Weekly Review — October 2, 2007, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: The Cloaca Maxima, 1872]

The Cloaca Maxima, 1872

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hailed by his countrymen as the “Socrates of the Third Millennium” for “disarming other speakers through his sharp reasoning,” gave a speech on Monday in which he claimed that Iran had no homosexuals and disavowed reports of his nuclear ambitions. “Let me tell a joke here,” Ahmadinejad said. “I think the politicians who are after atomic bombs, or testing them, making them, politically they are backward, retarded.” On Tuesday he met with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, addressed the United Nations (where he announced that he would disregard any resolutions adopted by the Security Council), and hosted a reception at the Intercontinental Hotel that was attended by Brian Williams and Christiane Amanpour.Reuters via Yahoo! NewsAdnkronos InternationalReuters via Yahoo! NewsNew York TimesTimePresident George W. Bush skipped all events related to the U.N. discussions on global warming, except for dinner, because he was holding his own summit later in the week; reporters covering the Bush conference received a pocket-sized handout aimed at dispelling “myths” about the administration’s environmental policy, including the myths that Bush refuses to admit that humans are a factor in climate change, or that climate change is real.New York TimesAssociated PressA February 2003 transcript of a meeting between Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar surfaced showing that Bush had knowledge that Saddam Hussein was prepared to go into exile. In the transcript, Bush complained about former French President Jacques Chirac, who “thinks he’s Mr. Arab,” and the European attitude toward Hussein. “Maybe it’s because he’s dark-skinned, far away and Muslim,” said the President, “lots of Europeans think everything’s okay with him.” Reuters via Yahoo! NewsThe annotated text of Bush’s address to the U.N. General Assembly appeared briefly on the U.N. website. The speech included phonetic spellings for the name of French President Nicolas Sarkozy (sar-KO-zee), Kyrgyzstan (KEYR-geez-stan), Mauritania (moor-EH-tain-ee-a), and the Zimbabwe capital Harare (hah-RAR-ray).Reuters via Yahoo! NewsA White House transcript of Bush’s Wednesday speech on education was amended from “children do learn” to “childrens (sic) do learn,”Associated Pressand British researchers studying intelligence announced that men were disproportionately represented in both the top and bottom two percentiles.Hindu

Protesters in Burma, which tied Somalia for the 2007 title of Transparency International’s most corrupt nation, taunted soldiers in the country’s largest anti-government demonstrations since 1988. “Fuck you, army,” jeered some protesters, “we only want democracy.” “May the people who beat monks be struck down by lightning,” implored others.Reuters via Yahoo! NewsAP via Yahoo! NewsRwanda, which will soon be paid a humanitarian visit by Paris Hilton, was named the most improved country in sub-Saharan Africa,SFGateBBC Newsformer Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was extradited to Peru and is expected to become the first head of state to be tried by the country he once led,Christian Science Monitorand former South African President Nelson Mandela opened a shopping mall in Soweto.AP via Yahoo! NewsJames Razsa, who cleaned the Kennebunkport pool of former President George H.W. Bush, told a reporter that “if every American had to pool-boy for these people for a day, you’d have a revolution on your hands.” SFGateBoth the Magna Carta and pearls that once belonged to Marie Antoinette were being readied for auction,New York TimesReuters via Yahoo! Newsand a Rudy Giuliani supporter in Palo Alto, California, charged guests $9.11 per person to attend a fundraiser.CNNThe board of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network voted to remove its president after doubts were cast as to whether she was a survivor at all.New York Times

The Department of Homeland Security announced that the completion of a $20 million “virtual fence” pilot project along the Mexican border near Tucson would be delayed because its cameras and radar were unable to distinguish people and vehicles from bushes and cows. Washington PostNike unveiled the Air Native, a sneaker that has a larger fit for the distinct foot shape of American Indians and features several “heritage callouts,” including sunrise patterns, feather designs, and stars representing the night sky.Associated PressThe Mexicanshoemaker who made the pair of ostrich-skin cowboy boots that former President Vicente Fox gave to President Bush was indicted after the contraband skins of sea turtles, caimans, and other endangered species were found in an associate’s warehouse. Rocky Mountain NewsRiverside, New Jersey, joined the list of towns across the nation that were rescinding anti-immigrant ordinances because they were hurting local economies. “The business district is fairly vacant now, but it’s not the legitimate businesses that are gone,” said former mayor Charles Hilton. “It’s all the ones that were supporting the illegal immigrants, or, as I like to call them, the criminal aliens.” New York TimesA bus company on the Isle of Wight planned to teach visiting foreign students how to wait in lines,Agence France Pressean Austrian judge refused to declare a chimpanzee a person,AP via Yahoo! Newsand the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled women must return engagement rings should their wedding be canceled, even if the ring was received on Christmas Day.TennesseanA 14-year-old boy was reported to be the sixth American to die this year after contracting a brain-eating amoeba that thrives in warm-water lakes. AP via azfamily.comMiss Moneypenny died,AFPand two women dressed as ninjas and armed with a sword and dagger robbed a Pennsylvania gas station of cash, cigarettes, and lottery tickets.WTAEOfficials in Peru said that collective psychosis, rather than a meteorite, was to blame for an epidemic of sickness in a Peruvian town,Space.com via Yahoo! Newsand the Navy made plans to alter the barracks at Naval Base Coronado in California after satellite imagery showed the buildings were arranged in a swastika.Los Angeles TimesShannon Whisnant, a North Carolina man who found a leg in a barbecue smoker, was hoping to share custody of the leg with the man from whom it was amputated. Whisnant has been charging adults $3 and children $1 to look inside the empty smoker. “It’s a strange incident and Halloween’s just around the corner,” he said. “The price will be going up if I get the leg.”Seattle Times

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More from Miriam Markowitz:

Weekly Review November 6, 2007, 12:00 am

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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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