Weekly Review — December 19, 2000, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

An international team of scientists announced that they had finished the first complete genetic sequence of a plant; Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale-cress, is related to cauliflowers and brussels sprouts and previously was a worthless weed.A new study found that marijuana slows the swimming of sperm in a test tube.The United StatesArmy was funding research aimed at allowing humans to hibernate.Experts on a National Toxicology Program panel said that estrogen should be listed as a carcinogen.Switzerland banned the sale of beef on the bone because of mad-cow concerns.Cargill Turkey Products recalled 16.7 million pounds of turkey products after it was linked to 28 cases of listeriosis, including four deaths and three miscarriages.One hundred and twenty-two countries agreed to ban PCBs, dioxins, and other toxins that cause a variety of birth defects, though DDT will still be used to fight malaria, and PCBs will still be used in electrical equipment. Europeanscientists warned that the region’s fish and other seafood were contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins and other toxins. The Scottish scientists who made Dolly, the famous sheep clone, announced a plan to make genetically modified chickens that will lay eggs containing drugs.After accidently disabling a single gene, a group of scientists doubled the life span of fruit flies.Humans have the same gene.Ukraine’s president finally closed forever the final nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in a ceremony held near a statue of Prometheus.

Russia and the United States agreed to try not to launch nuclear missiles accidently, updating a previous agreement, which resulted from a 1995 mix-up when Russia nearly launched a nuclear counterstrike in response to a Norwegian weather rocket.Another death-row inmate was cleared by DNA tests; a death-row inmate who died of cancer last year was also cleared.Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced to die in 1997 for blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killing 168 people in Oklahoma City, asked to be put to death within the next four months.The number of executions carried out in the United States declined by 14 percent this year; half were held in Texas, which had its best year ever, killing more prisoners in one year than any other state in American history. The warden of the prison in Huntsville, Texas, who has presided over eighty-four executions, told a reporter: “Just from a Christian standpoint, you can’t see one of these and not consider that maybe it’s not right.” The Supreme Court of the United States made a gift of the presidency to George W. Bush.With his brother safely appointed president, Governor Jeb Bush announced that he would appoint a panel to reform Florida’selection equipment and procedures.General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for an increase in military spending to stop the “fraying of our force.” Virginia Lamp Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was working for the rightist Heritage Foundation, vetting résumés of courtiers seeking places at the Republican banquet.A federal judge upheld the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action admissions policy.President-elect George W. Bush was worried about a slowing economy and called for a large tax cut.He named Colin Powell to be secretary of state; Powell said he was glad they weren’t at Bush’s ranch because he was afraid of those scary-looking cows.

India banned beauty contests; the most recent Miss World and Miss Universe pageants both were won by Indians.A United Nations report said that 79 million girls were “missing” in South Asia because of infanticide and the abortion of female fetuses.Mississippi was thinking about removing the image of the Confederate battle flag from its state flag, which was accidently decertified in 1906.Two days after a white farmer was ambushed and murdered, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe urged blacks “to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy.”South African whites were being urged to admit that they were still enjoying many benefits as a result of apartheid. After months of preventing Palestinians from entering Israel to work, thus destroying the economy of the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government “came to the conclusion,” in the words of the defense minister, “that it did not serve any productive purpose to have severe economic distress in the territories.”Mazen Al-Najjar, a Palestinian professor from Tampa, Florida, who was held by the U.S. government for three and half years based on secret evidence and charges, was finally released on the order of a judge.China committed Cao Maobin, a prominent union organizer, to a psychiatric hospital.Terry Walker, a Michigan cook, was being held because he sold a gun several years ago that recently was used to kill a policeman; Walker failed to file a form with the government when he sold the gun and on that basis was charged with manslaughter.The bodies of thirty-four victims of the 1981 El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador were buried; 800 were killed in all, probably by the Atlcatl Battalion, which was trained and armed by the United States.East Timor charged an Indonesian army officer with crimes against humanity.Slobodan Milosevic was interviewed on Yugoslav television: “I can sleep peacefully,” he said, “and my conscience is completely clear.” Chile’s former dictator General Augusto Pinochet was spending peaceful days at his country house, strolling in the garden, playing with his grandchildren.

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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