Weekly Review — December 3, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

United Nations weapons inspectors began their work in Iraq; among the first installations to be inspected were Al Dawrah and Al Nasr, two factories that Tony Blair and George W. Bush, citing satellite photographs, had claimed were sites of renewed production of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Inspectors found nothing but ruins. Another factory (known as Al Furat) that the United States has cited as evidence of a nuclear weapons program was also inspected and showed no signs of illegal activity. It was reported that one of the weapons inspectors is the co-founder of Black Rose, “a Washington-area pansexual S&M group.” A UN spokesman admitted that no background checks were performed before the inspectors were hired but said that the man is “someone who has expertise in warheads and munitions, and that’s what’s important.” American forces were preparing for large-scale war games in Qatar, which is expected to be the base for command and control operations during the invasion of Iraq. President Bush signed the Homeland Security bill and named Tom Ridge as secretary. Many families of September 11 victims were appalled by the bill, which is laden with pork. A new report found that the Capitol complex was still vulnerable to terrorist attack. The Canadian official who called George W. Bush a moron was forced to resign, and the president, who tried very hard to prevent the creation of an independent commission to investigate the September 11 attacks, named Henry Kissinger to be the commission’s chairman. Kissinger, who has been accused of committing war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, and Chile, said he did not expect to discover any conflicts of interest between his work on the commission and his work as an agent for various undisclosed transnational corporations and foreign powers. The Disney Magic cruise ship returned to port with more than 180 vomiting passengers.

Brit Hume of Fox News took credit for the Republican election victory: “It was because of our coverage that it happened,” he told a right-wing radio host who specializes in denouncing liberal bias in the media. “People watch us and take their electoral cues from us. No one should doubt the influence of Fox News in these matters.” Polls found that many Americans dislike Republican policies but dislike the Democrats as individuals even more. Plastic surgeons in Britain were debating whether face transplants, which will be technically possible within the next few months, are ethically permissible. The Bush Administration was trying to decide whether to create an agency devoted exclusively to spying on the American people. Some officials, such as “homeland” secretary Tom Ridge, have argued that domestic espionage should be left to the FBI. Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service, worried about its bad image, announced plans to sell a line of designer underwear bearing its logo and terms such as TOP SECRET, CLASSIFIED, and CONFIDENTIAL. The Justice Department requested that documents relating to claims that the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal causes autism and other disorders be sealed; a spokesman said that the law creating a government fund to compensate people injured by vaccines gives the government control over such information and that the government was merely acting to preserve that right. Lawmakers, bureaucrats, and others in Washington, D.C., were all trying to figure out who was responsible for the inclusion of a measure in the Homeland Security bill that gave vaccine makers additional protection from lawsuits. People who believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism were also somewhat curious.

Terrorists attacked Israelis in Kenya: a shoulder-fired missile just missed a passenger jet on its way to Tel Aviv, and suicide bombers blew up the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, killing 13. “It was just like being back home,” said one survivor. “It really was.” Umar Dangladima Magaji, the state commissioner of Nigeria’s Zamfara state, issued a fatwa against Isioma Daniel, a fashion writer whose article in a newspaper set off the Miss World riots: “What we are saying is that the holy Koran has clearly stated that whoever insults the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, should be killed.” Fighting continued in the Ivory Coast. A bag of money fell off a security truck on Interstate 94 in St. Paul, Minnesota, scattering $50,000 all over the road; drivers stopped and picked up most of the money and turned it in. Zsa Zsa Gabor broke some bones in a car crash. Wildlife officials in Hawaii said they planned to capture the three last po`ouli birds in existence; the three birds live within 2 miles of one another but have never met. Scientists said they had genetically engineered a strain of super-rice by giving it a gene taken from E. coli bacteria. An Italian doctor announced that a human clone will be born in January. A group of scientists was debating whether to make a mouse-human hybrid. One scientist said that the experiment could have results “too horrible to contemplate,” such as a mouse that produces human sperm mating with a mouse whose eggs were made with human cells. Japan was suffering from a plague of giant jellyfish.

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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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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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