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 they??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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The city was not beautiful; no one made that claim for it. At the height of summer, people in suits, shellacked by the sun, moved like harassed insects to avoid the concentrated light. There was a civil war–like fracture in America—the president had said so—but little of it showed in the capital. Everyone was polite and smooth in their exchanges. The corridor between Dupont Circle and Georgetown was like the dream of Yugoslav planners: long blocks of uniform earth-toned buildings that made the classical edifices of the Hill seem the residue of ancestors straining for pedigree. Bunting, starched and perfectly ruffled in red-white-and-blue fans, hung everywhere—from air conditioners, from gutters, from statues of dead revolutionaries. Coming from Berlin, where the manual laborers are white, I felt as though I was entering the heart of a caste civilization. Untouchables in hard hats drilled into sidewalks, carried pylons, and ate lunch from metal boxes, while waiters in restaurants complimented old respectable bobbing heads on how well they were progressing with their rib eyes and iceberg wedges.

I had come to Washington to witness either the birth of an ideology or what may turn out to be the passing of a kidney stone through the Republican Party. There was a new movement afoot: National Conservatives, they called themselves, and they were gathering here, at the Ritz-Carlton, at 22nd Street and M. Disparate tribes had posted up for the potlatch: reformacons, blood-and-soilers, curious liberal nationalists, “Austrians,” repentant neocons, evangelical Christians, corporate raiders, cattle ranchers, Silicon Valley dissidents, Buckleyites, Straussians, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Tories, dark-web spiders, tradcons, Lone Conservatives, Fed-Socs, Young Republicans, Reaganites in amber. Most straddled more than one category.

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The second-worst thing about cancer chairs is that they are attached to televisions. Someone somewhere is always at war with silence. It’s impossible to read, so I answer email, or watch some cop drama on my computer, or, if it seems unavoidable, explore the lives of my nurses. A trip to Cozumel with old girlfriends, a costume party with political overtones, an advanced degree on the internet: they’re all the same, these lives, which is to say that the nurses tell me nothing, perhaps because amid the din and pain it’s impossible to say anything of substance, or perhaps because they know that nothing is precisely what we both expect. It’s the very currency of the place. Perhaps they are being excruciatingly candid.

There is a cancer camaraderie I’ve never felt. That I find inimical, in fact. Along with the official optimism that percolates out of pamphlets, the milestone celebrations that seem aimed at children, the lemonade people squeeze out of their tumors. My stoniness has not always served me well. Among the cancer staff, there is special affection for the jocular sufferer, the one who makes light of lousy bowel movements and extols the spiritual tonic of neuropathy. And why not? Spend your waking life in hell, and you too might cherish the soul who’d learned to praise the flames. I can’t do it. I’m not chipper by nature, and just hearing the word cancer makes me feel like I’m wearing a welder’s mask.

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When Demétrio Martins was ready to preach, he pushed a joystick that angled the seat of his wheelchair forward, slowly lifting him to a standing position. Restraints held his body upright. His atrophied right arm lay on an armrest, and with his left hand, he put a microphone to his lips. “Proverbs, chapter fourteen, verse twelve,” he said. “ ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is . . .’ ”

The congregation finished: “ ‘Death.’ ”

The Assembly of God True Grapevine was little more than a fluorescent-lit room wedged between a bar and an empty lot in Jacaré, a poor neighborhood on Rio de Janeiro’s north side. A few dozen people sat in the rows of plastic lawn chairs that served as pews, while shuddering wall fans circulated hot air. The congregation was largely female; of the few men in attendance, most wore collared shirts and old leather shoes. Now and then, Martins veered from Portuguese into celestial tongues. People rose from their seats, thrust their hands into the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

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On December 7, 2016, a drone departed from an Amazon warehouse in the United Kingdom, ascended to an altitude of four hundred feet, and flew to a nearby farm. There it glided down to the front lawn and released from its clutches a small box containing an Amazon streaming device and a bag of popcorn. This was the first successful flight of Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery program. If instituted as a regular service, it would slash the costs of “last-mile delivery,” the shortest and most expensive leg of a package’s journey from warehouse to doorstep. Drones don’t get into fender benders, don’t hit rush-hour traffic, and don’t need humans to accompany them, all of which, Amazon says, could enable it to offer thirty-minute delivery for up to 90 percent of domestic shipments while also reducing carbon emissions. After years of testing, Amazon wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration last summer to ask for permission to conduct limited commercial deliveries with its drones, attaching this diagram to show how the system would work. (Amazon insisted that we note that the diagram is not to scale.) Amazon is not the only company working toward such an automated future—­UPS, FedEx, Uber, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have similar programs—­but its plans offer the most detailed vision of what seems to be an impending reality, one in which parce­l-toting drones are a constant presence in the sky, doing much more than just delivering popcorn.

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Every year in Lusk, Wyoming, during the second week of July, locals gather to reenact a day in 1849 when members of a nearby band of Sioux are said to have skinned a white man alive. None of the actors are Native American. The white participants dress up like Indians and redden their skin with body paint made from iron ore.

The town prepares all year, and the performance, The Legend of Rawhide, has a cast and crew of hundreds, almost all local volunteers, including elementary school children. There are six generations of Rawhide actors in one family; three or four generations seems to be the average. The show is performed twice, on Friday and Saturday night.

The plot is based on an event that, as local legend has it, occurred fifteen miles south of Lusk, in Rawhide Buttes. It goes like this: Clyde Pickett is traveling with a wagon train to California. He tells the other Pioneers: “The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.” Clyde loves Kate Farley, and to impress her, he shoots the first Indian he sees, who happens to be an Indian Princess. The Indians approach the Pioneers and ask that the murderer give himself up. Clyde won’t admit he did it. The Indians attack the wagon train and, eventually, Clyde surrenders. The Indians tie Clyde to the Skinning Tree and flay him alive. Later, Kate retrieves her dead lover’s body and the wagon train continues west.

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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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