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]”â??plastic toysâ??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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Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

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Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

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The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

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