Weekly Review — April 21, 2009, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Caught in the Web, 1860]

Caught in the Web, 1860.

The Department of Justice released four Office of Legal Counsel memos, issued in 2002 and 2005, to address CIA concerns that interrogation methods used on some high-level Al Qaeda members in custody were torture. Besides waterboarding, stress positions, slapping, and face-grabbing, the memos permitted “walling,” or repeatedly slamming prisoners into fake, flexible walls specially designed to make a loud noise when people are slammed into them; keeping a prisoner awake and shackled upright for more than a week, if “diapers are checked and changed as needed”; and putting a prisoner who is scared of insects in a box with a harmless insect and telling him that the insect had a stinger. President Barack Obama said that those “who acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice” would not be prosecuted. New York TimesNew York TimesWashington PostGuardianMiami HeraldAP via YahooDoJSources identified as “two former senior national-security officials” said that Representative Jane Harman (D., Calif.) was caught on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli spy that she would try to get the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. “Three top former national security officials” said that Alberto Gonzales stopped an FBI investigation of Harman in order to win her support for the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. CQAn unnamed intelligence official also said that, in 2005 or 2006, the NSA tried to spy on an unnamed member of Congress while he was traveling in the Middle East but that the plan was dropped over concerns about warrantless wiretapping of members of Congress.New York TimesFifty men dressed as Abraham Lincoln toured Washington, D.C., and one Lincoln impersonator was invited to Guam to help celebrate Law Day, an American holiday honoring the rule of law. Washington PostPacific Daily News

J. G. Ballard died, BBCNew York Timesand astrophysicists debuted a handheld laser that can pinpoint mosquitos and light them on fire, one by one. PhysOrg.comFour baby Stimson’s pythons escaped from a cargo container on a Qantas plane in Melbourne, Australia, and the plane was grounded so that the tiny snakes could be gassed. The AgeTwenty-one horses at the U.S. Open Polo Championship collapsed and died of unknown causes, Palm Beach Postand thousands of dolphins blocked Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden from attacking Chinese merchant ships. XinhuaSomalia’s parliament voted to institute sharia law. “God is great,” said Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Osman Elmi Boqore, twice. New York TimesThree hundred women in Kabul protested a new law making it illegal for a woman to refuse her husband’s sexual advances for more than four days in a row unless she is ill or menstruating. “Get out of here, you whores!” yelled counterdemonstrators. “Death to the enemies of Islam!”The Irish TimesNew York TimesFeminist and queer theorist Eve Sedgwick, author of “Epistemology of the Closet” and “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl,” died of breast cancer,The NationToronto StarNew York Timesand biologists at the University of Arizona identified an all-female species of ant, in which every daughter is a clone of their colony’s queen. The ants cultivate gardens of fungi that also reproduce asexually. Yahoo

U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Hatley was sentenced to life in prison for killing four bound and blindfolded Iraqis in 2007. “He loved his soldiers too much,” defense lawyer David Court said, “that was his crime.”TPMAP via YahooThe Army stopped signing up felons and recent drug users. According to the Pentagon’s top recruiting official, “cutbacks at Best Buy” made it easier to recruit better-qualified young people. Washington PostThree hundred people in Oklahoma City commemorated the fourteenth anniversary of the bombing of the federal building there, AP via Tulsa Worldand 300,000 people gathered in small groups across the country to protest the bailouts, the economic stimulus plan, taxes, and the federal government. “We’ve got a great union,” said Texas Governor Rick Perry at a protest in Austin. “There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that?” In a possible reference to the Boston Tea Party, one protestor threw a box of teabags at the White House. After a robot inspected the box, the Secret Service declared it harmless. ForbesMedia MattersAP via Googlefivethirtyeight.comNew York TimesNew York TimesWashington PostLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Consumer Price Index fell for the first time since 1955, BloombergGuardianand bankrupt Lehman Brothers made plans to sell its 500,000-pound stockpile of yellowcake uranium, which has recently plummeted in value. “This is not like playing copper where it’s a liquid and deep market,” explained hedge-fund manager John Wong. “A lot of the funds playing this market have blown up.”Bloomberg

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Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Good Bad Bad Good·

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Poem for Harm·

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Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

Constitution in Crisis·

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America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Life after Life·

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


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.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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