Weekly Review — December 19, 2006, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Tempest, December 1878]

In Baghdad, at a gathering place for poor Shiite laborers, the owner of a truck filled with wheat announced that he was looking for workers. A crowd gathered around the truck and it exploded, killing 70 people and wounding 236.NYTIt was revealed that billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues had not been spent, and the head of Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity was accused of graft.NYTOutgoing Representative Cynthia McKinney (D., Ga.) introduced a bill to impeach President George W. Bush for misleading Congress on the war in Iraq and implementing an illegal domestic spying program.Newsvine.comPresident Bush said that any new strategy for Iraq would have to wait until early next year.NYTDonald Rumsfeld gave a farewell speech in which he warned that the threat of terrorism is not gone. “Not once, in public or in private,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace about Rumsfeld, “did I ever hear this man try to shift responsibility to anyone else but himself.”MonstersandCritics.comThe Taliban established a “mini-state” in Peshawar.NYT

A study found that standard-sized condoms were too large for the men of India.SlateThe National Institutes of Health said that circumcision is an effective method to limit heterosexual transmission of HIV,MSNBCbut Kevin De Cock, HIV/AIDS director of the World Health Organization, warned that circumcision was “not a magic bullet.”BBCAn Oregon fraternity brother shot a homeless man who was collecting cans behind the frat house,local6.coma hunter in Wisconsin shot a seven-legged deer,Yahoo Newsand a Texas lawmaker introduced legislation that would allow the blind to participate in “the fun of hunting.”Reuters via YahooNewsThe Marine Corps ordered a sergeant to call off an online auction that gave the highest bidder the right to rename him; bids included “King Taco” and “Sgt. Finest Freshest Fastest.”NYTThe governor of Alaska announced she would sell a private jet that had been used for state business on eBay,Bloombergand federal investigators announced that airline pilots should follow procedures to make sure their airplanes take off on the right runway.NYTSeattle-Tacoma International Airport removed fourteen Christmas trees after a local rabbi threatened a lawsuit if officials did not add an eight-foot menorah to the arrangement,Seattle Timesand Iran held a conference to examine whether the Holocaust happened.AP via CBSPaul Barnes, a senior pastor at a 2,100-member evangelical megachurch in Colorado, stepped down after admitting to sexual relations with men, Denver Postand Dr. Tony Campolo, a Baptist minister and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, said that evangelicals had been “very, very mean to the gay and lesbian community.” NYTAn international war crimes court sentenced a Rwandan Roman Catholic priest to 15 years in prison for ordering his church crushed by bulldozers while 2,000 ethnic Tutsi remained inside,NYTand former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who is said to have strangled Emperor Haile Selassie with his bare hands and buried him under a toilet, was convicted of genocide by an Ethiopian court.NYT

The pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly was found to have downplayed the health risks of Zyprexa, its best-selling medication for schizophrenia.NYTBritishgeneticists investigating the case of a 10-year-old Pakistani boy who could walk on burning coals announced that they had discovered a gene that influences the perception of pain. They could not examine the boy directly because he had died after leaping off a roof to impress his friends.NYTThe NBA decided to replace its new microfiber composite basketball with the previous leather version after players complained about the new ball’s grip and the way it hurt their skin. Ralph Nader, calling himself “an advocate for all workers, no matter their salary,” wrote a letter in support of the old ball.BreitbartLA TimesThe British police concluded that Princess Diana’s death was an accident,NYTand in response to the deaths of three anorexicmodels, the fashion industry held a forum that called for internal regulation. “We would much rather come up with a way of self-policing ourselves,” said one modeling agency chief, “than have regulations rammed down our throats.”NY PostLettuce, rather than green onions, was deemed responsible for the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak; however, suggested a health official, “it would be folly at this point to drop the cheese completely.”reutersMoses Hardy, who at 113 was the second oldest man in the world and the last surviving black U.S. veteran of World War I, died in Mississippi.local6.comPolice and firefighters on Long Island rescued a veteran who had walled himself in with a seven-foot-high pile of fecal matter and other debris,NYPostand Representative Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) said President Bush was in “deep shit.”TPM CafĂ©The baiji, a species of blind white dolphin extant for 20 million years, was declared extinct,AP via NYTand two dolphins who had swallowed toxic plastic were saved by the world’s tallest man, who used his long arms to retrieve shards from their stomachs.BBC

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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:

$1,500

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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