WEEK IN REVIEW 27 October 2011

by by by Erica Schwiegershausen, Christina McCausland & Kate Welsh



Bus segregation is back, and in Williamsburg of all places. Last week The New York World, a Columbia Journalism School publication, asked Melissa Franchy to investigate claims of gender discrimination on the Brooklyn B110 bus, which runs between Williamsburg and Borough Park. Franchy initially found evidence to the contrary, and was undisturbed when she sat down at the front of the bus, although she noticed other passengers leaving her an unusually wide berth. However, as the bus began to fill up, a number of male passengers, most of whom were Orthodox Jews, insisted that she move to the back of the bus. They informed her that she was riding on a “private” and “Jewish” bus, where women must sit in the back and men in the front.  When Franchy asked why she had to move, one man reportedly responded, “If God makes a rule, you don’t ask, ‘Why make the rule?’”

The bus driver did not intervene, and Franchy eventually moved to the back of the bus to sit with the other women. Signs on the bus doors written in English and Hebrew also direct women to use the back door during busy times.

The B110 bus is run by Private Transportation Corporation under a franchise with the city, and is the only unsubsidized route in Brooklyn. It was awarded the public route by the Department of Transportation, and although it does not accept MetroCards, it is open to the public for a $2.50 fare. However, as the New York based Orthodox Jewish news site Vos Iz Neias explains, “Serving a Hasidic clientele may sometimes require special considerations.” According to Vos Iz Neias, the bus company has a board of consulting rabbis which decreed that male passengers should ride in the front and females in the back to avoid physical contact between members of the opposite sex, which is discouraged by Hasidic tradition.

The New York DOT, which awarded the route to the bus company through a competitive public bidding process in 1973, has acknowledged that the B110 is subject to anti-discrimination laws. “This is a private company, but it is a public service,” Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the DOT told The New York World. The New York City Commission on Human Rights announced last week that it will look into the issue of the alleged discrimination on the B110 line, and the DOT said in a statement that the franchise may be revoked if such a violation is found. The Private Transportation Corp. has yet to comment.

Yet bus segregation isn’t the only form of gender discrimination causing a disturbance in Brooklyn lately. Earlier this month, signs directing women to step aside for men began popping up all over a Hasidic neighborhood in South Williamsburg, where they were nailed to trees along Bedford Avenue. The signs bore a Yiddish message which translates as “Precious Jewish daughter, please move to the side when a man approaches.” City workers have since removed the signs, citing the illegality of posting signs on public trees, although some residents feel the removal constitutes a violation of freedom of speech.

Deborah Feldman, an ex-Hasid and former resident of South Williamsburg speculated that the signs were likely posted as part of a crackdown on rebellious behavior by women. This June, the same neighborhood saw a similar wave of Yiddish posters calling on Orthodox Jewish women to stop wearing “tank tops,” “T-shirts,” and “clingy dresses,” which were put up by “members of a neighborhood modesty group,” according to The Brooklyn Paper. South Williamsburg has also seen signs advising women against talking on cell phones in public. “This is nothing new,” Feldman told The New York Daily News. “It’s just getting attention because it’s Brooklyn, and Williamsburg is no longer an isolated bubble.”




Anonymous, the loosely-banded hacktivist collective, began an attack against child pornography websites this month, nicknamed #OpDarknet. The group’s civil disobedience is generally in the interest of internet freedom and freedom of speech—among Anonymous’s other recent targets are Westboro Baptist Church and the government websites of Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, and Syria this past spring. Their assault on the child porn forums, though apparently in violation of these tenets, is actually an attempt to preserve the integrity of an underground part of the internet prized by certain communities as a space for free speech.

The targeted child pornography sites are all operating on the dark net, a network inaccessible to normal internet users. The dark net has grown out of Tor, software that enables users to browse regular internet sites anonymously, useful for activists who need to avoid oppressive governments or corporations requiring confidentiality. According to the Free Software Foundation, Tor was “pivotal in dissident movements in both Iran and … Egypt.” The system operates by creating layers to maintain anonymity. The dark net developed on the Tor network as a sort of secondary level of the Internet where, in addition to many innocuous sites, one can access child-porn forums, the underground drug market known as Silk Road and even “The Last Box,” described as an assassination market.

On October 14, members of Anonymous found a list of child pornography websites (in a section called “Hard Candy”) on the Hidden Wiki, a guidebook to sites on the dark net. A screenshot of the page shows a description that reads “this wiki page discusses resources specifically for people who are attracted to children.” After realizing that 95% of the sites were hosted by the server Freedom Hosting, Anonymous launched #OpDarknet, requesting that the hosting server to take down the sites. Freedom Hosting did not comply, and the hackers have since taken further action, including repeatedly shutting down Freedom Hosting’s server. Anonymous wrote in a press release, “the owners and operators at Freedom Hosting are openly supporting child pornography … for this reason, Freedom Hosting has been declared #OpDarknet Enemy Number One.”

Anonymous has also directed their attentions toward Lolita City, a site on the dark net that reportedly contains more than 100 GB of child pornography. On October 18, #OpDarknet released the usernames of over 1,500 Lolita City users. Hackers also recently created fake accounts to upload episodes of To Catch a Predator (the reality TV show dedicated to luring and confronting potential sexual predators), disguised as child porn in order to trick unsuspecting Lolita City users.

A hacker told Gawker that child porn “tarnishes the purpose of Tor”—pedophiles are viewed as taking advantage of and corrupting the network’s protected space. And though many on the dark net sympathize with the motivation of #OpDarknet, they are also concerned what the additional exposure will mean for the Tor network, which until recently was unknown outside of select Internet communities. As one Tor user notes on a blog, “this will make things more difficult for everyone else as governments seek to destroy the privacy as they see … this type of activity … as excuses to peer into [the Tor network].”




The owner of an exotic animal preserve in Zanesville, Ohio commited suicide last Tuesday after freeing dozens of lions, tigers, and monkeys. He also owed tens of thousands in unpaid taxes. Days before the incident he said that he was “in over his head.”

In the 24 hours after Terry Thompson opened the cages of his wildlife preserve, the county sheriff killed nearly 50 of the animals—including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, and eight bears—in a hunt across the Ohio countryside that has been criticized by many who say that the animals should have been saved.One witness described the aftermath to National Geographic as “Noah’s Ark wrecking.”

Thompson was mired in debt. Court records reveal that he and his wife owe nearly $68,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS and the county.  Additionally, he got out of federal prison last month, after serving time for possessing unregistered weapons.

Thompson also had run-ins with neighbors and the law over animals that sometimes were found wandering off his property, and an anonymous neighbor told the Columbus Dispatch that may of the animals looked “too skinny.”

Most of the big cats and bears had been declawed and bottle-fed by the couple as cubs.  Thompson also kept them fed by picking up road kill and collecting spoiled meat from grocery stores.Although Thompson’s Muskingum County Animal Farm was not open to visitors,he would occasionally take some of the smaller animals to nearby pet shows or nursing homes. He also provided a big cat for a photo shoot with supermodel Heidi Klum, and appeared on the Rachael Ray Show in 2008 as an animal handler for a zoologist guest.

Only six animals survived, and were taken to the Columbus Zoo.  Zoo director Jack Hanna, who was on hand during the nighttime search for the animals, tearily told the Herald Review in Decatur, Illinois that the deaths will stay with him forever, and that he will spend the rest of his life “talking about what happened in Zanesville.”  He said he is trying to explain to animal lovers that Ohio authorities had no other option.