Weekly Review — April 2, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Supreme Court considers skim-milk marriage, a Guantánamo Bay hunger strike expands, and Egyptian scuba divers sabotage SEA-ME-WE-4

"What Though I Am Obligated to Dance a Bear"

“What Though I Am Obligated to Dance a Bear”

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, and of a provision of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act that withholds from gay married couples federal benefits guaranteed to heterosexual married couples. “There’s two kinds of marriage,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the situation created by DOMA. “There’s full marriage and then there’s sort of skim-milk marriage.” Same-sex marriage supporters rallied outside the courthouse with signs bearing such slogans as “Hey Supremes, you can hurry love” and “Marry me Rachel Maddow.” “You are entitled,” said New York cardinal Timothy Dolan, “to friendship.”[1][2][3][4] The governor of North Dakota signed into law three bills comprising the most stringent abortion restrictions in the United States, and a Colorado man claiming to be the illegitimate son of Dwight Eisenhower was detained for threatening the life of Barack Obama.[5][6] The U.S. military confirmed that 37 of the 166 prisoners incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay were participating in a hunger strike whose numbers have been growing for several weeks, and that it was force-feeding 11 of them, while a defense attorney claimed that in fact 130 prisoners were refusing food. “The hunger strikers have created an unfortunate situation with no clear path to resolution,” said Captain Robert Durand. “Progress has been made under this and the previous administration,” said White House deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest.[7][8][9][10][11] A Brazilian investigator said that a doctor charged with murdering seven patients in order to free up hospital beds may have been responsible for as many as 300 deaths. “Our mission,” said Dr. Virginia Soares de Souza in a recorded phone conversation, “is to be go-betweens on the springboard to the next life.”[12] A Muscovite was arrested for exposing his friend to radon in an attempt to help him achieve immortality, and Saudi Arabia beheaded a Yemeni man accused of murder, robbery, and sodomy, then crucified his body.[13][14]

In his Easter homily, Pope Francis called for peace in Israel, the Korean Peninsula, and Syria, where more than 6,000 people were reported to have been killed in March, and criticized human trafficking and the reckless exploitation of natural resources.[15][16] An Exxon oil pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, and three oil tanker cars ruptured during a train derailment near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota.[17][18] American beekeepers were blaming the prevalence of bee colony collapse disorder on the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. “If you have whiskey every night, 365 days a year, your liver’s gone,” said a co-owner of the largest U.S. beekeeping concern.[19] A Wisconsin woman named Elizabeth Hoen was observed stealing three steaks while clothed soon after being observed on a street corner while pantsless, and Geico released a motorcycle-insurance ad set to a song by the Allman Brothers Band, two of whose members died in motorcycle crashes.[20][21] New studies cast doubt on the constancy of the speed of light in a vacuum and confirmed that the Xenoturbella bocki “paradox” worm is the progenitor of humankind. “Maybe we’re more closely related to the Xenoturbella bocki worm, which doesn’t have a brain,” said a Swedish biologist, “than we are to lobsters and flies.”[22][23] A Chinese fishmonger found a bomb inside a squid, and American scientists reported the discovery of a two-headed shark in the uterus of another shark.[24][25] British researchers developed a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease. “What we have achieved here,” said biologist Dave Stuart, “is close to the holy grail of foot-and-mouth vaccines.”[26]

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North Korea said it had entered a “state of war” with South Korea, compared the security of the U.S. mainland to that of a boiled pumpkin, and released a photo showing a map with missile traces leading to Austin, Texas.[27][28] Hackers carried out against the Dutch antispam firm Spamhaus one of the most powerful distributed denial-of-service attacks in the history of the Internet.[29][30] The Egyptian military caught three scuba divers accused of disrupting Internet service in Africa and Asia by sabotaging the SEA-ME-WE-4 fiber-optic cable off the coast of Alexandria.[31] Lahoris were fighting over a proposal to rename after a Sikh revolutionary, who was hanged on the site by the British, a traffic circle that currently honors the Muslim student who coined the name “Pakistan.” “If a few people decide one day that the name has to be changed,” said merchant Zamid Butt, “why should the voice of the majority be ignored?”[32] Following a complaint from Google, Sweden removed the word “ogooglebar” (“ungoogleable”) from its official list of new words.[33] Germany confiscated the monkey of singer Justin Bieber.[34] In Rome, a penis added at the behest of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to an ancient statue of Mars was reported to have been removed, and in Missouri a probationer was charged with using a forging instrument after he wore a prosthetic penis to excrete drug-free urine for a compulsory test.[35][36] Conservatives were criticizing the U.S. National Science Foundation for granting $384,949 to fund a study of duck-penis plasticity. “Sometimes you have to look at the big picture,” said NSF spokeswoman Debbie Wing.[37][38][39]


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Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

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1.

A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.

I rose long before dawn, too thrilled to sleep, and set off to find my tribe. North from Greenville in the dark, past towns with names like Sans Souci and Travelers Rest, over the border into North Carolina, through land so choked by kudzu that the overgrown trees in the dark looked like great creatures petrified in mid-flight. The weirdness of this scene would, by the end of the weekend, show itself to be appropriate: my trip would be all about romanticism, and romanticism is a human collision with place that results, as Baudelaire put it, “neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” My rental car’s engine whined as it climbed the mountains. Day was just breaking when I nosed down a hill to Orchard Lake Campground, where tents were still being erected in the dimness.

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Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

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Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

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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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