The Most Interesting Stories of 2011

January 1st, 2012

Happy New Year to all my friends, family and loyal readers! I’m continuing the tradition of sharing a small collection of my favorite news items from the previous year. Be sure to check out my 20082009 and 2010 recap posts for those who are bit lost. Thanks for reading!

1) The New YorkerGetting Bin Laden – What happened that night in Abbottabad

One month before the 2008 Presidential election, Obama, then a senator from Illinois, squared off in a debate against John McCain in an arena at Belmont University, in Nashville. A woman in the audience asked Obama if he would be willing to pursue Al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan, even if that meant invading an ally nation. He replied, “If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable, or unwilling, to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national-security priority.” McCain, who often criticized Obama for his naïveté on foreign-policy matters, characterized the promise as foolish, saying, “I’m not going to telegraph my punches.”

[…] A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.) Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, “For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.” After a pause, he added, “Geronimo E.K.I.A.”—“enemy killed in action.”

Hearing this at the White House, Obama pursed his lips, and said solemnly, to no one in particular, “We got him.”

2) Popular Mechanics: What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447

At 1h51m, the cockpit becomes illuminated by a strange electrical phenomenon. The co-pilot in the right-hand seat, an inexperienced 32-year-old named Pierre-Cédric Bonin, asks, “What’s that?” The captain, Marc Dubois, a veteran with more than 11,000 hours of flight time, tells him it is St. Elmo’s fire, a phenomenon often found with thunderstorms at these latitudes.

At approximately 2 am, the other co-pilot, David Robert, returns to the cockpit after a rest break. At 37, Robert is both older and more experienced than Bonin, with more than double his colleague’s total flight hours. The head pilot gets up and gives him the left-hand seat. Despite the gap in seniority and experience, the captain leaves Bonin in charge of the controls.

At 2:02 am, the captain leaves the flight deck to take a nap. Within 15 minutes, everyone aboard the plane will be dead.]

3) The New Yorker: A Murder Foretold: Unravelling the Ultimate Political Conspiracy

In Guatemala, impunity has created a bewildering swirl of competing stories and rumors, allowing powerful interests not only to cloak history but also to fabricate it. As Francisco Goldman describes in his incisive 2007 book, “The Art of Political Murder,” about the assassination of Bishop Gerardi, the military and its intelligence operators concocted evidence and witnesses to generate endless hypotheses—it was a robbery, it was a crime of passion—in order to conceal the simple truth that they had murdered him. “So much would be made to seem to connect,” Goldman writes.

Guatemalans often cite the proverb “In a country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Fighting his way through the political fog, Rosenberg searched for a motive, stubbornly insisting that, if two people were assassinated, then somebody had a reason to kill them. In notes he kept about the case, he reported that authorities had initially suggested the shootings stemmed from a dispute over a fired factory worker. But, by all accounts, Musa had treated his workers well. Were the police and authorities trying to cover something up, spinning another web of disinformation?

4) The Washington Post: Year-long D.C. undercover sting netted arrests, guns, drugs

D.C. Police Sgt. Dale Sutherland’s high-tech headquarters in a stylish Northeast rowhouse welcomed some of the city’s most notorious gun-runners and drug dealers.

Sutherland made deals for revolvers, shotguns, ammunition, crack cocaine and heroin from black leather couches. His suppliers kept coming back, authorities say. Then, in June, one offered Sutherland hand grenades and a rocket launcher, and he had to act quickly.

In June, police said, one target accidentally dialed the phone of an officer who was posing as “Tony Blanco.” When the officer picked up, he overheard men discussing a plan to storm the studio, guns blazing.

5) The Wire Cutter: Steve Jobs Was Always Kind to Me (Or, Regrets of an Asshole)

“Hi, this is Steve. I really want my phone back.”

He wasn’t demanding. He was asking. And he was charming and he was funny. I was half-naked, just getting back from surfing, but I managed to keep my shit together.

“I appreciate you had your fun with our phone and I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the sales guy who lost it. But we need the phone back because we can’t let it fall into the wrong hands.”

I thought, maybe its already in the wrong hands?

He continued, “There are two ways we can do this. I can send someone to pick up the phone–”

Me: “I don’t have it”

“–But you know someone who does…or we can send someone with legal papers, and I don’t want to do that.”

He was giving us an easy way out.

I told him I had to talk to my dudes. Before he hung up, he asked me, “What do you think of it?”

I said, “It’s beautiful.”

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