Weekly Review — February 11, 2020, 4:37 pm

Weekly Review

Donald Trump was impeached but not removed from office; the novel coronavirus death toll in China rose above nine hundred; a hunting convention auctioned off a trip to shoot Sitka black-tailed deer in Alaska with “accomplished conservationist” Donald Trump Jr.

Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah), whom Barack Obama once described as a “bullshitter,” voted to convict President Donald Trump of abuse of power and to acquit him of obstruction of Congress.1 2 “I don’t think that was an appropriate approach, necessarily,” Romney said later. “But [Trump] did follow the law.” The freshly acquitted president proposed a $4.8 trillion budget that would cut student loan assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid, and invest in nuclear weapons.3 “We’re doing a lot of things that are good, including waste and fraud,” Trump said. “Tremendous waste and tremendous fraud.” During his third State of the Union address, Trump announced a “great American comeback,” surprised an Army wife with her husband’s return, and granted a scholarship to a nine-year-old girl.4 The president also broke with tradition by giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh—a radio host who has said that the NBA should be renamed “the Thug Basketball Association,” that the NFL “all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons,” and that “all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson”—during the speech.5 6 7 8 Twitter and Facebook did not remove a video that had been edited to make it seem as though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had practiced ripping up the president’s speech on the dais.9 The Iowa Democratic Party took six days to release the full results of its first-in-the-nation caucuses, in part because of an app designed by Shadow, Inc., internet trolls clogging the reporting hotline, and rounding errors on caucus tally sheets.10 11 12 A lawyer for the party said that “incorrect math on the Caucus Math Worksheets must not be changed” so as not to “insert personal opinion into the process,” and DNC chairman Tom Perez called for a second Iowa caucus.13 14 In New Hampshire, Joe Biden called a woman 56 years his junior “a lying, dog-faced pony soldier,” which his campaign incorrectly attributed to a film starring John Wayne, and Pete Buttigieg said that his lack of experience was “exactly the point.”15 16

The novel coronavirus death toll in China rose above nine hundred, surpassing that of the SARS epidemic of 2002–03.17 The WHO sent a team to Beijing to investigate the epidemic and warned of a shortage in protective gear, saying that demand for some products had risen one hundredfold.18 19 Chinese authorities recommended treating the virus with patchouli, dried tangerine peel, and the Peaceful Palace Bovine Pill, which is made from cattle gallstone, buffalo horn, jasmine, pearl, and ruby of arsenic.20 21 “Something is wrong,” said an American novelist who had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship for a week.22 “I keep hearing painful coughs from a foreigner,” said another passenger.23 Americans evacuated from Wuhan did Zumba.24 Macau closed its casinos.25 Fang County began offering cash to residents for reporting fevers: 500 renminbi for a neighbor’s, 1,000 for their own.26 Chinese authorities fined a supermarket for inflating cabbage prices, an instant-noodle company increased production to four million packets a day, and Hong Kong residents rushed to buy toilet paper after rumors of a shortage spread online.27 28 A man flying from Canada to Jamaica lied about having the virus in an attempt to go viral.29 “I was looking to get it up on all the social-media platforms,” he said. In Turkey, a Pegasus Airlines plane skidded off the runway and broke apart, killing three people, and a team of rescue workers searching for a minibus hit by an avalanche in Van province were buried in a second avalanche.30 31 “I guess I died,” said a passenger who survived the crash. A high-speed passenger train went off the rails in Ospedaletto Lodigiano, Italy; one passenger described the crash as “a roller-coaster for twenty seconds.”32 The U.S. government approved a robotics company’s request to deploy self-driving vehicles that will not be required to have side or rearview mirrors, windshield wipers, steering wheels, or brake pedals, and police officers in North Carolina arrested a man who allegedly doused a woman in flammable liquid and lit her on fire while she was sitting alone in her car.33 34

To comply with a new cash-register law, bakeries in Bavaria began selling Kassenbon Krapfen, donuts topped with fondant receipts.35 “Edible and not hazardous waste,” said a baker in Grosshabersdorf. In Kerala, a local water supply was contaminated by expired beer, brandy, and rum. In Tokyo, a pub introduced a robot bartender that can pour a beer in forty seconds, mix a cocktail in a minute, and chat about the weather.36 37 “I like it because dealing with people can be a hassle,” said a restaurant worker. “With this you can just come and get drunk.” A German court ruled that a 13th-century bas-relief that depicts a rabbi looking into a pig’s anus “did not harm Jews’ reputation” because it was “embedded” and could keep its place on the Wittenberg church where Martin Luther once preached.38 A hunting convention auctioned off a trip to shoot Sitka black-tailed deer in Alaska with “accomplished conservationist” Donald Trump Jr., and contractors blasted a mountain on protected lands in the Sonoran Desert to make way for his father’s border wall.39 40 Scientists found that the jackass penguin, which brays like a donkey in distress, follows the same speech patterns as humans, and that sand dunes can communicate when they move, pushing neighbors away.41 42 “We’re not talking about humans with brains,” said a researcher. “We’re talking about sand dunes.” A team of marine scientists prepared to dive into the Indian Ocean’s Midnight Zone to study life beyond light’s reach.43Stephanie McFeeters

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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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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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