Weekly Review — March 24, 2009, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Tempest, December 1878]

The House of Representatives, reacting to a plan by AIG to pay its executives as much as $218 million in bonuses, voted 328 to 93 in favor of a 90-percent tax on executive bonuses at firms that receive $5 billion or more in federal funds. Eighty-five Republicans voted for the bill despite their party’s traditional opposition to tax increases. “The American people,” explained Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), “are all watching here.” “The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them,” said Senator Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) of the AIG executives, “if theyâ??d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow, and say Iâ??m sorry, and then either do one of two things–resign, or go commit suicide.”PoliticoCBCNews.caPoliticoThe Congressional Budget Office announced that the Obama Administration’s budget proposals will create $9.3 trillion in deficits over the next decade, and First Lady Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden.New York TimesNew York TimesPresident Barack Obama appeared on Jay Leno and described his bowling as so poor that it was “like the Special Olympics or something,” and released a video to the Iranian people, timed to coincide with Nowruz, the Persian New Year. “Let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi,” said Obama, “so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.'” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, responded to Obama’s call for a “new beginning.” “They chant the slogan of change,” he said, “but no change is seen in practice.”The San Francisco ChronicleThe International Herald TribuneAl JazeeraThe Iraq war turned six.Gawker

Pope Benedict XVI visited Africa. In Angola he warned against witchcraft, corruption, and condoms, and two girls were trampled to death at a stadium where he appeared. “I entrust them to Jesus,” he said, “so that he welcomes them into his kingdom.” Pygmies in Cameroon built a ceremonial hut outside the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde and presented the Pope with a basket, a cloth mat, and a turtle.BBCNew York TimesAgence France PresseCatholic NewsA 34-year-old army-backed DJ, Andry Rajoelina, was inaugurated as president of Madagascar, dissolved parliament, and promised to hold elections within two years.The GuardianAFP via Google NewsA pink baby elephant was discovered in Botswana.BBCA massive earthquake off Tonga triggered an underwater volcanic eruption that unleashed a 13-mile-high plume of smoke. “We are quite lucky,” said Tonga’s chief seismologist, “not to get a tsunami.”TelegraphThe Environmental Protection Agency submitted for White House approval a proposal finding that global warming endangers public health and welfare,The Washington Postand transcripts emerged from a March 6 radio appearance by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in which he discussed climate change. “We are cooling,” explained Steele. “We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about.”New York TimesFloods in Namibia killed 92 people,Associatd Press/International Herald Tribuneand Turkish police dispersed protesters at a global water-shortage summit in Istanbul by spraying them with water cannons.Reuters

Somali pirates freed an Indian ship carrying rice and wheat and captured a Greek cargo ship carrying iron.XinhuaCNNA plane carrying 17 people, many of them children, to a ski holiday crashed next to a Montana cemetery, killing all aboard.CNNReutersActress Natasha Richardson, 45, died from a head injury sustained while learning to ski,Entertainment Tonightand 27-year-old British reality-TV star Jade Goody died of cervical cancer. “She was a courageous woman,” said Prime Minister Gordon Brown.Daily MailThe United Kingdom released documents showing that, between 1987 and 1993, it was officially concerned with UFOs; one document described a woman meeting an extraterrestrial with a slight Scandinavian accent.Radio NetherlandsEgyptologists in Bonn, Germany, were hoping to use computer tomography to recreate the perfume worn by Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut in 1479 B.C.,Science DailyCanadian paleontologists found that tiny velociraptor-like dinosaurs smaller than housecats roamed North America 75 million years ago, Science Dailyand physicists at Fermilab in Illinois announced a new particle, Y(4140), but could not explain how it came to be. “Y(4140),” said one physicist unaffiliated with Fermilab, “is part of this whole class of objects which people don’t really understand.”National Geographic NewsSylvia Plath’s son, evolutionary biologist Nicholas Hughes, hanged himself in Alaska.The New York Times

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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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A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.

I rose long before dawn, too thrilled to sleep, and set off to find my tribe. North from Greenville in the dark, past towns with names like Sans Souci and Travelers Rest, over the border into North Carolina, through land so choked by kudzu that the overgrown trees in the dark looked like great creatures petrified in mid-flight. The weirdness of this scene would, by the end of the weekend, show itself to be appropriate: my trip would be all about romanticism, and romanticism is a human collision with place that results, as Baudelaire put it, “neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” My rental car’s engine whined as it climbed the mountains. Day was just breaking when I nosed down a hill to Orchard Lake Campground, where tents were still being erected in the dimness.

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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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