Monthly Archives: May 2007

No Comment — May 31, 2007, 6:05 pm

Defining Conservatism Up

Among the army of columnists that populate the American print world, George Will is my favorite Tory. I use “Tory” in the best sense – in the sense that Samuel Johnson and Dr. Arbuthnot were Tories, for instance. In an English way that lays a proper value on tradition and the cultural accomplishments that have gone before us. In a way that longs for a thick chop and pint of ale. Will is not likely to be found in the pantheon of too many Harper’s readers (I have a theory formed from reading my Harper’s email box that our median …

No Comment — May 31, 2007, 4:53 pm

Matthew Diaz and the Rule of Law

Law professor and Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks examines the court-martial of Commander Matthew Diaz and comes out almost exactly where I did. The prosecution of Diaz highlights the degree to which U.S. interrogation and detention policies have become unjustifiably arbitrary. Our detention policies scoop up the innocent and the guilty alike — and Diaz, who broke the law in an effort to prevent abuses, found himself aggressively prosecuted, while others who committed abuses remain wholly unaccountable. That’s no way to promote the rule of law… The jury understood that the persistence of deep injustice may lead some to …

Washington Babylon — May 31, 2007, 11:22 am

How Gregory Nickerson Parlayed House Job Into Lavish Estate (Illustrated)

In mid April, I reported on the case of Gregory Nickerson, the former top staffer at the House Ways and Means Committee who in 2004 helped shepherd through Congress a $140 billion corporate tax break with the Orwellian name of the “American Jobs Creation Act.” General Electric was the biggest beneficiary of the AJCA, winning a multi-billion dollar windfall. I’ve now learned that the AJCA originated in 2001, as a report prepared by the National Foreign Trade Council, a group of 450 multinational corporations whose board members includes GE. According to a Washington Post story, the Council’s report was prepared …

No Comment — May 31, 2007, 11:04 am

Therapy for Font Sluts

Slate has been taking an interesting look at graphic design over the last few days, including a fascinating piece on the evolution of the world’s most ubiquitous font: Helvetica. The piece is adapted from the fascinating exhibition now running at the Museum of Modern Art – one of the season’s must-sees. But this is a web treat – another reason, if needed, why a visit to Slate never goes unrewarded. Then check out the depressingly uninspired survey of writer’s font preferences. Indeed: an overwhelming preference for Courier. What numbskulls. If you’re stuck on typewriter type (and it has a certain …

No Comment — May 31, 2007, 8:58 am

Progress? What Progress? Troops Vent at Lieberman

No U.S. senator has made more trips out to Iraq than Joe Lieberman. He’s a fixture out there. The regular junket has been a part of his campaign to be “Mr. Iraq” in the Senate. About a year ago, when I was working in Baghdad, I listened to a young captain vent about all the time and energy the Army was forced to expend on the regular visits of CODELs – Congressional delegations. “I guess our democratic process requires it. But I really wish these dopes would open their eyes and actually learn something, rather than use Iraq as a …

No Comment — May 31, 2007, 8:22 am

More Partisan Harassment of the Troops

Marine Corporal Adam Kokesh is an Iraq war veteran who has exactly three weeks of service remaining as a reservist. Now he’s facing a dishonorable discharge. Why? He wore fatigues to an anti-Iraq War rally, the Associated Press reports. He was singled out for disciplinary action after military authorities identified him from a protest photograph published in the Washington Post. Military rules preclude personnel from appearing in uniform at political functions. However, under the Bush administration this rule has been violated hundreds of times – as service personnel appear in uniform at Republican Party functions. Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking …

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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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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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Happiness Is a Worn Gun

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Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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