Weekly Review — June 6, 2018, 1:13 pm

Weekly Review

A volcano erupts in Guatemala, Trump says he is allowed to pardon himself, and scientists identify the oldest known lizard species

A 12,346-foot volcano erupted in Guatemala, covering houses with ash and molten rock, and killing at least 38 people.[1] North Korea’s state-run news agency reported that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of using chemical weapons on civilians, planned to visit North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has been accused of torturing political opponents.[2][3] US president Donald Trump met with a reality television star to discuss prison reform, pardoned an author and filmmaker who pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign-finance laws in 2014, and said he would consider pardoning a businesswoman and reality television star who was found guilty of obstruction and making false statements and was once described by Trump as his “biggest fan.”[4][5][6] Trump, whose 2016 presidential campaign is currently under investigation for possible collusion with the Russian government, tweeted that he had “the absolute right to pardon” himself but wouldn’t do so, since he had “done nothing wrong.”[7]

A 20-year-old Palestinian paramedic was shot and killed by Israeli forces when she ran to help an injured protester in Gaza, and Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir ran over a protester with a truck, killing him.[8][9][10] Off the coasts of Turkey and Tunisia, at least 46 migrants drowned after their boat sank, and it was reported that almost 700,000 Rohingya in the world’s largest refugee camp, in Bangladesh, were living in the path of an oncoming monsoon.[11][12] The governments of Israel and Myanmar signed an “education agreement” that would allow each country to “mutually verify” how its history is taught by the other, and the United Nations published its first “educational guidelines” on fighting anti-Semitism.[13][14] In Jordan, the prime minister was forced to resign after mass protests against rising inflation and the government’s proposed tax increases, and in Slovenia an anti-immigration, nationalist party emerged with the most votes after the parliamentary elections.[15][16] In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple, and in a bar in Denver an off-duty FBI agent accidentally shot a man in the leg while performing a handstand.[17][18]

In the state of Kerala in south India, the Nipah virus, a brain-damaging pathogen for which there is no vaccine or cure, killed 17 people, and in the United States it was confirmed that five people had died from an E. coli infection spread by romaine lettuce.[19][20] Scientists said that they had identified the oldest known species of lizard, which lived in what is now the Italian Alps at least 240 million years ago.[21] In Idaho, a high school science teacher was charged with animal cruelty for feeding a sick puppy to a snapping turtle as part of a demonstration to his students.[22] The German automaker Volkswagen announced that it would no longer use animals for testing the effects of diesel exhaust.[23] A report revealed that more than 300 whales, 122 of which were pregnant, were killed by Japan off the coast of Antarctica during the country’s annual summer hunt.[24] In the Australian state of New South Wales, surgical masks and sanitary pads were found washing up on beaches, and in southern Thailand, a whale that was rescued from a canal eventually died from swallowing 80 plastic bags. “If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die,” a marine biologist said.[25][26]

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The Gatekeepers·

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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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The Vanishing·

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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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Preservation Acts·

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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.

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

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun

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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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