“She fucks Black dudes? She probably has something.”
Those were words said to me in high school — by a friend.
I spun on my heels and told him how those words were racist, and my friend, who was nice and would give someone the shirt off his back, listed every reason why he couldn’t possibly be racist. He wasn’t a card-carrying Klan member, like the racists I’d seen on TV; his words were racist, I didn’t know whether or not that made him racist. I knew I was angry, though. But he didn’t understand it. I walked away to preserve the remainder of my time and sanity.
I have spent most of my life as an attorney traveling to scores of countries around the world, but only recently did I set about systematically asking people what they thought of my country, the United States.
It was just after the midterm elections in 2018, when a great many voters showed that they desperately wanted to move America in directions different from the ones the Trump administration had charted for them. Opinions were so divergent and so bitterly divided. It struck me that by posing a series of questions to thoughtful people in dozens of countries—people who had some experience of America—one might gain perspectives useful to us here at home.
Over time, 100 individuals from 32 countries volunteered to answer 15 questions. But, over time, cataclysmic events affected perceptions. I had to go back to my respondents after the onset of the COVID pandemic with a new set of questions. I may ask them still more about the impact of George Floyd’s killing and the outrage that followed.
Archaeologists in Turkey may have finally identified the remnants of an ancient metropolis on the Konya Plain in the south of the country. The discovery happened when a local farmer told them about a strange inscribed stone that was half-submerged in a nearby irrigation canal. The stone block recorded information about a 3,000-year-old victory that provides tangible historical evidence for the demise of King Midas, he of the famous “Midas Touch.”
The stone itself was discovered and translated last summer by scholars from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute as part of an international project to survey a large Bronze and Iron Age settlement (3500-100 B.C.) in Türkemn-Karahöyük. Archaeologists knew that the settlement was an unexcavated ancient city, but they didn’t know its historical significance or even who had lived there. The stone, which contained ancient writing, had the potential to change things.
Chicago professor James Osborne described how, having spoken to the farmer, he and colleague Michele Massa, of the British Institute at Ankara, rushed to the canal and waded in waist-deep water looking for the stone. “Right away,” he said, “it was clear that the stone was an ancient artifact.” They instantly recognized the inscription as Luwian (a hieroglyphic language used in the region during the Bronze and Iron Ages) and set about trying to remove the block from the water.
In Russia, where President Vladimir Putin wants to insert references to God and heterosexual marriage into the constitution, certain forms of violence against women have been decriminalized—so long as the violence takes place within a traditional marriage. In Poland, where abortion access is already severely restricted, President Andrzej Duda has promised to sign draft legislation that would compel women to carry to term fetuses with severe congenital deformities, and a third of municipalities have declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”—all in order to “defend Christian values,” as one leader of the ruling party puts it. In Turkey, reports of gender-based violence have risen sharply under the auspices of a president who has derided women’s equality and railed against birth control while claiming to champion traditional families.
In the United States, we should become increasingly familiar with this pernicious form of religious nationalism—because, under the banner of “religious freedom,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears to offer his blessing to these kinds of initiatives. In 2019, Pompeo established the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a commission ostensibly intended to reformulate America’s commitment to advancing human rights abroad. But the secretary of state already seems to know which rights may take preference, and at whose expense. “There are those who would have preferred I didn’t do it and are concerned about the answers that our foundational documents will provide,” Pompeo commented last fall at a gathering of the Concerned Women for America, a conservative women’s group, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. “I know where those rights came from. They came from the Lord.”
To be clear, at that gathering, Pompeo expressed a concern for the rights of a variety of oppressed religious groups, from the Uighurs in China to the Yazidis in the Middle East to persecuted Christians in countries like Iraq. Religious persecution is real and devastating, and it is always good news when national leaders can stand up for the rights of mistreated minorities. But these expressions of support for the genuinely oppressed are far from the only agenda of the commission, which seems to have more to do with securing the freedom of some governments to impose religious orthodoxy on their own populations.
June was a grim month for Donald Trump supporters on Twitter. The social media giant was adding warning labels to some of the president’s tweets, and banned an internet-famous MAGA “meme-smith.”
Fearful that more crackdowns would soon follow, Trump supporters began to flock to Parler, a budding social network that bills itself as the free-speech, conservative-friendly alternative to Twitter.
Prominent Trump supporters joined the platform and urged their fans to follow, and the social media network surged on Apple’s App Store. Trash-talking Trump personality Dan Bongino took an ownership stake in Parler, and promoted it to his followers.
In 2009, 16-year-old comics fan Aviva Maï met a thirtysomething artist, who flirted with her by text and took her out on a date. For a long time after that—a period when Maï thought they were friends—she received occasional texts from him expressing regret that he’d missed his chance of dating her. The texts made her uncomfortable. Slowly, she began to question the series of events. Slowly, she realized that they hadn’t been friends at all.
On June 15, amid nationwide protests around police violence and racism, Maï, now an artist and model, tweeted an oblique reference to that creator. Later that evening, she named him: “Hey. That post about being groomed as a teenager? I’m talking about Cameron Stewart. The comic book artist.”
Stewart, an artist and writer best known for his work on a critically acclaimed relaunch of Batgirl, had been a fixture in the industry for years; in some quarters, his tendency to date younger women was an open secret. After Maï laid the story out, several women in the comics industry—among them writer/artist Kate Leth—directly corroborated it. Within two days, Maï wrote on Twitter, 14 other women reached out to share similar accounts. The pattern described was clear: Stewart, they alleged, had used his status as a professional artist to win their trust, and had used that trust as a cover for sexual overtures.
Take a gander at any of the public social media groups for enthusiasts of Orlando, Florida’s Walt Disney World and you’ll find a common refrain: the theme park, which reopened on Friday amid a COVID-19 catastrophe, has super-short lines for all its top roller coasters right now.
Disney World closed in mid-March, when COVID-19 cases began sweeping the country. Then on Friday, the same day Florida reported its largest single-day increase in the virus and the first day the U.S. reported more than 70,000 cases, Disney World reopened its gates.
The reopening also comes one day after unionized Disney staff lobbied, unsuccessfully for COVID-19 testing. The result, say Disney megafans who visited on reopening day, is a weirdly empty park.
Chances are, you might be planning on taking a road trip this summer. If you do, remember to do it safely. Beyond that, there is only so much music you can listen to, and in my opinion, only so many podcasts as well. I recommend an audiobook. Plenty of them are read by amazing actors who will draw your right into the story and will compel you to through the story. Audiobooks are a great way to make a road trip, or just a long drive, even more fun and entertaining. Plus, if you sign up with Audible, your first audiobook is free! We’ve rounded up some of our favorites to get you started.
A Wilmington, North Carolina police officer who was fired for taking part in a violently racist conversation has filed an appeal, claiming his comments were protected religious speech.
Wilmington Police officer James “Brian” Gilmore was one of three officers fired last month for taking part in recorded racist conversations. One of those conversations, for which Gilmore was not present, involved racist slurs and talk of massacring Black Americans in a second Civil War.
Gilmore claims that, because he only explicitly made reference to white people “worshipping” Black people, his comments were not racist but stemmed from his religious convictions against idolatry.