Weekly Review — November 11, 2003, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Lawyers at the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they were dropping lawsuits against 50 power plants for violating the Clean Air Act, because newly weakened enforcement rules have undermined the cases; theNew York TimesBush Administration previously had promised that the lawsuits would continue after the rules change.New York TimesThe state attorneys general of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which are downwind from many of the plants, promised to sue the polluters directly.New York TimesA new study found that tiny golden “nano-bullets” could be used in the future to destroy cancer tumors.New ScientistEnvironmentalists sued the federal government to force it to protect the flat-tailed horned lizard,New York Timesand Prince Charles denied the latest rumor about his sexual proclivities but failed to mention what he was accused of doing. Newspapers in Britain, where libel laws are very strong, have been unable to print the substance of the rumor, though they have repeatedly run the same photograph of Prince Charles standing alone in a field with another man.New York TimesYukos Oil, the Russian company whose chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested last month, was being investigated for allegedly mistreating pigs and permitting rabbit “couplings [to] take place unsystematically.”ReutersThe Federal Communications Commission decreed that after 2005 all digital television receivers must respond to a “broadcast flag” copyright mechanism to prevent unauthorized redistribution of movies and TV shows; computer scientists predicted that the mechanism will be defeated and that the copy protection will simply prevent legitimate uses.New ScientistChickenresearchers found that cockerels “allocate sperm differently according to the quality of copulation”; new mates tend to receive more sperm than familiar partners, and the cocks also increase their sperm deposits in the presence of other males. The study was conducted by putting a special harness on females to collect fresh ejaculate.New Scientist

President George W. Bush gave a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C., and asked Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to please try to be more democratic. The president alluded to the fact that the United States has for sixty years supported dictatorships in the Middle East but said that, “in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”New York TimesPaul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, said that Palestinians should “adopt the ways of Gandhi.”Times of IndiaIsraeli soldiers shot dead a ten-year-old Palestinian boy who apparently wandered into a forbidden area while he was trying to catch birds.New York TimesA racingcamelsold for $286,000 in Oman.Agence France-PresseA suicide car bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 17 people, including 5 children, in a housing compound inhabited by foreign workers. Al Qaeda was blamed for the attack.Associated PressSix U.S. soldiers died when their Black Hawk helicopter exploded in midair near Tikrit; there was speculation that a rocket-propelled grenade was responsible.New York TimesU.S. forces responded with airstrikes, the first in Iraq since May 1, when the president dressed up as a fighter pilot and declared victory.ReutersPresident Bush, who has refused to comment directly on the daily casualties in Iraq and has not attended a single funeral for a soldier killed there, traveled to California to inspect the damage from the recent wildfires and was photographed hugging a woman who lost her home.New York TimesThe White House communications director said that the American people want “the commander in chief to have proper perspective, and keep his eye on the big picture and the ball.”New York Times

The Department of Defense informed 43,000 additional reserve and national-guard troops that they should prepare for battle.New York TimesThe Bush Administration was looking to fill vacancies on local draft boards, although Pentagon officials denied that the government plans to reinstate the draft.GuardianA new study found that beer does not cause beer bellies.ReutersAn American paleontologist found evidence that ancient hominids used toothpicks made of grass.New ScientistHoward Dean decided to pull out of the public campaign-financing system to avoid spending limits.Associated PressThe Voyager I spacecraft was approaching the “termination shock,” a turbulent region near the edge of the solar system.New York TimesEbola fever was killing people in the Congo.ReutersPresident Bush, surrounded by ten smiling white men in dark suits, signed a bill outlawing the rare abortion procedure known as “intact dilation and extraction.” He said that America “owes its children a different and better welcome.”New York TimesFederal judges in Nebraska and New York blocked enforcement of the ban.New York TimesFederal Express workers in St. Louis discovered human body parts in a leaky package.St. Louis TodayIt was reported that the human immune system produces ozone gas.Globe and MailMarine biologists traced a strange submarine farting sound to bubbles that were observed coming from a herring’s anus; it was the first discovery of a fish making a sound (which has been labeled a “fast repetitive tick,” or FRT) with its anus.New ScientistA dog shot a man in France.Reuters

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I was tucked in a blind behind a soda machine, with nothing in my hand but notepad and phone, when a herd of running backs broke cover and headed across the convention center floor. My God, they’re beautiful! A half dozen of them, compact as tanks, stuffed into sports shirts and cotton pants, each, around his monstrous neck, wearing a lanyard that listed number and position, name and schedule, tasks to be accomplished at the 2019 N.F.L. Scout­ing Combine. They attracted the stunned gaze of football fans and beat writers, yet, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, continued across the carpet.

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Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

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Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

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I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

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The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

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