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

Weekly Review

[Image: All In My Eye, December 1853]

An American cattleman.

Sonia Sotomayor, who is expected to be confirmed to the Supreme Court in August, was interrogated for four days by Democratic and Republican senators of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans grilled Sotomayor on her legal positions. Democrats lauded her; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) said that her life story gave him “piel de gallina,” or goose bumps. Sotomayor was, however, not able to answer when Senator Al Franken (D., Minn.) asked her to name the one case that Perry Mason lost. “Didn’t the White House prepare you for that?” he said. Reporters noted that Sotomayor was “a big toucher” who responded to Republican senators’ proffered handshakes with a warm smile and a squeeze of their shoulders, and they also pointed out that on the second day of the hearings, when the judge was asked by Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) to explain her “wise Latina woman” comment, she blinked at least 247 times while answering, averaging 90 blinks per minute in the morning; that rate decreased to 50 blinks per minute in the afternoon. At least four anti-abortion protesters were arrested at the hearings, including 61-year-old Norma McCorvey, better known as Jane Roe, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that made abortion legal.Washington PostWashington PostWashington PostWashington PostWashington PostA tiny species of Mexican shrew, previously thought extinct, was rediscovered.BBC

At the convention to honor the hundredth anniversary of the NAACP, President Obama admonished African Americans for their poor parenting, telling them they had to start “putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour.”New York TimesSome worried that Obama was no longer cool after he appeared at the All-Star baseball game (where he threw a lob ball that didn’t clear the plate) wearing “dad jeans.” “I suppose President Obama is indeed a father, so we should allow him such a strike against humanity,” said one blogger. “I thought he was cooler than that, somehow.”PoliticoAuditors questioned whether Crocs Shoe Company, which lost more than $185 million last year, could remain solvent.Washington PostThe Pope fractured his wrist;The Telegraphthe Episcopal Church voted to overturn a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops.New York TimesAn amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that extends federal hate-crimes protections to gays was under consideration in the Senate;Miami Heraldand Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages during his presidency, said he is “basically in support” of gay marriage. CBS NewsHarry and Pepper, gaypenguins who since 2003 have nested together at the San Francisco Zoo, broke up after Harry had an affair with Linda, a recently widowed penguin who seduced Harry in her deceased husband’s burrow. “To be completely anthropomorphizing,” said zookeeper Anthony Brown, “Linda seems conniving.”The Daily TelegraphSeventeen-year-old lesbian Cheyenne Cherry pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty for baking her former lover’s kitten in a 500-degree oven,Gothamistand scientists found that cats have developed a “soliciting purr” (different from regular purrs because they are embedded with a “cry”) that can manipulate humans into giving them food and affection. BBCWalter Cronkite died.New York Times

North Korea launched its first television commercial for Taedonggang beer, the “Pride of Pyongyang,” which promises to relieve stress;BBCstress-relief was also the reason offered by Japanese manufacturer Wishroom for the success of its line of male bras. AnanovaThe unemployment rate was rising for Japan’s robots,New York Timesand, following reports suggesting that EATR, a steam-powered, biomass-consuming military robot, could feed on dead bodies, its makers released assurances that the robot is a vegetarian.Fox NewsThick dark blobs of unidentifiable goo were floating in the Arctic Ocean,Anchorage Daily Newsdivers off the coast of San Diego were attacked by jumbo flying squid,BBCand at least nine shark-bite survivors went to Capitol Hill to lobby Senators in defense of sharks.Washington PostA German “molecular” chef, using liquid nitrogen to prepare a dish, blew off his hands,The Localand scientists found that swearing alleviates pain.AnanovaBefore police rescued him, a three-year-old Canadian boy spent two hours floating down Peace River atop his toy truck.Yahoo NewsTwo Chicago teens sneaked into a 66-year-old man’s home while he was watching television in bed, pulled off his prosthetic legs, and ran off with them.Chicago Sun-TimesA brothel in Berlin began offering a discount to customers who arrive by bicycle.AnanovaResearchers found that amphibians enjoy mating by the light of a full moon.BBC

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The city was not beautiful; no one made that claim for it. At the height of summer, people in suits, shellacked by the sun, moved like harassed insects to avoid the concentrated light. There was a civil war–like fracture in America—the president had said so—but little of it showed in the capital. Everyone was polite and smooth in their exchanges. The corridor between Dupont Circle and Georgetown was like the dream of Yugoslav planners: long blocks of uniform earth-toned buildings that made the classical edifices of the Hill seem the residue of ancestors straining for pedigree. Bunting, starched and perfectly ruffled in red-white-and-blue fans, hung everywhere—from air conditioners, from gutters, from statues of dead revolutionaries. Coming from Berlin, where the manual laborers are white, I felt as though I was entering the heart of a caste civilization. Untouchables in hard hats drilled into sidewalks, carried pylons, and ate lunch from metal boxes, while waiters in restaurants complimented old respectable bobbing heads on how well they were progressing with their rib eyes and iceberg wedges.

I had come to Washington to witness either the birth of an ideology or what may turn out to be the passing of a kidney stone through the Republican Party. There was a new movement afoot: National Conservatives, they called themselves, and they were gathering here, at the Ritz-Carlton, at 22nd Street and M. Disparate tribes had posted up for the potlatch: reformacons, blood-and-soilers, curious liberal nationalists, “Austrians,” repentant neocons, evangelical Christians, corporate raiders, cattle ranchers, Silicon Valley dissidents, Buckleyites, Straussians, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Tories, dark-web spiders, tradcons, Lone Conservatives, Fed-Socs, Young Republicans, Reaganites in amber. Most straddled more than one category.

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The second-worst thing about cancer chairs is that they are attached to televisions. Someone somewhere is always at war with silence. It’s impossible to read, so I answer email, or watch some cop drama on my computer, or, if it seems unavoidable, explore the lives of my nurses. A trip to Cozumel with old girlfriends, a costume party with political overtones, an advanced degree on the internet: they’re all the same, these lives, which is to say that the nurses tell me nothing, perhaps because amid the din and pain it’s impossible to say anything of substance, or perhaps because they know that nothing is precisely what we both expect. It’s the very currency of the place. Perhaps they are being excruciatingly candid.

There is a cancer camaraderie I’ve never felt. That I find inimical, in fact. Along with the official optimism that percolates out of pamphlets, the milestone celebrations that seem aimed at children, the lemonade people squeeze out of their tumors. My stoniness has not always served me well. Among the cancer staff, there is special affection for the jocular sufferer, the one who makes light of lousy bowel movements and extols the spiritual tonic of neuropathy. And why not? Spend your waking life in hell, and you too might cherish the soul who’d learned to praise the flames. I can’t do it. I’m not chipper by nature, and just hearing the word cancer makes me feel like I’m wearing a welder’s mask.

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When Demétrio Martins was ready to preach, he pushed a joystick that angled the seat of his wheelchair forward, slowly lifting him to a standing position. Restraints held his body upright. His atrophied right arm lay on an armrest, and with his left hand, he put a microphone to his lips. “Proverbs, chapter fourteen, verse twelve,” he said. “ ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is . . .’ ”

The congregation finished: “ ‘Death.’ ”

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Every year in Lusk, Wyoming, during the second week of July, locals gather to reenact a day in 1849 when members of a nearby band of Sioux are said to have skinned a white man alive. None of the actors are Native American. The white participants dress up like Indians and redden their skin with body paint made from iron ore.

The town prepares all year, and the performance, The Legend of Rawhide, has a cast and crew of hundreds, almost all local volunteers, including elementary school children. There are six generations of Rawhide actors in one family; three or four generations seems to be the average. The show is performed twice, on Friday and Saturday night.

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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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