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Dispatches from the Culture Wars - Heatstroke Edition

Bert and Ernie Outed; Commie Camp Profiled; The Blind Will Get Their Books; Chipotle Rejects GMO Ingredients; Race and Class in Evidence At the Zimmerman Trial; Kansas Takes a Sharp Turn to the Right

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The New Yorker cover - July 8 & 15, 2013 issue, The Washington Post
By Emily Yahr 
June 28, 2013
Did the New Yorker just out Bert and Ernie?  Over the years, Sesame Workshop has repeatedly denied that puppet roommates Bert and Ernie are a gay couple - but in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act this week, the duo is back in the spotlight.
The New Yorker (known for controversial covers) just posted next week's issue, showing Bert and Ernie cuddling in front of a TV as the nine justices are shown on the screen. Titled "Bert and Ernie's Moment of Joy," the image comes from artist Jack Hunter, who said, "This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate."
Sesame Workshop has re-iterated multiple times that they are, in fact, just friends. "Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits...they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation."
By Nona Willis Aronowitz
June 27, 2013
A 12-year-old professes his love for the Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton. A middle-schooler defines the "buffer zone" mandated around an abortion clinic, a regulation won by the Center for Constitutional Rights. A 9-and-a-half-year-old explains that Hannah Senesh "went to Pakistan during World War II, and she parachuted into Hungary and tried to save her country, but she got caught by the Nazis and was killed."
These are a few of the slightly dorky, very adorable, comically precocious city kids at the heart of Commie Camp, a new documentary about a Jewish socialist summer camp in the Berkshires called Camp Kinderland, which premiered  June 28 at VisionFest. OK, so the kids get a few facts wrong (Hannah Senesh went to Palestine, not Pakistan). But, in the words of Katie Halper, a Kinderland veteran and the film's director: "How many female anti-fascist paratroopers who suffered capture, torture, and death in an attempt to free her country from Nazi invasion can you name?"
The documentary's hook is that Kinderland was targeted last year by the Daily Caller and Rush Limbaugh when it was discovered that an Obama appointee was "indoctrinating" her child at camp. But Commie Camp's release is really just an occasion to profile, and therefore preserve, a specific sect of Jewish culture that, in ways both tangible and symbolic, is vanishing.
By Hayley Tsukayama and Tom Hamburger 
June 26, 2013
Negotiators at the World Intellectual Property Organization have finalized terms on a copyright treaty that would provide more book access to the world's blind and visually impaired. The treaty makes it legal to make copies of copyrighted material accessible to the blind community by converting it to formats such as Braille books, audio recordings or large-print books without first having to seek permission from copyright holders in every instance.
Advocates for the visually impaired say that fewer than one percent of all the world's books are accessible in these formats. The treaty would make it possible for converted texts in a given language to be available in multiple countries.
As The Washington Post has reported, the treaty had run into some trouble between advocates and organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America. But leaders of a coalition that has been fighting for blind access to published material declared victory over the MPAA and a corporate coalition in winning U.S. and international support for the pact.
By Jonathan Benson 
June 13, 2013
The recent decision by Whole Foods Market to label all genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) sold in its stores by the long-off date of 2018 looks silly and almost meaningless compared to the right-now policy of fresh food chain Chipotle, which is officially the first and only major U.S. food supplier to voluntarily label GMOs. On its "Ingredients Statement" website, Chipotle clearly outlines which of its food products contain GMOs, and also states that it is working aggressively to source completely non-GMO ingredients for all of its products as it moves forward.
June 28, 2013
When the star witness for the prosecution in the George Zimmerman trial was in the hot seat for the past two days, it sometimes felt like Rachel Jeantel - a friend of Trayvon Martin's - was the one on trial. The 19-year-old said the N-word many times, as well as the word cracker, when recounting her last conversation with Martin.
Zimmerman's defense attorney asked her to repeat herself multiple times, apparently unable to . understand the way she talked.  Linguists who study African American Vernacular English (AAVE) - also called Ebonics - recognize all the features in Rachel Jeantel's speech. Khalil Gibran Muhammed, the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at The New York Public Library, said that scrutinizing Jeantel's language is really about class and power.
By Mark Binelli
June 12, 2013
Just a few years ago, Gov. Sam Brownback seemed washed up. A devout Catholic who attends mass several times a week, he'd built a following among the Christian right as one of the most socially conservative U.S. senators of the Bush era, but his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 proved an embarrassing folly. But apparently, the notion of wielding executive branch power had become appealing. Two years later, he handily won the governorship of Kansas, part of the class of Republicans elected in 2010 on a Tea Party-driven wave of anti-Obama sentiment.
Once in office, Brownback surprised critics and supporters alike with the fervor of his pursuit of power, pushing what reporter John Gramlich of Stateline described as perhaps "the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation" : gutting spending on social services and education, privatizing the state's Medicaid system, undermining the teacher's union, becoming the only state to entirely abolish funding for the arts, boasting that he would sign any anti-abortion bill that crossed his desk, and - most significantly - pushing through the largest package of tax cuts in Kansas history.
Since Mitt Romney's resounding defeat last November, much has been made of the supposed battle for the soul of the Republican party taking place at the national level, where pragmatic establishment types are attempting to win over minorities, women and young people by tamping down the most extreme elements of the Tea Party fringe and moderating stances on issues like gay marriage and immigration. The problem is, in places like Kansas (and Louisiana, and South Carolina, and North Dakota), that fringe has become the political mainstream.