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What Happened: October 18, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: China’s missile test; Americans kidnapped; Kids vs. Nihilism

The Scroll
October 18, 2021


The Big Story

The strategic balance of power lurched toward Beijing over the weekend when news broke that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August. Hypersonic missiles are five times faster than the speed of sound, more agile than standard ballistic missiles, and better at evading missile defense systems. The upshot for the United States is that China now has a nuclear strike capability with the potential to reach an American city and penetrate standard missile defense systems. China denies the missile launch but says it tested a space vessel in July. The claim comes from a Financial Times report that cites “five people familiar with the test.” According to the FT, the missile circled the globe before landing two dozen miles away from its target. Despite the miss, the event still rattled U.S. intelligence, which was surprised by the advanced stage of China’s hypersonic weapons program. “We have no idea how they did this,” a source told the FT. However, China’s efforts to upgrade its military, including expanding its nuclear and missile arsenals, have not been secret. A 200-page report released last year by the Department of Defense on “Military and Security Developments Regarding the People’s Republic of China” mentions that China “has placed a heavy emphasis on developing and testing hypersonic glide vehicles.” The United States has been developing its own hypersonic weapons program since 2015 and still retains a conventional edge over China in its nuclear and missile arsenals.

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Today’s Back Pages: You’re So Vain, You Probably Think this Kid is About You

The Rest

-David Amess, a conservative member of the British parliament known for his pro-Israel views, was stabbed to death inside of a church on Friday. The police have deemed the killing a terrorist attack by a man who “self-radicalized.” The suspect, 25-year-old Ali Harbi Ali, is the British-born son of a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia. Ali is believed to have been referred to a government run deradicalisation programme, law enforcement sources told The Times of London. 

-Colin Powell, a Harlem native and Vietnam veteran who reached the highest levels of the U.S. military before becoming the United States’ first Black national security advisor under President Ronald Reagan and first Black secretary of state under George W. Bush, has died. Powell, who suffered from multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s, died from COVID-19 complications. He was 84.

-A notoriously violent Haitian criminal gang has kidnapped 17 missionaries—16 Americans and one Canadian—including 5 children. The missionaries were abducted over the weekend during a visit to an orphanage in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Haitian authorities say the group was taken by the 400 Mawozo gang. Haiti’s public transportation, schools, and businesses largely shut down Monday as unions and other local organizations called a strike to protest the country’s deteriorating security situation.

-The writer Rob Henderson plucks an interesting fact from a recent airport paperback written by ex-CIA officers: “Survive Like a Spy: Real CIA Operatives Reveal How They Stay Safe in a Dangerous World and How You Can Too.

A former CIA officer reveals that the most attractive incentive you can give to someone to get them to betray their country and become an informant:

Give their children admission to an elite U.S. college

— Rob Henderson (@robkhenderson) October 17, 2021

-​​The foreign ministers of Iran and Azerbaijan spoke by phone last Wednesday after weeks of escalating tensions between the two countries. Iran has carried out large-scale military drills on the shared border over the past month and frequently accused the Azeris of harboring “Zionists and terrorists,” a euphemism for Israeli military advisers who Iran claims are assisting Azerbaijan on its border. Azerbaijan’s State Border Service released a statement two weeks ago saying that the country “does not need the support of foreign forces.” In September, Azerbaijan hosted joint military exercises with Turkish and Pakistani special forces. In October, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev posed for pictures next to a Harop, a kamikaze drone manufactured by Israel. The critical background to the conflict is that around 25% of Iran’s citizens are ethnic Azeris who are concentrated in the northwest of the country along the border with Azerbaijan.

​​-It’s getting easier to keep kosher in the Michigan clink. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the ruling of a lower court in favor of Jewish prisoners who filed a class action against the Michigan Department of Corrections. The prisoners demanded that kosher meat be served on holidays, as well as customary dairy holiday food, such as cheesecake or milk, on Shavuot. The court ruled that serving kosher meat at times other than the main mealtimes was not sufficient. The MDOC had contested the sincerity of the beliefs held by the lead plaintiffs, but Judge John Nalbandian, a Donald Trump appointee who wrote the court’s opinion, ruled that the plaintiffs “were raised eating kosher diets in Jewish households that included meat and dairy” and quoted one of them to the effect that lacking these foods “diminishes the fullness and heartfelt meaning” of holiday celebrations.

-A new investigation into COVID-19’s origins by the World Health Organization is running into the same conflicts of interest that tainted its last inquiry. British newspaper the Daily Mail reports that out of the 26 scientists on the investigative body, one third are either linked to controversial research related to the possible “lab-leak” origins of the virus or have made prejudicial statements in the past that calls their objectivity into question. Examples listed include the Swiss scientist Kathrin Summermatter, who “praised the security of Chinese labs and said the idea of a research incident is ‘a classic conspiracy theory,’” according to the article.

-Two weeks after 99% of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union members voted to authorize a strike, it looks like Hollywood will narrowly avoid a labor shutdown. The union, representing some 60,000 film and TV workers in the Los Angeles area, tentatively agreed to a new three-year contract over the weekend. Workers unhappy with conditions on set say that their schedules got even worse after the pandemic as studios rushed to make up for lost time. The new contract offers increased pay, contributions from the studios to the union’s health and pension plans, and mandatory rest periods on weekends and between work shifts.

-Alta Fixler, a gravely ill two-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl who British authorities ordered be taken off of life support against her parents wishes, died Monday evening when government officials, following a judge’s order, pulled the plug and ended her life. Fixler suffered a brain injury in labor and had been on life support since birth. The girl’s parents are Israeli citizens and attempted to transfer her to an Israeli hospital. Former president of Israel Reuven Rivlin appealed directly to Prince Charles earlier this month to allow the Fixlers to bring their daughter to Israel, but the pleas were rejected by the British courts. According to Yeshiva World News, in the final moments, “A Minyan of family a close friends were in her room, as singer Sheyela Gluck sang emotion niggunim as those gathered wept about what was about to unfold.”
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The Back Pages

After the Anticlimax Part 1: You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Kid Is About You

They had invited me on to talk about the war in Afghanistan and America’s racial politics, but as soon as the podcast started, it went sideways. “Five seconds into the conversation, it already turned into him berating me for not having kids,” Adaam James Levin-Areddy says in his intro to the podcast episode of Uncertain Things.

That’s not right. I berated him, not because he doesn’t have kids, but because his reason for not having kids smacked of a self-destructive, generational hubris. “My only point is that I think there has to be a really high bar to bringing people into existence,” he explained. I liked him, otherwise I would not have berated him. But the trap that he and many others had fallen into and from which some will never escape is believing that having kids is an individual choice and that they’ll know based on an inner feeling and rational self-evaluation if and when they’re ready for it.

Many of us drifted into our thirties feeling like we had all the time in the world to make such decisions. We had accepted the superstitious individualism that promised an infinite number of paths to fulfillment depending on how we chose to arrange the puzzle pieces of our own lives. It’s terrifyingly easy to realize too late how false that is—not because no one can be happy without having kids but because on a planet of billions of people, they are still vanishingly few in number and tend to go in with their eyes open about the choices they are making. For most of us, there are not an infinite number of paths to fulfillment, and the odds are overwhelming that you are not one of the exceptions. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Like my rabbi says, “Everyone eats fish on Shabbat, but we all prepare it differently.” The art of living is in how you make the fish.

My host believed that a person should not have children until they achieve a level of maturity and self-actualization that makes them capable of the sacrifices required by parenting.

“It’s not like you’re the only one having this feeling,” said Levin-Areddy’s co-host on the podcast, Vanessa Quirk, to him. “There’s a generational pull among older millennials to just be like, “Fuck it. Why am I going to put more kids on this dying planet?” But Levin-Areddy said that did not apply to him. He was not an anti-natalist or a doomsday environmentalist. I believed him.

Before I could stop myself, I told him that it was “a preposterous, late-20th-century construction that the propagation of the species is what constitutes vanity.” (This was recorded about six months ago. The reason I don’t go on podcasts anymore is that I have a hard time editing myself in conversation.) What I meant was that he was overthinking it. You should have kids because God has blessed you with the miraculous gift of creating life, and life is good. If you don’t believe in God, you have kids because as an animal, you should do as the animals do and fulfill your nature. Imagining that there is a meritocratic admissions test for parenting, instead of seeing it as one of the essential stages of being a person, is the symptom of a deeper vanity, I said, that having children would help him to overcome.

To be continued in Part 2 ...

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

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