Weekly Review — January 27, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Silver-Spangled Hamburgs, 1890]

David Kay, the outgoing head of the Iraq Survey Group, said that Iraq got rid of its illegal weapons programs years before the United States invaded. New York TimesKay made it clear that the United Nations weapons-inspection process had succeeded in disarming Iraq and said the Iraqis had been reduced to experimenting with ricin, a primitive but deadly poison easily made from fermented castor beans; Kay also said that the CIA had completely misread the situation in Iraq, largely because the agency had no on-the-ground spies after the U.N. inspectors were removed.New York TimesMore than 100,000 Iraqis filled the streets of Baghdad in a march supporting the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in his demand for direct elections;Seattle Timesthousands also marched in Basra, Najaf, and Kerbala demanding that Saddam Hussein be turned over to the Iraqi people to stand trial.ReutersSkepticism was growing that the United States will succeed in handing power over to an Iraqi client regime before the presidential election, and the head of the occupying authority’s Tribal Affairs Bureau admitted that he had been relying on a 1918British report in his attempts to make sense of local politics.New York TimesPresident George W. Bush made his State of the Union address just one day after the Iowa caucuses and appealed to voters to reelect him so that he could continue to wage war on terror.Associated PressArchbishop Desmond Tutu called on the United States and its allies to confess that the conquest of Iraq was wrong.TelegraphVice President Dick Cheney defended Halliburton, which continues to pay him a salary, from what he said were “desperate attacks” by opponents of the Bush Administration. “They’re rendering great service,” he said. “They do it because they’re good at it, because they won the contract to do it. And frankly the company takes a certain amount of pride in rendering this kind of service to U.S. military forces.”CNNHalliburton, which received most of its Iraq contracts by administrative fiat rather than through a competitive bidding process, admitted that its employees in Iraq have accepted $6.3 million in kickbacks.CNNPeople at the Conservative Political Action Conference were grumbling that President Bush’s fiscal policies, which have led to giant budget deficits, have been anything but conservative; they alsoNew York Timesdenounced the USA Patriot Act and complained that “big-government Republicans,” who seem to think government is the solution rather than the problem, have been too busy “baby-sitting the nanny state.”New York Times

Republican staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were still under investigation for improperly infiltratingDemocratic computers and reading strategy memos, which were then leaked to the press. Several computers, including a server from Senator Bill Frist’s office, have been confiscated by the Senate’s Sergeant-at-Arms.Boston GlobeAn expert panel that was asked to review a Pentagon-funded Internet voting system declared that the system was fundamentally flawed. “Using a voting system based on the Internet,” said one of the experts, “poses a serious and unacceptable risk for election fraud.” The Pentagon nonetheless said that it “stands by” the program, which will be used in several primaries this year. “We feel it’s right on,” said a spokesman, “and we’re going to use it.”New York TimesNewly released documents revealed that the U.S. Census Bureau gave information on millions of Americans to NASA for a study on the feasibility of mining such data to look for potential terrorists, and itWashington Timeswas reported that American intelligence officials have compiled a list of five million potential terrorists worldwide.Toronto SunPresident Pervez Musharraf admitted that some of Pakistan’s top nuclear scientists had sold nuclear technology to other countries but denied that the government was involved; Musharraf was accused of scapegoating the scientists to appease the United States.Christian Science MonitorArt Garfunkel got busted with pot.Associated PressRussian soldiers rescued 10 tons of beer kegs that became trapped under the ice of a frozen Siberian river; after divers from the Ministry of Emergency Situations failed to dislodge the kegs, a T-72 tank saved the day.New York TimesSenator John Kerry won the Iowa caucuses.ReutersHoward Dean decided to tone down his campaign persona after the media became alarmed at his “nutty” Iowa concession speech.New York TimesThere was speculation that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon might soon be indicted for taking bribes.New York TimesA Mexican man reportedly hacked open his father’s head with a machete, drank his blood, and then ate his brains.Agence France-Presse

The European Mars Express mission made the first direct measurement of ice on Mars; aNew Scientistsecond American Mars rover, called Opportunity, landed on the planet; and newNew York Timesresearch suggested that astronauts sent to Mars might be paralyzed by the prolonged lack of gravity.Globe and MailScientists found that the Ebola virus can spread from dead animals such as gorillas to human beings, and genetic analysis suggested that the five recent outbreaks of the disease were caused by five distinct strains of the virus, which is among the most contagious known, rather than one strain that had mutated. “If Ebola is popping up randomly,” said one scientist, “then things are pretty hopeless.”Nature.comAvian influenza was spreading across Asia; the World Health Organization said it was the largest outbreak in history.New ScientistIndonesia said that millions of chickens had died of the flu in recent weeks, and workers in Thailand were bagging live chickens and burying them in pits.New York TimesIndonesia’s agriculture minister said that his government can’t afford to dispose of the dead chickens.Laksamana.netWomen who have used dark hair dye for at least 24 years have a greater chance of developing cancer, a study found, andReutersfrequent underarm shaving together with deodorant use could increase the risk of breast cancer.New ScientistSaudi Arabia’s highest-ranking cleric said that women’s rights are anti-Islamic, and anNew York TimesAmerican diplomat in London declared that referring to the American Jewish lobby is anti-Semitic.IndependentThe Salvation Army received a $1.5 billion donation, and anNew York TimesIndian diamond seller who had hidden $900 worth of small diamonds in a pile of hay was busy feeding laxatives to his cow.ReutersThere were new massacres in Congo,ReutersRwanda’s former minister for higher education was given a life sentence for genocide, and aAl-Jazeerasniper was still shooting cars in Ohio.Associated PressCaptain Kangaroo died.Washington PostBritain’s naked rambler completed his 900-mile journey and put on some clothes.GuardianA Japanese scientist created a belly-dancing robot.Nature.com

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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.

The town prepares all year, and the performance, The Legend of Rawhide, has a cast and crew of hundreds, almost all local volunteers, including elementary school children. There are six generations of Rawhide actors in one family; three or four generations seems to be the average. The show is performed twice, on Friday and Saturday night.

The plot is based on an event that, as local legend has it, occurred fifteen miles south of Lusk, in Rawhide Buttes. It goes like this: Clyde Pickett is traveling with a wagon train to California. He tells the other Pioneers: “The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.” Clyde loves Kate Farley, and to impress her, he shoots the first Indian he sees, who happens to be an Indian Princess. The Indians approach the Pioneers and ask that the murderer give himself up. Clyde won’t admit he did it. The Indians attack the wagon train and, eventually, Clyde surrenders. The Indians tie Clyde to the Skinning Tree and flay him alive. Later, Kate retrieves her dead lover’s body and the wagon train continues west.

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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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