Weekly Review — June 8, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Humbug, December 1853]

President George W. Bush traveled to France to attend a ceremony commemorating the D-Day invasion and attempted to play down his dispute with President Jacques Chirac over the invasion of Iraq; Bush told French journalists that he was never angry with the French or with Chirac for his refusal to endorse the war, and he even invited Chirac to visit the ranch down in Crawford, Texas. “If he wants to come and see cows, he’s welcome to come out here and see some cows,” Bush said, apparently unaware that Chirac, a former agriculture minister, is a cattle expert.New York TimesGeorge Tenet resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency; he claimed that he was quitting for personal reasons, though there was no shortage of professional ones. Much speculation followed concerning who would be next.Washington PostVice President Dick Cheney was interviewed by prosecutors investigating the illegal disclosure of a covert CIA agent’s identity, and theNew York TimesWhite House confirmed that President Bush has contacted a private lawyer to represent him if he is called before the grand jury.New York TimesAhmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile who once sat next to Laura Bush at a State of the Union address, was accused of telling an Iranian intelligence agent that the United States had broken Iran’s secret communications code, and theNelson ReportIraqi Governing Council announced a new interim government that includes Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and Christians.Guardian, New York TimesBlasts from five mortar shells were heard during the ceremony, which was not attended by any senior American officials, and a car bomb blew up just outside the “Green Zone.”New York Times

The Department of Energy announced that it will cut the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons “almost in half,” and theNew York TimesSenate voted to permit the reclassification of some high-level nuclear waste so that the Energy Department can leave the waste in leaky shallow tanks.New York TimesThe price of rice was up in Haiti.New York TimesNine people died when a bomb blew up in a market in southern Russia, near Kazakhstan.New York TimesDoctors Without Borders suspended its activity in Afghanistan after one of its teams was massacred by the Taliban, and 100ReutersIraqi policemen who were sent to Najaf reportedly deserted and ran away.CNNIn Colorado, a man in an armored bulldozer went berserk and destroyed several buildings and then killed himself.Associated PressMicrosoftpatented the “double-click,” and oilNew Scientistprices went up to $42 a barrel; OPEC responded by agreeing to raise production.GuardianGood Jobs First, a Washington, D.C., research group, reported that Wal-Mart has received more than $1 billion in subsidies from state and local governments around the country.Elizabethton StarThirty prisoners and one guard died in a prison uprising in Brazil.New York TimesArkansas released 680 prison inmates early because of overcrowding, and theNew York TimesArmy decided to extend the service commitment of all soldiers bound for Iraq.New York TimesThe attorney general of New York sued GlaxoSmithKline for suppressing studies that showed that its antidepressant drug Paxil might cause adolescents to have suicidal thoughts.New York TimesPresident Bush met with the pope, andAssociated PressRonald Reagan finally died.CNN

The Pentagon denied that a new “non-lethalray gun that fires millimeter-wave electromagnetic energy, which penetrates the skin and instantly heats water molecules to 130 degrees, might be used as a torture device. No one has been able to stand the pain caused by the weapon, known as the “Active Denial System,” for more than 3 seconds.Sacramento BeeThe acting U.N. high commissioner for human rights said that the American abuses of Iraqi prisoners might qualify as war crimes.New York TimesThe Special Court for Sierra Leone, a United Nations-sponsored war-crimes tribunal, opened, though the prime suspect, former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, was enjoying political asylum in Nigeria.New York TimesAn 11-year-old Japanese schoolgirl fatally stabbed a classmate during their lunch hour, and twoAssociated PressSwedish teenagers were charged with planning to kill people at their school to commemorate the Columbine massacre.New York TimesA judge in California ruled that the Partial-Birth Abortion Act is unconstitutional, and anAssociated PressIsraeli study found that 48 percent of doctors’ neckties carry at least one infectious disease.Associated PressColombian police arrested a woman for drugging a pregnant mother and kidnapping her unborn child, whom she cut out of the mother’s womb with a kitchen knife.BBCNorth Korea banned cellphones.New York TimesZimbabwe proposed censoring private email.New York TimesScientists in California deleted huge chunks of DNA from the mouse genome to see what would happen to the animals and were surprised to find that they couldn’t tell any difference.New ScientistA horticulturalist in Florida unveiled a new low-carbpotato.University of Florida

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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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