Weekly Review — July 9, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

A judge in Manhattan ruled that the federal death penalty is unconstitutional; the judge wrote that the number of exonerations due to DNA evidence demonstrated that there is an “undue risk of executing innocent people” and that capital punishment thus violates the constitutional right to due process. The death penalty, he said, is “tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent beings.” An American AC-130 gunship fired on a wedding party in Afghanistan for two hours, killing up to 50 people and injuring 150; an entire extended family of 25 was killed. The government of Afghanistan “expressed dismay”; President Bush “expressed his sympathies.” Two America West pilots were arrested for drunk flying. The Transportation Security Administration revealed that inspectors managed to smuggle fake bombs, guns, and other weapons aboard aircraft at the nations 32 major airports about 25 percent of the time; screeners in Los Angeles missed 41 percent of the weapons. An Egyptian man named Hesham Mohamed Hadayet walked into Los Angeles International Airport and opened fire on the El Al airlines ticket counter and killed two people; authorities said they had no evidence that the shooting was an act of terrorism and that it might just be a “hate crime.” A “highly classified” Pentagon planning document for the invasion of Iraq was leaked to the press. A British theater director walked up to a large marble statue of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and decapitated it with a cricket bat.

A shipload of weapons-grade plutonium left Japan for Britain protected by little more than a few deck-mounted machine guns; environmentalists and some members of Congress were worried that terrorists might hijack the ship, get the plutonium, and make bombs with it. British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that he was going to stop the rioting in Northern Ireland. A German court convicted a 93-year-old former Nazi SS officer of participating in the massacre of 59 prisoners of war. Chile’s supreme court ruled that General Augusto Pinochet was unfit to stand trial because of severe dementia; a few days later Pinochet resigned from his lifetime senate seat. A Sunday-school teacher who instructed a 16-year-old boy to write “What would Jesus do?” on his own penis to help prevent homosexuality and masturbation was sentenced to one month in a prison work-release program. The Environmental Protection Agency said that it was planning to cut the financing of 33 federal Superfund sites, which will essentially halt the cleanup of some of the most severely polluted places in the country. The American unemployment rate was up last month; economists observed that the economy seemed to be in the midst of a “jobless recovery.” The Vatican reported its first budget deficit in nine years. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 80,000 Martha Stewart potpourri pots.

WorldCom disclosed that it had overstated profits in 1999 and 2000 by about $1 billion, bringing the company’s known phony profits up to almost $5 billion. Journalists were beginning to be curious about some of President Bush’s former business practices. President Jiang Zemin told the people of Hong Kong to be loyal to the motherland, and Russia adopted the principle of habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence in its penal code. Sheriff’s deputies seized several computer hard drives from a library in Naples, Florida, because of a citizen’s report that three Middle Eastern men were whispering to one another at a computer. “The basis for the complaint was that they were believed to be reading Islamic newspapers,” a spokesman said. President Bush declared that the Supreme Court’s decision upholding school vouchers for use in religious schools was as historic as Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that outlawed school segregation. The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University reported that religious schools are significantly more segregated than public schools. Six people were arrested in Pakistan for the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman; the rape was ordered by a tribal court as punishment for her brother’s affair with a woman from another tribe. A boy in Australia died after eating part of a poisonous toadfish. Traders on Wall Street were said to be seeking psychotherapy. Researchers found that a six-week retreat at the Muthaswamy temple in Velayuthampalayamudur, India, works just as well as drugs for people with severe psychiatric problems. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ former guru, announced that he could bring about world peace if only he had $1 billion to train 40,000 expert meditators, who could through the strength of their concentration save the world. A cowboy from Texas rode his horse to New York City as a tribute to the victims of September 11. Indian entrepreneurs received an American patent for an antibiotic distilled from cow urine. A fisherman in Germany caught a 6.6 pound piranha. Rosemary Clooney died. The Pope urged young people to be chaste, and scientists discovered that direct exposure to semen makes women happier.

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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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