Weekly Review — January 30, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Australianresearchers, who were trying to use genetic engineering to sterilize mice, accidentally created a deadly, immune-system-destroying strain of the mousepox virus, a cousin of the human smallpox virus. Two biotechnology companies announced that they had sequenced the rice genome. Uganda’s most recent outbreak of Ebola fever seemed to be over. Someone sent a letter filled with orange powder, which looked like anthrax, to the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, causing the evacuation of a building. E. coli, whose genome was recently sequenced, has a habit, researchers said, of picking up new genes from bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, which could explain its extraordinary virulence. Montana officials were preparing to gut their state’s environmental laws. After a tanker ran aground, some 240,000 gallons of diesel fuel was spreading through the Galápagos Islands, poisoning the once pristine home of the flightless cormorant, the miniature Galápagos penguin, the waved albatross, and the masked booby. The tanker had been carrying fuel for tourist cruises. Fishermen were trying to skim fuel off the surface of the ocean with buckets.

The new government symbolized by George W. Bush continued to insist that it would deploy a national missile defense system despite the fact that the program, developed with equal parts fraud and wishful thinking, would upset the balance of terror with Russia??not to mention the world-historical irony that it might easily drive China to sell missile technology to the very “rogue” nations the program seeks to neutralize. A man with no security clearance managed to walk right up to President George W. Bush in the Capitol and shake his hand; the same man did the same thing at President Bill Clinton’s second inaugural. President George W. Bush, on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, ordered that federal funds be denied to foreign aid groups that have anything to do with abortion. A construction worker in Philadelphia accidentally cut off his hand with a miter saw and then, in an apparent attempt to end it all, shot himself a dozen times in the head with a nail gun. He lived. Thailand’selection commission ordered revotes in 62 districts because of widespread cheating, though it confirmed the overall victory of the Thai Love Thai party, whose leader, the new prime minister, is under investigation for corruption. Florida’s 67 county election supervisors called for uniform voting standards. A federal appeals court in Louisiana heard arguments that a Texas death-row inmate should be given a new trial because his lawyer slept through much of his murder trial. Rats dream, researchers found. A grill cook at a Whataburger restaurant in Dallas, Texas, was arrested for lacing a taquito sold to a police officer with marijuana. Kentucky’s governor proposed mandatory curbside garbage collection as a solution to the hillbilly propensity to throw garbage off the back porch. Fairfax County, Virginia, secured the approval of the state senate to require residents to sleep in their bedrooms.A United Nations report suggested strongly that Saudi Arabia was barbaric.

A Jewish settler who beat a ten-year-old Palestinian boy to death (after kicking the little boy to the ground, Nahum Kurman placed his foot on the boy’s neck and repeatedly struck his head with a pistol butt) was sentenced to six months of community service. O. J. Simpson lost an appeal of the $33.5 million civil judgment that was entered against him for killing his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. Authorities in Great Falls, Montana, were prosecuting a child molester who was accused of making “little boy stew” and then feeding it to neighbors. Congo’s president Laurent Kabila was buried; he was killed by his bodyguards, all of whom were recruited by Kabila as children when he was a rebel commander. They said they did it “because of suffering.” Johnny and Luther Htoo, a pair of twin boys who until last week were the leaders of the Burmese rebel group God’s Army, admitted that they did not have magic powers or an invisible army under their command; Luther told a reporter that he just wanted “to live as a family” with his parents. The United Nations said the world needed to create 500 million new jobs over the next ten years. Egypt began enforcing a seat-belt law; drivers were mounting strips of cotton in their cars, securing them with safety clips. Five members of the Falun Gong meditation cult set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. One thousand Texascattle were quarantined after it was discovered that they were fed ground-up ruminants in violation of a ban designed to prevent mad cow disease. Paleontologists named a newly discovered dinosaur, Masiakasaurus knopfleri, after Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler; the beast apparently had strange teeth. Millions of cattle were freezing to death in Mongolia.

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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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