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Some 91 heads of state came to Nelson Mandela’s memorial service this week, but the moments that made the news had little to do with the South African anti-apartheid leader or his legacy.
First, there was the much-ridiculed selfie of US president Barack Obama, British prime minister David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, grinning at the latter’s iPhone camera like teenagers. It was hardly the first selfie to get a politician in trouble (former US congressman Anthony Weiner comes to mind), but it was a pointed contrast with Mandela’s own life. After his imprisonment in 1964, publishing photos of Mandela became illegal; the first image in over two decades was this one, released by South African authorities, of Mandela looking askance but purposeful in a jacket and tie. Did the absence of images for so long help fuel the legend and the cause?
Second, the spotlight fell—unkindly—on current president Jacob Zuma, booed repeatedly by the crowd of thousands in Soweto. With elections six months away, their reaction exposes the fragility of the African National Congress amid concerns over corruption and a lack of economic progress.
Finally, the service was officially lost in translation, thanks to a mentally ill sign-language interpreter whose dramatic gestures and flourishes turned out to be gibberish. “I see angels come to the stadium,” he said later. “I was in a very, very difficult position. If I have offended anyone, please forgive me.”
Mandela, of course, would have been quick to forgive. “In real life,” he once wrote, “we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous.” The mockery that his memorial turned into only reinforces the huge void he leaves behind.—S. Mitra Kalita
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The etymology of protest in Hong Kong. A plush toy wolf named Lufsig, from Ikea, has been selling out in Hong Kong. Lily Kuo teases out the multiple cultural layers that connect Lufsig’s name, Hong Kong’s chief executive, and the relationship between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.
Confessions of a grade inflator. In the wake of the brouhaha about Harvard University’s excessive use of “A” grades, Allison Schrager reveals why she agreed to give students higher grades when she taught at Columbia: They just complain too much.
A new era for General Motors. This week the car giant exited its US government bailout, appointed its first woman CEO, and announced that its Australian subsidiary, Holden, would stop making cars by 2017. John McDuling explains how that might mean the end of Australia’s auto industry altogether,
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Google’s plan to dominate the world by mapping it. In a piece that will make you see Google—and the internet—with new eyes, Adam Fisher in the New York Times explains that the next great online battle, after search (won by Google) and social (Facebook), is location, and explains how Google plans to win it.
The era of free trade is ending. Though trade barriers have been falling steadily and analysts predict decades more trade growth, Joshua Kurlantzick in BusinessWeek argues that industrial consolidation and technological advances could actually lead to more, not less protectionism in the coming years.
India’s sexual subcultures. In the week when India’s supreme court re-criminalized homosexuality, this interview with a member of India’s BDSM community is an eye-opening window into the diversity that lies beneath the country’s restrictive laws.
The introvert’s guide to giving better presentations. You don’t have to be an introvert to learn something from Matt Haughey’s guide to creating the perfect talk and deck of slides, but if the idea of trying to sound knowledgeable in front of hundreds of people gives you the heebie-jeebies, definitely read this.
The have-nots of New York City. The city has 22,000 homeless children, the most since the Great Depression. In this New York Times profile of 11-year-old Dasani, Andrea Elliott and photographer Ruth Fremson show just what it’s like to belong to the underclass left behind by the city’s breakneck gentrification.
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