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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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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After living on the East Coast for eight years, I’d recently left New York City to take a job at an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. If it seems odd that I was a fully employed editor who lived in a thirty-two-square-foot shack, that’s precisely the point: my situation was evidence of how distorted the Bay Area housing market had become, the brutality inflicted upon the poor now trickling up to everyone but the super-rich. The problem was nationwide, although, as Californians tend to do, they’d taken this trend to an extreme. Across the state, a quarter of all apartment dwellers spent half of their incomes on rent. Nearly half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population lived in California, even while the state had the highest concentration of billionaires in the nation. In the Bay Area, including West Oakland, where my shack was located, the crisis was most acute. Tent cities had sprung up along the sidewalks, swarming with capitalism’s refugees. Telegraph, Mission, Market, Grant: every bridge and overpass had become someone’s roof.

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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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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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