Weekly Review — November 27, 2007, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A grasshopper driving a chariot, 1875]

Teams of biologists in Japan and Wisconsin discovered new methods for transforming human skin cells into “induced pluripotent stem cells.” Both techniques employ a retrovirus to inject the cells with four “master regulator” genes that reprogram the cells’ function. The Wisconsin team, directed by James A. Thompson, who pioneered the harvesting of embryonic stem cells, culled its skin cells from foreskins. The Japanese team conducted their preliminary research on mice, with a cancer gene among the regulators, and created in the process a mischief of clone mice, 20 percent of which developed cancer. President George W. Bush was said to be “very pleased” that the innovation might render the use of embryonic stem cells obsolete, but critics said it was too soon to tell whether the synthesized stem cells would prove as versatile as those from embryos.New York TimesSeattle TimesNew York TimesAn American nuclear scientist projected that the number of deaths caused by depleted uranium in ammunition fired on Iraq would exceed those caused by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “The environment is now completely radioactive,” said Leuren Moret. “The genetic future of the Iraqi people, for the most part, is destroyed.”uruknetIan Smith, the Rhodesian prime minister who promised 1,000 years of white rule in Africa, died, and authorities in Zimbabwe were arresting satirists.EconomistL.A. TimesAustralian voters elected the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd prime minister, replacing conservative John Howard, a Bush ally who failed to retain his own seat in Parliament. Rudd, who has been videotaped eating his own earwax, said he would push for Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, leaving the United States the lone holdout.TimeYouTubeAFPFourteen thousand refugees fled wildfires in Malibu, California,.New York Timesand the British government admitted that it had lost computer disks containing the personal information of more than one third of its citizens.New York Times

Exiled prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan. “I have come,” he said, “to save this country.” New York TimesThere was a power vacuum in Lebanon after the Parliament failed to elect a new president, New York Timesand in Annapolis, Maryland, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convened a meeting of Middle Eastern leaders, excluding Iran and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. “We must not view Annapolis as a failure,” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said before the summit started. “Nothing good will come out of it,” said Riham Abu Khater, a 17-year-old Gazan woman attending a protest march. “Good will only come from the language of fighting, and from force.” Hamas pledged to pack more explosives in its homemade rockets, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “Participation in this summit is an indication of the lack of intelligence of some so-called politicians.”Daily StarHaaretzHaaretzJerusalem PostThe Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality in Uganda protested a summit of British Commonwealth leaders in Kampala. “I asked President Museveni to get us an island on Lake Victoria and we take these homosexuals and they die out there,” said Sheikh Ramathan Shaban Mubajje of an earlier meeting he had with Uganda’s head of state. “If they die there, then we shall have no more homosexuals in the country.”365Gay

Former White House spokesman Scott McClellan released an excerpt of his forthcoming memoir. The passage states that he “unknowingly” lied when he denied that White House aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby participated in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. McClellan vaguely confesses that “Rove, Libby, the vice president [Dick Cheney], the president’s chief of staff [Andrew Card], and the President himself” were “involved” in his relaying “false information,” but he stops short of saying that Bush and Cheney knew they were telling him to lie. SlateAl Gore visited the White House,.ABCand amateur investigators in Russia found the charred bones of two teenage children of Tsar Nicholas II murdered along with their father, mother, and three siblings by Bolshevik agents in 1918, dispelling the rumor that a Romanov prince or princess had escaped execution. New York TimesAbraham Bolden, a former Secret Service agent, told reporters that a plot by Cuban exiles to kill President John F. Kennedy in Chicago was uncovered three weeks before his assassination in Dallas. The would-be assailants, who had allegedly rented a motel room overlooking Kennedy’s motorcade route and were said to possess automatic rifles with telescopic sights, were never caught, and the investigation, Bolden claimed, was covered up.TelegraphKennedy’s 86-year-old sister Eunice was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness,CNNand UNAIDS, the United Nations agency that fights AIDS, lowered its estimate of the number of people infected with the disease worldwide, from 39.5 million to 33.2 million. New York TimesArmin Meiwes, a convicted German cannibal, was elected leader of his prison’s Green Party chapter and announced that he had become a vegetarian.ScotsmanCiting Schrodinger’s cat, cosmologists speculated that humans’ observation of dark matter, beginning in 1998, might bring about the premature destruction of the universe.Telegraph

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Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

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Last fall, a court filing in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently suggested that the Justice Department had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other outlets reported soon after that Assange had likely been secretly indicted for conspiring with his sources to publish classified government material and hacked documents belonging to the Democratic National Committee, among other things.

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Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

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Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

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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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