Weekly Review — December 30, 2013, 1:44 pm

Yearly Review

The civil war in Syria counted its 100,000th death, and the Syrian government formally acceded to the international convention banning chemical weapons and agreed to the inventory, seizure, and removal or destruction of its chemical weapons and chemical-weapons facilities by mid-2014. Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the country’s military, sparking protests and violence that culminated in August with the deaths of at least 638 people during the clearing of encampments set up by Morsi’s supporters. More than 8,000 people were killed by sectarian violence in Iraq. Pakistan underwent the first democratic transfer of power in its 66-year history. Iran claimed to have launched monkeys named Pishgam and Fargam into space, and agreed to halt the enrichment of high-grade uranium for six months in exchange for the relaxation of international sanctions. In Nairobi, gunmen stormed the Westgate shopping mall and killed at least 62 people; in Algeria, 38 hostages and 29 militants were killed during a four-day standoff at a natural-gas refinery in the Saharan outpost of Ain Amenas; and in Mali, militants set fire to the Timbuktu’s Ahmed Baba Institute, which houses manuscripts dating to the twelfth century. “They are bandits,” said institute employee Ali Baba. The United Nations warned of a risk of genocide in the Central African Republic, where more than 650 people died in December during sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims, and discovered mass graves in South Sudan, where thousands of people died during fighting in December. North Korea hosted NBA hall-of-famer Dennis Rodman three times, executed the ex-girlfriend and the uncle of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, nullified its 1953 armistice with South Korea, and sent a fax to the South Korean government warning that it might strike without warning. Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 6,100 people in the Philippines; flash floods and landslides killed at least 5,700 in the Indian state of Uttarakhand; the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,127 people; and a 7.7-magnitude earthquake killed at least 825 people in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. One hundred and six prisoners participated in an ongoing hunger strike at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. Uruguay became the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale, and consumption of marijuana, and a construction company bulldozed a 2,300-year-old Mayan temple to make road fill in Belize. “Mind-boggling,” said archaeologist Jamie Awe. A Reykjavík court granted a 15-year-old officially known as “girl” the right to use the name Blær, and New Zealand barred its citizens from naming their children Lucifer and Anal. Pope Benedict XVI retired, as did David Beckham, Jack Nicholson, and the world’s most prolific streaker. The Vatican recalled 6,000 medals recounting a story about Lesus, opened a Vacant See, and elected to the papacy the Argentine Jesuit priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became the first Pope Francis. A Catholic diocese in southern Austria was fined for mass texting. Malawi accused Madonna of bullying. Saudi Arabia expelled three Emirati men for being too handsome. Turkey exonerated a kestrel accused of spying for Israel, and sculptors built a snow replica of an M75 missile on the Temple Mount. Russia ordered its soldiers to start wearing socks, and Pakistan ordered its civil servants to go sockless. India shut down the world’s last remaining telegraph service. Representatives from the House of Keys declared their support for a lesbian couple denied an apartment on the Isle of Man, and Uganda passed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life imprisonment. Russia passed an antigay bill banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imprisoned, then freed, the punk band Pussy Riot and 30 members of Greenpeace. Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison for paying for sex with an underage dancer known as Ruby the Heart-Stealer. Olympic sprinter and double-amputee Oscar Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend. Icelandic police shot and killed a civilian for the first time, then apologized. Nelson Mandela died, as did Hugo Chávez and Margaret Thatcher; authors Chinua Achebe, Tom Clancy, Evan S. Connell, Seamus Heaney, Elmore Leonard, and Doris Lessing; film critic Roger Ebert; cruciverbalist Araucaria; the original Dear Abby; athletes Walt Bellamy, Stan Musial, Bill Sharman, and Earl Weaver; actors Annette Funicello, James Gandolfini, Peter O’Toole, and Harry Reems; musicians Richie Havens, George Jones, Yusef Lateef, Lou Reed, and John Tavener; computer programmer Aaron Swartz; the inventors of the AK-47 and Twister; and a skydiver in Yolo County, California. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a son and named him George Alexander Louis. The world’s oldest bird hatched a chick.

The cloves Binks finds in his pocket conjure up fond memories (Harper's, November 1919)

The cloves Binks finds in his pocket conjure up fond memories (Harper’s, November 1919)

American technology-infrastructure analyst Edward Snowden provided the Guardian newspaper and other media outlets with classified data on the surveillance activities of the U.S. National Security Agency and other global security organizations. The NSA was revealed to have collected phone-call data, chat transcripts, emails, and other information from many major American telecommunications and internet companies; to have eavesdropped without warrants on the phone calls of American citizens, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and 35 other unnamed world leaders; and to have asked a news organization to modify a Freedom of Information Act request because it had “no central method to search an email.” The U.S. government charged Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong and was later granted temporary asylum in Russia, with espionage and theft of government property. Two months after Congress passed a stopgap bill to fund the government until January 2014 and raise the country’s debt ceiling until February — which occurred 16 days after a U.S. government shutdown that caused an estimated 800,000 federal workers to be furloughed and 1.3 million others to be asked to work without compensation; which occurred six months after President Barack Obama submitted his original budget proposal; which occurred two months after his deadline for submitting the proposal; which occurred one month after Congress passed a deal to avert the U.S. “fiscal cliff” of drastic automatic cuts to government spending — Congress passed a budget for 2014. The Justice Department was found to have authorized the use of drone strikes to kill American citizens; the Internal Revenue Service was found to have given special scrutiny to conservative groups whose tax filings contained such terms as “tea party” and “patriots”; and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner was found to have exchanged graphic messages and photographs on the Internet under the pseudonym Carlos Danger. Half the city council of Ypsilanti, Michigan, abstained from a vote on a resolution to ban abstentions, and New Jersey residents complained about police barricades erected to keep visitors away from towns devastated by Hurricane Sandy. “We live in an open democracy,” said Brick mayor Kevin Acropolis. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point held its first gay wedding, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a gay wedding, and Clarence Thomas spoke during oral arguments for the first time in nearly seven years. New Hampshire emancipated 14 slaves who petitioned for their freedom in 1779, Mississippi formally notified the U.S. government that it had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Harrisburg Patriot-News retracted a November 1863 report likening the Gettysburg Address to a “veil of oblivion.” NAACP representatives met with members of the Ku Klux Klan. George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin; Ariel Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for subjecting three women to beatings, starvation, and rape while holding them hostage for more than nine years; brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were charged with four murders after detonating two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon; Major Nidal Hasan and Staff Sergeant Robert Bales were convicted of mass killings at Fort Hood, Texas, and Panjwayi, Afghanistan, respectively; and Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing classified documents to WikiLeaks and announced that he would live as a woman named Chelsea. The Federal Bureau of Investigation shut down the online drug marketplace Silk Road, arrested Dread Pirate Roberts, and seized 26,000 of his bitcoins. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (R.) asserted that “a handful of good websites” could replace most of the federal bureaucracy, and online health-care marketplaces for uninsured American citizens opened in accordance with the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, then immediately began to crash. The City of Detroit applied for bankruptcy, a judicial panel ruled that the New York Yankees are baseball’s sole evil empire, and conservatives criticized the U.S. National Science Foundation for granting $384,949 to fund a study of duck-penis plasticity. “Sometimes you have to look at the big picture,” said NSF spokeswoman Debbie Wing.

Lego figurines were found to be growing angrier. Researchers reconstructed the face of Richard III, discovered the heart of Richard I to have been embalmed in daisy, mint, and myrtle, and calculated that Double Stuf Oreos contain only 1.86 times as much cream filling. In England, two North Anglians dressed as Oompa Loompas attacked a man outside a kebab house, an appellate court ended Cadbury’s monopoly on the color purple, and Lord Sugar was investigated for racism. An Edinburgh Krispy Kreme sold an average of one doughnut every three seconds in the six months after it opened. “They are ruinous,” said Scottish National Obesity Forum spokesman Tam Fry. Frito-Lay began selling Taco Bell Doritos, which taste like Taco Bell Doritos Locos tacos, which taste like Doritos. Conor P. Fudge was charged for a burglary at Iowa City’s Cold Stone Creamery. Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted that he had smoked crack cocaine while in “one of my drunken stupors.” Doctors declared cured a Mississippi baby born with HIV. Belgium permitted twins born deaf to commit suicide because they had also become blind. In Spain, the recipient of the world’s first double-leg transplant had his transplanted legs amputated. South Korean police arrested two students for selling diet pills made of human flesh, and hackers in Montana broadcast an emergency alert warning of a zombie uprising. A meteor released a 300-kiloton shock wave after striking Earth’s atmosphere over Russia, an earthquake triggered a six-inch tsunami off the coast of Alaska, and 30 million locusts swarmed Giza. Worldwide levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide reached their highest concentration in at least 2 million years, and scientists measured the lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth, –137 degrees Fahrenheit, in Antarctica. The Xenoturbella bocki “paradox” worm was confirmed to be the progenitor of humankind, Darwin’s frog was declared extinct, and the body of Lonesome George, the world’s last Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii tortoise, was prepared for exhibition. “You feel for him,” said taxidermist George Dante. “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t.” A moon of Pluto was renamed Styx, and a mob burned three men on the isle of Nosy Be in Madagascar. “Come visit,” said a Malagasy man from Hell-Ville. On the surface of Mars, Curiosity left tracks resembling an erect penis, pierced a veiny rock named Cumberland, and sang “Happy Birthday” to itself. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space. An Englishman opened Pandora’s box, then died.

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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.

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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.

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