Weekly Review — January 1, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

U.S. Senate leaders reached a tentative last-minute deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled for January 1, though not in time for the agreement to be approved by members of the House of Representatives, who were set to vote as soon as Tuesday afternoon. The deal permanently increases capital-gains, dividend, and income tax rates on individuals making more than $400,000 per year and couples making more than $450,000; begins phasing out certain tax deductions on incomes above $250,000; and provides for an additional two months to negotiate $110 billion in cuts to military and domestic spending programs. Senate Democrats had briefly withdrawn from the talks after Republicans proposed to recalculate inflation in such a way as to lower benefit payments from entitlement programs, prompting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to ask Vice President Joe Biden to help restart the negotiations. “I need a dance partner,” said McConnell.[1][2][3][4] Congressional aides played the Beatles’ “Come Together” for House Republicans, Starbucks urged baristas to write “Come Together” on coffee cups at its Washington, D.C. franchises, Obama signed an executive order increasing the pay of members of Congress, the Constitutional Council of France struck down a 75 percent tax on incomes over €1 million a year that had been scheduled to take effect on January 1, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between his country and South Korea, and a newly released interview revealed Yoko Ono to have blamed the breakup of the Beatles on Paul McCartney’s predominance in the band.[5][6][7][8][9] Police in India charged six men with murder hours after the death of a 23-year-old woman who had been gang-raped and thrown from a moving bus. “This is the story of every Indian woman,” said a protester. Another Indian gang-rape victim committed suicide after police pressured her to drop her accusations and marry one of her attackers. [10][11][12][13][14] In New York City, a woman killed an Indian immigrant by shoving him over the edge of a subway platform. “I pushed a Muslim off the tracks,” she told police, “because I hate Hindus.”[15][16]

Russia put whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in police custody in 2009, on trial for fraud. “Magnitsky’s case has been moved to January,” announced the district court on the first day of hearings, “due to the absence of lawyers for the defense.” Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law, passed in retaliation for a new U.S. human rights law named after Magnitsky, that prohibits Americans from adopting Russian children.[17][18] Two Los Angeles residents turned in rocket launchers as a part of a no-questions-asked gun-buyback program; 200 Utah teachers took a concealed-carry firearms course in response to the recent elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut; and scientists were studying the DNA of Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, in search of a gene that made him evil.[19][20][21] A man set fire to his home on Christmas Eve in Webster, New York, then shot at the responding firefighters, killing two, before shooting himself in the head. A neighbor whose home burned down as the fires spread vowed to rebuild. “I really want to live on the bay,” she said. “He’s gone now, right?”[22][23] The German magazine Der Spiegel accidentally published on its website an obituary for “colorless” former U.S. president George H. W. Bush, whose condition was in fact improving after he was admitted to intensive care with a fever, and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the army general who led U.S. forces in the first Gulf War, died at 78.[24][25] In Syria, a general tasked with preventing military defections defected.[26]

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Mexican marines killed four men who were trying to steal the dead body of a Zeta drug-cartel leader known as the Pokémon.[27] Children sledding in Wyoming discovered the frozen dead body of a homeless man who was unknowingly the potential heir to a $19 million fortune.[28] China passed a law allowing parents to sue their adult children for not visiting them frequently enough, and a Filipino bishop announced his opposition to a reproductive-health bill aimed at curbing overpopulation, arguing that a larger population could better care for the country’s elderly.[29][30] A norovirus outbreak caused hundreds of passengers on an exclusive Caribbean Christmas cruise to be stricken with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.[31] In England, two elves were arrested for assault, and a garden-center Santa was fired for telling children he wasn’t real.[32] The baby Jesus was stolen from a live nativity scene outside a funeral home in Mount Healthy, Ohio, and a woman in Damascus, Oregon, told reporters about a letter, written by a worker in a Chinese forced-labor camp, that she’d found in a box of decorations from Kmart’s “Totally Ghoul” holiday line. “If you occasionally buy this product,” wrote the laborer, “please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization.”[33][34]

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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
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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)
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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.

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:

10

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

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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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