Weekly Review — April 29, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The U.S. Supreme Court and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling remark on race and opportunity, the FCC prepares to end net neutrality, and white supremacists propagandize children’s Easter eggs

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an amendment to Michigan’s constitution that bans the consideration of race in admission decisions at the state’s public universities. In the controlling opinion for Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared that such policies — whose adoption in some states has been followed by increases in the gap between minority enrollment at major public universities and minority college-age population — do not entail intentional discrimination and are therefore constitutionally permissible when decided by voters. In a dissent longer than the four affirming opinions combined, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that the U.S. Constitution necessitates laws protecting minorities, in light of the country’s history of racial oppression. “We ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter,” she wrote. “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” wrote Kennedy. “It is about who may resolve it.”[1][2][3] Football players at Northwestern University held a secret vote on whether to form the first union in college sports.[4] Five former members of the Jills, the cheerleading squad for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, filed suit against the team, alleging that they were forced to perform as many as 20 hours of unpaid work a week and to do jumping jacks while coaches administered a “jiggle test.”[5][6] The NAACP rescinded a lifetime-achievement award it was planning to give Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, after the leak of an audio recording in which a man believed to be him makes racist remarks. “I support them,” said Sterling of his team’s black players, “and give them food and clothes and cars and houses.”[7][8] In Bunkerville, Nevada, Cliven Bundy, who previously threatened federal agents with armed resistance when they came to remove 500 of his cattle that had been illegally grazing on public land, gave a speech to supporters on American democracy and race relations. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” said Bundy. “I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves?”[9]

Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority after President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party agreed to form a unity government with Hamas.[10][11] In northwestern Libya, a group of Salafist fighters led by a former associate of Osama bin Laden had reportedly taken control of a U.S. counterterrorism training camp.[12] Brunei delayed the implementation of new sharia punishments, such as execution by stoning for adultery and the severing of limbs for theft.[13] An Egyptian court recommended the death penalty for Mohammed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and 682 of the group’s supporters.[14] At a celebration prior to the joint canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, an Italian man was crushed by a 98-foot-tall crucifix.[15] The Supreme Court of Oklahoma lifted a stay on two planned executions after affirming that the inmates had been informed of the otherwise secret identities and dosages of the drugs for their lethal injections.[16] Critics contended that a Federal Communications Commission proposal to allow Internet service providers to charge companies more for faster delivery speeds would violate the principle of net neutrality, under which all content is treated the same regardless of its source. “This is a worst-case scenario,” said Erik Klinker, CEO of the file-sharing company BitTorrent. “Creating a fast lane for those that can afford it is by its very definition discrimination.”[17][18] The Justice Department urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject an appeal by a New York Times reporter who was ordered to testify about confidential sources used in his reportage on CIA efforts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program, and the State Department launched its annual Free the Press campaign.[19][20] A 15-year-old Somali immigrant living in Santa Clara, California, landed safely in Maui after stowing away in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 in hopes of reuniting with his mother.[21][22]

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People magazine named 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o the most beautiful person in the world, and the Father’s Day–Mother’s Day Council named New Jersey governor Chris Christie the U.S. Father of the Year. “Their initial reaction,” said Christie of his children, “was to laugh.”[23][24] A Houston middle-school teacher was charged with a felony after performing a lap dance for a student on his fifteenth birthday.[25] Russia deported four American English-language teachers for “propagandizing American values.”[26] The Sri Lankan government offered a British tourist a free vacation after she was arrested in Colombo for having a tattoo of the Buddha, and authorities in Kansas ruled that a man with a neck tattoo reading MURDER could wear a turtleneck during his trial for first-degree murder.[27][28] A SWAT team featuring helicopters and more than 60 officers surrounded a home in Long Beach, New York, after someone who had just lost an online game of Call of Duty called police in the guise of the winner and said he’d killed his mother.[29] At a courthouse in Salt Lake City, a federal marshal shot and killed the defendant in a gang trial after he lunged at a prosecution witness.[30] Twitter users posted photographs of police brutality in response to the New York Police Department’s invitation to tweet photos of themselves with officers, using the hashtag #myNYPD.[31] Children celebrating Easter in Richmond, Virginia, collected eggs stuffed with white-supremacist propaganda.[32] Oscar Meyer recalled 96,000 pounds of Classic Wieners after a customer called to complain that they contained cheese.[33] Art historians recovered a collection of Andy Warhol digital paintings stored on 30-year-old floppy disks, and three men were charged with selling $33 million worth of forged paintings they claimed were by world-famous artists including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. “Today’s charges,” said the prosecutor, “paint a picture of perpetual lies.”[34][35]


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“The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip,” Ronald Reagan said in 1989. He was speaking to a thousand British notables in London’s historic Guildhall, several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reagan proclaimed that the world was on the precipice of “a new era in human history,” one that would bring “peace and freedom for all.” Communism was crumbling, just as fascism had before it. Liberal democracies would soon encircle the globe, thanks to the innovations of Silicon Valley. “I believe,” he said, “that more than armies, more than diplomacy, more than the best intentions of democratic nations, the communications revolution will be the greatest force for the advancement of human freedom the world has ever seen.”

At the time, most everyone thought Reagan was right. The twentieth century had been dominated by media that delivered the same material to millions of people at the same time—radio and newspapers, movies and television. These were the kinds of one-to-many, top-down mass media that Orwell’s Big Brother had used to stay in power. Now, however, Americans were catching sight of the internet. They believed that it would do what earlier media could not: it would allow people to speak for themselves, directly to one another, around the world. “True personalization is now upon us,” wrote MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 bestseller Being Digital. Corporations, industries, and even whole nations would soon be transformed as centralized authorities were demolished. Hierarchies would dissolve and peer-to-peer collaborations would take their place. “Like a force of nature,” wrote Negroponte, “the digital age cannot be denied or stopped.”

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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Ihave had many names, but as a sniper I went by Azad, which means “free” or “freedom” in Kurdish. I had been fighting for sixteen months in Kurdish territory in northern Syria when in April 2015 I was asked to leave my position on the eastern front, close to the Turkish border, and join an advance on our southwestern one. Eight months earlier, we had been down to our last few hundred yards, and, outnumbered five to one, had made a last stand in Kobanî. In January, after more than four months of fighting street-to-street and room-by-room, we recaptured the town and reversed what was, until then, an unstoppable jihadi tide. In the battles since, we had pushed ­ISIS far enough in every direction that crossing our territory was no longer a short dash through the streets but a five-hour drive across open country. As we set out to the north, I could make out the snowy peaks in southern Turkey where they say Noah once beached his ark. Below them, rolling toward us, were the wide, grassy valleys and pine forests of Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris where our people have lived for twelve thousand years.

The story of my people is filled with bitter ironies. The Kurds are one of the world’s oldest peoples and, as pioneers of agriculture, were once among its most advanced. Though the rest of the world now largely overlooks that it was Kurds who were among the first to create a civilization, the evidence is there. In 1995, German archaeologists began excavating a temple at Göbekli Tepe in northern Kurdistan. They found a structure flanked by stone pillars carved with bulls, foxes, and cranes, which they dated to around 10,000 bce. At the end of the last Ice Age, and seven thousand years before the erection of Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza, my ancestors were living together as shamans, artists, farmers, and engineers.

Fighters of the YJA-STAR, the women’s force in the PKK, Sinjar, Iraq, November 2015 (detail)
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To get oriented here is difficult. The light is flat because the sky is overcast. The sun’s weak rays create only a few anemic shadows by which to judge scale and distance. Far-off objects like mountain peaks have crisp edges because the atmosphere itself is as transparent as first-water diamonds, but the mountains are not nearly as close as they seem. It’s about negative-twelve degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind is relatively calm, moving over the snow distractedly, like an animal scampering.

[caption id="attachment_271890" align="aligncenter" width="690"]True-color satellite image of Earth centered on the South Pole during winter solstice © Planet Observer/Universal Images Group/Getty Images. True-color satellite image of Earth centered on the South Pole during winter solstice © Planet Observer/Universal Images Group/Getty Images.[/caption]

Four of the six people living here are in their tents now, next to their cookstoves, two by two, warming up and preparing their suppers. I’m the fifth of the group, almost motionless at the moment, a hundred yards south of the tent cluster, kneeling on a patch of bluish ice in the midst of a great expanse of white. I’m trying to discern a small object entombed there a few inches below the surface. Against the porcelain whites of this gently sloping landscape, I must appear starkly apparent in my cobalt blue parka and wind pants. I shift slowly right and left, lean slightly forward, then settle back, trying to get the fluxless sunlight to reveal more of the shape and texture of the object.

A multiple-exposure photograph (detail) taken every hour from 1:30 pm on December 8, 1965, to 10:10 am on December 9, 1965, showing the sun in its orbit above the South Pole, Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station © Georg Gerster/Panos Pictures
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In all sincerity, I like Americans a lot; I’ve met many lovely people in the United States, and I empathize with the shame many Americans (and not only “New York intellectuals”) feel at having such an appalling clown for a leader.

However, I have to ask—and I know what I’m requesting isn’t easy for you—that you consider things for a moment from a non-American point of view. I don’t mean “from a French point of view,” which would be asking too much; let’s say, “from the point of view of the rest of the world.”On the numerous occasions when I’ve been questioned about Donald Trump’s election, I’ve replied that I don’t give a shit. France isn’t Wyoming or Arkansas. France is an independent country, more or less, and will become totally independent once again when the European Union is dissolved (the sooner, the better).

Illustration (detail) by Ricardo Martínez
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The prepositions you’re most likely to encounter after the title of a poem are “for” or “to” and sometimes “after”—“for my daughter”; “to Bobby”; “after Pound”; etc. They signify dedication, address, homage, imitation. In the recent poems of Fred Moten, we encounter “with,” a preposition that denotes accompaniment. The little difference makes a big difference, emphasizing collaboration over the economy of the gift, suggesting that the poet and his company are fellow travelers, in the same time zone, alongside each other in the present tense of composition. (Given Moten’s acclaimed critical work on jazz, the “with” is immediately evocative of musical performance, e.g., “Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins.”) Not all “withs” are the same—there is a different intimacy in the poem “fifty little springs,” which is “with aviva,” Moten’s wife’s Hebrew name (which means springtime), than there is in “resistances,” which is “with” a critic and an artist, interlocutors of Moten’s. (The poem “13. southern pear trees” has no preposition after the title, but is excerpted from another responding to the work of Zoe Leonard, and so is still a work of fellowship.) The scale of that “with” can be small (“with aviva, as if we were all alone”) or vast (“with everybody we don’t know”), but either way the poem becomes an instance of alongsidedness instead of belatedness; the poems request, with that subtle prepositional shift, that we think of ourselves as participants in the production of meaning and not mere recipients of someone else’s eloquence.

“Untitled,” 1989, by Zoe Leonard © Zoe Leonard (detail)

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.

Migrant children were teargassed; carbon dioxide levels have reached three to five million year high; missionary killed by remote tribe

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Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“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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