Weekly Review — December 16, 2003, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Babylonian Lion, March 1875]

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz decreed that Canada, Germany, France, Russia, and other nations that opposed the conquest of Iraq will be ineligible for $18.6 billion in reconstruction contracts. The announcement was greeted with astonishment by the blacklisted countries; Russia said that it would now refuse to consider restructuring Iraq’s $8 billion debt, and Canada said the decision would probably rule out further reconstruction aid.Boston GlobeGerman Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said the blacklist might violate international law. “International law?” the president responded. “I better call my lawyer.”Washington PostA suicide car bomber blew up outside an Iraqi police station, killing at least 17 people; a gas truck exploded in the middle of Baghdad, and an American soldier died while trying to disarm a bomb.Christian Science MonitorA bank in suburban Baghdad was robbed of about $800,000 andNew York TimesSaddam Hussein was found cowering in a pit on a farm near Tikrit.ReutersNew Jersey’s big bear hunt ended with 328 confirmed kills.GuardianVice President Dick Cheney reportedly killed more than 70 farm-raised ringneck pheasants during a “canned hunt” in which 500 of the birds were released for the pleasure of Cheney and nine companions; the men were credited with 417 pheasants and an undisclosed number of ducks.Pittsburgh Post-GazetteU.S. forces killed six children in Afghanistan, along with two adults, just four days after nine children were killed during another air strike. A military spokesman admitted that “such mistakes” might hurt America’s reputation in the area.Washington PostNewly released White House tapes revealed that President Richard Nixon disliked Ronald Reagan. Nixon said that “he’s just an uncomfortable man to be around, strange.”Associated PressOther tapes revealed that Nixon was planning to use the Justice Department and the FBI to take revenge on his enemies once the Watergate scandal blew over. Nixon also thought that New York City “should go through a cycle of destruction.”New York Times

The United States Supreme Court upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which bans unlimited political contributions to political parties. The majority concluded that “it was not unwarranted for Congress to conclude that the selling of access gives rise to the appearance of corruption.”New York TimesSeveral officials in Las Vegas were in trouble for accepting bribes from a strip-club operator. “There’s a tendency on the part of people to think politicians are inherently corrupt,” said the mayor. “That’s unfair, but it’s a fact.”New York TimesDavid Lynch let it be known that he is helping the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi raise $1 billion to build 100 “peace palaces” around the world. “When you do [transcendental meditation],” Lynch declared, “this level of unity can be enlivening the world consciousness and it can go into the atmosphere.”GuardianCanadian psychologists found that men are unable to think rationally when they see a beautiful woman.New ScientistAl Gore endorsedHoward Dean for president; Joe Lieberman, Gore’s former running mate, was somewhat miffed.Los Angeles TimesGlaxoSmithKline’s head of genetics admitted that “the vast majority of drugs ?? more than 90 percent ?? only work in 30 or 50 percent of the people.”IndependentThe British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency warned doctors not to give antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Celexa to children and adolescents, because the drugs have been linked to suicide and self-harm.New York TimesMoody’s Investors Service downgraded California’s credit rating after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut the registration fee for automobiles without having a plan to pay for the change, and theAssociated PressPentagon accused Halliburton, which recently removed its name from outside its corporate headquarters in Houston, of overcharging for gasoline in Iraq.ReutersPresident Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was almost assassinated.New York TimesCanada’s Air Transport Security Authority banned fruitcakes in carry-on luggage.CBC

A new theory was put forth that global warming began 8,000 years ago, when farmers began clearing forests for agriculture and grazing large herds of livestock, which increased carbon dioxide and methane levels; by AD 1700, according to the theory, human activity had increased the global temperature by 0.8 degrees Celsius, an increase roughly equal to that caused by industrial activity since then.Climatic Change, Nature.com, New ScientistIt was reported that the earth’s magnetic field has weakened by about 10 percent over the last 150 years; scientists said that large solar storms could cause “significant but not catastrophic” damage to the ozone layer as a result.Newsday, New York TimesLightning struck a church in Swaziland and killed a priest, five children, and three others.News.com.auMick Jagger accepted a knighthood; Keith Richards was disgusted and said it was a disgrace: “It’s not what the Stones is about, is it?”Associated Press, ReutersStress, it was discovered, can make you live longer.Science DailyElephants in Thailand were said to be hijackingsugarcane shipments, andWashington TimesKeiko the killer whale died of pneumonia in a Norwegian fjord. Local officials said it was “downright sad.”Aftenposten NettutgavenScientists were studying the bombardier beetle, which can fire liquid at its enemies from its rear end at up to 300 squirts per second, in the hope of building a better airplane engine.New ScientistPhysicists at Harvard University succeeded in “freezing” a beam of light.New Scientist

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The city was not beautiful; no one made that claim for it. At the height of summer, people in suits, shellacked by the sun, moved like harassed insects to avoid the concentrated light. There was a civil war–like fracture in America—the president had said so—but little of it showed in the capital. Everyone was polite and smooth in their exchanges. The corridor between Dupont Circle and Georgetown was like the dream of Yugoslav planners: long blocks of uniform earth-toned buildings that made the classical edifices of the Hill seem the residue of ancestors straining for pedigree. Bunting, starched and perfectly ruffled in red-white-and-blue fans, hung everywhere—from air conditioners, from gutters, from statues of dead revolutionaries. Coming from Berlin, where the manual laborers are white, I felt as though I was entering the heart of a caste civilization. Untouchables in hard hats drilled into sidewalks, carried pylons, and ate lunch from metal boxes, while waiters in restaurants complimented old respectable bobbing heads on how well they were progressing with their rib eyes and iceberg wedges.

I had come to Washington to witness either the birth of an ideology or what may turn out to be the passing of a kidney stone through the Republican Party. There was a new movement afoot: National Conservatives, they called themselves, and they were gathering here, at the Ritz-Carlton, at 22nd Street and M. Disparate tribes had posted up for the potlatch: reformacons, blood-and-soilers, curious liberal nationalists, “Austrians,” repentant neocons, evangelical Christians, corporate raiders, cattle ranchers, Silicon Valley dissidents, Buckleyites, Straussians, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Tories, dark-web spiders, tradcons, Lone Conservatives, Fed-Socs, Young Republicans, Reaganites in amber. Most straddled more than one category.

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The second-worst thing about cancer chairs is that they are attached to televisions. Someone somewhere is always at war with silence. It’s impossible to read, so I answer email, or watch some cop drama on my computer, or, if it seems unavoidable, explore the lives of my nurses. A trip to Cozumel with old girlfriends, a costume party with political overtones, an advanced degree on the internet: they’re all the same, these lives, which is to say that the nurses tell me nothing, perhaps because amid the din and pain it’s impossible to say anything of substance, or perhaps because they know that nothing is precisely what we both expect. It’s the very currency of the place. Perhaps they are being excruciatingly candid.

There is a cancer camaraderie I’ve never felt. That I find inimical, in fact. Along with the official optimism that percolates out of pamphlets, the milestone celebrations that seem aimed at children, the lemonade people squeeze out of their tumors. My stoniness has not always served me well. Among the cancer staff, there is special affection for the jocular sufferer, the one who makes light of lousy bowel movements and extols the spiritual tonic of neuropathy. And why not? Spend your waking life in hell, and you too might cherish the soul who’d learned to praise the flames. I can’t do it. I’m not chipper by nature, and just hearing the word cancer makes me feel like I’m wearing a welder’s mask.

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When Demétrio Martins was ready to preach, he pushed a joystick that angled the seat of his wheelchair forward, slowly lifting him to a standing position. Restraints held his body upright. His atrophied right arm lay on an armrest, and with his left hand, he put a microphone to his lips. “Proverbs, chapter fourteen, verse twelve,” he said. “ ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is . . .’ ”

The congregation finished: “ ‘Death.’ ”

The Assembly of God True Grapevine was little more than a fluorescent-lit room wedged between a bar and an empty lot in Jacaré, a poor neighborhood on Rio de Janeiro’s north side. A few dozen people sat in the rows of plastic lawn chairs that served as pews, while shuddering wall fans circulated hot air. The congregation was largely female; of the few men in attendance, most wore collared shirts and old leather shoes. Now and then, Martins veered from Portuguese into celestial tongues. People rose from their seats, thrust their hands into the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

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On December 7, 2016, a drone departed from an Amazon warehouse in the United Kingdom, ascended to an altitude of four hundred feet, and flew to a nearby farm. There it glided down to the front lawn and released from its clutches a small box containing an Amazon streaming device and a bag of popcorn. This was the first successful flight of Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery program. If instituted as a regular service, it would slash the costs of “last-mile delivery,” the shortest and most expensive leg of a package’s journey from warehouse to doorstep. Drones don’t get into fender benders, don’t hit rush-hour traffic, and don’t need humans to accompany them, all of which, Amazon says, could enable it to offer thirty-minute delivery for up to 90 percent of domestic shipments while also reducing carbon emissions. After years of testing, Amazon wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration last summer to ask for permission to conduct limited commercial deliveries with its drones, attaching this diagram to show how the system would work. (Amazon insisted that we note that the diagram is not to scale.) Amazon is not the only company working toward such an automated future—­UPS, FedEx, Uber, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have similar programs—­but its plans offer the most detailed vision of what seems to be an impending reality, one in which parce­l-toting drones are a constant presence in the sky, doing much more than just delivering popcorn.

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Every year in Lusk, Wyoming, during the second week of July, locals gather to reenact a day in 1849 when members of a nearby band of Sioux are said to have skinned a white man alive. None of the actors are Native American. The white participants dress up like Indians and redden their skin with body paint made from iron ore.

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At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

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