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What Happened: August 27, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Killed in Action in Afghanistan; Questioning vaccine immunity; Weekend Reads

The Scroll
August 27, 2021

The Big Story

Max Soviak, a Navy medic from Ohio, and Kareem Nikoui, a Marine from California, were killed in Afghanistan Thursday while serving their country. Soviak and Nikoui are the first two U.S. service members to be identified out of the 13 killed by a coordinated attack at the Kabul airport that also killed an estimated 170 Afghans as they attempted to flee the country.

Soviak was from Berlin Heights, Ohio, according to local news reports, a town of fewer than 1,000 people 50 miles west of Cleveland. In high school, he played on his high school’s football and tennis teams, competed in wrestling and track, and played in the school band. Soviak graduated in 2017. His sister, Marilyn Soviak, posted a message to Instagram after learning of her brother’s death. It reads, in part, “I’ve never been one for politics and I’m not going to start now. What I will say is that my beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives.”

Thursday was an “excruciating day” for Kareem Nikoui’s father, Steve, a carpenter in California, who watched news reports about the attack in Kabul and waited for news. He learned of his son’s death when a group of Marines arrived at his home unannounced. “He really loved that [Marine Corps] family. He was devoted—he was going to make a career out of this,” Nikoui told The Daily Beast about his son. “He wanted to go. No hesitation for him to be called to duty.”

The Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads

The Rest

Yesterday was the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a decade. Here is an update on the current situation.

  1. Numerous reports cite ongoing threats of complex attacks on the Kabul airport, including warnings about an imminent attack planned for today.
  1. President Biden has vowed revenge against the local Islamic State franchise known as ISIS-K that U.S. officials say is responsible for the attack. “I’ve ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities,” Biden said Thursday afternoon.
  1. The White House remains committed to completing its withdrawal by the previously agreed-to deadline of Aug. 31 but cannot ensure that all U.S. citizens and green card holders will be out of the country by then.
  1. As the U.S. attempts to meet the withdrawal deadline while targeting ISIS-K, it is more dependent than ever on the Taliban. The Islamist group now in control of Afghanistan was a sworn enemy of the United States until last week and is now being entrusted to provide security for the remaining Americans in Kabul.

A new study from Israel’s Maccabi Healthcare Services suggests that the natural immunity in people who were infected with COVID-19 may be a stronger defense against the disease than the immunity developed by people who take the vaccine. In the study’s survey group, people who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and had never contracted COVID-19 were 13 times more likely to become infected with the virus than unvaccinated people who had already come down with COVID-19 and developed a natural immunity.
Read it here:

 The internet might have spawned its own disease. A new scientific study published in Brain, an Oxford academic journal devoted to clinical neurology, explores “mass social-media-induced illness.” The paper describes how German teenagers have adopted symptoms of “Tourette-like” behavior after repeated exposure to a popular German YouTuber with Tourette’s syndrome.
Read about it here:

On Friday, in their first meeting at the White House, President Biden promised Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon. “We’re putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options,” Biden said after the meeting. In January, shortly before he was appointed U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken estimated that the “breakout time” for Iran to enrich bomb-grade uranium was “about three or four months.” Israeli officials at the time put it at about six months.

“Postcolonial Astrology offers an advanced course in politicized astrological history and application, and an explicitly Queer, POC and instersectional [sic] resource. This is not a ‘learn your sun sign’ introductory guide”—No, of course it’s not. This is no introductory guide, this is ultrasophisticated, vegan fair-trade, PhD-level quackery that’s being promoted in The Nation, a publication that has had its ups—being the oldest weekly magazine in the United States—and its downs (see under: Stalinism) but used to have some standards.
Read more here:

In a 6-3 vote last night, the Supreme Court shut down the eviction moratorium put in place by the CDC. Even the measure’s supporters, including President Biden, had acknowledged that it was probably unconstitutional and pushed through without legal authority. The new ruling allows landlords to resume eviction proceedings on tenants, though state governments may enact their own new restrictions on that process.

Six months after the Jan. 6 riots, the Capitol police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt as she tried to breach the Capitol building has been identified as Lt. Michael Byrd. It’s not clear why Byrd’s identity was treated like a state secret until this point, but he has now gone public in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told Holt. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger.” Babbitt was unarmed when she was shot and is the only person whose death that day was caused by violence. 

Amsterdam will return a painting by Wassily Kandinsky, pilfered by the city-owned Stedelijk museum during the Holocaust, to the family of Irma Klein. The work by the seminal abstract artist, “Painting with Houses,” is worth an estimated $22 million today and was purchased in the 1940s for the equivalent of roughly $1,600 from a desperate Klein.
Read it here:

Spend your weekend listening to a radio marathon featuring masters of American modernism, two of the greatest saxophonists who ever lived: Lester Young, whose birthday is today and Charlie Parker who would be turning 101 on Sunday if he was still alive.

It’s Lester Young’s 112th birthday. Tune in to the ongoing all-day birthday broadcast:

— Tony Badran (@AcrossTheBay) August 27, 2021

The Back Pages

Your Weekend Reads

— “I don’t want fucking activism from a sweatshop monopoly,” says the sports writer Ethan Strauss, speaking for many of us in this excellent account of what’s driving corporations to adopt the symbolic politics of liberal arts college sophomores.

Nike’s main problem is this: It’s a company built on masculinity, most specifically Michael Jordan’s alpha dog brand of it. Now, due to its own ambitions, scandals, & intellectual trends, Nike finds masculinity problematic enough to loudly reject.

— Gillian McCain co-wrote Please Kill Me, the 500-page oral history of punk full of scurrilous gossip and great stories that’s as goofy and fun to read as an Archie comic book. But this particular post from her blog is no reflection of her writing skills. It’s a collection of photos showing off the sharp fashion sense of Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts, who died this week at 80. That man looked good in clothes. 

My obsession with the haberdashery of the Rolling Stones continues. Charlie Watts may not be a household name, but wardrobe-wise, he gives Mick and Keith a run for their money.

— Richard Hanania has paid attention to the U.S. war in Afghanistan over the past decade. That sets him apart from 99% of the people now making pronouncements about the war and claiming that they had known all along things they learned last week. Hanania concludes that what went wrong in Afghanistan was not fundamentally about a failure of strategy but about the total bankruptcy of elite expertise:

The American-led coalition had countless experts with backgrounds pertaining to every part of the mission on their side: people who had done their dissertations on topics like state building, terrorism, military-civilian relations, and gender in the military. General David Petraeus, who helped sell Obama on the troop surge that made everything in Afghanistan worse, earned a PhD from Princeton and was supposedly an expert in “counterinsurgency theory.” Ashraf Ghani, the just deposed president of the country, has a PhD in anthropology from Columbia and is the co-author of a book literally called Fixing Failed States. This was his territory. It’s as if Wernher von Braun had been given all the resources in the world to run a space program and had been beaten to the moon by an African witch doctor.

Meanwhile, the Taliban did not have a Western PhD among them. Their leadership was highly selected, though. As Ahmed Rashid notes in his book The Taliban, in February 1999, the school that provided the leadership for the movement “had a staggering 15,000 applicants for some 400 new places, making it the most popular madrassa in northern Pakistan.” Yet they certainly didn’t publish in or read the top political science journals. Consider this a data point in the question of whether intelligence or subject-matter expertise is more important.

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

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