Weekly Review — October 7, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

America’s first Ebola diagnosis, a pro-ICBM clothing exchange, and Joe Biden on being number two.

 ALL IN MY EYE.Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national, was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital with the first case of the Ebola virus diagnosed in the United States. The staff of the Dallas-area hospital drew criticism from health officials for having failed to screen Duncan for the virus when, days earlier, he showed up in the emergency room with Ebola-like symptoms and told a nurse he had recently arrived from Africa. The hospital first claimed that the information was not “fully communicated” to doctors, then attributed the error to its electronic-health-records software, then said that though the patient’s travel history was available to the full medical team Duncan had lied when asked if he had been in contact with anyone who had the virus.[1] Before leaving Monrovia Duncan had reportedly helped transport a woman who was infected with Ebola, a fact he later omitted from a Liberian airport questionnaire. Dallas County prosecutors considered pressing aggravated-assault charges and the Liberia Airport Authority vowed to prosecute Duncan upon his return. “We wish him,” said an airport official, “a speedy recovery.”[2][3][4][5] The Islamic State posted a video to YouTube that purports to show the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning, the group’s fourth such killing of a Western hostage.[6][7] In the video, a masked man warns President Obama that if U.S. air strikes continue in Syria, the Islamic State will continue to strike what was variously heard as “the next of your people” and “the necks of your people.” The parents of American aid worker Peter Kassig, a convert to Islam who changed his name to Abdul-Rahman and who also appears in the video, responded with a plea for their son’s release. “We have no more control over the U.S. government,” Ed Kassig says to his son’s captors, “than you have over the break of dawn.”[8] Vice President Joe Biden apologized to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for suggesting, in a speech at Harvard, that their governments were “so determined to take down [Syrian President Bashar] Assad” that they financed Al Qaeda militants in Syria. In his speech, Biden said that international order “is literally fraying at the seams” and joked with an audience member who identified himself as the vice president of Harvard’s student body. “Ain’t that a bitch?” Biden said. “I mean, the vice president thing.”[9][10][11]

Police in Hong Kong arrested 19 people—eight of whom are believed to have ties to organized crime—for attacking participants in pro-democracy protests, and the Chinese government subjected 10,000 pigeons to anal security checks before releasing the birds in celebration of the country’s National Day.[12] U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned amid an investigation into the agency’s failure to apprehend Omar J. Gonzalez, an armed intruder who jumped a White House fence and entered the mansion through an unlocked door.[13][14] The investigation revealed that at least two officers present that day recognized Gonzalez from an earlier incident in which he was found near the White House fence with a hatchet tucked into his pants; that President Obama shared an elevator last month with an armed security contractor who has three felony assault and battery convictions; and that Pierson, who once worked as a costumed character at Walt Disney World, told two agency supervisors that the Secret Service needed to be more like the theme park. “We need to be more friendly,” Pierson said, “inviting.”[15] Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he had been denied a loan to refinance his mortgage, and a Florida teen was hit by a truck while walking down Easy Street.[16][17][18] Pro-Russian activists in Moscow reportedly staged a “top swap” in which they exchanged T-shirts with Western slogans for shirts printed with pictures of intercontinental ballistic missiles and slogans like This rocket isn’t scared of sanctions.[19][20] In Ukraine, a Kiev heating-supply vendor reported selling 15 times more water heaters than usual because of fears that Russia will stop gas shipments during the winter. What to some is war, to others is profit,” he said.[21] A statue of Vladimir Lenin was toppled in the Ukranian city of Kharkiv, where one looter offered to sell the fragment containing Lenin’s nose and mustache to anyone willing to provide a battalion of Ukrainian soldiers with winter underwear, and another posted a Facebook auction for Lenin’s ear. “You can hear Donbas through it,” the seller wrote. “Make me an offer.”[22]

In Germany, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia launched a campaign against pickpocketing at a press conference where he was pickpocketed by a magician.[23] In Berlin, three armed men disguised as senior citizens used wheelchairs and walkers to approach an armored van that they robbed at gunpoint, and Hamburg’s Thalia Theatre staged the opening performance of Charles Manson: Summer of Hate—The Musical.”[24] Heavy-metal band Slipknot announced plans to burn oil drums filled with camel dung throughout Knotfest, its three-day music festival, because the culture has to have a smell, and a University of Chicago survey of 3,000 adults found that 39% of those whose sense of smell ranked “poorest” in a scientist-administered sniff test were dead within five years.[25][26] The U.S. National Institutes of Health awarded a $466,642 grant to a study that will examine why obese adolescent girls have fewer dating experiences than their non-obese peers, students at Devils Lake High School in North Dakota protested a ban on skinny jeans, and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un had reportedly become so heavy that his ankles fractured under his own weight.[27][28] In Tokyo, 265-pound Shinichiro Imanishi argued with a man over a chair at a ramen shop, stomped the man to death, and then calmly resumed eating his noodles. “I will go to jail,” Imanishi explained to his fellow diners. “This will be my last supper.”[29][30][31]

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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.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
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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:

$409,085.56

Eighty percent of those displaced by climate change have been women, whose voices have been getting deeper.

In Wichita Falls, Texas, a woman was banned from Walmart after drinking wine from a Pringles can while riding an electric shopping cart; she had been riding the cart for two and a half hours.

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“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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