[Weekly Review] | Anthony Lydgate | Harper's Magazine

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[Weekly Review]

Weekly Review


Australian wildfires, Giant Peach arithmetic, and Russian zorb misadventures

As bushfires burned across southeastern Australia and the island of Tasmania, the country’s Bureau of Meteorology added two new colors — purple and magenta, designating temperatures above 122°F and 129°F, respectively — to its maps and revealed that four of Australia’s first days of 2013 were among its 10 hottest on record. In the Outback town of Oodnadatta, gasoline was vaporizing before it could be pumped, and in the Warrumbungles bushfires burned down part of an observatory. “It just suddenly comes,” said a New South Wales woman, “like a whirly, twirly tornado.”[1][2][3][4] Air-pollution levels in Beijing reached 755 on a scale of zero to 500, scientists declared 2012 the warmest year in the United States since 1895, and residents of Israel and Jordan contended with the countries’ worst winter storms in two decades. “We were waiting for our deaths, so we came out [of Syria],” said a man in northern Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, “but we found our second deaths here.” “Jerusalem has many colors,” said Israeli president Shimon Peres. “When she is white, it so rare, so beautiful, so unifying.”[5][6][7][8] A snow replica of an M75 missile, the kind fired into Israel by Hamas in November, was built on the Temple Mount.[9] French warplanes bombed an Islamist-militant stronghold in northern Mali to prevent antigovernment forces from marching on Bamako. “Let them come down onto the ground, if they are men,” said a Malian insurgent leader.[10][11] 350,000 opponents of France’s proposed marriage-equality law staged a protest in Paris. “We are marriageophile,” said a protest organizer, “not homophobe.”[12][13]

Shortly before a meeting in Washington between Vice President Joe Biden and leaders of the National Rifle Association at which the Obama Administration’s efforts to curb gun violence were discussed, a 16-year-old walked into his school in Taft, California, with a 12-gauge shotgun and opened fire, wounding one fellow student and narrowly missing another before being persuaded by a teacher to surrender his weapon. “We are not going to agree on these gun questions,” said NRA president David Keene. “We know there’s no silver bullet,” said Biden.[14][15][16][17] Gun-rights advocate Alex Jones challenged British CNN host Piers Morgan to a Second Amendment boxing match. “I’ll wear red, white, and blue,” said Jones, “and you can wear your Jolly Roger.”[18] A Somali pirate named Big Mouth announced his retirement. “I have also been encouraging many of my colleagues to renounce piracy,” said Big Mouth at a press conference.[19] Two days after the digital library JSTOR announced it would offer the general public limited home access to its archive of scholarly articles, the 26-year-old computer programmer Aaron Swartz, who was being prosecuted by U.S. attorneys in Boston for his illegal downloading of 4.8 million articles from JSTOR in 2011, hanged himself. “Hackers for right, we are one down,” tweeted the inventor of the World Wide Web. “Parents all, we have lost a child.”[20][21][22] President Barack Obama announced his nomination of White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew for Secretary of the Treasury. Lew’s signature, which would appear on all banknotes printed during his tenure, was variously interpreted by graphologists as evidence of discretion, imaginativeness, mysteriousness, perseverance, and religiosity.[23] Indiana lawmakers were considering a bill to make the teaching of cursive mandatory for schoolchildren.[24] Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who underwent cancer surgery in Cuba a month ago and is currently fighting a severe respiratory infection, missed his reinauguration. “We are here to be sworn into office in place of our president,” said one of nearly 100,000 Venezuelans to march in support of Chávez. “All of us here are Chávez,” said the head of the country’s national assembly. “The soldier is Chávez, the woman is Chávez, the farmer is Chávez, the worker is Chávez; we’re all Chávez.” “Who,” asked an opposition leader, “is governing Venezuela?”[25][26] Congress was found to be less popular than head lice, carnies, and the rock band Nickelback, but more popular than Ebola, meth labs, and communism.[27]


Several Virginians mistook a labradoodle for a lion.[28] Australian paleontologists examining fossil evidence of a Cretaceous dinosaur stampede concluded that it occurred underwater and that some of the dinosaurs were on tiptoe.[29] In England, where preservationists were considering a plan to protect a Gothic cathedral from acid rain by rubbing it with olive oil, physicists determined that airlifting the peach in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach would require 2,425,406 more seagulls than were lassoed by the characters in the book.[30][31] Anthropologists suggested that the abandonment of Viking settlements in fourteenth-century Greenland may have been due to their populations’ sense of isolation. “Perhaps they were just sick and tired,” said a Danish scientist, “of living at the ends of the earth and having almost nothing but seals to eat.”[32] The Reverend John Graham, who for five decades has written crosswords for Britain’s Guardian newspaper under the pseudonym Araucaria, the genus name of the monkey-puzzle tree, disclosed news of his terminal esophageal cancer in a clue. “Araucaria,” he wrote, “has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15.”[33] In China, the Beijing News indicated its support of the Southern Daily, whose editorial staff returned to work following a weeklong strike over government censorship of the press, by publishing a piece in its lifestyle section on porridge, the Chinese word for which is a near-homophone for “daily.” “Hot porridge in an earthen pot, hailing from the southland,” read the article. “In the lingering cold of the night, what can offer us a bit of warmth and comfort?”[34][35] A Pennsylvania man twice attempted suicide during his morning commute — first by jumping out of a moving vehicle, then by placing himself in front of a tractor-trailer, which knocked him out of his shoes — but survived and walked to work, and a Russian man died of spinal injuries after his zorb veered off course and rolled down a ravine in the Caucasus Mountains. “What’s down there?” asked an onlooker. “Nothing,” replied another. “Catastrophe.”[36][37]

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