The New Yorker

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  • Women Declare Themselves Corporations to Force Supreme Court to Grant Them Rights as People | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/women-declare-themselves-corporations-to-force-supreme-court-to-grant-the

    “The Supreme Court decided in 2010 that corporations are people, so all we want is to be treated like corporations, ” Carol Foyler, who now goes by the corporate name FoylerCo L.L.C., said.

    The decision by millions of women to incorporate sent shock waves through the Court’s conservative majority, who reportedly scoured the Constitution in vain for a means to circumvent the ingenious tactic.

    Even the normally taciturn Clarence Thomas was moved to issue a rare public statement. “It’s a sad day in America when the nation’s highest court is forced to treat women like people,” he wrote.

    #satire #états-unis

  • Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez an Insider Now ? | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/is-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-an-insider-now

    Très bel interview d’Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Partant de son expérience et proposant un comportement pour que les choses changent. Un comportement pus qu’un programme.

    The social-media folks at The New Yorker invited people to propose questions for you via Instagram. Hope is the theme that is the center of almost all of these. If I can distill them, the most basic question is, What would you say to people, particularly young people, who have lost hope?

    I’ve been there. And what I can say is that, when you’re feeling like you’ve lost hope, it’s a very passive experience, which is part of what makes it so depressing.

    And that’s what I had to go through. There was all this hope when Obama was elected, in 2008. And, at the end of the day, a lot of people that had hope in our whole country had those hopes dashed.

    I graduated. My dad died. My family had medical debt, because we live in the jankiest medical system in the developed world. My childhood home was on the precipice of being taken away by big banks. I’d be home, and there’d be bankers in cars parked in front of my house, taking pictures for the inevitable day that they were going to kick us out.

    I was supposed to be the great first generation to go to college, and I graduated into a recession where bartending, legitimately, and waitressing, legitimately, paid more than any college-level entry job that was available to me. I had a complete lack of hope. I saw a Democratic Party that was too distracted by institutionalized power to stand up for working people. And I decided this is bullshit. No one, absolutely no one, cares about people like me, and this is hopeless. And I lost hope.

    How did that manifest itself?

    It manifested in depression. Feeling like you have no agency, and that you are completely subject to the decisions of people who do not care about you, is a profoundly depressing experience. It’s a very invisibilizing experience. And I lived in that for years. This is where sometimes what I do is speak to the psychology of our politics rather than to the polling of our politics. What’s really important for people to understand is that to change that tide and to actually have this well of hope you have to operate on your direct level of human experience.

    When people start engaging individually enough, it starts to amount to something bigger. We have a culture of immediate gratification where if you do something and it doesn’t pay off right away we think it’s pointless.

    But, if more people start to truly cherish and value the engagement and the work in their own back yard, it will precipitate much larger change. And the thing about people’s movements is that the opposite is very top-down. When you have folks with a profound amount of money, power, influence, and they really want to make something happen, they start with media. You look at these right-wing organizations, they create YouTube channels. They create their podcast stars. They have Fox News as their own personal ideological television outlet.

    Legitimate change in favor of public opinion is the opposite. It takes a lot of mass-public-building engagement, unrecognized work until it gets to the point that it is so big that to ignore it threatens the legitimacy of mass-media outlets, institutions of power, etc. It has to get so big that it is unignorable, in order for these positions up top to respond. And so people get very discouraged here.

    There is no movement, there is no effort, there is no unionizing, there is no fight for the vote, there is no resistance to draconian abortion laws, if people think that the future is baked in and nothing is possible and that we’re doomed. Even on climate—or especially on climate. And so the day-to-day of my day job is frustrating. So is everyone else’s. I ate shit when I was a waitress and a bartender, and I eat shit as a member of Congress. It’s called a job, you know?

    So, yes, I deal with the wheeling and dealing and whatever it is, that insider stuff, and I advance amendments that some people would criticize as too little, etc. I also advance big things that people say are unrealistic and naïve. Work is like that. It is always the great fear when it comes to work or pursuing anything. You want to write something, and, in your head, it’s this big, beautiful Nobel Prize-winning concept. And then you are humbled by the words that you actually put on paper.

    And that is the work of movement. That is the work of organizing. That is the work of elections. That is the work of legislation. That is the work of theory, of concepts, you know? And that is what it means to be in the arena.

    #Alexandria_Ocasio_Cortez

  • The Tallest Known Tree in New York Falls in the Forest | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/afterword/the-tallest-known-tree-in-new-york-falls-in-the-forest

    Last July, one of Tree 103’s neighbors snapped and toppled. Tree 103 broke its fall. The weight was much to bear, and then the autumn winds slapped it around. Hikers who went to visit the tree on December 11th found instead a raggedy broken trunk and a fallen warrior. No one had been around to hear it fall, but, given its size and height, it would have released a huge amount of energy, equivalent to several sticks of dynamite, and it knocked over a number of smaller trees when it went down. Justin Waskiewicz, a forestry professor at Paul Smith’s College, which borders the land where Tree 103 stood, says that pine trees rarely live past three hundred and fifty years, so its demise wasn’t a surprise. Given the math, the whole grove of these giant pines will probably be gone sometime in the next fifty years. Do not despair: Tree 103 is no longer thrusting into the sky, but it lives on as forest debris, making fungi and bugs happy. “It’s dead, yes,” Waskiewicz said, “but I prefer to think that it’s just not vertical anymore.”

  • An Astounding List of Artists Helped Persuade the Met to Remove the Sackler Name | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-astounding-list-of-artists-helped-persuade-the-met-to-remove-the-sackl

    For nearly five decades, the Met Gala, among the fashion world’s most significant events, has been held in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a dramatic space featuring a wall of glass, a sleek reflecting pool, and the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur. Prior to this year’s gala, in September, the museum’s C.E.O., Daniel H. Weiss, gave an interview to Time, in which he was asked about the name of the wing. In recent years, controversy has engulfed the Sackler family, as revelations emerged that much of the fortune of two of the Sackler brothers, Mortimer and Raymond, and their company, Purdue Pharma, was derived from the sale of OxyContin, a painkiller that helped to precipitate the opioid crisis. (I first wrote about the Sacklers in a 2017 article for the magazine, and have since published a book about them, “Empire of Pain.”) In May, 2019, the Met had announced that it would refuse any future donations from the Sacklers. But now, Weiss indicated, the museum was considering a further step. Asked if the name of the Sackler Wing might be gone in six months, he replied that an answer could come “a lot sooner.”

    On Thursday, the Met released a short statement saying that “seven named exhibition spaces in the Museum, including the wing that houses the iconic Temple of Dendur, will no longer carry the Sackler name.” It was not the first museum to take such action (the Louvre had already done so), nor was it the first major American institution (Tufts University took the name down in 2018, followed by New York University last year). But the Met is in a class of its own. Not only is it the premier art museum in the United States, it is the museum with which the Sackler family has the longest history. It was also the site of the first dramatic protest by the photographer Nan Goldin and her advocacy group, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN), which has sought to shame museums into ending any association with the Sackler name.

    After all, for institutions that rely on the generosity of donors, this process of un-naming is a deeply vexing issue. As Weiss told the Times, in 2019, “We are not a partisan organization, we are not a political organization, so we don’t have a litmus test for whom we take gifts from based on policies or politics.” A few years ago, someone who worked at the Met joked to me that, if the museum were to start purging donors on the basis of their corporate social responsibility, it might soon find itself with no donors left. Philanthropic gifts that are bestowed in exchange for naming rights should not be confused with charity; these are business deals, and any prospective donors in the future may wonder about the security of their investment, in the event that at some point a company pleads guilty to criminal charges or a family name falls into disrepute. So, for the Met to remove the name in this manner marked a very bold and decisive step—and one that the museum could not have taken without a great deal of legal consultation.

    Behind the scenes, the museum was also under pressure from a constituency that it could not ignore: artists. This fall, Nan Goldin and her allies prepared a letter to the Met’s board of trustees urging the removal of the Sackler name. The Met “is a public institution dedicated to art, learning and knowledge,” they argued. “Honoring the Sackler name on the walls of the Met erodes the Met’s relationship with artists and the public.” Given the fact that Purdue Pharma has twice pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges, and considering the staggering death toll of the opioid crisis, they suggested, “This is a situation of force majeure.”

    Because of Goldin’s prominence in the art world, and the moral vigor of her campaign, she was able to assemble an astounding list of signatories, featuring many of the most significant living artists, among them Ai Weiwei, Laurie Anderson, Maurizio Cattelan, Jim Dine, Jenny Holzer, Arthur Jafa, Anish Kapoor, William Kentridge, Cindy Sherman, Brice Marden, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, and Kara Walker.

    #Patrick_Radden_Keefe #Opioides #Sackler #Musées #Philanthropie #Met

  • Lina Khan’s Battle to Rein in Big Tech | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/12/06/lina-khans-battle-to-rein-in-big-tech

    Open Markets studied industries ranging from banking to agriculture. In case after case, Lynn found, the number of companies in each market had been reduced to a few big entities that had bought up their competitors, giving them a disproportionate amount of power. Consumers had the impression of vast choices among brands, but this was often misleading: many of the biggest furniture stores were owned by one company; a large percentage of the dozens of laundry detergents in most supermarkets were made by two corporations. After consolidation, it became easier for furniture sellers and detergent manufacturers to raise prices, compromise the quality of their products, or treat employees poorly, because consumers and workers had few other places to go. It also became much more difficult for entrepreneurs to break into the marketplace, because competing with these giants was almost impossible. As huge companies became even bigger, much of the American middle class struggled with stagnant wages. In Lynn’s view, the issues were connected.

    Khan began researching book publishing. “There was a sense that this industry was in crisis,” she recalled. Publishers had come under pressure, first from chain stores like Barnes & Noble, and then from Amazon, which sold electronic books by pricing them at a loss, in order to encourage consumers to buy its Kindle e-book readers. Amazon eventually controlled more than seventy per cent of the e-book market, a dominance that gave it the ability to force publishers to accept its terms, undermining the business model they had long used to subsidize the creation of a wide variety of books. When publishers tried to band together to fight Amazon, the Justice Department sued them, fearing that their action would increase the retail price of e-books. The publishers saw Amazon’s power as potentially leading to a decline in the free exchange of ideas and as a crisis for democracy. Increasingly, so did Khan. Her work helped provide the basis for a piece that Lynn published in Harper’s, in February, 2012, called “Killing the Competition.” Today, he wrote, “a single private company has captured the ability to dictate terms to the people who publish our books, and hence to the people who write and read our books.”

    Khan told me that she started to see the world differently. “It’s incredible, once you start studying industry structure and see how much consolidation there has been across industries—in airlines, contact-lens solution, funeral caskets,” she said. “Every nook and cranny of our economy has consolidated. I was discovering this new world.” At one point, she investigated the candy market, identifying nearly forty brands in her local store that were made by Hershey, Mars, or Nestlé. In another project, about the raising of poultry, she found that most farmers had to purchase chicks and feed from the giant poultry processor that bought their full-grown chickens, which, because it had no local competitors, could dictate the price it paid for them.

    On June 15, 2021, Khan was sworn in as the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for consumer protection and for enforcing the branch of law that regulates monopolies. At the age of thirty-two, she is the youngest person ever to head the F.T.C.

    Amazon taught a generation of consumers that they could order anything online, from packs of mints to swimming pools, and expect it to be delivered almost overnight. According to some estimates, the company controls close to fifty per cent of all e-commerce retail sales in the U.S. and occupies roughly two hundred and twenty-eight million square feet of warehouse space. It makes movies and publishes books; delivers groceries; provides home-security systems and the cloud-computing services that many other companies rely on. Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, wants to colonize the moon. During the Presidency of Barack Obama, Amazon’s relentless expansion was largely encouraged by the government. The country was emerging from a devastating recession, and Obama saw entrepreneurs like Bezos as sources of innovation and jobs. In 2013, in a speech given at an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Obama described the company’s role in bolstering the financial security of the middle class and creating stable, well-paying work. He spoke with near-awe of how, during the previous Christmas rush, Amazon had sold more than three hundred items per second. Obama was also close with Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. An analysis by the Intercept found that employees and lobbyists from Alphabet visited the White House more than those from any other company, and White House staff turned to Google technologists to troubleshoot the Affordable Care Act Web site and other projects. Between 2010 and 2016, Amazon, Google, and other tech giants bought up hundreds of competitors, and the government, for the most part, did not object. The analysis also found that nearly two hundred and fifty people moved between government positions and companies controlled by Schmidt, law and lobbying firms that did work for Alphabet, or Alphabet itself. When Obama left office, many of his top aides took jobs at tech companies: Jay Carney, Obama’s former press secretary, joined Amazon; David Plouffe, his campaign manager, and Tony West, a high-ranking official at the Department of Justice, joined Uber; and Lisa Jackson, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, went to Apple.

    As a result, antitrust policy, especially as it pertains to big technology firms, has emerged as one of the starkest differences between the Biden Presidency and the Obama one.

    Biden Administration has indicated that it wants to reshape the role that major technology companies play in the economy and in our lives. On March 5th, Biden named Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor and an anti-monopoly advocate who has argued that Facebook should be broken up, to the newly created position of head of competition policy at the National Economic Council, which advises the President on economic-policy matters. On March 22nd, Biden nominated Khan to her current role. And, in July, he selected Jonathan Kanter to head the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. Kanter left the law firm Paul, Weiss in 2020 because his work representing companies making antitrust claims against Big Tech firms posed a conflict for the firm’s work for Apple, among others. Wu, Khan, Kanter, and a handful of other anti-monopoly advocates have been referred to as members of a “New Brandeis movement,” after the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, whose decisions limited the power of big business.

    Benjamin Woodring, who worked with Khan on the Yale Journal on Regulation, said that she seemed more sophisticated than the typical law student. “She understood the political dimension of regulation and the lawmaking process,” Woodring told me. “It’s so easy for law students, especially relatively green ones coming straight from college, to just treat the study of law as this disembodied language in a vacuum. But, in reality, especially with things like antitrust and civil rights, it is very much a political struggle, a complicated journey that involves all three branches. She was comfortable with the nuts and bolts of how that process worked.”

    Khan started writing a paper arguing that the consumer-welfare standard was outdated, using Amazon as a case study. Amazon had avoided antitrust scrutiny so far, Khan wrote, because of the fixation on consumer prices. There was no question that consumers loved the convenience of being able to order almost anything on Amazon, and of the free and expedited shipping included in an Amazon Prime membership. Khan believed that the low costs to consumers were a short-term benefit that failed to account for the harm the company’s size and practices posed to the economy. She highlighted the company’s willingness to operate with billions of dollars in losses for years at a time, often by pricing products below what it cost to make and deliver them. This strategy has helped Amazon crush its competitors in so many markets that the company now provides critical infrastructure to other businesses, which rely on it to get their own products to market. It also has access to sensitive data about most of its competitors, who must use Amazon’s platform in order to survive. Khan proposed two ways to address the problem: One would be to return to the old idea of antitrust law, which focussed on preserving healthy competition rather than on the prices consumers paid. The second would be to treat Amazon and similar companies like public utilities, and to regulate them aggressively, including by requiring that their competitors be given access to their platforms on more favorable terms.

    Independent businesses tended to be reliant on Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, in order to communicate with their customers and sell their products. Cicilline’s team described the big four as “gatekeepers” that dictated how other firms could operate. They discovered that leaders of companies were afraid of speaking out against any of the dominant tech firms, especially Amazon, and worried that their coöperation with the investigation would become public. The companies understood that Amazon could block them from doing business on its site, a tactic that Amazon had used in 2014, during the e-book-pricing dispute, when it removed books published by Hachette from its Web site.

    Cicilline opened the proceedings from the congressional hearing room. Before the pandemic, he noted, the companies in question were already “titans in our economy.” Since then, they had grown even more powerful, while locally owned businesses faced an economic crisis. “Open markets are predicated on the idea that, if a company harms people, consumers, workers, and business partners will choose another option. That choice is no longer possible,” he said. “Concentrated economic power leads to concentrated political power. This investigation goes to the heart of whether we as a people govern ourselves, or let ourselves be governed by private monopolies.” Khan sat beside him, in a pastel blazer and a mask.

    Most of the names mentioned in the press, however, were longtime corporate lawyers who had cycled in and out of government. Karen Dunn, a partner at Paul, Weiss who had served as White House counsel under Obama, and as a senior adviser and communications director to Senator Hillary Clinton, was rumored to be under consideration for a position in the Justice Department. Dunn had represented Uber and Apple, and advised Bezos during his antitrust subcommittee hearing. Renata Hesse, a Sullivan & Cromwell partner and former Obama Justice Department official who had worked for Google and advised Amazon on its 2017 purchase of Whole Foods Market, was said to be a leading candidate for the Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust position. Susan M. Davies, a corporate lawyer who had worked for Facebook, was rumored to be Attorney General Merrick Garland’s first choice for the antitrust job. Left-leaning news outlets published harshly critical articles about the pro-corporate direction Biden’s Administration seemed to be taking. On January 28th, a piece ran in the American Prospect with the headline “Merrick Garland Wants Former Facebook Lawyer to Top Antitrust Division.”

    Then, in March, Biden announced that he was nominating Khan to a seat on the F.T.C. Khan said that she was surprised when, a few months later, she was named chair. On July 9th, Biden issued an executive order instructing more than a dozen regulatory agencies to take aggressive steps to promote competition in the economy.

    Khan told me that her vision for the F.T.C. takes these challenges into account. “Antitrust needs to be on the table, but we need to have a whole host of other tools on the table as well,” she said. On September 22nd, she issued a memo outlining her priorities. One of them, she told me, was to address the merger boom that’s under way; during the first eight months of 2021, $1.8 trillion in mergers and takeovers was announced. Some of the largest corporations were set to become even bigger: Amazon announced a proposed acquisition of M-G-M studios; UnitedHealth Group proposed to buy Change HealthCare; A.T. & T. wants to merge WarnerMedia, which it owns, with Discovery. “There’s a very real risk that the economy emerging post-COVID could be even more concentrated and consolidated than the one leading up to it,” Khan said.

    The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which has published at least six critical pieces about Khan since she started, described her as “Icarus,” and said that her “power grab at the F.T.C. will end with her wings melting in the courts.”

    #Lina_Khan #Antitrust #FTC

  • What Is It About Peter Thiel ? | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-silicon-valley/what-is-it-about-peter-thiel

    ilicon Valley is not a milieu known for glamour and charisma. Still, Peter Thiel has cultivated a mystique. A billionaire several times over, Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook; he went on to co-found PayPal, the digital-payment service, and Palantir, the data-intelligence company that has worked with the U.S. government. He has co-written a business best-seller, “Zero to One,” and launched a hedge fund; he now runs three venture-capital firms. But Thiel’s aura emanates not so much from these achievements as from a more general fish-out-of-water quality. In 2018, citing a regional intolerance of conservative perspectives, he moved from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles; he recently purchased a mansion in Miami Beach. He served on Donald Trump’s transition team and, in an address before the Republican National Convention, declared, “I am proud to be gay.” He has invested in efforts to “cure” aging, and also in libertarian organizations that hope to create floating cities in international waters. He publishes long, winding essays on politics, globalization, economics, and the nature of humanity that often contain Biblical epigraphs and references to the philosophy of his late mentor and friend, the anthropological theorist René Girard. Thiel also has side projects: Frisson, a now shuttered lounge and restaurant in San Francisco; American Thunder, a short-lived conservative publication geared toward Nascar fans; and the bankrolling of a lawsuit launched on behalf of the wrestler Hulk Hogan, which culminated in the 2016 bankruptcy of Gawker Media.

    Thiel has fans who follow him in his peregrinations. He has become a center of gravity in the culture of Silicon Valley, and his infrequent talks and essays are circulated and analyzed by both admirers and critics. In “The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power,” the Bloomberg journalist Max Chafkin argues that Thiel “has been responsible for creating the ideology that has come to define Silicon Valley: that technological progress should be pursued relentlessly—with little, if any, regard for potential costs or dangers to society.” Thiel’s devotees see him differently—as a techno-libertarian who associates technological advancement with personal freedom, scientific progress, and even salvation.

    Thiel arrived at Stanford in 1985. He played speed chess, discovered Ayn Rand, and gravitated toward the work of Girard, a professor at the school. Thiel was particularly taken with Girard’s concept of mimetic desire. “Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind,” Girard wrote. “We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.” Mimetic desire involves a surrender of agency—it means allowing others to dictate one’s wants—and, the theory goes, can foster envy, rivalry, infighting, and resentment. It also, Girard wrote, leads to acts of violent scapegoating, which serve to preclude further mass conflicts by unifying persecutors against a group or an individual. Thiel would later use this framework to develop his own theories about politics, tech investing, and culture.

    He started a hedge fund, Thiel Capital, with money raised from family and friends, and then, in 1998, met a young cryptographer, Max Levchin, and invested in his startup. Within a year, Thiel was the C.E.O. of Levchin’s company, Confinity, which offered a money-transfer service called PayPal. For Thiel, the service had revolutionary potential: a digital wallet, he said, could lead to “the erosion of the nation-state.” Confinity went on to hire four former Review editors, and half a dozen former staffers.

    PayPal was not registered as a bank, and did not collect information about its users; as a result, Chafkin writes, it could be used for illicit transactions that many banks and credit-card companies did not tend to support (porn, gambling), and which the company later banned. Meanwhile, Levchin created an eBay bot that contacted sellers, expressed interest in their wares, and then asked that they implement PayPal in order to be paid. (The company donated the items that it bid for and won to the Red Cross.) Thanks to these ethically dubious techniques—which might now be referred to as “growth hacking”—PayPal’s user base boomed.

    Dodge the rules, skirt the law, shiv your business partner, abandon your friends: Chafkin argues that the Silicon Valley edition of this playbook was written at PayPal. Perhaps for this reason, the company’s early executives and employees became known as the “PayPal mafia.” A group portrait made in 2007, for a story in Fortune, suggested that they embraced the moniker. In the photograph, twelve former PayPal employees sit in a restaurant. They are styled like the Corleone family, in plush tracksuits and back-room casual. Musk is conspicuously absent; Thiel sits center stage, at a two-top covered in neat towers of poker chips. With his high forehead, deep-set blue eyes, and faint smile, he looks placid and amused.

    Chafkin writes that, following September 11th, Thiel became “increasingly consumed by the threat posed by Islamic terrorism,” and grew skeptical “of immigration, and of all other forms of globalization.” While working at his new hedge fund, Clarium Capital, Thiel bankrolled a project called Palantir—its name was inspired by a “seeing stone” from J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy—which sought to collate and analyze an abundance of government data, from financial records to cell-phone logs. Palantir reportedly used software developed at PayPal to identify criminal networks and mitigate fraud; the idea was that, if the software was good enough to identify money launderers, it could probably identify terrorists, too. (Thiel says that Palantir used no PayPal tools whatsoever.) “It was assumed that this would violate certain pre-9/11 privacy norms, but that would be totally fine in a post-9/11 world,” Chafkin writes. Then as now, it can be hard for outsiders to get a handle on how well the software works: Chafkin claims that, at least at first, Palantir’s intelligence offerings were “effectively useless” and “more a demo than a real product.” (Thiel denies this characterization.) The C.I.A. invested through its venture-capital arm, and the N.Y.P.D. was a customer. Palantir, which went public last year, is now valued at more than fifty billion dollars.

    In 2004, Thiel invested in Facebook, loaning it what would later translate to a ten-per-cent stake in the company. Around the same time, he organized a small symposium at Stanford on “Politics and the Apocalypse.” Thiel’s contribution, later published as an essay titled “The Straussian Moment,” was built on the premise that September 11th had upended “the entire political and military framework of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,” demanding “a reexamination of the foundations of modern politics.” The essay drew from a grab bag of thinkers—it meditated on Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, then combined ideas from the conservative political theorists Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt, who wrote about the inadequacies of liberal democracy, with the work of Girard—to offer a diagnosis of modernity. “A religious war has been brought to a land that no longer cares for religious wars,” Thiel wrote. “Today, mere self-preservation forces all of us to look at the world anew, to think strange new thoughts, and thereby to awaken from that very long and profitable period of intellectual slumber and amnesia that is so misleadingly called the Enlightenment.”

    Whether the future would be utopian or apocalyptic, Thiel positioned himself to profit. In 2005, he established a venture-capital firm, Founders Fund, which announced that it would be seeking “riskier, more out-of-the-box companies that really have the potential to change the world.” He developed an interest in life-extension and anti-aging technologies—one of the firm’s early investments was Halcyon Molecular, a startup that sought to defeat aging through the development of genomic-sequencing technology—and in defense contractors, including SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company. Around this time, Valleywag, a new Silicon Valley gossip blog owned by Gawker Media, began making Thiel a regular subject. A 2006 post, “Three Valley Moguls Dabble in Humanity’s Future,” noted that Thiel—a “Valley exec investing in weird dreams of a super-intelligent race”—had joined the board of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (now the Machine Intelligence Research Institute). In a later post, Valleywag mentioned a rumored million-dollar donation Thiel had made to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group affiliated with NumbersUSA, a far-right anti-immigration nonprofit. A 2007 post, titled “Peter Thiel Is Totally Gay, People,” was particularly upsetting to Thiel: although many of his friends and colleagues had known that he was gay, he saw the post as an outing.

    As the decade drew to a close, Thiel befriended Patri Friedman, a computer programmer and grandson of Milton Friedman, who had written about so-called seasteading communities—hypothetical libertarian utopias floating in international waters. Thiel offered Friedman half a million dollars to start a seasteading nonprofit. He also gave money to the SENS Research Foundation, an anti-aging nonprofit, and to the Methuselah Foundation, an organization dedicated to life extension. In 2009, he wrote an essay for Cato Unbound, an online libertarian journal published by the Cato Institute, in which he stated that he no longer believed “freedom and democracy are compatible,” and that “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries” and the extension of voting rights to women had “rendered the notion of a ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” (Following backlash to the essay, Thiel put out an addendum of sorts: “While I don’t think any class of people should be disenfranchised, I have little hope that voting will make things better.”) All of this only served as more fodder for Gawker.

    Does Thiel’s world view make any sense? Critics see a tangle of unprincipled hypocrisies—intellectual ground cover for banal shamelessness and techy self-interest. Admirers perceive depth, and an enthralling, novel framework for the future. Thiel’s involvement with Trump alienated some followers, but for others it deepened his mystique, raising the possibility that he knew something his contemporaries did not.

    Most prominent Silicon Valley executives have historically identified as liberal, but one might ask whether their companies and products have actually advanced progressive values or causes; today, privately owned platforms touted as democratizing are arguably among the most centralized and anti-democratic. Inasmuch as Thiel’s approach to technology acknowledges Silicon Valley’s roots in the military-industrial complex, he may be the tech industry’s most honest representative. It is often remarked that he is a villain out of central casting.

    #Peter_Thiel #Néo_conservatisme #Extrême_droite #Libertariens #Silicon_Valley

  • The Man Behind Critical Race Theory | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/20/the-man-behind-critical-race-theory

    Bell spent the second half of his career as an academic and, over time, he came to recognize that other decisions in landmark civil-rights cases were of limited practical impact. He drew an unsettling conclusion: racism is so deeply rooted in the makeup of American society that it has been able to reassert itself after each successive wave of reform aimed at eliminating it. Racism, he began to argue, is permanent. His ideas proved foundational to a body of thought that, in the nineteen-eighties, came to be known as critical race theory. After more than a quarter of a century, there is an extensive academic field of literature cataloguing C.R.T.’s insights into the contradictions of antidiscrimination law and the complexities of legal advocacy for social justice.

    For the past several months, however, conservatives have been waging war on a wide-ranging set of claims that they wrongly ascribe to critical race theory, while barely mentioning the body of scholarship behind it or even Bell’s name. As Christopher F. Rufo, an activist who launched the recent crusade, said on Twitter, the goal from the start was to distort the idea into an absurdist touchstone. “We have successfully frozen their brand—‘critical race theory’—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” he wrote. Accordingly, C.R.T. has been defined as Black-supremacist racism, false history, and the terrible apotheosis of wokeness. Patricia Williams, one of the key scholars of the C.R.T. canon, refers to the ongoing mischaracterization as “definitional theft.”

    Republican lawmakers, however, have been swift to take advantage of the controversy. In June, Governor Greg Abbott, of Texas, signed a bill that restricts teaching about race in the state’s public schools. Oklahoma, Tennessee, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Arizona have introduced similar legislation. But in all the outrage and reaction is an unwitting validation of the very arguments that Bell made. Last year, after the murder of George Floyd, Americans started confronting the genealogy of racism in this country in such large numbers that the moment was referred to as a reckoning. Bell, who died in 2011, at the age of eighty, would have been less focussed on the fact that white politicians responded to that reckoning by curtailing discussions of race in public schools than that they did so in conjunction with a larger effort to shore up the political structures that disadvantage African Americans.

    The historians Mary L. Dudziak, Carol Anderson, and Penny Von Eschen, among others, later substantiated Bell’s point, arguing that America’s racial problems were particularly disruptive to diplomatic relations with India and the African states emerging from colonialism, which were subject to pitched competition for their allegiance from the superpowers. The civil-rights movement’s victories, Bell argued, were not a sign of moral maturation in white America but a reflection of its geopolitical pragmatism. For people who’d been inspired by the idea of the movement as a triumph of conscience, these arguments were deeply unsettling.

    Crenshaw contributed what became one of the best-known elements of C.R.T. in 1989, when she published an article in the University of Chicago Legal Forum titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” Her central argument, about “intersectionality”—the way in which people who belong to more than one marginalized community can be overlooked by antidiscrimination law—was a distillation of the kinds of problems that C.R.T. addressed. These were problems that could not have been seen clearly unless there had been a civil-rights movement, but for which liberalism had no ready answer because, in large part, it had never really considered them. Her ideas about intersectionality as a legal blind spot now regularly feature in analyses not only of public policy but of literature, sociology, and history.

    As C.R.T. began to take shape, Bell became more deeply involved in an ongoing push to diversify the Harvard law-school faculty. In 1990, he announced that he would take an unpaid leave to protest the fact that Harvard Law had never granted tenure to a Black woman. Since Bell’s hiring, almost twenty years earlier, a few other Black men had joined the faculty, including Randall Kennedy and Charles Ogletree, in 1984 and 1989. But Bell, cajoled by younger feminist legal scholars, Crenshaw among them, came to recognize the unique burdens that went with being both Black and female.

    That April, Bell spoke at a rally on campus, where he was introduced by the twenty-eight-year-old president of the Harvard Law Review, Barack Obama. In his comments, Obama said that Bell’s “scholarship has opened up new vistas and new horizons and changed the standards of what legal writing is about.” Bell told the crowd, “To be candid, I cannot afford a year or more without my law-school salary. But I cannot continue to urge students to take risks for what they believe if I do not practice my own precepts.”

    In 1991, Bell accepted a visiting professorship at the N.Y.U. law school, extended by John Sexton, the dean and a former student of Bell’s. Harvard did not hire a Black woman and, in the third year of his protest, Bell refused to return, ending his tenure at the university. In 1998, Lani Guinier became the first woman of color to be given tenure at the law school.

    The 2008 election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, which inherently represented a validation of the civil-rights movement, seemed like a refutation of Bell’s arguments. I knew Bell casually by that point—in 2001, I had interviewed him for an article on the L.D.F.’s legacy, and we had kept in touch. In August of 2008, during an e-mail exchange about James Baldwin’s birthday, our discussion turned to Obama’s campaign. He suggested that Baldwin might have found the Senator too reticent and too moderate on matters of race. Bell himself was not much more encouraged. He wrote, “We can recognize this campaign as a significant moment like the civil rights protests, the 1963 March for Jobs and Justice in D.C., the Brown decision, so many more great moments that in retrospect promised much and, in the end, signified nothing except that the hostility and alienation toward black people continues in forms that frustrate thoughtful blacks and place the country ever closer to its premature demise.”

    #Derrick_Bell #Critical_race_theory #Intersectionalité

  • 62 of the Best Documentaries of All Time | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/sixty-two-films-that-shaped-the-art-of-documentary-filmmaking

    Nonfiction filmmaking has been undergoing an aesthetic revolution over the past decade or so, one that parallels the major change in fiction filmmaking, namely, a shift toward personalization. The main expression and key movement in that change is mumblecore, which has exerted a wide-ranging influence through its luminaries, its aesthetic, and its ideas. Mumblecore’s documentary counterpart is creative nonfiction, an idea that’s rooted in the filmmaker’s presence, be it physical or virtual, and in the conspicuous display of process.

    The artistic preoccupations of the new generation of documentary filmmakers don’t break with those of earlier generations; rather, they have their roots in decades-old films, in which the same ideas and practices sometimes turn up in forms—embodying the filmmakers’ relationship to their subjects—that seem daringly original even now. The most artistically advanced documentaries are those in which the participants are engaging conspicuously with the filmmakers; in their most radical forms, they show the influences, inspirations, or perturbations that the people onscreen experience from the filmmakers’ presence. Which is another way of saying that, although documentaries follow real people, their crucial material and subject is nonetheless performance.

  • Facebook Wants Us to Live in the Metaverse | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/infinite-scroll/facebook-wants-us-to-live-in-the-metaverse

    A shift toward the digital space of the metaverse is already beginning to take place, though not yet under Mark Zuckerberg’s domain.Photograph by David Paul Morris / Bloomberg / Getty

    In a Facebook earnings call last week, Mark Zuckerberg outlined the future of his company. The vision he put forth wasn’t based on advertising, which provides the bulk of Facebook’s current profits, or on an increase in the over-all size of the social network, which already has nearly three billion monthly active users. Instead, Zuckerberg said that his goal is for Facebook to help build the “metaverse,” a Silicon Valley buzzword that has become an obsession for anyone trying to predict, and thus profit from, the next decade of technology. “I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social-media company to seeing us as a metaverse company,” Zuckerberg said. It was a remarkable pivot in messaging for the social-media giant, especially given the fact that the exact meaning of the metaverse, and what it portends for digital life, is far from clear. In the earnings call, Zuckerberg offered his own definition. The metaverse is “a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces,” he said. It’s “an embodied Internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at. We believe that this is going to be the successor to the mobile Internet.”

    Like the term “cyberspace,” a coinage of the fiction writer William Gibson, the term “metaverse” has literary origins. In Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash,” from 1992, the protagonist, Hiro, a sometime programmer and pizza-delivery driver in a dystopian Los Angeles, immerses himself in the metaverse, “a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones.” It’s an established part of the book’s fictional world, a familiar aspect of the characters’ lives, which move fluidly between physical and virtual realms. On a black ground, below a black sky, like eternal night in Las Vegas, Stephenson’s metaverse is made up of “the Street,” a sprawling avenue where the buildings and signs represent “different pieces of software that have been engineered by major corporations.” The corporations all pay an entity called the Global Multimedia Protocol Group for their slice of digital real estate. Users also pay for access; those who can only afford cheaper public terminals appear in the metaverse in grainy black-and-white.

    Stephenson’s fictional metaverse may not be that far off from what today’s tech companies are now developing. Imagine, like Hiro, donning goggles (perhaps those produced by Oculus, which Facebook owns), controlling a three-dimensional virtual avatar, and browsing a series of virtual storefronts, the metaverse equivalents of different platforms like Instagram (which Facebook also owns), Netflix, or the video game Minecraft. You might gather with friends in the virtual landscape and all watch a movie in the same virtual theatre. “You’re basically going to be able to do everything that you can on the Internet today as well as some things that don’t make sense on the Internet today, like dancing,” Zuckerberg said. In the future we might walk through Facebook, wear clothes on Facebook, host virtual parties on Facebook, or own property in the digital territory of Facebook. Each activity in what we once thought of as the real world will develop a metaverse equivalent, with attendant opportunities to spend money doing that activity online. “Digital goods and creators are just going to be huge,” Zuckerberg said.

    This shift is already beginning to take place, though not yet under Facebook’s domain. The video game Second Life, which was released in 2003 by Linden Lab, created a virtual world where users could wander, building their own structures; land can be bought there for either U.S. dollars or the in-game currency, Linden Dollars. Roblox, a children’s video game launched in 2006, has lately evolved into an immersive world in which players can design and sell their own creations, from avatar costumes to their own interactive experiences. Rather than a single game, Roblox became a platform for games. Fortnite, released in 2017, evolved from an online multiplayer free-for-all shoot-’em-up into a more diffuse space in which players can collaboratively build structures or attend concerts and other live in-game events. (Ariana Grande just announced an upcoming virtual show there.) Players of Fortnite buy customized avatar “skins” and motions or gestures that the avatars can perform—perhaps that’s where Zuckerberg got his reference to dancing. If any company is primed to profit from the metaverse it’s the maker of Fortnite, Epic Games, which owns a game marketplace and also sells Unreal Engine, the three-dimensional design software that is used in every corner of the gaming industry and in streaming blockbusters such as the “Star Wars” TV series “The Mandalorian.” In April, the company announced a billion-dollar funding round to support its “vision for the metaverse.”

    Video From The New Yorker

    Surfing on Kelly Slater’s Machine-Made Wave

    No single company is meant to own or run the metaverse, however; it requires coöperation to create consistency. Assets that one acquires in the metaverse will hypothetically be portable, moving even between platforms owned by different corporations. This synchronization might be enabled by blockchain technology like cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens, which are defined by their immutable record keeping. If you bought an N.F.T. avatar from the online society Bored Ape Yacht Club, Fortnite could theoretically verify your ownership on the blockchain and then allow you to use the avatar within its game world. The same avatar might show up on Roblox, too. The various realms are supposed to maintain “interoperability,” as Zuckerberg said in the earnings call, linking together to form the wider hypothetical metaverse, the way every Web site exists non-hierarchically on the open protocol of the Internet.

    The metaverse represents a techno-optimist vision for a future in which culture can exist in all forms at once. Intellectual property—a phrase increasingly applied to creative output of any kind—can move seamlessly among movies, video games, and virtual-reality environments. It’s a tantalizing possibility for the corporate producers of culture, who will profit from their I.P. wherever it goes. Disney’s Marvel pantheon of superhero narratives already amounts to a “cinematic universe”; why not unleash it into every possible platform simultaneously? In Fortnite, as the pro-metaverse investor Matthew Ball wrote in an influential essay last year, “You can literally wear a Marvel character’s costume inside Gotham City, while interacting with those wearing legally licensed N.F.L. uniforms.” (How appealing you find this may depend on how addicted you are to logos.) In the future, users’ own creations may attain the same kind of portability and profitability, letting fan concepts compete with Marvel just as self-published blogs once disrupted newspapers.

    Judging from Facebook’s growth strategy over the past decade, though, Zuckerberg won’t be satisfied with making his company one component of a multiplatform metaverse. Just as the company bought, absorbed, and outcompeted smaller social-media platforms until it resembled a monopoly, it may try to control the entire space in which users dwell so that it will be able to charge us rents. Facebook may, indeed, create virtual real estate that online small businesses will have to rent in order to sell their wares, or build an in-game meeting space where an impressive, expensive avatar will be key to networking, like the equivalent of a fancy Zoom background. Our physical lives are already so saturated with Facebook and its other properties that the company must build new structures for the virtual iterations of our lives, and then dominate those as well in order to keep expanding.

    Zuckerberg’s comments brought to my mind an earlier iteration of online life, a game and social space called Neopets. Neopets launched in 1999; I remember playing it in middle school, trading strategies with friends. In the game, the player takes care of small digital creatures, feeding and grooming them as well as buying accessories with “Neopoints” earned from in-game activities. It was a point of pride and a form of self-expression, albeit a nerdy one, to have a highly developed profile in the game. In the metaverse Facebook envisions, however, you are the Neopet, and your in-game activities may affect every sphere of life that Facebook already touches: careers, relationships, politics. In Zuckerberg’s vision, Neopoints become Facebook dollars, only usable on the platform; your self-presentation online becomes a choice limited to options that Facebook provides. A blue-and-gray virtual universe looms. The more immersive it is, the more inescapable it becomes, like an all-encompassing social-media feed, with all the problems thereof.

    #Mateverse #Culture_Numérique

  • Bitcoin’s Troubles Go Far Beyond Elon Musk | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/bitcoins-troubles-go-far-beyond-elon-musk

    All speculative market manias produce signature characters. From the Yale economist Irving Fisher, who, in October, 1929, pronounced that stock prices had reached “what looks like a permanently high plateau,” to Charles Prince, the chief executive of Citigroup, who, in July, 2007, remarked, “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance,” these individuals are forever tied to the bubbles they got caught up in. When the story of bitcoin is written, there will be many crypto boosters to choose from, such as the Winklevoss twins; the hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones; and Cathie Wood, a pioneer of funds devoted to investing in disruptive companies. Right now, though, the individual most clearly associated with bitcoin’s travails is Elon Musk, the C.E.O. of Tesla and SpaceX.

    It makes an entertaining narrative to focus on Musk, but the issues facing the crypto market go well beyond one individual. Briefly stated, the bitcoin boom faces two existential threats: a tightening of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve, and a legal crackdown by the Chinese and other governments intent on protecting their own currencies. The prospect of a Fed shift could cause the price of bitcoin to fall a lot farther. The spectre of concerted government action to restrict the trading and use of bitcoin is potentially even more perilous: it brings into question the long-term viability of the digital currency.

    Since it doesn’t yield any cash flows, bitcoin’s value as an investment asset is essentially arbitrary. Like a work of art, it is worth what people believe it’s worth—a fact that Marion Laboure, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, highlighted in a March, 2021, research report. She called this “the Tinkerbell Effect.”

    To be sure, some bitcoin boosters claim that the currency is the new gold: an asset that, although of limited intrinsic utility, does provide a valuable hedge against a fall in the stock market and other financial assets. Recently, however, bitcoin acted more like a risky meme stock, falling sharply as bond yields rose and investors fretted about a change in Fed policy to head off the threat of inflation. Last week’s rout coincided with the news that some Fed policymakers want to start discussing a plan for tightening the central bank’s money spigot, which has remained fully open even as the economy has rebounded. As bitcoin plunged last week, the price of actual gold rose.

    Given the nature of speculative markets and the widespread interest in the blockchain technology that underpins bitcoin and other digital currencies, it’s unwise to make firm predictions. But, on top of dealing with the possibility of a reversal in U.S. monetary policy, crypto bulls are facing the possibility of other countries following China’s lead and cracking down on bitcoin—the rise of which could present a competitive threat to government-issued currencies—such as the renminbi, the euro, and even the dollar—which are also called fiat currencies. If bitcoin or another peer-to-peer digital currency did achieve widespread acceptance as a means of payment, this would be a profound global economic development. Commercial banks could be circumvented. Financial regulations could be evaded. Governments could lose control over monetary policy and the ability to track money transfers for tax and crime-fighting purposes.

    The United States and other Western countries haven’t yet gone as far as China has, but their governments aren’t standing idle, either. Earlier this year, Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, described bitcoin (correctly) as an “extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions,” and pointed out (equally correctly) that it is used “often for illicit finance.” (A couple of weeks ago, when Colonial Pipeline, the company that runs a main fuel-supply line on the Eastern Seaboard, agreed to pay hackers a ransom of $4.4 million, it paid in bitcoin.)

    #Bitcoin #Spéculation #Monnaie_numérique

    • How Not to Solve the Refugee Crisis

      A case of mistaken identity put the wrong man in jail. Now it highlights the failure of prosecutions to tackle a humanitarian disaster.

      On October 3, 2013, a Sicilian prosecutor named Calogero Ferrara was in his office in the Palace of Justice, in Palermo, when he read a disturbing news story. Before dawn, a fishing trawler carrying more than five hundred East African migrants from Libya had stalled a quarter of a mile from Lampedusa, a tiny island halfway to Sicily. The driver had dipped a cloth in leaking fuel and ignited it, hoping to draw help. But the fire quickly spread, and as passengers rushed away the boat capsized, trapping and killing hundreds of people.

      The Central Mediterranean migration crisis was entering a new phase. Each week, smugglers were cramming hundreds of African migrants into small boats and launching them in the direction of Europe, with little regard for the chances of their making it. Mass drownings had become common. Still, the Lampedusa shipwreck was striking for its scale and its proximity: Italians watched from the cliffs as the coast guard spent a week recovering the corpses.

      As news crews descended on the island, the coffins were laid out in an airplane hangar and topped with roses and Teddy bears. “It shocked me, because, maybe for the first time, they decided to show pictures of the coffins,” Ferrara told me. Italy declared a day of national mourning and started carrying out search-and-rescue operations near Libyan waters.

      Shortly afterward, a group of survivors in Lampedusa attacked a man whom they recognized from the boat, claiming that he had been the driver and that he was affiliated with smugglers in Libya. The incident changed the way that Ferrara thought about the migration crisis. “I went to the chief prosecutor and said, ‘Look, we have three hundred and sixty-eight dead people in territory under our jurisdiction,’ ” Ferrara said. “We spend I don’t know how much energy and resources on a single Mafia hit, where one or two people are killed.” If smuggling networks were structured like the Mafia, Ferrara realized, arresting key bosses could lead to fewer boats and fewer deaths at sea. The issue wasn’t only humanitarian. With each disembarkation, public opinion was hardening against migrants, and the political appetite for accountability for their constant arrivals was growing. Ferrara’s office regarded smugglers in Africa and Europe as a transnational criminal network, and every boat they sent across the Mediterranean as a crime against Italy.

      Ferrara is confident and ambitious, a small man in his forties with brown, curly hair, a short-cropped beard, and a deep, gravelly voice. The walls of his office are hung with tributes to his service and his success. When I met with him, in May, he sat with his feet on his desk, wearing teal-rimmed glasses and smoking a Toscano cigar. Shelves bowed under dozens of binders, each containing thousands of pages of documents—transcripts of wiretaps and witness statements for high-profile criminal cases. In the hall, undercover cops with pistols tucked beneath their T-shirts waited to escort prosecutors wherever they went.

      Sicilian prosecutors are granted tremendous powers, which stem from their reputation as the only thing standing between society and the Cosa Nostra. Beginning in the late nineteen-seventies, the Sicilian Mafia waged a vicious war against the Italian state. Its adherents assassinated journalists, prosecutors, judges, police officers, and politicians, and terrorized their colleagues into submission. As Alexander Stille writes in “Excellent Cadavers,” from 1995, the only way to prove that you weren’t colluding with the Mafia was to be killed by it.

      In 1980, after it was leaked that Gaetano Costa, the chief prosecutor of Palermo, had signed fifty-five arrest warrants, he was gunned down in the street by the Cosa Nostra. Three years later, his colleague Rocco Chinnici was killed by a car bomb. In response, a small group of magistrates formed an anti-Mafia pool; each member agreed to put his name on every prosecutorial order, so that none could be singled out for assassination. By 1986, the anti-Mafia team was ready to bring charges against four hundred and seventy-five mobsters, in what became known as the “maxi-trial,” the world’s largest Mafia proceeding.

      The trial was held inside a massive bunker in Palermo, constructed for the occasion, whose walls could withstand an attack by rocket-propelled grenades. Led by Giovanni Falcone, the prosecutors secured three hundred and forty-four convictions. A few years after the trial, Falcone took a job in Rome. But on May 23, 1992, as he was returning home to Palermo, the Cosa Nostra detonated half a ton of explosives under the highway near the airport, killing Falcone, his wife, and his police escorts. The explosives, left over from ordnance that was dropped during the Second World War, had been collected by divers from the bottom of the Mediterranean; the blast was so large that it registered on earthquake monitors. Fifty-seven days later, mobsters killed one of the remaining members of the anti-Mafia pool, Falcone’s friend and investigative partner Paolo Borsellino.

      Following these murders, the Italian military dispatched seven thousand troops to Sicily. Prosecutors were now allowed to wiretap anyone suspected of having connections to organized crime. They also had the authority to lead investigations, rather than merely argue the findings in court, and to give Mafia witnesses incentives for coöperation. That year, magistrates in Milan discovered a nationwide corruption system; its exposure led to the dissolution of local councils, the destruction of Italy’s major political parties, and the suicides of a number of businessmen and politicians who had been named for taking bribes. More than half the members of the Italian parliament came under investigation. “The people looked to the prosecutors as the only hope for the country,” a Sicilian journalist told me.

      Shortly after the Lampedusa tragedy, Ferrara, with assistance from the Ministry of Interior, helped organize a team of élite prosecutors and investigators. When investigating organized crime, “for which we are famous in Palermo,” Ferrara said, “you can request wiretappings or interception of live communications with a threshold of evidence that is much lower than for common crimes.” In practice, “it means that when you request of the investigative judge an interception for organized crime, ninety-nine per cent of the time you get it.” Because rescue boats routinely deposit migrants at Sicilian ports, most weeks were marked by the arrivals of more than a thousand potential witnesses. Ferrara’s team started collecting information at disembarkations and migrant-reception centers, and before long they had the phone numbers of drivers, hosts, forgers, and money agents.

      The investigation was named Operation Glauco, for Glaucus, a Greek deity with prophetic powers who came to the rescue of sailors in peril. According to Ferrara, Sicily’s proximity to North Africa enabled his investigators to pick up calls in which both speakers were in Africa. Italian telecommunications companies often serve as a data hub for Internet traffic and calls. “We have conversations in Khartoum passing through Palermo,” he said. By monitoring phone calls, investigators gradually reconstructed an Eritrean network that had smuggled tens of thousands of East Africans to Europe on boats that left from Libya.

      By 2015, the Glauco investigations had resulted in dozens of arrests in Italy, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Most of the suspects were low-level figures who may not have been aware that they were committing a crime by, for example, taking money to drive migrants from a migrant camp in Sicily to a connection house—a temporary shelter, run by smugglers—in Milan.

      But the bosses in Africa seemed untouchable. “In Libya, we know who they are and where they are,” Ferrara said. “But the problem is that you can’t get any kind of coöperation” from local forces. The dragnet indicated that an Eritrean, based in Tripoli, was at the center of the network. He was born in 1981, and his name was Medhanie Yehdego Mered.

      On May 23, 2014, Ferrara’s investigative team started wiretapping Mered’s Libyan number. Mered’s network in Tripoli was linked to recruiters and logisticians in virtually every major population center in East Africa. With each boat’s departure, he earned tens of thousands of dollars. In July, Mered told an associate, in a wiretapped call, that he had smuggled between seven and eight thousand people to Europe. In October, he moved to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, for two months. The Italians found his Facebook page and submitted into evidence a photograph of a dour man wearing a blue shirt and a silver chain with a large crucifix. “This is Medhanie,” a migrant who had briefly worked for him told prosecutors in Rome. “He is a king in Libya. He’s very respected. He’s one of the few—perhaps the only one—who can go out with a cross around his neck.”

      In 2015, a hundred and fifty thousand refugees and migrants crossed from Libya to Europe, and almost three thousand drowned. Each Thursday afternoon, Eritreans tune in to Radio Erena, a Tigrinya-language station, for a show hosted by the Swedish-Eritrean journalist and activist Meron Estefanos. Broadcasting from her kitchen, in Stockholm, she is in touch with hundreds of migrants, activists, and smugglers. Often, when Estefanos criticizes a smuggler, he will call in to her program to complain.

      In February, 2015, Estefanos reported that men who worked for Mered were raping female migrants. Mered called in to deny the rape allegations, but he admitted other bad practices and attempted to justify them. “I asked, ‘Why do you send people without life jackets?’ ” Estefanos said. “And he said, ‘I can’t buy life jackets, because if I buy five hundred life jackets I will be suspected of being a smuggler.’ ” He told Estefanos it was true that people went hungry in his connection house, but that it wasn’t his fault. “My people in Sudan—I tell them to send me five hundred refugees, and they send me two thousand,” he said. “I got groceries for five hundred people, and now I have to make it work!”

      Mered was becoming wealthy, but he wasn’t the kingpin that some considered him to be. In the spring of 2013, after arriving in Libya as a refugee, he negotiated passage to Tripoli by helping smugglers with menial tasks. Then, in June, he began working with a Libyan man named Ali, whose family owned an empty building near the sea, which could be used as a connection house. According to Mered’s clients, he instructed associates in other parts of East Africa to tell migrants that they worked for Abdulrazzak, known among Eritreans as one of the most powerful smugglers. Those who were duped into paying Mered’s team were furious when they reached the connection house and learned that Mered and Ali were not connected to Abdulrazzak, and that they had failed to strike a deal with the men who launched the boats. When the pair eventually arranged their first departure, all three vessels were intercepted before they could leave Libyan waters, and the passengers were jailed.

      By the end of the summer, more than three hundred and fifty migrants were languishing in the connection house. Finally, in September, a fleet of taxis shuttled them to the beach in small groups to board boats. Five days later, the Italian coast guard rescued Mered’s passengers and, therefore, his reputation as a smuggler as well.

      In December, Mered brought hundreds of migrants to the beach, including an Eritrean I’ll call Yonas. “He was sick of Tripoli,” Yonas told me. “He was ready to come with us—to take the sea trip.” But the shores were controlled by Libyans; to them, Mered’s ability to organize payments and speak with East African migrants in Tigrinya was an invaluable part of the business. Ali started shouting at Mered and slapping him. “That’s when I understood that he was not that powerful,” Yonas recalled. “Our lives depended on the Libyans, not on Medhanie. To them, he was no better than any of us—he was just another Eritrean refugee.”

      In April, 2015, the Palermo magistrate’s office issued a warrant for Mered’s arrest. The authorities also released the photograph of him wearing a crucifix, in the hope that someone might give him up. Days later, Mered’s face appeared in numerous European publications.

      News of Mered’s indictment spread quickly in Libya. One night, Mered called Estefanos in a panic. “It’s like a fatwa against me,” he said. “They put my life in danger.” He claimed that, in the days after he was named in the press, he had been kidnapped three times; a Libyan general had negotiated his release. Mered asked Estefanos what would happen to him if he tried to come to Europe to be with his wife, Lidya Tesfu, who had crossed the Mediterranean and given birth to their son in Sweden the previous year. It was as if he hadn’t fully grasped the Italian case against him. Not only did Mered think that the Italians had exaggerated his importance but “he saw himself as a kind of activist, helping people who were desperate,” Estefanos told me.

      Shortly before midnight on June 6, 2015, Mered called Estefanos, sounding drunk or high. “He didn’t want me to ask questions,” she told me. “He said, ‘Just listen.’ ” During the next three hours, Mered detailed his efforts to rescue several Eritrean hostages from the Islamic State, which had established a base in Sirte, Libya. Now, Mered said, he was driving out of Libya, toward the Egyptian border, with four of the women in the back of his truck. As Estefanos remembers it, “Mered said, ‘I’m holding a Kalashnikov and a revolver, to defend myself. If something happens at the Egyptian-Libyan border, I’m not going to surrender. I’m going to kill as many as I can, and die myself. Wish me luck!’ ” He never called again.

      From that point forward, Estefanos occasionally heard from Mered’s associates, some of whom wanted to betray him and take over the business. Mered was photographed at a wedding in Sudan and spotted at a bar in Ethiopia. He posted photos to Facebook from a mall in Dubai. Italian investigators lost track of him. But on January 21, 2016, Ferrara received a detailed note from Roy Godding, an official from Britain’s National Crime Agency, which leads the country’s efforts against organized crime and human trafficking. Godding wrote that the agency was “in possession of credible and sustained evidence” that Mered had a residence in Khartoum, and that he “spends a significant amount of his time in that city.” The N.C.A. believed that Mered would leave soon—possibly by the end of April—and so, Godding wrote, “we have to act quickly.”

      Still, Godding had concerns. In Sudan, people-smuggling can carry a penalty of death, which was abolished in the United Kingdom more than fifty years ago. If the Italian and British governments requested Mered’s capture, Godding said, he should be extradited to Italy, spending “as little time as possible” in Sudanese custody. Although Godding’s sources believed that Mered had “corrupt relationships” with Sudanese authorities, he figured that the N.C.A. and the Palermo magistrate could work through “trusted partners” within the regime. (Sudan’s President has been charged in absentia by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, but the European Union pays his government tens of millions of euros each year to contain migration.)

      Ferrara’s team began drawing up an extradition request. The Palermo magistrate had already started wiretapping Mered’s Sudanese number, and also that of his wife, Tesfu, and his brother Merhawi, who had immigrated to the Netherlands two years earlier. The taps on Mered’s number yielded no results. But, on March 19th, Merhawi mentioned in a call that a man named Filmon had told him that Mered was in Dubai and would probably return to Khartoum soon.

      In mid-May, the N.C.A. informed Ferrara’s team of a new Sudanese telephone number that they suspected was being used by Mered. The Palermo magistrate started wiretapping it immediately. On May 24th, as the Sudanese authorities welcomed European delegates to an international summit on halting migration and human trafficking, the police tracked the location of the phone and made an arrest.

      Two weeks later, the suspect was extradited to Italy on a military jet. The next morning, at a press conference in Palermo, the prosecutors announced that they had captured Medhanie Yehdego Mered.

      Coverage of the arrest ranged from implausible to absurd. The BBC erroneously reported that Mered had presided over a “multibillion-dollar empire.” A British tabloid claimed that he had given millions of dollars to the Islamic State. The N.C.A., which had spent years hunting for Mered, issued a press release incorrectly stating that he was “responsible for the Lampedusa tragedy.” Meanwhile, the Palermo prosecutor’s office reportedly said that Mered had styled himself in the manner of Muammar Qaddafi, and that he was known among smugglers as the General—even though the only reference to that nickname came from a single wiretapped call from 2014 that, according to the official transcript, was conducted “in an ironic tone.” Ferrara boasted that Mered had been “one of the four most important human smugglers in Africa.”

      On June 10th, the suspect was interrogated by three prosecutors from the Palermo magistrate. The chief prosecutor, Francesco Lo Voi, asked if he understood the accusations against him.

      “Why did you tell me that I’m Medhanie Yehdego?” the man replied.

      “Did you understand the accusations against you?” Lo Voi repeated.

      “Yes,” he said. “But why did you tell me that I’m Medhanie Yehdego?”

      “Yeah, apart from the name . . .”

      Lo Voi can’t have been surprised by the suspect’s question. Two days earlier, when the Italians released a video of the man in custody—handcuffed and looking scared, as he descended from the military jet—Estefanos received phone calls from Eritreans on at least four continents. Most were perplexed. “This guy doesn’t even look like him,” an Eritrean refugee who was smuggled from Libya by Mered said. He figured that the Italians had caught Mered but used someone else’s picture from stock footage. For one caller in Khartoum, a woman named Seghen, however, the video solved a mystery: she had been looking for her brother for more than two weeks, and was stunned to see him on television. She said that her brother was more than six years younger than Mered; their only common traits were that they were Eritreans named Medhanie.

      Estefanos told me, “I didn’t know how to contact the Italians, so I contacted Patrick Kingsley,” the Guardian’s migration correspondent, whose editor arranged for him to work with Lorenzo Tondo, a Sicilian journalist in Palermo. That evening, just before sunset, Ferrara received a series of messages from Tondo, on WhatsApp. “Gery, call me—there’s some absurd news going around,” Tondo, who knew Ferrara from previous cases, wrote. “The Guardian just contacted me. They’re saying that, according to some Eritrean sources, the man in custody is not Mered.”

      Ferrara was not deterred, but he was irritated that the Sudanese hadn’t passed along any identification papers or fingerprints. That night, Tondo and Kingsley wrote in the Guardian that Italian and British investigators were “looking into whether the Sudanese had sent them the wrong man.” Soon afterward, one of Ferrara’s superiors informed Tondo that the prosecution office would no longer discuss the arrest. “I’ve decided on a press blackout,” he said.

      In recent years, smuggling trials in Italy have often been shaped more by politics than by the pursuit of truth or justice. As long as Libya is in chaos, there is no way to prevent crowded dinghies from reaching international waters, where most people who aren’t rescued will drown. At disembarkations, police officers sometimes use the threat of arrest to coerce refugees into identifying whichever migrant had been tasked with driving the boat, then charge him as a smuggler. The accused is typically represented by a public defender who doesn’t speak his language or have the time, the resources, or the understanding of the smuggling business to build a credible defense. Those who were driving boats in which people drowned are often charged with manslaughter. Hundreds of migrants have been convicted in this way, giving a veneer of success to an ineffective strategy for slowing migration.

      When the man being held as Mered was assigned state representation, Tondo intervened. “I knew that this guy was not going to be properly defended,” he told me. “And, if there was a chance that he was innocent, it was my duty—not as a journalist but as a human—to help him. So I put the state office in touch with my friend Michele Calantropo,” a defense lawyer who had previously worked on migration issues. For Tondo, the arrangement was also strategic. “The side effect was that now I had an important source of information inside the case,” he said.

      On June 10th, in the interrogation room, the suspect was ordered to provide his personal details. He picked up a pencil and started slowly writing in Tigrinya. For almost two minutes, the only sound was birdsong from an open window. An interpreter read his testimony for the record: “My name is Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, born in Asmara on May 12, 1987.”

      That afternoon, Berhe, Calantropo, and three prosecutors met with a judge. “If you give false testimony regarding your identity, it is a crime in Italy,” the judge warned.

      Berhe testified that he had lived in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. Like many other refugees, he had fled the country during his mandatory military service.

      “So, what kind of work have you done in your life?” the judge asked.

      “I was a carpenter. And I sold milk.”

      “You what?”

      “I sold milk.”

      “Are you married?”

      “No,” Berhe said.

      “Who did you live with in Asmara?”

      “My mom.”

      “O.K., Mr. Medhanie,” the judge said. “I’m now going to read you the, um, the crimes—the things you’re accused of doing.”

      “O.K.”

      The judge spent the next several minutes detailing a complex criminal enterprise that spanned eleven countries and three continents, and involved numerous accomplices, thousands of migrants, and millions of euros in illicit profits. She listed several boatloads of people who had passed through Mered’s connection house and arrived in Italy in 2014. Berhe sat in silence as the interpreter whispered rapidly into his ear. After the judge finished listing the crimes, she asked Berhe, “So, what do you have to say about this?”

      “I didn’t do it,” he replied. “In 2014, I was in Asmara, so those dates don’t even make sense.”

      “And where did you go after you left Asmara?”

      “I went to Ethiopia, where I stayed for three months. And then I went to Sudan.” There, Berhe had failed to find a job, so he lived with several other refugees. Berhe and his sister were supported by sporadic donations of three hundred dollars from a brother who lives in the United States. Berhe had spent the past two and a half weeks in isolation, but his testimony matched the accounts of friends and relatives who had spoken to Estefanos and other members of the press.

      “Listen, I have to ask you something,” the judge said. “Do you even know Medhanie Yehdego Mered?”

      “No,” Berhe replied.

      “I don’t have any more questions,” the judge said. “Anyone else?”

      “Your honor, whatever the facts he just put forward, in reality he is the right defendant,” Claudio Camilleri, one of the prosecutors, said. “He was delivered to us as Mered,” he insisted, pointing to the extradition forms. “You can read it very clearly: ‘Mered.’ ”

      Along with Berhe, the Sudanese government had handed over a cell phone, a small calendar, and some scraps of paper, which it said were the only objects in Berhe’s possession at the time of the arrest. But when the judge asked Berhe if he owned a passport he said yes. “It’s in Sudan,” he said. “They took it. It was in my pocket, but they took it.”

      “Excuse me—at the moment of the arrest, you had your identity documents with you?” she asked.

      “Yes, I had them. But they took my I.D.”

      Berhe told his lawyer that the Sudanese police had beaten him and asked for money. As a jobless refugee, he had nothing to give, so they notified Interpol that they had captured Mered.

      The prosecutors also focussed on his mobile phone, which had been tapped shortly before he was arrested. “The contents of these conversations touched on illicit activities of the sort relevant to this dispute,” Camilleri said. At the time, Berhe’s cousin had been migrating through Libya, en route to Europe, and he had called Berhe to help arrange a payment to the connection man. “So, you know people who are part of the organizations that send migrants,” the judge noted. “Why were they calling you, if you are a milkman?”

      The interrogation continued in this manner, with the authorities regarding as suspicious everything that they didn’t understand about the lives of refugees who travel the perilous routes that they were trying to disrupt. At one point, Berhe found himself explaining the fundamentals of the hawala system—an untraceable money-transfer network built on trust between distant brokers—to a prosecutor who had spent years investigating smugglers whose business depends on it. When Berhe mentioned that one of his friends in Khartoum worked at a bar, the judge heard barche, the Italian word for boats. “He sells boats?” she asked. “No, no,” Berhe said. “He sells fruit juice.”

      The prosecutors also asked Berhe about the names of various suspects in the Glauco investigations. But in most cases they knew only smugglers’ nicknames or first names, many of which are common in Eritrea. Berhe, recognizing some of the names as those of his friends and relatives, began to implicate himself.

      “Mera Merhawi?” a prosecutor asked. Mered’s brother is named Merhawi.

      “Well, Mera is just short for Merhawi,” Berhe explained.

      “O.K., you had a conversation with . . .”

      “Yes! Merhawi is in Libya. He left with my cousin Gherry.”

      Believing that coöperation was the surest path to exoneration, Berhe provided the password for his e-mail and Facebook accounts; it was “Filmon,” the name of one of his friends in Khartoum. The prosecutors seized on this, remembering that Filmon was the name of the person identified in a wiretap of Mered’s brother Merhawi. The prosecution failed to note that Berhe has twelve Filmons among his Facebook friends; Mered has five Filmons among his.

      After the interrogation, the Palermo magistrate ordered a forensic analysis of Berhe’s phone and social-media accounts, to comb the data for inconsistencies. When officers ran everything through the Glauco database, they discovered that one of the scraps of paper submitted by the Sudanese authorities included the phone number of a man named Solomon, who in 2014 had spoken with Mered about hawala payments at least seventy-eight times. They also found that, although Berhe had said that he didn’t know Mered’s wife, Lidya Tesfu, he had once corresponded with her on Facebook. Tesfu told me that she and Berhe had never met. But he had thought that she looked attractive in pictures, and in 2015 he started flirting with her online. She told him that she was married, but he persisted, and so she shut him down, saying, “I don’t need anyone but my husband.” When the prosecutors filed this exchange into evidence, they omitted everything except Tesfu’s final message, creating the opposite impression—that she was married to Berhe and was pining for him.

      Like so many others in Khartoum, Berhe had hoped to make it to Europe. His Internet history included a YouTube video of migrants in the Sahara and a search about the conditions in the Mediterranean. The prosecutors treated this as further evidence that he was a smuggler. Worse, in a text message to his sister, he mentioned a man named Ermias; a smuggler of that name had launched the boat that sunk off the coast of Lampedusa.

      By the end of the interrogation, it hardly mattered whether the man in custody was Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe or Medhanie Yehdego Mered. Berhe was returned to his cell. “The important thing is the evidence, not the identity,” Ferrara told me. “It only matters that you can demonstrate that that evidence led to that person.” The N.C.A. removed from its Web site the announcement of Mered’s arrest. This was the first extradition following a fragile new anti-smuggling partnership between European and East African governments, known as the Khartoum Process. There have been no extraditions since.

      Within the Eritrean community, Estefanos told me, “everyone was, like, ‘What a lucky guy—we went through the Sahara and the Mediterranean, and this guy came by private airplane!’ Everybody thought he would be released in days.” Instead, the judge allowed Berhe’s case to proceed to trial. It was as if the only people who were unwilling to accept his innocence were those in control of his fate. Toward the end of the preliminary hearing, one of the prosecutors had asked Berhe if he had ever been to Libya. In the audio recording, he says “No.” But in the official transcript someone wrote “Yes.”

      Tondo and Kingsley wrote in the Guardian that the trial “risks becoming a major embarrassment for both Italian and British police.” Tondo told me that, the night after the article’s publication, “I got a lot of calls from friends and family members. They were really worried about the consequences of the story.” Tondo’s livelihood relied largely on his relationship with officials at the magistrate’s office, many of whom frequently gave him confidential documents. “That’s something that began during the Mafia wars, when you could not really trust the lawyers who were defending mobsters,” he said. Tondo was thirty-four, with a wife and a two-year-old son; working as a freelancer for Italian and international publications, he rarely earned more than six hundred euros a month. “I survived through journalism awards,” he said. “So what the fuck am I going to do”—drop the story or follow where it led? “Every journalist in Sicily has asked that sort of question. You’re at the point of jeopardizing your career for finding the truth.”

      In Italy, investigative journalists are often wiretapped, followed, and intimidated by the authorities. “The investigative tools that prosecutors use to put pressure on journalists are the same ones that they use to track criminals,” Piero Messina, a Sicilian crime reporter, told me. Two years ago, Messina published a piece, in L’Espresso, alleging that a prominent doctor had made threatening remarks to a public official about the daughter of Paolo Borsellino, one of the anti-Mafia prosecutors who was killed in 1992. Messina was charged with libel, a crime that can carry a prison sentence of six years. According to the Italian press-freedom organization Ossigeno per l’Informazione, in the past five years Italian journalists have faced at least four hundred and thirty-two “specious defamation lawsuits” and an additional thirty-seven “specious lawsuits on the part of magistrates.”

      At a court hearing, Messina was presented with transcripts of his private phone calls. “When a journalist discovers that he’s under investigation in this way, he can’t work anymore” without compromising his sources, Messina told me. Police surveillance units sometimes park outside his house and monitor his movements. “They fucked my career,” he said.

      Messina’s trial is ongoing, and he is struggling to stay afloat. A few months ago, La Repubblica paid him seven euros for a twelve-hundred-word article on North Korean spies operating in Rome. “The pay is so low that it’s suicide to do investigative work,” he told me. “This is how information in Italy is being killed. You lose the aspiration to do your job. I know a lot of journalists who became chefs.”

      Prosecutors have wide latitude to investigate possible crimes, even if nothing has been reported to the police, and they are required to formally register an investigation only when they are ready to press charges. In a recent essay, Michele Caianiello, a criminal-law professor at the University of Bologna, wrote that the capacity to investigate people before any crime is discovered “makes it extremely complicated to check ex post facto if the prosecutor, negligently or maliciously, did not record in the register the name of the possible suspect”—meaning that, in practice, prosecutors can investigate their perceived opponents indefinitely, without telling anyone.

      In 2013, the Italian government requested telephone data from Vodafone more than six hundred thousand times. That year, Italian courts ordered almost half a million live interceptions. Although wiretaps are supposed to be approved by a judge, there are ways to circumvent the rules. One method is to include the unofficial target’s phone number in a large pool of numbers—perhaps a set of forty disposable phones that have suspected links to a Mafia boss. “It’s a legitimate investigation, but you throw in the number of someone who shouldn’t be in it,” an Italian police-intelligence official told me. “They do this all the time.”

      Tondo continued reporting on the Medhanie trial, embarrassing the prosecutors every few weeks with new stories showing that the wrong man might be in jail. At one of Berhe’s hearings, a man wearing a black jacket and hat followed Tondo around the courthouse, taking pictures of him with a cell phone. Tondo confronted the stranger, pulling out his own phone and photographing him in return, and was startled when the man addressed him by name. After the incident, Tondo drafted a formal complaint, but he was advised by a contact in the military police not to submit it; if he filed a request to know whether he was under investigation, the prosecutors would be notified of his inquiry but would almost certainly not have to respond to it. “In an organized-crime case, you can investigate completely secretly for years,” Ferrara told me. “You never inform them.” A few months later, the man with the black hat took the witness stand; he was an investigative police officer.

      Tondo makes a significant portion of his income working as a fixer for international publications. I met him last September, four months after Berhe’s arrest, when I hired him to help me with a story about underage Nigerian girls who are trafficked to Europe for sex work. We went to the Palermo magistrate to collect some documents on Nigerian crime, and entered the office of Maurizio Scalia, the deputy chief prosecutor. “Pardon me, Dr. Scalia,” Tondo said. He began to introduce me, but Scalia remained focussed on him. “You’ve got balls, coming in here,” he said.

      This spring, a Times reporter contacted Ferrara for a potential story about migration. Ferrara, who knew that she was working with Tondo on another story, threatened the paper, telling her, “If Lorenzo Tondo gets a byline with you, the New York Times is finished with the Palermo magistrate.” (Ferrara denies saying this.)

      One afternoon in Palermo, I had lunch with Francesco Viviano, a sixty-eight-year-old Sicilian investigative reporter who says that he has been wiretapped, searched, or interrogated by the authorities “eighty or ninety times.” After decades of reporting on the ways in which the Mafia influences Sicilian life, Viviano has little patience for anti-Mafia crusaders who exploit the Cosa Nostra’s historic reputation in order to buoy their own. “The Mafia isn’t completely finished, but it has been destroyed,” he said. “It exists at around ten or twenty per cent of its former power. But if you ask the magistrates they say, ‘No, it’s at two hundred per cent,’ ” to frame the public perception of their work as heroic. He listed several public figures whose anti-Mafia stances disguised privately unscrupulous behavior. “They think they’re Falcone and Borsellino,” he said. In recent decades, Palermo’s anti-Mafia division has served as a pipeline to positions in Italian and European politics.

      In December, 2014, Sergio Lari, a magistrate from the Sicilian hill town of Caltanissetta, who had worked with Falcone and Borsellino and solved Borsellino’s murder, was nominated for the position of chief prosecutor in Palermo. But Francesco Lo Voi, a less experienced candidate, was named to the office.

      The following year, Lari began investigating a used-car dealership in southern Sicily. He discovered that its vehicles were coming from a dealership in Palermo that had been seized by the state for having links to the Mafia. Lari informed Lo Voi’s office, which started wiretapping the relevant suspects and learned that the scheme led back to a judge working inside the Palermo magistrate: Silvana Saguto, the head of the office for seized Mafia assets.

      “Judge Saguto was considered the Falcone for Mafia seizures,” Lari told me. “She was in all the papers. She stood out as a kind of heroine.” Lari’s team started wiretapping Saguto’s line. Saguto was tipped off, and she and her associates stopped talking on the phone. “At this point, I had to make a really painful decision,” Lari said. “I had to send in my guys in disguise, in the middle of the night, into the Palermo Palace of Justice, to bug the offices of magistrates. This was something that had never been done in Italy.” Lari and his team uncovered a vast corruption scheme, which resulted in at least twenty indictments. Among the suspects are five judges, an anti-Mafia prosecutor, and an officer in Italy’s Investigative Anti-Mafia Directorate. Saguto was charged with seizing businesses under dubious circumstances, appointing relatives to serve as administrators, and pocketing the businesses’ earnings or distributing them among colleagues, family, and friends. In one instance, according to Lari’s twelve-hundred-page indictment, Saguto used stolen Mafia assets to pay off her son’s professor to give him passing grades. (Saguto has denied all accusations; her lawyers have said that she has “never taken a euro.”)

      Lari refused to talk to me about other prosecutors in the Palermo magistrate’s office, but the police-intelligence official told me that “at least half of them can’t say they didn’t know” about the scheme. Lari said that Saguto was running “an anti-Mafia mafia” out of her office at the Palace of Justice.

      Except for Lari, every prosecutor who worked with Falcone and Borsellino has either retired or died. The Saguto investigation made Lari “many enemies” in Sicilian judicial and political circles, he said. “Before, the mafiosi hated me. Now it’s the anti-mafiosi. One day, you’ll find me dead in the street, and no one will tell you who did it.”

      The investigations of the Palermo magistrate didn’t prevent its prosecutors from interfering with Calantropo’s preparations for Berhe’s defense. A week after the preliminary hearing, he applied for permission from a local prefecture to conduct interviews inside a migrant-reception center in the town of Siculiana, near Agrigento, where he hoped to find Eritreans who would testify that Berhe wasn’t Mered. Days later, Ferrara, Scalia, and Camilleri wrote a letter to the prefecture, instructing its officers to report back on whom Calantropo talked to. Calantropo, after hearing that the Eritreans had been moved to another camp, decided not to go.

      “It’s not legal for them to monitor the defense lawyer,” Calantropo said. “But if you observe his witnesses then you observe the lawyer.” Calantropo is calm and patient, but, like many Sicilians, he has become so cynical about institutional corruption and dubious judicial practices that he is sometimes inclined to read conspiracy into what may be coincidence. “I can’t be sure that they are investigating me,” he told me, raising an eyebrow and tilting his head in a cartoonish performance of skepticism. “But, I have to tell you, they’re not exactly leaving me alone to do my job.”

      Last summer, Meron Estefanos brought Yonas and another Eritrean refugee, named Ambes, from Sweden to Palermo. Both men had lived in Mered’s connection house in Tripoli in 2013. After they gave witness statements to Calantropo, saying that they had been smuggled by Mered and had never seen the man who was on trial, Tondo contacted Scalia and Ferrara. “I was begging them to meet our sources,” Tondo recalled. “But they told us, ‘We already got Mered. He’s in jail.’ ” (Estefanos, Calantropo, Yonas, and Ambes remember Tondo’s calls; Ferrara says that they didn’t happen.)

      Although Mered is reputed to have sent more than thirteen thousand Eritreans to Italy, the prosecutors seem to have made no real effort to speak with any of his clients. The Glauco investigations and prosecutions were carried out almost entirely by wiretapping calls, which allowed officials to build a web of remote contacts but provided almost no context or details about the suspects’ lives—especially the face-to-face transactions that largely make up the smuggling business. As a result, Ali, Mered’s Libyan boss, is hardly mentioned in the Glauco documents. When asked about him, Ferrara said that he didn’t know who he was. Ambes showed me a photograph that he had taken of Ali on his phone.

      After Yonas and Ambes returned to Sweden, the Palermo magistrate asked police to look into them. E.U. law requires that asylum claims be processed in the first country of entry, but after disembarking in Sicily both men had continued north, to Sweden, before giving their fingerprints and their names to the authorities. Investigating them had the effect of scaring off other Eritreans who might have come forward. “I don’t believe that they are out there to get the truth,” Estefanos said, of the Italian prosecutors. “They would rather prosecute an innocent person than admit that they were wrong.”

      Calantropo submitted into evidence Berhe’s baptism certificate, which he received from his family; photos of Berhe as a child; Berhe’s secondary-school report card; Berhe’s exam registration in seven subjects, with an attached photograph; and a scan of Berhe’s government-issued I.D. card. Berhe’s family members also submitted documents verifying their own identities.

      Other documents established Berhe’s whereabouts. His graduation bulletin shows that in 2010, while Mered was smuggling migrants through Sinai, he was completing his studies at a vocational school in Eritrea. An official form from the Ministry of Health says that in early 2013—while Mered was known to be in Libya—Berhe was treated for an injury he sustained in a “machine accident,” while working as a carpenter. The owner of Thomas Gezae Dairy Farming, in Asmara, wrote a letter attesting that, from May, 2013, until November, 2014—when Mered was running the connection house in Tripoli—Berhe was a manager of sales and distribution. Gezae wrote, “Our company wishes him good luck in his future endeavors.”

      Last fall, one of Berhe’s sisters travelled to the prison from Norway, where she has asylum, to visit him and introduce him to her newborn son. But she was denied entry. Only family members can visit inmates, and although her last name is also Berhe, the prison had him registered as Medhanie Yehdego Mered.

      Last December, the government of Eritrea sent a letter to Calantropo, confirming that the man in custody was Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe. “It’s very strange that the European police never asked the Eritrean government for the identity card of Medhanie Yehdego Mered,” Calantropo said. (Ferrara said that Italy did not have a legal-assistance treaty with Eritrea.) When I asked Calantropo why he didn’t do that himself, he replied, “I represent Berhe. I can only ask on behalf of my client.”

      The prosecution has not produced a single witness who claims that Berhe is Mered. Instead, Ferrara has tried to prove that Mered uses numerous aliases, one of which may be Berhe.

      A few years ago, Ferrara turned a low-level Eritrean smuggler named Nuredine Atta into a state witness. After he agreed to testify, “we put him under protection, exactly like Mafia cases,” and reduced his sentence by half, Ferrara said. Long before Berhe’s arrest, Atta was shown the photograph of Medhanie Yehdego Mered wearing a cross. He said that he recalled seeing the man on a beach in Sicily in 2014, and that someone had told him that the man’s name was Habtega Ashgedom. In court, he couldn’t keep his story straight. In a separate smuggling investigation, prosecutors in Rome discounted Atta’s testimony about Mered as unreliable.

      After the extradition, Atta was shown a photo of Berhe. “I don’t recognize him,” he said. Later, on the witness stand, he testified that he was pretty sure he’d seen a photo of Berhe at a wedding in Khartoum, in 2013—contradicting Berhe’s claim that he had been selling milk in Asmara at the time. Berhe’s family, however, produced a marriage certificate and photographs, proving that the wedding had been in 2015, in keeping with the time line that Berhe had laid out. In court, Ferrara treated the fact that Atta didn’t know Mered or Berhe as a reason to believe that they might be the same person.

      Ferrara is also trying to link Berhe’s voice to wiretaps of Mered. The prosecution had Berhe read phrases transcribed from Mered’s calls, which they asked a forensic technician named Marco Zonaro to compare with the voice from the calls. Zonaro used software called Nuance Forensics 9.2. But, because it didn’t have settings for Tigrinya, he carried out the analysis with Egyptian Arabic, which uses a different alphabet and sounds nothing like Tigrinya. Zonaro wrote that Egyptian Arabic was “the closest geographical reference population” to Eritrea. The tests showed wildly inconsistent results. Zonaro missed several consecutive hearings; when he showed up, earlier this month, Ferrara pleaded with the judge to refer the case to a different court, meaning that Zonaro didn’t end up testifying, and that the trial will begin from scratch in September.

      Many of the wiretapped phone calls that were submitted into evidence raise questions about the limits of Italian jurisdiction. According to Gioacchino Genchi, one of Italy’s foremost experts on intercepted calls and data traffic, the technological options available to prosecutors far exceed the legal ones. When both callers are foreign and not on Italian soil, and they aren’t plotting crimes against Italy, the contents of the calls should not be used in court. “But in trafficking cases there are contradictory verdicts,” he said. “Most of the time, the defense lawyers don’t know how to handle it.” Genchi compared prosecutorial abuses of international wiretaps to fishing techniques. “When you use a trawling net, you catch everything,” including protected species, he said. “But, if the fish ends up in your net, you take it, you refrigerate it, and you eat it.”

      On May 16th, having found the number and the address of Lidya Tesfu, Mered’s wife, in Italian court documents, I met her at a café in Sweden. She told me that she doesn’t know where her husband is, but he calls her once a month, from a blocked number. “He follows the case,” she said. “I keep telling him we have to stop this: ‘You have to contact the Italians.’ ” I asked Tesfu to urge her husband to speak with me. Earlier this month, he called.

      In the course of three hours, speaking through an interpreter, Mered detailed his activities, his business woes, and—with some careful omissions—his whereabouts during the past seven years. His version of events fits with what I learned about him from his former clients, from his wife, and from what was both present in and curiously missing from the Italian court documents—though he quibbled over details that hurt his pride (that Ali had slapped him) or could potentially hurt him legally (that he was ever armed).

      Mered told me that in December, 2015, he was jailed under a different name for using a forged Eritrean passport. He wouldn’t specify what country he was in, but his brother’s wiretapped call—the one that referred to Mered’s pending return from Dubai—suggests that he was probably caught in the United Arab Emirates. Six months later, when Berhe was arrested in Khartoum, Mered learned of his own supposed extradition to Italy from rumors circulating in prison. In August, 2016, one of Mered’s associates managed to spring him from jail, by presenting the authorities in that country with another fake passport, showing a different nationality—most likely Ugandan—and arranging Mered’s repatriation to his supposed country of origin. His time in prison explains why the Italian wiretaps on his Sudanese number picked up nothing in the months before Berhe was arrested; it also explains why, when the Italians asked Facebook to turn over Mered’s log-in data, there was a gap during that period.

      To the Italians, Mered was only ever a trophy. Across Africa and the Middle East, the demand for smugglers is greater than ever, as tens of millions of people flee war, starvation, and oppression. For people living in transit countries—the drivers, the fixers, the translators, the guards, the shopkeepers, the hawala brokers, the bookkeepers, the police officers, the checkpoint runners, the bandits—business has never been more profitable. Last year, with Mered out of the trade, a hundred and eighty thousand refugees and migrants reached Italy by sea, almost all of them leaving from the beaches near Tripoli. This year, the number of arrivals is expected to surpass two hundred thousand.

      In our call, Mered expressed astonishment at how poorly the Italians understood the forces driving his enterprise. There is no code of honor among smugglers, no Mafia-like hierarchy to disrupt—only money, movement, risk, and death. “One day, if I get caught, the truth will come out,” he said. “These European governments—their technology is so good, but they know nothing.”

      Thirteen months after the extradition, Berhe is still on trial. At a hearing in May, he sat behind a glass cage, clutching a small plastic crucifix. Three judges sat at the bench, murmuring to one another from behind a stack of papers that mostly obscured their faces. Apart from Tondo, the only Italian journalists in the room were a reporter and an editor from MeridioNews, a small, independent Sicilian Web site; major Italian outlets have largely ignored the trial or written credulously about the prosecution’s claims.

      A judicial official asked, for the record, whether the defendant Medhanie Yehdego Mered was present. Calantropo noted that, in fact, he was not, but it was easier to move forward if everyone pretended that he was. The prosecution’s witness, a police officer involved in the extradition, didn’t show up, and for the next hour nothing happened. The lawyers checked Facebook on their phones. Finally, the session was adjourned. Berhe, who had waited a month for the hearing, was led away in tears.

      https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/31/how-not-to-solve-the-refugee-crisis

      #Operation_Glauco #Glauco #opération_glauco #Mered_Medhanie

    • Italy Imprisons Refugees Who Were Forced to Pilot Smuggling Boats At Gunpoint

      The Italian press cheer these operations as a key part of the fight against illegal immigration, lionizing figures like #Carlo_Parini, a former mafia investigator who is now a top anti-human trafficking police officer in Italy. Parini leads a squad of judicial police in the province of Siracusa in eastern Sicily, one of several working under different provincial prosecutors, and his aggressive style has earned him the nickname “the smuggler hunter.”

      There is only one problem: the vast majority of people arrested and convicted by these police are not smugglers. Almost 1400 people are currently being held in Italian prisons merely for driving a rubber boat or holding a compass. Most of them paid smugglers in Libya for passage to Europe and were forced to pilot the boat, often at gunpoint.

      https://theintercept.com/2017/09/16/italy-imprisons-refugees-who-were-forced-to-pilot-smuggling-boats-at-g

      #Usaineu_Joof

    • A Palerme, le procès d’un Erythréen tourne à l’absurde

      La justice italienne s’acharne contre Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre, accusé d’être un cruel trafiquant d’êtres humains, alors que tout indique qu’il y a erreur sur la personne.


      http://mobile.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2018/01/23/a-palerme-le-proces-d-un-erythreen-tourne-a-l-absurde_5245779_3212.ht

    • People smuggler who Italians claim to have jailed is living freely in Uganda

      One of the world’s most wanted people smugglers, who Italian prosecutors claim to have in jail in Sicily, is living freely in Uganda and spending his substantial earnings in nightclubs, according to multiple witnesses.

      https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/apr/11/medhanie-yehdego-mered-people-smuggler-italians-claim-jailed-seen-ugand

      Lien pour voir le documentaire, en suédois (avec sous-titres en anglais) :
      https://www.svtplay.se/video/17635602/uppdrag-granskning/uppdrag-granskning-sasong-19-avsnitt-13?start=auto&tab=2018

    • voir aussi:
      Friends of the Traffickers Italy’s Anti-Mafia Directorate and the “Dirty Campaign” to Criminalize Migration

      The European effort to dismantle these smuggling networks has been driven by an unlikely actor: the Italian anti-mafia and anti-terrorism directorate, a niche police office in Rome that gained respect in the 1990s and early 2000s for dismantling large parts of the Mafia in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy. According to previously unpublished internal documents, the office — called the #Direzione_nazionale_antimafia_e_antiterrorismo, or #DNAA, in Italian — took a front-and-center role in the management of Europe’s southern sea borders, in direct coordination with the EU border agency Frontex and European military missions operating off the Libyan coast.

      https://seenthis.net/messages/913769

  • Brazil’s #COVID-19 Crisis and Jair Bolsonaro’s Presidential #Chaos | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/brazils-covid-19-crisis-and-jair-bolsonaros-presidential-chaos

    Richard Lapper, a longtime British observer of Brazilian politics and the author of the forthcoming book “Beef, Bible and Bullets: Brazil in the Age of #Bolsonaro,” told me that, “if Bolsonaro continues with the existing covid policy, he is going to lose the more traditional conservative part of his base and be much more dependent on the hard-line ideological supporters, and that, in turn, sets the scene for much greater conflict.” Lapper predicts that there will be more external pressure on Bolsonaro, too, as the P.1 variant spreads further across Latin America; several neighboring states have already banned flights to and from Brazil.

    #criminel

  • The Limits of Political Debate | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-populism/the-limits-of-political-debate

    In 2016, a debate champion was consulting on the project, and he noticed that, for all of its facility in extracting facts and claims, the machine just wasn’t thinking like a debater. Slonim recalled, “He told us, ‘For me, debating whether to ban prostitution, or whether to ban the sale of alcohol, this is the same debate. I’m going to use the same arguments. I’m just going to massage them a little bit.’ ” If you were arguing for banning prostitution or alcohol, you might point to the social corrosion of vice; if you were arguing against, you might warn of a black market. Slonim realized that there were a limited number of “types of argumentation,” and these were patterns that the machine would need to learn. How many? Dan Lahav, a computer scientist on the team who had also been a champion debater, estimated that there were between fifty and seventy types of argumentation that could be applied to just about every possible debate question. For I.B.M., that wasn’t so many. Slonim described the second phase of Project Debater’s education, which was somewhat handmade: Slonim’s experts wrote their own modular arguments, relying in part on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and other texts. They were trying to train the machine to reason like a human.

    In February, 2019, the machine had its first major public debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared, in San Francisco. The opponent was Harish Natarajan, a thirty-one-year-old British economic consultant, who, a few years earlier, had been the runner-up in the World Universities Debating Championship. Before they appeared onstage, each contestant was given the topic and assigned a side, then allotted fifteen minutes to prepare: Project Debater would argue that preschools should be subsidized by the public, and Natarajan that they should not. Project Debater scrolled through LexisNexis, assembling evidence and categorizing it. Natarajan did nothing like that. (When we spoke, he recalled that his first thought was to wonder at the topic: Was subsidizing preschools actually controversial in the United States?) Natarajan was kept from seeing Project Debater in action before the test match, but he had been told that it had a database of four hundred million documents. “I was, like, ‘Oh, good God.’ So there was nothing I could do in multiple lifetimes to absorb that knowledge,” Natarajan told me. Instead, he would concede that Project Debater’s information was accurate and challenge its conclusions. “People will say that the facts speak for themselves, but in this day and age that is absolutely not true,” Natarajan told me. He was prepared to lay a subtle trap. The machine would be ready to argue yes, expecting Natarajan to argue no. Instead, he would say, “Yes, but . . .”

    The first time I watched the San Francisco debate, I thought that Natarajan won. He had taken the world that Project Debater described and tipped it on its side, so that the audience wondered whether the computer was looking at things from the right angle, and that seemed the decisive maneuver. In the room, the audience voted for the human, too: I.B.M. had beaten Kasparov, and beaten the human champions of “Jeopardy!,” but it had come up short against Harish Natarajan.

    But, when I watched the debate a second time, and then a third, I noticed that Natarajan had never really rebutted Project Debater’s basic argument, that preschool subsidies would pay for themselves and produce safer and more prosperous societies. When he tried to, he could be off the cuff to the point of ridiculousness: at one point, Natarajan argued that preschool could be “actively harmful” because it could force a preschooler to recognize that his peers were smarter than he was, which would cause “huge psychological damage.” By the end of my third viewing, it seemed to me that man and machine were not so much competing as demonstrating different ways of arguing. Project Debater was arguing about preschool. Natarajan was doing something at once more abstract and recognizable, because we see it all the time in Washington, and on the cable networks and in everyday life. He was making an argument about the nature of debate.

    #Débat #Politique #Intelligence_artificielle #Argumentation

  • The Alabama Workers Trying to Unionize an Amazon Fulfillment Center
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/us-journal/the-alabama-workers-trying-to-unionize-an-amazon-fulfillment-center

    South of Birmingham, warehouse employees are voting on whether to form a union. Their decision could have ripple effects around the country. One afternoon in late February, a sixty-five-year-old Alabamian named Randy Hadley stood on a street corner outside an Amazon facility in Bessemer, twenty minutes south of Birmingham. It was about time for a shift change, but the expected exodus from the enormous fulfillment center, which employs nearly six thousand workers, wasn’t happening. “Amazon (...)

    #Amazon #GigEconomy #surveillance #syndicat #travail

  • Véra Nabokov Was the First and Greatest Champion of “Lolita”

    https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/vera-nabokov-was-the-first-and-greatest-champion-of-lolita

    The long-suffering wife who stands at her husband’s side, lending moral cover, reliably serves to blot out another woman’s agony. Véra did just the opposite. She alone emphasized Lolita’s plight from the start. In interviews, among her husband’s colleagues, with family members, she stressed Lolita’s “complete loneliness in the whole world.” She had not a single surviving relative! Reviewers searched for morals, justifications, explanations. What they inevitably failed to notice, Véra complained, was “the tender description of the child’s helplessness, her pathetic dependence on monstrous Humbert Humbert, and her heartrending courage all along.” They forgot that “ ‘the horrid little brat’ Lolita was essentially very good indeed.” Despite the vile abuse, she would go on to make a decent life for herself. Readers, too, ignored Lolita’s vulnerability, her pain, the stolen childhood, the lost potential. Lolita was not a symbol. She was a defenseless child. The subversive book, as Donald Malcolm wrote in his New Yorker review of the novel, in 1958, “coolly prodded one of the few remaining raw nerves of the twentieth century.” No less transgressive, shockingly more familiar, it strikes different nerves in the early twenty-first. Véra complained of Lolita, “She cries every night, and the critics are deaf to her sobs.” We hear her loud and clear today, when, finally, she has come to stand at the center of the story that bears her name."

    • Un élément qui est toujours escamoté par les analyses que j’ai pu lire ou entendre autour de #lolita c’est que Humbert Humbert est l’assassin de la mère de Dolorès. C’est lui qui fait d’elle une orpheline et c’est lui qui deviens son tuteur légale, ajoutant l’inceste à la pédocriminalité. L’inceste est un autre élément oublié systématiquement. #inceste

    • Even the best of readers had a difficult time separating Nabokov from Humbert. Nadezhda Mandelstam, the writer and widow of the great poet Osip Mandelstam, insisted that the man who wrote “Lolita” “could not have done so unless he had in his soul those same disgraceful feelings for little girls.” Maurice Girodias assumed Nabokov to be Humbert Humbert. After all was said and done, having defended the novel in the most adoring and erudite terms, Lionel Trilling informed his wife, having observed the couple in action, that Véra was Lolita

    • Largely lost in the shuffle, in the manifold discussions of perversion, obscenity, and indecency, was the title character herself. Most found Lolita as unlikable in her way as they found Humbert deplorable in his. A writer for The New Republic dismissed her, alluding to “fragile little girls who are not really fragile.” Many blamed Lolita and felt sorry for Humbert. Few seemed willing to forgive her for being a spoiled, non-virginal nymphet. To Robertson Davies, the theme of the book was “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child.” The seduction would become hers, as the monster would become Frankenstein. Headlines wrote her off as a “naughty” girl or “an experienced hoyden.” In 1958, Humbert’s real perversity seemed to be that he could find himself drawn to “a Coke-fed, juke-box-operated brat with a headful of movie mags for a brain,” according to a reviewer for Time. The New York Post noted that Lolita generally came off as “a fearsome moppet, a little monster, a shallow, corrupt, libidinous and singularly unattractive brat.” Dorothy Parker found the book brilliant, funny, and anguished, but the anguish to which she responded was Humbert’s. Of Lolita, Parker wrote, “She is a dreadful little creature, selfish, hard, vulgar, and foul-tempered.” A Cornell colleague found her unrealistic: a self-respecting American girl would never have passively submitted to Humbert. She would have had the good sense to call the police.