recalled following concerns that they contained different, unrelated drugs, and the US Food and Drug Administration warned that a popular diabetes medication could cause a flesh-eating bacterial infection of the genitals.31 32 A South Carolina woman was charged with murder after killing her husband by putting eye drops into his water, and the internet search history of a 23-year-old Alaskan woman charged with murder included “Ways to kill human with no proof,” “16 steps to kill someone and not get caught,” and “How to: Commit the Perfect Murder.”33 34 An unmanned ship ran aground on the coast of Myanmar; a dozen passengers and three flight attendants required medical attention after a can of pepper spray went off inside the cabin of a Hawaiian Airlines plane; and a Hawaii-bound flight from Oakland was delayed when crime-scene photos from a teenaged passenger’s forensics science project were accidentally shared to the phones of other passengers.35 36 37 Russian authorities confiscated a World War II–era tank from a military historian after he ran himself and two children over with it, Deutsche Bahn dropped plans to use atonal music to drive out homeless people from stations in Berlin, and an astronaut plugged a hole in the International Space Station with his thumb.38 39 40 New studies found that female monkeys were reluctant to follow the example of males even when the males were right, and that goats prefer happy people.41 42Matt Hickey

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October 2018


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
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
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
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

Acres of crossword puzzles Americans fill in each day:


In Burma, a newly discovered noseless monkey was assumed to be critically endangered because—despite its efforts to keep its head tucked between its legs on rainy days—it sneezes whenever rain falls into its nasal cavity and thereby alerts hunters to its presence.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“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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