Required Reading

‣ Candice Breitz speaks to Philip Poltermann at the Guardian about her German exhibition being canceled because of her positions on Gaza:

What were the reasons the museum gave for the cancellation?
When I finally got to speak to the museum’s director, she told me that the way I had publicly spoken out about the ongoing bombardment of Gaza was inappropriate. During a meeting of the Saarland Cultural Heritage Foundation, she explained, the rector of the local art academy had insisted that the exhibition could not go ahead given that I had, in his words, “maybe signed a letter in support of BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a Palestinian-led movement promoting economic sanctions against Israel].”

‣ Last week, UCLA students held a die-in on campus and planted small flags bearing the names of Palestinians killed in Gaza, arranged in the larger shape of the Palestinian flag. Anna Dai-Liu and Catherine Hamilton report for the Daily Bruin:

The demonstration, which began at 1 p.m. in front of Perloff Hall, was hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA in conjunction with other student organizations including the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA and Jewish Voice for Peace. During the event, students – many wearing keffiyehs and masks to cover their faces – walked from Perloff Hall to Royce Hall, where they laid down and recited the names of Palestinians killed in the ongoing violence in Gaza, chanting phrases such as “Honor our martyrs” and “UC is complicit” in between names.

Protesters also hung banners in front of Royce Hall that said “Biden funds the genocide of the Palestinian people” and “Murdering 5000+ children is not self defense, #FreePalestine.” Gravestones and small flags with names of those killed were placed on the lawn of Dickson Plaza, with the flags arranged in the pattern of the Palestinian flag.

‣ For ProPublica, Mary Hudetz and Ash Ngu tell the story of the Wabanaki tribal nations who’ve been fighting Harvard and prep school Phillips Academy for the return of their ancestors’ remains:

Instead of sending a letter as Harvard did, the Phillips Academy museum director, Ryan Wheeler, had asked to meet with the tribes. Seated at the table that morning, he was initially uncertain what he would do. He would later say that it became evident during the meeting that the tribes exhibited a strong connection to the ancestors they sought to claim, both from the report they had provided and their reaction to Harvard’s decision.

He recalled leaving the meeting certain he would repatriate. “There was really no question about it,” he later said.

What the Wabanaki committee and Wheeler didn’t know, however, was just how hard Harvard would push back. In the two years that followed, the director of the Harvard museum went to surprising lengths to pressure Wheeler to reverse his decision.

‣ Angelica Jade Bastién reviews the new film about Beyoncé, Renaissance, for Vulture and has some critical words about the decision to remove the cause of death of her Uncle Johnny:

There’s a clip in the documentary of Beyoncé name-checking Uncle Johnny while speaking at the 2016 CFDA Fashion Awards, which is meant to outline that his presence has always mattered to her career. Though Johnny died of AIDS complications, you won’t learn that from Renaissance. The only mention of his final days comes when Beyoncé’s cousin, Angie Beyince, off-handedly refers to his hospice care. At first blush, the refusal to mention AIDS is odd in a documentary, album, and tour so primed on queer Black joy. But this is by design. For there is no star of such magnitude who more cunningly positions themselves as apolitical than Beyoncé. 

‣ In Truthout, Elliot Kukla writes about how Zionism has made Hanukkah about Israel but it has always been more about diaspora:

As the candles burn, it will be time to play dreidel. This is my 4-year-old’s favorite part: spinning the top and eating chocolates encased in golden foil. This year, she will finally be old enough to learn the story that is encoded in the squat Hebrew letters engraved on each side of the dreidel: A Great Miracle Happened There. But what miracle of Hanukkah should I teach her?

You would think there is a straightforward answer to this question. After all, there is a historical record of the Hanukkah story. In 167 BCE in occupied Jerusalem, there was a Jewish uprising against the repression of the Hellenist Seleucid Empire led by a group of rebels known as the Maccabees (literally the “hammers”). Miraculously, the ragtag group of radicals won against one of the largest empires the world has ever seen. This is the miracle that dominates modern retellings of Hanukkah: the marvel of resistance.

‣ The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a misinformation scholar is being pushed out for being critical of social media giant Meta. Stephanie Lee reports:

But in a 120-page declaration released on Monday, she alleges that her bosses — starting with Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School — began turning on her in late 2021, after she acquired and made plans to publish a cache of explosive documents leaked from within Facebook, which has since rebranded itself as Meta.

Those plans, she says, drew the ire of a high-ranking former Meta executive and Harvard donor; angered the dean, a friend of another former top Meta executive; and occurred as Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, was preparing to make a major donation to Harvard, his alma mater.

Donovan says that she was forced to leave behind about $3.1 million that she had raised for her team from foundations and philanthropists. She was also told by Harvard that it owns the intellectual property of everything she wrote while there, including, she says, the copyright to a book she co-authored last year, Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America.

‣ Relatedly, MIT Technology Review reports on how Big Tech is claiming ownership over AI:

Until late November, when the epic saga of OpenAI’s board breakdown unfolded, the casual observer could be forgiven for assuming that the industry around generative AI was a vibrant competitive ecosystem. 

But this is not the case—nor has it ever been. And understanding why is fundamental to understanding what AI is, and what threats it poses. Put simply, in the context of the current paradigm of building larger- and larger-scale AI systems, there is no AI without Big Tech. With vanishingly few exceptions, every startup, new entrant, and even AI research lab is dependent on these firms. All rely on the computing infrastructure of Microsoft, Amazon, and Google to train their systems, and on those same firms’ vast consumer market reach to deploy and sell their AI products. 

‣ In Noema magazine, Cory Doctorow, who should be no stranger to anyone who has been on the interwebz for decades, writes about how we can free ourselves from Big Tech and its poisonous effects:

The tech giants cheat all the time. They are pathologically incapable of not cheating. Whether it’s privacy law, competition law, labor law, environmental law — you name it, they cheat on it. But they also kind of suck at it. They keep getting caught. A disgruntled employee blows the whistle, for example, or the conspirators just get sloppy.

‣ Mayor Eric Adams of New York City is not having a good week. First, his approval rating clocked in at 28% (the lowest ever recorded in the 27-year history of the Quinnipiac poll), and now, a donor allegedly told the City that their boss reimbursed them for the contribution in cash, which would be very much illegal:

A donor to Eric Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign told THE CITY that their boss reimbursed them for a contribution recorded at an event that is at the center of the federal probe into whether the campaign conspired with the Turkish government to accept unlawful foreign donations.

Such a reimbursement would constitute an illegal “straw donation,” enabling the true source of the funding to remain unknown in an effort to evade campaign finance laws that set limits on who can give and how much they can donate. 

‣ Recently, publisher Louise Adler, and director of Adelaide Writers’ Week, spoke about the outrage of some audience members over three actors donning a keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, during the curtain call of the Chekhov play The Seagull. Her defense of artistic freedom is a must-listen. You can watch it on YouTube.

‣ A nice audio interview with poet Laura Mullen who talks about the troubles of academic and death threatsawful. It is on the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off the Shelf podcast. She talks about her latest book of poetry that imagines academia as a milk factory and the death threats she received as a result of a tweet a few months ago.

‣ Leonard Leo may not be a household name, but writing for Politico, Heidi Przybyla explains how he has an outsized influence on the US Supreme Court:

A POLITICO review of tax filings, financial statements and other public documents found that Leo and his network of nonprofit groups are either directly or indirectly connected to a majority of amicus briefs filed on behalf of conservative parties in seven of the highest-profile rulings the court has issued over the past two years.

It is the first comprehensive review of amicus briefs that have streamed into the court since Trump nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, solidifying the court’s conservative majority. POLITICO’s review found multiple instances of language used in the amicus briefs appearing in the court’s opinions.

The Federalist Society, the 70,000-member organization that Leo co-chairs, does not take political positions. But the movement centered around the society often weighs in through many like-minded groups. In 15 percent of the 259 amicus briefs for the conservative side in the seven cases, Leo was either a board member, official or financial backer through his network of the group that filed the brief. Another 55 percent were from groups run by individuals who share board memberships with Leo, worked for entities funded by his network or were among a close-knit circle of legal experts that includes chapter heads who serve under Leo at the Federalist Society.

‣ New Zealand politician Rawiri Waititi performed a haka before swearing an oath to King Charles III in New Zealand’a 54th parliament. Haka is a ceremonial dance in Māori culture, and two years ago, the same politician was ejected from parliament after performing haka in response to what he said were racist arguments. Vice News has posted the video:

‣ Nothing like some near-sightedness to spice up those holiday lights! I’ve never felt more ~seen~:

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