Weekly Review — July 30, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Egypt teeters precariously, cat zombies and zonkeys live, and a hexapus dies

EARLY LESSONS IN SELF-GOVERNMENT (March 1876)

EARLY LESSONS IN SELF-GOVERNMENT (March 1876)

In Cairo, security forces loyal to General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi opened fire on supporters of deposed Egyptian president and Muslim Brotherhood party leader Mohamed Morsi, killing at least 83 people. Police detained 73 protesters and two Islamist political leaders, and the Muslim Brotherhood called for a million people to march in Cairo on Tuesday. Egyptian officers, said interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim, “have never and will never shoot a bullet on any Egyptian.”[1][2][3][4] In a suburb of Tunis, two gunmen assassinated People’s Party leader Mohamed Brahmi in front of his wife and children.[5] In Benghazi, Libya, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped the Kuafiya prison and pro-democracy activist Abdelsalam al-Mismari was shot and killed as he left a mosque.[6] Syrian government forces killed 19 children and 10 adults in a missile attack on Aleppo, and the United Nations announced that more than 100,000 people have now died in the Syrian civil war. “It is thus imperative,” said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “to have a peace conference in Geneva.”[7][8] The Obama Administration announced plans to repatriate two Algerian prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay.[9] Neuroscientists at MIT gave mice false memories of having had their feet shocked inside a box.[10] George H. W. Bush shaved his head.[11] Attorney general Eric Holder announced that the United States would not seek the death penalty against Edward Snowden for leaking information about the National Security Agency’s spying programs, and the NSA asked a reporter from ProPublica to modify a Freedom of Information Act request because it has “no central method to search an email.”[12][13] Turkey exonerated a kestrel accused of spying for Israel, and Indian scientists confirmed that bright lights detected over Indian airspace and suspected of being Chinese drones were in fact Jupiter and Venus.[14][15]

Spanish authorities filed 79 charges of negligent homicide against the driver of a train that crashed while reportedly traveling 121 mph along a tight curve near Santiago de Compostela.[16] Pope Francis celebrated World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro by donning a ceremonial headdress given him by a shirtless man from the Pataxo tribe, visiting the impoverished Varginha favela, and speaking on Copacabana Beach before crowds estimated at 1.5 million and 3 million. “Possessions, money, and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy, but they end up possessing us,” said the Pope. “I’m pretty surprised that people who call themselves Christians would throw away all this food,” said a bottle-picker.[17][18][19][20] A New York Times investigation found that U.S. investment banks were causing consumer-price increases by stockpiling such commodities as aluminum, coffee, cotton, oil, and wheat, and that Goldman Sachs was shuffling aluminum among warehouses outside Detroit in order to delay the metal’s entry to market. “It’s a merry-go-round of metal,” said a forklift operator.[21] Parisian gendarmes seized 60 tons of tin Eiffel Tower replicas, and a gunman stole $136 million worth of jewels from the Cannes hotel featured in the Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief.[22][23] A wrongful-death lawsuit was filed against a Michigan man who wrote “Kill Kathie Kill Kathie Kill Kathie!!!!!” on a chore list before killing his wife, and a man believed to have killed five seniors in Shunan, Japan, was arrested on a mountain near his home, where police found a haiku in a window that read “Setting a fire/ smoke gives delight/ to a country fellow.”[24][25] The London Fire Brigade speculated that the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey might be responsible for a rise since 2010 in emergency calls from people needing to be freed from restraints.[26]

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New Jersey hospitals were preparing for a 20 percent increase in births, anticipated because of a rise in conceptions during October’s Hurricane Sandy. “People just love hurricanes and sex,” said an economics professor.[27] Virginia E. Johnson, co-author of the pioneering 1966 book Human Sexual Response, died at 88, and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner was revealed to have exchanged graphic messages and photographs on the Internet under the pseudonym Carlos Danger following his resignation from Congress for similar activities in 2011. “He’s really not a changed man,” said the editor who broke the story. “He’s Carlos Danger.”[28][29] A Greek teenager shot himself in the foot to impress a girl.[30] Peahens were found to evaluate peacocks by the width and motion, not the ornamentation, of their trains.[31] Officials in Los Angeles closed three campgrounds after diagnosing a squirrel with plague, and six feral cats knocked down a woman in Belfort, France, and pierced one of her arteries. “Cats are not new zombies of the apocalypse,” said a veterinarian.[32][33] A zonkey named Ippo was born in Florence, an albino African hedgehog gave birth to triplets in a Moscow zoo, and Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, named their newborn son George Alexander Louis.[34][35][36] A spectator threw a banana at Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s first black cabinet minister, while she spoke at a rally, and an American family vacationing in Greece caught the second hexapus ever seen in the wild, then ate it with tomato and lemon. “It tasted just like a normal octopus,” said the father, “but now I feel really bad.”[37][38]


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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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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.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

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

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

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A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

After not making a public appearance for weeks and being rumored dead, the president of Turkmenistan appeared on state television and drove a rally car around The Gates of Hell, a crater of gas that has been burning since it was discovered in 1971.

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“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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