Weekly Review — April 24, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

The pharmaceutical industry dropped its suit against the South African government over a law that will permit the importation of inexpensive anti-AIDSdrugs; the drug companies agreed to pay the government’s legal costs and admitted that the law in question does in fact abide by international trade agreements. Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang, South Africa’s health minister, was asked what the government planned to do next, having won this important victory; she replied that actually there was no real need to use such drugs in a country with the highest rate of AIDS infection on earth. Scientists sequenced the genomes of two strains of drug-resistant staphylococcus bacteria; they discovered that the bacteria are capable of stealing genes from other organisms, which enables them very quickly to develop immunity to new drugs. Other scientists discovered that feeding antibiotics to animals, already known to contribute to resistant strains of salmonella and other gut bacteria, has led to the development of resistant strains of soil- and water-borne bacteria beneath farms that use such feed. United States officials admitted that a domestic outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was very likely. An oil pipe broke on Alaska’s North Slope spilling 92,400 gallons of “produced water,” a mixture of salt water and oil, onto the tundra, making it the largest tundra spill on the North Slope to date. President Bush had no comment. Twenty thousand hippies stormed the site of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec, throwing rocks and bottles and tearing down a chainlink fence as they protested plans for a hemispheric free trade area. Apparently worried that his own stock was falling faster than the Dow, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan again cut interest rates and was duly rewarded with a market surge. Residents of Mississippivoted 2 to 1 to keep their rebel flag. The Mississippi River was flooding the Midwest. The New York Times noticed that the blues was dying off down in the Delta.

The Environmental Protection Agency decided to honor new Clinton Administration rules strengthening the protection of wetlands. The United StatesCommerce Department proposed extending endangered species protection to the smalltooth sawfish, whose population in American waters has dropped 99 percent. Some experts were worried about tourists who pay to swim with sharks, which are lured by fish heads and such; others welcomed the chance to studynatural selection at work. One hundred and sixty-four people died in 628 accidents during Thailand’s annual water festival. A Thai senator claimed to have found evidence of a cache of gold hidden by Japanese soldiers during World War II; troops were called in to look for the loot. Taro Aso, a candidate for prime minister in Japan, said that his country should try to attract “rich Jews” to help solve Japan’s problems. “I think the best country is one in which rich Jews feel like living.” Aso later said he had been misunderstood: “If the phrase ‘rich Jewish people’ causes misunderstanding, I will correct it and stop it.” Pat Robertson told a reporter that China was “doing what they have to do” when officials force women to have abortions, because otherwise “the population would be unsustainable”; Robertson later clarified his statement and said that he hadn’t meant to condone forced abortion at all. Singapore was paying cash to couples who have second and third children as part of its “Baby Bonus Scheme” to reverse its falling birthrate; a local newspaper printed instructions for having sex in the back seat of a car.

Britain banned human cloning. The parents of the Colombine High School killers settled a lawsuit for $2.5 million with the families of victims. The family of Dave Sanders, a teacher killed at Colombine, filed a $5 billion class-action lawsuit against 25 media companies for turning Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold into killers with the violent imagery of movies and video games. A man named Luther V. Casteel was told to leave JB’s Pub in Elgin, Illinois, so he went and got his guns and shot up the bar, killing two and injuring 21. St. John’s wort does not prevent depression, a study found. People in Oklahoma City were gearing up for Timothy McVeigh’s execution. The Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for a murderer who was represented by a lawyer who also represented the victim. French people were telling pollsters that they, too, wanted to kill their old and feeble, just like the Dutch. A barber in Amsterdam who stabbed a violent customer to death with a pair of scissors was released after it was found that he acted in self-defense. A new survey discovered that some English drivers believe that a road sign warning of a toad crossing signifies the presence of a French restaurant. Miss Israel, an eighteen-year-old soldier from Haifa named Ilanit Levy, announced that she will wear a bulletproof dress at the Miss Universe pageant next month. The British Flying Saucer Bureau closed its doors. Researchers in Chicago made a functional cyborg using the brain of an immature lamprey eel.

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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 the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

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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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A gay penguin couple in China’s Polar Land zoo were ostracized by other penguins and then placed in a separate enclosure after they made repeated attempts to steal the eggs of straight penguin couples and replace them with stones.

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