Weekly Review — January 15, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

As bushfires burned across southeastern Australia and the island of Tasmania, the country’s Bureau of Meteorology added two new colors — purple and magenta, designating temperatures above 122°F and 129°F, respectively — to its maps and revealed that four of Australia’s first days of 2013 were among its 10 hottest on record. In the Outback town of Oodnadatta, gasoline was vaporizing before it could be pumped, and in the Warrumbungles bushfires burned down part of an observatory. “It just suddenly comes,” said a New South Wales woman, “like a whirly, twirly tornado.”[1][2][3][4] Air-pollution levels in Beijing reached 755 on a scale of zero to 500, scientists declared 2012 the warmest year in the United States since 1895, and residents of Israel and Jordan contended with the countries’ worst winter storms in two decades. “We were waiting for our deaths, so we came out [of Syria],” said a man in northern Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, “but we found our second deaths here.” “Jerusalem has many colors,” said Israeli president Shimon Peres. “When she is white, it so rare, so beautiful, so unifying.”[5][6][7][8] A snow replica of an M75 missile, the kind fired into Israel by Hamas in November, was built on the Temple Mount.[9] French warplanes bombed an Islamist-militant stronghold in northern Mali to prevent antigovernment forces from marching on Bamako. “Let them come down onto the ground, if they are men,” said a Malian insurgent leader.[10][11] 350,000 opponents of France’s proposed marriage-equality law staged a protest in Paris. “We are marriageophile,” said a protest organizer, “not homophobe.”[12][13]

Shortly before a meeting in Washington between Vice President Joe Biden and leaders of the National Rifle Association at which the Obama Administration’s efforts to curb gun violence were discussed, a 16-year-old walked into his school in Taft, California, with a 12-gauge shotgun and opened fire, wounding one fellow student and narrowly missing another before being persuaded by a teacher to surrender his weapon. “We are not going to agree on these gun questions,” said NRA president David Keene. “We know there’s no silver bullet,” said Biden.[14][15][16][17] Gun-rights advocate Alex Jones challenged British CNN host Piers Morgan to a Second Amendment boxing match. “I’ll wear red, white, and blue,” said Jones, “and you can wear your Jolly Roger.”[18] A Somali pirate named Big Mouth announced his retirement. “I have also been encouraging many of my colleagues to renounce piracy,” said Big Mouth at a press conference.[19] Two days after the digital library JSTOR announced it would offer the general public limited home access to its archive of scholarly articles, the 26-year-old computer programmer Aaron Swartz, who was being prosecuted by U.S. attorneys in Boston for his illegal downloading of 4.8 million articles from JSTOR in 2011, hanged himself. “Hackers for right, we are one down,” tweeted the inventor of the World Wide Web. “Parents all, we have lost a child.”[20][21][22] President Barack Obama announced his nomination of White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew for Secretary of the Treasury. Lew’s signature, which would appear on all banknotes printed during his tenure, was variously interpreted by graphologists as evidence of discretion, imaginativeness, mysteriousness, perseverance, and religiosity.[23] Indiana lawmakers were considering a bill to make the teaching of cursive mandatory for schoolchildren.[24] Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who underwent cancer surgery in Cuba a month ago and is currently fighting a severe respiratory infection, missed his reinauguration. “We are here to be sworn into office in place of our president,” said one of nearly 100,000 Venezuelans to march in support of Chávez. “All of us here are Chávez,” said the head of the country’s national assembly. “The soldier is Chávez, the woman is Chávez, the farmer is Chávez, the worker is Chávez; we’re all Chávez.” “Who,” asked an opposition leader, “is governing Venezuela?”[25][26] Congress was found to be less popular than head lice, carnies, and the rock band Nickelback, but more popular than Ebola, meth labs, and communism.[27]

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Several Virginians mistook a labradoodle for a lion.[28] Australian paleontologists examining fossil evidence of a Cretaceous dinosaur stampede concluded that it occurred underwater and that some of the dinosaurs were on tiptoe.[29] In England, where preservationists were considering a plan to protect a Gothic cathedral from acid rain by rubbing it with olive oil, physicists determined that airlifting the peach in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach would require 2,425,406 more seagulls than were lassoed by the characters in the book.[30][31] Anthropologists suggested that the abandonment of Viking settlements in fourteenth-century Greenland may have been due to their populations’ sense of isolation. “Perhaps they were just sick and tired,” said a Danish scientist, “of living at the ends of the earth and having almost nothing but seals to eat.”[32] The Reverend John Graham, who for five decades has written crosswords for Britain’s Guardian newspaper under the pseudonym Araucaria, the genus name of the monkey-puzzle tree, disclosed news of his terminal esophageal cancer in a clue. “Araucaria,” he wrote, “has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15.”[33] In China, the Beijing News indicated its support of the Southern Daily, whose editorial staff returned to work following a weeklong strike over government censorship of the press, by publishing a piece in its lifestyle section on porridge, the Chinese word for which is a near-homophone for “daily.” “Hot porridge in an earthen pot, hailing from the southland,” read the article. “In the lingering cold of the night, what can offer us a bit of warmth and comfort?”[34][35] A Pennsylvania man twice attempted suicide during his morning commute — first by jumping out of a moving vehicle, then by placing himself in front of a tractor-trailer, which knocked him out of his shoes — but survived and walked to work, and a Russian man died of spinal injuries after his zorb veered off course and rolled down a ravine in the Caucasus Mountains. “What’s down there?” asked an onlooker. “Nothing,” replied another. “Catastrophe.”[36][37]


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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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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:

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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.

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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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