Weekly Review — January 21, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Obama announces surveillance reforms, the Taliban bombs a Kabul restaurant, and Smartie snorting prompts nose-maggot panic

ALL IN MY EYE.In a speech at the Department of Justice, President Barack Obama outlined new measures to curtail U.S. government surveillance of the communications of American and foreign citizens. Obama’s proposed reforms included shifting custody of the National Security Agency’s database of Americans’ phone records to an undetermined private-sector entity; requiring intelligence officials to obtain a court order for each phone number that they wish to query in the database; and reducing officials’ access to phone-call data to two “hops” from a subject rather than three (the records of someone who called someone who called someone who called a suspect). “As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control” said Obama. “It’s embarrassing for a head of state like that to go on for almost 45 minutes and say almost nothing,” said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.[1][2][3][4][5] Representative Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had been assisted by the Russian government in leaking documents to media. “There’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms,” said Rogers, “of an FSB agent in Moscow.”[6] Russian president Vladimir Putin held a press briefing during which he denied allegations of corruption in the country’s preparations for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, and responded to criticism of Russia’s ban on propaganda relating to “non-traditional sexual relations.” “When they achieve great results, such as, for instance Elton John,” said Putin, “millions of our people sincerely love him with no regard to his sexual orientation.”[7] At least 30 people were arrested across Nigeria under a new law banning gay marriage and gay groups, and U.K. Independent Party councilor David Silvester of Henley-Upon-Thames was suspended for publishing a letter in the Henley Standard blaming recent storms and flooding on the government’s decision to legalize gay marriage. “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith,” Silvester wrote, “will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence, and war.”[8][9][10]

The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 21 people at La Taverna du Liban, a popular restaurant for foreigners in Kabul, “where the invaders used to dine,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, “with booze and liquor in the plenty.”[11] Protesters accused the Thai government of detonating a grenade that killed one person and wounded 35 at an antigovernment demonstration in Bangkok. “Let me tell you, brothers and sisters,” said protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, “there’s no need to suspect anyone else.” Two days later, two more grenades exploded, wounding 28 and destroying a stall selling antigovernment T-shirts.[12][13] Ninety-three wildfires burned in Australia, a Canadian tennis player had a vision of Snoopy before collapsing on-court at the Australian Open during a heat wave, and brushfires burned 1,700 acres east of Los Angeles, displacing 11 residents at a Catholic retreat center but leaving statues of Jesus and Mary untouched.[14][15][16][17] A lightning strike damaged the right thumb of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, a month after another strike damaged its right middle finger.[18] A Salvadorian nun gave birth to a son at the Little Disciples of Jesus convent in Campomoro, Italy. “I did not know I was pregnant,” she said. “I only felt a stomach pain.”[19] The star of the MTV reality show Teen Mom, Farrah Abraham, who has created a line of sex toys and appeared in a porn film, announced that she is writing a book on Christian parenting.[20] Divorce rates were found to be higher than average among religiously conservative American Protestants and their neighbors, and the family of televangelist Billy Graham asked the public to pray for his health as he recovered from a lung infection. “We’ve got some other filming,” said his son Franklin, “I’d like my father to do.”[21][22]

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Parents of students at Portsmouth Middle School in Rhode Island received letters from administrators warning that teens who snort Smarties could develop nose maggots.[23] A German farmer captured a runaway bull by spiking a bucket of grain with two bottles of vodka, and a collie named Molly survived a runaway-tractor crash in the English town of Colyton.[24][25] South African biologists reported the capture on film of a tigerfish jumping out of a lake to prey on a swallow in flight, and Japanese fishermen caught a 360-pound giant squid, tearing off its longest tentacles in the process. “I wish,” said a fisherman, “we’d been able to make the squid more presentable.”[26][27] An Italian man living in Dublin killed his landlord during a dispute over a chess match, then attempted to eat his heart. “[He] liked a good argument,” said a friend of the landlord.[28] A retired Tampa police officer killed a stranger who was texting during previews before the film Lone Survivor; a Providence, New York, man was indicted for conspiring to create a radioactive death ray and sell it to the Ku Klux Klan or to Jewish groups so they could eliminate the enemies of Israel; and Craig Cobb pleaded not guilty to seven terrorism charges stemming from a failed attempt to turn the town of Leith, North Dakota, into a white-separatist enclave called Cobbsville. “I warned him,” said former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Tom Metzger, to whom Cobb had given a property, “not to bring in the Hollywood-style Nazis.”[29][30][31]


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