Weekly Review — May 15, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to withhold $244 million in United Nations dues if American did not regain its seat on the Human Rights Commission. “This is an affront,” sputtered Dick Armey, the House majority leader, “more to the whole notion of international human rights than it is to us as a nation.” Argentina recalled its ambassador to Cuba after Fidel Castro denounced the current Argentine government as “bootlickers of the Yankees.” Attorney General John Ashcroft delayed the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh after it was discovered that the F.B.I had failed to turn over 3,000 pages of interview reports to McVeigh’s lawyers. A 15-year-old boy in Savannah, Georgia, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy, bomb possession, and making terroristic threats. President George W. Bush asked Vice President Dick Cheney to figure out what to do about terrorism. A four-month-old Palestinian girl was killed by tank fire after Israeli forces shelled a crowded refugee camp in Gaza in what one Israeli general reportedly called an “exaggerated” response to a mortar attack. Two Jewish teenagers who skipped school and went for a hike in the West Bank were found dead in a cave, their heads crushed by rocks. Texas enacted a hate-crimes law previously killed by Governor George W. Bush. Richard Baumhammers, an immigration lawyer who ran amok last year and murdereda Jewish neighbor, two Asians, an Indian, and a black, was sentenced to death. A psychiatrist at the American Psychiatric Association convention announced that he was trying to come up with a scale of depravity to help courts judge the evil that men do.

Scientists at MIT’s Whitehead Institute found evidence that Europeans are descended from about 50 people who left Africa 60,000 years ago and inbred among themselves for 30 generations. A Germanresearcher found that tall men have more children than short men; they also have more wives, because they are more likely to get divorced and their second wives are likely to be younger. Alabama raised the legal marriage age to 16. A large bulge was detected in Oregon near the Three Sisters, a group of volcanoes in the Cascade mountains. The International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency were preparing to combat the inevitable challenge of genetically modified athletes. A performing rat was killed by a wayward curtain rod at a fashion show in Sydney, Australia; animal-rights groups were investigating the incident. Emmpak Foods Inc. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, recalled 254,000 pounds of hamburger because of possible E. coli contamination. An Austrian girl was attacked by a record-breaking 150 blood-sucking ticks and survived. The United NationsFood and AgricultureOrganization said that 550,000 tons of old, unused pesticides were threatening to poison food and water supplies worldwide. Three Japanese ships embarked on a two-month whale hunt, supposedly meant to determine whether Brydes, minke, and sperm whales are suffering from pollution.

Russia’s Polar Institute of Fish and Oceanography warned that over 200,000 baby seals were in danger of starving this spring in the White Sea. Environmentalists and fishermen asked the Food and Drug Administration to impose a moratorium on genetically modified fish. President George W. Bush said that free trade was “a moral imperative.” A psychiatrist at Columbia University announced a new study and claimed that “highly motivated” homosexuals can go straight. There were reports that President Bush’s nominee to run the Securities and Exchange Commission once worked for a pornography company that owns websites peddling “Teen Sex Videos” and “Live Nude Amateurs.”In Conroe, Texas, a justice of the peace ordered a boy to bend over, in court, to receive three swats. An enraged passenger attacked a tram driver in Amsterdam and bit off part of his finger. Almost 60 percent of the Army National Guard’s helicopters were grounded due to a shortage of spare parts. President Bush said that his big tax cut was the best way to deal with high energy costs. California was suffering from rolling blackouts. In Bismarck, North Dakota, police cited a seven-year-old boy for stealing $6 from his mom to buy a Beanie Baby. Perry Como died. The Buddha turned 2,545. Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea was damaged by heavy rains.

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Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

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Last fall, a court filing in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently suggested that the Justice Department had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other outlets reported soon after that Assange had likely been secretly indicted for conspiring with his sources to publish classified government material and hacked documents belonging to the Democratic National Committee, among other things.

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Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

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Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

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