Weekly Review — March 26, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Representatives of 58 rich and poor countries gathered in Monterrey, Mexico, to determine how best to spread the wealth and improve the lot of the 1.2 billion people who live on less than $1 a day. Although Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill worried that the money of American “plumbers and carpenters” would be squandered on aid to poor nations, President Bush pledged to increase such spending by 50 percent. One participant, Fidel Castro, opined that “the world economy today is a huge casino” run by self-appointed “masters of the world.” The Senate overhauled campaign-finance laws, passing a bill that prohibits national political parties from accepting or spending soft money. Opponents of the bill declared that it violated donors’ free-speech rights; the next day, Senator Mitch McConnell announced that Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel, will lead a legal team taking the issue to court, in an attempt to preserve the “freedom of all Americans to fully participate in our democracy.” When asked whether he would sign the bill reluctantly or wholeheartedly, the President responded, “I have a kind of firm, semifirm signature as it moves across the page. It will probably take about . . . you know, about three seconds to get to the W, I may hesitate on the period, and then rip through the Bush.” NASAresearchers highly recommended afternoon power naps. Senators were considering issuing a subpoena to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who was still refusing to introduce himself to Congress and explain the President’s request for $38 billion for domestic security. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced plans to interview 3,000 Middle Eastern men who have entered the country since September 11, pointing to the success of a controversial first round of talks last fall with Middle Eastern men residing in the United States. Of the 4,793 men on the original list, 2,261 were located and interviewed, three were arrested on criminal charges, and none was charged with terrorism. More than 250 ethnic Pashtun prisoners, accused of collaborating with the Taliban and detained in northern Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance four months ago, were released in celebration of the Persian New Year.

“Operation Anaconda,” so far the largest battle in the war in Afghanistan, ended after seventeen days of fighting and was declared a success by the United States. Roughly 200 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were killed, or possibly 800. American forces searching deserted caves in eastern Afghanistan discovered that Al Qaeda soldiers were using laptops to communicate with one another as they moved from cave to cave. Employees of the British Library found gunpowder that they believe belonged to Guy Fawkes, who intended to use it to blow up Parliament in 1605. The Catholic Church in the Philippines was appealing to followers not to crucify themselves during Holy Week, pointing out that the popular practice of nailing oneself to a cross has become more a tourist attraction than a genuine act of penance. An Italian archbishop asked Roman Catholics to refrain from sending text messages for a day as a sacrifice to God, proposing that Good Friday be the “day of short messages abstinence.” At the behest of lawyers representing the Church of Scientology, the Internet search engine Google removed links to dozens of anti-Scientology websites. Pope John Paul II, addressing a string of pedophilia scandals embroiling America’s Roman Catholic priesthood, confirmed that the priests involved are sinners, and regretted that such criminal behavior casts a “dark shadow of suspicion” across the entire clergy. The Justice Department’s “Operation Candyman” led to the arrests of 90 people, including two Roman Catholicpriests, on various charges relating to child pornography. A federation of eunuchs called on the Indian government to stop the forced castration of boys; the organization said that over 100,000 boys aged 10 to 18 are befriended each year by “fake eunuch gurus” who intoxicate them with opium-laced milk before castrating them. Free condoms were being hung from trees in Australia to bring safe sex to aborigines. A penis museum in Reykjavik, Iceland, was seeking a human donation.

The Supreme Court ruled that a South Carolina man could no longer sell his own urine online; for $69 plus shipping and handling, the pipe fitter would mail five ounces of urine, plastic tubing, and a warmer to customers concerned about their ability to pass employers’ drug tests. A class of third graders in Kansas City, Missouri, was strip-searched when $5 in lunch money disappeared; the search failed to produce the cash. A woman whose dog mauled a neighbor to death was convicted of second-degree murder. Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned all five of her children in a bathtub, was sentenced to life in prison; her family blamed her husband for not being more attentive to her postpartum psychosis, and her husband blamed the medical establishment. He was said to be considering legal action, noting that the doctor who treated his wife two days before the killings is “a trained professional who’s supposed to be able to recognize these kinds of things. I’m not. I’m just a guy.” A jury ordered Philip Morris to pay $150 million in damages to the estate of a deceased smoker, for falsely insinuating that low-tar cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes. The jury determined that the tobacco company bore 51 percent of the responsibility for the smoker’s death, with the victim herself 49 percent responsible for choosing to smoke. Sixty rare green pigeons killed themselves in India by flying into the wall of an army base. An iceberg the size of Luxembourg broke away from Antarctica and shattered into thousands of pieces. Nearly 1,800 people simultaneously made snow angels in Bismarck, North Dakota. New analysis determined that life on Earth is a lot less diverse than commonly thought, containing a maximum of 10.5 million species, not 15 million. The Bush Administration urged federal judges to withdraw legal protections for two dozen endangered species. Al Gore shaved off his beard.

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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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