Weekly Review — July 15, 2008, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Tempest, December 1878]

The U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision seized the IndyMac Bank of California, worth an estimated 32 billion dollars, after the bank’s closure in the wake of mortgage industry collapse,AFPand the Bush Administration proposed a rescue package for ailing mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that would allow the Treasury to buy billions of dollars of their stock and lend them billions more to meet their short-term funding needs. The two companies’ total debt is estimated at $1.54 trillion.NYTimesAbu Dhabi bought New York City’sChrysler building for $800 million,GuardianUKand the Belgian brewer InBev planned to buy Anheuser-Busch for nearly $50 billion.AP via GoogleThe Environmental Protection Agency announced that the value of an American’s “statistical life” was $6.9 million, $1 million less than 5 years ago.APRepublican strategist Karl Rove ignored a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, citing “executive privilege,”CNNand the Green Party selected Cynthia McKinney, the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Georgia, as its 2008 presidential nominee.ABCPresident George W. Bush met with other world leaders at the G8 summit to discuss climate change. “Goodbye,” he said as he left, grinning and punching the air, “from the world’s biggest polluter.”Telegraph UK

Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow died of cancer,Foxand Iran released photos of a missile test that had been doctored to make it look as if four missiles were being launched instead of three.NYTimesMak Erot, an Indonesian woman who used herbs, Islamic prayer, and supernatural powers to enlarge penises, died at 130.BreitbartA new report revealed that the global population of zooplankton has drastically shrunk in the last forty years,BBCand world space officials announced the launch of a 2018 mission to procure samples of Martian rock and soil.BBCThe British retailer Marks & Spencer defended a policy of charging extra for bras that are bigger than size DD, saying the charge represented “a small premium for [necessary] specialist work,” while the protest group Busts 4 Justice derided the price increase as an unfair tax.BBCA British teenager who assumed that tremors in her bosom were caused by her vibrating mobile phone found a baby bat nestling in the padding of her 34FF bra.BBCThe World Health Organization warned people not to go into Ugandan bat caves after a Dutch tourist died from the Marburg virus, a hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola.BBCScientists discovered a new form of mad cow disease in the United States.BBC

The European Parliament censured Italy for preemptively fingerprinting gypsies in a measure designed to reduce crime.BBCTexas police were searching for a burglar who kicked a two-month-old puppy,WOAI.comand police in Germany were searching for the Rabbit Ripper, who kidnaps rabbits from their hutches, decapitates them, siphons their blood into bottles, and leaves their headless bodies on playgrounds.BBCOsama Bin Ladenâ??s teenage son Hamza wrote and posted online a poem asking God for help against Western “gangs of infidels,”Telegraph UKand Senator Barack Obama alienated many supporters by voting to authorize the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expands the government’s power to spy on Americans without a search warrant and provides retroactive immunity for telecommunications firms that had cooperated with the government’s previously illegal wiretaps. Earlier in the campaign, Obama had promised to filibuster any bill that provided such immunity.NYTimesThe Reverend Jesse Jackson apologized for saying of Obama that that he wanted to “cut his nuts out.”DrudgeObama admitted that he disliked ice cream,YouTubelightning struck a New Hampshire woman and exited through her nose ring, leaving her unscathed,Breitbartand Danish scientists found that infants born from once-frozen embryos had a higher birth weight and fewer twin siblings, and were less likely to suffer from abnormalities. “Only the very top quality embryos,” explained Dr. Anja Pinborg, “survive the freezing and thawing process.”Telegraph UK

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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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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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