Weekly Review — December 20, 2011, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Saluting the Town, March 1854]

U.S. military officials declared the end of the Iraq War during a 45-minute ceremony in a fortified compound at Baghdad International Airport. Iraq??s president and prime minister did not attend, and local reporters were not invited. “To be sure, the cost was high,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “in blood and treasure of the United States and also the Iraqi people.” In Fallujah, Iraqis celebrated by burning American flags. “I lost brothers and many relatives because of American bombs,” said a resident of Ramadi. “I benefited by having a good job and a salary with which I can get whatever I need.” Eighty Iraqi civilians were killed during the final week of the war, and David Hickman, a 23-year-old Army paratrooper, was declared the 4,474th and last U.S. soldier to die in the conflict.APNY Times At War BlogAFPNY Times At War Blogiraqbodycount.orgAPWashington PostIn Homs, demonstrators hung Syrian political figures in effigy, and security forces killed at least six protesters; in Cairo, troops attacked demonstrators in Tahrir Square, killing at least nine, and firebombed the state geographical society; and in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisians gathered around a statue of a fruit cart to celebrate the one-year anniversary of vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, which helped inspire the Arab Spring.Reuters AfricaBBCChicago Sun-TimesBBCNPRWriter, human-rights activist, and former Czech president Vaclav Havel died at age 75, and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-Il died at age 69. “His legacy will be that ??truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred,??” said Havel??s former adviser Tomas Sedlacek, quoting Havel.CNNBBCAP“The whole life of Kim Jong Il,” read a statement from the official Korean Central News Agency, “was the most brilliant life of a great revolutionary who covered an untrodden thorny path with his iron will and superhuman energy, holding aloft the red flag of revolution.” Kim??s 29-year-old son, Kim Jong-Un, was named his “great successor.”APScientists in Switzerland said they??d found “tantalizing hints” of the so-called “God particle,” and writer Christopher Hitchens died at age 62. GuardianNY TimesAP via Boston Globe

Canada became the first country to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, provoking objections from China and India, two of the world??s largest greenhouse gas emitters.Montreal GazetteGlobe and MailChicago TribuneOfficials in Los Angeles disclosed that they had infiltrated Occupy LA on suspicions that protesters were stockpiling bamboo spears and buckets of human feces.ReutersCongress passed a $662 billion defense spending bill that allows for indefinite detention of terror suspects. “And when they say, ??I want my lawyer,??” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), “you tell them, ??Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.??”APLA TimesGuardianThe Pentagon launched an investigation into a photo showing 15 airmen at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas gathered around an open casket carrying a fellow soldier playing dead with a noose around his neck and chains draped across his body. “Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt? Sucks 2 Be U,” read the photo??s caption.AFPAir Force TimesFormer French president Jacques Chirac was convicted of corruption for employing nineteen “ghost workers” while he was mayor of Paris, and Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin addressed allegations of fraud in his country’s parliamentary elections, claiming that antigovernment protesters had been paid to march. “Fine, let them earn a little money,” he said, adding that the white ribbons they wore looked like condoms.APAFPThe NationalGuardianForeign PolicyAt the final G.O.P. presidential debate before the Iowa Caucuses in January, Michele Bachmann criticized Newt Gingrich for failing to take a strong enough stance against abortion. “The Republican Party can??t get the issue of life wrong,” Bachmann said. “This is a seminal issue.”Washington Post

A church in New Zealand erected a billboard depicting a distressed Virgin Mary glancing down at a pregnancy test, and the Southern Baptist Convention??s publishing division began recalling pink Bibles sold to support breast cancer research after it received complaints that some of the proceeds were funding screenings at Planned Parenthood.New York Daily News3news.co.nzAP via FoxThe TennesseanDoctors reported that a cancer survivor in Baltimore had to have her breast implant surgically extracted after it slipped behind her ribcage during a Pilates breathing exercise. “My body swallowed my boob,” the woman reportedly told her doctor.New England Journal of MedicineABC NewsHundreds of apples fell from the sky over Coventry, England.BBCThousands of Eared Grebes crashed into a Utah Wal-Mart parking lot they??d mistaken for a pond during their migration to Mexico.CBS NewsThe lawyer for former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky counseled anyone who believed the child-molestation accusations against his client to “dial 1-800-REALITY,” a sex line for gay and bi-curious men.Christian Science MonitorHuffington PostAP via Chicago Sun-TimesA woman in Zephyrhills, Florida, was arrested for attacking her ex-boyfriend with the antlers of a mounted deer head; a crucified Santa Claus skeleton was decapitated outside of a county courthouse in Leesburg, Virginia; and a mall Santa at the Logan Hyperdome in Queensland, Australia, was fired after offering to give autistic brothers Cameron and Liam Sleeth a jail cell for Christmas. “Even after Santa said it,” said the boys?? mother, “Cameron was still giving him hugs.”St. Petersburg TimesMSNBCnews.com.au

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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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