Weekly Review — January 22, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

West African extremists, Obama’s gun challenge, and tragic Belgian twins

“What Though I Am Obligated to Dance a Bear”

In Algeria, 32 militants calling themselves “Those Who Signed in Blood” seized control of a natural-gas refinery in the Saharan outpost of Ain Amenas, where they threatened to blow up the complex and hundreds of workers from around the world unless the Algerian government freed 100 prisoners. During the resulting four-day standoff, Algerian special forces assaulted the refinery twice, and 38 hostages and 29 militants were killed. The attackers came from Algeria, Canada, Egypt, Mali, Niger, and Tunisia, and were reportedly affiliated with the Masked Brigade, a group founded by one-eyed Algerian bandit Moktar Belmoktar, who planned the attack from northern Mali. “It seems,” said one analyst, “that Moktar has tasked himself with the internationalization of the Mali conflict.”[1][2][3][4][5] In Mali, Islamist militants fled the towns of Diabaly, Douentza, and Konna under heavy French bombing; France also deployed 2,000 ground troops in the north. “The French resemble a fly that was attracted to a pot of honey,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. “Now their feet are sticky. They can’t fly away anymore.”[6][7][8][9][10] The Russian army ordered its soldiers to start wearing socks, and a Muscovite upset about a Bolshoi ballet casting decision threw acid in the face of the company’s artistic director, Sergei Filin. “I have a feeling,” said Filin, “that I am on the front lines.”[11][12] More than 800 Syrians were killed in the country’s civil war.[13] Half of the 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliners currently in operation were grounded following safety incidents, including a battery fire and two fuel leaks, at six world airports; the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced that it would remove full-body airport scanners that produce revealing images; and Chicago’s O’Hare Airport processed a shipment of 18 human heads. “Everybody here is ‘Oh my gosh, you got a box of heads,’ ” said a Department of Homeland Security spokesman. “We’ve seen it at various ports.”[14][15][16]

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Barack Obama, who was sworn in for a second term as U.S. president, signed 23 executive actions designed to reduce gun violence, and called on Congress to pass a law banning military-style assault weapons. “There will be pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty,” said Obama. “Not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.”[17][18] At the Crossroads of the West gun show in Phoenix, dealers were raising their prices on such weapons as the AR-15 rifle, which was used in the murders of 27 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, and of a family of five near Albuquerque on Saturday. “It doubles the price I get,” said one dealer of the proposed ban.[19] The National Rifle Association released a “gun safety” video game that allows players to upgrade their weapons for $0.99, as well as an ad accusing Obama of hypocrisy for failing to support its proposal to place armed guards in public schools when his own daughters benefit from such protection.[20][21] In Lapeer, Michigan, a security guard hired by an elementary school in the wake of the Newtown shootings forgot his gun in a school bathroom. “No harm, no foul,” said the county prosecutor.[22] It was revealed that the Justice Department rarely checks references when hiring new attorneys, and that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had spoken during oral arguments for the first time in nearly seven years. “Well — he did not —,” Thomas reportedly said. “I would refute that, Justice Thomas,” replied the lawyer at the lectern.[23][24] American cyclist Lance Armstrong, who last year was banned for life from the sport, confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs, bullying his teammates to do the same, and lying to cover up his actions. “I think he has political ambitions,” said a former competitor.[25][26]

[Correction] It was later reported that the woman started the train by accident. (Source: BBC)

A shop owner in Vernal, Utah, was charging liberals an extra dollar for smoothies, and Jersey Shore residents were complaining about police barricades erected to keep visitors away from towns devastated by Hurricane Sandy. “We live in an open democracy,” said Brick mayor Kevin Acropolis. “I want to get back to that.”[27][28] In Italy, a record 215 parties submitted logos for February’s parliamentary elections, including the Look What a Mess They’ve Got Us Into group and the Democracy, Nature, and Love (DNA) movement, whose symbol is a porn star.[29] Scientists reported the existence of quadruple-helix human DNA, and short-penised Pacific gooseneck barnacles were found to reproduce by oozing sperm into the water for females to capture. “Why depend totally on penis length?” said a biologist at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine. “Why not spermcast as well?”[30][31] Baseball hall-of-famers Stan “The Man” Musial and Earl Weaver died, as did “Dear Abby” columnist Pauline Friedman Phillips.[32][33][34] A cleaning lady was injured after she stole a commuter train outside Stockholm, drove for a mile, derailed the train, and crashed into a building. “We have only heard good things about her,” said a train-company spokesman.[35][Correction] A Detroit man was arrested for digging up his father’s body from Gethsemane Cemetery in hopes of resurrecting him, and in Brussels, 45-year-old twins born deaf were permitted to commit suicide because they had also become blind. “It’s not simply that they were deaf and blind that they were granted the right to euthanasia,” said a hospital official. “It is that they could no longer bear being unable to hear or see the other.”[36][37] On a single day at a hospital in Israel, four sets of twins were born to parents from four different faiths.[38]


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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.

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.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun

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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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