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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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.

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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.

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The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

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