“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Part 1: An edgy new Kunta Kinte arrives in America.
The British actor Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte. Casey Crafford
What are the most-watched shows on television these days? I checked. For network TV, as of the end of March, Nielsen listed The Big Bang Theory, with 14.2 million viewers, followed by Empire, with 12.5 million. (Empire led among black viewers.) For regular cable, The Walking Dead dominated with 14 million viewers. In the premium realm, in April, the season premiere of HBO’s popular Game of Thronesdrew roughly 8 million viewers.
Compare that with Roots, the eight-part miniseries based on Alex Haley’s fictionalized family history, which first aired on ABC in January 1977. America’s population was just 220 million then—it’s 323 million now—and plenty of families still didn’t own a television. Yet nearly 29 million US households watched Roots that first night. By the finale, more than 36 million households (100 million-plus individuals) were tuned in. It was the most-watched miniseries in history, beating out the previous year’s Gone With the Wind saga, which depicted a romantic version of slavery.
In his upcoming book, Making Roots: A Nation Captivated, Arizona State University historian Matthew Delmont recalls how the original book and series took flack for historical inaccuracies, and how Haley himself was attacked for plagiarizing passages and for playing loose with the facts. But simply depicting the horrors of slavery onscreen was revolutionary. Delmont quotes a Washington Post reviewer: “The scenes on the ship, with the slaves chained together, stacked alongside one another, lying in their vomit and excrement…are something we have never seen before. We have read about slavery. But we have never seen it, never in such painstaking detail and never being experienced with such excruciating pain.”
As you’ve likely heard, Roots is back, re-envisioned for a 2016 audience and airing for four straight nights on History starting last night. (You can watch it here.) And who better to watch it with than Delmont? What follows is the first of our four conversations recapping each installment as it airs. And yes, of course there will be spoilers.
Before Turkey took an authoritarian turn under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, many thought that the former head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) would go down in history as the leader who finally tamed Turkey’s military and resolved the country’s decades-long conflict with the Kurds. Such hopes now seem outrageously misplaced. Erdogan has given the military a blank check to wage war against Kurdish insurgents and has struck a cozy alliance with the generals. For his part, Erdogan must believe he is killing several birds with one stone. The military campaign against the Kurds both weakens the country’s largest minority, which recently dealt a blow to Erdogan’s ambitions for unchecked power, and consolidates his power among the country’s nationalists. Along the way, Erdogan might mend ties with the country’s long-estranged military, which could come in handy as his domestic and international opponents begin to encircle him. But for Erdogan, empowering the military could be risky. There are even those within his close circle, including some of his advisers, who fear that the president is riding a tiger that, after years of harsh treatment under the ruling AKP, is all the wilder and more vengeful.
The military has reason to hold a grudge. For much of Turkish history, it has held significant sway over political affairs, staging four outright coups, forcing several other political leaders to resign, and acting as an unquestioned guardian of secular democracy. Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP has whittled away at the generals’ influence, which has left Turkey’s once omnipotent armed forces weak and divided. To meet EU accession criteria, Ankara implemented measures to bring the military within civilian control. It limited the jurisdiction of military courts in favor of civilian courts, and it started to play an active role in the appointments of top military commanders. A further blow to the military’s standing came in April 2007, after the military posted to its website an ultimatum (later called the “e-coup”) to warn the AKP against backing Abdullah Gul, who previously belonged to an Islamist party and whose wife wears a headscarf, for the presidency. The public and the AKP were outraged, and Gul was elected. The military’s attempt to intervene against a popular party dealt a serious blow to its standing in society, and in an early vote held right after the e-coup, the AKP increased its vote share by 13 percent.
In the week prior to May 27, there were 965 alerts about health threats to the disease tracking website Health Map. | Health Map
MERS, H1N1, swine flu, chikungunya, Zika: Another virus with a peculiar name always seems to be right around the corner, threatening to become a pandemic.
Over the past decade, the World Health Organization has declared four global health emergencies. Two of them were in the past two years: the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the Zika outbreak that’s spread through the Americas.
If that seems like a lot, it is. Researchers who charted the rise of infectious diseases from 1980 to 2010 in the journalThe Royal Societyin 2014 found that outbreaks have indeed become more common in recent decades:
On the day Harambe died, a 4-year-old boy managed to get into his enclosure. Video of the incident shows that Harambe grabbed the child, stood over him at times, and dragged him. The severity of Harambe’s actions and the perceived reasoning behind them depend on whom you ask. And after evaluating the situation, zoo officials decided to kill Harambe instead of tranquilizing him.
It took around 10 minutes from the moment the boy fell into Harambe’s enclosure to the decision to kill Harambe. But the controversy surrounding Harambe’s death has just begun.
What happened to Harambe
The controversy surrounding Harambe’s death is much more complicated than the actions that led to his death. A boy found his way into Cincinnati’s “Gorilla World” enclosure, and when he fell in (a 10- to 12-foot drop), Harambe grabbed him, stood over him, and dragged him. The full video of the incident is up at WLWT, an NBC affiliate in Cincinnati. This video, a condensed version of the encounter, has been making the rounds:
Witnesses at the scene as well as people watching the video have been split on the severity of the situation. Some people believe Harambe was protecting the child in the same way a gorilla would protect its own offspring. However, according to the incident report cited by the New York Times, Harambe was described as “violently dragging and throwing the child.”