Weekly Review — June 3, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Three brutal crimes against women in Asia, a controversial Taliban prisoner swap, and a human-skin heist in Connecticut

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

In Uttar Pradesh, India, police fired water cannons at hundreds of women gheraoing the office of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to protest the alleged rape and murder by five men from Yadav’s caste of two teenage Dalit girls, who were attacked on their way to relieve themselves in a field and hanged from a mango tree. “You’re not facing any danger,” said Yadav to reporters inquiring about the deaths. “What’s it to you?”[1][2][3][4] In Kelantan State, Malaysia, police detained 13 men suspected of participating in the gang-rape by 38 men of a 15-year-old girl, and in Lahore, Pakistan, police arrested five men and sought two others believed to be responsible for the murder of Farzana Parveen, a pregnant 25-year-old woman who was bludgeoned en route to a courthouse to contest a case filed by her family against her husband, Muhammad Iqbal, whom she had married without the family’s consent. “She was the best wife anyone could ask for,” said Iqbal, who killed his first wife in order to be with Parveen.[5][6][7] A court in Niger convicted a man of slavery because he had taken an unofficial, fifth wife.[8] More than 1,000 migrants rushed razor-wire barriers in an attempt to get into the Spanish North African territory of Melilla, and an Australian school apologized after a teacher shaved the armpits of a 14-year-old girl as part of a classroom life-skills demonstration. “It’s not to say that shaving armpits needs to occur,” said the school’s principal. “It’s an option.”[9][10] Mahbod Moghadam, a co-founder of the annotation service Rap Genius, was fired for posting such comments as “MY GUESS: his sister is smokin hot” and “This is an artful sentence, beautifully written” on the manifesto of Elliot Rodger, who wrote of wanting to “punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex” before murdering six people in Isla Vista, California, on May 23.[11][12][13][14] The writer Maya Angelou, best known for her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, died in North Carolina at age 86. “A fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman,” said President Barack Obama. “Rest in peace, phenomenal woman,” said Beyoncé.[15][16][17]

Obama announced a timetable for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, with the current force of 32,000 scheduled to drop to 9,800 by the end of 2014, to roughly 5,000 by the end of 2015, and to a vestigial force of less than 1,000 by the end of 2016. “This is how wars end in the twenty-first century,” said Obama. “Afghanistan will not be a perfect place.”[18] Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of veteran affairs after the agency’s inspector general reported widespread fraud in VA clinics and confirmed that a VA facility in Phoenix had placed 1,700 veterans on an unofficial wait list in order to conceal treatment delays.[19][20] Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, was released after five years in captivity to a U.S. special-forces team near the border with Pakistan, following an agreement to exchange him for five Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo Bay. The deal was brokered by Qatar, where the freed Afghan detainees will be required to stay for a year. “I’m your father, Bowe,” said Bergdahl’s father, in Pashto. “Thanks to God,” said Mullah Omar. “[Qatar] enabled us to have confidence that these prisoners will be carefully watched,” said national security adviser Susan Rice.[21][22][23] It was reported that 31 FIFA officials had been paid a total of $5 million by a Qatari lobbyist in exchange for their support of the country’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup, and that North Korean scientists had developed a sports drink made from mushrooms.[24][25] The Obama Administration proposed an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that would establish the country’s first official limit on carbon emissions, targeting a 30 percent reduction by 2030 in carbon pollution from power plants compared with 2005 levels. “Today’s proposal from the EPA could singlehandedly eliminate [our] competitive advantage,” said the CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.[26][27] A Norwegian man found a tree stump whose rings resemble the face in The Scream, and Sweden’s ATMs all broke down simultaneously.[28][29]

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A Connecticut man was charged with stealing more than $350,000 worth of human skin. “To take this into the criminal arena,” said his lawyer, “is a bit draconian.”[30] A vampire grave was reportedly unearthed in the Polish town of Kamien Pomorski, and the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Intelligencer Journal apologized to readers for publishing a profile of a witch who was later revealed to have been arrested for prostitution. “Everyone,” said the witch to the reporter, “is born with psychic abilities.”[31][32][33] A Ukrainian TV personality punched Brad Pitt in the face at the Hollywood premiere of Maleficent.[34] The surviving Beastie Boys testified against Monster.[35] The actor Macaulay Culkin’s band, The Pizza Underground, was booed offstage in Nottingham, and doctors reported stimulating a passion for the music of Johnny Cash in a 60-year-old Dutchman. “It has a certain rhythm,” said a neurosurgeon.[36][37] NASA scientists confirmed the value of the Love number, which measures the stiffness of the moon, and revealed that the lunar surface bulges in concert with the motion of the earth.[38] A Cornish man was sentenced to five years in prison for threatening to kill a family who tried to stop him from entering their farm and rolling around naked in cow dung, and a male pheasant accused of terrorizing visitors to Wood Farm in Hail Weston found a mate. “I sincerely hope he will settle down now,” said the farm’s owner. “As long as he’s not henpecked.”[39]


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Afew months before the United States invaded Iraq, in 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, was asked on a radio show how long the war would take. “Five days or five weeks or five months,” he replied. “It certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” When George W. Bush departed the White House more than five years later, there were nearly 136,000 US soldiers stationed in the country. 

The number of troops has fallen since then, but Bush’s successors have failed to withdraw the United States from the region. Barack Obama campaigned on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to send hundreds of troops into Syria. For years Donald Trump described America’s efforts in Afghanistan as “a waste” and said that soldiers were being led “to slaughter,” but in 2017 he announced that he would deploy as many as 4,000 more troops to the country. “Decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk of the Oval Office,” he explained. Every president, it seems, eventually learns to embrace our perpetual war.

With the Trump Administration’s attacks on affordable health care, immigration, environmental regulation, and civil rights now in full swing, criticism of America’s military engagements has all but disappeared from the national conversation. Why hasn’t the United States been able—or willing—to end these conflicts? Who has benefited from them? Is victory still possible—and, if so, is it anywhere in sight?

In March, Harper’s Magazine convened a panel of former soldiers at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. The participants, almost all of whom saw combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, were asked to reflect on the country’s involvement in the Middle East. This Forum is based on that panel, which was held before an audience of cadets and officers, and on a private discussion that followed.

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Before he died, my father reminded me that when I was four and he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a writer. Of course, what I meant by “writer” then was a writer of Superman comics. In part I was infatuated with the practically invulnerable Man of Steel, his blue eyes and his spit curl. I wanted both to be him and to marry him—to be his Robin, so to speak. But more importantly, I wanted to write his story, the adventures of the man who fought for truth, justice, and the American Way—if only I could figure out what the fuck the American Way was.

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Sarah was four years old when her spirit guide first appeared. One day, she woke up from a nap and saw him there beside her bed. He was short, with longish curly hair, like a cherub made of light. She couldn’t see his feet. They played a board game—she remembers pushing the pieces around—and then he melted away.

After that, he came and went like any child’s imaginary friend. Sarah often sensed his presence when strange things happened—when forces of light and darkness took shape in the air around her or when photographs rippled as though shimmering in the heat. Sometimes Sarah had thoughts in her head that she knew were not her own. She would say things that upset her parents. “Cut it out,” her mother would warn. “This is what they put people in psychiatric hospitals for.”

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In the fall of 1969, I was a freelance journalist working out of a small, cheap office I had rented on the eighth floor of the National Press Building in downtown Washington. A few doors down was a young Ralph Nader, also a loner, whose exposé of the safety failures in American automobiles had changed the industry. There was nothing in those days quite like a quick lunch at the downstairs coffee shop with Ralph. Once, he grabbed a spoonful of my tuna-fish salad, flattened it out on a plate, and pointed out small pieces of paper and even tinier pieces of mouse shit in it. He was marvelous, if a bit hard to digest.

The tip came on Wednesday, October 22. The caller was Geoffrey Cowan, a young lawyer new to town who had worked on the ­McCarthy campaign and had been writing critically about the Vietnam War for the Village Voice. There was a story he wanted me to know about. The Army, he told me, was in the process of court-martialing a GI at Fort Benning, in Georgia, for the killing of seventy-five civilians in South Vietnam. Cowan did not have to spell out why such a story, if true, was important, but he refused to discuss the source for his information.

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The family was informed they would be moving to a place called Montana. Jaber Abdullah had never heard of it, but a Google search revealed that it was mountainous. Up to that point, he and his wife, Heba, had thought they’d be moving from Turkey to Newark, New Jersey. The prospect of crime there concerned Heba, as she and Jaber had two young sons: Jan, a petulant two-year-old, and Ivan, a newborn. 

Montana sounded like the countryside. That, Heba thought, could be good. She’d grown up in Damascus, Syria, where jasmine hung from the walls and people sold dates in the great markets. These days, you checked the sky for mortar rounds like you checked for rain, but she still had little desire to move to the United States. Basel, Jaber’s brother, a twenty-two-year-old with a cool, quiet demeanor, merely shrugged.

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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