Weekly Review — October 10, 2018, 11:45 am

Weekly Review

Kavanaugh is confirmed; Earth’s governments are given 12 years to get climate change under control; Bansky trolls Sotheby’s

Brett Michael Kavanaugh, who is two years older than Justice Neil Gorsuch and 32 years younger than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States after two formerly undecided swing votes, 65-year-old Senator Susan Collins and 71-year-old Senator Joe Manchin III, tipped the 50-48 margin, one of the slimmest in American history.1 Over the course of 45 minutes on the Senate floor, Collins, a supporter of abortion rights, defended Kavanaugh as “an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband, and father” who would not endanger Roe v. Wade because his “views on honoring precedent would preclude attempts to do by stealth that which one has committed not to do overtly.”2 Forty-six-year-old Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion activist group March for Life, released a statement cheering the effect Kavanaugh’s “dedicated public service will have towards creating a country where every human life is valued and protected equally under the law.”3 Sixty-three-year-old Senator Lindsey Graham, who insisted that the country’s founders did not intend to protect abortion in the Constitution during his alotted 30 minutes during Kavanaugh’s initial confirmation hearing, called Collins “awesome.”4 5 The seventy-six-year-old Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell also praised the “very independent” Collins, and thanked “the mob” opposing Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination for doing “the one thing we were having trouble doing, which was energizing our base,” adding that “nothing unifies Republicans like the courts.”6 At a rally in Mississippi, President Trump, aged 72, mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the 51-year-old Palo Alto psychology professor who testified that Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a small party in high school, to gales of audience laughter and applause, and said that those who advanced “false” accusations, like his own accusers of sexual assault, should be “held liable.”7 8 Prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the president told reporters, “I have women that are incensed at what’s going on”; following his confirmation, the president said, “a lot of women are extremely happy.”9 10 The average age of US government leadership at the highest levels continues to remain on the rise, which makes the country a gerontocracy.11 Police used data from a 90-year-old man’s Fitbit to charge him with the murder of his 67-year-old stepdaughter, and 29-year-old former White House communications director Hope Hicks has been named chief communications officer for “New Fox,” the company that will result from the Disney–21st Century Fox merger.12 13

During a tour of Africa, First Lady Melania Trump wore a white pith helmet in Kenya and handed out “Be Best” blankets and teddy bears, and read stories to children; when criticized for wearing the pith helmet, a symbol of colonial rule, Trump, who in June wore a Zara jacket reading i really don’t care. do u? to a migrant child detention center in Texas, told reporters while standing in front of the Sphinx of Giza, “I want to talk about my trip and not what I wear.”14 Six children in Minnesota have been diagnosed with Acute flaccid myelitis, a rare polio-like disease, and far-right Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro missed an outright win in the first round of the country’s election by 4 percent.15 16 The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the top scientific body studying the phenomenon, released a report written and edited by 91 scientists concluding that Earth has 12 years to get climate change under control through initiatives such as increasing renewable electricity production, phasing out coal entirely, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by “more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries,” or else make life in many parts of the world unbearable.17 Devastation from the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 1,700 people on the starfish-shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia was exacerbated by a faulty early warning system that lacked sufficient sirens and shelters; the initial 7.5 magnitude earthquake leveled buildings and, in some areas, reduced the ground to liquid.18 19 Amazon announced that the company is raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all of its full-time, part-time, and temporary workers in the United States; the company is simultaneously reducing performance bonuses and ending its restricted stock unit program, which workers claim will cost them several thousand dollars a year.20

Twenty people in Schoharie, New York, were killed when a limousine collided with a parked car; before the crash, one of the 17 passengers texted a friend who was also attending the birthday party, “The motor is making everyone deaf.”21 22 The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Denis Mukwege, a surgeon who treated victims of sexual violence in war-torn Congo, and Nadia Murad, an Iraqi-Yazidi woman who was kidnapped by the Islamic State in 2014 and sold into sexual slavery, for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.23 “Girl With Balloon,” a work by the England-based street artist known as Banksy, sold for $1.37 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London before it “demolished itself” by passing through a shredder in the bottom of its canvas. “We just got Banksy-ed,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe.24 A man in Wellington, New Zealand, accidentally snapped a sculpture while climbing it because he was “bored.”25 “That’s who I am. I’m a show-off but it bit me on the butt this time,” he said.—Justin Stewart

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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 three-hour drive to reach home, in the mountains in New Mexico, and she hated driving in the dark.

Sandoval took her place in the long line of people waiting to have their passports checked by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). When it was her turn, she handed her American passport to a customs officer and smiled amicably, waiting for him to wave her through. But the officer said she had been randomly selected for additional screening. Sandoval was led to a secondary inspection area nearby, where two more officers patted her down. Another walked toward her with a drug-sniffing dog, which grew agitated as it came closer, barking and then circling her legs. Because the dog had “alerted,” the officer said, Sandoval would now have to undergo another inspection.

Checkpoint on I-35 near Encinal, Texas (detail) © Gabriella Demczuk
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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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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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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

Chances an American who voted for Ross Perot in 1992 can no longer recall having done so:

1 in 2

People tend to believe that God believes what they believe.

Nikki Haley resigns; Jamal Khashoggi murdered; Kanye visits the White House

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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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