Weekly Review — September 21, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A burning Plain]

A burning plain.

The United Nations Security Council passed another resolution asking the Sudanese government to prevent its proxies from slaughtering people in Darfur (China, Algeria, Pakistan, and Russia abstained). The resolution, which for the first time formally invokes the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, says that the council will “consider” sanctions if the genocide continues.New York TimesChaos continued to rule Iraq; there were many attacks by insurgents, including several large suicide bombings, hostages were beheaded, and many civilians, including women and children, were killed in American airstrikes.New York TimesIraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi broke his hand.New York TimesAmerican weapons inspectors in Iraq once again concluded that Saddam Hussein would have liked to have developed unconventional weapons but did not in fact have such programs.New York TimesA classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush warned of civil war in Iraq, and theSan Francisco Chroniclepresident said that the country is on a path to a democratic future. Some Republicans were worried about the contradiction between the president’s optimistic comments and what is actually happening on the ground. Senator Chuck Hagel observed that “we are in deep trouble in Iraq.”Voice of AmericaPresident Vladimir Putin of Russia responded to the recent terror attacks there by announcing plans for a radical restructuring of the Russian political system that would end the popular election of regional governors and district representatives in parliament.Lexington Herald-LeaderMany of those governors praised Putin’s plans; few politicians dared criticize them. Colin Powell expressed “concerns.”New York TimesNATO was short of troops in Afghanistan.New York TimesVolcanic ash rained down on Tokyo.Associated Press

Republicans in West Virginia told voters that Democrats will ban the Bible if John Kerry wins the presidency in November.Associated PressDick Cheney said that electing John Kerry could lead to another terrorist attack.USA TodayThe federal ban on assault weapons expired.New York TimesThe mother of a dead American soldier was taken away in handcuffs after she challenged Laura Bush at a campaign rally.New York TimesTurkish politicians were debating whether to outlaw adultery.New York TimesJiang Zemin retired as head of China’s military.Daily TelegraphIsrael’s security cabinet approved a plan to pay up to $300,000 to Jewish families that agreed to abandon the Gaza Strip.New York TimesTwo Canadianlesbians were granted a divorce.New York TimesThe U.S. Department of Labor said that the average working woman spends twice as much time doing household tasks and caring for children as the average working man; working women also sleep an average one hour less than working men. The survey also said that the average adult has about five hours of leisure time a day and spends half of it watching TV.New York TimesA schoolteacher was arrested for carrying a weighted bookmark in her purse as she attempted to board an airplane in Tampa, Florida.St. Petersburg TimesA Texas judge found that the state’s system of educational funding is unconstitutional.New York TimesA federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s Internet Child Pornography Act because it blocked more than one million legitimate sites in order to block 400 pornographers.Washington PostPresident Bush worried that because of frivolous lawsuits “too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.”IC Wales

The World Health Organization reported that suicide kills more people worldwide than murder and war put together.New ScientistThe British House of Commons voted to outlaw fox hunting with dogs after pro-hunting protesters broke into the chamber and insulted the rural affairs minister.TelegraphMartha Stewart asked for permission to begin her five-month prison sentence early instead of waiting for her appeal. Stewart said she would be sad to miss the holiday season but that it was time to reclaim her “good life. I must return to my good works.”Washington PostA naughty Indian monkey was sentenced to life in prison.Chicago TribuneChicago Mayor Richard Daley announced a new municipal surveillance system that will use 2,000 remote-controlled cameras that “are the equivalent of hundreds of sets of eyes.”USA TodayScientists were developing a stinky robot that attracts flies, which it then digests and converts into electricity.New ScientistThe Cassini spacecraft discovered a new ring around Saturn.2004-09-09The Genesis space capsule, which had been collecting sun beams in outer space, crashed into the Utah desert after two helicopters failed to catch it in mid-air as planned.New ScientistEfforts to control the global spread of tuberculosis were failing.New ScientistScientists created a genetically modified fish that produces a human blood-clotting factor.New ScientistBritish psychologists warned that people who keep diaries are more likely to suffer from headaches, insomnia, digestive complaints, and social problems.New ScientistA new study found that Legionella bacteria, the cause of Legionnaire’s disease, lurks in a quarter of all hot tubs.New ScientistHippos were dying in Uganda.Associated Press

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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.

The exterior of my hermitage was washed the color of runny egg yolk. Two redwood French doors with plexiglass windows hung cockeyed from creaky hinges at the entrance, and a combination lock provided meager security against intruders. White beadboard capped the roof, its brim shading a front porch set on cinder blocks.

After living on the East Coast for eight years, I’d recently left New York City to take a job at an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. If it seems odd that I was a fully employed editor who lived in a thirty-two-square-foot shack, that’s precisely the point: my situation was evidence of how distorted the Bay Area housing market had become, the brutality inflicted upon the poor now trickling up to everyone but the super-rich. The problem was nationwide, although, as Californians tend to do, they’d taken this trend to an extreme. Across the state, a quarter of all apartment dwellers spent half of their incomes on rent. Nearly half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population lived in California, even while the state had the highest concentration of billionaires in the nation. In the Bay Area, including West Oakland, where my shack was located, the crisis was most acute. Tent cities had sprung up along the sidewalks, swarming with capitalism’s refugees. Telegraph, Mission, Market, Grant: every bridge and overpass had become someone’s roof.

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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.

But somebody has slipped. The school is putting on the musical South Pacific, and there are not enough roles for the girls, and she is as tall as or taller than the boys, and so they have done what is unthinkable in this striving 1980s town, in this place where the men do the driving and the women make their mouths into perfect Os to apply lipstick in the rearview. For the musical, they have made her a boy.

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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