Weekly Review — February 14, 2012, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: Saluting the Town, March 1854]

Greeceâ??s parliament approved an austerity bill, cutting 15,000 government jobs and reducing the minimum wage by 22 percent in exchange for $170 billion in bailout funds from the European Union and the I.M.F. “We must show that Greeks, when they are called on to choose between the bad and the worst, choose the bad to avoid the worst,” said finance minister Evangelos Venizelos. More than 80,000 protesters marched in Athens on Sunday, some of them looting and vandalizing local stores. At least 34 buildings burned, including a Starbucks and an underground movie theater once used as a torture chamber by the Gestapo. “This is worse than the Forties,” said an elderly woman. “This time the government is following the Germansâ?? orders.”APAP via USA TodayReutersBloombergNew York TimesWhile striking in Brussels against an increase in their retirement age, hundreds of firefighters broke through barricades outside the prime ministerâ??s office and soaked riot police in water and fire retardant.GuardianRT.comA man was arrested in The Hague after trying to throw a marijuana snowball over a prison wall, and Dutch ice skaters expressed hope that the extreme cold in Europe, which has killed more than 500 people, would allow them to hold the traditional 124-mile Elfstedentocht speed-skating race for the first time in 15 years.APTelegraphReutersRight-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart addressed Occupy D.C. demonstrators outside the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. “Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Learn to behave yourselves!” he screamed as police led him away. “Stop raping people! Stop raping people! Stop raping people! Stop raping the people! You freaks! You filthy freaks! You filthy, filthy, filthy, raping, murdering freaks!”Atlantic Wire

Al Qaeda announced its support of antiregime protesters in Syria, and Anonymous hacked into the servers of the Syrian Ministry of Presidential Affairs, gaining access to staffersâ?? email accounts, many of which had the password “12345.” One leaked document detailed plans to bypass international sanctions by trading fertilizer with Iran, while another listed talking points for President Bashar al-Assadâ??s December 2011 interview with Barbara Walters. “American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are â??mistakesâ?? done and now we are fixing it,â??” the document stated, suggesting that Assad mention Wall Street protests “and the way the demonstrations are been suppressed by police men, police dogs and beatings.”ReutersPC MagazineHaaretzHaaretzFollowing complaints from Catholic officials, President Barack Obama amended a recently issued mandate requiring employers to provide free contraception to employees. “Thanks to President Obama,” said Southern Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, “we are all Catholics now.”PoliticoRaw StoryA woman claimed that John F. Kennedy took her virginity when she was a 19-year-old White House intern, and an Oklahoma state senator withdrew from an antiabortion bill her proposed amendment banning ejaculation anywhere but a womanâ??s vagina.Daily BeastJezebelGuardianRepublican presidential candidate Rick Santorum toured a Bemidji, Minnesota, sweater-vest factory, won caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a nonbinding primary in Missouri, and said he opposed combat roles for female soldiers because of “the emotions of men… having men not focusing potentially on the mission instead of the natural instinct to protect someone thatâ??s a female.”Raw StoryNew York TimesNew York TimesDallas schoolgirls were excluded from a field trip to see “Red Tails,” a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. “Girls stayed at school,” said a school-board spokesman, “but principals were given the option to show them â??Akeelah and the Bee.â??”Dallas Morning NewsFlorence Green, the last known veteran of World War I, died at age 110 in England; singer Whitney Houston died at age 48 in Los Angeles; and 1,000 mourners in Illinois attended the funeral of Nello Ferrara, inventor of the Lemonhead and the Atomic Fireball.New York TimesCBS NewsAP via ABC NewsA Wisconsin company was reported to have granted a four-year-oldâ??s Christmas wish for a $380 “Persuade” dual-flush toilet. “â??Mom, wouldnâ??t that be great if I could have this?” the boy said during a visit to the companyâ??s showroom. “Could you imagine all of the things I could do?”Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

New York City hotels announced plans to issue panic buttons to their maids, and British mathematicians used the Rapunzel Number to solve the Ponytail Shape Equation. “We all have likely wondered about the fluffiness of hair,” said Raymond Goldstein, Schlumberger Professor of Complex Physical Systems at the University of Cambridge.AFPDaily MailReuters via Raw StoryUniversity of CambridgeA federal appeals court overturned Californiaâ??s gay-marriage ban, the state legislatures of Washington and New Jersey passed same-sex marriage bills, and Uganda reintroduced an antigay measure, substituting life imprisonment for the original penalty of death.USA TodayAP via USA TodayAP via USA TodayRaw StoryFollowing incidents in four other states, the notorious Piggyback Bandit was spotted in Minnesota, where officials feared he would again rub the necks of high school athletes and jump onto their backs. “Itâ??s the creepiness of the behavior that alarms most people,” said a North Dakota activities director. “Itâ??s a little creepy.”UPIAn official inquiry was ordered in Karnataka, India, after Laxman Savadi, the minister for cooperation, was caught viewing a lewd video clip with the minister for women and children. “Why should I resign?” asked Savadi before resigning. “The video I watched was of a woman being raped by four people. It was not porn.”BBCFilmmakers raised money to release a movie about Osama bin Laden and an “army of zombie terrorists.”Raw StoryIn the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth formally rededicated herself to England, gardeners dug up a bed of blue centaurea growing in the shape of a swastika in Weston-super-Mare, and Swansea University administrators installed restroom posters instructing foreign students on proper toilet postures.Daily MailTelegraphBBCThe Newtown Creek sewage-treatment plant in Brooklyn planned a Valentineâ??s Day tour package including gifts of Hersheyâ??s Kisses and views of its stainless steel “digester eggs,” which process millions of gallons of gas and sludge each day. “Just imagine,” said the plantâ??s superintendent, “going home and saying, â??Where did he take me on Valentineâ??s Day? I went to see the digester eggs in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.â??”GovPro

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I.

That year, the year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. I’d found the place just as September’s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole I’d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentin—a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at it—four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.

The exterior of my hermitage was washed the color of runny egg yolk. Two redwood French doors with plexiglass windows hung cockeyed from creaky hinges at the entrance, and a combination lock provided meager security against intruders. White beadboard capped the roof, its brim shading a front porch set on cinder blocks.

After living on the East Coast for eight years, I’d recently left New York City to take a job at an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. If it seems odd that I was a fully employed editor who lived in a thirty-two-square-foot shack, that’s precisely the point: my situation was evidence of how distorted the Bay Area housing market had become, the brutality inflicted upon the poor now trickling up to everyone but the super-rich. The problem was nationwide, although, as Californians tend to do, they’d taken this trend to an extreme. Across the state, a quarter of all apartment dwellers spent half of their incomes on rent. Nearly half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population lived in California, even while the state had the highest concentration of billionaires in the nation. In the Bay Area, including West Oakland, where my shack was located, the crisis was most acute. Tent cities had sprung up along the sidewalks, swarming with capitalism’s refugees. Telegraph, Mission, Market, Grant: every bridge and overpass had become someone’s roof.

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I am eight years old, sitting in my childhood kitchen, ready to watch one of the home videos my father has made. The videotape still exists somewhere, so somewhere she still is, that girl on the screen: hair that tangles, freckles across her nose that in time will spread across one side of her forehead. A body that can throw a baseball the way her father has shown her. A body in which bones and hormones lie in wait, ready to bloom into the wide hips her mother has given her. A body that has scars: the scars over her lungs and heart from the scalpel that saved her when she was a baby, the invisible scars left by a man who touched her when she was young. A body is a record or a body is freedom or a body is a battleground. Already, at eight, she knows it to be all three.

But somebody has slipped. The school is putting on the musical South Pacific, and there are not enough roles for the girls, and she is as tall as or taller than the boys, and so they have done what is unthinkable in this striving 1980s town, in this place where the men do the driving and the women make their mouths into perfect Os to apply lipstick in the rearview. For the musical, they have made her a boy.

No, she thinks. They have allowed her to be a boy.

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The writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes lives in a nondescript modern building in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. I know it well: it has a Bricorama—like a French Home Depot—on the ground floor, where we sometimes had cause to shop back when we lived in the neighborhood. The people who work there seemed to hate their jobs more than most; they were often absent from the sales floor. In the elevator to Despentes’s apartment, I marvel that while I was trying to get someone to help me find bathroom grout she was right upstairs, with her partner, Tania, a Spanish tattoo artist who goes by the name La Rata, like someone out of one of Despentes’s novels.

In an email before our meeting, Despentes asked that we not do a photo shoot. “There are so many images available already,” she explained. Much had been written about her, too. A Google search yielded page after page: profiles, interviews, reviews, bits and bobs—she read from Pasolini at a concert with Béatrice Dalle; someone accused her of plagiarizing a translation; a teacher in Switzerland was fired for teaching her work. The week I met her, she appeared in the culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles in conversation with the rapper-turned-actor JoeyStarr. The woman is simply always in the news.

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That night at the window, looking out at the street full of snow, big flakes falling through the streetlight, I listened to what Anna was saying. She was speaking of a man named Karl. We both knew him as a casual acquaintance—thin and lanky like Ichabod Crane, with long hair—operating a restaurant down in the village whimsically called the Gist Mill, with wood paneling, a large painting of an old gristmill on a river on one wall, tin ceilings, and a row of teller cages from its previous life as a bank. Karl used to run along the river, starting at his apartment in town and turning back about two miles down the path. He had been going through the divorce—this was a couple of years ago, of course, Anna said—and was trying to run through his pain.

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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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