Weekly Review — August 30, 2016, 5:32 pm

Weekly Review

An earthquake kills 290 people in Italy, Egypt’s police use Grindr, and a dog is elected mayor of a town in Minnesota for the second time.

HarpersWeb-WeeklyReview-RP-LargeAt least 290 people were killed and hundreds more were injured when a 6.2-magnitude earthquake destroyed four medieval hill towns in central Italy, including the town of Amatrice, which was preparing for its 50th annual spaghetti festival.[1] Rescue crews and firefighters searched for survivors in the rubble, and Italian restaurants in New York City pledged to donate the proceeds from sales of pasta all’amatriciana. “The future,” said one resident of Amatrice, “is finished.”[2] The Turkish military sent warplanes and tanks across the border into Syria, in a campaign dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield, to target Islamic State and Kurdish fighters, and thousands of Syrian rebels and civilians were forced to evacuate the Damascus suburb of Daraya, which had been under siege by government forces for four years.[3][4] Anti-immigration activists in Prague caused panic among tourists when they entered the Old Town Square leading a camel and a goat, carrying fake submachine guns, and shouting “Allahu akbar!”[5] WikiLeaks was criticized for outing gay Saudi Arabians by releasing a large trove of Saudi government data, Egyptian police used the gay dating app Grindr to entrap members of the country’s LGBT community, and Pyongyang launched a Netflix-like service called Manbang.[6][7][8] An Indian minister recommended that foreign women not wear skirts when visiting the country.[9] Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy called for a nationwide ban on burkinis, and France’s highest administrative court suspended the town of Villeneuve-Loubet’s ban on the swimwear after photos circulated of police standing over a woman on a beach while she removed her clothing.[10][11]

Astrophysicists announced the discovery of Proxima b, an Earth-sized exoplanet 4.3 light-years away. “We could finally have something like a real conversation,” said one researcher, “with an alien.”[12] The pharmaceutical company Mylan faced backlash on social media after raising the price of a double pack of EpiPens, an injection device that treats severe allergic reactions, from less than $100 in 2007 to more than $600 this year.[13] Scientists at UCLA woke a 25-year-old man from a coma by using ultrasound technology to stimulate neurons in his thalamus.[14] The Food and Drug Administration ordered blood banks in the United States to begin screening for the Zika virus, and Singapore released thousands of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia bacteria to combat dengue. “The biggest drawback,” said one infectious-disease expert, “is we don’t really know what’s going to happen.”[15][16] It was reported that the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were the lowest-rated and least-watched Olympics since 2000.[17] Russia seized the assets of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Russian athlete who exposed the country’s national doping scheme, and a flight carrying members of the Russian Olympic team was delayed by four and a half hours after the delegation’s giant matryoshka doll became stuck in an airport terminal gate.[18][19] A U.S. court ruled that the grocery chain Trader Joe’s could proceed with its lawsuit against a Canadian store called Pirate Joe’s, which resold its merchandise, and Citigroup and AT&T agreed to end a legal dispute about who had the right to use the phrase “THANKYOU” when corresponding with customers.[20][21] The National Labor Relations Board voted to allow graduate students at private universities to unionize, the University of Chicago sent a letter notifying students that the school does not support safe spaces, and it was reported that SUNY Binghamton had offered its residential advisers a course called “Stop White People.”[22][23][24] Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was found to have plagiarized his undergraduate thesis.[25]

In New Jersey, a newspaper published two obituaries of the same man, one by his wife and one by a woman claiming to be his girlfriend.[26] A minor-league baseball player hit a grand slam, smashing the windshield of his own truck, which was parked outside the stadium. KFC released an “Extra Crispy” sunscreen that smells like fried chicken, and Colonel Sanders’s nephew may have accidentally leaked the company’s secret spice blend to a reporter.[27][28] A family in Turkey got food poisoning at a dinner they organized to celebrate their recovery from food poisoning.[29] A study found that ramen noodles have replaced cigarettes as the most popular form of currency in U.S. prisons. [30] A Domino’s in New Zealand completed the world’s first pizza delivery by drone, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture bought 11 million pounds of cheese to support American dairy farmers.[31][32] A dog named Duke was elected mayor of a town in Minnesota for the third time, and a Canadian animal-rights activist appeared in court to defend her practice of giving water to pigs on their way to slaughter. “Nutritionally,” said her lawyer, “it’s the moral high ground.”[33][34]

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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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Last fall, a court filing in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently suggested that the Justice Department had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other outlets reported soon after that Assange had likely been secretly indicted for conspiring with his sources to publish classified government material and hacked documents belonging to the Democratic National Committee, among other things.

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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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