Weekly Review — January 31, 2006, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Saluting the Town, March 1854]

The Conservative Party won a plurality of seats in Canada’s federal election, making Stephen Harper Canada’s next prime minister.CBC.caThe Islamic group Hamas won 76 of 132 parliamentary seats in Palestine’s parliamentary elections, unseating the Fatah party. U.S. President George W. Bush, whose administration supported open democratic elections in Palestine, said that the United States would not negotiate with Hamas until the organization renounced its chartered goal of destroyingIsrael,BBC Newsand U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the United States would cut off aid to Palestine if Hamas assumed power without changing its policies. “I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” said Rice, even though publications like The Guardian and the The New York Times had, since at least 2003, published regular reports on the increasing popularity of Hamas in Palestine. “It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse.” CNN.comThe New York TimesGawker.comThe GuardianSenator Joseph Biden (D., Del.) said Hamas would have to change its stripes.The Los Angeles TimesIn Iraq, the United States was negotiating with Sunniinsurgents.Newsweek via MSNBCA new judge took over the Saddam Hussein trial and had Hussein and co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim removed from the courtroom after Hussein began shouting and Ibrahim called the court “a bastard.”The Washington PostHussein also Saddam Hussein said through a lawyer that he wanted to sue President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for authorizing the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as white phosphorus, in Iraq.The Washington PostU.S. auditors found that of $120 million in Iraqioil revenue allocated to fund reconstruction $97 million had gone missing. The Los Angeles TimesEleven people died in a bombing at an Iraqi sweets shop, and at least 17 people died in other attacks. Four Christian churches were bombed.Reuters AlertNetAP via ForbesABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were severely injured in an explosion in Taji,ABC Newsand a teenage girl in northern Iraq was reported to have died of bird flu.ReutersIn Gary, Indiana, an Iraq war veteran killed a 79-year-old man when the man refused to give him money for crack.IndyStar.comMarine James Blake Miller, whose face became emblematic of the Iraq war after he was photographed smoking a cigarette during the November 2004 attack on Fallujah, was at home in Kentucky, where he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and had cut back to a pack and a half a day.SFGate.comHalliburton announced that 2005 was its best year ever.SignOnSanDiego.com

The White House refused to release photographs of President Bush with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, despite requests from Senate and HouseRepublicans,Reutersand a Senate committee investigating the government response to Hurricane Katrina criticized the Bush Administration for ignoring the findings of a hurricane-preparedness exercise called “Hurricane Pam,” which had warned that New Orleans would be flooded. “It is apparent that a more appropriate name for Pam should have been ‘Cassandra,'” said Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine). USA TodayVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez vowed to jail anyone who spies for the United States,BBC Newsand Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi promised not to have sex until elections were held on April 9.AP via ForbesThe UPN and WB television networks were slated to merge, AP via Yahoo! NewsDisney announced it would buy Pixar,E! Online via Yahoo! Newsand Google agreed to censor its Chinese search results to please the Chinese government.BBC NewsWith support from the ACLU, a boy in New Jersey won the right to wear a skirt to school; the boy wears the skirt to protest the school’s policy banning shorts.AP via Yahoo! NewsA grandfather in Florida died of a heart attack after all seven of his grandchildren were killed in an automobile accident,News Channel 5and a starving woman in Kangundo, Kenya, placed a curse on God as she hit a cooking pot with a stick, then died in her sleep. Reuters via MSNBCIn southern Poland, 66 people were crushed to death when an exhibition hall collapsed during an international pigeon fanciers’ fair.The New York Times

James E. Hansen, a director at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that NASA had ordered its public-affairs staff to review and possibly censor his upcoming speeches and papers after he called for reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.The New York TimesMassachusetts Junior SenatorJohn Kerry, in Switzerland for the Davos economic forum, called for a filibuster to stop the nomination of Samuel Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.The Salt Lake TribuneRepresentative Marty Meehan’s staff was caught removing unfavorable facts about Meehan from his Wikipedia entry; in the past the entire House has been banned from editing Wikipedia due to rampant abuse of the online public encyclopedia’s editing policies by House staffers.LowellSun.comIt was revealed that SenatorBill Frist’sAIDS charity had paid almost a half-million dollars in consulting fees to Frist’s political friends,CBS Newsand it was reported that one quarter of the Bush Administration’s $15 billion in AIDS-fighting money had been given to religious groups.AP via Yahoo! NewsPresident Bush said that he had not yet seen the filmBrokeback Mountain.”NBC13.comFrench police realized that they had spent the last two years trying to identify a female murder victim–whose skeleton was found during a low tide in Plouezoc’h–who actually died in the 15th century. “We reckon it was pirates,” said a policeman.AFP via Yahoo! NewsU.S. murderers were learning how to cover their tracks by watching television crime shows.AP via Yahoo! NewsAuthorities in Mexico City arrested a woman named Juana Barraza, a 48-year-old former wrestler who is thought to be the serial killer known as Mataviejitas, or “the Killer of Little Old Ladies,” and who may be responsible for strangling up to 30 of them.BBC NewsHawaiians were attempting to have the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (HOO-moo-HOO-moo- NOO-koo-NOO-koo- AH-poo-AH-ah) appointed as Hawaii’s state fish on a permanent basis after its five-year term expired. “It kind of looks like a pig and it squawks and everything,” said a humuhumunukunukuapuaa advocate.ABC NewsA substitute teacher in Santa Cruz, California, was sentenced to a year in jail for filming young boys licking whipped cream off each other’s toes. “I used very poor judgment,” said the teacher.The Mercury NewsMozart turned 250,CTV.cathe FBI was spying on vegans in Georgia,11Alive.comand several women in Missouri were sick with infections after receiving tattoos from a door-to-door tattoo salesman.TheKansasCityChannel.comA firecracker explosion killed 16 people during a New Year celebration in China,Reutersand the year of the dog began.The Star Online

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I.

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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Discussed in this essay:

Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, by Paul Hendrickson. Knopf. 624 pages. $35.

Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t just the greatest of all American architects. He has so eclipsed the competition that he can sometimes seem the only one. Who are his potential rivals? Henry Hobson Richardson, that Gilded Age starchitect in monumental stone? Louis Sullivan, lyric poet of the office building and Wright’s own Chicago mentor, best known for his dictum that form follows function? “Yes,” Wright corrected him with typical one-upmanship, “but more important now, form and function are one.” For architects with the misfortune to follow him, Wright is seen as having created the standards by which they are judged. If we know the name Frank Gehry, it’s probably because he designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997. And Gehry’s deconstructed ship of titanium and glass would be unimaginable if Wright hadn’t built his own astonishing Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue some forty years earlier.

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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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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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