Weekly Review — November 19, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Casualty counts and corruption in the Philippines, protest and repression in Russia, and the usual news from Toronto

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

In the Philippines, casualty estimates for Typhoon Haiyan were revised from 10,000 deaths to 3,976, and the official who provided the initial estimate was fired. As relief agencies struggled to get aid to remote areas, authorities ran temporarily out of body bags, thousands of people ransacked a rice warehouse on Leyte Island, the country’s energy minister pledged to restore electricity to all regions by Christmas Eve, and fears of corruption prompted Filipino media to advise emigrants to send funds to the Red Cross rather than government bank accounts. “I’m not going to mince words,” said the editor of Filipino Migrant News. “We would like every cent to reach those poor people.”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] Bangladeshi garment-factory workers negotiated a 77-percent wage increase, to $68 per month, making their pay still the lowest for garment workers in the world.[9] An Ohio Walmart started a food drive for employees who couldn’t afford Thanksgiving dinner, scores of tornadoes struck the Midwestern United States, and United Nations delegates met in Warsaw to begin negotiating a new climate treaty. “We can stop this madness right now,” said a Filipino envoy, who declared that he would fast at the conference until “a meaningful outcome is in sight.”[10][11][12] Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed construction of 24,000 settler homes in the occupied territories, and the Fourth Committee of the U.N. General Assembly passed nine resolutions condemning Israel. “C’est un peu trop, non?” said an interpreter who was unaware her microphone was on. “There’s other really bad shit happening.” Netanyahu offered the woman a job, and entomologists warned of the approaching extinction of the Israeli prickly pear.[13][14][15][16] In Syria, where government forces have won a series of victories in recent weeks, a jihadist antigovernment faction accidentally beheaded an allied rebel fighter, and in Iraq a bomb killed 35 people attending a play about the death of Imam Hussein. “Those who were acting out the death,” said a witness, “had died in reality.”[17][18][19]

President Barack Obama apologized for “fumbling” the rollout of his health care reforms and introduced new rules allowing Americans to remain on insurance plans that companies had cancelled because they didn’t meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act. “It’s easy,” said an official from a state where few plans had been cancelled, “so I like it.”[20][21][22] The Harrisburg Patriot-News retracted a November 1863 report likening the Gettysburg Address to a “veil of oblivion.”[23] A U.S. Navy drone crashed into a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser, whistleblowers told the U.S. Senate that Secret Service agents had engaged in sexual impropriety in 17 countries in recent years, and a former employee sued dating website Ashley Madison for injuries sustained while composing fake profiles to attract Brazilian men.[24][25][26] Norway challenged the world to a game of chess.[27] One World Trade Center was certified as the tallest building in the United States, and Canadian researchers held a quantum-memory system stable at room temperature for 39 minutes, breaking the previous record of 25 seconds. “Measurement normally introduces noise,” said former quantum-memory record holder Thaddeus Ladd.[28][29] A poll found a hypothetical 2016 presidential election between Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton to be a virtual dead heat, and American diners lamented a knish shortage following a fire at the world’s largest knish factory. “Get a life,” said a New York City chef. “It’s just a knish.”[30][31]

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In Russia, which won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, artist Petr Pavlensky was charged with hooliganism for nailing his scrotum to Red Square to protest police repression, and Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova turned up in a Siberian prison hospital following a transfer during which her whereabouts were unknown for 26 days. “It took 15 days,” said her husband, “for Dostoevsky to make a similar distance in horse-driven carts.”[32][33] Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing died at 94.[34] China relaxed its one-child policy, and the City of San Francisco helped a five-year-old boy whose leukemia was in remission to become “Batkid” for a day, staging several crimes for him to foil. “Wondering how many 1000s of SF kids living off SNAP/FoodStamps could have been fed from the $$,” tweeted city supervisor Eric Mar.[35][36] The City of Vancouver was eliminating its doorknobs, and the City of Toronto stripped mayor Rob Ford of most of his powers following the release of police reports detailing investigations into his alleged drug abuse, solicitation of prostitution, and sexual harassment of a policy adviser. “It says I wanted to eat her pussy,” said Ford, who retained lawyer George Rust D’Eye and told Fox News he hoped to become prime minister of Canada. “I’ve got more than enough to eat at home, thank you very much.”[37][38][39][40] Japanese women were hunting more wild pig, Quebec physiologists discovered that snakes flick their tongues not just to smell but to taste, and German biologists publishing in the journal PNAS identified the smell receptors that make zebrafish averse to cadaverine.[41][42][43] In Cumbria, coroners still couldn’t explain how an Englishman had died after opening Pandora’s box.[44][45]


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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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