Weekly Review — October 1, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

A federal district judge in Vermont ruled that the Federal death Penalty Act of 1994 is unconstitutional because it violates the right to due process and the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses; in July, a federal judge in New York also declared the law unconstitutional, saying it was in effect the “state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings.” Texas executed a clown who murdered two young girls for playing loud music and talking back when he asked them to turn it down. Prime Minister Tony Blair finally presented his famous “dossier” on Iraq, which largely amounted to a compilation of material from defectors and nongovernmental organizations that has long been public domain. Germany, Belgium, and Russia all said that the dossier failed to justify an attack on Iraq; Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov dismissed Blair’s presentation as a “propaganda furor” and called for a return of weapons inspectors. Professor Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, said in response to the report that the British “have every right to feel degraded and humiliated at our government’s cringing subservience to the illiterate, uncouth, unelected cowboy in the White House.” British newspapers have taken to calling Blair “Bush’s poodle.” The International Atomic Energy Agency disputed President Bush’s assertions that Iraq could build a nuclear bomb within months if it obtained fissile material: “I don’t know where they have determined that Iraq has retained this much weaponization capability, because when we left in December 1998 we had concluded that we had neutralized their nuclear-weapons program. We had confiscated their fissile material. We had destroyed all their key buildings and equipment,” said Mark Gwozdecky, the agency’s chief spokesman. “There is no evidence in our view that can be substantiated on Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program,” he continued. “If anybody tells you they know the nuclear situation in Iraq right now, in the absence of four years of inspections, I would say that they’re misleading you because there isn’t solid evidence out there.” Rep. Mike Thompson of California and Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington traveled to Baghdad hoping to persuade Iraqi officials to submit to new weapons inspections and thus prevent the war; Mr. McDermott said he was suspicious of attempts by the White House to tie the Iraqis to Al Qaeda and flatly stated on television, “I think the President would mislead the American people.” Senator Trent Lott replied that McDermott “needs to come home and keep his mouth shut.”

The White House retreated from language in its first proposal for the congressional resolution on Iraq that would have given the President virtually unlimited authority to make war in the Middle East, and President Bush backed away from his attacks on the Senate’s patriotism. In Houston, where former President Bush currently resides, the President spoke at a fund-raising event and referred to Saddam Hussein as “a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time,” lending credence thereby to the theory that Mr. Bush’s war has more to do with personal revenge than national security. A scientist at Bell Labs was accused of scientific misconduct for allegedly faking the data in 17 papers published between 1998 and 2001 that were thought to have represented extraordinary breakthroughs in physics. Enron auctioned its “Crooked E” sign for $44,000. Singapore began handing out bottles of “newwater” as part of a scheme to convince people that they should drink recycled sewage. Meatpacking plants will now be randomly tested for E. coli bacteria, the Department of Agriculture announced. A spokesman for the industry, whose lobbyists have successfully defeated such a measure for years, said that it was impossible to produce meat that is free of bacteria and that consumers should simply cook meat thoroughly. Fidel Castro attended a trade show in Cuba featuring hundreds of American products. Castro carefully inspected the contents of a hamburger and offered a bottle to a baby buffalo while men dressed as giant M&Ms and cans of Spam walked to and fro. Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland, announced that he will host a fishing show on television beginning in October. Vietnam declared that nightclubs and karaoke bars in Ho Chi Minh City must close at midnight, after which time all singing, dancing, and other activities that might “arouse people’s sexual desire” will be forbidden. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that virgins now outnumber nonvirgins in American high schools. Iranian authorities arrested about 60 people for attending a “depraved party” in Shiraz where women and men were dancing together and some were drinking. A British sex-toy company recalled its “Rampant Rabbit” vibrator because of a potentially dangerous defect; the vibrator has been selling exceptionally well since it was praised by a character on Sex and the City. The United Nations Human Rights Committee upheld France’s ban on dwarf tossing; a 3-foot 9-inch stuntman had filed a claim saying the ban was discriminatory and had cost him his job in a discotheque. Nepal banned child abuse and legalized abortion.

Two British human-rights volunteers reported that they had witnessed an Israeli soldier deliberately kill an unarmed 13-year-old boy in Nablus: “This is the worst thing I’ve seen in my time here. Actually, it’s the worst thing I’ve seen in my life. There was no way Baha could have been a threat to a soldier 120 yards away with a flak jacket and a helmet and sitting in an APC. He had nothing in his hands and even if he’d had a stone he could not have thrown it effectively from that distance. I went back today and measured the distance exactly. The shot was not a ricochet. As far as I’m concerned, these people are child-killers.” Amnesty International reported that 236 Palestinian and 61 Israeli children have been killed in the fighting since September 2000. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Israel lift its siege of Yasir Arafat’s compound in the West Bank; the United States, irritated at Israel’s bad timing, abstained from the vote and let it pass. Israel refused at first to comply with the resolution but finally withdrew under heavy pressure from the Bush Administration. Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that the United Nations has held 15,484 meetings and issued 5,879 reports over the past two years, and suggested several measures to make the bureaucracy more efficient. Euthanasia was legalized in Belgium. Representative Dick Armey, the House majority leader, explained that there are two Jewish communities in America: “one of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect.” He also said that conservatives are drawn to “occupations of the brain,” whereas liberals tend to work in “occupations of the heart.” After he was questioned by reporters, Armey elaborated: “Liberals are, in my estimation, just not bright people.” The mayor of Treviso, Italy, the home of Benetton, was in trouble for his remarks about African immigrants, who, he says, “know only the civilization of the savanna and the jungle.” The mayor once suggested that hunters could dress Africans as rabbits and use them for target practice, but insists that this was a harmless joke, because he was speaking to a group of friends, many of whom were hunters. Four large African lions were killed near Quitman, Arkansas, and an alligator bit off a man’s arm in Florida. A British man changed his name to Mr. Yellow-Rat Foxysquirrel Fairdiddle in exchange for a pint of beer. Astrobiologists in El Paso said that they had found evidence of life on Venus, and Russianscientists suggested that the bacteria deinococcus radiodurans, which is known for its resistance to radiation, evolved on Mars. Scientists in Boston grew pigs’ teeth in the belly of a rat.

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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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