Early one morning in January, under the veil of darkness, a team of undercover police from China quietly entered Hong Kong’s Four Seasons hotel and made their way into a luxurious residential suite. After sweeping aside the billionaire occupant’s private contingent of female bodyguards, they shrouded the man’s head in a white sheet and bundled him off in a wheelchair.Xiao Jianhua was one of China’s richest businessmen. He had built his fortune over the past two decades through deals involving the cream of China’s political elite, reportedly including close relatives of the president, Xi Jinping. Because of China’s opaque political culture, one can only speculate about the reasons for Xiao’s abduction, but it seems that he had taken careful steps to protect himself. Not only was he residing and conducting his business outside of China, his country of birth, he had a diplomatic passport from Antigua and Barbuda and had adopted Canadian citizenship, perhaps thinking that this might offer him some extra degree of legal or diplomatic protection.
The Heimlich maneuver, in the nearly 50 years since Dr. Henry Heimlich established its protocol, has been credited with saving many lives. But not, perhaps, as many as it might have. The maneuver, otherwise so wonderfully simple to execute, has a marked flaw: It requires that choking victims, before anything can be done to help them, first alert other people to the fact that they are choking. And some people, it turns out, are extremely reluctant to do so. “Sometimes,” Dr. Heimlich noted, bemoaning how easily human nature can become a threat to human life, “a victim of choking becomes embarrassed by his predicament and succeeds in getting up and leaving the area unnoticed.” If no one happens upon him, “he will die or suffer permanent brain damage within seconds.”Something bad is happening; don’t let other people see it; you will embarrass yourself, and them: It’s an impulse that is thoroughly counterproductive and also incredibly easy to understand. Self-consciousness is a powerful thing. And there are, after all, even in the most frantic and fearful of moments, so many things that will seem preferable to making a scene.
It was never meant to be this way.The script called for the lead actor, a Nobel prize winner, to seize control of a country, bring peace where there was conflict and prosperity where there was poverty. A nation emerging from years of military dictatorship was to become a beacon of hope not only for its cowed population but also for much of a fractured and turbulent south-east Asia.But like many political dramas – especially over the past 12 months – the script has not been followed by Myanmar and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.Now, a year since one of the world’s most famous prisoners of conscience came to power in the specially created position of state counsellor, the talk is not of progress.Instead, it is of drastically escalating ethnic conflicts that have simmered and sporadically exploded for decades; a new Rohingya Muslim insurgency that has prompted an army crackdown some say may amount to crimes against humanity; a rash of online defamation cases that have fostered a panic over freedom of speech; and a repressive legal framework that allowed the generals to jail so many still being in place. And all the while, Aung San Suu Kyi is accused of remaining mostly silent, doggedly avoiding the media.
A few years ago, a locally famous blogger in San Francisco, known as Burrito Justice, created an exquisitely disorienting map, with help from a cartographer named Brian Stokle, and started selling copies of it online. The map imagined the city in the year 2072, after 60 years of rapid sea-level rise totaling 200 feet. At present, San Francisco is a roughly square-shaped, peninsular city. But on the map, it is severed clean from the mainland and shaved into a long, fat smudge. The shape of the land resembles a sea bird diving underwater for prey, with odd bays chewing into the coastlines and, farther out, a sprawl of bulging and wispy islands that used to be hills. If you lived in San Francisco, it was a map of where you already were and, simultaneously, where you worried you might be heading. “The San Francisco Archipelago,” Burrito Justice called it — a formerly coherent city in shards.The map wasn’t science; it didn’t even pretend to be. I want to be very clear about that, because I worry it’s reckless to inject any more false facts into a conversation about climate change. Projecting the effect of sea-level rise on a specific location typically involves recondite computer models and calculations; Burrito Justice was just a fascinated hobbyist, futzing around on his laptop in his backyard. His entire premise was unscientific; for now, it is unthinkable that seas will rise so high so quickly. Even as most credible scientific estimates keep increasing and the poles melt faster than imagined, those estimates currently reach only between six and eight feet by the year 2100. That’s still potentially cataclysmic: Water would push into numerous cities, like Shanghai, London and New York, and displace hundreds of millions of people. And yes, there are some fringe, perfect-storm thought experiments out there that can get you close to 200 feet by the end of the century. But in truth, Burrito Justice settled on that number only because that’s how high he needed to jack up the world’s oceans if he wanted to wash out a particular road near his house. He has a friendly rivalry with another blogger, who lives in an adjacent neighborhood known for being a cloistered hamlet, and Burrito Justice thought it would be funny to see it literally become an island. So again: The map wasn’t science. It didn’t pretend to be. The point, initially, was just to needle this other guy named Todd.
Associates of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in a campaign that ultimately aims to oust the country’s president. According to Indonesian military and intelligence officials and senior figures involved in what they call “the coup,” the move against President Joko Widodo (known more commonly as Jokowi), a popular elected civilian, is being impelled from behind the scenes by active and retired generals.Prominent supporters of the coup movement include Fadli Zon, vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives and Donald Trump’s main political booster in the country; and Hary Tanoe, Trump’s primary Indonesian business partner, who is building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta.This account of the movement to overthrow President Jokowi is based on dozens of interviews and is supplemented by internal army, police, and intelligence documents I obtained or viewed in Indonesia, as well as by NSA intercepts obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Many sources on both sides of the coup spoke on condition of anonymity. Two of them expressed apparently well-founded concerns about their safety.
It was a frigid winter, and the Manhattan loft was cold — very cold. Something was wrong with the gas line and there was no heat. In a corner, surrounding the bed, sheets had been hung from cords to form a de facto tent with a small electric heater running inside. But the oddities didn’t end there: when I talked to the woman who lived in the loft about her work, she made me take the battery out of my cell phone and stash the device in her refrigerator. People who have dated in New York City for any length of time believe that they’ve seen everything — this was something new.
There is something new about the jihadi terrorist violence of the past two decades. Both terrorism and jihad have existed for many years, and forms of “globalised” terror – in which highly symbolic locations or innocent civilians are targeted, with no regard for national borders – go back at least as far as the anarchist movement of the late 19th century. What is unprecedented is the way that terrorists now deliberately pursue their own deaths.Over the past 20 years – from Khaled Kelkal, a leader of a plot to bomb Paris trains in 1995, to the Bataclan killers of 2015 – nearly every terrorist in France blew themselves up or got themselves killed by the police. Mohamed Merah, who killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, uttered a variant of a famous statement attributed to Osama bin Laden and routinely used by other jihadis: “We love death as you love life.” Now, the terrorist’s death is no longer just a possibility or an unfortunate consequence of his actions; it is a central part of his plan. The same fascination with death is found among the jihadis who join Islamic State. Suicide attacks are perceived as the ultimate goal of their engagement.
Officials at Baghdad International Airport became suspicious earlier this month when their X-ray machines could not see into 23 large bags unloaded from a Qatari plane, producing only a black image because the contents were wrapped in a special material impenetrable to detecting devices. They were further amazed when they opened the bags to discover that they contained hundreds of millions of dollars and euros in cash worth a total of $500m (£389m), says an Iraqi source.
It is now clear that the money was ransom for 24 Qataris, several of them leading members of the Qatari royal al-Thani family, and two Saudis who had been hunting with falcons with official permission in supposedly safe southern Iraq when they were kidnapped 16 months ago by a Shia militia task force. A deal to get them released has been complicated by negotiations involving Qatar and Iran as well as Shia and Sunni militias over the simultaneous evacuation of people long besieged in four towns, two Shia and two Sunni, in northern and southern Syria respectively.
The recent violence in southern Thailand began on 4 January 2004, when Malay Muslim insurgents invaded a Thai Army depot in the southernmost province of Narathiwat. The next day, after the burning of 20 schools and several bomb attacks in a neighbouring province, the Thai government declared martial law over the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. Shortly after, two Buddhist monks were killed during their morning alms, and a third injured. In these provinces, the majority population is Muslim, and Buddhists are a minority. By the summer, journalists and scholars had written articles about the insurgents and the role of Islam in the violence. But since Buddhism was associated with peace, no one thought to investigate the role of Buddhism. How could a Buddhist monk participate in the violence? Yet clearly, Buddhism was involved in the conflict.
Last September, Carlos Antonio Lozada, a commander of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, returned home to a jungle encampment in the vast wetland region called Yarí. He had spent the past two years in Havana, staying in a villa near Fidel Castro’s home, while working with other guerrilla leaders and Colombian diplomats on a peace agreement to end the FARC’s fifty-two-year insurgency—the longest in the Western Hemisphere. His time there had been gruelling: an endless succession of arguments, proposals, and counterproposals, with painful testimony from victims of both sides. “It was non-stop,” Lozada told me. At last, though, on August 24th, the two sides reached an agreement. When Lozada’s plane touched down, los camaradas—his fifty-odd personal bodyguards, young men and women who had been with him since they were little more than children—greeted him on the airstrip with a song that they had composed. “They made me cry,” he told me. “Toward the end of my time in Havana, all I could think about was being back here. The FARC is my family.”As Lozada told me this, he was sitting in a thatched hut in Yarí, which has long been dominated by the FARC, sipping Old Parr Scotch. Communist guerrillas are not known for their fashion sense, but Lozada, a limber man with a shaved head and a small paunch, has a dandyish streak. In Havana, he wore loud tropical shirts and suède loafers. In Yarí, he favored T-shirts in hot pink, canary yellow, sky blue. With such bourgeois tastes, Lozada is an unlikely seeming Marxist revolutionary. But, at fifty-six, he is the youngest member of the seven-man secretariat that governs the FARC.