Weekly Review — January 1, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

U.S. Senate leaders reached a tentative last-minute deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled for January 1, though not in time for the agreement to be approved by members of the House of Representatives, who were set to vote as soon as Tuesday afternoon. The deal permanently increases capital-gains, dividend, and income tax rates on individuals making more than $400,000 per year and couples making more than $450,000; begins phasing out certain tax deductions on incomes above $250,000; and provides for an additional two months to negotiate $110 billion in cuts to military and domestic spending programs. Senate Democrats had briefly withdrawn from the talks after Republicans proposed to recalculate inflation in such a way as to lower benefit payments from entitlement programs, prompting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to ask Vice President Joe Biden to help restart the negotiations. “I need a dance partner,” said McConnell.[1][2][3][4] Congressional aides played the Beatles’ “Come Together” for House Republicans, Starbucks urged baristas to write “Come Together” on coffee cups at its Washington, D.C. franchises, Obama signed an executive order increasing the pay of members of Congress, the Constitutional Council of France struck down a 75 percent tax on incomes over €1 million a year that had been scheduled to take effect on January 1, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between his country and South Korea, and a newly released interview revealed Yoko Ono to have blamed the breakup of the Beatles on Paul McCartney’s predominance in the band.[5][6][7][8][9] Police in India charged six men with murder hours after the death of a 23-year-old woman who had been gang-raped and thrown from a moving bus. “This is the story of every Indian woman,” said a protester. Another Indian gang-rape victim committed suicide after police pressured her to drop her accusations and marry one of her attackers. [10][11][12][13][14] In New York City, a woman killed an Indian immigrant by shoving him over the edge of a subway platform. “I pushed a Muslim off the tracks,” she told police, “because I hate Hindus.”[15][16]

Russia put whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in police custody in 2009, on trial for fraud. “Magnitsky’s case has been moved to January,” announced the district court on the first day of hearings, “due to the absence of lawyers for the defense.” Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law, passed in retaliation for a new U.S. human rights law named after Magnitsky, that prohibits Americans from adopting Russian children.[17][18] Two Los Angeles residents turned in rocket launchers as a part of a no-questions-asked gun-buyback program; 200 Utah teachers took a concealed-carry firearms course in response to the recent elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut; and scientists were studying the DNA of Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, in search of a gene that made him evil.[19][20][21] A man set fire to his home on Christmas Eve in Webster, New York, then shot at the responding firefighters, killing two, before shooting himself in the head. A neighbor whose home burned down as the fires spread vowed to rebuild. “I really want to live on the bay,” she said. “He’s gone now, right?”[22][23] The German magazine Der Spiegel accidentally published on its website an obituary for “colorless” former U.S. president George H. W. Bush, whose condition was in fact improving after he was admitted to intensive care with a fever, and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the army general who led U.S. forces in the first Gulf War, died at 78.[24][25] In Syria, a general tasked with preventing military defections defected.[26]

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Mexican marines killed four men who were trying to steal the dead body of a Zeta drug-cartel leader known as the Pokémon.[27] Children sledding in Wyoming discovered the frozen dead body of a homeless man who was unknowingly the potential heir to a $19 million fortune.[28] China passed a law allowing parents to sue their adult children for not visiting them frequently enough, and a Filipino bishop announced his opposition to a reproductive-health bill aimed at curbing overpopulation, arguing that a larger population could better care for the country’s elderly.[29][30] A norovirus outbreak caused hundreds of passengers on an exclusive Caribbean Christmas cruise to be stricken with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.[31] In England, two elves were arrested for assault, and a garden-center Santa was fired for telling children he wasn’t real.[32] The baby Jesus was stolen from a live nativity scene outside a funeral home in Mount Healthy, Ohio, and a woman in Damascus, Oregon, told reporters about a letter, written by a worker in a Chinese forced-labor camp, that she’d found in a box of decorations from Kmart’s “Totally Ghoul” holiday line. “If you occasionally buy this product,” wrote the laborer, “please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization.”[33][34]

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I was tucked in a blind behind a soda machine, with nothing in my hand but notepad and phone, when a herd of running backs broke cover and headed across the convention center floor. My God, they’re beautiful! A half dozen of them, compact as tanks, stuffed into sports shirts and cotton pants, each, around his monstrous neck, wearing a lanyard that listed number and position, name and schedule, tasks to be accomplished at the 2019 N.F.L. Scout­ing Combine. They attracted the stunned gaze of football fans and beat writers, yet, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, continued across the carpet.

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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.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

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

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