Weekly Review — November 20, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

A newspaper review of the ballots cast in Florida’s presidential election found that Al Gore probably received more votes than George W. Bush, who this week signed an executive order that will permit the government to use military courts to try foreigners accused of terrorism. Bush’s action was widely denounced as dictatorial and un-American, and law professors speculated that the administration was afraid that the evidence against Osama bin Laden was too weak to hold up in court. Vice President Dick Cheney said that suspected terrorists “don’t deserve to be treated as a prisoner of war. They don’t deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that would be used for an American citizen going through the normal judicial process.” Forty-five percent of Americans, according to a new poll, would not object to the use of torture to obtain information about terrorism. Three human rights groups charged that Israel has resumed the systematic torture of Palestinian detainees in violation of an order by the Israeli supreme court. American Special Forces were roaming the hills of Afghanistan on horseback searching for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar, who were on the run after the Taliban lost most of its territory. Oil prices were dropping. Foreign Taliban fighters in Kunduz executed more than 400 of their Afghan comrades to keep them from defecting. Refugees reported that they were killing civilians as well. In areas that have fallen to the Northern Alliance, Red Cross workers found bodies of Taliban soldiers, mostly foreigners, with bullet holes between their eyes. Northern Alliance forces entering Kabul were photographed beating and summarily executing a wounded Taliban soldier as he begged for his life. Reports of other such war crimes were unconfirmed. Presidents Bush and Putin had a fine time kidding around down on the ranch in Crawford, Texas, and they agreed to cut American and Russian nuclear arms by two thirds.President Bush announced that “the United States and Russia are in the midst of a transformationed relationship.”

A grave digger in Nigeria was arrested trying to sell two fresh human heads, which he was carrying in a bag; many Nigerians believe that human genitals, tongues, eyes, and skulls are good for casting spells. Members of the Liguria parliament in Genoa, Italy, banned the use of the word “member” to describe one another because it also means “penis,” which “is likely to cause a certain uneasiness among women”; henceforth, members will be known as “components” of parliament. A man stole 21 ceramic penises from an art exhibit in Boulder, Colorado, and left an American flag in their place. Schoolchildren in Indiavoted overwhelmingly to name a white tiger cub in the Lucknow Zoo Osama bin Laden; Hitler was another popular choice. Thousands of dead fish killed by industrial waste in a lake in Bangladesh were being collected and eaten by poor people. Pentagon officials were still trying to decide on a new color for food-aid packages; the current yellow color matches the one used for cluster bombs. Buildings were evacuated in Toronto when a cleaning woman mistook a vibrator that was hidden in a bathroom for a bomb. Iraq fired a mortar shell at Kuwait. Seven thousand virgins in Tanzania got together and promised not to have sex until marriage. Two hundred members of the Italian Association of Cuckolds gathered in Ruviano. In Singapore, hundreds of delegates were gathering for an international summit on the future of the toilet. China held its first conference on AIDS; an anonymous patient gave a brief speech from a dark stage lit only by green glow sticks.

Congress finally passed a bill to nationalize airport security; 28,000 federal passenger and baggage screeners will be deployed within a year. House Republicans insisted that some airports be given the option to hire private security companies after three years. Postal Service investigators found another anthrax letter. BioPort, the sole company approved by the government to make the anthrax vaccine, admitted that it still wasn’t able to pass inspection and begin producing the vaccine. Philip Morris announced that it will change its name to Altria and promptly registered derogatory Internet domain names such as altriakills.com. Retreating Al Qaedaterrorists in Afghanistan left behind nuclear designs written in Arabic, German, Urdu, and English; foul-smelling liquids; and a recipe for building a nuclear bomb that included detailed descriptions of how TNT can cause plutonium to begin its deadly chain reaction. Lists of Florida flight schools, a flight-simulator program, and a map showing power plants in Europe were also found. It later emerged that the atomic-bomb recipe was a parody that has been circulating on the Internet for years. A deranged homeless man pushed a woman in front of a No. 6 subway train in New York. Six men in South Africa were arrested for gang-raping a 10-month-old baby girl. A deranged woman in New York drowned her daughter Signifagance while trying to perform an exorcism on her. Prozac causes mice to become extremely aggressive, especially when they drink alcohol, researchers found, and brain scans can now reveal whether someone is lying. John C. Danforth, the American special envoy for Sudan, jumped over a dead cow. There were floods in Texas and Algeria, and wildfires were burning in southern Appalachia. Archaeologists in Syria found a 3,800-year-old recipe for beer.

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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.

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