Weekly Review — February 8, 2011, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Christian martyr, 1855]

A Christian martyr.

Egyptians activists held a “day of departure” in Cairo’s Tahir Square, demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who after eleven days of protests claimed to be “fed up” with being president. “We as a people are fed up as well,” said opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei. “It is not only him.” Mubarak designated intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is suspected of having been involved in the CIA’s secret extraordinary-rendition program, as his new vice president. The Egyptian army failed to intervene when pro-Mubarak activists, many of whom were later revealed to be plainclothes policemen, attacked protesters, aid workers, and journalists, including Anderson Cooper, who was punched in the head. BBCFear of mass demonstrations led Algerian officials to promise to end a nineteen-year state of emergency, which has limited political freedom, and to open television and radio programs to all political parties; Bahrain’s government announced plans to increase food subsidies and expand social-welfare programs ahead of February 14th scheduled protests; and protesters in Yemen held a peaceful “day of rage,” rallying against the country’s 40 percent unemployment rate and calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Rallies in Baghdad protesting poor government services prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to agree not to run in the next election and to halve his pay. “The current circumstances are pushing us to decrease expenses and salaries,” explained one lawmaker, “and spend them on the low-income classes.”Raw StoryTimeNew York Times Raw StoryBBCNew York Times LA TimesWorld food prices hit record highs.BBCCNN

Awal Gul, a Guantánamo inmate who had been held without charges since 2002, died “after exercising.” BBCGeorge W. Bush canceled his trip to Switzerland after human-rights groups threatened to have him arrested on charges of torture.Reuters“Looking back, I see there are things the administration could have done differently and better with respect to wartime detention,” admitted former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld in an excerpt leaked from his new autobiography. “Thank God he was relieved of his duties,” said Senator John McCain of Rumsfeld. “Otherwise, we would have had a disastrous defeat in Iraq.”Washington PostRaw StoryNewly released WikiLeaks documents revealed that the FBI may still be looking for three men tied to the September 11 World Trade Center attacks.CNNSarah Palin filed a petition to trademark “Sarah Palin” and “Bristol Palin,” and pest-control managers gathered in Washington for the Second Annual Bed Bug Summit.CNNChristian Science MonitorAn Amtrak train in Maryland struck and killed a bald eagle. Washington Post

Republicans celebrated the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan. At St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital Reagan’s would-be assassin, John Hinkley, Jr., who shot the former president 29 years ago in an effort to win the affections of Jodie Foster, was reported to have recently found love. “I see value in people no matter what theyâ??ve said or done,” said Hinkley’s girlfriend, a former St. Elizabeth’s patient. The DailyCorrections officers took away Charles Manson’s contraband cell phone, and an immigration officer in the United Kingdom was fired after superiors discovered he had put his wife on the no-fly list to prevent her from returning home for three years.Raw StoryReutersThe MirrorOfficials in China petitioned for a law that would require children to visit their parents.NYTimesAlexandra Tobias, who shook her baby to death for crying while she was playing the computer game Farmville, was sentenced to 50 years in prison, and a six-year-old child died in Death Valley after his mother got lost in the desert for five days despite using a GPS. “It’s what I’m beginning to call Death By GPS,” said a local wilderness coordinator. Florida Times UnionSacramento BeeThe president of Singapore ushered in the Year of the Rabbit by urging Singaporeans to procreate, while the Rwandan government was trying to curb population growth by encouraging men to have vasectomies. “I think I can’t go for it,” said one Rwandan. “You may plan to have two children and then unfortunately one dies.”CNNBBC

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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.

The exterior of my hermitage was washed the color of runny egg yolk. Two redwood French doors with plexiglass windows hung cockeyed from creaky hinges at the entrance, and a combination lock provided meager security against intruders. White beadboard capped the roof, its brim shading a front porch set on cinder blocks.

After living on the East Coast for eight years, I’d recently left New York City to take a job at an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. If it seems odd that I was a fully employed editor who lived in a thirty-two-square-foot shack, that’s precisely the point: my situation was evidence of how distorted the Bay Area housing market had become, the brutality inflicted upon the poor now trickling up to everyone but the super-rich. The problem was nationwide, although, as Californians tend to do, they’d taken this trend to an extreme. Across the state, a quarter of all apartment dwellers spent half of their incomes on rent. Nearly half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population lived in California, even while the state had the highest concentration of billionaires in the nation. In the Bay Area, including West Oakland, where my shack was located, the crisis was most acute. Tent cities had sprung up along the sidewalks, swarming with capitalism’s refugees. Telegraph, Mission, Market, Grant: every bridge and overpass had become someone’s roof.

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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.

But somebody has slipped. The school is putting on the musical South Pacific, and there are not enough roles for the girls, and she is as tall as or taller than the boys, and so they have done what is unthinkable in this striving 1980s town, in this place where the men do the driving and the women make their mouths into perfect Os to apply lipstick in the rearview. For the musical, they have made her a boy.

No, she thinks. They have allowed her to be a boy.

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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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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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