Weekly Review — May 28, 2012, 9:45 pm

Weekly Review

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Syrian government forces killed at least 108 civilians, including 49 children, in Houla, a rebel-held village near Homs. Activists and witnesses said the Syrian army shelled the town with tank fire and mortars during the day, then sent militiamen to kill people house by house that night. The Syrian government claimed that its soldiers had been attacked by terrorists, who then shot and stabbed civilians. “We unequivocally deny the responsibility of government forces,” said foreign-ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi. The United Nations Security Council condemned Syria for the artillery and tank attacks, but avoided assigning responsibility for the close-range massacre of civilians.[1][2][3] Egypt held the preliminary round of its first presidential elections since the February 2011 uprising that forced out Hosni Mubarak. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi and Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq won the right to face each other in the final round of voting next month, prompting thousands to gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “The choice can’t be between a religious state and an autocratic state,” said one protester. A mob set fire to Shafiq’s campaign headquarters, and third-place finisher Hamdin Sabbahi demanded a recount, alleging that hundreds of thousands of serving police officers had voted, in contravention of Egyptian law. “There were many violations, and I think that every one is serious,” said election observer and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, “but collectively they did not affect the basic integrity of the election.”[4][5][6] The Daily Caller website announced that it would give away one 9mm pistol engraved with the Bill of Rights each week until November’s U.S. presidential election, and a vial purportedly containing blood drawn from Ronald Reagan after he was shot in 1981 was withdrawn from auction in response to criticism and donated to the Reagan Presidential Foundation. “I was a real fan of Reaganomics,” wrote the consignor, “and felt that President Reagan himself would rather see me sell it.”[7][8][9][10] Hewlett-Packard announced it would cut 27,000 jobs by 2014, Russia tested an ICBM capable of penetrating a planned missile-defense shield over Europe, and NATO signed a $1.7 billion deal to purchase surveillance drones from Northrup Grumman. “The decision to move ahead with the Alliance Ground Surveillance program in today’s difficult economic climate,” said NATO’s deputy secretary general, “sends a powerful message.”[11][12][13][14][15][16]

The Associated Press reported that 45 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were applying for disability benefits, more than double the proportion of those filing claims after the Gulf War. Officials said some of the claims were the result of economic circumstance. “We’ll say, ‘Is your back worse?’” said the executive director of Disabled American Veterans, “and they’ll say, ‘No, I just lost my job.’”[17] President Barack Obama promised during a Memorial Day service at Arlington National Cemetery not to send troops into another war unless it was “absolutely necessary,” and two female Army reservists sued the United States in an attempt to overturn the military’s restrictions on women in combat.[18][19] North Carolina’s legislature passed through to committee a bill that would make it the first American state to compensate victims of a government forced-sterilization program. “Get it over with and have it done,” said assemblyman Paul Stam (R.), “so they can enjoy it before they die.”[20] An earthquake in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region killed seven people, toppled churches and castles, and destroyed an estimated 400,000 88-pound wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheese.[21][22] Vatican police arrested a papal butler whose responsibilities included shading Pope Benedict XVI with a white umbrella for allegedly leaking private correspondence exposing corruption at the Vatican bank, and the director of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum outside Naples set fire to some of his museum’s artworks to protest cuts to Italy’s arts budget. “We destroy some art,” he said, “to save all art.”[23][24]

A group of Pi Kappa Alphas at Louisiana Tech University reportedly burned down their fraternity house while attempting to incinerate their textbooks.[25] In Montreal, thousands of “casserole” demonstrators banged pots and pans during rallies against planned university tuition hikes and a new Quebec anti-protest law that has led to hundreds of arrests.[26][27][28] Researchers identified as the world’s oldest musical instruments two flutes of mammoth ivory and bird bone, discovered in Germany’s Geissenkloesterle Cave, that were last played as long as 43,000 years ago, and biologists christened Loureedia, a new genus of underground-dwelling velvet spider.[29][30] Records showed that American officials had released sensitive information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden to Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, Barack Obama declared Mitt Romney’s allegation that he had unleashed a “prairie fire of debt” to be a “cow pie of distortion,” and a new biography of Obama claimed that he established several pot-smoking trends as a member of the Choom Gang at Punahou School in Honolulu, and that among Obama’s innovations was “total absorption,” which saw penalties levied against those who exhaled prematurely following a toke. “Wasting good bud smoke,” said Choom Gang member Tom Topolinski, “was not tolerated.”[31][32][33][34]

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“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
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