Weekly Review — February 1, 2011, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: The Wire Master and his puppets, 1875]

The wire master and his puppets, 1875.

In Egypt tens of thousands of antigovernment demonstrators, inspired by the fall of Tunisia’s dictatorship, defied curfews for a week to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down after 29 years in power. President Obama urged Egypt, America’s closest ally in the Arab world, to refrain from violence against protesters, some of whom had faced tear gas and water cannons, and said he would review U.S. aid to Egypt, currently estimated at $1.5 billion annually, but Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who emerged as an opposition leader, criticized the United States for not calling for Mubarak’s resignation. In a failed effort to appease critics, Mubarak arranged the resignation of his cabinet, appointed a new prime minister and, for the first time in his tenure, a vice president. The stock market, banks, and shops remained closed, and Egyptians were facing shortages of food and gas. The country’s Internet and cell-phone services were abruptly cut off, and the Chinese government blocked the search term “Egypt” from Twitter-like microblogs. After looters ripped the heads off two mummies at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, home to the King Tutankhamun collection, bystanders formed a human chain around the building; armed troops were then dispatched to protect the museum, the Pyramids of Giza, and the temple city of Luxor. Demonstrators also gathered in the Jordanian capital of Amman to protest low wages and high unemployment. King Abdullah II responded by firing his cabinet.Mother JonesNew York TimesNew York TimesWashington PostAPCNNAPNew York TimesCNNA Florida mother killed her two teenagers for being “mouthy.”CNN

President Obama delivered a State of the Union address in which he begged Americans to “win the future” with technological and scientific innovation. “This is our generation’s ‘Sputnik’ moment,” he declared, comparing competition with China and India to the space race of the 1950s and ’60s; the nation marked the 25th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle disaster.Washington PostAP via Wall Street JournalA New York City taxi exploded, then was issued a ticket for impeding traffic.Huffington PostIn China, where the suicide rate among senior citizens was found to have tripled over the past decade, the Civil Affairs Ministry introduced legislation that would require adult children to regularly visit their elderly parents.New York TimesRep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) filed a $150,000 lawsuit against the House cafeteria for selling him a wrap containing an unpitted olive, and Malawi was preparing to outlaw public farting.Washington PostTime.comIran hanged two men who took videos of post-election protests in 2009, and sentenced to death two others for running porn sites. In Arlington, Texas, club owners were scrambling to find 10,000 more strippers to accommodate Super Bowl visitors.CNNAFPNew York Daily NewsHouse Republicans sought to restrict the use of federal funds to pay for abortions by redefining rape; under current law, pregnancies resulting from rape can be terminated with government support, but under the new law only “forcible” rape would be covered, excluding statutory and other kinds of rape.ABC NewsAdolph Hitler’s last surviving bodyguard announced that because of his advanced age he would no longer be replying with autographed photos to the continuous stream of fan mail he still receives.Reuters

Ugandan gay-rights advocate David Kato, whose photo was recently included in an antigay newspaper article under the headline “Hang Them,” was killed with a hammer.New York TimesAn Arkansas supermarket used a “family shield” to “protect young shoppers” from a magazine cover showing a photo of Elton John, his male partner, and their baby, and Walmart started selling anti-aging cosmetics for 8- to 12-year-olds.The WeekThe WeekLaw-enforcement officials across the country were alarmed by an increase in the number of people snorting, injecting, and smoking bath salts, which can lead to hallucinations and suicidal urges, and Mexican smugglers were arrested after trying to hurl drugs north over the U.S. border using a giant trebuchet.Washington PostReutersRep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.) told Bill Maher that he doesn’t accept evolution: “I don’t believe that a creature crawled out of the sea and became a human being one day.”Huffington PostBritish researchers determined that Tyrannosaurus rex was indeed a hunter, not a scavenger as recently suspected.Science DailyA grand piano mysteriously appeared on a sandbar in Biscayne Bay, Florida, and The World, an archipelago of man-made islands off the coast of Dubai that are shaped like the countries of the world, was sinking.The Miami HeraldThe Telegraph

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I.

That year, the year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. I’d found the place just as September’s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole I’d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentin—a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at it—four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.

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I am eight years old, sitting in my childhood kitchen, ready to watch one of the home videos my father has made. The videotape still exists somewhere, so somewhere she still is, that girl on the screen: hair that tangles, freckles across her nose that in time will spread across one side of her forehead. A body that can throw a baseball the way her father has shown her. A body in which bones and hormones lie in wait, ready to bloom into the wide hips her mother has given her. A body that has scars: the scars over her lungs and heart from the scalpel that saved her when she was a baby, the invisible scars left by a man who touched her when she was young. A body is a record or a body is freedom or a body is a battleground. Already, at eight, she knows it to be all three.

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The writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes lives in a nondescript modern building in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. I know it well: it has a Bricorama—like a French Home Depot—on the ground floor, where we sometimes had cause to shop back when we lived in the neighborhood. The people who work there seemed to hate their jobs more than most; they were often absent from the sales floor. In the elevator to Despentes’s apartment, I marvel that while I was trying to get someone to help me find bathroom grout she was right upstairs, with her partner, Tania, a Spanish tattoo artist who goes by the name La Rata, like someone out of one of Despentes’s novels.

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That night at the window, looking out at the street full of snow, big flakes falling through the streetlight, I listened to what Anna was saying. She was speaking of a man named Karl. We both knew him as a casual acquaintance—thin and lanky like Ichabod Crane, with long hair—operating a restaurant down in the village whimsically called the Gist Mill, with wood paneling, a large painting of an old gristmill on a river on one wall, tin ceilings, and a row of teller cages from its previous life as a bank. Karl used to run along the river, starting at his apartment in town and turning back about two miles down the path. He had been going through the divorce—this was a couple of years ago, of course, Anna said—and was trying to run through his pain.

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