Weekly Review — October 29, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The NSA’s phone tap on Angela Merkel is exposed, European authorities investigate false reports of Roma kidnappings, and Kim Jong-un receives an honorary degree from HELP U

ALL IN MY EYE.Documents leaked by former National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden revealed that the organization’s Special Collection Service had been targeting the private cell phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel since 2002, and had begun monitoring the conversations of 35 other unnamed world leaders as early as 2006. “Spying on friends,” said Merkel, “is not on.” Merkel placed a direct call to President Barack Obama about the phone tap, Obama reportedly denied knowledge of the surveillance, a German newspaper reported that Obama had been personally briefed about the tap in 2010, the NSA denied the report, and White House officials stated that the NSA targets too many individuals to provide presidential briefings for all of them.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] Confidential memos leaked to the Washington Post revealed that the government of Pakistan, which has long publicly denounced CIA drone strikes on its soil, was explicitly briefed about the attacks and secretly endorsed them. “I think,” said Pakistani military analyst Talat Masood, “people knew it already.”[10] Obama announced a “tech surge” to fix the glitches that have prevented many Americans from signing up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov, and congressional staffer Sean Hayes emailed a request for guidance to antivirus-software pioneer John McAfee, who was deported from Guatemala to the United States late last year for his suspected involvement in a murder in Belize. “Throw it out and start over,” McAfee told reporters, noting that Montreal-based CGI Group had overseen the site’s construction. “The Canadians are not well known for being high technologists.”[11][12][13] Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States demanded an apology after Texas senator Ted Cruz told a Tea Party gathering in Houston that HealthCare.gov had been built by “Nigerian email scammers,” and avocado lovers protested Cruz’s statement that he “passionately” dislikes the fruit.[14][15] An online halal sex shop opened in Turkey. “We use words which are delicate, not pornographic,” said proprietor Haluk Demirel. “For example, instead of ‘horny’ we use ‘desiring.’ ”[16]

Activists reported that at least sixty women had protested a tacit ban on driving in Saudi Arabia by getting behind the wheel of a car, and transgender Pakistanis fought with police in Peshawar during rallies to protest a campaign to “cleanse” the city’s Imamia Colony neighborhood. “It must be said,” said I. A. Rehman, director of the Pakistani Human Rights Commission, “that even the rights of non-gays are not protected.”[17][18] Bulgarian authorities pressed child-trafficking charges against a Roma woman after discovering that she was the biological mother of a blond, blue-eyed girl whom they had initially believed was abducted by, rather than sold to, two other Roma, and Irish authorities returned two blond, blue-eyed children seized from Roma families after DNA tests showed that the children had not been stolen.[19][20][21] South Korean police arrested two Chinese students for selling diet pills made of human flesh, a police officer kidnapped a fellow officer then shot himself in the head in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, and a model arrested in Florida for stabbing her boyfriend after his dog ate her marijuana claimed that the victim had repeatedly walked into her pink pocket knife.[22][23][24] Dogs were being poisoned by the excrement of drug users in Berlin parks.[25] English rangers expressed concern about a steep rise in the burglary of Surrey fungi, a Kentish man and two children were arrested for the theft of more than 150 Faversham pheasants, and a vegetable artist crossed the Solent from Gosport to the Isle of Wight in an 800-pound pumpkin.[26][27][28] Australian researchers calculated that 500 trees growing on top of a gold deposit would have sufficient gold in their bark and leaves to make a ring.[29]

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In Kuala Lumpur, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un was awarded an honorary doctorate in economics by HELP University, and in Venezuela, where toilet-paper shortages were reportedly ongoing, President Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of the Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness.[30][31] A Nevada middle-school student killed an eighth-grade math teacher before fatally shooting himself, and a student at Danvers High School in Massachusetts was arrested after he killed his math teacher in a restroom, dumped her body in a recycling bin, and went to see a matinee of the film Blue Jasmine.[32][33][34][35] A man who walks with a cane returned to a burning building in Columbus, Georgia, to rescue his beer; two workers were killed in an explosion at a Mexican gummy-bear factory; a Swedish robber stole 75 kilograms of licorice from the back of a truck while the driver was napping; and a thief broke into the home of a 92-year-old woman in Manchester, England, then pulled a distress alarm from her neck, shook her by her cardigan, and took her purse. “Even the criminal fraternity will be appalled,” said a detective, “that someone can stoop so low.”[36][37][38][39] A Romanian thief threatened to sue the Dutch museum from which he had stolen Picasso’s Tête d’Arlequin for making the robbery too easy, and 500 clowns gathered in Mexico City to protest “generalized violence” after a gunman dressed in a clown suit, wig, and rubber nose killed a drug lord in Los Cabos. “We laugh,” said jester Alberto Villanueva, “at the very things that hurt us.”[40][41]


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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.

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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.

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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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