Weekly Review — April 26, 2011, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Tempest, December 1878]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lifted the country’s 48-year-old state of emergency and legalized peaceful protests in an attempt to placate opposition groups who have been calling for him to step down. The following day, Syrians returned to the streets to protest, security forces shot into the crowds, and more than 100 people died, according to witnesses. “Bullets started flying over our heads like heavy rain,” said one protester.BBCAl JazeeraAl JazeeraBBCThe civil war in Libya was “moving toward a stalemate,” according to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the U.S. military confirmed that two armed Predator drones were flying combat missions over the country. An internal report by the British Ministry of Defence warned that the increasing use of drones may, by keeping soldiers from the horrors of battle, make war more likely. NATO forces may have begun an “incremental and involuntary journey,” the report said, “towards a Terminator-like reality.” ReutersBBCGuardianSenator John McCain (R., Ariz.) visited rebel stronghold Benghazi to show his support for democracy. McCain, who met with Qaddafi and his family in 2009 and agreed to help them purchase military equipment from the United States, called the rebels “my heroes.” SalonAl JazeeraThe Taliban freed at least 476 prisoners from the political wing of a prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, by digging a tunnel hundreds of meters long. NYTClassified U.S. military documents about prisoners at Guantánamo, obtained by WikiLeaks and shared with U.S. and British newspapers, revealed that one detainee, a senior Al Qaeda member, was “so dedicated to jihad that he reportedly received injections to promote impotence and recommended the injections to others so more time could be spent on jihad (rather than being distracted by women).” GuardianGuardianGuardianNY Times

Standard & Poor’s downgraded its outlook on the United States to “negative,” based on concerns that the government won’t be able to resolve its long-term budget deficits. Stock indices fell and the price of gold reached a new high in response to the cut.ReutersPresident Obama said he would create a task force to investigate “the role of traders and speculators” in retail gasoline prices, which have climbed by 30 cents in the past month. “We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain,” he said.APA Philadelphia phone company was found to have hoarded 1.7 million toll-free numbers, including 1-800-Cadillac, 1-800-Worship, and 1-800-Firetip, and re-directed most of their calls to phone sex businesses.APMcDonald’s restaurants across the United States held the chain’s first National Hiring Day, with plans to hire 50,000 new employees. “It’s a good place to work,” said one Ohio job-seeker. “I come here almost every day to eat anyway.”APResearchers found that people eat more after looking at overweight individuals and that dieters tend to be confused by unhealthful foods that are labeled “salad.”Science DailyScience DailyAn Arizona man was arrested for exposing himself to a woman dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume. After police took him into custody, the man said he just wanted to go home and do his taxes.Arizona RepublicDr. Lazar Greenfield, president-elect of the American College of Surgeons, resigned amid persistent criticism over a Valentine’s Day editorial he wrote in “Surgery News” that suggested semen contains mood-altering compounds that make women happier. “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have expected,” Greenfield wrote, “and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”NYT

In anticipation of the Easter holiday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reminded its agents that chocolate Kinder Eggs, which contain “non-nutritive object[s]”??plastic toys??inside them, are banned in the United States.CNNTexas Governor Rick Perry called for three days of prayer to end a drought that has damaged crops and caused thousands of wildfires, and some members of the Kyrgyzstan Parliament slaughtered rams to banish “evil spirits.”Texas Governor’s OfficeReutersChinese writer Zhang Yiyi planned to spend more than $150,000 on ten plastic surgery sessions that will make him look like William Shakespeare, and “Land’s End,” the 25-room, 24,000-square-foot mansion on Long Island that was rumored to have inspired Jay Gatsby’s home in “The Great Gatsby,” was demolished.Herald SunWaPoTermites ate 10 million rupees stored inside a steel chest at an Indian bank, sugar was proven to mitigate the harmful effects of methamphetamine on fruit flies, and peppermint was found to ease the discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome.CSMScience DailyScience DailyResearchers determined that the happiest states have the highest suicide rates. “If humans are subject to mood swings,” said Dr. Andrew Oswald, “the lows of life may thus be most tolerable in an environment in which other humans are unhappy.”Science DailyRapper Lil B received death threats after announcing the title of his forthcoming album: “I’m Gay.” “I’m very gay, but I love women,” Lil B explained. “I’m not attracted to men in any way. But yes I am gay. I’m so happy. I’m a gay, heterosexual male.”MTV

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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.

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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.

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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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