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Over the Line [private]

On the evening on February 22, 2017, people disembarking Delta flight 1583 from San Francisco International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, were met at the plane door by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, who required the passengers to show their identification before being allowed down the jetway. This was strange: It was a domestic flight, and JFK is more than 250 air miles from the nearest international border crossing. Some passengers tweeted about the encounter, and their posts were quickly absorbed into the waves of fear that had been breaking for weeks. In late January, Donald J. Trump had consummated his new presidency by signing several executive orders on immigration and border security, including his embattled so-called “Muslim travel ban”; on February 17, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) produced two memos calling for a massive hiring push, broadening deportation criteria, and laying out plans to empower local law enforcement to help with immigration-related arrests. To many nervous observers, the treatment of Americans on flight 1583 seemed like a harbinger of darker troubles to come. “Welcome to Germany circa 1943,” one especially gloomy Twitter user replied to a passenger’s post. “And it’s just getting started.”

Later, a CBP statement said the agents were helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement look for a man who was facing deportation for incurring a number of criminal charges. (He wasn’t on the flight.) While it wasn’t the immigration ambush some people feared, it was easy enough to speculate about Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CBP feeling emboldened by the white nationalist authoritarianism of the West Wing’s new occupants. But federal immigration agents questioning American citizens making no attempt to enter or leave the country, while unnerving and of dubious legality, is hardly a sui generis phenomenon of Trump’s America. Since the 1950s, Queens—along with most of New York state—has been within what’s now commonly called “the 100-mile-zone,” a massive swath of the United States in which Customs and Border Protection in general and Border Patrol agents in particular are empowered by federal law and Supreme Court precedent to operate far beyond the bounds of typical law enforcement.


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Illustration by Simon Pemberton

500 Lifetimes [private]

On September 10, 2014, just a few hours before dawn in Bhutan’s Chumey Valley, a teenage boy and girl hanged themselves side by side from a tree in the sloping, silvery conifer forest behind their high school. They had been caught in a relationship, which is forbidden by school rules, and were likely to be suspended. Their shared noose was the boy’s kabney, the cream-colored scarf made of raw silk which is part of the traditional attire (along with the robe-like gho) required for Bhutanese males in formal settings. At the end of a work day, it is common to see men on the street folding their kabneys with dignity and tenderness.

A health worker on the police investigative team took a photo of the hanging bodies with his phone. He sent the image to friends via WeChat. Within minutes, the grisly picture went viral. “True love” was a common pronouncement on social media among young Bhutanese, who saw the deaths as the ultimate romantic sacrifice. Older Bhutanese considered it another sign of the idyllically isolated country’s tainted bargain with modern life. Most people, of any age, saw the deaths as karma.


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VQR Online

The Guardy and the Shame

January 6, 2015

Jamaicans are primed to contend with all who speak ill of their country. As someone who grew up and lived in Jamaica until my midtwenties—although I now live in the US—I understand how the culture reacts to criticism.