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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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.

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

$1,500

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 federal judge in South Carolina ruled in favor of personal-injury lawyer George Sink Sr., who had sued his son, George Sink Jr., for using his own name at his competing law firm.

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