Weekly Review — October 12, 2010, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Christian martyr, 1855]

A Christian martyr.

The United Nations hosted a six-day climate-change conference in China with the aim of accelerating “the search for common ground” among developed and developing nations on preventing global warming. “As governments, you can continue to stand still or move forward,” said the UNâ??s climate-change chief at the start of the conference. “Now is the time to make that choice.” The conference ended in a deadlock. BBCAn investigation by the German government found that rich countries are not honoring their $30 billion pledge from Copenhagen to help poor countries adapt to climate change; rich countries are instead repackaging previously committed aid. “Treasuries don’t allow ministers to make spending pledges,” explained one former diplomat. “They go into a side room and warn there is no new money availableâ??then they get creative as to how to present a package that will look good on paper.” GuardianBBCA study of a major period of global warming 125,000 years ago led scientists to conclude that current emission-reduction targets are not ambitious enough to prevent catastrophic effects. Scientists also reported that the glaciers of Glacier National Park were disappearing. Science DailyCNNFloods ravaged central Vietnam, killing fifteen people and forcing thousands to flee, and researchers warned of “evapotranspiration,” which has been drying up soil in the Southern Hemisphere.BBCScience DailyA 600-foot-long crevice appeared in the Michigan woods. Upper MichiganThe White House got solar panels.Washington Post

Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence on charges of inciting subversion of state power after he called for political reforms and human rights, won the Nobel Peace Prize, a recognition that the Chinese government labelled “blasphemy.” Chinese officials blocked news agencies from reporting on the award and put Liu’s wife under house arrest. Globe and MailNew York TimesAfter the wall of an aluminum-plant reservoir in Hungary burst, 24 million cubic feet of toxic red sludge flooded nearby villages, killing seven people. “I hung in the sludge for forty-five minutes,” said resident Etelka Stump. “It had a strong current that almost swept me away but I managed to hang on to a strong piece of wood from the pigsty.” CNNNew York TimesBBCJPMorgan Chase and Bank of America suspended their foreclosure proceedings amid challenges to the legality of some foreclosures and concerns of flawed paperwork.New York TimesThe father of Christine O’Donnell, the U.S. Senate candidate in Delaware who has been accused of padding her online resume, admitted that he was not an official Bozo the Clown but only a part-time Bozo. “To be an official Bozo, you had to go to a special school in Texas,” he said.New York TimesPhotos emerged of Democratic Virginia congressional candidate Krystal Ball at a Christmas party wearing a leotard and a Santa hat and holding a leash attached to the neck of her then husband, and The HillOhioRepublican congressional candidate Rich Iott was found to be an avid Nazi reenactor. “It’s purely historical interest in World War II,” said Iott.The AtlanticBolivian President Evo Morales apologized for kneeing an opponent in the groin during a friendly soccer match between members of Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism party and the opposition party, Movement Without Fear.BBCThe Cuban government made the two-pocket guayabera the official uniform of Cuba.BBC

Soul singer Solomon Burke died, as did the South African chimpanzee Charlie, who was an avid smoker until his death at 52. BBCNew York TimesThe Times Square bomber was sentenced to life in prison; a 20-year-old Arab American in California found an FBI bug on the underside of his car; and a man in London tried unsuccessfully to hold Jonathan Franzen’s glasses for ransom.BBCCNNBBCAn English couple was sold a bag of potatoes they believed to be a laptop.BBCResearchers discovered a new language, Koro, spoken by 1,000 people in the Indian Himalayas, and at Delhi’s Commonwealth Games the drains of the athletes’ housing were found to be blocked by thousands of condoms. “If that is happening, it shows that there is use of condoms,” said the federation’s president. “I think that is a very positive story.”Christian Science MonitorGuardianWashington D.C.’s Department of Motor Vehicles began offering HIV testing, and women at Moscow State University dressed in lingerie and posed for a calendar to celebrate Vladimir Putin’s 58th birthday. “You put out forest fires,” read the caption of one photo, “but I’m still burning.”CNNBBC

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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.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

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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