Videos and other images of beheadings have appeared with increasing frequency in recent weeks. Dawn Perlmutter, director of the Symbol Intelligence Group, discusses the symbolism of this grim ritual.
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Regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times, discuss the latest in Ukraine and the actions of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
A worker in southern China was left hanging from 100 feet up the side of a high-rise apartment building when a 10-year-old boy, apparently annoyed at the construction racket outside his window, decided to cut the safety line on the man’s rappelling apparatus.
Xinhua says the boy was watching cartoons in his eighth-floor apartment in Guizhou province as the worker was outside installing lighting. So, the boy took a knife and sliced through the rope that allows the worker to move up and down.
According to an English translation of the Xinhua article on the Shanghaiist website, the worker was left dangling midair. He yelled down to a co-worker, who called firemen; he was rescued about 40 minutes later. You can view photos here.
Xinhua quotes the worker, surnamed Liu, as saying:
” ‘When I was using the electric drill, I felt my lower rope shaking. Then I saw the boy cutting the rope with a knife.’
” ‘I shouted at him to stop but he didn’t listen and soon after, the rope was broken. That’s when I called to my workmate for help,’ Liu said.”
Shanghaiist says that after speaking with police, “the boy finally admitted to what he did”:
“His father, surnamed Tang, was called to come back home from work. He gave Liu a sincere apology on behalf of his son and compensated him with … a new safety rope.”
Journalist James Foley in 2011. He was killed by Islamic State militants in Syria earlier this month.
The mother of slain journalist James Foley says in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered that the family did not want him to return to Syria after a brief trip back to the United States in 2011.
“We really did not want him to go back,” Diane Foley tells host Melissa Block. “I must be honest about that,” she says of her son, who was killed by Islamic State militants in Syria earlier this month.
“Jim’s multitalented, and he could have done so many other things. But he, I think, was drawn to some of the drama, some of the rawness of the conflict zones. He also really was very touched by the suffering of the civilians in the midst of it all,” she says.
“Jim was very interested in human rights and had grown into an incredibly compassionate man,” Foley says.
(GlobalPost, which Foley freelanced for, has published this remembrance of the journalist.)
Since the brutal, videotaped beheading, Diane Foley has spoken with fellow captives of her son who were released. Some spent as long as a year with him. One of them, Danish photojournalist Daniel Rye Ottosen, memorized a letter that James Foley dictated to him.
In it, the U.S. journalist recalls his happy childhood and how much he cared for his siblings, nephews and niece.
Ottosen and others have told Diane Foley how her son “brought some of his fun-loving spirit to that dark place,” she says.
“They played games and gave lectures to one another and hugged one another, tried to lift each other’s spirits,” she says.
“Jim had several degrees, and … I know [he] gave lectures on American literature,” she says. “Some of the [other captives] were gourmet cooks, gave cooking lectures. One of the others was teaching them how to sail,” she says. “So they helped each other in those ways.”
Foley says she understands that the question of paying a ransom for hostages, as some European nations have done, is a “very, very complex issue, but I agree and I know our country agrees that more has to be done to protect American journalists.
“Our country feels strongly that paying ransom encourages hostage-taking, and that certainly is a concern. And so I understand that, however I would hope we would have some way to quietly protect and negotiate for these brave young people,” Foley says.
The family is working out the details of a James W. Foley Foundation that would, among other things, help freelancers: “We want his legacy to continue. That’s our hope,” she says.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, talks with staff from Doctors Without Borders during a visit to the nonprofit group’s newest Ebola treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia.
Tommy Trenchard for NPR
Tommy Trenchard for NPR
Tommy Trenchard for NPR
The Ebola outbreak has crippled local health systems. It’s flooded wards with patients, killed doctors, scared away medical staff and forced some hospitals to shut down entirely.
That’s the grim assessment of Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who’s visiting West Africa this week for a firsthand look at the situation. Frieden spoke to Goats and Soda by cell phone as he was traveling by car from the hard-hit eastern Sierra Leone city of Kenema back to the capital, Freetown.
Frieden says there’s now a vicious cycle around Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which is amplifying the spread of the disease. “More cases are leading to less adequate management of each case, which is leading to more cases,” he says. “That cycle has got to be broken for us to stop this.”
The best hope lies in a new $489 million plan proposed by the World Health Organization, with the goal of stopping Ebola transmission within nine months. The ambitious plan would deploy hundreds of international experts and thousands of local medical staff. But first, Frieden stresses, the money has to be raised.
Meanwhile, the bad news is mounting. “The number of cases is spiraling upward,” he says. “There’s an urgent need to get patients into isolation and start to get better control of the disease.”
But there aren’t even enough isolation beds for current Ebola patients, and the World Health Organization predicts that the outbreak will get far worse before it gets better. So far, WHO says, over 3,000 people have been infected with the virus this year and roughly half have died. WHO estimates that some 20,000 people could fall ill with Ebola before this current outbreak is over.
“This is a threat not just to West Africa and to Africa, this is a threat to the world,” Frieden says, emphasizing the need to fund WHO’s effort. Every day the outbreak continues “increases the risk of spread to other countries.”
West African health departments don’t have the staff, training or equipment to control this disease on their own, Frieden says. That means the international community must pick up the pace of its response to the crisis.
“Literally every day that we don’t make more progress controlling the outbreak,” Frieden says, “is another day that the outbreak will not just continue — but grow much larger.”
President Obama announced that he has authorized a humanitarian mission to aid religious minorities stranded on Mount Sinjar in Iraq. Airstrikes will be a component of that mission.
A construction excavator demolishes a B-hut at the huge Bagram Air Field north of Kabul. The military used the structures as bunks and offices during the 13-year war but is tearing them down as most of the military prepares to leave by year’s end.
Sgt. 1st Class Tom Albert is with the Army’s 2nd Engineers at the massive Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, and he’s overseeing operation Clean Sweep here. It’s a huge job, because American troops and equipment are scheduled to be out of Bagram and other bases by the end of the year.
The U.S. and Afghanistan are still trying to work out a deal that would allow nearly 10,000 military personnel to stay, but even that would be just a fraction of the force that’s been here for the past 13 years.
Soldiers are in the process of tearing down small wooden barracks known in military speak as B-huts. Some of these huts have been standing here at Bagram since the earliest days of the war.
“There’s probably around 400 B-huts left [on the Bagram Air Field] right now that need to be torn down,” Albert says.
One is a B-hut nestled against the concrete barriers that line the airfield. Albert says it’s too cramped here to fit an excavator. “We can tear down eight B-huts a day by excavator, and this right here is going to take about a week to tear down by hand,” he says.
Even though these B-huts were originally built as short-term housing, they’ve weathered more than a decade of use as bunks and offices.
Staff Sgt. Dominic Koehl with the 304th Engineers out of Lima, Ohio, is leading the crew doing the deconstruction.
“A lot of this wood can easily be reused — it’s practically brand new,” Koehl says.
A shipping container is filled with excess equipment and supplies in March as the U.S. military draws down in Afghanistan.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Tearing the hut down by hand means more of the wood can be recycled and given to Afghans.
Koehl’s unit is actually deployed to Kuwait to build up U.S. facilities there, but two companies have been lent out to Bagram for this tear-down mission.
“We were more than willing to come up here and use our construction knowledge to put it to good use here,” he says, adding that while it’s fun to build, it’s even more fun to tear down.
Across the base is a lot covered with 25 graying B-huts. Sgt. William Mesing is in charge of knocking those down.
“When we first got this project, we started seeing some signatures on the walls. A lot of them were dated back to ’04,” he says.
And once they clear out the wiring and other reusable materials, they bring in the excavator. The raptorlike claw of the John Deere machine quickly chews up a B-hut and spits out the debris into a growing pile. Mesing says it’s a lot of fun to spend his days knocking down B-huts.
“You can definitely get some stress out of your system,” he says. “But at the end of the day, then you look at the pile of mess you’ve got to pick up, then it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, man.’ “
And a few hundred yards away, another crew is carrying out the cleanup part of Operation Clean Sweep.
Sgt. Robert Duncan of the 876th Engineer Company says its job is to clean up debris and return the land on the base to its natural state. “We’ve found anything from commode seats to engine blocks out here,” he says. “You name it, we found it.”
Duncan says they’ve cleared about six football fields’ worth of trash and debris and have about four more to go for now.
And while crews are busy knocking things down and clearing away years of debris, there is still new construction going on here.
A few years ago, the military was anticipating a sizable troop presence in the country for years to come. But President Obama has since declared that most will be gone by the end of the year, and only 10,000 troops will stay two more years. That has changed plans for Bagram.
“Some of those things are either built or we’re finishing building them because it’s too late to change that plan,” says Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan. He acknowledges that some of the new structures are overbuilt for the future mission as planned now.
“We’ve actually canceled some projects, and we’ve scaled back,” he says.
Like A NASCAR Pit Crew
Armored vehicles known as M-ATVs are lined up on the tarmac at Bagram Air Field. They will be flown out to the Persian Gulf on cargo planes and then shipped back to the U.S.
But Bagram still can’t shrink too much. Other smaller bases are collapsing, and personnel and equipment are temporarily moving here as units sort out what will be scrapped, given to the Afghans or sent home.
Sending things home is the job of Air Force Maj. Chris Carmichael, commander of the 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron. He’s overseeing the air transport of personnel and cargo out of the country.
“We’re the busiest aerial port in the Department of Defense,” Carmichael says.
Here on the edge of Bagram’s airfield are dozens of M-ATVs — giant armored tactical vehicles — waiting to be loaded onto C-17 cargo planes.
“All of it is pretty much going back to the U.S. It’ll probably be stored for future wars,” he says.
Many other armored vehicles still remaining in Afghanistan are not fit for future use and are being shredded. And some 200 will be handed over to Afghan forces.
Others will fly to U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf, where they will be later loaded on ships heading to the U.S. This form of transport is more complicated and expensive than the mission to remove cargo and tactical vehicles like MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored personnel vehicles) out of Iraq.
“In Iraq you could easily just drive the MRAPs right into Kuwait,” Carmichael says.
But driving vehicles and cargo out of Afghanistan requires traveling dangerous routes through Pakistan to the port of Karachi, or much longer routes to the north of Afghanistan. So flying everything out is the best option here.
One of Carmichael’s crews is in the process of loading four of these M-ATVs onto a hulking C-17.
“It’s a fast and furious process, because they only have two hours and 15 minutes to get this thing downloaded and uploaded and back in the air,” he says. “It’s just like a pit crew at a NASCAR event.”
And as busy as the crews are now, Carmichael says their capacity has hardly been tested.
“We have not seen the majority of the cargo we’re going to see,” he says. “Based on what I’m seeing on the projections, most of it is going to go in November and December.”
And, he says, they can also fly out more than 1,000 troops a day.
Carmichael says his port dogs will be some of the last ones to leave Afghanistan. “Somebody’s got to load the plane,” he says.
Robert Siegel speaks to Patrick Kidd, the editor of The Times Diary, about the sounds of mechanical typewriters piped into the newsroom of The Times in London. The idea is that the sounds will increase energy levels and help reporters hit deadlines.
Tractors sit on a sugarcane plantation on the land of a Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous community in Brazil, where Oxfam has alleged “land grabs” unfairly take land from the poor. The United Nations is drafting voluntary guidelines for “responsible investment in agriculture and food systems” in response to such concerns.
Tatiana Cardeal/Courtesy of Oxfam
Tatiana Cardeal/Courtesy of Oxfam
Tatiana Cardeal/Courtesy of Oxfam
Here’s a fine topic for a graduate seminar in anthropology: What makes food culturally acceptable? Cue discussions of values and taboos, tastes and traditions.
Now make room for diplomats and lawyers, because this question has popped up, improbably, during international negotiations at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
The FAO’s member nations are drafting voluntary guidelines for “responsible investment in agriculture and food systems.” It’s a response to concerns over “land grabs” — big-money investors buying up farmland, often in Africa, where ownership of land sometimes is unclear. In some cases, these investors have displaced small-scale farmers, leading to protests and even violence.
The new guidelines are supposed to clarify the difference between responsible and irresponsible agricultural investments. Responsible investments, according to the draft guidelines, will increase “sustainable production … of safe, nutritious, diverse, and culturally acceptable food.”
When this phrase went into the draft back in May, no one seemed to object. But by the time the talks reconvened in early August, it had set off a severe case of indigestion in the U.S. delegation.
The U.S. “was concerned that it could lead to some barriers to trade,” says Doug Hertzler, who participated in the talks representing the anti-poverty group ActionAid. (Several U.S. officials didn’t respond to our request for an interview. One wrote in an email that “these are ongoing negotiations so it would be premature for me to discuss them.”)
According to others involved in the negotiations, U.S. officials did not say which foods they feared might be unfairly singled out as culturally unacceptable. Some speculated that the U.S. was worried about restrictions on genetically modified foods.
In any case, American negotiators demanded a definition of culturally acceptable, and they offered one: “For the purposes of this document, consumers, through the free exercise of their choices and demand, determine what food is culturally acceptable.” In other words, as long as somebody wants to buy it, it’s fine.
That market-based definition didn’t go over well with others. ActionAid and other activist groups pushed for a definition that recognized the right of indigenous communities to maintain their traditions.
A representative from Uruguay described the importance of sheep herding in his country, suggesting that agricultural investments that undermined these communities might violate the guidelines. Meanwhile, some majority-Muslim countries in Asia and Africa “were concerned about pork” and potential pork production facilities, says Hertzler, who, as it happens, got his Ph.D. in anthropology.
In the end, the African delegations struck a deal with the U.S., and their language is in the current version of the guidelines, which are still under negotiation. According to this compromise, culturally appropriate food “is understood as food that corresponds to individual and collective consumer demand and preferences, in line with national and international law.”
Elegant and memorable, it certainly is not. Heather Paxson, an anthropologist at MIT who teaches a course on food and culture, chuckled when she heard it. But Paxson is happy that government officials are recognizing, however awkwardly, that food is “much, much more than a nutrient delivery system.”
Hertzler says that he and his colleagues barely noticed the phrase when it first appeared in the draft guidelines in May. They had other priorities. They wanted the guideline to focus, for instance, on the crucial role of investments by small-scale farmers, not just multinational companies.
But the phrase “seems important now,” he says. It points out that food should be adequate “in a number of dimensions, one of them being cultural.”
The guidelines will be discussed and perhaps approved at the next meeting of the FAO’s Committee on Food Security in October.
The newsroom of Radio Free Europe in 1971, when typewriters were the technology of choice.
In a striking display of confidence in the sensory impact of old-school technology, the Times of London has set up speakers in its newsroom to broadcast the sound of typewriters clicketing and clacking to inspire reporters to buckle down for deadline, the Independent reports.
The sound starts with just one mellow typewriter and builds to an insistent clamor as press time approaches, the Independent reports.
The tall speakers were a surprise to the journalists, given that typewriters haven’t been heard in newsrooms since the 1980s.
The Murdoch-owned Times calls the scheme a “trial,” and the paper’s deputy head of digital news called it “a playful idea,” but it remains to be seen whether reporters will work harder and faster to background music of typewriter keys hammering out stories the old-fashioned way.
Former Times journalist George Brock was skeptical.
“Typewriters disappeared from newsrooms in the late 1980s,” Brock told the Independent. “There will be very few people there who remember the noise of massed bands of typewriters in the newsroom.”
Times employee Jules Mattsson tweeted a photo of one of the newsroom speakers here.