Weekly Review — October 31, 2018, 10:04 am

Weekly Review

Jair Bolsonaro wins; the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history; a robot gets a visa

In Brazil, the far-right nationalist Jair Bolsonaro, who once told a congresswoman she wasn’t attractive enough to be raped, who has described himself as “pro-torture,” and who has said he would “rather have [his] son die in a car accident” than be gay, was elected the country’s next president.1 2 In the United States, a country where at least 11 million people sympathize with “alt-right” beliefs, and where there are nearly 1,000 active hate groups, a Florida man was arrested after mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs, to the CNN offices in New York, a building owned by Robert De Niro, George Soros’s home, and the offices of prominent Democrats.3 4 5 The man, who has lived in a van covered in decals since his house was foreclosed on by a bank formerly owned by Steven Mnuchin, is a registered Republican who supported President Trump and was filmed by Michael Moore at a 2017 Trump rally holding a sign that read boycott • banded • blocked • fake news & dishonest media cnn sucks.6 7 8 Trump, who attempted to clarify his previous criticisms of the news media by tweeting “CNN and others in the Fake News Business keep purposely and inaccurately reporting that I said the ‘Media is the Enemy of the People.’ Wrong! I said that the ‘Fake News (Media) is the Enemy of the People,’ a very big difference. When you give out false information – not good!” suggested at a rally in North Carolina that the media was using the attacks to “score points against me and the Republican Party,” while the crowd chanted, “CNN sucks!”9 10 “You know what I am?” asked the president at a rally in Houston. “I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist!”11 As many as 7,000 people fleeing violence in Central America made their way toward the United States to seek asylum; the Pentagon confirmed that 5,200 troops will be at the Southwestern border by the end of the week.12 13 “The president has condemned violence in all forms,” said Trump’s press secretary, “and has done that since day one.”14

In Pittsburgh, a 46-year-old man who did not vote for Trump, because he was too lenient toward those of the Jewish faith, entered the Tree of Life synagogue with three handguns and an AR-15 assault rifle and opened fire, killing 11 people between the ages of 54 and 97, and wounding six others, in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.15 16 Hours before the shooting, the perpetrator had posted on Gab, an alternative to Twitter that was founded to counter the “left-leaning Big Social monopoly” and is predominantly used by white supremacists, that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people”; Tree of Life had held a Shabbat service in support of refugees, in partnership with HIAS, earlier in the month.17 18 Rabbi Loren Jacobs, who is a Messianic Jew, appeared at a Republican rally in Michigan also attended by Vice President Mike Pence, and led a prayer in honor of the victims of the attack that referred to Jesus as the Messiah and did not name any of the deceased.19 In Louisville, Kentucky, a white supremacist entered a Kroger grocery store with a handgun and proceeded to kill two black senior citizens by shooting both in the back of the head, minutes after trying to enter a nearby church with a predominantly black congregation.20 A white nationalist with the Rise Above Movement, known to be a hate group, surrendered to the FBI in California after attending political rallies where the group used “formation fighting training” to incite violence.21 It was reported that Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, had met with members of an Austrian far-right political party, founded by a former Nazi SS officer in 1956, while on a trip intended for Holocaust education.22 “Western civilization is on the decline,” King said in an interview with the group, noting that the United States already had enough diversity, such as “Mexican food, Chinese food, those things,” which, he said, are “fine.” In Gujarat, India, farmers complained that the government had spent $430 million building the world’s tallest statue, a 600-foot likeness of a former nationalist leader.23 The public prosecutor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, issued a statement acknowledging that the murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey had been “premeditated.”24

A 75-year-old woman was arrested in Minnesota after shooting her grandson because he had repeatedly placed a cup of tea on her furniture.25 In Belgium, thieves who attempted to rob an e-cigarette store and were told to return later, when the clerk would have more money, returned later and were arrested; and in Topeka, Kansas, a man who had been released from the Shawnee County Jail in the morning was arrested a few hours later for stealing a car from the parking lot of the jail.26 27 Police in Australia rescued a drowning kangaroo.28 A robot named Sophia chatted with the president of Azerbaijan, after receiving the world’s first visa issued to a robot; a portrait created by artificial intelligence was sold for the first time at Christie’s auction house, for $432,500, over 40 times the amount it had been estimated to be worth; and Microsoft announced that it would sell its technologies to intelligence agencies and the military. Scientists in China announced a plan to launch a new artificial moon into space, 310 miles above Earth, to provide cheaper artificial light.29 30 31 32 It was reported that Buddhist temples in Japan had started to install disco balls to try to attract younger crowds, and the Vatican endorsed the release of an app for smartphones, similar to Pokémon Go, named Jesus Christ Go, in which users search for biblical characters and Catholic saints, and can pray for extra points.33 34 At a Russian research station in Antarctica, an engineer stabbed a coworker for spoiling the endings of books in the outpost’s library.35Sharon J. Riley

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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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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.

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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

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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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