Weekly Review — August 11, 2017, 4:38 pm

Weekly Review

The fire and the fury

U.S. president Donald Trump, who once told reporters during his campaign that he wouldn’t take “off the table” the possibility of dropping a nuclear bomb on Europe or the Middle East, departed for a 17-day trip to his New Jersey golf course, where he tweeted that he was on a “working vacation” and then threatened to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea.[1][2][3][4][5] North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, whom Trump has called a “madman,” said Trump was acting “senile” on the golf course and that North Korea would fire missiles at the U.S. territory of Guam to create a “historic enveloping fire”; Trump said that he felt his initial threat of “fire and fury” was still not “tough enough” and said that if Kim “does something” to Guam then “what will happen in North Korea” will be “an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before”; a spokesperson for North Korea said Trump had “nuclear war hysteria” and then threatened to “burn up Seoul”; Trump said “things will happen” to North Korea “like they never thought possible”; the North Korean spokesperson said their country would “turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war”; Trump’s secretary of defense suggested the United States could bring about the “destruction” of the people of North Korea; the North Korean spokesperson said the country would deploy 3 million children to help “smash to pieces” the plans of the “helter-skelter” United States and bring about “the tragic end of the American empire”; and Trump tweeted that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded.”[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] Australia’s prime minister said his country would join sides with the United States if North Korea struck first, the Chinese government defended its military maneuvers in the Sea of Japan and said it would side with North Korea if the United States struck first, Japan said it would protect Guam, and New Zealand said it couldn’t make a commitment.[16][17][18][19][20] U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Americans should “sleep well,” and Guam Homeland Security warned residents not to “look at the flash or fireball” of a nuclear explosion.[21][22] A  Guamanian man said nothing “other than God” would make him leave his home, and Trump’s religious adviser said God had given Trump permission to attack North Korea.[23][24] An unexplained fire broke out in Greenland, a downpour flooded New Orleans, a 122-degree heat wave caused fires, blackouts, and sickness in Iraq, a chronic shortage of gas used to cook food was reported in Venezuela, a 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck the Philippines, aid workers warned that a cholera epidemic is about to break out in Sudan, and an editorial in a state-run newspaper in China said the “countdown” to a war with India “had begun.”[25][26][27][28][29][30] In Egypt, two trains collided head-on, for unknown reasons.[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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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.

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

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:

$25,000

In England, a flutist stole 299 rare bird skins from an ornithology museum in order to pay for a new flute.

The 70th governor of Ohio was sworn in on nine Bibles, which were held by his wife.

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