Weekly Review — March 9, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Saluting the Town, March 1854]

Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide accused the United States of overthrowing him in a coup. “I was forced to leave,” he said. “Agents were telling me that if I don’t leave they would start shooting and killing in a matter of time.”Associated PressState Department officials claimed that the U.S. had simply declined to protect Haiti’sdemocratically elected president from the advancing rebel mob.New York TimesAristide called for a restoration of democracy and for peaceful resistance against the foreign occupiers.GuardianTwo hundred seventy-one Shiite worshipers were killed in simultaneous bombing attacks on mosques in Baghdad and Karbala; international telephone service was knocked out on the same day by a rocket attack.Associated PressBaghdad’ssewage continued to flow untreated into the Tigris River, and theNew York TimesIraqi Governing Council signed an interim constitution; Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani denounced the new constitution and again called for direct elections.BloombergViolent protests continued in Venezuela, whereAssociated PressPresident Hugo Chávez called George W. Bush an asshole, and theNew Zealand HeraldNational Electoral Council declared that Chávez opponents had failed to gather enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election.New York TimesA video store was blown up in Afghanistan.New York TimesFrench lawmakers passed a ban on Islamic headscarves, andAssociated PressRussian religious leaders refused to permit Roman Catholics to attend a conference on religious tolerance.New York Times

China issued a report condemning the United States for its human-rights violations and its “military aggression around the world.”Associated PressIraqis were demanding to know the whereabouts and condition of more than 10,000 men and boys (ages 11 to 75) who are being detained by American forces.New York TimesNigeria was looking for ways to “decongest” its death-row facilities, andAgence France-PresseCalifornia’s supreme court ruled that a Catholic charity must cover birth control in its employee health coverage.New York TimesHomosexuals continued to get married around the country, andAssociated PressGovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was named as the new executive editor of Muscle and Fitness and Flex magazines, said it was fine with him if voters want to change the law to permit gaymarriage.New York TimesA new study found that angry men are more likely to drop dead of stroke.Associated PressA self-described “pressure-group with a terrorist character” was threatening to bomb Frenchtrains unless it receives a $5 million ransom; French investigators speculated that the group has anarchist or left-wing or right-wing tendencies.New York TimesAttorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized with gallstone pancreatitis.CNNPresident Bush was criticized for exploitingSeptember 11 in his new campaign advertisements, which employ paid actors instead of real firemen, andLos Angeles Times, NewsweekJose Padilla, the American citizen who was seized in Chicago in June 2002 and declared an enemy combatant, met with his lawyers for the very first time.ReutersAstronomers at the Chandra X-ray Observatory found evidence of a new class of black holes.NASA

Senator John Kerry eliminated his remaining competition for the Democratic presidential nomination, andGuardianMcDonald’s began phasing out its popular “Supersize” order of french fries.Associated PressNASA scientists announced that Mars was once wet enough to support life.Associated PressMartha Stewart revealed that she was “distressed” to have been convicted for lying about an improper stock trade that saved her about $45,000. Stewart’s television show was withdrawn by WCBS, and there was speculation that her company might not be able to survive its association with a convicted felon.New York TimesBernard Ebbers, the former CEO of WorldCom, pleaded not guilty to carrying out the largest accounting fraud in American history, andNew York TimesAlan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, suggested cutting Social Security and Medicare to help pay for President Bush’s massive tax cuts for the rich.New York TimesThe inspector general of the USDA opened a criminal investigation into whether the Washington State mad cow was falsely listed as a downer; the man who killed the cow, the man who took the cow to slaughter, and the owner of the slaughterhouse have all said that the cow was able to walk. A spokeswoman for the agency said that she could not “fathom” the notion that a high-ranking USDA official could have ordered the falsification, though she did not deny the charge but simply repeated that she could not “fathom” it.New York TimesAvian flu was found on two more U.S. farms.Associated PressAn Israeli fashion designer staged a photo shoot along the West Bank wall near Jerusalem; several young models were photographed while posing under Arabic graffiti that read: “I AM A BIG DONKEY.”International Herald TribunePfizer Global Pharmaceuticals announced that Viagra doesn’t work on women.BBC

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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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