Weekly Review — February 18, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

A U.N. report compares North Korean prison camps to Nazi concentration camps, Barack Obama plays through drought in California, and Canada’s Inuit are warned away from raw Beluga meat

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

Early Lessons in Self-government (March 1876)

United Nations investigators issued a report recommending that North Korean officials, possibly including Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, be tried by the International Criminal Court for ordering the systematic torture, starvation, and murder of political prisoners in a manner the lead investigator called reminiscent of Nazi atrocities during World War II. “Large numbers of people . . . were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in pots, burned and then buried,” said chairman Michael Kirby. “It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them.”[1] Nazi scientists working at Dachau were found to have experimented with using mosquitoes to transmit malaria to Allied soldiers.[2] Citing “expert” advice that homosexuality is not genetic, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni said he would sign into law a bill that criminalizes the failure to report homosexuals and imposes sentences as severe as life imprisonment for homosexual acts.[3][4] In Abuja, an antigay mob reportedly beat 14 men with whips and nail-studded clubs, then dragged four of them to a police station, where the men were beaten by police.[5] The copilot of an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Rome hijacked his own plane, reported the hijacking on its transponder, and landed in Geneva, then requested asylum. “The pilot went to the toilet,” said an airport executive.[6][7] Swiss voters passed, by a margin of 0.8 percent, a ballot measure to introduce immigration quotas.[8] Anders Behring Breivik demanded a Playstation 3 and access to “adult games,” and Belgium legalized the euthanasia of minors. “Death,” said Dr. Daniel Basquelaine, “is coming quickly.”[9][10][11] German police shut down Utopia.[12]

During a trip to announce federal relief measures for California, which is suffering its worst drought on record, U.S. president Barack Obama pledged to include a $1 billion fund to fight climate change in his 2015 budget and played golf at two of Coachella Valley’s 124 courses, which collectively consume 17 percent of the region’s water.[13][14][15] Climatologists demonstrated that the jet stream has begun meandering from its expected path, leading to unexpected and long-lasting weather patterns around the world, and pathologists warned Canada’s Inuit not to eat raw Beluga meat after discovering that arctic thaws had allowed the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes blindness in humans, to spread to whale populations. “My father, he says, ‘We’re not cooking it,’ ” said a hunter in the Northwest Territories. “I set aside some muktuk [frozen whale blubber] and say, ‘That’s yours. You want to eat it raw, you go ahead.’ ”[16][17] At the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, where officials airlifted in 24 tons of salt from Switzerland to prevent event cancellations owing to melting snow at outdoor venues, the U.S. men’s hockey team defeated Russia 3–2 in a shootout after an American referee disallowed a Russian goal late in the third period. “Make soap out of the ref!” chanted protesters in Moscow. “I agree with everything said about the referee,” said opposition activist Alexei Navalny. “Even if the judge was wrong, we mustn’t stick labels on anybody,” said President Vladimir Putin.[18][19] A senior army officer falsely announced a military takeover of the Libyan government, the Free Syrian Army fired its commander for reasons that included “errors and carelessness in combat,” and the lead negotiator for peace talks in Geneva between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his opponents apologized to Syrians after the discussions reached an impasse.[20][21][22] Pakistan ended peace talks with the Taliban after one of its factions killed 23 captive soldiers, and an explosion at a Peshawar cinema known for showing pornographic films killed at least 11 people. “We condemn the blast,” said a Taliban spokesman.[23][24][25]

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Dozens of Turkish parliamentarians brawled during debate over a plan passed by the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to bring the country’s judiciary under direct government oversight, and an Indian MP deployed a canister of pepper spray while participating in one of several fights in parliament during debate over the creation of a new state.[26][27] Comedian Sid Caesar died at age 91, and Depression-era film star and U.S. diplomat Shirley Temple Black died at age 85.[28][29] China declared its Jade Rabbit lunar rover dead, then alive.[30] A Norwegian runologist cracked the jötunvillur code, and Swedish surströmming expert Ruben Madsen was preparing to travel to the mountains of Norway to open a swollen 25-year-old can of fermented herring, then eat its contents. “Think of the difference between Wagner and Chopin,” Madsen said of aged herring’s taste. “With Wagner, you get hit repeatedly with the same tones. But with Chopin, you can hear every instrument, every tone.”[31][32] Researchers in Pennsylvania found that the earwax of Caucasian men smells more strongly than the earwax of East Asian men, and researchers in California explained why skunks don’t live in social groups. “We went into it,” said biologist Theodore Stankowich, “focusing on the noxious spray.”[33][34]


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For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.

One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.

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