Weekly Review — June 13, 2006, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Humbug, December 1853]

United States forces succeeded in killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, with two five-hundred-pound bombs that were dropped on a safe house north of Baghdad. Zarqawi reportedly survived the bombing at first and even tried to get away but was strapped to a stretcher, where he died. The U.S. military denied reports that American soldiers had beaten the dying terrorist. “He died while American soldiers were attempting to save his life,” said General George Casey. Al Qaeda promised to respond with “major attacks.”New York TimesBloombergNew York TimesTom DeLay, the former Republican majority leader who was forced to resign because he is corrupt, said farewell to the House of Representatives. Dozens of Democrats walked out during his speech. “I did a good job,” DeLay said. “I helped build the largest political coalition in the last 50 years.”UPITexasexecuted an axe murderer, andReutersit was reported that scientists have created a new type of synthetic snakebite antivenom.New ScientistFlorida’swildlife officials decided to remove the manatee, which has a mild taste that readily adapts itself to recipes for beef, from the state’s endangered-species list.New York TimesA new Gallup poll found that Muslim women are generally happy with their lot and think that Western values lead to moral decay, pornography, and promiscuity.Washington TimesNew computer viruses were exploiting World Cup fever,The Business Onlineand Britishscientists claimed that men drink heavily at sporting events in order to compensate for their masculine shortcomings.Economic & Social Research Council

President George W. Bush traveled to Artesia, New Mexico, to address the Border Patrol Academy and suggested that immigrants had better learn to speak good American. “I knew I was in pretty good country when I saw all the cowboy hats,” he said. “And I think I saw one guy spitting in a can.”San Francisco ChronicleThree detainees at the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, committed suicide using nooses made from clothing and bedsheets. “They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own,” said Navy Rear-Admiral Harry Harris. “I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us.” All three men had been in the camp for about four years and had recently engaged in a hunger strike.ScotsmanThe attorney for Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, one of the marines charged with the Haditha massacre, asserted that the massacre, though “tragic,” was nonetheless “lawful” and was the result of following “the rules of engagement and standard protocol.”Associated PressIt was reported that the Pentagon has decided to remove a reference to Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions from a new edition of the Army Field Manual on interrogation. That article bans torture and cruel treatment as well as “outrages on personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” The change, which would reverse decades of military policy, follows President Bush‘s declaration in 2002 that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to “unlawful combatants” such as terrorists.Los Angeles TimesA report by the Council of Europe charged that European countries (including Germany,Spain,Sweden,Greece, and Italy) served as a “global spider web” for the CIA’s secret abduction and unlawful transfer of terrorism suspects to its network of torture camps around the world.New York TimesThe United States issued a report on the global sex trade and rebuked Germany for being “a source, transit, and destination country” for prostitutes.New York TimesDonald Rumsfeld, the American secretary of defense, traveled to Vietnam, where he complained that Russia is a bully and China is secretive; he also observed that when Vietnam’s first university was founded in 1070 American Indians were still living in mud huts. “That’s impressive,” he said.New York TimesIndonesia’s defense minister scolded Rumsfeld for being overbearing.New York TimesPresident Vladimir Putin of Russia had lunch with Henry Kissinger, who said afterward that he has confidence in “Russian evolution.” “What if my grandmother had certain sexual attributes?” Putin asked a reporter. “Then she would would be my grandfather.” New York TimesA new study found that the quality of men’s sperm deteriorates as they grow older and could lead to an increase in dwarf babies.AP

Armed gunmen abducted more than 50 bystanders at a Baghdad bus stop, and it was announced that May was the deadliest month for Baghdad residents since the beginning of the American occupation. A total of 1,398 bodies were found throughout the city, alongside roads, in garbage dumps, and in abandoned cars, though many others have been abducted, never to be seen again.Los Angeles TimesBritish special forces were being trained to use strap-on “batwings” rather than parachutes; the lightweight carbon wings permit the soldiers to be dropped at high altitudes and then glide for more than 100 miles before landing.Daily MailThe Senate failed to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage,Globe and Mailand Macy’s removed two gay-pride mannequins from a Boston display window after the store received complaints.Boston HeraldIt was reported that the United States carried out 750 air strikes in Afghanistan last month and thatFox Newsplans were being made to send United Nations troops to Darfur.UN.orgSerbia declared itself to be a sovereign state.Associated PressJavier Solana, Europe’s foreign-policy director, formally offered Iran a package of incentives designed to persuade the Islamic state to give up its nuclear ambitions; that same day, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran restarted its uranium-enrichment program.New York TimesNew York TimesAn Israeli artillery shell killed at least seven civilians, including five members of one family (including young children aged ten, three, and one) who were picnicking on a beach in Gaza. Israeli officials expressed regret and said that the shell had been aimed at a target 400 yards away from the picnic. Hamas declared that it would no longer abide by a 16-month-old cease-fire and fired a rocket into Israel.New York TimesThe Army Corps of Engineers admitted that its incompetence was largely to blame for the destruction of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.New York TimesThe Food and Drug Administration asked restaurants to help Americans eat less. “We must take a serious look at the impact these foods are having on our waistlines,” said a health-promotion official named Penelope Slade Royall.MSNBCWhole Foods was concerned about the well-being of its fresh lobsters, andNew York Timesthe New York Times reported that tar-paper shacks have been selling briskly in South African shanty towns.New York TimesA group of high school students in Florida found a real corpse at a fake crime scene.ReutersAmerican conservationists were airlifting endangered frogs out of Panama in their luggage.New York TimesSurgeons in Shanghai successfully removed a baby boy’s third arm.AP

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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.

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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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