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From “Raiders of the Lost R2: Excavating a galaxy far, far away,” by Jon Mooallem, in the March 2009 Harper’s
It was just before six in the morning when we stopped at a rest area off Interstate 8, near where California, Arizona, and Mexico meet in the desert. A line of U.S. Border Patrol dune buggies with flat tires slumped at one end of the parking lot. Across the road, a mobile watchtower with dark windows loomed over an SUV. Jad Bean flipped open a three-ring binder on the hood of our rented Trailblazer to reveal a satellite map, most of which was taken up by a waxen emptiness that crinkled like the surface of a brain. The Imperial Sand Dunes cover forty miles, with some dunes reaching heights of more than three hundred feet. A few have earned proper names, like mountains. Jad pointed at the center of the map, to a tear-shaped depression identified as Buttercup Valley. A black-and-red icon was printed near the valley’s edge—the proverbial x marking the spot—alongside the words sail barge set.
It was on this particular tract of sand that a fragment of another world’s landscape temporarily took up residence. Over thirty-eight days in the spring of 1982, a crew from Lucasfilm erected a 30,000-square-foot wooden platform and built atop it sand dunes that rose five stories above the actual desert floor. On top of the ersatz dunes, they then built a yacht-like structure, 90 feet long and 60 feet tall; the color of weathered tree bark, it was overhung with jagged, orange polyester sails. The craft would appear in an early scene of Return of the Jedi as the hovering pleasure barge of the blubbery crime boss Jabba the Hutt and would shuttle his cadre of bounty hunters and hangers-on across the desert planet Tatooine to watch the execution of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Each prisoner was to be walked off a plank into something called the “al mighty Sarlacc,” a kind of belching vagina dentata in the dunes, which, it was said, would digest them over many anguishing millennia. A quarter of a century later, remnants of the set were apparently littered across the valley or buried in the sand. We would be excavating whatever authentic artifacts of that fictitious universe remained.
Abortion Rights: Although Sotomayor has not had a case dealing directly with abortion rights, she wrote the opinion in Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, 304 F.3d 183 (2d Cir. 2002), a challenge to the “Mexico City Policy,” which prohibited foreign organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or supporting abortions. An abortion rights group (along with its attorneys) claimed that the policy violated its First Amendment, due process, and equal protection rights. Relying on the Second Circuit’s earlier decision in Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. v. Agency for International Development, which dealt with a virtually identical claim, Sotomayor’s opinion rejected the group’s First Amendment claim on the merits. Turning to the plaintiffs’ due process claim, Sotomayor held that they lacked standing because they alleged only a harm to foreign organizations, rather than themselves. Sotomayor held that the plaintiffs did have standing with regard to their equal protection claim, but she ultimately held that the claim failed under rational basis review because the government “is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position” with public funds. –“Judge Sotomayor’s Appellate Opinions in Civil Cases,” Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSBlog (via)
As part of a government information security review released as early as Friday, White House interim cybersecurity chief Melissa Hathaway likely will mention a new military-funded program aimed at leveraging an untapped resource: the U.S.’ population of geeky high school and college students. The so-called Cyber Challenge, which will be officially announced later this month, will create three new national competitions for high school and college students intended to foster a young generation of cybersecurity researchers. The contests will test skills applicable to both government and private industry: attacking and defending digital targets, stealing data, and tracing how others have stolen it. –“Pentagon Seeks High School Hackers,” Andy Greenberg, Forbes (via)
3,892,179,868,480,350,000,000 bits in 2008; On slow video games; photos: Times Square without traffic (more); “…the ancient Roman left should not have attempted to punish Cicero for his patriotic illegalities, and neither, I submit, should the present-day American left attempt to punish Dick Cheney for his patriotic illegalities…”; comparative photo study of early-teen girls with adult male-to-female transsexuals
Ruth Padel has ruled herself out of standing again for the Oxford professorship of poetry after she resigned the position last night. Padel, who stood down after it emerged that she had sent emails alerting two journalists to the claims of sexual harassment that had been made against her competitor for the position, Derek Walcott, said this morning that she would not be standing again. “People wouldn’t believe in me,” she said at a press conference at the Guardian Hay festival. “I’m not afraid of people, but I wouldn’t want a faculty or a university to be divided. I care about poetry in that university and I don’t think it would be helpful for me to stand.” –“Padel admits ‘silly’ error in Oxford poetry election,” Alison Flood, The Guardian (includes awkward apology video)
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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