In its desire to maintain stability and its own interests, the same armed forces that refused to fire on protesters in February now appear willing to look the other way, or worse, as anti-Christian sectarianism turns violent
Riot police stand guard beside a car destroyed in Sunday night's clashes between Coptic Christians and soldiers in Cairo / Reuters
As Egypt's generals wrapped up their defiant presentation deflecting any and all responsibility for the killings of at least 26 people during a largely Coptic Christian demonstration on Sunday night, many Egyptians' initial bewilderment and fear had hardened into anger and foreboding. The Egyptian military's brutal attacks on the protesters represented a broader trend of limited tolerance for public displays of dissent and protest. But the attack was also distinctive for its sectarian overtones and its scale. Sunday night's killings in front of Cairo's radio and television building, commonly known as Maspero, were not simply a military attack on protest, but an episode in which the security forces sought to harness sectarian animus to bolster their crackdown and inoculate their actions. It's puzzling why the military leadership would choose to escalate at this moment. Whatever its intention, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the post-Mubarak body currently leading the country, has endangered the country's social fabric and risked unloosing civil strife.
The SCAF has been increasingly acting to quiet dissent, previously using the military to disperse protest by force, and now seeking political acquiescence through repressive, albeit calibrated, measures. Crackdowns appear to have targeted only those whom the SCAF might consider to be vulnerable and without a significant social support base -- in other words, people whose injury or death wouldn't provoke a wider popular backlash. In the mind of the military, then, repressing a largely Coptic protest would come at little social cost.
The armed forces are broadly reflective of Egyptian society. While the institution is not segregated, Christian advancement within the ranks is often limited by hierarchical discrimination. Although there is some degree of self-selectivity involved, the paucity of Copts within the upper ranks of the military reflects their withdrawal from the public sphere. It's part of a longstanding and deleterious change in how Christians participate in Egyptian society. The few high-ranking Christian officers -- such as Coptic war hero General Fouad Aziz Ghali, who played a key leadership role in the October 1973 war against Israel -- are exceptions to the rule. Egypt's Christians are excluded from leadership positions in key organs of the state -- including the one that now plays an increasingly prominent role in their country's future, the SCAF.
Egyptian society is divided and its communal bonds have deteriorated, a trend that has left broad segments of the Egyptian population desensitized to the plight of the country's Christians. It's unlikely that the Egyptian army acted out of hatred toward Christians -- even now, it's not in their character. But credible video evidence and eyewitness testimony from the Maspero crackdown show security forces standing by while vigilante groups attacked their Christian countrymen for no apparent reason other than malice. It certainly looks like outright collusion and cooperation, although we can't be sure without an independent non-military investigation (something the military is, of course, not permitting). Some troops were captured on video reveling in their assault on the Copts. Institutional self-interest is driving military decision-making, it seems, even at the risk of undermining national unity.
State television and official media, in their incendiary coverage of the events, didn't come off any better than the military. One presenter called for honorable citizens to take to the streets to defend the armed forces against a Christian attack. State television sensationalized the events by neglecting to mention the protester casualties while announcing outlandish figures for military casualties. At this stage, the exact number of troops killed -- if there were any -- has become a state secret. The exact nature of interaction between the SCAF and the Ministry of Information (which runs state media) is opaque, but the latter certainly appears to have become an outlet for the former to cultivate popular support. Whether by directive or force of habit, state media has been repeating nationalistic tropes -- trumpeting SCAF chief Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as a great leader, for example -- in its obsequious coverage of the SCAF.
Under the SCAF's few months of rule, the culture of impunity has continued and flourished when it comes to sectarian crimes. During the Mubarak era, the criminal justice system was often used selectively or manipulatively in response to anti-Christian attacks, exploiting Egypt's sectarian tensions for Mubarak's benefit. It was used as a political tool to deepen Coptic dependence on the state. Since Mubarak fell on February 11 the new leadership has appeared largely indifferent to sectarian incidents. This has triggered widespread concern and outrage among Copts as well as their many sympathizers, and further undermined the concept of what it means to be an Egyptian citizen. While the SCAF has supposedly prioritized law and order and stability, the machinery of the state has not been brought to bear against the perpetrators of sectarian violence, further eroding conceptions of citizenship.
Egypt's most coherent political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, has also responded to the rising sectarian violence with self-interest. After the attack, the group issued a statement that diverted responsibility from the armed forces while partially blaming Copts for the timing of their protest: "All the Egyptian people have grievances and legitimate demands, not only our Christian brothers. Certainly, this is not the right time to claim them." The Muslim Brotherhood, it seems, is too worried about how it will fare in the tenuous political transition to stand up forcefully for their Coptic fellow citizens.
Perhaps the most damning behavior has come after Sunday's violence, with the SCAF refusing to admit error even as the sectarian ripples continue to spread. Instead, it has sought to preserve the perceived legitimacy of the armed forces among much of the Egyptian people, who are still grateful for the military's refusal to fire on protesters during the January and February protests. While the SCAF is genuinely concerned about the country's stability, it has come to understand that stability as primarily a function of its own standing within society. Whether as a means to avoid conflict or further their own agenda -- though they seem to see these two things as synonymous -- the SCAF has appeared willing to indulge and coddle the forces of intolerance, even at the risk of precipitating broad-based communal conflict.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
For decades, some psychologists have claimed that bilinguals have better mental control. Their work is now being called into question.
In one of his sketches, comedian Eddie Izzard talks about how English speakers see bilingualism: “Two languages in one head? No one can live at that speed! Good lord, man. You’re asking the impossible,” he says. This satirical view used to be a serious one. People believed that if children grew up with two languages rattling around their heads, they would become so confused that their “intellectual and spiritual growth would not thereby be doubled, but halved,” wrote one professor in 1890. “The use of a foreign language in the home is one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation,” said another in 1926.
A century on, things are very different. Since the 1960s, several studies have shown that bilingualism leads to many advantages, beyond the obvious social benefits of being able to speak to more people. It also supposedly improves executive function—a catch-all term for advanced mental abilities that allow us to control our thoughts and behavior, such as focusing on a goal, ignoring distractions, switching attention, and planning for the future.
After a pair of poor showings in New Hampshire, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina drop out of the race.
The Republican race is headed to South Carolina with two fewer candidates. The day after finishing sixth and seventh in the New Hampshire primaries, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced on Wednesday that they were suspending their campaigns.
Fiorina was always a long shot—she was practically a political newcomer, having only run one unsuccessful Senate campaign. And while her record at HP was vulnerable to attack, Republican figures saw in her both private-sector experience and a woman who could counter Hillary Clinton’s monopoly on a “historic” woman’s candidacy. While many political professionals sniffed at Fiorina’s candidacy, remembering that 2010 Senate race, she broke out after a commanding performance in the undercard to the first Republican debate. That earned her a promotion to the main stage at the next debate, where she scored another victory. But it was all downhill from there. Dogged by questions of honesty and unable to earn media attention, her campaign faded quickly.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Justice Department is suing the Missouri municipality after an agreement on reform broke down.
The Justice Department filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against Ferguson, Missouri, in federal court Wednesday, accusing the municipality of “a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the Constitution and federal civil rights laws,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced.
“Residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights—the rights guaranteed to all Americans—for decades,” Lynch said. “They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
The lawsuit’s allegations mirror those in the Justice Department’s landmark Ferguson Report, which was released last March on the same day as a separate report clearing Officer Darren Wilson of civil-rights violations for the shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014. Brown’s death, alongside the high-profile shootings of unarmed black men and women in other cities, led to violent protests in Ferguson and ignited a national debate over race and policing in the U.S.
Issued last summer, the rules are the centerpiece of the White House’s climate-change-fighting agenda, and they play a big part in the recent, tepid optimism about global warming. Without the proposal of the plan, the United States couldn’t have secured the Paris Agreement, the first international treaty to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, last December. And without the adoption of the plan, the United States almost certainly won’t be able to comply with that document. If the world were to lose the Paris Agreement—which was not a total solution to the climate crisis, but meant to be a first, provisional step—years could be lost in the diplomatic fight to reduce climate-change’s dangers.
After getting shut down late last year, a website that allows free access to paywalled academic papers has sprung back up in a shadowy corner of the Internet.
There’s a battle raging over whether academic research should be free, and it’s overflowing into the dark web.
Most modern scholarly work remains locked behind paywalls, and unless your computer is on the network of a university with an expensive subscription, you have to pay a fee, often around 30 dollars, to access each paper.
Many scholars say this system makes publishers rich—Elsevier, a company that controls access to more than 2,000 journals, has a market capitalization about equal to that of Delta Airlines—but does not benefit the academics that conducted the research, or the public at large. Others worry that free academic journals would have a hard time upholding the rigorous standards and peer reviews that the most prestigious paid journals are famous for.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
The ancient civilization may have tracked Jupiter using sophisticated methods, but their reasons for stargazing were very different than ours.
We’ve never escaped the influence of the Babylonians. That there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 degrees in a full circle, are all echoes of the Babylonian preference for counting in base 60. An affinity for base 12 (inches in a foot, pence in an old British shilling) is also an offshoot, 12 being a factor of 60.
All this suggests that the Babylonians had a mathematics worth copying, which was why the Greeks did copy it and thereby rooted these number systems in Western tradition. The latest indication of Babylonian mathematical sophistication is the discovery that their astronomers knew that, in effect, the distance traveled by a moving object is equal to the area under the graph of velocity plotted against time. Previously it had been thought that this relationship wasn’t recognized until the fourteenth century in Europe. But since historian Mathieu Ossendrijver of the Humboldt University in Berlin found the calculation described in a series of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing in Babylonia during the fourth to the first centuries B.C.E., where it was used to figure out the distance traveled across the sky by the planet Jupiter.
Why Donald Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric was enough for movement conservatives to forgive his history of liberalism.
Last summer, Donald Trump described Mexican immigrants as “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” In December, he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Many commentators claim that this wild rhetoric helps Trump suck up media oxygen or appear like a straight-talking political outsider. But the most important benefit of the anti-immigrant language is that it inoculates Trump against the charge of being a closet liberal.
Trump has a seemingly fatal vulnerability in the Republican primary: His past support for a host of moderate and liberal positions. In recent years, Trump said he would “press for universal health care,” claimed that he was “pro-choice in every respect,” remarked that “I hate the concept of guns,” stated that Hillary Clinton would “do a good job” in negotiating with Iran, asserted that the GOP was “just too crazy right,” and even said, “In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.”
This morning I went on Democracy Now to discuss my critique of “class-first” policy as a way of ameliorating the effects of racism. In the midst of that discussion I made the point that one can maintain a critique of a candidate—in this case Bernie Sanders—and still feel that that candidate is deserving of your vote. Amy Goodman, being an excellent journalist, did exactly what she should have done—she asked if I were going to vote for Senator Sanders.
I, with some trepidation, answered in the affirmative. I did so because I’ve spent my career trying to get people to answer uncomfortable questions. Indeed, the entire reason I was on the show was to try to push liberals into directly addressing an uncomfortable issue that threatens their coalition. It seemed wrong, somehow, to ask others to step into their uncomfortable space and not do so myself. So I answered.