Weekly Review — March 17, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Taliban blows up two Christian churches in Pakistan, Vladimir Putin disappears for ten days, and Pope Francis says he misses eating pizza

A category-five cyclone, with winds measuring 185 mph, struck the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. At least eight people were killed, 60,000 children were displaced, and 90 percent of buildings in the capital city of Port Vila were destroyed by the storm, which authorities named Pam. “I term it,” said Vanuatu’s president, “a monster.”[1][2] Taliban suicide bombers detonated explosives outside two Christian churches in Lahore, Pakistan, killing at least 14 people. Christian protestors responded by smashing windows, blocking traffic, and burning to death two people suspected of involvement in the attack.[3][4][5] In Iraq, Kurdish authorities claimed that the Islamic State used chlorine gas as a weapon during a battle with Peshmerga forces.[6] In the days leading up to Israel’s general election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed “leftwingers overseas” were channeling “tens of millions of dollars” into preventing his re-election. “Most of the public wants me as prime minister,” said Netanyahu.[7][8][9][10] Russian president Vladimir Putin, who did not appear publicly for ten days, was rumored variously to have died, to have had a stroke, to have been overthrown in a coup, to have undergone a plastic surgery operation, or to have fathered a love-child in Switzerland with a 31-year-old retired rhythmic gymnast. “His handshake is so strong,” said his press secretary, who denied the reports, “he breaks hands with it.”[11][12][13]

Two people were injured in the Luhansk region of separatist-held east Ukraine when a man used a grenade for a ball at a local bowling alley, and a 20-year-old man charged with shooting two police officers at an anti-police protest in Ferguson, Missouri, claimed he had intended to shoot someone else. “We’re not sure,” said a St. Louis County prosecutor, “we completely buy that.”[14][15] Creflo A. Dollar, Jr., the Atlanta-area megachurch pastor and leader of World Changers Church International, canceled a fundraising campaign to buy a $65 million Gulfstream G650 private jet so he could “blanket the globe with the Gospel of grace.”[16][17] On the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis told a Mexican television station that he might step down as soon as two years from now. “I would like,” he said, “to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria.”[18] The Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that it was seeking to redraw the boundaries of Virunga National Park, a U.N.-protected World Heritage site, in order to look for oil. “Europeans, you have eaten all your animals,” said a senior official from the Congolese Ministry of Hydrocarbons. “And now you ask us … to protect animals?”[19] A 75-year-old woman in Henrico, Virginia, choked and killed a rabid raccoon that had attacked her in a botanical garden. “It looked so much like my last dog,” she said. “That upset me.”[20]

A 17-year-old girl in Sweetwater, Texas, was crowned Miss Snake Charmer 2015, winning a $1,500 scholarship and the chance to decapitate western diamondback rattlesnakes.[21] It was reported that since Tanzania banned witchcraft in January to combat the murder of albinos, whose body parts are used in rituals, police have arrested hundreds of witch doctors, recovering lizard skin, warthog teeth, ostrich eggs, and monkey tails. Ecstasy and magic mushrooms were temporarily legalized in Ireland.[22]  Three people died in a Kansas hospital after being served listeria-contaminated Blue Bell ice-cream chocolate-chip cookie sandwiches, and a Norwegian man pleaded guilty to slipping abortion pills into his ex-girlfriend’s smoothie, which caused her to miscarry. “I felt like a total shitbag,” he said, “but I thought that it was the only way out.”[23][24] Finnish law required the food company Kesko to remove the word “meat” from online descriptions of its meatballs. “The balls have the equivalent of 52 percent meat,” said a company spokesperson. “However, according to current legislation, they aren’t from parts of the animal that can be described as meat.”[25]

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It has become something of a commonplace to say that Mike Pence belongs to another era. He is a politician whom the New York Times has called a “throwback,” a “conservative proudly out of sync with his times,” and a “dangerous anachronism,” a man whose social policies and outspoken Christian faith are so redolent of the previous century’s culture wars that he appeared to have no future until, in the words of one journalist, he was plucked “off the political garbage heap” by Donald Trump and given new life. Pence’s rise to the vice presidency was not merely a personal advancement; it marked the return of religion and ideology to American politics at a time when the titles of political analyses were proclaiming the Twilight of Social Conservatism (2015) and the End of White Christian America (2016). It revealed the furious persistence of the religious right, an entity whose final demise was for so long considered imminent that even as white evangelicals came out in droves to support the Trump-Pence ticket, their enthusiasm was dismissed, in the Washington Post, as the movement’s “last spastic breath.”

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Just after dawn in Lhamo, a small town on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau, horns summon the monks of Serti Monastery to prayer. Juniper incense smolders in the temple’s courtyard as monks begin arriving in huddled groups. Some walk the kora, a clockwise circumambulation around the building. Others hustle toward the main door, which sits just inside a porch decorated in bright thangka paintings. A pile of fur boots accumulates outside. When the last monks have arrived, the horn blowers leaning out of the second-floor windows retire indoors.

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As he approached his death in 1987, the photographer Peter Hujar was all but unknown, with a murky reputation and a tiny, if elite, cult following. Slowly circling down what was then the hopeless spiral of ­AIDS, Peter had ceaselessly debated one decision, which he reached only with difficulty, and only when the end drew near. He was in a hospital bed when he made his will that summer, naming me the executor of his entire artistic estate—and also its sole owner.

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The truth—that thing I thought I was telling.—John Ashbery To start with the facts: the chapter in my book White Sands called “Pilgrimage” is about a visit to the house where the philosopher Theodor Adorno lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War. It takes its title from the story of that name by Susan Sontag (recently republished in Debriefing: Collected Stories) about a visit she and her friend Merrill made to the house of Adorno’s fellow German exile Thomas Mann in the Pacific Palisades, in 1947, when she was fourteen. It seemed strange that the story was originally …
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