Weekly Review — April 8, 2003, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

The World Health Organization warned travelers to avoid Hong Kong and the Guangdong province in China because of the SARS outbreak; it was the first such travel alert in the organization’s history. China finally permitted international health inspectors to visit Guangdong, where the disease originated, and inspectors discovered that the outbreak began in November, although China failed to report it to the WHO until February 9, by which time it was already being spread around the world by travelers. Hong Kong hospitals were having a hard time coping with the increasing number of SARS patients, and doctors and nurses continued to contract the disease. One virologist warned that it was possible that people could be infectious even if they do not display symptoms. Officials in Toronto said they were beginning to get the outbreak there under control, though more than 3,000 people who were possibly exposed have been asked to isolate themselves at home. Experts said that the disease was evidently a natural phenomenon and not a case of bioterrorism. Pentagon officials and Army commanders were complaining that Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, had prevented them from deploying enough ground troops to carry out the invasion of Iraq. Some Republicans, who were afraid of being named for fear of retribution from the White House, were also grumbling about the way the war was going. “I don’t understand what is floating [the president's] ship except patriotism and terrorism concerns,” said one. “If the tide turns, there’s nothing else that keeps his boat afloat.” Most of these complaints disappeared soon after American forces completed their drive to Baghdad and made two strikes into the city center; officials said they had killed more than 2,000 Iraqi fighters and many civilians. “We just wanted to let them know that we’re here,” said Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III.”It was real scary,” said one soldier. American troops opened fire on a civilian van at a checkpoint and killed seven women and children. Military officials said that the van had failed to stop when ordered to do so and that the shooting was justified. The next day Marines shot and killed an unarmed civilian at a roadblock near Baghdad and wounded his passenger. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said that “slowly but surely the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people are being won over as they see security increase in their areas, as humanitarian deliveries are stepped up.” American officers said they had been studying the Israeli occupation of Palestine for pointers. Two female Iraqi suicide attackers, one of whom was apparently pregnant, killed three U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint about 120 miles north of Baghdad. It was reported that President Bush is “being hard on himself; he gave up sweets just before the war began.”

Britain’s Home Office declared that people who subvert the vital interests of the United Kingdom can be stripped of their citizenship. Administration officials continued to characterize the war in Iraq as a “demonstration conflict” aimed at communicating the new reality of international politics. Independence Hall in Philadelphia was closed to visitors because of the war on terrorism. It was reported that the Department of Homeland Security has adopted a formula for domestic-security spending according to which it will spend seven times as much to protect Wyoming residents from terrorist attack as it will to protect New York residents. The government announced that payroll employment fell by 108,000 in March and that unemployment claims were up. The prison population in the United States exceeded 2 million last year, the Justice Department announced, and it was estimated that 12 percent of black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are incarcerated. Alameda, California, laid off every one of its 635 teachers. Los Angeles announced that it will hire 675 new police officers. Law-enforcement officials were busy trying to recruit American Muslim clerics to report suspicious characters who show up at their mosques. Some counterterrorism officials expressed surprise that little evidence has emerged of an imminent terrorist attack on the United States in retaliation for the invasion of Iraq. Administrators at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky ordered the removal of American flags from tables in the Methodist school’s cafeteria. “God’s people do not wave flags as a sign of conquest,” the food-service director was told. “We bear crosses as the sign of reconciliation.”

The Council of Europe, a human-rights watchdog group, called for an international war crimes tribunal for the war in Chechnya, where a remote-controlled mine blew up a bus and killed eight people heading home from work at a Russian military base. American forces mistakenly bombed a convoy of American and Kurdish troops, killing 18 Kurds and wounding 45. One reporter described trails of blood, scorched sneakers, and part of a finger lying in the middle of the road. Humanitarian groups complained that the bomblets distributed by American cluster bombs are the same yellow color as the food rations being distributed by U.S. troops. This problem was also noted in Afghanistan, where it was corrected. The Southern Baptist Convention said that it has about 800 missionaries ready to deliver relief aid and the word of Jesus to the people of Iraq, and Samaritan’s Purse, a group run by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who believes that Islam is evil and inherently violent, was preparing relief efforts as well. North Dakota’s senate voted to keep a law that makes it a crime for an unmarried man and woman to live together “openly and notoriously.” A 12-year-old boy in El Paso, Texas, was suspended from school for sexual harassment after he stuck out his tongue at a girl who refused to be his girlfriend. Florida recalled an AIDS brochure that quoted Scripture and urged compassion toward AIDS patients but made no mention of AIDS prevention. Three deer hunters have died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, it was reported, and two of them were good friends who hunted together. The Centers for Disease Control said that it will not investigate the cases to determine whether the men contracted CJD from eating deer infected with chronic wasting disease, a variant of mad cow disease, because there is no evidence that the men ate CD-infected meat. The World Heath Organization estimated that world cancer rates will double by 2020. Researchers said that most of the world’s remaining gorillas and chimpanzees were likely to be wiped out in the next thirty years. Animal-lovers were trying to save hedgehogs on the Scottish island of North Uist which are scheduled to be culled to prevent them from eating the eggs of wading birds. A rare 16-foot “colossal squid” was caught near Antarctica. The Pekingese that won the Crufts dogshow in Birmingham, England, was accused of having had a face-lift. General Augusto Pinochet was hospitalized with a broken toe.

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I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

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