Weekly Review — December 31, 2012, 12:30 pm

Yearly Review

Civil war in Syria killed more than 40,000 people. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood became Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, succeeding Hosni Mubarak, who was sentenced to life in prison and falsely declared dead. A blindfolded Egyptian child selected the new Coptic pope. A YouTube trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a homosexual womanizer, triggered demonstrations and riots in more than a dozen countries. Islamist militants stormed a U.S. consulate compound in Libya, killing four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. An eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas killed five Israelis and 162 Palestinians. Twitter announced that it would selectively censor tweets at the request of governments, North Korea named as its Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and declared it a war crime to use a cell phone during the country’s 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-Il, Iran’s morality police cracked down on the black-market trade in Barbie dolls, and a Zimbabwean carpenter was arrested for speculating that President Robert Mugabe may not himself have inflated all the balloons at Mugabe’s eighty-eighth birthday party. The members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for a performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral in which they called on the Virgin Mary to depose Vladimir Putin, who was elected president of Russia for the third time and went hang-gliding in a white jumpsuit to train Siberian cranes bred in captivity to migrate south. Greece’s parliament agreed to cut 15,000 government jobs and reduce the minimum wage by 22 percent in exchange for $170 billion in bailout funds from the European Union and the I.M.F. Extreme cold in Europe killed more than 500 people, Dutch bedding company Snurk angered Swedish homeless-advocacy groups by selling luxury duvet covers resembling cardboard boxes, and officials in Kyrgyzstan snuffed the country’s Eternal Flame because of an unpaid gas bill. In India, where people were plugging headphones into robots’ crotches in order to have their fortunes told, the minister of power was promoted to home minister during a blackout that left some 670 million people without electricity. Typhoon Bopha killed at least 1,000 people in the southern Philippines, a munitions-depot explosion in Brazzaville killed more than 200 Congolese, and the deadliest prison fire on record killed 359 people in Honduras. Eighty-two Tibetans immolated themselves in protest of Chinese rule, Burmese opposition leader and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi accepted the Nobel Peace Prize awarded her in absentia in 1991, and Icelandic musicians protested the country’s ban on Motörhead-brand shiraz. “It is a violation of human rights,” said Sólstafir lead singer Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, “to not be able to buy yourself red wine.”

Five men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were arraigned before a military tribunal at Camp Justice in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for orchestrating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Omar Khadr, the last remaining Westerner to be held captive at Guantánamo, was repatriated to Canada. One World Trade Center became New York City’s tallest building, and the Pentagon disclosed that some remains of 9/11 victims ended up in a Delaware landfill. In Afghanistan, where the number of American military deaths reached 2,000, 41 people were killed amid protests over the burning of Korans by NATO personnel at a Bagram Air Field garbage pit, and Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of murder in connection with a shooting rampage in two villages. Ten mass shootings took place in the United States, resulting in 151 deaths. Americans wore hoodies to protest the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American, by neighborhood-watch captain George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. The estate of William Faulkner sued defense contractor Northrop Grumman, and lexicographers declared omnishambles, meaning “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” English word of the year. The United States experienced its hottest month on record. Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean and eastern United States, killing 253. Barack Obama was reelected president of the United States and became the first sitting president to announce that he believes gay couples should be able to wed. Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum, and voters in Colorado and Washington approved the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and the U.S. population surpassed one hundred million times π. 

The cloves Binks finds in his pocket conjure up fond memories

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle that endows other particles with mass; NASA celebrated the Mars landing of its plutonium-powered rover, Curiosity; and British mathematicians used the Rapunzel Number to solve the Ponytail Shape Equation. The last known veteran of World War I died, as did Neil Armstrong, Ray Bradbury, Dave Brubeck, Gary Carter, Dick Clark, Nora Ephron, Andy Griffith, Levon Helm, Whitney Houston, Daniel Inouye, Etta James, George McGovern, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Adrienne Rich, David Rakoff, Sally Ride, General “Stormin’ ” Norman Schwarzkopf, Maurice Sendak, Anthony Shadid, Ravi Shankar, Arlen Specter, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, Donna Summer, Gore Vidal, Mike Wallace, and Adam Yauch; the creators of the Atomic Fireball, the bar code, the Kwan bob, and the Porsche 911; the world’s tallest woman; two world’s oldest persons; the presidents of Ethiopia, Ghana, and Malawi; and Paddy Roy Bates, monarch of Sealand. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting a royal baby, and the Games of the XXX Olympiad were held in London. American swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time, and Lionel Messi broke soccer’s record for most goals in a calendar year. The United States Anti-Doping Agency stripped seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong of most of his titles, calling him a “serial cheat who led the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” A man with two hearts reportedly survived a hearts attack, and former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney had his heart replaced. Arkansan goose 50 Cent survived being shot seven times. A man named Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop was arrested, as was a woman who punched and slid down a $30 million painting by Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still, then urinated on herself. Four Nigerian girls developed a generator powered by urine, and Caraquenians in red trousers called for the return of Matisse’s Odalisque in Red Trousers. A hen in Abilene, Texas, laid an egg inside another egg. Sheep rained from the sky near Melbourne, Australia; Iceland exported over two tons of ram penis to China; and North Korea’s state news agency reported the discovery of a unicorn lair in Pyongyang. A lonely Seoul elephant spoke Korean to his trainers. A Dutchman finished building a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, and the end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Mayan calendar, an event believed by many to mark the beginning of the apocalypse, passed without perceptible incident on December 21.  “The galactic bridge has been established,” announced spiritual leader Alberto Arribalzaga at a ceremony in Mexico. “At this moment, spirals of light are entering the center of your head.”

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The Gatekeepers·

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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
The Vanishing·

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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)
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)
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.

Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

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:


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.

Migrant children were teargassed; carbon dioxide levels have reached three to five million year high; missionary killed by remote tribe

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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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