Weekly Review — May 22, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Israelisecurity forces assassinated five Palestinian soldiers as they prepared a late-night snack, which was a mistake, as it turned out, since the intended targets were stationed in another guardhouse nearby. The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot observed that “only a revenge-seeking fool could believe that eliminations and missile fire, the demolition of neighborhoods, the killing of soldiers and civilians and the destruction of homes could restore personal calm and security.” A Palestiniansuicide bomber killed ten Israelis and wounded 100 others at a shopping mall; Israel responded with F-16 air strikes. More people died. Some New York politicians, including the governor, demanded that a wax likeness of Yasir Arafat be removed from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The United States finally got around to declaring the “Real IRA” a terroristorganization. Russia bombed ice flows on the Lena River in Siberia. President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President George W. Bush made a date to meet for the first time. Police were searching for a “monkey man” in Delhi, India, who was terrorizing people; he was said to have brass gloves, long, poisoned iron claws, iron boots, a helmet, and a black bodysuit. Several people died fleeing the monkey man, including one who jumped from a roof. A woman in Chicago bit off a man’s testicles when he assaulted her and demanded that she fellate him; she deposited her trophy at a police station shortly thereafter. Former president Bill Clinton was struck by a raw egg in Poland. Francisco Toledo, the Mexican artist, paid his taxes with 27 sketchbooks entitled “Notebooks of Shit.”

Vice President Dick Cheney announced his energy plan. A government report said that the fuel economy of new American cars was at its lowest level since 1980. A 47-car train carrying hazardous materials but no humans left Toledo, Ohio, and traveled 70 miles until someone managed to get on board and stop it. A windstorm smashed media trailers in Terre Haute, Indiana, on the night that Timothy McVeigh had been scheduled to die. Smugglers forced illegal immigrants from Somalia to walk the plank after their boat developed engine trouble; 70 were rescued but 86 drowned, according to officials. Police in Saudi Arabia gave seven teenage boys 15 lashes each for leering at women at shopping malls; the offenses included slipping girls phone numbers, whistling, talking to them, even winking. There were reports that an Iranian woman would be stoned to death for killing her husband, who was buried next to a cow’s skull in a fruit garden. The woman will be buried chest-deep for the stoning so that her breasts will not be damaged. Swaziland’sGuardian newspaper was shut down and its editor arrested, because the paper reported that the king was ill after being poisoned by one of his seven wives. A polygamist was tried and convicted in Utah. New census figures revealed that nuclear families accounted for less than a quarter of American households. Russia’sparliament voted to give President Putin more power.

A Polish biologist proposed a new universal definition of life: “A network of inferior negative feedbacks subordinated to a superior positive feedback.” According to this definition, parasitic DNA, viruses, and cancers are all alive, but prions, individual worker ants, and infertile humans are not. One in ten Britishchildren was found to be carrying antibiotic-resistant microbes. Thoroughbred foals in Kentucky were dying at an alarming rate for unknown reasons. The Bush Administration reportedly was planning not to participate in a new agreement designed to enforce the 1972 treaty banning biological weapons. Researchers found that oysters, when stressed, secrete the same hormones that humans do, hormones that inhibit their immune system, making them vulnerable to a germ called vibrio splendidus, which kills them. The leader of the research team that cloned Dolly the sheep warned against the premature cloning of farmanimals for meat and milk production; cattleclones have suffered from severe defects such as diabetes, immune-system deficiencies, giant tongues, intestinal blockages, and squashed faces. A mathematician at Stanford University found that up to half the fruit-fly gene sequences produced by Celera, a private company that uses computer shortcuts to produce its sequences, may contain errors. London’s FTSE 100 index fell sharply after a Lehman Brothers trader made a typo that resulted in a sale 100 times larger than intended. A 101-year-old man made a hole in one. Researchers found that Oscar-winning movie stars live longer, and that flying frequently across several time zones can shrink your brain.

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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49 in 50

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