Weekly Review — December 23, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

North Korea attacks the U.S. film industry, Pakistan reinstates the death penalty, and a Pennsylvania electrician stabs a Virgin Mary lawn ornament in the head

eye_350x382Sony Pictures canceled the planned Christmas Day theatrical release of The Interview, which depicts a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, after the three largest North American cinema chains postponed showing the film in response to threats of violent attacks issued by hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace. “I wish they had spoken to me first,” said President Obama of Sony’s decision, adding later, “I might have called the movie theater chains.” The FBI determined that the North Korean government was responsible for hacking Sony and making the subsequent threats, the North Korean foreign ministry denied any involvement, and North Korea’s National Defense Commission released a statement that called the United States a “cesspool of terrorism” and promised its “toughest counteraction.” “We have to respond in kind,” said Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.). “We have lots of capability in cyber and we ought to start cranking that up.”[1][2][3][4][5][6] The government of Pakistan reinstated the death penalty for terrorists and hanged six convicted militants after a Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar killed 148 people, most of them students.[7][8][9] A 28-year-old man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot his ex-girlfriend in her Maryland apartment, then boarded a bus to New York and shot two New York City police officers sitting in their squad car, in retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown; and Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County, Missouri, prosecutor admitted that some witnesses who had appeared before a grand jury investigating Brown’s death had perjured themselves, including a St. Louis resident who claimed she had seen the shooting when she came to Ferguson to learn about African-American culture. “Need to understand the Black race better,” she wrote, purportedly on the day of the shooting, in a journal presented to the jury, “so I stop calling Blacks Niggers and Start calling them People.”[10][11][12]

The United States and Cuba agreed to restore diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 50 years in a deal requested by Pope Francis. In exchange for the release of three Cuban spies detained by the United States since 1998, Cuba agreed to free an American civilian imprisoned since 2009 for trying to establish clandestine Internet service for Cuban Jews. “Let’s hope we unleash a trade tsunami,” wrote Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.), “that washes the Castros once and for all into the sea.”[13][14][15] Russian president Vladimir Putin, who currently has an 80 percent approval rating, delivered a three-hour news conference in which he predicted the country’s economy would recover within two years despite a more than 50 percent decline in the ruble’s value. “I very much support Putin,” said a 79-year-old woman from the Russian town of Gryaz. “Who else is there to support?”[16][17][18] Google’s valuation of $340 billion surpassed that of the entire Russian stock market, Ukraine’s most-googled recipe in 2014 was found to have been for Molotov cocktails, and St. Petersburg assemblyman Vitaly Milonov announced that he’d discarded his iPhone 6 after Apple CEO Tim Cook came out as gay, because the device had begun “smelling with gay stuff.”[19][20][21] It was reported that Gaylard Williams, the leader of an Indiana antigay church, was arrested for grabbing and squeezing another man’s genitals; an elementary school in Kansas City, Missouri, punished a blind eight-year-old boy by replacing his cane with a foam pool noodle; and the Dalai Lama suggested that the six-century-old lineage of Buddhist spiritual leaders end with him. “There is no guarantee,” he said, “that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next.”[22][23][24]

A man bit a dog in Cambridge, England; a dog near Sheridan, Wyoming, fired a rifle into its owner’s left arm; and a 330-pound man in Lucena, Spain, was charged with animal abuse after a donkey he’d sat on in a Nativity scene subsequently collapsed and died.[25][26][27] The Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple installed a “Snaketivity Scene” on the lawn of the Michigan state capitol, Jingle Bells was revealed to be a nineteenth-century Thanksgiving drinking song, and a Springfield, Massachusetts, city councillor spoke at a menorah-lighting ceremony at which he told attendees that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” “I thought it added something to the service,” he later said. [28][29][30] A convicted child molester was discovered posing as Santa at a home-décor store in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and an electrician in Ross Township, Pennsylvania, retaliated against neighbors’ complaints about his extravagant Christmas-light displays by decorating his home with beheaded lawn ornaments and a light-up Santa altered to look as if it were urinating on the front lawn. “There was a Virgin Mary here,” said a neighbor, “and he placed a knife through her head.”[31][32]

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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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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.

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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
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