Weekly Review — April 6, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Small Family, May 1874][Image: Killing Ground, May 1874]

A Small Family.
Killing Ground.

Four American mercenaries employed by Blackwater Security Consulting were pulled from their vehicles in Fallujah, Iraq, hacked to death, burned, and dragged through the streets; the remains of two were then hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River along with a sign that said “Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans.”BBC“Despite an uptick in local engagements,” said General Mark Kimmit at a press briefing a few hours later, “the overall area of operations remains relatively stable with negligible impact on the coalition’s ability to continue progress in governance, economic development, and restoration of essential services.”New York TimesPresident George W. Bush attended a fund-raiser that night and made fun of Senator John Kerry; he did not mention the killings in Fallujah.New York TimesA Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army rose up across Iraq in response to a call by Moktada al-Sadr, a militant cleric, to “terrorize your enemy.” Last week Sadr announced that he is “the beating arm for Hezbollah and Hamas here in Iraq.”New York TimesAttacks on occupation forces were averaging about 26 per day, and Bell Pottinger, the British PR firm, was hired to teach Iraqis about democracy.International Herald TribuneBush Administration officials were said to be disturbed that Caribbean countries have refused to recognize the U.S.-backed government in Haiti, and aReutersUnited Nations envoy said that peacekeepers might have to remain in Haiti for 20 years.New York TimesPresident Bush signed a law making it a crime to harm a fetus while committing another crime, andAssociated PressCanadian hunters were busy trying to club 350,000 helpless three-week-old baby harp seals to death.New York Times

The International Court of Justice ruled that U.S. courts must review the death sentences of 51 Mexican citizens whose rights under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations were violated; although international treaties are “the supreme law of the land,” according to the U.S. Constitution, Governor Rick Perry declared that “the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in Texas.”New York TimesGeorge Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, was splattered with mayonnaise by Ukrainian militants.GuardianFifty thousand protesters filled the streets of Katmandu, Nepal, demanding a restoration of democracy.Associated PressTaiwan’s opposition asked the country’s High Court to overturn the March 20 presidential election; the losing candidate, Lien Chan, has accused President Chen Shui-bian of election fraud and of staging his own shooting the day before the vote.Associated PressDozens of people died in a series of explosions and suicide attacks in Uzbekistan.New York TimesColin Powell admitted that the Iraqi National Congress, the U.S.-funded Iraqi exile group, was the source of “the most dramatic” bits in his notorious United Nations presentation on Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction.Miami HeraldThe White House acknowledged that it has withheld three quarters of the 11,000 pages of Clinton Administration documents that were supposed to be handed over to the 9/11 commission; after an outcry, administration officials agreed to reconsider.ReutersPresident Bush backed down from his refusal to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly under oath before the 9/11 commission, and aAssociated Pressformer FBI translator claimed that she could prove that the Bush Administration did in fact receive warnings in the spring and summer of 2001 that terrorists were planning to use aircraft to attack American cities.IndependentThe Treasury Department indicated that scholarly publications might be able to edit articles produced by evil countries such as Iran, Cuba, Libya, or North Korea without risking fines of up to $500,000 and ten years in prison.New York TimesRussia’s parliament agreed to amend a bill that would have banned almost all public demonstrations.New York TimesBudapest decided to revoke Joseph Stalin’s honorary citizenship, andAssociated PressSerbia’s parliament agreed to pay salaries and benefits to Slobodan Milosevic and other war criminals.Associated Press

The Department of Homeland Security announced that visitors from Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Australia, and 21 other countries will be photographed and fingerprinted when they enter the United States.New York TimesThe International Boundary Commission warned that the U.S.-Canadian border is becoming overgrown and could be lost in some places.New York TimesBulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined NATO; Russia was unhappy about NATO forces creeping so close to its border.New York TimesTreasury Secretary John Snow said that “outsourcing” of American jobs makes the American economy stronger.Cincinnati EnquirerThe trial of L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark H. Swartz, the former CEO and CFO of Tyco International, ended in a mistrial.New York TimesMicrosoft and Sun Microsystems made peace.New York TimesThe founder of Ikea, the Swedish furniture company, denied that he is now the world’s richest man, and scientistsAssociated Pressfound that purebred dogs really do resemble their owners but that mutts do not.New ScientistA brawl broke out at an anger-management seminar at a high school in Maryland.Baltimore SunIt was reported that the U.S. government’s main laboratory for mad-cow testing, which is located in an Iowa strip mall, is not secure enough to store dangerous pathogens.ReutersPrime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand made his 17-year-old daughter get a job at a McDonald’s in Bangkok.ReutersTwo street children in Zimbabwe were arrested after they stole 100 million Zimbabwe dollars (about $23,000) and bought food, clothing, and household goods for other street children.New York TimesAngola was planning to outlaw genetically engineered cereals, which would jeopardize a United Nations program that feeds 2 million people.New York TimesAn Australian inventor created an electronic gun that can fire one million rounds per minute, and aAustralian ITJapanese robot conducted the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.New Scientist A new study found that toddlers who watch too much television are more likely to have a hard time concentrating by age seven; anotherSeattle Post-Intelligencerstudy found that preschoolers are the fastest growing market for antidepressant drugs.Express ScriptsVillagers in Romania were having trouble with vampires.Seattle Times

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Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses a significant threat to American interests and well-­being. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), has said that “China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” The summary of America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy claims that China and Russia are “revisionist powers” seeking to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-­of-­government threat, but a whole-­of-­society threat . . . and I think it’s going to take a whole-­of-­society response by us.” So widespread is this notion that when Donald Trump launched his trade war against China, in January 2018, he received support even from moderate figures such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

Shanghai Broadcasting Building, by Cui Jie (detail) © The artist. Courtesy private collection
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Without a Trace·

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In December 2015, a twenty-­two-year-­old man named Masood Hotak left his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and set out for Europe. For several weeks, he made his way through the mountains of Iran and the rolling plateaus of Turkey. When he reached the city of Izmir, on the Turkish coast, Masood sent a text message to his elder brother Javed, saying he was preparing to board a boat to Greece. Since the start of the journey, Javed, who was living in England, had been keeping tabs on his younger brother’s progress. As Masood got closer to the sea, Javed had felt increasingly anxious. Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Javed had even suggested Masood take the longer, overland route, through Bulgaria, but his brother had dismissed the plan as excessively cautious.

Finally, on January 3, 2016, to Javed’s immense relief, Masood sent a series of celebratory Facebook messages announcing his arrival in Europe. “I reached Greece bro,” he wrote. “Safe. Even my shoes didn’t get wet.” Masood reported that his boat had come ashore on the island of Samos. In a few days, he planned to take a ferry to the Greek mainland, after which he would proceed across the European continent to Germany.

But then, silence. Masood stopped writing. At first, Javed was unworried. His brother, he assumed, was in the island’s detention facility, waiting to be sent to Athens with hundreds of other migrants. Days turned into weeks. Every time Javed tried Masood’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. After a month passed with no word, it dawned on Javed that his brother was missing.

A screenshot of a December 2015 Facebook post by Masood Hotak (left), in Istanbul
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When Philip Benight awoke on January 26, 2017, he saw a bright glow. “Son of a bitch, there is a light,” he thought. He hoped it meant he had died. His mind turned to his wife, Becky: “Where are you?” he thought. “We have to go to the light.” He hoped Becky had died, too. Then he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, Philip realized he wasn’t seeing heaven but overhead fluorescents at Lancaster General Hospital. He was on a hospital bed, with his arms restrained and a tube down his throat, surrounded by staff telling him to relax. He passed out again. The next time he came to, his arms and legs were free, but a drugged heaviness made it hard to move. A nurse told him that his wife was at another hospital—“for her safety”—even though she was also at Lancaster General. Soon after, two police officers arrived. They wanted to know why Becky was in a coma.

Three days earlier, Philip, who was sixty, tall and lanky, with owlish glasses and mustache, had picked up his wife from an HCR ­ManorCare nursing home. Becky had been admitted to the facility recently at the age of seventy-­two after yet another series of strokes. They drove to Darrenkamp’s grocery store and Philip bought their dinner, a special turkey sandwich for Becky, with the meat shaved extra thin. They ate in the car. Then, like every other night, they got ice cream from Burger King and drove to their home in Conestoga, a sparse hamlet in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Philip parked in the driveway, and they sat in the car looking out at the fields that roll down to the Susquehanna River.

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, June 2, 2015

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles in eastern Ghouta, March 24, 2018 (detail) © Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Ratio of the size of an Amazonian “paradoxical frog” to that of its tadpole:

1:3

Storybooks for Chinese children emphasize purpose, while American storybooks emphasize happiness.

The Transportation Security Administration, which held a “fast-track” hiring event at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport over the weekend, reported that 10 percent of its agents, who have not been paid for the past 33 days, have called out sick.

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Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

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