Weekly Review — November 6, 2012, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

National polls showed President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney to be virtually tied, suggesting that Tuesday’s presidential election will be among the closest in U.S. history.[1][2] Obama held a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, at which Stevie Wonder performed “Higher Ground” and “Superstition.” Romney campaigned in the traditionally Democratic state of Pennsylvania, taking the stage in Bucks County to the theme song from Rocky.[3][4] Vice president Joe Biden admitted to watching clips of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on Air Force Two, and Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan played cornhole with his children and several Romney grandchildren while tailgating outside the Green Bay Packers game in Wisconsin on Sunday. “You have to have your cheese on your head,” Ryan told the kids.[5][6] Tiny campaign signs set up outside prairie-dog burrows near Boulder, Colorado, were evenly split between the presidential candidates, and in Kenya, a bull named Barack Obama beat a larger bull named Mitt Romney in a fight. “It’s clear now,” said a spectator, “that Romney can’t beat Obama.”[7][8] A blindfolded Egyptian child selected the new Coptic pope, and Muslim clerics suggested that Hurricane Sandy, which killed 113 people in the U.S. and left 8.5 million without power, was punishment for the ills of American society. “It is revenge from God,” tweeted Egyptian cleric Wagdi Ghoneim.[9][10][11][12] In New York City, where the storm killed at least 41 people, an estimated 750 shoppers waited in line outside Apple’s flagship store to buy the new iPad mini. “There’s no electricity,” said Eytan Friedman, “so I figured I’d get up early and get my new iPad rather than lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.”[13] New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted that holding the New York Marathon as scheduled would boost the city’s morale, then canceled the event a few hours later and announced that blankets and bottled water intended for runners would instead be distributed to hurricane victims. “I feel like it was a trick,” said Italian runner Giuseppe Paladino. “I feel like I was robbed.”[14][15]

Russia’s parliament approved an expanded definition of high treason that includes “giving financial, technical, consulting or other help” to foreign entities. Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that groups engaged in “totalitarian activities” were “growing like mushrooms” in the country; nationalists marched in Moscow to protest Putin’s support of Caucasian and Central Asian immigrants; and a pro-Kremlin Russian youth group promoted a ban on Mormons because of their “questionable activities.”[16][17][18] In the United States, the Christian American Family Association accused “Mix It Up at Lunch Day,” on which children sit with someone new in the cafeteria, of being “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools.” “I use poisoned Halloween candy as an illustration,” said Bryan Fischer, the group’s director of issue analysis. “This looks harmless on the surface, but you don’t realize how toxic it is.”[19] Trick-or-treaters in Royton, England, were given packets of cocaine instead of sweets, and in Surrey, a former history teacher built a 60-foot World War I–style trench in his backyard. “We can hear the gunfire from the house,” said his neighbor, “but as it isn’t very often we don’t mind.”[20][21] France’s equality ministry began “sensitization sessions” for government ministers after Housing Minister Cécile Duflot was catcalled at the National Assembly by male legislators, who claimed they were merely complimenting her flowered dress.[22] Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, stopped telling users where to find prostitutes in China, and Israel’s minister of public diplomacy toured Tikun Olam, Israel’s largest medical-marijuana farm. “This is God’s doing,” says the farm’s logo, “and it’s marvelous in our eyes.”[23][24]

Biologists with Alaska’s fish and game department killed a grizzly bear that was attempting to break into homes in the Stuckagain Heights neighborhood of Anchorage, while a bear that had stolen local chickens remained at large.[25][26] People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals requested that a memorial sign be placed at an Irvine, California, site where hundreds of saltwater bass died in a traffic accident. “Although such signs are traditionally reserved for human fatalities,” the group wrote, “I hope you’ll make an exception because of the enormous suffering involved.”[27][28] Computer scientists at University College London and the University of Barcelona created a program in which rats control a person-shaped avatar that interacts with human subjects in virtual reality, and a lonely Seoul elephant spoke Korean to his trainers.[29][30] Pet behaviorist Karen Wild helped design a bedtime story to relax the United Kingdom’s dogs during Guy Fawkes Night fireworks, and NASA considered sending Camilla Corona, a rubber chicken with a popular Twitter feed, to the International Space Station. “Sometimes,” said one of her followers, “she says things that are at a high scientific level.”[31][32]

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Toward the end of the Obama presidency, the work of James Baldwin began to enjoy a renaissance that was both much overdue and comfortless. Baldwin stands as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, and any celebration of his work is more than welcome. But it was less a reveling than a panic. The eight years of the first black president were giving way to some of the most blatant and vitriolic displays of racism in decades, while the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and others too numerous to list sparked a movement in defense of black lives. In Baldwin, people found a voice from the past so relevant that he seemed prophetic.

More than any other writer, Baldwin has become the model for black public-intellectual work. The role of the public intellectual is to proffer new ideas, encourage deep thinking, challenge norms, and model forms of debate that enrich our discourse. For black intellectuals, that work has revolved around the persistence of white supremacy. Black abolitionists, ministers, and poets theorized freedom and exposed the hypocrisy of American democracy throughout the period of slavery. After emancipation, black colleges began training generations of scholars, writers, and artists who broadened black intellectual life. They helped build movements toward racial justice during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether through pathbreaking journalism, research, or activism.

Bloom, acrylic, ink, wood, and fabric on canvas, by David Shrobe © The artist. Courtesy Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco
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On a Friday afternoon in the fall of 2017, a few months after the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State, a group of neighbors gathered at Mar Mattai, a monastery founded in the fourth century. They unloaded baskets of food, and arranged themselves around a long table in a courtyard. A woman named Niser spread out a tablecloth and put down a plate of dolmas. “It’s a way of celebrating that we still exist,” she told me. More people were arriving—children, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and distant relations—members of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world who had not seen one another for three years.

Overlooking the village of Mergey from the old section of the Mar Mattai Monastery, Mount Maqlub, Iraq. All photographs from Iraq (October 2017) and Jerusalem (March 2018) by Nicole Tung (Detail)
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Investigating Hate·

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Around three in the morning on a cold December Sunday, brothers José and Romel Sucuzhañay began to walk home from a bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was a cloudy night, only a few degrees above freezing, and the houses and stores lining their route wore impassive, nighttime guises—shades drawn, metal grates locked down. Romel had only recently arrived from Ecuador. José, a thirty-­one-year-old father of two, ran a successful real estate agency in the neighborhood. The two had spent the evening eating and drinking at a quinceañera at St. Brigid Church, and afterward, they stopped at a local bar called Christopher’s Palace. They were feeling the alcohol as they headed back to José’s apartment. When they realized that José had left his coat behind in the bar, Romel took off his jacket and draped it around his younger brother’s shoulders. They continued to walk up Bushwick Avenue, swaying a bit, arms around each other for warmth and ballast.

As they approached the corner of Kossuth Place and Bushwick Avenue, a red SUV stopped at the traffic light. “Check out those faggots!” the driver yelled out the window. José may have said something in reply. Very rapidly, a man jumped out of the passenger side door and smashed José on the head with a bottle, dropping him to the ground. He then turned to attack Romel. As Romel fled from the man down Kossuth, the driver exited the car, grabbed an aluminum baseball bat out of the vehicle, and began to beat José until someone emerged from the back seat and called him off. The driver was walking away when he saw some movement from José, a twitch of his hand or his leg sliding across the pavement—trying to rise, perhaps—and he strode back, straddled him, and raised the bat high in the air. He brought it down on José’s head, again and again, as if he were chopping wood.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae (Detail)
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Preservation Acts·

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After eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Bergis Jules found himself worrying not only over the horrors of the present, but also over how little of the present was likely to be preserved for the future. The best reporting on the aftermath in Ferguson was being produced by activists on Twitter, a notoriously ephemeral medium. Jules, then an archivist at the University of California, Riverside, had the impulse to start saving tweets, but wasn’t sure how. “That whole weekend, watching things unfold, I thought, ‘This is a really amazing historical moment; we should think about capturing it,’ but I was just talking to myself,” he says. The following week, attending a Society of American Archivists conference in Washington, D.C., he voiced his fears en route to drinks at the hotel bar. He caught the ear of Ed Summers, a developer who just so happened to be the author of a Twitter archiving tool—and who promptly programmed it to va­cuum up #Ferguson tweets. Within two weeks, he had amassed more than 13 million.

Three weeks after the shooting, Summers blogged about the archive, which he and Jules were considering making public. Shortly thereafter, they received an inquiry from a data-mining company. When they pulled up the firm’s website, they read that its clients included the Department of Defense and, ominously, “the intelligence community.” What did the company want with the data? And what were the ethical implications of handing it over—perhaps indirectly to law enforcement—when the protesters’ tweets would otherwise evade collection? Using Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), the code that developers use to call up Twitter data, anyone can sift through tweets that were posted in the past week, but older posts disappear from the API’s search function, even if they still exist out on the web. The data-mining company was too late to nab a swath of the #Ferguson tweets. (Twitter has since unveiled a “premium” API that allows access to older data, for a substantial fee.) Newly mindful of the risks, Jules and Summers waited almost a year to publish their cache.

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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

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Illustration by Stan Fellows

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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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