Weekly Review — March 13, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

A fifteen-year-old boy smiled as he murdered two classmates and wounded over a dozen others in Santee, California. A fourteen-year-old girl, who was said to be a victim of teasing, shot up her school in Pennsylvania, hitting one girl, a cheerleader and possibly one of her tormentors, in the shoulder. A seventeen-year-old boy beat his father to death with a baseball bat because he didn’t want to turn off two radios and a television that he was listening to simultaneously; the boy told police that he then went bowling, tried to slash his wrists, and deliberately crashed his dead father’s Jeep in a second attempt to end it all. Forty-one young children in China who were busy making firecrackers to raise money for their school were blown to bits when their gunpowder exploded and destroyed their school. China’s prime minister denied that the eighth graders were making fireworks and claimed instead that a crazed suicide bomber had caused the explosion. Other officials admitted that “every school in every village and every county” in that region makes fireworks. A Florida judge named Lazarus sentenced a fourteen-year-old boy to life in prison without parole for the murder two years ago of a six-year-old girl. A dead infant was found in the jaws of a dog in Brooklyn.

Twenty-five thousand body parts, including nine hundred baby hearts, were found in hospitals and other institutions in Australia. Browne & Williamson Tobacco Corporation paid $1,087,191 to a seventy-year-old former smoker in Jacksonville, Florida, who lost a lung to cancer. The Swiss government proposed legalizing the consumption of marijuana and hashish after a study showed that everyone was using the drugs anyway. Over a hundred eunuchs traveled to Bhopal, India, to compete in the Ms. World 2001 contest. Twenty-five thousand prostitutes gathered in Calcutta for a three-day carnival to demand recognition as a legitimate service-industry profession. Male baboons prefer to mate with females with large swollen bottoms, researchers said. Nepalese policearrested a woman in Kathmandu for possession of ninety-five human skulls. A study found that injecting fetal cells directly into the brains of Parkinson’s patients does not help them; in fact, it caused some patients to writhe and jerk spontaneously.

Anarchists claimed responsibility for last week’s earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. An Australian physicist warned that invisible asteroids made out of “mirror matter,” a form of invisible dark matter, could strike the earth and destroy us all. The new Israeli government of national unity under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was preparing to introduce legislation that would legalize the torture of Palestinian prisoners; such torture was legal in Israel until 1984, and until 1999, Shin Bet, the domestic security service, was allowed to use “moderate physical pressure” during interrogations. One Shin Bet source made the following unassailable argument to the Times of London: “We interrogate hundreds of Palestinians every day, all suspected of terrorism. Last month we arrested a girl who lured an Israeli boy via the Internet to Ramallah, where he was brutally murdered. It took us 30 days to get a confession out of her. If we had been allowed to apply physical pressure, she would have confessed after a couple of hours.” Georgia’s supreme court agreed to decide whether killing people with an electric chair was cruel. An Egyptian shepherd was shot and killed by one of his sheep. Missouri was preparing to execute a retarded man when the Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay. An aide to President George W. Bush admitted that the President spent only about five hours working on his recent budget proposal. Vice President Dick Cheneydid not have another heart attack. President Bush told South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, that the United States would not continue the Clinton Administration’s efforts to make peace with North Korea. Bush said: “We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements.” A White House spokesman later admitted that North Korea has not violated its single agreement with the U.S. and explained that although the president did not use the future tense he was in fact referring to future agreements. “That’s how the president speaks,” the spokesman said.

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Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

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On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

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In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

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