Weekly Review — February 5, 2008, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Tempest, December 1878]

President George W. Bush unveiled a $3.1 trillion spending package that would increase military funding while protecting tax cuts,Bush Unveils $3.1 Trillion Spending Planand Wal-Mart announced an economic “stimulus plan” that offers steep discounts on thousands of items, including a five-pound bag of Tyson frozen chicken wings ($8.88) and two Hillshire Farms Cocktail Smokies or Ropes ($5).Wal-Mart &lq;Stimulus&rq; Pkg: Will Doritos Rescue The Economy?Mississippi lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it illegal for restaurants in the state to serve obese people,Mississippi Legislature Introduces Bill that Would Ban Restaurants from Serving the Obeseand an unidentified robber killed five women in a Chicago-area branch of the plus-sized clothing store Lane Bryant.Five women dead in Tinley Park clothing store shootingA camping-goods website was selling a cheeseburger in a can.Cheeseburger in a Can is Both the Best and Worst Thing I’ve Ever SeenPolice in India uncovered a kidney-napping ring that preyed upon impoverished laborers, farmers, and rickshaw drivers. “I had no idea about kidney transplants,” said Shakeel Ahmed, a laborer from Uttar Pradesh state. “I knew that these people meant to do evil to me. When I woke up, a doctor said I would be shot if I ever told anyone what happened.”Kidney Thefts Shock IndiaAn unidentified donor gave $130 million to Bangladesh to repair cyclone damage, Donor gives $130 million to Bangladeshand hungry Haitians were eating cookies made of mud. Poor Haitians resort to eating dirt

Abu Laith al Libi, alleged to be a high-ranking Libyan member of Al Qaeda, was killed in a missile strike in Pakistan.Top Al Qaeda Leader KilledAn Indonesian housewife became the 103rd person to die from bird flu in that country,Indonesia’s bird flu toll rises to 103and an Iowa outbreak of the rare lung disease histoplasmosis, a fungal infection often spread by bird or bat droppings, was traced back to a November 29 2007 American Lung Association event at the governor’s mansion.Health investigators link lung illness to Terrace HillTwo earthquakes killed 30 people in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,Death toll from Rwanda, Congo quakes hits 30thousands of Chadians fleeing skirmishes in the capital N’Djamena sought refuge in Cameroon, Thousands flee Chad as fighting ragesand UN peacekeepers in the disputed African territory of Western Sahara were reprimanded for defacing ancient rock paintings on Devil Mountain.Peacekeepers ‘deface ancient art’Remnants of a 7,000-year-old city were found in Egypt’s Fayyum oasis. Ruins of 7,000-year-old city found in Egypt oasisEgypt and India were afflicted with limited Internet service,Internet Limping Back to Normalcyand power failures in South Africa closed mines and shopping centers for several days.Power Failures Outrage South AfricaIn China, where hundreds of thousands of people traveling for the Lunar New Year remained stranded by winter storms, a woman was trampled to death in a stampede to board a train.Storm-hit China calls for ‘faith’Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, signalling six more weeks of winter,Pennsylvania groundhog sees six more winter weeksand John Edwards pulled out of the presidential race, saying he would step aside “so that history can blaze its path.”Edwards quits race but refuses to reveal preferred candidateCalifornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed Republican candidate John McCain, while Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, the niece of John F. Kennedy, endorsed Barack Obama.McCain Wins Schwarzenegger Nod Maria Shriver endorses Obama

The Pentagon said that nine Iraqi civilians had been killed in a strike intended for militants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.U.S. Says It Accidentally Killed 9 Iraqi CiviliansWest Virginia was considering a bill that would require gym classes to teach middle-schoolers how to handle a gun.US state weighing gun lessons for schoolchildrenIn Pennsylvania a woman locked her ten-year-old grandson in a dog crate and threatened to bury him alive in the backyard after he disclosed that he had been spiking his family’s drinks with lamp oil and household cleaner, Boy put in dog cage after spiking drinksand in Britain retail chain Woolworths withdrew from sale a bed for six-year-old girls called the Lolita Midsleeper Combi after receiving complaints from parents. “We had to look it up on Wikipedia,” said a store spokesman. “But we certainly know who she is now.”Shop pulls &lq;Lolita&rq; bed for young girlsIt was reported that a sedentary lifestyle speeds aging,Sedentary life ‘speeds up ageing’and new pictures of Mercury revealed the elderly planet’s spider-shaped birthmark, shrinkage, wrinkles, and scars.Mercury Is Shrinking, VolcanicThe New York Giants beat the New England Patriots to win Superbowl XLII, while the NFL refused to allow churches to show the game on big-screen televisions.Eli, monster defense power Giants to shocking Super Bowl victoryNFL Pulls Plug On Big-Screen Church Parties For Super BowlSeventeen Russian tourists visiting a spa in the Caucasus were hospitalized after a nurse accidentally administered hydrogen-peroxide enemas,Unhealthy enemas put tourists in hospitaland a Japanese urologist noted an increase in “vaginal ejaculation disorder, or an inability to ejaculate inside the vagina,” among Japanese men, crediting it to “incredible progress made in masturbation goods.”Wanton women cry that men jerk their shot and miss the real targetBritish scientists announced that it would soon be possible to convert female bone marrow into viable sperm cells, hastening the obsolescence of men.Death of the father: British scientists discover how to turn women’s bone marrow into sperm

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The Wood Chipper·

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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.

After not making a public appearance for weeks and being rumored dead, the president of Turkmenistan appeared on state television and drove a rally car around The Gates of Hell, a crater of gas that has been burning since it was discovered in 1971.

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