Weekly Review — February 26, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

The Pentagon said it was planning a new propaganda office called the Office of Strategic Information, which will seek to feed news items to the foreign media in an effort to manipulate public opinion. Such items will not necessarily be true. The plan also calls for computer network attacks on media outlets whose news coverage is deemed counterproductive. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the new office will not lie to the public but might “do things,” which he characterized as “tactical deception,” to confuse the enemy. Rumsfeld subsequently tried to distance himself from the office and muttered that “all the misinformation and adverse publicity that it’s received” might have doomed it. ABC announced a new “reality” show about American soldiers called Profiles from the Front Line; the show will be produced in cooperation with the Pentagon and Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer of Top Gun, Pearl Harbor, and Black Hawk Down.President Bush continued his Asian tour. In China he told students that America is “a nation guided by faith,” a nation “with the soul of a Church.” Later, at a banquet in the Great Hall of the People, President Jiang Zemin sang “O Sole Mio.” Bush did not sing. In South Korea, the President managed to abstain from calling North Korea evil except when he was told that axes used to kill two American soldiers were in a North Korean museum. “No wonder I think they’re evil,” he said. North Korea dismissed Bush as “a puppy knowing no fear of the tiger,” and “a man bereft of elementary reason.” Vice President Dick Cheney defended President Bush’saxis of evil” doctrine and said that “most Americans find it reassuring to have a commander in chief who tells the truth and who means exactly what he says.”

The Environmental Protection Agency was fighting to prevent the Department of Energy from gutting the Clean Air Act. There were further indications that the Bush Administration plans to reverse the proposed ban on snowmobiles in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, apparently because of pressure from snowmobile manufacturers. Last weekend 1,200 snowmobiles entered Yellowstone through one popular entrance; the pollution is so bad there that the National Park Service must pump fresh air into ticket booths and provide park rangers with respirators. The White House proposed shifting the cost of the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites from the companies responsible for the pollution to the federal government, a change that would amount to another large corporate tax cut. A jury found the Monsanto Company negligent in the decades-long pollution of Anniston, Alabama, where the company dumped thousands of pounds of PCBs into local creeks. Colorado authorities were planning to slaughter 4,500 deer to fight chronic wasting disease, a cousin of mad-cow disease. The first comprehensive survey of the entire North Atlantic fishery revealed that the fishing stock could completely collapse by 2010. Two drunk fisherman got into a fight in Florida; the first hit the second with a beer bottle; the second stabbed the first with the bill of a swordfish. Physicists claimed that they might have captured some antimatter particles for the first time. A dental researcher at the University of Florida announced that he had created a genetically modified bacteria that will prevent tooth decay.

The General Accounting Office filed suit against Vice President Dick Cheney to force him to reveal the identities of energy-company executives who advised him in his drafting of the administration’s energy policy last year. Cheney has refused to release such information, citing “executive privilege.” British peacekeepers in Bosnia discovered a hermit, a Serb, who had been hiding in the mountains, unaware that the war had ended, since Croat authorities executed his brothers in 1996. It was reported that the Pope has performed three exorcisms, the most recent in September. Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo staged a drill wherein a man dressed up in a bear suit pretended to be an escaped polar bear; he was captured in a net and taken away. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that “the state of Israel is not collapsing.” A professor at the University of Maryland released a study showing that during the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians from 1995 to 2000, incidents of terrorism in the Middle East declined every year; by 1999 the region had the second-lowest level of such incidents in the world. Economists were speculating that America might be in a W-shaped or “double-dip” recession. Britons, who waste an estimated 286 million work hours every week, celebrated National Slacker Day. A Nigerian man confessed to chopping up his boss after a payment dispute and making her into pepper soup. In Los Angeles a man was arrested for trying to carry a very large fire cracker onto an airplane. There were new rumors that Osama bin Laden is alive. Pneumonic plague broke out in India. Britain accidentally invaded Spain.

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

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