On Thursday, April 11, WikiLeaks founder and director Julian Assange was arrested by British authorities at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange had been escaping extradition to Sweden and the US since 2012 under Ecuadorian protection at the embassy. However, Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum status the day of his arrest, citing his “discourteous and aggressive behavior” and “transgression of international treaties,” claiming that Ecuador’s old government had allowed Assange to “interfere” with other states. Assange has been wanted by the US for his involvement in the high-profile 2010 leak of thousands of classified cables related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—some exposing civilian deaths and accounts of abuse by Iraqi military and police. He is also suspected of collaborating with Russian hackers in the 2016 release of nearly 20,000 emails from Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign staffers. However, he is also being sought by Swedish authorities for sexual assault charges related to two women, Anna Ardin and “Miss W.” Though the statute of limitations on Ardin’s case expired while Assange was being held at the embassy, Swedish authorities are considering reopening the Miss W investigation. If both Sweden and the US seek extradition, it would be up to the UK to decide where to send Assange. Meanwhile, the ACLU and civil liberties groups, as well as the Labour Party and some Russian officials, have come out in support of Assange. – Liz
Black Hole Photo
Last week, scientists created the first image of a black hole, capturing a picture one from the galaxy Messier 87 dubbed Pōwehi after part of an 18th Century Hawaiian chant. Created by the Event Horizon Telescope project (EHT), which involves the collation of data from 8 telescopes around the world, the image is not actually of the black hole itself (it sucks up light, dummy!) but of its ‘event horizon’. This refers to the point near a black hole beyond which light and matter can no longer escape its gravitational pull. The black hole in the centre is actually the shadow of hole cast against the surrounding light of the event horizon. The black hole is 55 million light years away, 100 billion kilometres wide, and 6.5 billion times the mass of our sun. The Guardian have a pretty concise run-down here, and the Verge covered some of the despicable responses from “the gravitational well of darkness that is the internet”, especially in relation to the misogynistic abuse of contributing scientist Katie Bouman. – Mack
Notre Dame burns
Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral has caught fire resulting in severe damage to the building, with the collapse of its tallest spire and its eastern conical roof soon after 7pm today. Whilst the cause of the fire is unknown, it has been suggested that it may be linked to recent renovation work. A statement from a Paris fire official indicates that the main structure has been saved, but it’s suggested that the cathedral’s three medieval stained-glass windows have shattered in the heat. Completed in 1345, the cathedral is one of France’s and indeed Europe’s most iconic works of architecture, and is deeply embedded within the nation’s culture through literature such as Victor Hugo’s 1831 Hunchback of Notre Dame. Firefighters are currently combatting the blaze from both inside and outside the building, and this Twitter thread from US firefighter Gregg Favre addresses some of the structural difficulties of firefighting on such an historic structure. You can find live coverage of the fire here. All said, this is really horrible news. Seeing images of buildings burn is always horrible for many reasons. We can only hope that the cathedral’s walls remain intact. – Mack
(Video of the burning cathedral from the Eastern side)
— cristina casacuberta (@ccasacub) April 15, 2019
(The moment the cathedral’s spire fell)
— Paris Match (@ParisMatch) April 15, 2019
(This video tribute from Virgil Abloh really got me)
Indian elections begin
General elections in one of the world’s largest democracies began this week, which will be held in seven phases between 11th April and 19th May. Narendra Modi, the current serving Prime Minister, is running for re-election as leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress (INC, often referred to as the Congress Party). Broadly, the former is a Hindu nationalist right-wing party, and the latter a secular left-of-centre party. With a first-past-the-post system of 543 MPs in individual, single-representative constituencies, and a total eligible voter base of 900 million people, the elections are an incredible endeavour in political logistics, hence the running time of over a month. The seven phases cover seven different groups of constituencies comprising different states and union territories. In the previous 2014 election, average voter turnout was the highest in the country’s history at 66.4%. Principal campaign topics include unemployment, India’s Goods and Services Tax, and, crucially, national security. Particularly significant is India’s recent conflict with Pakistan, following the 14th February suicide car-bombing which killed 40 Indian security personnel. Here’s a quick run-down from the BBC, and here’s to their topic page where you can follow the election as it occurs. There’s also this podcast episode from The Economist which covers some of the major tensions pretty well. – Mack
Rihanna/Childish Gambino’s new film “Guava Island”
On Thursday long time collaborators Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) and Hiro Murai premiered ‘tropical thriller’ Guava Island at Coachella festival. The fifty-minute film plays out like an extended Childish Gambino music video; filmed on Cuba and also starring Rihanna who is (criminally underused as) Glover’s girlfriend – it’s visually arresting, but reviews have been mixed about the film’s plot. It seems like Guava Island is meant to be about the ravages of capitalism, represented by the oppression of the island’s workers by violent factory owner, Red Cargo. Glover plays Deni, a local worker and singer who just wants everyone to have a day off to go to a music festival. When he doesn’t break into song, Deni is saying things like “America is a concept. Anywhere where in order to get rich you have to make someone else richer is America.” Available to stream (a little ironically, perhaps?) on Amazon now, it’s definitely worth a watch; Glover still continues to be one of the most interesting people working in TV and music today. – Jade
(Here’s a lil clip)
Ilhan Omar/Trump on 9/11
American Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar has come under fire again. Her address to the Council on American-Islamic Relations in California this week referred to the discrimination that many Muslims faced in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Rightly attempting to distance the majority of Muslims from the atrocity she used the phrase “some people did something”, drawing the ire and condemnation of many Americans, including Trump. The president has tweeted multiple attacks, calling out the supposed “anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements Omar has made”. This is the second time in recent history Omar’s comments have drawn criticism. Earlier this year she was roundly condemned for her alleged evocation of “anti-semitic tropes” when she suggested that AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, used money to influence American foreign policy. Omar represents the leftmost fringe of the Democratic party. She is also the most visible Muslim senator. Her supporters criticise those who attack her as cynically using emotive and valid issues to straw-man and marginalise one of the loudest dissident voices in congress. Since Trump’s comments Omar has received an increased number of death threats. – Dan
Governments that are also terrorists
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization. Trump justified the designation by stating that “the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft”. Though the designation is just the most recent in a long series of moves the Trump Administration has made against Iran, this will mark the first time the US has officially applied this designation to another country’s military.
In response, IRGC supporters held a demonstration in Tehran condemning Trump, and Iran’s Supreme National Council quickly branded the U.S. a “state sponsor of terrorism”, and officials have called the action a “dangerous U.S. misadventure in the region”, and accused the U.S. of being the “leader of world terrorism”. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif even called the designation a “misguided election-eve gift to Netanyahu”, and suggested that the action resulted from the lobbying of “Netanyahu Firsters”.
This last statement touches on the theory that the designation, having come the day before Israeli P.M. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu narrowly won his fifth election, was carefully planned to help reelect the U.S.-friendly P.M.. Immediately after Trump’s announcement, Netanyahu tweeted “Thank you, my dear friend, President Donald Trump, for answering another one of my important requests” [translated from Hebrew]. Shortly after Netanyahu won the election the next day, Trump tweeted “Spoke to Bibi @Netanyahu to congratulate him on a great and hard-fought win. The United States is with him and the People of Israel all the way!” Sources from Aljazeera here, here, and here. BBC sources here and here, and coverage from CNN and The Intercept. – Neil
Artwork by Emily Reed. Words by Liz Merrigan, Mack Willett, Jade Spencer, Dan Brooks, and Neil Natarajan.