Weekly Review — April 16, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela was deposed in a coup led by several generals and the country’s business elite. An interim government was established under the leadership of Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of a major business association. Latin American leaders denounced the “interruption of the constitutional order.” American officials welcomed the coup and said that it was a victory for democracy. Oil prices immediately dropped. Within days, great crowds of supporters occupied the presidential palace and Chávez was back in power. “I hope that Hugo Chávez takes the message that his people sent him,” said Condoleezza Rice. President Bush repeatedly told Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to “heed the call” and withdraw from the West Bank. “We’re not about to leave Jenin, Nablus, or Ramallah, or any other place we’re in at present,” Sharon replied. “We won’t leave until there is a surrender agreement with the terrorists there inside.” An Israeli tank brigade in the West Bank adopted a stray dog and named it “George W. Bush” because it “barks a lot” but is “useless.” There were many reports of atrocities by Israeli troops as they destroyed the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank; witnesses reported scores of civilian casualties, bodies littering the streets, buildings demolished with families inside. The International Committee of the Red Cross complained that it was not being allowed to reach the dead and wounded with ambulances. A Palestinian woman blew herself up at a bus stop in a Jerusalem marketplace, killing 16 and wounding many more; watermelons, bell peppers, tangerines, and body parts littered the street. Colin Powell met with Yasir Arafat. A monk was shot at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem when he went outside to get food delivered by Israeli soldiers; the Israeli army claimed that Palestinian soldiers inside the church had shot the monk but later admitted off the record that it was an Israeli sniper. A gang of anti-Semites attacked a Jewish soccer team in Paris.

The world’s first permanent war-crimes tribunal came into being after the sixtieth nation ratified it. President Bush has threatened to “unsign” the treaty creating the tribunal, and Congress has passed a law making it illegal for Americans to cooperate with it. One of Slobodan Milosevic’s former aids shot himself in the head to protest a new Yugoslav law legalizing cooperation with the United Nations war-crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Peace talks in Congo were said to be deadlocked. Russia’s agriculture minister was still refusing to lift a ban on American chickens. Citizens Against Government Waste reported that the number of projects in the federal budget that it classifies as pork rose to 8,341 from 6,333 last year. The Army Corps of Engineers began issuing new permits to mine the Everglades for limestone. A woman in New York was suing the makers of Pirate’s Booty because the snack food has three times more fat than the label claimed. The Internal Revenue Service admitted that it paid $30 million to taxpayers who claimed a phony “black slavery” credit on their income tax returns.

Gerhard Schroeder, the chancellor of Germany, filed a libel suit against a news agency for suggesting that “it would do Mr. Schroeder good to admit that he dyes his graying curls.” Representative James A. Traficant of Ohio was convicted of taking bribes and kickbacks. A freak storm dumped 80,000 tons of sand from the Sahara Desert in western Switzerland. The United Nations announced that old people will soon outnumber young people for the first time in history. Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill temporarily suspended the investment of federal employees’ retirement funds to keep the government from exceeding its statutory debt ceiling. In Pennsylvania, a woman was imprisoned because she owed $120 for three overdue library books. Astronomers announced the discovery of a small star, only seven miles in diameter, that they believed was composed of “strange quark matter.” An eight-year-old boy in Temple Terrace, Florida, was suspended from school for ten days after he missed the schoolbus and then drove himself to school in a car that his uncle had stolen. The boy didn’t know the car was stolen. A man sued a hospital in Denmark because of injuries sustained as he was having a mole removed from his rear end: the surgeon was using an electric knife and when the patient broke wind a spark was ignited, which caused the man’s genitals to catch fire. “It was an unfortunate accident,” said Dr. Jorn Kristensen. President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines called on female police officers to be more like Charlie’s Angels.

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I.

That year, the year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. I’d found the place just as September’s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole I’d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentin—a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at it—four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.

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I am eight years old, sitting in my childhood kitchen, ready to watch one of the home videos my father has made. The videotape still exists somewhere, so somewhere she still is, that girl on the screen: hair that tangles, freckles across her nose that in time will spread across one side of her forehead. A body that can throw a baseball the way her father has shown her. A body in which bones and hormones lie in wait, ready to bloom into the wide hips her mother has given her. A body that has scars: the scars over her lungs and heart from the scalpel that saved her when she was a baby, the invisible scars left by a man who touched her when she was young. A body is a record or a body is freedom or a body is a battleground. Already, at eight, she knows it to be all three.

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No, she thinks. They have allowed her to be a boy.

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The writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes lives in a nondescript modern building in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. I know it well: it has a Bricorama—like a French Home Depot—on the ground floor, where we sometimes had cause to shop back when we lived in the neighborhood. The people who work there seemed to hate their jobs more than most; they were often absent from the sales floor. In the elevator to Despentes’s apartment, I marvel that while I was trying to get someone to help me find bathroom grout she was right upstairs, with her partner, Tania, a Spanish tattoo artist who goes by the name La Rata, like someone out of one of Despentes’s novels.

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That night at the window, looking out at the street full of snow, big flakes falling through the streetlight, I listened to what Anna was saying. She was speaking of a man named Karl. We both knew him as a casual acquaintance—thin and lanky like Ichabod Crane, with long hair—operating a restaurant down in the village whimsically called the Gist Mill, with wood paneling, a large painting of an old gristmill on a river on one wall, tin ceilings, and a row of teller cages from its previous life as a bank. Karl used to run along the river, starting at his apartment in town and turning back about two miles down the path. He had been going through the divorce—this was a couple of years ago, of course, Anna said—and was trying to run through his pain.

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