Weekly Review — June 15, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Caught in the Web, 1860]

Caught in the Web.

Evidence continued to emerge that high-level officials in the Bush Administration approved the torture of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere; althoughThe HillAttorney General John Ashcroft denied that the president authorized the use of torture on suspected terrorists, he refused to give Congress several memorandums by Justice Department lawyers laying out ways that interrogators could evade anti-torture laws.New York TimesSuch documents were being leaked, however; in one report on interrogation methods, administration lawyers argued last year that President Bush is not bound by laws and treaties that ban torture; the report concluded that “in order to respect the president’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign . . . (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority.” The report further argued that the president has the “inherent” authority to set aside laws and that consequently his subordinates could not be prosecuted for violating anti-torture laws.Wall Street Journal“Look, I’m going to say it one more time,” said President Bush when asked at the G-8 Summit whether torture is ever justified; “The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.”Associated PressIt was reported that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez personally approved the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and that he ordered guards to hide at least one prisoner from the Red Cross.Washington Post, US NewsFormer CIA officials said that the new prime minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi, was involved with a CIA-funded terrorist group in Iraq in the early 1990s; the group apparently carried out a bombing campaign, blowing up a movie theater and possibly a school bus.New York TimesIn Alaska, a college radio DJ was fired for celebrating Ronald Reagan’s death on the air, and newAssociated Pressresearch found that people are often unable to remember traumatic events.New Scientist

The United Nations Security Council voted to support the transfer of Iraqi “sovereignty” to the new interim government; the resolution did not make reference to the interim constitution, however; this omission upset the Kurds, whose autonomy is guaranteed in that document, and they threatened to withdraw from the new Iraqi state if necessary.New York TimesA series of car bombs killed people in several Iraqi cities.ReutersThe Shiite militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, who reportedly plans to establish a political party, took over a police station in Najaf.New York TimesIraqi militants attacked oil pipelines near Kirkuk.New York TimesAn American military contractor was shot dead in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and anNew York TimesAmerican engineer was kidnapped.BloombergThere were reports of a Libyan plot to assassinate the Saudi royal family.New York TimesZimbabwe announced that it will eliminate private ownership of land, and aBaltimore Suntourist committed suicide by jumping out of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon.Associated PressScientists said that the “dirty bomb” plan attributed to Jose Padilla would not have worked; “it’s the equivalent,” said one physicist, “of blowing up lead.”Associated PressBrigitte Bardot was convicted of inciting racial hatred,Associated PressMongolians were ordered to adopt surnames,The AustralianPresident George W. Bush unveiled Bill Clinton’s presidential portrait, andAssociated PressGeorge Herbert Walker Bushjumped out of an airplane.New York Times

Officials from the Bosnian Serb republic admitted that its military took part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and dumped into mass graves. CNNBritain’s Labour Party suffered huge losses in local elections and came in third behind the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.New York TimesCongo announced that it had put down a coup attempt by members of the presidential guard.New York TimesA surgeon from South Carolina proposed denying care to lawyers involved in medical-malpractice cases.Associated PressAlcohol abuse was up in the U.S., suicideAssociated Press was up in Japan, and officialsNew York Timesin North Dakota were searching for 27,000 missing pelicans.New York TimesReproductive scientists in Chicago created a line of mutant human stem cells, andNew ScientistChinese paleontologists found a perfect pterosaur in a fossil egg.Nature.comScientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory found a new method of exciting light emission from nanocrystal quantum dots.Los Alamos National LaboratoryNew photographs of Saturn’s moon Phoebe, which were taken by the Cassini space probe, suggested that the moon might be a captured comet.New ScientistAn astronomer in Virginia reconstructed the sound of the Big Bang and discovered that it sounded at first like a “majestic” major third chord and then changed to a “sadder” minor third.New ScientistRay Charles died.New York TimesScientists found that people with higher social status live longer, andNew Scientistthat women are more likely to have sex when they’re fertile.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.

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.

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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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