Weekly Review — August 27, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

A poison-gas attack in Syria, a verdict in the Manning trial, and wing-walker Flame Brewer

A Humbug (Weekly)Five days after a poison-gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 300 people and caused symptoms of neurotoxicity in more than 3,000 others, the regime of Bashar al-Assad agreed to allow United Nations inspectors to collect samples of soil, blood, urine, and tissue in an attempt to determine who was responsible. Calling the use of chemical weapons a “moral obscenity,” Secretary of State John Kerry said that President Barack Obama would make an “informed decision” about the U.S. response. “Failure awaits the United States,” said Assad, “as in all previous wars it has unleashed.”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] Documents declassified by the CIA indicated that the Reagan Administration offered intelligence to Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq War in the knowledge that he would use nerve agents. “The Iraqis never told us,” said a retired Air Force colonel. “They didn’t have to. We already knew.”[8] Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was removed from power by the army in 2011, and Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badie, whose party was removed from power by the army last month, went on trial for incitement to kill protesters. “Those who tried and are still trying to break the Egyptian army,” said a spokesman for interim president Adly Mansour, “will fall alongside the Tatars and Crusaders.”[9] At Fort Hood, Texas, Major Nidal Hasan was found guilty of 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder for his 2009 attack on an Army barracks; at Fort Lewis, Washington, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was sentenced to life in prison for killing 16 Afghan civilians in 2012; and at Fort Meade, Maryland, Private Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks. “Justice,” said a relative of Bales’s victims, “was served the American way.” Manning announced that she would now live as a woman named Chelsea.[10][11][12][13]

George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watchman acquitted last month of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, toured the facility in Cocoa, Florida, where the gun he used to shoot Martin was manufactured. “That was not part of our public-relations plan,” said a spokesman for Zimmerman’s attorney.[14][15] Martin’s parents were among tens of thousands of people to gather on the National Mall to mark the semicentennial of the March on Washington. “My generation cannot now afford to sit back,” said Newark mayor Cory Booker, “getting dumb, fat, and happy thinking we have achieved our freedoms.”[16][17] Pilgrims of the Universal White Brotherhood converged on the mountains of Bulgaria to practice their paneurhythmy.[18] A third of white high-school-age girls in the United States admitted to having used a tanning bed in the past year, and lepidopterists discovered that Calindoea trifascialis larvae hop away from the sun to pupate.[19][20] The Rim Fire was approaching Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir.[21] A real estate developer installed a Beaver Deceiver in Fairview, Texas, and the city of Zurich opened nine drive-in sex boxes. “It will not work,” said a local politician, “because the clients will not come.”[22][23] San Diego’s city council voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Mayor Bob Filner, who has been accused of sexual harassment by 18 women in the past six weeks. “He made me begin to feel like a 16-year-old again,” said one of Filner’s advisers, “with the vitality of his ideas.”[24] The Canadian military was continuing tests on Loki, a $620,000 stealth snowmobile, and Australian scientists were modifying beer to increase its rehydrative properties. “This is definitely not a good idea,” said one nutrition researcher.[25][26] A South Florida judge dismissed a citation issued in April to a man jogging backward. “I came very far,” said the jogger, “to get to where I’m at.”[27]

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The walrus left Jökulsárlón, and the eggman collected blackberries in Exbury.[28][29][30] A skydiver died in Yolo County, California.[31] A girl named Flame Brewer wing-walked over Gloucestershire.[32] French pigeon hunters spooked a horse in Kent, and 3,000 donkeys in Kenya’s Rift Valley were found to be on leave.[33][34] Swedish neonatologists requested that crocheted octopuses no longer be brought to maternity wards.[35] Stray dogs in Detroit and Swainson’s hawks in Calgary were disrupting postal rounds. “It’s like Chihuahuaville,” said mailwoman Catherine Guzik. “They’re quite clever,” said postman Reuben Hawkes.[36][37] English archaeologists prepared to extract the tenth-century sarcophagus of “somebody terribly important.”[38] In Pennsylvania, a clown couple married at Clownfest. “Every layer of greasepaint,” said a clown named Happy, “is a layer of happiness.”[39][40] Researchers found that Double Stuf Oreos contain only 1.86 times the cream filling of traditional Oreos, that crocodilians who eat fruit do so deliberately, and that British snails locomote more quickly than previously assumed. “They are not,” said one malacologist, “just lettuce munchers.”[41][42][43] A Krispy Kreme in Edinburgh announced that it had sold an average of one doughnut every three seconds since opening in February. “They are ruinous,” said Scottish National Obesity Forum spokesman Tam Fry.[44]


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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.”

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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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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.

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