Weekly Review — April 8, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Afghanistan votes, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of wealthy political donors, and China standardizes its pets 

A Humbug (Weekly)In Afghanistan — where Taliban militants bombed the Ministry of the Interior and kidnapped and killed a political candidate and nine of his supporters — 7 million people reportedly voted in Saturday’s presidential and provincial-council elections, causing temporary ballot shortages in a third of the country’s provinces and prompting officials to extend polling hours nationwide. “We told Afghans not to vote,” said a Taliban commander. “If we find out you voted, you won’t take your five fingers home.” On the Shomali Plain, north of Kabul, polling places shuttered in response to a series of explosions were promptly reopened. “I left everything behind, my fears and my work,” said farmer Hajji Mahbob of Panjwai district, a traditional Taliban stronghold. “I want change and a good government.”[1][2][3][4][5] In a 5–4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a restriction on the aggregate amount an individual may contribute biennially to congressional candidates, political-action committees, and party committees, effectively eliminating the annual per-donor cap of $123,000. “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion. “Where enough money calls the tune,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissent, “the general public will not be heard.” In a press conference aboard Air Force One, a spokesman for President Barack Obama, who was en route to a cocktail fund-raiser at the home of a San Francisco billionaire, said the administration was “disappointed by the decision.”[6][7][8][9][10] Thirty thousand Ugandans gathered at Kololo stadium in Kampala to celebrate February’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. “We can rid Uganda of homosexuals,” said one speaker. “Yes we can!”[11]

A U.S. federal judge dismissed a case brought by the families of Anwar al-Awlaki and two other American citizens killed in drone strikes overseas, finding “no available remedy under U.S. law” for claims that the strikes violated the victims’ rights to due process and protection from unlawful search and seizure. “Unmanned drones are functionally incapable of ‘seizing’ a person,” read the decision. “They are designed to kill.”[12] Army Specialist Ivan A. Lopez opened fire on fellow members of the 49th Transportation Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas, wounding 16 people on the base and killing three before shooting himself.[13] Three men convicted of gang-raping two women last summer in Mumbai were sentenced to death under a recently passed Indian law strengthening penalties against repeat sex offenders. “They have used the most powerful weapon in their possession: the penis,” said the presiding judge. “They must die,” said the prosecutor.[14] Princess Anne recommended that the badgers of Gloucestershire be gassed, and French justice minister Christiane Taubira canceled plans to attend a ceremony in Kigali marking the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, after Rwandan president Paul Kagame accused France of participation in the “political preparation” and “execution” of the killing. “I don’t care for the use of the word ‘participation,’ ” said former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. “The truth is hard,” said Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo.[15][16][17][18] In China, where urban residents were breathing rural mountain air by the bagful, officials established a pet-standardization committee and announced a nearly $2.7 million investment into researching the aurora borealis above Iceland. “The Chinese do not do anything without good reason,” said an Icelandic scientist.[19][20][21] Saudi officials suspended the travel visas of Muslim pilgrims from parts of West Africa after an Ebola outbreak in rural Guinea spread to Conakry, the country’s capital. “The doctors,” said Bah Mamadou, a taxi driver in Guinea’s southeastern Nzérékoré region, “looked like cosmonauts on their way back from the moon.”[22][23]

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American children were found to prefer breakfast cereals whose spokescharacters look them in the eye, and a professor in Washington State announced plans to develop an educational curriculum for robots. “They’re very dumb,” he said.[24][25] Toronto mayor Rob Ford voted against separate city-council motions extending congratulations to Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes and renaming a local street after Nelson Mandela, and a South Carolina lawmaker proposed a legislative amendment acknowledging God as creator of the woolly mammoth.[26][27] A missing Rüppell’s vulture named Gandalf was found in the Hebrides, and millions of migrating elvers were captured near the Bristol Channel.[28][29] Foam on the River Clyde was being traced to the Squiggly Bridge.[30] Cwmgwilians protested a pyrolysis plant, and pinkeye struck Pago Pago.[31][32] England’s lone golden eagle had begun to sky dance, and a lesbian cemetery was inaugurated in Berlin.[33][34] Peppermint Patties in Mississippi and Greco-Roman amulets in Devon were being used for sex education, parks officials in the northern Grand Canyon noted that birth control had failed to curtail destructive herds of beefalo, and an Irish ewe tupped by a goat was raising her geep like a lamb.[35][36][37][38] Braise Young of Fairfield, California, was arrested on suspicion of having vandalized Cordelia Skate Park, and the children of Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp mounted a production of King Lear. “The show,” said director Nawar Bulbul, “is to bring back laughter.”[39][40]


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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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