Weekly Review — August 6, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Zimbabwe re-elects Robert Mugabe, a fatwa against croissants, and a lemonade-stand robbery at BB-gunpoint

ALL IN MY EYE.Zimbabwe’s national election commission announced that Robert Mugabe had won 61 percent of the vote in the country’s presidential election, securing him a seventh consecutive term as leader. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change party alleged that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party had stacked the voters’ registry with invalid names, intimidated voters in rural areas, and plotted to swap out ballot boxes. “There are clearly hundreds of thousands of deceased people on the voters’ roll,” said an independent monitor. “Either that or Japan does not have the oldest-age population in the world. There are thousands of 114-year-olds.” Australia’s foreign minister called for the election to be re-run, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry said the result was “the culmination of a deeply flawed process,” and journalists asked Mugabe after he cast his ballot whether he was nervous about the outcome. “No, no, no,” he said. “I’ve gone past that.”[1][2][3] Russia granted temporary asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who faces prosecution in the United States for leaking classified documents, and canceled a concert by the American band Bloodhound Gang after bassist Evil Jared shoved a Russian flag down his pants and said “Don’t tell Putin” during a concert in Ukraine.[4][5] In Cleveland, Ariel Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for 937 charges related to his subjection of three women to beatings, rape, and starvation while he held them hostage for over nine years. ‘‘A lot of harmony went on in that home,” said Castro.[6][7] Gangster James “Whitey” Bulger declined to testify in his trial for racketeering and 19 counts of murder in Boston. “Do what youse want with me,” said Bulger.[8] Two weeks after he was acquitted of murdering Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman informed a police officer who pulled him over in Texas for speeding that he had a registered gun in his glove compartment. “Just take it easy,” said the officer. “Don’t play with your firearm, okay?”[9]

The U.S. government announced the temporary closure of 22 embassies and consulates across the Middle East and Africa after reportedly intercepting a threatening message sent among senior Al Qaeda figures.[10] A sharia committee in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria, issued a fatwa banning croissants, and the Observatoire du Pain launched an advertising campaign to combat a steep decline in baguette-eating among the French.[11][12][13] Pakistani talk-show host Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain gave away two abandoned baby girls during a live television broadcast, and it was reported that a baby weighing 13.4 pounds had been delivered vaginally in Leipzig, making it the largest non-Caesarian birth on record in Germany.[14][15] Aevin Dugas, of Reserve, Louisiana, was found to have the world’s largest afro, at 52 inches in circumference.[16] During a severe heat wave in southern and eastern China, city dwellers cooked bacon, eggs, and shrimp on manhole covers and pavement, a billboard spontaneously combusted, and eggs hatched without incubators.[17] A policeman rescued four chickens left unattended in a hot car in the English village of Cranleigh, several female British journalists who complained of online abuse against women were sent bomb threats via Twitter, and Scotland established a national register of inflamed bowels.[18][19][20][21]

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Eight New Jersey TGI Friday’s restaurants agreed to pay fines totaling $500,000 after they were found during the state’s Operation Swill to have filled premium liquor bottles with cheap spirits, dirty water, rubbing alcohol, and caramel food coloring.[22] A Portuguese court ruled that trash collectors couldn’t be fired for being drunk on the job. “With alcohol,” read the verdict, “this happy worker is a very efficient, excellent and quick remover of scrap.”[23] Gay bars in Europe and the United States were protesting the recent passage of antigay laws in Russia by boycotting Stolichnaya vodka, which is largely distilled in Latvia by a company based in Luxembourg and owned by a Russian exile.[24][25] A 12-year-old Pennsylvania boy held up a 10-year-old boy’s lemonade stand with a BB gun, and a Detroit pastor was shot to death when he asked his neighbors to quiet down. “It was devastating,” said his daughter. “I cried for a minute.”[26][27] The open-air Tent City Jail in Maricopa County, Arizona, gave inmates candy cigarettes to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.[28] The U.S. government agreed to pay $4.1 million to San Diego student Daniel Chong, who was abandoned in a windowless jail cell for four and a half days following a drug raid in 2012, and Chilean prosecutors exonerated the owners of a copper mine that collapsed in 2010, trapping 33 miners for 69 days. “I want to dig a deep hole,” said one miner, “and bury myself again.”[29][30]


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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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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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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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