Weekly Review — August 31, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Devils seizing their prey.]

Two government reports, one civilian and one military, were issued on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. The Army reported that military intelligence officers and civilian contractors were deeply involved in the abuse; the civilian report went to great lengths to avoid the logical conclusion that the Bush White House had created the conditions (legal, operational, and military) that directly led to the Abu Ghraib horrors. Both reports found that many of the techniques employed at Abu Ghraib originated in CIA torture chambers in Afghanistan.New York TimesArmy investigators discovered that military police dogs were used to terrify teenage Iraqi prisoners as part of a game. The object of the game was to make the youths urinate on themselves. “It had nothing to do with interrogation,” said an unnamed Army officer. “It was just them on their own being weird.”Agence France-PresseA lawmaker in California threatened to require performers in pornographic films to wear condoms.New York TimesMilitary trials were underway at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.New York TimesScientists found that when fruit flies are missing one of two genes that control the circadian clock, they have much greater sexual endurance. “What has been found in fruit flies,” said one of the study’s authors, “turns out to be true in humans in many ways.”Science DailyA Sudanese sheikh accused of being a leader of the Janjaweed militias that have been killing and raping black farmers in Darfur admitted that he had been “appointed” by his government to “defend their land.”TelegraphSheep, scientists found, feel calmer when they look at a picture of another sheep of the same breed.New Scientist

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in New York City to denounce George W. Bush and his policies, particularly the war in Iraq.ReutersPresident Bush declared that John Kerry is a bigger hero: “I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets.”ReutersThe Census Bureau reported that there were 35.8 million Americans living in poverty in 2003, an increase of 1.3 million over 2002, and that the number of people without health insurance rose from 43.5 million to 45 million.ABC NewsSir Mark Thatcher, the 51-year-old son of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, was arrested in South Africa under suspicion of financing an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.BBC, TelegraphColombian police discovered a genetically engineered variety of coca plant that produces up to four times more cocaine than the traditional varieties.TelegraphMoktada al-Sadr’s militia surrendered the shrine of Imam Ali, U.S. tanks withdrew, and Iraqi ambulances began to recover the decaying bodies of casualties.Washington PostIraqi saboteurs attacked two oil pipelines.ReutersNine children and one adult were killed in a school bombing in Afghanistan’s Paktia province, and severalReuterspeople died in a truck bombing in front of a security company in Kabul; the Taliban claimed responsibility.ReutersTwo Russian airliners were destroyed by suicide bombers, and peopleGuardianin Chechnya apparently elected Vladimir Putin’s choice for president, though there was widespread evidence of fraud.GuardianGeneral Augusto Pinochet was stripped of his legal immunity by Chile’s supreme court.BBC

A federal judge in New York City ruled that the Partial Birth Abortion Act is unconstitutional.NewsdayDick Cheney said that he opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; he explained that he has a gay daughter and that marriage policy is best left to the states.Washington PostSocial workers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, were handing out crack pipes to addicts as part of a “harm-reduction strategy.”Globe and MailA Bush Administration report on global climate change admitted that human activity is responsible for global warming.New ScientistElisabeth Kubler-Ross died.Associated PressA study found that women who drink more than one soft drink per day are more likely to develop diabetes.Associated PressPolio continued to spread in Africa.New York TimesA new study showed that the air pollution created by cigarettes is 10 times worse than diesel exhaust.New ScientistDust storms were on the increase, and theNew Scientisthead of the EPA said that fish in almost all lakes and rivers and streams in the United States are contaminated with mercury, for which there is no safe exposure level.New York TimesScientists created genetically engineered mice that can run farther and longer than normal mice.Associated PressThe United States for the first time issued an outline for a plan for possible actions that might be taken to prepare to respond to an influenza pandemic.New York TimesCanadian fisheries experts found that Puget Sound orcas are contaminated with fire retardants, andAssociated PressJapanese seismologists predicted that Tokyo will be hit with a major earthquake within the next 50 years.Associated PressIt was reported that a janitor at Tate Modern in London threw out a work of art because he thought it was just a bag of garbage; the artwork, entitled “Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art,” was in fact a bag of garbage.ReutersSwiss researchers found that people really do enjoy revenge.Reuters

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Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

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Last fall, a court filing in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently suggested that the Justice Department had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other outlets reported soon after that Assange had likely been secretly indicted for conspiring with his sources to publish classified government material and hacked documents belonging to the Democratic National Committee, among other things.

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Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

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Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

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A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

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