Weekly Review — September 16, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Obama announces air strikes in Iraq; a monsoon superfloods India; and California nudists cover up for the Man

Saluting the Town (Weekly)

President Obama announced an open-ended military mission in Iraq and Syria led by retired General John Allen, which will include airstrikes, Pentagon training of militants, and the deployment of 475 additional military advisers, intended to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State (IS). Obama invited Congress to approve the action, but insisted it didn’t need to, citing the 2001 authorization of military force permitting attacks on Al Qaeda, which he once disavowed. “But I do think it’s important for Congress to understand what the plan is, to have buy-in, to debate it,” Obama said on Meet the Press prior to his address. “Very clever,” said a former official who served in George W. Bush’s Justice Department. Nearly 40 countries, including 10 Arab nations, pledged to join an anti-IS coalition, while Russia, Syria, and Iran condemned the plan.[1][2][3][4][5] The United States and the European Union issued new sanctions against Russia, including travel and asset freezes on 24 Russian officials, for the country’s support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. “The less our officials and corporate executives travel abroad,” Vladimir Putin said of the sanctions, “the better.” Amid a ceasefire in Ukraine, government forces traded 31 pro-Russian separatists for 36 Ukrainian soldiers in rebel-captured Donetsk, and residents of Luhansk, which has little electricity and running water and is covered in trash and pockmarked by road craters and incinerated buildings, celebrated “city day” with a mourning service outside the Lady of Sorrows Church.[6][7][8][9] In New Delhi, which was suffering a water shortage, residents purchased illegally siphoned well water from 2,000 mafia-owned tankers throughout the city.[10] A monsoon “superflood” of the Jhelum and Chenab Rivers killed more than 400 people in 2,100 villages and cities in Indian-administered Kashmir and eastern Pakistan, and the Indian army evacuated 22,000 people, including residents of Srinagar, where the water rose 18 feet. Villagers angry at relief delays heckled soldiers and beat a rescue official, who had to be airlifted to safety. “India,” said Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, who accused India of diverting dam water into Pakistan, “has dropped a water bomb on Pakistan.”[11][12][13]

The Nigerian military conducted an air and ground assault on Boko Haram–held towns in Adamawa state, wounding Lieutenant Colonel Adeboye Obasanjo, the son of a former Nigerian president, and causing tens of thousands of residents to flee to nearby towns including Yola, where 200 people had taken refuge in a five-bedroom house.[14][15] A spreading ebola outbreak in western Africa was harming the continent’s tourism industry. “Ebola is associated with primates and Uganda is associated with primates,” said a Ugandan tour operator. “In the minds of many travelers, Africa is one country.”[16] A 24-year-old male orangutan that correctly predicted the winning teams of seven consecutive Super Bowl matches died of complications from breast cancer.[17] The NFL extended indefinitely its two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after the release of a video showing him punching his then-fiancée in an elevator, which league officials had viewed five months earlier; the Minnesota Vikings reinstated running back Adrian Peterson following his indictment for beating his son with a tree branch; and Tubby Reddy, the head of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Commission, said Oscar Pistorius’s “culpable homicide” conviction for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year would not prevent the paralympian runner from continuing to compete for South Africa.[18][19][20] In Utah, an elementary school teacher was injured when a gun she was carrying went off in the school’s faculty bathroom and exploded a toilet, and police shot to death a 22-year-old African-American man walking with a bladeless samurai sword in a convenience store parking lot. “I’m glad that the officers took action,” said a bystander. “From what I’ve heard, it could have been a lot worse.”[21][22]

A man in California was arrested for killing his girlfriend’s dog and feeding it to her, and a New Jersey man was sentenced to 50 years in prison after he stabbed his wife 84 times then covered her face with a pig mask.[23][24] An 83-year-old demented woman in Buffalo, New York, pleaded not guilty to beating to death her 89-year-old demented husband, and a judge questioned the validity of a legally incapacitated 96-year-old woman’s marriage to a 95-year-old man she met waiting in line for lottery tickets. “Anybody who wants to get married must have a little dementia,” said the woman’s daughter.[25][26] The cofounder of a Maine retirement home for circus elephants was killed when one of the animals stepped on him.[27] Police searching the home of a man suspected of possessing child pornography found 50 frozen cat carcasses, 35 live cats, and piles of cat feces. “All I saw,” said a 12-year-old neighbor of visits to the man’s house, “was just cats in little diapers.”[28] A 14-year-old Pennsylvania boy was charged with desecration for photographing himself miming receiving fellatio from a Jesus statue owned by the charity Love in the Name of Christ.[29] California rangers stormed a drought-plagued Los Gatos nudist colony suspected of siphoning water from a public waterfall for a skinny-dipping pool. “I discreetly turned my fanny pack,” said Errol Strider, a 70-year-old nudist, of his interaction with the rangers, “to a front pack.”[30]

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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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Going to Extremes·

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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.
—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

Value of loose change left at TSA checkpoints in 2010:

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