Weekly Review — May 23, 2011, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Babylonian lion, 1875]

Talks with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, grew tense after Barack Obama called for the country’s pre-1967 borders to be the starting point for peace negotiations with Palestinians. Netanyahu rejected the proposal, saying, “Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide; it’s half the width of the Washington Beltway. These were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars.” President Obama resolved to continue pressuring the Israelis, but stated, “Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends.”CNNThe world failed to end, despite predictions of its demise by Harold Camping, an 89-year-old Christian radio entrepreneur. The Calvary Bible Church in Milpitas, California, organized a Sunday morning service to comfort disappointed believers. A church deacon said, “We are here because we care about these people. It’s easy to mock them. But you can go kick puppies, too.” Camping admitted the experience had unsettled him, but said “I’ll be back to work Monday.”NY TimesNY TimesDominique Strauss-Kahn resigned his role as managing director of the I.M.F. and was placed under house arrest in New York City pending trial for the sexual assault of a hotel maid. It was reported that just before police boarded his plane to apprehend him, Strauss-Kahn said of a flight attendant, “Quel beau cul!” (“What a nice ass!”). The euro fell slightly on news of his predicament.BBCSF ChronicleBoston Globe

Chinese artist and government critic Ai Weiwei, who was detained in early April by state authorities, was granted a visit with his wife at an undisclosed location. The Chinese foreign ministry asserted that Ai’s case was due to the evasion by his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, of a “huge amount” of taxes and had “nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression.” Ai’s sister pointed out that he is neither the company’s legal representative nor its chief executive. Also in China, watermelons treated with growth accelerants were exploding “like landmines,” and Ming Ming, the world’s oldest panda, died at his home in a reserve in Guangdong at the age of 34.BBCLe PointBBCBBCGuardianNPRGuardianKenyan Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru died after falling out of a window following a confrontation with his wife; professional wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage, known for his catchphrase “Oooh, yeahh,” died at age 58; and retired boxer Sugar Ray Leonard admitted he was sexually abused as a young fighter.BBCTMZNY Times

A woman in Salt Lake City attempted to buy $10 worth of cocaine from an undercover police officer with $2 and an Olive Garden salad, but promised the officer she would return with more money and some Olive Garden gift cards.Boston GlobeA Los Angeles service station mistakenly sold premium unleaded gasoline for $1.10 a gallon, prompting drivers to mob the station and the owner to lose $21,000 in sales in four hours.Boston GlobeThe Tennessee Senate passed a bill forbidding the state’s public school teachers and students in kindergarten to eighth grade to discuss the fact that some people are gay,WMCTV while Charles Barkley came out in support of gay players in the NBA. Barkley admitted that many pro basketball players are homophobic, but rejected such intolerance, stating, “Man, we need to outlaw guys who suck at sports.”Washington PostA Pennsylvania woman settled her groping lawsuit against Donald Duck, and McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner defended the company’s right to advertise to children, asserting that parents are responsible for deciding what to feed their kids. “Ronald McDonald is an ambassador to McDonald’s,” Skinner said, “and he is an ambassador for good.”Boston GlobeLA TImesNY MagThe U.S. Navy named a new vessel after labor activist Cesar Chavez, and Don Gorske, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, ate his 25,000th Big Mac, 39 years to the day after eating his first. Said Gorske: “I plan on eating Big Macs until I die.”Journal Sentinal

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Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

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A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.

I rose long before dawn, too thrilled to sleep, and set off to find my tribe. North from Greenville in the dark, past towns with names like Sans Souci and Travelers Rest, over the border into North Carolina, through land so choked by kudzu that the overgrown trees in the dark looked like great creatures petrified in mid-flight. The weirdness of this scene would, by the end of the weekend, show itself to be appropriate: my trip would be all about romanticism, and romanticism is a human collision with place that results, as Baudelaire put it, “neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” My rental car’s engine whined as it climbed the mountains. Day was just breaking when I nosed down a hill to Orchard Lake Campground, where tents were still being erected in the dimness.

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Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

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Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

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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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