Weekly Review — March 7, 2006, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Devil Spanker]

More than 100 people were killed in fighting in Iraq. “I think,” said the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, “the country came to the brink of civil war. But Iraqis decided that they didn’t want to go down that path.”The New York TimesThe New York TimesIn the Baghdad area, Sunni militants were evicting Shiites from their homes. “We want you out of here by 8 p.m. tomorrow,” one man was told. “If we find you here, we will kill you.”The Washington PostPresident George W. Bush said that Iraq’s choice was between “chaos or unity,”The New York Timesand it was reported that the White House had ignored repeated warnings about the growing capabilities of the Iraqi insurgency. “This was stuff,” said a former high-ranking intelligence official, “the White House and the Pentagon did not want to hear.”The U.S. State Department asked for $100 million for the reconstruction of Iraqiprisons.Democracy Now!Saddam Hussein told a court that, after a 1982 attempt to assassinate him failed in Dujail, north of Baghdad, he ordered trials for 148 Iraqis and had the local orchards razed. Hussein insisted that his actions were lawful; all of those tried were later executed or tortured to death.The Washington PostOnly 75 psychiatrists remained in Iraq.Democracy Now!In Pakistan, four people, including a U.S. diplomat, were killed in a suicide bombing.The New York TimesThe European Union approved a $140 million aid package for Palestine.BBC NewsIn France far-right groups were criticized for serving pork soup to the poor with the intent of discriminating against observant Muslims and Jews. “We are all pig eaters!” chanted a crowd of soup activists. “We are all pig eaters!”The New York TimesAn Italian commission found that the Soviet Union organized the shooting of Pope John Paul II in 1981.A videotape emerged showing President Bush being warned that Hurricane Katrina could flood New Orleans,AP via Yahoo! Newsand it was revealed that the Bush Administration had lowered the fines for mine safety violations and failed to collect nearly one half of the fines levied.The New York TimesPresident Bush’s approval rating fell to 34 percent,CBS Newsand Vice President Dick Cheney’s approval rating fell to 18 percent.CBS NewsBush proposed legislation to give the President a line-item veto, even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that a line-item veto was unconstitutional, The New York Timesand it was rumored that Cheney would retire in 2007.Insight on the News

A physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, India, speculated that the “red rain” that fell in the Kerala district of western India in 2001 was filled with extraterrestrial, bacteria-like material from a passing comet.The GuardianPresident Bush, after a brief stop in Afghanistan, visited India, where he was met by 100,000 protesters in New Delhi; he promised to provide India with nuclear fuel and expertise.Democracy Now!CNN.comAt least 65 dogs in the President’s security detail were put up at a five-star hotel in New Delhi; hotel staff were told to address the dogs as “sergeant” or “major.”New KeralaLaura Bush counted to five on Indian children’s TV. “She loved Boombah,” said an official from a television studio, “the giant, cuddly, Punjabi-rapping lion.”Express IndiaCondoleezza Rice appeared on television lifting weights and stretching at the gym. “You’d be surprised,” she said, “how many places around the world have gyms or exercise machines.”NBC News via WonketteIt was reported that U.S. prisons often shackle women prisoners during childbirth,The New York Daily Newsand a study found that laws requiring minors to obtain parental consent before receiving an abortion have had almost no effect on the number of abortions performed. “I would have told my mother anyway,” said a 16-year-old abortionee in Pennsylvania.The New York TimesWal-Mart announced that it would begin to sell the morning-after pill, but would not require pharmacists to fill prescriptions if the pill offends them.The New York TimesIn Vietnam musician Paul Gadd, also known as Gary Glitter, was found guilty of sexually abusing two preteen girls. He will be jailed for three years and must pay the girls’ families 5 million dong.BBC News

AT&T announced that it would purchase Bell South for $67 billion and eliminate 10,000 jobs.The New York TimesA cat died of bird flu in Germany. The New York TimesScientists, some funded by the U.S. military, continued their research into controlling the brains of monkeys and sharks. “We believe,” said a researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, “we are the first to record neural activity from a monkey doing a somersault.”New ScientistResearchers in Chicago verified that a quantum computer does not have to perform any calculations in order to arrive at results. Science NewsA Rhode Island man who attempted to pay down a large balance on his JCPenney charge card was told that the payment would be delayed because it first had to be approved by Homeland Security.The Providence JournalThe Senate renewed the Patriot Act and sent it to the House; the House is expected to pass the legislation soon.MSNBCFormer U.S. Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham was sentenced to eight years, four months in federal prison for accepting bribes,CNN.comand the Pentagon released the names of the inmates at Guantánamo Bay as part of 5,000 pages of hearing transcripts; one man, Abdur Sayed Rahman, a Pakistani chicken farmer, was apparently held because his name was similar to that of Taliban deputy minister Abdur Zahid Rahman.ABC NewsThe Kenyan government raided a newspaper that had been critical of government corruption, along with an affiliated TV station. “If you rattle a snake,” said Internal Security Minister John Michuki, “you must be prepared to be bitten by it.”BBC NewsIn Columbus, Ohio, a 54-year-old man was in jail after being caught hiding in bathrooms to collect the urine of adolescent boys. “I’m drinking their youth,” he explained.WJACTV.comThe White House announced that it would step up its efforts to control leaks.The Washington PostAuthor Octavia Butler died,The Los Angeles Timesand a Britishastronomer named Gerry Gilmore predicted that ground-based telescopes would be useless within 40 years because of climate change and jet contrails. “You either give up your cheap trips to Majorca,” he said, “or you give up astronomy.”BBC NewsIn Nassau County, New York, a newborn baby was run over by several different vehicles; its sex and race could not be determined.The New York TimesGlobal warming forced the organizers of Alaska’s Iditarod dogsledrace to move the race 30 miles north,Reutersand investigators found that termites had survived the flooding of New Orleans.Reuters via Yahoo! News

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I was tucked in a blind behind a soda machine, with nothing in my hand but notepad and phone, when a herd of running backs broke cover and headed across the convention center floor. My God, they’re beautiful! A half dozen of them, compact as tanks, stuffed into sports shirts and cotton pants, each, around his monstrous neck, wearing a lanyard that listed number and position, name and schedule, tasks to be accomplished at the 2019 N.F.L. Scout­ing Combine. They attracted the stunned gaze of football fans and beat writers, yet, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, continued across the carpet.

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Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

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Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

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I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

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The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

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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.

A federal judge in South Carolina ruled in favor of personal-injury lawyer George Sink Sr., who had sued his son, George Sink Jr., for using his own name at his competing law firm.

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