Weekly Review — January 15, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

The United States Department of Justice appointed a special criminal task force to investigate the collapse of Enron, the Texas oil company. Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation, as did the entire United States Attorney’s office in Houston, because of conflicts of interest. Kenneth L. Lay, Enron’s chairman, who called two different cabinet secretaries last fall before the company imploded, apparently fishing for a government bailout, has given more money to President Bush than anyone else â?? more than $550,000 to his political campaigns plus $100,000 for his inaugural committee. In the months before Enron’s stock dropped from $86 to $.70 a share, company executives, including Lay, sold off $1.1 billion worth of stock. The Bush Administration abandoned a $1.5 billion project to develop high-mileage gas engines for automobiles, deciding instead to focus on hydrogen fuel-cell technology, which will not threaten oil industry revenues for at least ten to twenty years. Vice President Dick Cheney, who also has close ties to Enron, was still hiding out somewhere. President Bush appointed a former employee of the Unocal oil company to be special envoy to Afghanistan. Karl Rove, a powerful adviser to President Bush, was said to be busy pondering the past. It was revealed that the United States government was selling old declassified reports to the general public with titles such as “The Stability of Botulinum Toxin in Common Beverages” and “Development of ‘N’ for Offensive Use in Biological Warfare.” Botulinum is the most poisonous substance known; “N” was the military code word for anthrax. The reports go for about $15. In Alaska, an appeals court ruled that a crazy man who believes that he has a computer chip in his head must be allowed to carry a gun.

General S. Padmanabhan, India’s army chief, said he was ready for war. “If we have to go to war, jolly good. If we don’t, we will still manage.” Asked about nuclear weapons, he said: “We are ready for a second strike, yes. Take it from me, we have enough.” The Pentagon was trying to develop a new and better stink bomb. President Bush warned Iran not to stir up trouble in Afghanistan, a country with which Iran shares a border and a common Persian history: “Iran must be a contributor in the war against terror,” Bush said. “Our country, in our fight against terrorism, will uphold the doctrine of either you’re with us or against us.” Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader, reportedly escaped on a motorcycle as forces allied with the United States were distracted by a mass surrender of Taliban fighters. It was reported that the patriotic teenager who flew a small airplane into a Tampa, Florida, office building, dedicating his suicide to Osama bin Laden, was taking Accutane, a prescription acne medication that has been linked to suicides. Two men who tried to burn down a Curry in a Hurry restaurant in Salt Lake City in retaliation for the September 11 attacks were sent to prison for committing a hate crime. Protestants attacked little girls and their parents as they attempted to leave their Catholic school in Belfast; riots ensued, people threw fire and acid bombs, and a Catholic mailman was murdered. Two Palestinian gunmen attacked an Israeli outpost, killing four Israeli Arab soldiers. In retribution, Israeli forces carried out some “engineering activity” and demolished 54 homes in a Gaza refugee camp, leaving 500 people homeless. Federal Express accidentally shipped a highly radioactive package from France to New Orleans. Redwoods in California appeared to be infected with a mysterious deadly fungus. El Niño returned to the Pacific Ocean.

Peter Melchett, the former head of Greenpeace UK and board member of Greenpeace International, took a job as a consultant with Burson-Marsteller, the largest PR firm in the world, a company whose clients have included Nigeria during the Biafran war, the Indonesian government after the massacres in East Timor, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, Union Carbide, and biotechnology companies such as Monsanto. Doctors in Croatia confirmed that they had removed a carrot that a man’s girlfriend had playfully stuck up his ass.Police in Bayview, Texas, were investigating the theft of a ten-foot giraffe. The famous German hen that could lay perfectly round eggs died. Eugenio Domingo Solans, a board member of the European Central Bank, warned that eating more than 400 new euro notes could make you sick. President Bush fell off his couch and smashed his face; he claimed to have fainted while watching football and eating a pretzel. Lithuania’s “gender ombudswoman” ruled that a regulation mandating that women receive a gynecological exam before they receive a driver’s license was discriminatory. Hundreds of Zambian women marched and bared their breasts in disgust to protest the outcome of the recent presidential election, which many believe was rigged. Brazil gave women equal rights. Twenty-five thousand people died in natural disasters last year, the United Nations reported, up from 10,000 in 2000. An asteroid large enough to destroy a medium-sized country narrowly missed the Earth. Hyenas were eating people in Malawi. A federal judge ruled that the Forest Service was engaged in “mystical legal prestidigitation.” Astronomers concluded that the universe is green: “If you had a huge eyeball and could observe the whole universe at once, you would see the color green,” said Dr. Karl Glazebrook. “The standard shade of pale turquoise, but a few percent greener.”

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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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