Weekly Review — October 8, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The U.S. government shuts down, African migrants capsize in the Mediterranean, and miscellaneous global crushings

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

On Tuesday, American state governments opened online health-care marketplaces for uninsured citizens in accordance with the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Nearly 5 million people visited healthcare.gov in its first 24 hours, causing most of the 36 exchanges being administered by the federal government to crash. On the same day, a U.S. government shutdown went into effect after the Senate rejected a spending bill passed by House Republicans that would have delayed by a year the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that citizens obtain health coverage. An estimated 800,000 federal workers were furloughed, and 1.3 million others were asked to work without compensation. The National Zoo’s giant-panda cam was shut down, the Ku Klux Klan was forced to cancel a rally at Gettysburg, a National Weather Service employee issued a forecast containing the acrostic PLEASEPAYUS, and Curiosity went into protective mode on Mars. “It’s very hard from a distance to figure out who has lost their minds,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.). “Lemmings with suicide vests,” said Congressman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) of his party colleagues.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R., Tx.), who said he would help shut down the government for “as long as it takes” to halt the funding of the Affordable Care Act, berated a newly unpaid National Parks Service ranger who had been forced to deny U.S. military veterans access to the World War II memorial in Washington D.C., and the New York Times traced the Republicans’ defunding strategy to a blueprint drafted by conservative groups shortly after President Barack Obama began his second term. “Obamacare is a train wreck,” read a social-media talking point provided to Republican lawmakers. “#trainwreck,” tweeted Speaker of the House John Boehner, thrice.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

The Pentagon was revealed to have awarded 94 contracts worth $5 billion on the eve of the shutdown, purchasing such goods as cots, Finnish hand grenades, and robot submarines.[17] Military-thriller author Tom Clancy died at 66, and General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led the North Vietnamese resistance against France and the United States, died at 102. “Any forces that wish to impose their will on other nations,” Vo once told reporters, “will certainly face failure.”[18][19] In the Somali town of Barawe, Navy SEALs staged an unsuccessful raid to capture an Al Shabab coordinator, and in Tripoli, Delta Force commandos captured a militant under indictment for participating in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.[20][21] At least 211 people died when a boat containing Eritrean, Ghanaian, and Somali migrants capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa. “The Mediterranean cannot remain a huge cemetery under the open skies,” said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.[22][23] At least 53 people were killed during protests against Egypt’s ruling military junta.[24] International inspectors began destroying Syria’s chemical weapons, and the country’s deputy prime minister told the United Nations that his government’s enemies supported “sexual jihad.”[25][26] The Palestinian Authority’s supreme fatwa council consented to online dating.[27] The Olympic flame died in Russia, and a woman was killed and a man lost his legs after they were run over while having sex on railroad tracks in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. “We wanted,” said the man, “to experience an extreme sensation.”[28][29]

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Canada opened its medical-marijuana market to large-scale producers, and the FBI shut down the online drug marketplace Silk Road, arrested its alleged operator, Dread Pirate Roberts, and seized 26,000 of his bitcoins.[30][31] A Brazilian smuggler was crushed by a half-ton of marijuana, a Swedish man was crushed by a half-ton of bacon, and a Spanish man was crushed by five and a half tons of grapes.[32][33][34] Conor P. Fudge was charged for a burglary at Iowa City’s Cold Stone Creamery.[35] In the United Kingdom, where an appellate court ended Cadbury’s monopoly on the color purple, Lord Sugar was investigated for racism.[36][37] Consumer-genomics company 23andMe received a patent for a calculator that could allow people to select the genetic traits of their future children, Canadian researchers developed a fecal-transplant pill that cures C. difficile infections, and three American researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering that the cargo-transport systems of living cells are similar in organisms as diverse as man and yeast.[38][39][40] Norwegian politicians agreed to legalize Segways and professional boxing, and a Norwegian health charity installed birdhouses stuffed with condoms in Oslo’s Ekeberg Forest. “The hole is plugged,” said a spokesman, “so that no birds can come inside.”[41][42] The Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth, and two tourists and a local man were burned to death by a mob on the isle of Nosy Be in Madagascar. “We’ve got nothing against foreigners; you can come visit,” said a Malagasy man from Hell-Ville.[43][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.”

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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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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