The death of Pope John Paul II dominated the front pages of most publications in the past week.
Words and photographs recall with touching reverence the vigorous, relatively youthful man the Polish prelate was when he ascended to the papacy instead of fixating on the ailments that plagued him in recent years.
David Remnick, former Moscow bureau chief of The Washington Post and now editor of the New Yorker, leads off the magazine’s April 11 issue with a feature on the impact John Paul’s 1978 election to the papacy had on the KGB.
Mr. Remnick recalls one of Poland’s leading dissidents, Adam Michnik, saying John Paul’s visit to his native Poland (less than a year after being named pope) had brought hope; a challenge to “dishonorable living”; and the revival of the “ethos of sacrifice, in whose name our fathers and grandfathers never stopped fighting for national and human dignity.”
Elsewhere, the New Yorker features two stories that are sure to raise eyebrows.
“The Tangle,” by Jonathan Weiner (appearing in the magazine’s Annals of Medicine feature), discusses the history of lytico-bodig, a strange neurological disease suffered by the Chamorro natives on Guam and Rota.
The malady is named by combining lytico — which the writer says is from the Spanish word for paralytic — and bodig, extracted from a Chamorro word for listlessness.
Its symptoms resemble those of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and sometimes mirror the same patterns found in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). During the 1950s, at the height of the epidemic on Guam, the incidence rate was sometimes as much as 100 times higher than the global average for ALS, Mr. Weiner writes.
Paul Cox, an ethnobotanist and expert on Pacific fruit bats, says that eating the flying mammals — considered a delicacy by the Chamorros — may have triggered the lytico-bodig outbreak.
Bats on Guam seem to consume cycads, primitive seed-bearing plants that are believed to predate dinosaurs by tens of millions of years. According to Mr. Cox, a toxic amino acid found in cycad seeds called beta-methylamino-L-alanine (or BMAA for short), may link the local problem of lytico-bodig to the global dilemma of neurodegenerative diseases.
Should Mr. Cox’s theories, as reported by Mr. Weiner, prove correct, the blooms of blue-green algae that cover thousands of square miles of oceans — not to mention the drinking water in our local reservoirs — may contain a potent neurotoxin. “We may risk consuming it wherever we live, whenever we eat a piece of fish or take a sip of water,” Mr. Weiner writes.
Equally captivating a read is Sean Wilsey’s “Peace Is a Beautiful Thing,” an article that surely will pave the way for “Oh, the Glory of It All,” his 475-page coming-of-age tome due in bookstores next month.
“Peace” opens with an overview of San Francisco, where Mr. Wilsey was born, and captures a glimpse of that city’s moneyed and social elite — which included his parents, philanthropist and food magnate Al Wilsey, now dead, and Pat Montandon. The couple wed in 1969 and divorced 10 years later.
During the 1960s, Miss Montandon, a stunning blonde, was married to famed trial attorney Melvin Belli (who defended Lee Harvey Oswald killer Jack Ruby) in a Shinto ceremony in Japan, but the union was annulled after 36 days.. She also served as the society columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and had her own fan club and a talk show on KGO-TV, the city’s ABC affiliate.
In 1982, Miss Montandon received a vision, she believed, from God and organized peace trips abroad with her children in tow. Now in her late 70s, she’s still touring, her son says. She recently returned from Beslan, Russia, where she aided young pupils who survived the deadly siege of their school last fall.
The article is accompanied by photographs of Miss Montandon with a host of world leaders, including Pope John Paul II, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Mikhail Gorbachev.
The May edition of the Atlantic Monthly offers “In the Footsteps of Tocqueville,” a lengthy feature by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy about his recent journey across the United States.
He seemed to do most of his traveling in the months leading up to last year’s presidential race. He mentions staying in a hotel room that’s being reserved for Sen. John Kerry the week before the Democratic candidate is scheduled to check in. Mr. Levy also finds new U.S. Sen. Barack Obama appealing and is baffled that President Bush has attained “late-blooming grace.”
Also in the Atlantic: “The Apocalypse, Rated PG,” an intriguing article by Ross Douthat.
The story centers on whether Philip Anschutz — the low-key conservative Denver billionaire who is bankrolling Disney’s production of C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” — will find success with the $150 million film, which arrives in theaters at year’s end.
“My friends think I’m a candidate for a lobotomy, but I don’t care,” Mr. Anschutz said at the close of one of his rare public speeches, given in Florida and sponsored by the conservative Hillsdale College in south-central Michigan. “If we can make some movies that have a positive effect on people’s lives and on our culture, that’s enough for me.”