Weekly Review — June 4, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Tension in Turkey, storm-chasing tragedy in Oklahoma, and auf Wiedersehen to Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

Cupid (July 1876)In Istanbul’s Taksim Square, police fired water cannons and tear-gas canisters at demonstrators protesting plans by the government of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convert the last major public green space in the city into replica Ottoman-era army barracks. More than 1,000 people were injured and more than 1,700 arrested as tens of thousands joined in protests in at least 67 cities over the weekend, fueled by discontent over what critics described as Erdogan’s increasingly repressive and antisecularist rule. “For the past year,” said an Istanbul shopkeeper, “it has felt like I run a shelter for gas-raid victims.” Erdogan proposed to construct a mosque in Taksim Square, one man was killed by police gunfire and another by a taxi, volunteers offered free meatballs to anyone who helped clean up, CNN Türk aired the penguin documentary Spy in the Huddle, and Syria warned its citizens against traveling to Turkey. “We call upon Erdogan to show wisdom,” said Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Russia criticized the European Union for allowing its embargo on arms sales to Syria to expire, thereby leaving member states free to arm opposition forces, and prepared to ship an S-300 missile-defense system to the Syrian government. “We think this delivery is a stabilizing factor,” said Russia’s deputy foreign minister, “and that such steps in many ways restrain some hotheads.” The primary Syrian opposition coalition announced that it would boycott a proposed U.N. peace conference amid arguments over procedural matters, opposition forces clashed with Hezbollah inside Lebanon, and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad warned that the fighting might spread to the Golan Heights region of Israel.[11][12][13][14][15] Yiddish scholars objected to the final round of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was won by a 13-year-old from Queens, New York, who spelled the name of a traditional type of dumpling “k-n-a-i-d-e-l” in accordance with Webster’s Third New International Dictionary rather than their preferred spelling, “k-n-e-y-d-l.” “K-n-a-d-e-l,” said a Yiddish speaker at a Bronx seniors center. “K-n-a-w-d-l-e,” said a man at a nearby table. “There’s no real spelling of the word,” said the owner of a Manhattan deli that sells T-shirts reading “kneidel.”[16]

Twelve days after a tornado killed 24 people in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, the region was again hit by tornados and flash floods, this time killing 18, including three professional storm chasers. “Oklahoma is considered the Mecca of storm chasing,” said Tim Samaras in an interview conducted just prior to his death. “We know ahead of time when we chase in Oklahoma, there’s going to be a traffic jam.”[17][18][19] Torrential rain forced the evacuation of thousands of homes in Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany, and the first German census since the country’s 1990 reunification revealed that it has 1.5 million fewer people than previously believed.[20][21] A Texas veteran accused of sending letters laced with ricin to U.S. president Barack Obama, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Bloomberg’s gun-control lobbying group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, reportedly told police he was being framed by his estranged wife.[22][23] The U.S. Army began court-martial proceedings against Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst accused of providing 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks in the knowledge that Al Qaeda would be able to access them, and Moktar Belmoktar, who planned the January attack on a gas plant near Amenas, Algeria, was revealed to have left Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb after receiving a letter from his superiors admonishing him for “backbiting, name-calling, and sneering” and enumerating 30 other complaints against him. “We ask our good brother,” they wrote, “why do you only turn on your phone with the emirate when you need it?”[24][25][26][27] Members of the far-right English Defense League were chased through the streets of London by women dressed as badgers.[28]

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At least 119 workers were killed in a series of fires and explosions at a poultry plant in Mishazi, China; Australia confirmed that Chinese hackers had stolen the schematics for its new $600 million spy headquarters; and a species of florescent pink slugs was discovered on Australia’s Mount Kaputar. “People tend to focus on the cute and cuddly bird and mammal species,” said a park ranger. “I’m a big believer in invertebrates.”[29][30][31] In Albuquerque, a drunk driver who crashed his SUV while having sex was discovered behind a cactus with his shorts inside out.[32] Federal prosecutors revealed that a client of an online currency exchange accused of laundering over $6 billion had registered under the username Russia Hackers, and that an undercover agent had successfully created an account under the name Joe Bogus for the purpose of “cocaine.”[33] Washington State police were desensitizing drug-sniffing dogs to marijuana, Florida authorities lassoed and tasered an escaped llama named Scooter, and police in Madras detained three goats accused of vandalizing a patrol vehicle, while nine goats remained at large.[34][35][36] A change to a state law eliminated the longest word in the German language, Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (beef labeling monitoring assessment assignment law), and the word galocher was added to the Petit Robert dictionary, formally giving the French a verb for French kissing. “It never stopped us,” said a Robert employee, “from doing it.”[37][38]


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What China Threat?·

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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.

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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
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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.”

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