Weekly Review — November 20, 2012, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Israeli military began Operation Pillar of Defense, in what it claimed was a response to ongoing rocket attacks launched from Gaza. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” tweeted the Israeli Defense Forces. “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves),” tweeted the Al Qassam Brigades. Hackers launched 44 million cyberattacks on Israeli government websites, and Hamas for the first time fired on targets in Jerusalem, where civil-defense sirens went off on Friday. “I thought, ‘Is that for Shabbat?’ ” said West Jerusalem resident Judy Axelrod, who took refuge in a YMCA. Israeli officials claimed that Iron Dome, an American-financed missile-defense system, had successfully intercepted 80 to 90 percent of the rockets bound for densely populated areas, and a Hamas official claimed that a ceasefire being negotiated in Egypt was 90 percent complete. Three Israelis and more than 100 Palestinians had died by Monday morning.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Turkey, which along with the European Union and several Gulf states officially recognized Syria’s rebel coalition as the country’s legitimate government, was expected to request that NATO provide batteries of Patriot missiles to protect its border from attacks by the Assad regime, whose forces were shelling rebel positions near Damascus. “Huge, random destruction,” said an opposition activist.[7][8][9] Lexicographers declared omnishambles, meaning “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” English word of the year.[10]

Climatologists announced that October was the 332nd month in a row with hotter-than-average temperatures.[11] The New York City Buildings Department condemned 200 houses because of structural damage that occurred during Hurricane Sandy, and the Long Island Power Authority, whose trustees spent 39 seconds discussing preparations for the storm before it arrived, had yet to restore electricity to thousands of residents. “I think my children could do a better job managing that company than their current staff does,” said a woman whose 17-year-old parrot died from the cold.[12][13] In a settlement with the U.S. government over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of April 2010, BP pleaded guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter and agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and penalties.[14][15] Divers in the Gulf of Mexico recovered the body of an oil worker who died in a rig fire on Friday.[16] Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said that the Republican Party was in need of a “very serious proctology exam,” and conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist said Mitt Romney had lost the presidential election because he was a “poopy-head.”[17][18] In a conference call with donors, Romney suggested that Barack Obama had been reelected for “giving away free stuff,” including contraception to college-age women and immigration reform to Hispanics.[19] Charlie Webster, the chairman of the Maine Republican Party, was criticized for suggesting that the presence of dozens of black voters in rural parts of the state was a sign of voting irregularities. “I play basketball every Sunday with a black guy,” said Webster in defending himself. “The Republican Party needs quite a bit of reform,” said a man with a Romney–Ryan face tattoo.[20][21] An ABC News affiliate in Denver misreported the title of All In, Paula Broadwell’s biography of General David Petraeus, as All Up In My Snatch, and a Taliban official expressed amusement at the affair between Petraeus and Broadwell, which led Petraeus to resign as CIA director. “What a bastard!” said the official. “From a Pashtun point of view, Petraeus should be shot by relatives from his mistress’s family.”[22][23][24]

A Utah paperboy was knocked off his bike and treed by a narcoleptic goat named Voldemort, and a federal judge ruled that an Iranian man’s table-tennis skills did not constitute the kind of “extraordinary ability” necessary to obtain a work visa.[25][26] Hostess, the maker of the Twinkie, ceased baking Friday, announced it would enter bankruptcy proceedings, then began mediation talks with its second-largest employee union. “The people who are running this company are not interested in making bread,” said a bun bagger. “They are just interested in the money.”[27][28][29] Galapagos Islands conservationists planned to eradicate 180 million invasive rats living on the seven-square-mile islet of Pinzon. “This is a very expensive but totally necessary war,” said one official.[30] A paper published in the journal ZooKeys described the anatomy of Illacme plenipes, a recently rediscovered species of millipede that can have as many as 750 legs. “It would only need to add a few more segments to get an even 1,000,” said entomologist Paul Marek, “which would be fantastic.”[31] Twenty-eight women broke the Guinness world record for most people in a Mini Cooper at one time. “What differentiates us from animals,” said a Guinness editor, “is that we do things that are distracting and fun.”[32] Researchers found that bored captive minks will entertain themselves with leather gloves.[33] A Canadian man who for the past 12 years has been in a vegetative state imagined playing tennis in order to convey to neurologists that he knew of the existence of his niece, born five years after his injury, and imagined walking through his house to convey to them that he was not in physical pain.[34] Novelist Philip Roth announced his retirement. “Writing is frustration,” said Roth, who is helping his ex-girlfriend’s eight-year-old daughter write a novella, “not to mention humiliation.”[35]

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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.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

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I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

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

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