Weekly Review — August 13, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The U.S. government responds to an alleged terrorist plot, Ramadan ends in violence in parts of the Muslim world, and Swedish men guard their testicles from pacu fish

Saluting the Town (Weekly)The U.S. government reopened 18 diplomatic posts that it had closed across the Middle East after allegedly intercepting details of a planned attack in communications between Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi. The U.S. consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, remained closed, as did the U.S. embassy in Yemen, whose government claimed that it had, and had not, thwarted an Al Qaeda plot to take over an oil terminal, blow up oil pipelines, and kidnap foreign workers. “Everybody is feeling that there is something going on,” said a human rights advocate in Sana‘a, “but nobody knows what.”[1][2][3][4] Defense attorneys advising Major Nidal Hasan, who is representing himself in his trial for killing 13 people at Fort Hood Army Base in 2009, asked to be relieved of their duties because they believed Hasan was surreptitiously seeking the death penalty. “This has got to be torture,” said a former Army prosecutor, “particularly if you’re opposed to capital punishment.”[5] The White House canceled a planned summit between Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin. “They slip back into Cold War thinking and Cold War mentality,” said Obama during an appearance on The Tonight Show. “I continually say to them and to President Putin: ‘That’s the past.’ ”[6] Mikhail Gorbachev announced that he wasn’t dead.[7] The White House press corps asked no questions about reforms to National Security Agency surveillance practices at a press conference called to discuss reforms to NSA surveillance practices.[8] At a speech by Obama in Phoenix, the audience interrupted to sing “Happy Birthday” to the president, while protesters outside shouted, “He’s 47 percent negro!” and “Bye, Bye, Black Sheep.” “He’s divided all the races,” said a demonstrator. “I hate him for that.”[9][10] Curiosity sang “Happy Birthday” to itself on Mars.[11]

In Jonglei, South Sudan, 328 people were reported to have been killed during two weeks of fighting between the army, rebel soldiers, and rival tribes; in Konduga, Nigeria, suspected members of Boko Haram shot and killed 44 people while they prayed at a mosque; in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, a remote-controlled bomb killed seven women and seven children as they visited the gravesite of a family member; in Quetta, Pakistan, a suicide bombing at a police officer’s funeral killed at least 30 people; in Adra, Syria, government troops killed 62 members of an opposition militia in a desert ambush and left their bodies in the sand; and across Iraq, a string of car bombs detonated on Eid al-Fitr, killing at least 61. “We had a terrible day,” said the owner of a shoe store whose windows were shattered, “that was supposed to be nice.”[12][13][14][15][16][17][18] Authorities rescued California teenager Hannah Anderson and killed her abductor, James Lee DiMaggio, in Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.[19] Interim Egyptian president Adli Mansour declared that international diplomacy had failed in Egypt.[20] The king of Morocco retracted a pardon inadvertently granted to a Spanish pedophile.[21] An American surgeon vacationing in Florence accidentally severed a finger from a statue of the Virgin Mary.[22] Breton farmers smashed tens of thousands of eggs to protest their cheapness.[23][24] Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was found guilty of 31 racketeering charges that encompassed the murders of 11 people. “Rat-a-tat-tat, Whitey!” shouted a woman in the courtroom.[25] The New York Times sold the Boston Globe for 6 percent of its 1993 purchase price, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post for 1 percent of his net worth.[26][27] A recording was leaked of a conversation between a former Ron Paul aide and Jesse Benton, who worked for Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign and is now managing the re-election campaign of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). “Between you and me,” said Benton, “I’m sort of holding my nose for two years.”[28]

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Correction: Spaniards, not Germans, were found to have the most organized fridges in Europe. 

American hog farmers were struggling to contain porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which has killed thousands of piglets across 16 states.[29] Thames Water completed the removal of a 16.5-ton mound consisting of food grease and wet wipes from a sewage drain in a suburb of London. “We reckon it has to be the biggest such berg,” said the company’s waste-contracts supervisor, “in British history.”[30] A hamburger made from lab-grown beef was eaten in London. “It’s close to meat,” said one of the testers. “I would have said if it was disgusting.”[31] Germans were found to have the most organized fridges in Europe.[32][Correction] Scientists hypothesized that Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which has killed nearly half of the 94 people infected, might be transmitted via contact with one-humped camels.[33] A 69-year-old Englishwoman named Penny Freeman and her brother were trapped in their home for four days by a family of seagulls that pecked on their windows and vomited on them when they tried to leave.[34] The Edinburgh Fringe Fest held a Ginger Pride rally, and a film society in Pordenone, Italy, discovered Too Much Johnson, Orson Welles’s first professional film.[35][36] Swedish men were advised against skinny-dipping after a pacu fish was discovered in Øresund Sound. “They bite because they’re hungry,” said a Danish ichthyologist. “And testicles sit nicely in their mouths.”[37]


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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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“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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