Weekly Review — December 1, 2009, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: All In My Eye, December 1853]

An American cattleman.

News leaked that President Barack Obama would send roughly 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, with the possibility of sending 10,000 more in a year, even as NATO allies spoke about withdrawing their own forces. Both Democrats and Republicans were skeptical of the strategy; Republican Senator Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) said that the call for phased deployment was “reminiscent of Vietnam.” Obama is expected, in a forthcoming speech at West Point, to provide a time frame for when American forces will leave the country and to stress that the goal in Afghanistan is to “defeat” Al Qaeda. The Daily BeastTalking Points MemoTalking Points MemoA Senate report revealed that Donald Rumsfeld, by failing to launch a rapid assault on Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001, allowed bin Laden to escape capture.Talking Points MemoChildren were finding work as food smugglers along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “I want to have an easy job,” said eight-year-old Sabar Mina, a Pakistani girl who earns 20 cents per trip to support her family. “A job where nobody hits us or hurts us.”CNNA survey found that 10 percent of Americans under the age of 35, facing financial difficulties, had moved back in with their parents.New York TimesObama pardoned Courage the turkey.New York Times

Florida police were searching for a 35-year-old man who after Thanksgiving dinner fatally shot his aunt, his twin sisters, and his six-year-old cousin who was in bed resting before her performance in “The Nutcracker” the next day.BreitbartPolice in Washington state were searching for a man who shot and killed four police officers as they worked on their laptops inside a Forza coffeeshop.New York TimesScientists found that drinking a cup of Brazilian mint tea can alleviate pain.BBCA Quebec woman who was on paid sick leave after being diagnosed with depression said that her insurance company denied her health benefits after it found photos on her Facebook page that purportedly prove her capable of having fun.Time MagazinePhotographs on the Facebook page of Michaele Salahi, a Virginia woman who hopes to become a star on the upcoming reality show “The Real Housewives of D.C.,” revealed that she and her husband, Tareq, crashed Obama’s first state dinner, where they shook hands with the president and received a warm hug from Vice President Joe Biden. Washington PostThe University of California, Santa Cruz, was seeking a librarian to catalog the Grateful Dead archive.UC Santa Cruz University LibraryLeeds University was searching for a researcher to study lap dancing, and Copenhagen was worried about sex slavery, with women on sale for as little as 15,000 kroner.AnanovaThe Copenhagen PostA crowd gathered outside a Sydney clock tower to watch an Australian couple have intercourse,Ananovaand Vincent Van Gogh’s complete letters were published. “Eat well,” Van Gogh wrote to a fellow painter. “Don’t fuck too hard; if you don’t fuck too hard, your painting will be all the spunkier for it.”The Guardian

Scientists counted more than 17,000 species of creatures living at least three miles below the world’s oceans, 5,600 of them previously unknown, including Enypiastes, a translucent sea cucumber.Washington PostLucky, the world’s oldest sheep, succumbed to heatstroke and died, toothless and arthritic, at the age of 23;BBCzookeepers at the Chongqing Wild Animal Park, China, were dismayed to find that the zoo’s five white tigers had become so domesticated they were scared of the live chickens they were meant to eat;Ananovaand fifteen firefighters went to an Australian home to look for a reported gas leak but found instead a fat farting pig.ABC NewsHundreds of thousands of Hindus converged in Nepal for the world’s largest animal sacrifice festival, a two-day event in honor of Gadhimai, a goddess of power, during which more than 250,000 animals were slaughtered, including 15,000 male water buffalos and at least 100,000 goats.CNNWild camels in search of water overran a small Australian town, trampling fences and smashing water tanks; authorities planned to corral about 6,000 of the animals with helicopters and gun them down.USA TodayA Pittsburgh man told police that he killed Flip, his girlfriend’s 13-week-old puppy, because the pit bull would not behave before the start of a Steelers game,Pittsburgh Post Gazetteand Tiger Woods hit a tree in his SUV.The New York TimesThe Swiss banned further construction of minarets;Swiss Vote to Ban New MinaretsChristians in Jerusalem wanted Jews to stop spitting on them;Haaretzand ten Florida middle schoolers were suspended for participating in Kick a Jew Day.Naples News

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Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

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This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

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A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.

I rose long before dawn, too thrilled to sleep, and set off to find my tribe. North from Greenville in the dark, past towns with names like Sans Souci and Travelers Rest, over the border into North Carolina, through land so choked by kudzu that the overgrown trees in the dark looked like great creatures petrified in mid-flight. The weirdness of this scene would, by the end of the weekend, show itself to be appropriate: my trip would be all about romanticism, and romanticism is a human collision with place that results, as Baudelaire put it, “neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” My rental car’s engine whined as it climbed the mountains. Day was just breaking when I nosed down a hill to Orchard Lake Campground, where tents were still being erected in the dimness.

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Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

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Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

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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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