Weekly Review — September 25, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

President George W. Bush declared that all the nations of the earth must choose sides in the coming crusade against terrorism, and he promised to attack Afghanistan if its leaders refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the famous terrorist, whom the President has described as “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” Secretary of DefenseDonald Rumsfeld told reporters that the preliminary brand-name of the American military campaign, Operation Infinite Justice, would probably be changed, because it was offensive to Muslims, for whom infinite justice is a divine attribute. Some Christians also found the name offensive. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a 14.3 percent loss, its worst week since the Great Depression. The United States continued its routine bombing of Iraq. Bush Administration officials announced that they would lift sanctions against Pakistan, which were imposed after it tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Congress approved a $15 billion bailout for the airline industry, which has already eliminated over 100,000 jobs. The Bush Administration decided that farm subsidies should be eliminated. Afghanistan’s leading clerics said they would try to persuade Osama bin Laden to leave their country voluntarily, an offer that was quickly scorned by the White House. There was a report from Islamabad that bin Laden was last seen in a training camp outside Kabul, just before he rode off into the desert on the back of a horse. One Afghan diplomat scoffed at President Bush’s threats: “So the only master of the world wants to threaten us. But make no mistake: Afghanistan, as it was in the past, the Great Britain, he came, the Red Army, he came. Afghanistan is a swamp. People enter here laughing, are exiting injured.”

Paleontologists in Pakistan discovered a missing link between the ancient hoofed ancestors of whales and their descendants, who fancied fish, learned to swim, and eventually just stayed in the water. A vial of Saint Gennaro’s dried blood liquefied in Naples, Italy. The miracle, which typically occurs twice each year, is thought to be a very good omen. Pope John Paul II went to Kazakhstan, where he celebrated mass in a giant yurt. After four concerts of his music were cancelled, Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German avant-garde composer, apologized for describing the attack on the World Trade Center as “the greatest work of art one can imagine . . . the greatest work of art there is in the entire cosmos.” Video-game makers delayed introducing several new titles; WTC Defender, a video game in which players try to shoot down airplanes before they destroy the World Trade Center, was removed from the Internet. Doctors in the United States used a remotely controlled robot to remove a gallbladder from a patient in France, inaugurating a new era of globalized surgery. Japanesescientists were developing remote-controlled cockroaches guided by means of backpacks that send electronic signals into their brains. The roaches could be outfitted with small cameras, the scientists said, and used in search and rescue operations. Newly released CIA documents revealed that the agency once trained cats to operate as spies equipped with listening devices. The first such spy cat was run over by a taxi.

King Mswati of Swaziland imposed a five-year ban on having sex with teenage girls. Men who violate the ban will be fined one cow, as will unmarried girls who become pregnant. Another disabled child won a lawsuit against doctors in France based on the argument that she should have been aborted. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon vetoed talks with Yasir Arafat for the usual reasons. Main Street U.S.A. in Disney World was largely deserted, as were the beaches of Waikiki. Somebody walked into Manhattan’s Richard Gray Gallery and, before anyone noticed, walked out with a Picasso drawing that had been hanging on the wall. A man from the country who recently moved to Buenos Aires tied himself to his sheep to protest his rejection by 20 landlords: “I don’t really see why I shouldn’t be allowed to live with my sheep, as I did for all of my life,” he said. American Eagle TV was laying plans for a cable channel that would broadcast continuous live coverage of an American eagle family. A 50-hour sex marathon, which was to have included 1,500 participants, was cancelled in Brazil after authorities determined that the appropriate license was lacking. There were rumors that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whom some New Yorkers have taken to calling “our king,” would attempt to circumvent the city’s term-limits law. Hundreds of artificial hips were recalled by the Food and Drug Administration. Five workers in a Russian soap factory died after they fell into a giant cauldron of fat. Chinese factories were working day and night to manufacture flags for American patriots.

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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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