Weekly Review — April 2, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Supreme Court considers skim-milk marriage, a Guantánamo Bay hunger strike expands, and Egyptian scuba divers sabotage SEA-ME-WE-4

"What Though I Am Obligated to Dance a Bear"

“What Though I Am Obligated to Dance a Bear”

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, and of a provision of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act that withholds from gay married couples federal benefits guaranteed to heterosexual married couples. “There’s two kinds of marriage,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the situation created by DOMA. “There’s full marriage and then there’s sort of skim-milk marriage.” Same-sex marriage supporters rallied outside the courthouse with signs bearing such slogans as “Hey Supremes, you can hurry love” and “Marry me Rachel Maddow.” “You are entitled,” said New York cardinal Timothy Dolan, “to friendship.”[1][2][3][4] The governor of North Dakota signed into law three bills comprising the most stringent abortion restrictions in the United States, and a Colorado man claiming to be the illegitimate son of Dwight Eisenhower was detained for threatening the life of Barack Obama.[5][6] The U.S. military confirmed that 37 of the 166 prisoners incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay were participating in a hunger strike whose numbers have been growing for several weeks, and that it was force-feeding 11 of them, while a defense attorney claimed that in fact 130 prisoners were refusing food. “The hunger strikers have created an unfortunate situation with no clear path to resolution,” said Captain Robert Durand. “Progress has been made under this and the previous administration,” said White House deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest.[7][8][9][10][11] A Brazilian investigator said that a doctor charged with murdering seven patients in order to free up hospital beds may have been responsible for as many as 300 deaths. “Our mission,” said Dr. Virginia Soares de Souza in a recorded phone conversation, “is to be go-betweens on the springboard to the next life.”[12] A Muscovite was arrested for exposing his friend to radon in an attempt to help him achieve immortality, and Saudi Arabia beheaded a Yemeni man accused of murder, robbery, and sodomy, then crucified his body.[13][14]

In his Easter homily, Pope Francis called for peace in Israel, the Korean Peninsula, and Syria, where more than 6,000 people were reported to have been killed in March, and criticized human trafficking and the reckless exploitation of natural resources.[15][16] An Exxon oil pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, and three oil tanker cars ruptured during a train derailment near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota.[17][18] American beekeepers were blaming the prevalence of bee colony collapse disorder on the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. “If you have whiskey every night, 365 days a year, your liver’s gone,” said a co-owner of the largest U.S. beekeeping concern.[19] A Wisconsin woman named Elizabeth Hoen was observed stealing three steaks while clothed soon after being observed on a street corner while pantsless, and Geico released a motorcycle-insurance ad set to a song by the Allman Brothers Band, two of whose members died in motorcycle crashes.[20][21] New studies cast doubt on the constancy of the speed of light in a vacuum and confirmed that the Xenoturbella bocki “paradox” worm is the progenitor of humankind. “Maybe we’re more closely related to the Xenoturbella bocki worm, which doesn’t have a brain,” said a Swedish biologist, “than we are to lobsters and flies.”[22][23] A Chinese fishmonger found a bomb inside a squid, and American scientists reported the discovery of a two-headed shark in the uterus of another shark.[24][25] British researchers developed a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease. “What we have achieved here,” said biologist Dave Stuart, “is close to the holy grail of foot-and-mouth vaccines.”[26]

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North Korea said it had entered a “state of war” with South Korea, compared the security of the U.S. mainland to that of a boiled pumpkin, and released a photo showing a map with missile traces leading to Austin, Texas.[27][28] Hackers carried out against the Dutch antispam firm Spamhaus one of the most powerful distributed denial-of-service attacks in the history of the Internet.[29][30] The Egyptian military caught three scuba divers accused of disrupting Internet service in Africa and Asia by sabotaging the SEA-ME-WE-4 fiber-optic cable off the coast of Alexandria.[31] Lahoris were fighting over a proposal to rename after a Sikh revolutionary, who was hanged on the site by the British, a traffic circle that currently honors the Muslim student who coined the name “Pakistan.” “If a few people decide one day that the name has to be changed,” said merchant Zamid Butt, “why should the voice of the majority be ignored?”[32] Following a complaint from Google, Sweden removed the word “ogooglebar” (“ungoogleable”) from its official list of new words.[33] Germany confiscated the monkey of singer Justin Bieber.[34] In Rome, a penis added at the behest of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to an ancient statue of Mars was reported to have been removed, and in Missouri a probationer was charged with using a forging instrument after he wore a prosthetic penis to excrete drug-free urine for a compulsory test.[35][36] Conservatives were criticizing the U.S. National Science Foundation for granting $384,949 to fund a study of duck-penis plasticity. “Sometimes you have to look at the big picture,” said NSF spokeswoman Debbie Wing.[37][38][39]


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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.

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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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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.

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