Weekly Review — September 11, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Bush Administration officials contradicted previous statements that they would let China build up its nuclear arsenal if Beijing would simply drop its objections to the missile-defense boondoggle. Russia was beginning to approach the subject with a certain irony. “If they have the money to build the most excessive response to the least probable threat situation, that’s okay,” said Vladimir Lukin, deputy speaker of parliament. A Palestiniansuicide bomber disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew smiled out of the corner of his mouth and blew himself up on the Street of the Prophets in Jerusalem, wounding 20 people. It was the fifth bomb to go off in Jerusalem that day. Other bombers had better luck and succeeded in killing innocent people. American warplanes bombed Iraq. It was revealed that the United States has been engaged in germ-warfare research that violates or comes close to violating the 1972 treaty outlawing biological weapons. The European Parliament heard testimony that Echelon, America’s rumored spy network, can monitor any telecommunication that bounces off a satellite. Physicist Stephen Hawking recommended that humans modify their genome to speed up evolution and prevent intelligent computers from taking over the world. The Bush Administration decided not to pursue the breakup of Microsoft. Prozac’s share of the antidepressant market had dropped by two thirds in the three weeks since its patent expired and generic versions appeared. Scientists were attempting to discover, using objective criteria, the funniest joke in Britain. A 16-year-old boy hit the king of Sweden in the face with a strawberry cream cake. Medical staff at an old-folks’ home in Denmark claimed that porn and prostitutes do more good than drugs in treating the elderly. Scientists found that horses are happier if they have mirrors in their stalls.

The Earth Liberation Front vandalized a cancer-research lab on Long Island, apparently because they were upset about biotechnology research. A new study, financed by biotechnology companies, concluded that monarch butterfly caterpillars are not killed by the pollen of BT corn, a finding that contradicts studies that were not financed by biotechnology companies. Sharks were eating people in Virginia and North Carolina. Florida banned the use of bloody bait to lure sharks to “interactive” scuba dives. A 17-year-old Siberian boy beat his parents to death with an iron bar because they were trying to put a stop to his video-gambling habit; he was arrested at the video arcade. Police in Prague arrested a man for murdering his girlfriend and mailing her body parts to fake addresses. In Florida, a 16-year-old boy was saved by his Bible when it deflected a shotgun blast fired by his mother; his six-year-old brother was less fortunate. Residents of Reno, Nevada, were trying to prevent a kitty-litter mine and processing plant from opening nearby. Scientists found that some people prefer ugly mates. In Chappaqua, New York, the parents of a high school senior were in trouble for hiring a stripper to perform at a party filled with students; when police arrived the stripper was naked, on her back, performing a lewd act, possibly with an object.

Astronomers saw a giant flare at the center of the Milky Way that might be the event horizon of a black hole one million times more massive than the sun. Britishscientists found that a marijuana spray applied under the tongue helped people with chronic pain. One million Britishschoolchildren jumped in unison for a minute in a failed attempt to create a minor earthquake. United Airlines was being sued after a flight crew forced a British transvestite to get off a plane and change into proper men’s attire. A federal appeals court found that prison inmates have a right to procreate that “survives incarceration.” A virus was killing thousands of salmon in eastern Maine. President Megawati Sukarnoputri visited the unhappy province of Aceh and apologized for Indonesia’s “shortcomings” in the region, which might have been an oblique reference to the mass graves recently discovered there. After much hullabaloo, the delegates who remained at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance agreed to condemn the old European slave trade and to express concern about the “plight of the Palestinians under foreign occupation.” After two days of throwing stones at Catholic schoolgirls who were on their way to school, Protestants in Belfast decided to throw a pipe bomb. Thousands of small dead bait fish washed up on the beaches of Stone Harbor, New York. Elderly Trappist monks in Iowa were keeping busy making coffins. Sudden oak death, a mysterious disease that causes its victims to weep sap, was killing trees in California. A young elk got drunk eating fermented apples and caused traffic jams in Sweden.

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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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