Weekly Review — October 8, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The U.S. government shuts down, African migrants capsize in the Mediterranean, and miscellaneous global crushings

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

On Tuesday, American state governments opened online health-care marketplaces for uninsured citizens in accordance with the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Nearly 5 million people visited healthcare.gov in its first 24 hours, causing most of the 36 exchanges being administered by the federal government to crash. On the same day, a U.S. government shutdown went into effect after the Senate rejected a spending bill passed by House Republicans that would have delayed by a year the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that citizens obtain health coverage. An estimated 800,000 federal workers were furloughed, and 1.3 million others were asked to work without compensation. The National Zoo’s giant-panda cam was shut down, the Ku Klux Klan was forced to cancel a rally at Gettysburg, a National Weather Service employee issued a forecast containing the acrostic PLEASEPAYUS, and Curiosity went into protective mode on Mars. “It’s very hard from a distance to figure out who has lost their minds,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.). “Lemmings with suicide vests,” said Congressman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) of his party colleagues.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R., Tx.), who said he would help shut down the government for “as long as it takes” to halt the funding of the Affordable Care Act, berated a newly unpaid National Parks Service ranger who had been forced to deny U.S. military veterans access to the World War II memorial in Washington D.C., and the New York Times traced the Republicans’ defunding strategy to a blueprint drafted by conservative groups shortly after President Barack Obama began his second term. “Obamacare is a train wreck,” read a social-media talking point provided to Republican lawmakers. “#trainwreck,” tweeted Speaker of the House John Boehner, thrice.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

The Pentagon was revealed to have awarded 94 contracts worth $5 billion on the eve of the shutdown, purchasing such goods as cots, Finnish hand grenades, and robot submarines.[17] Military-thriller author Tom Clancy died at 66, and General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led the North Vietnamese resistance against France and the United States, died at 102. “Any forces that wish to impose their will on other nations,” Vo once told reporters, “will certainly face failure.”[18][19] In the Somali town of Barawe, Navy SEALs staged an unsuccessful raid to capture an Al Shabab coordinator, and in Tripoli, Delta Force commandos captured a militant under indictment for participating in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.[20][21] At least 211 people died when a boat containing Eritrean, Ghanaian, and Somali migrants capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa. “The Mediterranean cannot remain a huge cemetery under the open skies,” said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.[22][23] At least 53 people were killed during protests against Egypt’s ruling military junta.[24] International inspectors began destroying Syria’s chemical weapons, and the country’s deputy prime minister told the United Nations that his government’s enemies supported “sexual jihad.”[25][26] The Palestinian Authority’s supreme fatwa council consented to online dating.[27] The Olympic flame died in Russia, and a woman was killed and a man lost his legs after they were run over while having sex on railroad tracks in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. “We wanted,” said the man, “to experience an extreme sensation.”[28][29]

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Canada opened its medical-marijuana market to large-scale producers, and the FBI shut down the online drug marketplace Silk Road, arrested its alleged operator, Dread Pirate Roberts, and seized 26,000 of his bitcoins.[30][31] A Brazilian smuggler was crushed by a half-ton of marijuana, a Swedish man was crushed by a half-ton of bacon, and a Spanish man was crushed by five and a half tons of grapes.[32][33][34] Conor P. Fudge was charged for a burglary at Iowa City’s Cold Stone Creamery.[35] In the United Kingdom, where an appellate court ended Cadbury’s monopoly on the color purple, Lord Sugar was investigated for racism.[36][37] Consumer-genomics company 23andMe received a patent for a calculator that could allow people to select the genetic traits of their future children, Canadian researchers developed a fecal-transplant pill that cures C. difficile infections, and three American researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering that the cargo-transport systems of living cells are similar in organisms as diverse as man and yeast.[38][39][40] Norwegian politicians agreed to legalize Segways and professional boxing, and a Norwegian health charity installed birdhouses stuffed with condoms in Oslo’s Ekeberg Forest. “The hole is plugged,” said a spokesman, “so that no birds can come inside.”[41][42] The Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth, and two tourists and a local man were burned to death by a mob on the isle of Nosy Be in Madagascar. “We’ve got nothing against foreigners; you can come visit,” said a Malagasy man from Hell-Ville.[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.

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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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