It’s been a while and so much has happened! Allegations against Ezra Miller continue to mount. Drake released a new album. Beyonce announced a new album. The Wendy Williams Show aired its last episode. Anti-gay Nazis were arrested in Idaho on their way to Pride. Highlights: Juneteenth, an elephant rampage, public bathrooms in NYC, a Supreme Court liberal, Amber Heard, regrettable jokes, the Age of Emergency, sentient AI, Kate Bush, and Internet Explorer.
This year is the first anniversary of Juneteenth’s recognition as a federal holiday. Predictably, the holiday has aggressively been corporatized for profit. Last year, Tea with Queen and J discussed “what federal recognition means for a traditionally Black holiday, who should celebrate and who shouldn’t, and the OG Opal Lee” in their Juneteenth episode—a conversation that’s taken place again this week leading up to the holiday.
2. The Independent: Elephant kills 70-year-old woman and then returns to trample her corpse at funeral in India
In India, an elephant killed a woman, then went to her funeral and trampled her corpse. The woman, Maya Murmu, was gathering water when the elephant appeared and attacked her. At her funeral on the same day, “the same elephant appeared, lifted Ms Murmu’s body from the funeral pyre and trampled it again, as shocked mourners looked on.” The attack was apparently unprovoked—something normally unusual for elephants—and there have been increasing rates of human-elephant conflict in the area.
However, “knowing that elephants are intelligent, sensitive creatures with long memories — and the capacity to hold a bitter grudge — we’re disposed to regard this violence as targeted revenge.” The story is all over social media with people demanding to know the elephant’s side, and unsubstantiated claims have alleged that the “deceased woman was involved in a poaching ring.”
I’m a person who frequently has to use the restroom. Before leaving the house, I always do a quick mental check of my restroom stops for the day, plotting how far away I’ll be from a restroom that I know I can access at any given time. I call this my bathroom radius. Anyone who knows me knows this—some friends will even note that a place will have a restroom before I even ask. Because I always ask.
In New York City finding a public restroom can be a massive undertaking, and it almost ended in catastrophe for Teddy Siegel last July. Siegel did what I’ve often had to do: “found relief for her personal bathroom crisis at a McDonald’s, but only after paying for a bottle of water.” After the incident, with support from her sister, Siegel made a “TikTok account to document New York’s publicly accessible bathrooms.” Additionally, she posts the locations and codes for bathrooms around the city, and “created a Google Map for adding restroom addresses in real time.”
Siegel is not alone in this quest for accessibility. “In a booklet published in 2020, Julie Chou, an architect, Kevin Gurley, an urban planner, and Boyeong Hong, a data analyst, wrote that New York City had about 1,100 publicly accessible restrooms and mapped each one.” And “a small print publications about toilets and bathrooms,” Facility Magazine, “has put out two issues since 2019.” While “some people may frown at the sharing of access codes to restrooms run by private businesses,” Facility editor Erin Sheehy “hopes lists like Facility’s will cause people to think about whether it should be so hard to find a restroom.”
The Supreme Court’s legitimacy is in crisis. Public trust in the court is continuously declining, and “to be a liberal justice on a Supreme Court with a conservative supermajority is a daunting — even soul-crushing — task.”
In an interview with the liberal American Constitution Society, justice Sonya Sotomayor was asked, “Why should the public continue to have confidence in its institutions of government, including the Supreme Court?” Her “answer was perhaps as much Sotomayor convincing herself as rallying her audience, and its timeline was grimly telling.” She admitted that “there are moments where I am deeply, deeply disappointed. And yes, there have been moments where I’ve stopped and said, ‘Is this worth it anymore?’ And every time I do that, I lick my wounds for a while. Sometimes I cry. And then I say, okay — let’s fight.” Sotomayor also connected the 1857 case Dred Scott v. Sanford to Brown v. Board of Education, as she “truly believe[s] in the magical words, the arc of the universe bends toward justice. And I can’t keep going unless I continue to believe that.”
The Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial continues to dominate the internet, even weeks after it ended with a verdict in favor of Depp. In her first interview since the trial, Heard continues to stand by her testimony and continues to receive online harassment. “Much of the popular discourse acts as though there are only two feasible options when it comes to Heard’s (and, really, any woman’s) innocence: either she’s an evil, psychotic manipulator who’s guilty on all counts, or she must have to be a perfectly innocent angel who’s never done anything wrong,” writes Rayne Fisher-Quann. “I don’t think Amber Heard is a feminist hero… she shouldn’t have to be. I think it’s essential to a much larger point (and, in reality, far more controversial) to believe Amber Heard is a victim while also acknowledging her wrongdoings.”
Throughout this essay, Fisher-Quann outlines how the “trial has conjured, in perfect, terrifying detail, a near-comprehensive list of reasons why any woman can be discredited, villainized, and crucified in the court of public opinion: if you ever dared to do anything but lie down and let yourself be hurt.”
I’m not a comedy person and I don’t usually follow its discourse. However, over the past year (partially due to Dave Chappelle) I’ve started following it more. In comedy, “there’s this school of thought that pervades certain comedic circles where jokes are just that and nothing more, so if you’re offended as an audience member, then you are too sensitive or don’t have the mental bandwidth to understand such brilliant joke architecture. Apologies, accountability, and assuaging feelings are for suckers.” However, this isn’t the case for all comedians. “As the discourse rages on about whether or not political correctness is destroying comedy (spoiler alert: it isn’t), these 13 comedians decided that self-interrogation is ultimately a good thing.”
A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about the seriousness and difficulty of imagining. We spoke of the necessity of play and experimentation, but also the kind of imagining needed to have an “earnest engagement with the question of what a better world looks like.” This question is central to playwright Monica Byrne’s 2018 talk at Texas A&M. Byrne posits that we are living in the Age of Emergency, which “takes place amid the failure of capitalism.”
In her book The Actual Star, which was being written at the time of this talk, Byrne asks “what does the year 3012 look like” and builds a “world [that] operates by the twin philosophy of accumulation and dispersion. Put as simply as possible, The Law of Accumulation states that accumulation of any human property ultimately leads to human suffering.” Conversely, “the antidote is the Law of Dispersion. Put as simply as possible, it states that lasting peace can only result from the constant temporal and spatial dispersion of all human properties.”
For now, the world Byrne imagines is fictitious, but “nowhere is it written that capitalism is natural, that poverty is natural, that war is natural, that patriarchy is natural, that monogamy is natural, that individualism is natural, or that the two-parent two-child family is natural. We made all that up. Hedge funds, corporations, institutions, oligarchies, profit, brands, nation states, borders—we made all that up, too. At the most fundamental level, they are fictions. We can make new fictions in their place.”
Recently, Google employees have claimed there is a ghost in the machine. The most vocal claimant of the sentience of Google’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications, or LaMDA, is Blake Lemoine, a priest turned engineer. As part of his job, Lemoine talked with Google’s AI chatbots and found that “LaMDA was a person in his capacity as a priest, not a scientist.” Lemoine brought his claims to Google vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jen Gennai, head of Responsible Innovation, but the claims were dismissed and Lemoine was placed on administrative leave.
LaMDA might sound like a person, but “most academics and AI practitioners … say the words and images generated by artificial intelligence systems such as LaMDA produce responses based on what humans have already posted on Wikipedia, Reddit, message boards and every other corner of the internet. And that doesn’t signify that the model understands meaning.” Even if LaMDA isn’t sentient, “AI systems exist, are pervasive, and pose countless ethical and social justice questions” that need rigorous consideration, as ethicist Giada Pistilli pointed out in a thread on AI.
I have never seen an episode of Stranger Things, nor do I plan to. I do, however, spend a lot of time on Twitter, and Kate Bush’s song “‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),’ the lead single from Hounds of Love, has stormed back onto the charts after its central inclusion in the fourth season of Stranger Things, topping recent daily streaming lists in the U.S. and U.K., and reaching no. 8 on both the formal U.K. Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100 (Bush’s first time ever on the top 10 of the latter chart).” Kate Bush is all over social media right now.
The speed of Bush’s recent renaissance might be particular to her and how well her music mirrors the horror of Stranger Things, but “for some time now, the trend has been solidifying: Old music is growing more valuable than new music.”
I used Internet Explorer for my first online adventures. Now, though, “Internet Explorer is dead. Microsoft is retiring IE today after nearly 27 years. The aging web browser is being sunset in favor of Microsoft Edge, with support being officially withdrawn for IE 11 today.” While this won’t affect most people, as “IE has less than half a percent of overall browser market share,” it is the end of an era.