Weekly Review — May 14, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Pakistan’s first democratic transfer of power, the IRS and DOJ overstep their bounds, and the Pope comes out against spinsters

Saluting the Town (Weekly)Pakistan underwent the first democratic transfer of power in its 66-year history, electing as prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from the position in 1999 by a military coup led by Pervez Musharraf, and whose Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz party defeated the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the Tehreek-e-Insaf party of retired cricket star Imran Khan. Khan, who fractured his spine after falling down during the campaign, called from his hospital bed for an investigation into vote-rigging; a gunman killed a parliamentary candidate in Karachi; and at least 28 others were killed in violence at polling stations around the country. “The voting day went fairly smoothly,” said a national columnist, “by Pakistani standards.”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] Turkey accused the Syrian government of detonating car bombs that killed 43 people and injured 140 outside the post office and city hall of a Turkish border town.[9][10] Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for ordering the deaths of 1,771 Ixil Mayans during the country’s 36-year civil war. “Guatemala has seen no genocide,” said President Otto Pérez Molina, who was a military commander under Montt. “This could mean that everyone, all indigenous people all over the planet,” said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú, “could hopefully start living in harmony.”[11][12][13] Disney dropped its application to trademark the phrase “Día de los Muertos.[14] Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) clarified that he did not, as he’d stated during a debate on immigration, believe Mexicans came from “hellholes.”[15] In Mexico City, where Malcolm X’s grandson was killed in a bar fight, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture condemned the cult of Holy Death.[16][17] Pope Francis canonized 813 Italian martyrs who were beheaded in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam, and commanded nuns to practice “fertile chastity.” “The ordained woman is a mother,” said the Pope, “not a spinster!”[18][19]

Gunmen opened fire on a crowd at a Mother’s Day Parade in New Orleans, injuring at least 19 people; James Holmes changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity in his trial for last year’s mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; and a Missouri cinema apologized for hiring an actor dressed in body armor and carrying a fake rifle to appear at a screening of Iron Man 3.[20][21][22][23] In Düsseldorf, several audience members sought medical attention after seeing a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser set in a Nazi concentration camp.[24] The U.S. State Department ordered a nonprofit organization to remove blueprints for a working 3D-printable handgun from its website, where they had been downloaded 100,000 times in two days.[25] It was revealed that the Justice Department had secretly acquired two months’ worth of telephone records for Associated Press journalists, and that the IRS had targeted for extra scrutiny the tax-exemption applications of approximately 75 conservative political groups whose filings contained such terms as “tea party,” “patriot,” and “9/12.”[26][27][28] Several buildings in Great Falls, Montana, were evacuated after discarded boxes of educational scratch-and-sniff cards made to smell like natural gas were mistaken for a gas leak. “In a sense,” said an official for the company that produced the cards, “it worked the way it was supposed to.”[29]

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Cleveland resident Ariel Castro was arrested for allegedly holding captive for as long as eleven years three women and a six-year-old girl he had fathered with one of the women. “I’m eating my McDonald’s. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts,” said neighbor Charles Ramsey, who alerted police. “Way to go Charles Ramsey- we’ll be in touch,” tweeted @McDonalds.[30][31][32][33] A 19-year-old Bangladeshi garment worker was found alive after she survived for 17 days on dried food and bottled water in a basement prayer room at the collapsed Rana Plaza factory complex, where rescue efforts ended with the death toll at 1,127, and a ninety-year-old man named Justyn Ambrozia survived on Fig Newtons, ice-cream cones, and pound cake while trapped in his car for three days in a Florida garage.[34][35][36][37] German regulators were investigating allegations of potato price-fixing by the Kartoffel Kartell.[38] The American Gerbil Society held its annual pageant. “Anyone can buy a $12 gerbil,” said the society’s vice president, “and get into the sport of gerbil showing or gerbil agility.”[39] Massive ice waves blew from Manitoba’s Lake Dauphin onto Ochre Beach, and from Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs into Izatys Resort, creating berms up to 30 feet high and damaging more than 40 homes.[40][41] The U.S. Postal Service halted mail delivery to a ten-acre Lakeport, California, subdivision that was sinking into a hillside. “It’s a slow-motion disaster,” said a resident.[42] Worldwide levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million, the highest concentration in at least 2 million years. “Physically, we are no worse off,” said a climate scientist, “than we were at 399.”[43][44]


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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.

Migrant children were teargassed; carbon dioxide levels have reached three to five million year high; missionary killed by remote tribe

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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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