Weekly Review — August 10, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Weighing the Soul, 1875]

Weighing the soul, 1875.

Finance experts warned that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government agency that insures company pensions, could be forced into a situation similar to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, which led to a $200 billion bailout, as a result of cascading pension defaults in the airline industry.New York TimesEconomic growth was slowing,Washington Postfewer jobs were being created, crude oil prices reached a record high of $44.41,New York Timesand the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped to a new low for 2004.Associated PressBerkshire Hathaway’s second quarter earnings were down 42 percent.ReutersThe Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the layoff rate during the first three years of the Bush Administration was 8.7 percent (11.4 million people lost their jobs), the worst layoff rate since the early 1980s.New York TimesIt was the 40th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which gave President Lyndon Johnson the authority to escalate the war in Vietnam; historians noted its similarity to the October 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq, which was also based on falsehoods.NewsdayTom Ridge, the secretary of Homeland Security, “categorically” denied that the recent terror alerts, which were based on three- and four-year-old intelligence, were politically motivated.USA TodayRick James died, andVoice of AmericaGeorge W. Bush acknowledged that the war on terror has been “misnamed”; he said that it ought to be called “the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.”Whitehouse.gov

Iraq’s new government reinstated capital punishment and issued an arrest warrant for Ahmad Chalabi on counterfeiting charges; Salem Chalabi, Ahmad’s nephew and the head of the special tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein for war crimes, was accused of murder.Associated PressPrime Minister Iyad Allawi signed an amnesty law for Iraqis who have committed minor crimes since the American occupation began, and he ordered the closure of the Baghdad office of Al-Jazeera for one month.CTV.caGrand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s preeminent Shiite cleric, was flown to London for treatment of a heart condition; there was talk of a power vacuum.GuardianSix Guantánamo Bay detainees boycotted military reviews of their cases.USA TodayJohn Kerry promised to significantly reduce the number of American troops in Iraq by the end of his first term as president.Washington PostA white elephant was seen in Sri Lanka.Nature.comBombs exploded in Karachi, Pakistan, and in Dhaka, Bangladesh, andAssociated Pressthere were at least 12 explosions in Baghdad on Saturday night.Associated PressMoktada al-Sadr defied the new Iraqi government and said he would continue to battle American forces: “the Mahdi Army and I will keep resisting. I will stay in holy Najaf and will never leave. I will stay here until my last drop of blood.”New York TimesA U.S. helicopter was shot down over Sadr City, Baghdad’s Shiite slum.New York TimesIsraeli officials were studying whether to use marijuana to treat soldiers suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder from keeping the Palestinians down.Agence France-PresseBritain banned toothy smiles from passport photos.Agence France-PresseTwo Nigerian policemen were shot and two were stabbed in a battle with wife swappers.ReutersMyanmar was cracking down on peacock poachers.Associated Press

The United States announced that it will insist that the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would ban countries from making enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear bombs, be stripped of any mechanism for enforcement, such as inspections. This position, which would render the treaty useless, apparently was reached because the Bush Administration does not wish to submit to inspections.New York Times“My most solemn duty as president,” said Bush, “is to protect our country.”MSNBCScientists said that alcohol makes your brain work better.TelegraphAutism was up in Maryland, andUndernewsProzac was found in Britain’s drinking water.ReutersThai police put a stop to orangutan boxing matches at Safari World, a zoo near Bangkok.Associated PressMissouri’s voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.ReutersSeveral Nigeriansorcerers were arrested after skulls, body parts, and 50 corpses were found in shrines belonging to a cult called Alusi Okija; the chief priest of the cult was not arrested, however, because he’s an old man and police didn’t want him to die in custody.Associated PressRussian researchers from the Voronezh State Technological Academy said they had perfected a method for using cow blood as a high-protein dairy replacement in foods such as yogurt.TelegraphBritish scientists discovered mad cow prions in a person who contracted the disease via blood transfusion and died of unrelated causes; they concluded, on the basis of the victim’s genotype, that about half the human population is susceptible to mad cow disease.Sunday Times, Washington PostLocusts were still plaguingMauritania.Agence France-PresseScientists found the reason why mouse mothers are so brave, andNew ScientistDutch lawmakers called for a ban on unsolicited toe licking.Newsday

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That year, the year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. I’d found the place just as September’s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole I’d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentin—a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at it—four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.

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I am eight years old, sitting in my childhood kitchen, ready to watch one of the home videos my father has made. The videotape still exists somewhere, so somewhere she still is, that girl on the screen: hair that tangles, freckles across her nose that in time will spread across one side of her forehead. A body that can throw a baseball the way her father has shown her. A body in which bones and hormones lie in wait, ready to bloom into the wide hips her mother has given her. A body that has scars: the scars over her lungs and heart from the scalpel that saved her when she was a baby, the invisible scars left by a man who touched her when she was young. A body is a record or a body is freedom or a body is a battleground. Already, at eight, she knows it to be all three.

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No, she thinks. They have allowed her to be a boy.

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The writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes lives in a nondescript modern building in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. I know it well: it has a Bricorama—like a French Home Depot—on the ground floor, where we sometimes had cause to shop back when we lived in the neighborhood. The people who work there seemed to hate their jobs more than most; they were often absent from the sales floor. In the elevator to Despentes’s apartment, I marvel that while I was trying to get someone to help me find bathroom grout she was right upstairs, with her partner, Tania, a Spanish tattoo artist who goes by the name La Rata, like someone out of one of Despentes’s novels.

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That night at the window, looking out at the street full of snow, big flakes falling through the streetlight, I listened to what Anna was saying. She was speaking of a man named Karl. We both knew him as a casual acquaintance—thin and lanky like Ichabod Crane, with long hair—operating a restaurant down in the village whimsically called the Gist Mill, with wood paneling, a large painting of an old gristmill on a river on one wall, tin ceilings, and a row of teller cages from its previous life as a bank. Karl used to run along the river, starting at his apartment in town and turning back about two miles down the path. He had been going through the divorce—this was a couple of years ago, of course, Anna said—and was trying to run through his pain.

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