Weekly Review — December 29, 2009, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: The Wire Master and his puppets, 1875]
The wire master and his puppets, 1875.

Voting on Christmas Eve for the first time since 1895, the Senate passed a sweeping health-care bill that does not include a public option. Majority Leader Harry Reid accidentally voted “no” before instantly reversing his vote (“It was just–I am bushed,” he explained); ultimately, Democrats supplied every one of the 60 votes needed to pass the bill, leaving Republican Senator Orrin Hatch to complain that some of those votes were obtained with “a grab bag of back-room Chicago-style buyoffs.” The Senate bill will be merged next month with the version that passed the House, which does include a public option; among the issues to be reconciled are abortion coverage, the severity of fines for those who don’t buy coverage, and the amount of government subsidies to those who are unable to afford insurance.New York TimesNew York TimesNew York TimesNPRCongress raised the government’s debt ceiling by nearly $300 billion, to $12.4 trillion, in order to keep the United States afloat until mid-February, and the Obama Administration pledged to provide unlimited financial assistance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The companies then disclosed that they would pay up to $42 million to 12 top executives.The Washington PostAP, via ABC NewsTwo donkeys escaped from a nativity scene near Vail, Colorado.AP, via Huffington Post

A 23-year-old Nigerian man who was known to American intelligence as a suspected terrorist attempted to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear aboard a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who claims ties to Al Qaeda in Yemen, was restrained by passengers who heard a popping sound and noticed his lap was on fire.New York TimesJasper Schuringa, a Dutch passenger who tackled Abdulmutallab, subsequently sold his story to CNN, ABC News, and the New York Post for $18,000.GawkerA tugboat working to prevent oil spills by checking for potentially dangerous ice hit the same reef as the Exxon Valdez, spilling a three-mile-wide swath of fuel oil.New York TimesA horse-drawn cart carrying explosives blew up in Kandahar, Afghanistan, killing eight people, and several pro-reform demonstrators were killed by security forces in Tehran, as tens of thousands marched and chanted “Death to the dictator” during Ashoura, a Shiite holy day.APThe Holy See declared that anyone wishing to use the name or image of the Pope must first have approval from the Vatican.AP, via Huffington PostThe TelegraphA woman knocked over the Pope on Christmas Eve.NYTThe Vatican appreciated that Homer Simpson “finds in God his last refuge, even though he sometimes gets his name sensationally wrong,” as when he referred to God as Superman. Neighbors of a California man were unhappy with his life-size lawn display of Jesus shooting Santa Claus.UPIFOX NewsA conservative website noticed that among the White House Christmas tree’s 800 ornaments were some featuring images of Chairman Mao Zedong and drag queen Hedda Lettuce.The Week

Liu Xiaobo, an activist who called for open elections and the rule of law in China, was sentenced after a two-hour trial to 11 years in prison for subversion.New York TimesA man who killed and ate what was believed to be the last wild Indochinese tiger in China was sent to jail for 12 years, and White House officials acknowledged that, given failed efforts to replace it, Guantanamo Bay was not likely to close until 2011, at least a year past President Obama’s target.ReutersNew York TimesThe general who oversees American forces in northern Iraq backed off his earlier claim that soldiers who become pregnant can be court-martialed for abandoning their posts; the rule, he said, was designed to make soldiers “think before they act.”New York TimesCNNScientists discovered that some female ducks have evolved vaginas with clockwise spirals that lock out the oppositely spiraled, corkscrew-shaped penises of undesirable males, though when the female consents, she can employ techniques to allow her preferred male to copulate.Live ScienceA Japanese man known as SAL9000 legally married an anime character in a dating-simulation video game called “Love Plus,” taking her to Guam on their honeymoon.ReutersPrince William slept on the street in London.Daily MailResearchers in Kentucky found evidence that acetaminophen may help ease the pain of social rejection and loneliness.Science DailyScientists discovered surviving 30,000-year-old microbes in a Death Valley, California, salt crystal, and a 76-year-old Australian who filled his scuba tank in 1968 but never used it provided scientists with the oldest sample of air from the southern hemisphere, for use in their air archives. “They said that they had the oldest air,” noted the tank’s owner, “and I thought, ‘No they haven’t, I’ve got the oldest air!’”New ScientistNature.com

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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.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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