Weekly Review — December 18, 2012, 8:00 am

Weekly Review


“What Though I Am Obligated to Dance a Bear”

At an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, a man carrying three semiautomatic guns fatally shot six women and 20 first-graders. Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother in her home, then brought her .223-caliber Bushmaster assault rifle, 10mm Glock pistol, and 9mm Sig Sauer pistol, as well as a shotgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he shot his way through a glass door and killed staff members and students in a hallway and two classrooms before killing himself.[1][2][3][4][5] The shooting was the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the sixteenth mass shooting in the United States this year, and the thirty-first school shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. “These tragedies must end,” said President Barack Obama during a speech in Newtown. “And to end them, we must change.”[6][7][8] The same week, police in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, arrested a high school student who was planning to kill his classmates with guns and explosives; police in Cedar Lake, Indiana, seized 47 guns from a man who had threatened to attack a nearby elementary school; police in Birmingham, Alabama, shot a gunman after he wounded three people at a hospital; a man in Portland, Oregon, shot and killed two people at a mall, then fatally shot himself; two police officers in Topeka, Kansas, were fatally shot outside a grocery store; and a federal appeals court struck down the country’s only statewide concealed-weapons ban.[9][10][11][12][13][14] The National Rifle Association disabled its Facebook page, and 31 senators with pro–gun rights voting records declined invitations to discuss gun control on Meet the Press. “A gun didn’t kill all those children,” said a Newtown gun owner. “A disturbed man killed all those children.”[15][16][17] At an elementary school in Chengping, China, a man carrying a knife wounded one adult and 22 children, killing none.[18]

Chinese businesses were selling self-help manuals, beauty products, and stainless-steel survival pods in preparation for December 21, which many people believe to be the date corresponding in the Mayan calendar to the beginning of the apocalypse. “That’s not going to happen,” said Mayan priest Ildefonso Cahuich May. “God is not going to turn around so fast and say, ‘I’m going to kill all my children.’ ”[19][20] A volunteer reviewer leaked a draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 report. “Many changes,” the paper reads, “are significant, unusual or unprecedented on time scales of decades to many hundreds of thousands of years.”[21] Debris from the comet Wirtanen crossed Earth’s orbit for the first time on record.[22][23] A Dutchman finished building a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark.[24] A Texas man carved a pentagram into his son’s back to mark the “holy day” of 12/12/12, an extinct polyglyphanodontian lizard was named after President Obama, and the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was rumored to be pregnant.[25][26][27] Damascus ran out of bread.[28] Syrian government forces launched Scud missiles at antigovernment forces, and the United States prepared to deploy two Patriot-missile batteries and 400 soldiers to Turkey’s Syrian border to deter attacks by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.[29] M-75, a perfume named for the rockets fired by Hamas militants into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during recent violence that killed more than 170 Palestinians and six Israelis, was selling briskly in Gaza. “I hope the smell is strong enough for them to whiff in Tel Aviv,” said one customer.[30] NASA concluded its Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission by smashing probes Ebb and Flow into the moon. “It is going to be difficult,” said GRAIL investigator Maria Zuber, “to say goodbye.”[31][32]

In Mali, government troops arrested prime minister and former NASA astrophysicist Cheick Modibo Diarra, whom the army had installed as leader following a March coup d’état. “You don’t need to be an Einstein,” said a Western diplomat, “to know that this will slow everything down.”[33] Sitarist Ravi Shankar died at 92, U.S. senator and World War II hero Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii) died at 88, and Norman Joseph Woodland, co-creator of the bar code, died at 91. “For whatever reason,” Woodland once said of his invention, which he came up with at the beach, “I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines. I said: ‘Golly! Now I have four lines.’ ”[34][35][36] The U.S. government fined HSBC $1.92 billion for laundering money linked with Mexican drug cartels and regimes subject to U.S. sanctions, but declined to press criminal charges against the bank’s executives.[37] Biologists were conditioning honeybees to stick out their tongues, obesity was found to be a bigger global health crisis than hunger, and humans were found to have been eating cheese since 5500 b.c.[38][39][40] Lionel Messi broke soccer’s record for most goals in a calendar year, and Zimbabwean lioness Pasha broke the global record for most cubs in one litter. “The lioness,” said ecologist Hillary Madzikanda, “was on a contraceptive pill.”[41][42] A man in the Polish town of Elblag burned his ear after mistaking his iron for a phone, vandals set fire to a straw Christmas goat in the Swedish town of Gavle for the twenty-sixth time since 1966, and a Danish newspaper published the first English translation of “The Tallow Candle,” a recently rediscovered fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.[43][44][45][46] An Ohio man named Hall had part of his left eyebrow bitten off by a man named Oates, and a Texas lemur named Keanu was placed in a wildlife refuge after biting a woman named Reeves.[47][48] Scientists at the University of Washington proposed to test the idea that the universe is a computer simulation run by our descendants by searching for “glitches” in the paths of cosmic rays. “I am sure you are real,” physicist Martin Savage told a journalist. “You are as real as I am.”[49][50]

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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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