Weekly Review — July 17, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

As President Bush continued to ponder the political expediencies of permitting or banning federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, science was marching on, aided and comforted by medical ethicists. One company was using donated eggs and sperm to create human embryos from which stem cells could be harvested, a procedure that destroys the embryos. Another company, called Advance Cell Technology, was preparing to create human embryo clones, using a technique similar to that used to clone Dolly the sheep, in order to extract their stem cells. A French court upheld a “right not to be born” and awarded damages to the families of three children who would have been aborted if doctors had detected their deformities. Hawaii raised its age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered federal marshals to protect an abortion doctor. People in Congo were still killing suspected witches. 401-K retirement plans were losing money for the first time. Conservative Republicans are three times more likely than liberal Democrats to have nightmares, a new study found. Police in Braintree, Massachusetts, suspected devil worship after they searched a man’s apartment and found a fetus in a jar on a dresser next to a skull, a brain, and some pot. The White Witches of Britain cast a spell on Warner Brothers to protest a depiction of Harry Potter, the popular fictional character, riding a broomstick with the brush behind him. Brooms should be ridden with the brush in front, the witches say.

The Pentagon conducted an antimissile test in which an interceptor rocket destroyed a Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile; critics said the test was flawed because it used a shiny round decoy balloon that looked nothing like a missile and thus was unlikely to confuse the interceptor. A 15-year-old boy won the world open pea-shooting championship in Witcham, England, for the third year in a row with a homemade laser-sighted peashooter. There was a bomb scare at the White House. Chinese president Jiang Zemin went to Russia to sign a treaty of friendship and cooperation. The Pentagon did away with its “two-war” doctrine. The air force decided not to retrieve a 7,600 pound nuclear bomb that was dumped off the coast of Georgia in 1958 after a B-47 bomber collided with another plane during training; the air force claims that the bomb is safe. The United States was opposing a treaty meant to cut down on the illegal trade in small arms, saying it might infringe on Americans’ right to possess guns. Bush Administration officials said that the United States would oppose an international plan to encourage nonpolluting energy sources. A Kazakhstani contortionist in the Netherlands National Circus got stuck with his right foot over his left shoulder. Russian officials said that the reappearance of crop circles in a wheat field near Maikop, Krasnodar, was evidence of space aliens taking soil samples from the Earth. One hundred and five garden gnomes were stolen and placed in the middle of a roundabout in Chavelot, France, by the Liberation Front for Garden Gnomes, a group that aims to free all garden gnomes.

Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, reported his discovery in his native Ethiopia of 5.2-million-year-old fossils belonging to a hominid, a subspecies of Ardipithecus ramidus; the fossils are the earliest known human ancestor. President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya told his compatriots that they should refrain from sex for two years to stop the spread of AIDS. A 16-year-old Egyptian boy threatened to jump in the Nile if his girlfriend didn’t kiss him and then did so, whereupon he drowned. A Britishfamily whose home is infested with 300 bats was told by authorities that the bats cannot be moved because they are protected wildlife. Florida officials discovered the West Nile virus in a dead crow. There were reports that Russian troops terrorized two Chechen villages, torturing and beating the men and looting the homes, after four soldiers were killed by mines. One man was tortured with electricity in an attempt to make him talk; he was a deaf mute, as it turned out. Israel resumed the demolition of Palestinian homes. A police officer was stoned to death in Jamaica. Abner Louima won $8.75 million to compensate him for being tortured by New York City policemen, who shoved a broken plunger up his rectum. Astronomers discovered 12 more moons around Saturn. A judge in California ruled that Kaiser-Permanente, a health-maintenance organization, did not have to cover prescriptions for Viagra, the popular anti-impotence drug. Anna Nicole Smith, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, was told to pay almost $2 million in court costs and legal fees resulting from lawsuits over the estate of her 90-year-old dead husband. There were floods and mud slides in West Virginia. Race riots continued in England. China was chosen to host the 2008 Olympic Games. A “deadbeat dad” in Wisconsin was told to stop fathering children or go to jail. Chinesepolice arrested a butcher named Guan Jiadong who hacked to death four health inspectors and wounded three others after they tried to confiscate his meat.

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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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A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

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At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

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