Weekly Review — August 7, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Two hundred couples were selected by an Italian embryologist to take part in a human cloning project; the human clones will be made using a technique similar to that which produced Dolly the sheep. The United States House of Representatives voted to ban human cloning for both reproduction and medical research; the measure also prohibits the sale of treatments derived from such procedures. Some British and Indianscientists claimed that they had positively identified alien bacteria entering Earth’s upper atmosphere from space, which would tend, they said, to confirm the Panspermia theory of life’s origin. Hundreds of pounds of such bacteria, they estimated, are falling to earth every day. An 1859 first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was returned to a Boston public library eighty years after it was due. Divers recovered most of the 190-million-year-old dinosaur footprints that a group of Boy Scouts pried up and threw into a lake. China decided it was time to start screening donated blood for HIV. Many people in Thailand were still drinking their own urine. In Bangkok, a complete set of male genitalia was found inside a garbage can. A single snake, which reportedly can be seen only by women and which disappears after striking, was being blamed for killing seven women in Kano, Nigeria. The American Bar Association was thinking about revising its ethics rules so that lawyers would no longer be bound to keep their clients’ secrets but would be permitted to have sex with them. Canada’s very cool medicalmarijuanalaw went into effect.

First Lady Laura Bush went on CNN and scolded the news media for violating the privacy of her twin 19-year-old daughters, who have repeatedly made the news for violating liquor laws. Mrs. Bush also denied that she smokes cigarettes. President Bush told the National Urban League that education is important. “An equal society,” he said, “begins with an equally excellent schools.” Chris Morris, a British comic, tricked several politicians and celebrities into saying absurd things on television about the Internet and pedophilia. “Using an area of the Internet the size of Ireland,” a Labour member of parliament said, “pedophiles can make your keyboard release toxic vapors that can make you more suggestible.” North Carolina’s governor said he would sign a bill outlawing the execution of retarded people. Al Goregrew a beard.Prince Charles was knocked out when he fell off a horse while playing polo. Vice President Dick Cheney was still refusing demands by the General Accounting Office to turn over records concerning the White House energy plan. Cheney’s aide, Mary Matalin, formerly a television personality, said the energy task force had nothing to hide but would continue to hide it anyway. Texas began deregulating its market in electricity; prices immediately shot from $45 per megawatt hour to $1,000. A couple in New York was trying to sell naming rights to their newborn baby boy to a corporation for $500,000.

The Southern AfricaCatholic Bishops Conference condemned the use of condoms to prevent AIDS because using rubbers is sinful and dangerous. Weavers in India were using condoms to speed up the process of weaving silk saris: “It is the fine quality lubricant on the condom,” said one weaver, “that does the wonder trick of speeding up the spin of the bobbin while preventing frequent snapping of the yarn.” Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s anti-cockfighting bill was approved. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York announced a crackdown on the improper honking of horns. Palestinian worshipers hurled their shoes at Israelipolice outside Al Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount; others threw stones at Jews worshipping at the Western Wall. An Israelideath squad assassinated two Hamas leaders along with six others, including two young boys (seven-year-old Bilal Abu Khader and his five-year-old brother, Ashraf) who happened to be walking by when the missiles exploded. “Today is a day of one of our most important successes,” said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Yugoslavia, Serbs were still digging up mass graves. In Valhalla, New York, a six-year-old boy died after a metal oxygen tank that was accidentally left in the room during an MRI test became magnetized and hurtled through the air at 30 feet per second, crushing his skull. After two weeks of flying lessons, a Pizza Hut employee took off in an airplane from the Florida Keys on his first solo flight and ended up in Cuba, where he suffered a “hard landing” and was hospitalized. Germanbeer consumption was down to 1.4 billion gallons during the first half of this year. Water consumption was up, however, which probably upset executives at Coca-Cola. The coordinator of a New Mexico drunk-driving prevention program was arrested for driving drunk as she left a drunk-driving awareness picnic. Wildfires were burning in Wyoming. A family of dwarves won 11 medals in the World Dwarf Games. Nigeria announced a new $100 million space program. The general in charge of the United States Air Force said that he favored “weaponizing” space. Thousands of corn husks fell from the sky in Kansas.

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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.”

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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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A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.

I rose long before dawn, too thrilled to sleep, and set off to find my tribe. North from Greenville in the dark, past towns with names like Sans Souci and Travelers Rest, over the border into North Carolina, through land so choked by kudzu that the overgrown trees in the dark looked like great creatures petrified in mid-flight. The weirdness of this scene would, by the end of the weekend, show itself to be appropriate: my trip would be all about romanticism, and romanticism is a human collision with place that results, as Baudelaire put it, “neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” My rental car’s engine whined as it climbed the mountains. Day was just breaking when I nosed down a hill to Orchard Lake Campground, where tents were still being erected in the dimness.

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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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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 …
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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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