Weekly Review — December 18, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

The White House announced that the anthrax used in recent mail attacks probably originated in the United States; Army officials confirmed that the bacteria was a genetic match with anthrax in the Army’s stockpile but pointed out that their supply had come from the Agriculture Department. The F.B.I. was still trying to figure out how many different government labs were experimenting with the bacteria. President Bush announced that the United States will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. North Korea said it will sign five international antiterrorism conventions. Israelis and Palestinians continued to kill one another; a poll showed that 74 percent of Israelis backed their government’s “seek-and-kill” policy of assassinating Palestinian militants, though just 22 percent thought it decreased terrorism and 45 percent said it probably increased terror attacks. American warplanes were dropping fewer bombs on Afghanistan. Celebrities were organizing a campaign to eradicate gossip. Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting and illegal drug possession. A gynecologist in India successfully performed 68 hysterectomies within 24 hours. There was a report that British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, recently underwent a “rebirthing ritual” in a Mexican steam bath; the ritual was said to include primal screams and the smearing of mud and fruit all over their bodies. A baby bear named Snickers escaped from a Minnesota animal park and broke into a farmhouse because he was feeling lonely. “He was just looking for people to hug him,” the bear’s owner said. “He’s a huggy bear.”

Sixty percent of Americans are too fat, warned the surgeon general. Dick Armey, the House majority leader, announced that he will retire next year. Cracker Barrel, the restaurant chain, was sued for discriminating against blacks. Some Oregonians were circulating a petition to repeal the law that bans the eating of roadkill. American planes dropped 46,000 pounds of cake on Afghanistan to mark the end of Ramadan. Greece dropped spy charges against a group of British tourists who enjoy “plane spotting.” Federal officials arrested 35 people for smuggling cocaine using infants rented from poor families in Chicago. Quite a few illegal immigrants turned up dead, apparently suffocated, in cargo containers in Italy and Ireland. Many Taliban prisoners died the same way. Hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters made their last stand in Tora Bora, Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden was not found, however, and there were reports that he had escaped to Pakistan. China, which officially became a member of the World Trade Organization, was continuing its crackdown on Uighur Muslims, whom it was executing in large numbers. A McDonald’s in Xian province, where many Uighurs live, blew up.

The artist Martin Creed won Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize for exhibiting a room empty except for a few flickering lights; another artist, annoyed that a gimmick had again taken the prize, threw two eggs at the installation and was arrested. Kamaiel van Roussum, a Dutch construction-site supervisor working in Ghana, was arrested for defecating in a bucket used by his workers for drinking water. A scientist observed wild orangutans partaking in homosexual behavior. A judge in Philadelphia dismissed charges against a female prison guard who used snack foods to purchase sex from prisoners. The Drug Enforcement Agency agreed for the first time in two decades to permit research on the medical effectiveness of marijuana; the agency also decided to ban any food products that contain trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient in pot, which is a problem for many natural-foods companies that use hempseed or hempseed oil in their products. “Pasta, tortilla chips, candy bars, nutritional bars, salad dressings, sauces, cheeses, ice cream, and beer” containing hemp have been banned, but not hats, shirts, lotion, paper, or rope, because they “do not cause THC to enter the human body.” NBC announced it would begin accepting advertising for liquor. Biotechnology companies were lobbying the government to protect them from lawsuits; drug companies were asking for exemptions from antitrust laws, which would somehow help them develop better vaccines. Ebola fever was spreading “rapidly and unpredictably” in Gabon. In Michigan, a postal worker pleaded guilty to throwing ten gallons of porcupine feces on his colleagues. An Italian lost part of his penis while watching a porno movie after he inserted it into a vacuum cleaner. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi finally agreed not to block the creation of Europe-wide arrest warrants even though one could be used to arrest him. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe opened his reelection campaign and took his main opponent into custody. Millions of workers and businesses in Venezuela held a general strike and housewives banged on pans to protest President Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian” revolution. “I will never hold a dialogue,” Chávez declared. “The revolution is invincible, and no one is going to stop it because it has infinite power.”

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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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