Weekly Review — September 22, 2009, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

After months of negotiation by the bipartisan “gang of six” in the Senate, Senator Max Baucus unveiled his $776-billion health-care reform bill, which is supported by none of the gang’s three Republican members and received a lukewarm response from Democrats. Baucus’s plan, which includes member-run insurance co-operatives but no public option, would mandate that all Americans buy insurance and would provide subsidies for those who can’t afford it. The subsidies would be paid for in part by an excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans, including those provided to firefighters, coal miners, and many other union workers. “That’s not really a smart idea,” said Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller. The bill will now be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee, whose members have already drafted at least 564 amendments.Washington PostMinnesota Star TribuneThe NoteNewserOne year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the recession is “very likely over.” He added that many people will continue to “find that their job security and their employment status is not what they wish it was.”New York TimesA North Carolina man had surgery to remove a plastic spoon that had been in his lung for two years. “There was an object down there, and it had writing on it,” the man said. “It spelled out ‘Wendy’s’ on one side and ‘hamburgers’ on the other.”CNN

A quarter of the votes in Afghanistan’s presidential elections were under review for fraud, including hundreds of thousands from polling stations where every vote went to incumbent Hamid Karzai; General Stanley McChrystal, America’s top commander there, said that without additional troops the war “will likely result in failure,” adding that Afghans have “little reason to support their government.” President Barack Obama said that sending more troops would put the cart before the horse.The New York TimesThe New York TimesAn Australian quadriplegic who had won a landmark “right to die” court decision exercised that right,New York Timesand France announced plans to factor happiness into calculations of its gross national product.Financial TimesSultan Kosen of Turkey was named the world’s tallest man. “The first thing I want to do is have a car that I can fit in,” said Kosen, who is 8’1″. “But more than that I want to get married.”BBC NewsOne-time child music prodigy Helen Goddard, now a music teacher in London and known as “jazz lady,” was sent to jail for having sex with a 15-year-old female student who she claimed had pressured her into the relationship.BBC NewsActor and dirty dancer Patrick Swayze, folk singer Mary Travers, shopping mall pioneer Melvin Simon, and Irving Kristol, the “godfather of neo-conservatism,” died,Entertainment WeeklyNew York TimesReutersForbesand South Africa’s sports minister threatened to start “a third world war” if hermaphrodite runner Caster Semenya was barred from competition. Later, the president of Athletics South Africa admitted that the organization had administered earlier gender tests on Semenya and that the team’s doctor had recommended that she withdraw from races.The IndependentThe Guardian

FBI raids in Denver and New York led to the arrest of three men alleged to have links to Al Qaeda and to have been planning terrorist attacks on targets in New York City.CBS NewsA college student in Baltimore killed a burglar in his off-campus home with a samurai sword,Daily Newsa Wichita couple were robbed at knifepoint while attempting to have sex in a dumpster,The Wichita Eagleand a man in Wisconsin was arrested after planning to slash the face of the woman he loved and torch her Toyota in order to “be there for her.”The Milwaukee Wisonsin Journal SentinelIt was revealed via Twitter that President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” and that a coyote ran off with Jessica Simpson’s maltipoo.Yahoo NewsCNNBased on a single fossil smuggled out of China, paleontologists announced the discovery of the Raptorex, a roughly human-sized version of the Tyrannosaurus rex.Washington PostResearchers determined that watermelon may help men get erections,BBC Newsand John Edwards was said to be contemplating a public admission that he did in fact father a child with his mistress, whom he allegedly promised a rooftop wedding in New York City, with a performance by the Dave Matthews Band.The New York Times

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“You’re being reborn,” the voice says. “Exiting the womb of your mother. Coming into the earth as a small baby. Everything is new.” It is a Saturday morning in mid-March, and right now I’m lying on a yoga mat in a lodge in Ohio, surrounded by fifty other men who’ve come to the Midwest for a weekend of manhood-confirming adventures. The voice in question belongs to Aaron Blaine, a facilitator for Evryman, the men’s group orchestrating this three-day retreat. All around me, men are shedding tears as Blaine leads us on a guided meditation, a kind of archetypal montage of Norman Rockwell boyhood. “You’re starting to figure things out,” he says, in somniferous baritone. “Snow, for the first time. Sunshine. Start to notice the smells, the tastes, the confusion. The fear. And you’re growing. You’re about ten years old. The world’s huge and scary.”

Even though it’s only the second day of the Evryman retreat, it’s worth noting that I’ve already been the subject of light fraternal teasing. Already I’ve been the recipient of countless unsought hugs. Already I have sat in Large Groups and Small Groups, and watched dozens of middle-aged men weep with shame and contrition. I’ve had a guy in the military tell me he wants to be “a rock for his family.” I’ve heard a guy from Ohio say that his beard “means something.” Twice I’ve hiked through the woods to “reconnect with Mother Nature,” and I have been addressed by numerous men as both “dude” and “brother.” I have performed yoga and yard drills and morning calisthenics. I’ve heard seven different men play acoustic guitar. I’ve heard a man describe his father by saying, “There wasn’t a lot of ball-tossing when I was growing up.” Three times I’ve been queried about how I’m “processing everything,” and at the urinal on Friday night, two men warned me about the upcoming “Anger Ceremony,” which is rumored to be the weekend’s “pièce de résistance.”

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The WASP story is personal for me. I arrived at Yale in 1971 from a thoroughly mediocre suburb in New Jersey, the second-generation hybrid of Irish and Italian stock riding the postwar boom. Those sockless people in Top-Siders, whose ancestors’ names and portraits adorned the walls, were entirely new to me. I made friends with some, but I was not free of a corrosive envy of their habitus of ease and entitlement.

I used to visit one of those friends in the Hamptons, in the 1970s, when the area was about wood-paneled Ford station wagons, not Lamborghinis. There was some money in the family, but not gobs, yet they lived two blocks from the beach—prime real estate. Now, down the road from what used to be their house is the residence of Ira Rennert. It’s one of the largest private homes in the United States. The union-busting, pension-fund-looting Rennert, whose wealth comes from, among other things, chemical companies that are some of the worst polluters in the country, made his first money in the 1980s as a cog in Michael Milken’s junk-bond machine. In 2015, a court ordered him to return $215 million he had appropriated from one of his companies to pay for the house. One-hundred-car garages and twenty-one (or maybe twenty-nine) bedrooms don’t come cheap.

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I slept for a good seven hours on the overnight flight from Spain to Peru, and while I slept I dreamed that I was leading American visitors around a park in Berlin, looking for birds on a hazy, overcast day. There wasn’t much to see until we noticed a distant commotion in the sky. Large raptors were panicking, driven back and forth by something threatening them from above. The commotion moved closer. The clouds parted, an oval aperture backed with blue. In it two seraphim hovered motionless. “Those are angels,” I told the group.

They were between us and the sun, but an easy ­I.D. Size aside, no other European bird has two sets of wings. The upper wings cast their faces into shadow. Despite the glare I could make out their striking peaches-­and-­cream coloration. Ivory white predominates, hair a faint yellow, eyes blue, wings indescribably iridescent. Faces blank and expressionless, as with all birds.

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Last May, the families of students at Cypress Academy, an independent charter school in New Orleans, received an email announcing that the school would close when classes ended the following week and that all its students would be transferred to another nearby charter for the upcoming year. Parents would have the option of entering their children in the city’s charter-enrollment lottery, but the lottery’s first round had already taken place, and the most desirable spots for the fall were filled.

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how high? that high

He had his stick that was used mostly to point at your head if your head wasn’t held up proudly.

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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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