Weekly Review — December 13, 2011, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Weighing the Soul, 1875]

Weighing the soul, 1875.

Russians in nine time zones rallied to demand a revote of their country’s December 4 parliamentary elections, in which the ruling United Russia party won a slim majority. Russia??s only independent election-monitoring group logged more than 5,000 fraud allegations, while videos posted to YouTube showed stuffed ballot boxes, voting booths supplied with erasable ink, and buses taking people to vote at multiple locations. “If someone writes the phrase ??party of swindlers and thieves?? on a blog,” tweeted Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, “he is just a fuckface.” As many as 50,000 people protested in Bolotnaya Square across the Moskva River from the Kremlin, despite the deployment of thousands of troops in Moscow, and in Beijing two Russian foreign-exchange students accepted the Confucius Peace Prize on behalf of Vladimir Putin, who was selected over the Chinese Panchen Lama and the father of hybrid rice. The award citation praised Putin for crushing antigovernment forces in Chechnya, where voter turnout in the parliamentary elections was a reported 99.5 percent, with 99.5 percent in favor of United Russia.BBCWashington PostCNNBBCFrance 24AFP via Daily NationThe GuardianShanghaiistWashington PostRia NovstiThe Moscow Times British prime minister David Cameron vetoed a proposed amendment to the European Union treaty that would have imposed stricter fiscal discipline on member countries, citing concern for London??s financial-services industry. The other 26 E.U. nations indicated that they would push ahead with the treaty. “A Britain which leaves the E.U. will be considered to be irrelevant by Washington,” said Cameron??s coalition partner and deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, “and will be considered a pygmy in the world.”AFP via Vancouver SunIn Malaysia, a tourist was gored to death by a pygmy elephant.ABC

A U.S. surveillance drone crashed in Iran. Iranian military officials claimed to have brought down the plane by hacking into its control system, though an American analyst said the craft most likely crashed on its own, because “that’s what drones do.” Parliamentarian Parviz Sorouri said Iran would reverse-engineer the drone, and that any recovered data would be used to file a lawsuit against the United States.CNNAPA new Sunni terrorist group took credit for a bombing that killed at least 55 Shia worshippers at a Kabul shrine, citing as justification such “criminal behavior” as the flying of Shia banners in Sunni areas. BBCAP via Washington PostIn the second attack by a gunman at Virginia Tech in four years, Radford University student Ross Ashley shot and killed a police officer, then shot and killed himself. “I??m kind of surprised,” said Ashley??s former roommate. “I??m also not kind of surprised.”Collegiate Times Collegiate Times Florida state lawmakers had panic buttons installed on their cell phones two months after passing a law allowing concealed firearms to be carried in every part of the state capitol except the legislative chambers and committee rooms.St. Petersburg Times In suburban San Francisco, an “unforeseen bounce” on the set of the television show “Mythbusters” sent a cannonball through the front door and back wall of a house, across six lanes of traffic, across the roof of a second house, and through the window of a minivan, where it came to rest on the floor.AP via Washington PostWashington PostTensions rose between North Korea and South Korea following a proposal by a South Korean church group to place Christmas lights on a watchtower along the DMZ. “The enemy warmongers,” stated the North Korean government??s Uriminzokkiri website, “should be aware that they should be held responsible entirely for any unexpected consequences that may be caused by their scheme.”AFP

The Obama Administration announced that it would begin using foreign aid to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights worldwide, and Nigeria??s House of Representatives took up a bill banning marriage and public displays of affection between gays. “We are black people,” said parliamentary spokesman Zakari Mohammed. “We are not white.”CBSThe White HouseAFPRepublican presidential candidate Rick Perry appeared in an ad criticizing gay rights while dressed in a jacket nearly identical to the one worn by Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain,” and a Michigan music teacher was reprimanded for changing the “Deck the Halls” lyric “Don we now our gay apparel” to “Don we now our bright apparel.”Yahoo!ABC 30For the second time this year, firefighters in Obion County, Tennessee, watched a home burn to the ground after its owner failed to pay a $75 service fee.WPSD-TV via Yahoo!A DeSoto Parish woman became the second Louisianan to be killed by a brain-eating amoeba after infecting herself while rinsing her sinuses with a Neti pot.Fox 8A Bolivian teenager was reported to have committed suicide by piranha.Daily MailReagan, a yellow Labrador from Iowa, saved kittens Skipper and Tipper from dying in a Meow Mix bag.WHO-TVScientists blamed climate change for a rise in polar-bear cannibalism.BBCArcticA severe butter shortage struck Norway, owing partly to a high-fat diet craze. “Real Norwegian butter!” read an ad placed by one profiteer. “Almost unused!”Reuters via Yahoo!The LocalPolice in North Carolina arrested Lauretta Cheek for administering an illegal butt-implant injection; a woman in New Jersey was charged with manslaughter for killing a man by injecting his penis with silicone; and Michigan and Wisconsin argued over which state was shaped more like a mitten. “We understand their mitten envy,” said a spokesman from Travel Michigan. “It??s not our fault,” said a Wisconsinite from Neenah, “that their thumb is smaller.”Daily MailRadar OnlineKalamazoo Gazette via mlive.comAP via CBS

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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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