Weekly Review — November 27, 2001, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Advanced Cell Technology Inc. of Worcester, Massachusetts, announced that it had cloned a human embryo in order to mine it for stem cells; the company said that it had taken “extreme measures” to prevent the embryo from being placed in a womb. Independent experts dismissed the cloning experiment as a failure. Mad cow disease continued to spread in Japan. Scientists at Oxford University said up to 1,500 Britishsheep could have been infected with the disease. A new study confirmed that abuse of stimulants used to treat attention-deficit disorder, such as Ritalin, was rampant among children and teens. “People don’t realize what these drugs are,” one scientist said. “The similarities between them and cocaine are much greater than the differences.” Holiday tours were cancelled at the White House; “Evil knows no holiday,” explained President Bush. Afghanfarmers were planting opium again. Boxes of American food aid fell through the roofs of several houses in Herat, Afghanistan; an old shrine to a Persian poet was also damaged. Several children in Afghanistan were injured and killed when they picked up remnants of American cluster bombs, which did precisely what they were designed to do.Commenting on the new $25,000,000 bounty placed on the head of Osama bin Laden, who was said to be hiding in a cave somewhere, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that he was hoping for “a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks.”

The United Nations Committee Against Torture warned Israel to stop torturing Palestinians. Yaakov Levy, an Israeli delegate, told the committee that a “close reading” of the 1987 Convention Against Torture, which Israel signed, “clearly suggests that pain and suffering, in themselves, do not necessarily constitute torture.” An Israeli death squad killed a Hamas leader in the West Bank who was suspected of planning suicide attacks. Five young cousins walking to school near their refugee camp in Gaza were killed by a bomb that was set by an Israeli special forces unit. A 22-year-old Palestiniansuicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint, injuring two Israeli border guards. The war crimes tribunal at The Hague handed down a new indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for genocide. In Bosnia, 305 bodies were exhumed from a mass grave; the victims were probably from Srebrenica, where 7,000 unarmed men and boys were massacred in 1995. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was issued a summons to appear before a court in Belgium in a lawsuit stemming from his role in the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon; Belgian law permits lawsuits concerning crimes against humanity and genocide no matter where the crimes occurred. Some American police chiefs were refusing to go along with the federal government’s order to round up and question 5,000 legal Muslim immigrants, saying it smacked of racial profiling, which is illegal. Spain announced that it would not extradite eight men who were arrested for participating in the September 11attacks unless the United States agreed to give them a civilian trial; the military courts envisioned by the Bush Administration would violate the European Convention on Human Rights. An unnamed military source told a reporter that all the public might learn about such a trial was the defendant’s name and his sentence. A ninety-four-year-old woman in Connecticut came down with respiratory anthrax and died; a state representative appealed for calm: “We can’t panic,” she said, “until we know where it came from.”

An airliner crashed near Zurich. The U.S. government was looking to hire 28,000 airport screeners; one expert said that the perfect candidate might be an older widow who was good at finding things in a cluttered room. Al Gore decided to become vice chairman of an obscure financial services company in Los Angeles after he failed to persuade anyone on Wall Street to hire him. Germany’sGreen Party, rejecting one of its defining principles, voted to go along with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan. The Society for the Protection of Wolves said that a pack of wolves had wandered into eastern Germany and settled there. Three students in New Bedford, Massachusetts, were charged with plotting a massacre at their high school; they wanted it to be “bigger than Columbine.” An Illinois man ran amok in a mall: he set himself on fire, shouted “Freedom and liberty for all!” and started throwing flaming objects at shoppers. Wild elephants rampaged through two villages in Bangladesh, killing four people. The animals in Kabul’s zoo were barely hanging on. In Florida, a man riding a jet ski at about 55 mph died after he collided with a flying duck. A British vicar banned yoga from his church hall to protect his flock from the temptations of Eastern mysticism. Scientists found that mentally visualizing exercise can substantially increase one’s strength. In Ohio, legislators were considering a bill banning discrimination against people who ride motorcycles or wear biker colors. “You really sometimes are made to feel like a second-class citizen,” complained one biker, who is known as the Beast. Scientists said that last month was the warmest October in history. China was planning to put a man on the moon. President Bush rubbed a soldier’s bald head in Kentucky.

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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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