Weekly Review — April 9, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Oil spills, the Iron Lady, and Barbie’s Berlin Dreamhouse

A Humbug (Weekly)Canadian Pacific announced that the derailment of a freight train en route from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Montreal had spilled 400 barrels of oil rather than four, the company’s original estimate, and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration ordered ExxonMobil to begin metallurgical testing of its ruptured Pegasus pipeline, which leaked 5,000 barrels of Canadian tar-sands oil near Starlite Road in Mayflower, Arkansas, forcing the evacuation of 22 homes and causing the deaths of at least 14 ducks, two turtles, and one nutria. “That neighborhood was like a scene from The Walking Dead,” said Arkansas attorney general Dustin McDaniel. ExxonMobil officials requested that the Federal Aviation Administration institute a temporary no-fly zone over the area affected by the spill and instructed local police to keep reporters away. “When you throw the media out,” said a Little Rock radio-station director, “that’s when the media really get their tentacles up.”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, died at the Ritz Hotel in London following a stroke. “She was probably the number-one person in our history,” said a Falkland Islander. “She will be remembered as a leader who gave nothing positive to the human kind,” said a veteran of the Falklands War. “She didn’t think it was her job to find middle ground,” said former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger.[8] A suicide bomber in Afghanistan’s Zabul province attacked a U.S. convoy, killing three American soldiers, a Defense Department employee, and a 25-year-old State Department diplomat, while a NATO air strike in Kunar province reportedly killed several Taliban fighters and 11 children. “The folks who want to kill people,” said secretary of state John Kerry, “are scared of knowledge.”[9][10][11][12]

A report released by the National Rifle Association called for the placement of armed security personnel in every U.S. school and cited in support of the plan a massacre of six students in Hastings, Minnesota, that never took place. “This is one of those times,” said Hastings’ police chief, “that we want to make sure the information we are using to make policy decisions is complete and accurate.”[13][14] Connecticut placed strict new regulations on the types of weapons and ammunition that can be sold and purchased in the state, and poet Maya Angelou described her past use of a gun to drive off an intruder. “It was fall. I heard the rhythm of someone walking on the leaves,” said Angelou. “Boom. Boom.”[15][16] North Korea moved an intermediate-range ballistic missile to its eastern coast and announced plans to reopen its Yongbyon atomic facility. “A small spark can now easily lead to a fire,” said a South Korean analyst. “The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” said North Korean state media. “We are looking for the temperature to be taken down,” said the Pentagon.[17][18][19][20][21] At Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where last month a rat disabled the system that circulates coolant to more than 8,800 fuel rods, the system was again disabled, this time by technicians. “We were installing wire nets,” said a manager, “to keep the rats out.”[22][23] A Saudi court ruled that a 24-year-old man who has spent a decade in prison for stabbing a friend in the spine and paralyzing him should be surgically paralyzed as punishment.[24] A federal judge in Brooklyn instructed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the morning-after pill available to women of all ages without a prescription, and the state legislature of Kansas passed the Women’s Right to Know Act, which states that life begins at fertilization.[25][26] The government of Uganda was moving forward with a bill that would prohibit women from wearing miniskirts and would ban sexualized images from appearing in the country’s media. “Television,” said ethics minister Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, “should not broadcast a sexy person.”[27]

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A 26,000-square-foot Barbie Dreamhouse was being built near Berlin’s Alexanderplatz.[28] New Jersey banned the use of tanning beds by minors, and Los Angeles synchronized all 4,500 of its traffic lights.[29][30] A Phoenix man was arrested for falsely claiming ownership of a hundred-pound tortoise named Jeeps.[31] In Wales, where wardens of Dylan Thomas’s grave were considering the installation of badger-proof fencing and researchers established that Shakespeare hoarded barley, a lingering cold snap in Snowdonia was killing thousands of pregnant ewes, some of which had lambed prematurely. “The drifts are so bad we don’t know what’s under them,” said a shepherd from Betws-y-Coed. “Some sheep are trapped in catacombs,” said one from the Carneddau.[32][33][34] The dearth of acorns and beechnuts in Gloucestershire was driving boars in the Forest of Dean to root more destructively, and a baked-bean spill caused the closure of a roadway near Newton-le-Willows.[35][36] Meat-industry trade groups in the United States suggested that top loin pork chops, pork loin top loin chops, and bone-in pork loin chops be renamed. “A pork chop,” said a National Pork Board official, “is a pork chop.”[37][38] A cheese-steak restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia changed its name from Chink’s to Joe’s.[39] Samoa Air announced that it would begin setting fares on the basis of passengers’ body weight, and Target apologized for having labeled the same shade of kimono maxi dress “dark heather gray” in regular sizes and “manatee gray” in plus sizes.[40][41] Brevetoxins from an algal bloom off Florida’s western coast were killing record numbers of manatees. “When algae blooms coincide with manatee movement,” said one veterinarian, “it results in catastrophic mortality.”[42]


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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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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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