Weekly Review — June 3, 2008, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A grasshopper driving a chariot, 1875]

Scott McClellan published a memoir about his stint as President George W. Bush‘s press secretary from July 2003 to April 2006. In the book, McClellan says that he does not believe that the Bush Administration “deliberately or consciously sought to deceive the American people” when it dispensed with “honesty and candor” in favor of launching a “political propaganda campaign” to justify the Iraq War. He also asserts that the media became the administration’s “complicit enablers” and that the president said that he did not remember whether he had ever tried cocaine at “some pretty wild parties back in the day.” Senator Bob Dole responded in a note to McClellan: “There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don’t have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues.” Ari Fleischer, Bush’s previous press secretary, suggested McClellan had been manipulated by his liberal editors. Wall Street JournalPoliticoNational JournalNew York Daily NewsWall Street JournalIn Baghdad, a car bomb in a parking lot near the Iranian Embassy killed two civilians and wounded five others, and west of the city, in the town of Hit, a suicide bomber killed ten people and wounded twelve at a police checkpoint. APFranz Kunstler, the last surviving veteran of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s forces in World War I, died at the age of 107,New York Timesand Dianne Odell, a polio victim in Tennessee, died at the age of 61, after 58 years in an iron lung.APAustralia pulled its 550 combat troops out of Iraq, declaring their mission a success. AP

The Democratic National Committee determined that delegates from Michigan and Florida will be allowed half-votes at the party’s convention. “At least slaves were counted as 3/5ths a Citizen,” read a sign at a protest by supporters of Hillary Clinton outside the Washington hotel where the decision was made. Demonstrator Larry Sinclair, a Minnesotan who has posted videos on YouTube alleging that he took drugs and had oral sex with Barack Obama in 1999 but failed a polygraph test about his allegations, handed out a pamphlet titled “Obama’s DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS: Murder, Drugs, Gay Sex.”New York TimesThe New RepublicObama broke his ties with Chicago’s Trinity Church, The Daily DishClinton won the Puerto Rico primary,New York Timesand it was reported that Obama had offered Clinton a “negotiated surrender” that included a possible post as health secretary in an Obama administration.TelegraphA human-rights organization accused the Bush Administration of operating “floating prisons” by holding suspected terrorists on ships and of continuing its policy of extraordinary rendition, a practice it claimed to have discontinued in 2006.GuardianJohn McCain shifted a fund-raiser attended by Bush from the Phoenix Convention Center to a private home, confining his on-camera public appearance with the president to 25 seconds at an airport. New York TimesMcCain’s campaign manager, former lobbyist Rick Davis, was slowly and quietly purging lobbyists from the campaign’s ranks.New York TimesMonkeys were able to move a robot arm with their thoughts. New York Times

At a literary festival in Wales, British columnist George Monbiot attempted a citizen’s arrest of John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on charges of war crimes, but was obstructed by security guards.Democracy NowCanadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier resigned shortly before his ex-girlfriend Julie Couillard told a television interviewer that Bernier had left classified NATO documents about Afghanistan in her apartment and had encouraged her to wear a low-cut blouse to his swearing-in in order to attract media attention. It subsequently came to light that Couillard, a former model, had lived with one member of the Quebec Hell’s Angels (who was arrested for possession of submachine guns and marijuana, then turned police informant, and was found dead in a ditch), married and divorced another, and was marked for death by the head Angel, a man named “Mom.” “I don’t care about her cleavage,” said MP Michael Ignatieff, deputy leader of the Liberal opposition. “But this stuff is not only my business, it is the business of all Canadians.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative, rejected calls for an investigation into the scandal.New York TimesNational PostBritish archaeologists discovered that Stonehenge was a cemetery for the elite, New York TimesLa Scala announced that it will produce Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” as an opera,Breitbartand structures built for the 2004 AthensOlympics were falling into ruin.Telegraph

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It has become something of a commonplace to say that Mike Pence belongs to another era. He is a politician whom the New York Times has called a “throwback,” a “conservative proudly out of sync with his times,” and a “dangerous anachronism,” a man whose social policies and outspoken Christian faith are so redolent of the previous century’s culture wars that he appeared to have no future until, in the words of one journalist, he was plucked “off the political garbage heap” by Donald Trump and given new life. Pence’s rise to the vice presidency was not merely a personal advancement; it marked the return of religion and ideology to American politics at a time when the titles of political analyses were proclaiming the Twilight of Social Conservatism (2015) and the End of White Christian America (2016). It revealed the furious persistence of the religious right, an entity whose final demise was for so long considered imminent that even as white evangelicals came out in droves to support the Trump-Pence ticket, their enthusiasm was dismissed, in the Washington Post, as the movement’s “last spastic breath.”

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Just after dawn in Lhamo, a small town on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau, horns summon the monks of Serti Monastery to prayer. Juniper incense smolders in the temple’s courtyard as monks begin arriving in huddled groups. Some walk the kora, a clockwise circumambulation around the building. Others hustle toward the main door, which sits just inside a porch decorated in bright thangka paintings. A pile of fur boots accumulates outside. When the last monks have arrived, the horn blowers leaning out of the second-floor windows retire indoors.

When I visited Lhamo in 2015, most monks at Serti attended the morning prayers, but not Ngawang Chötar, the vice president of the monastery’s management committee, or siguanhui. Instead, he could usually be found doing business somewhere on Lhamo’s main street. Like all Tibetan monks, he sports a buzz cut, and his gait, weighed down by dark crimson robes, resembles a penguin’s shuffle. When he forgets the password to his account on WeChat, China’s popular messaging service—a frequent occurrence—he waits for the town’s cell phone repairman at his favorite restaurant, piling the shells of sunflower seeds into a tidy mound.

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As he approached his death in 1987, the photographer Peter Hujar was all but unknown, with a murky reputation and a tiny, if elite, cult following. Slowly circling down what was then the hopeless spiral of ­AIDS, Peter had ceaselessly debated one decision, which he reached only with difficulty, and only when the end drew near. He was in a hospital bed when he made his will that summer, naming me the executor of his entire artistic estate—and also its sole owner.

The move transformed my life and induced a seething fury in lots of decent people. I can see why. Peter did not make me his heir for any of the usual reasons. I was a good and trusted friend, but he had scads of those. I was not the first person he considered for the job, nor was I the most qualified. In fact, I was a rank amateur, and my understanding of his art was limited. I knew his photographs were stunning, often upsetting, unpredictably beautiful, distinctively his. I also knew they were under­rated and neglected. But I did not then really grasp his achievement.

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The friendly waitress at the Pretty Prairie Steak House delivers tumblers of tap water as soon as diners take their seats. Across Main Street, the Wagon Wheel Café offers the same courtesy. Customers may also order coffee or iced tea, but it all starts at the same tap, and everyone is fine with that. This blasé attitude about drinking water surprised me: everyone in this little farm town in Reno County, Kansas, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the liquid flowing from the municipal water tower was highly contaminated with nitrate, a chemical compound derived from fertilizer and connected to thyroid problems and various cancers. At the time I visited Pretty Prairie, last fall, nitrate levels there were more than double the federal standard for safe drinking water.

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The truth—that thing I thought I was telling.—John Ashbery To start with the facts: the chapter in my book White Sands called “Pilgrimage” is about a visit to the house where the philosopher Theodor Adorno lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War. It takes its title from the story of that name by Susan Sontag (recently republished in Debriefing: Collected Stories) about a visit she and her friend Merrill made to the house of Adorno’s fellow German exile Thomas Mann in the Pacific Palisades, in 1947, when she was fourteen. It seemed strange that the story was originally …
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