Weekly Review — September 24, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Deadly terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Peshawar, House Republicans attempt to defund Obamacare, and a bookless library opens in San Antonio

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

In Nairobi, two groups of gunmen stormed the upscale Westgate shopping mall on Saturday and killed at least 62 people, then took some shoppers hostage and began a standoff with Kenyan security forces that continued into Monday night. The assailants, who were believed to belong to the Somali terrorist organization Al Shabab, reportedly told Muslims to flee while other shoppers hid in ventilation shafts and behind mannequins. The International Criminal Court excused Kenyan vice president William Ruto from his trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity so he could help resolve the hostage crisis, while Kenyan forces launched a rescue mission on Sunday night, with operations continuing through Monday amid government reports that 11 soldiers had been wounded, that the gunmen were a “multinational collection,” and that all hostages had been freed. “We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew was among the dead. “Let us continue to wage a relentless moral war.”[1][2][3][4] A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 78 worshippers at a church in Peshawar, and the Pakistani government released one of the founders of the Afghan Taliban from prison.[5][6][7] Iran freed more than 90 political prisoners, announced that its sole Jewish parliamentarian would attend the United Nations General Assembly, and said that it was not pursuing a nuclear-weapons program. “We consider war a weakness,” said Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. “He will smile all the way to the bomb,” said Israel’s intelligence minister.[8][9][10][11] A Chinese court sentenced former Communist Party official Bo Xilai to life in prison for corruption and abuse of power. “I could suffer even greater miseries,” said Bo, who is expected to appeal the sentence. “I will wait quietly in the prison.”[12][13] A federal judge ordered the retrial of five former New Orleans police officers convicted of civil-rights violations related to the 2005 deaths of two black men after it was revealed that a prosecutor had commented anonymously about the case on a newspaper website, and a Texas appeals court overturned the conviction of former House majority leader Tom DeLay for illegally funneling money to Republican candidates. “This was an outrageous criminalization,” said DeLay, “of politics.”[14][15]

House Republicans passed a bill cutting $40 billion from the federal food-stamp program, passed another bill that would fund the U.S. government until December only if all spending for the Affordable Care Act were eliminated, and threatened to allow the country to begin defaulting on its debts when its borrowing authority runs out in mid-October. “If we don’t raise the debt ceiling,” said President Barack Obama, “America becomes a deadbeat.”[16][17][18] Citing the ongoing federal budget sequestration, a Brooklyn judge rejected a request to sequester the jury in a murder trial.[19] Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that he would not relinquish his senate seat despite a conviction for tax fraud earlier this year and a police investigation into his alleged solicitation of underage prostitutes. “Berlusconi is on trial for living with women,” said Russian president Vladimir Putin. “If he were homosexual, nobody would dare touch him.”[20][21] Italian lawmakers staged a same-sex kiss-in during a parliamentary session, and Pope Francis said in an interview that the Catholic church’s pastoral ministry needed to soften its preaching about the evils of homosexuality and abortion. “The moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards,” said Francis, “losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”[22][23] Sweden’s National Food Agency confirmed that the anal secretions with which beavers mark their territory can be used as vanilla flavoring in baked goods.[24]

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Former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden claimed that terrorists prefer Gmail and defended the right of the United States to police the Internet. “We built it,” said Hayden. “It was quintessentially American.”[25] Brazilian hackers seeking to attack the NSA embedded the message “Stop spying on us” on several websites belonging to NASA.[26] Facebook apologized for permitting an online-dating site to run an ad featuring the photograph of a girl who committed suicide after she was gang-raped then taunted on Facebook, and Coca-Cola apologized to the family of an autistic girl after her sister discovered the words YOU RETARD printed under a bottle cap.[27][28] A bookless library opened in San Antonio, a former Amazon executive was killed by a van delivering Amazon orders, and Randolph County, North Carolina, banned Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from its schools. “It was a hard read,” said board of education chairman Tommy McDonald.[29][30][31] A Florida man was arrested after he beat his daughter to the rhythm of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”[32] The French senate passed a bill banning child beauty pageants, in an attempt to combat the hypersexualization of minors, and Norwegian social anthropologists credited school-supervised “positive touching” with improving the sociability of young boys.[33][34] Several University of Alabama sororities accepted their first minority students after systematic segregation in the Greek system was revealed by the school’s student newspaper, the Crimson White.[35] Leith, North Dakota, was considering a plan to condemn the home of neo-Nazi Paul Craig Cobb in order to prevent him from building a white-supremacist colony in the town. “Legal paperwork is being drafted,” said a commander of the American National Socialist Movement, “to ensure the civil rights of Mr. Cobb.”[36]


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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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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.

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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.

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