Weekly Review — June 4, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Robert S. Mueller, the director of the F.B.I., admitted that the bureau might have been able to prevent the September 11 attacks if it had responded appropriately to a variety of intelligence reports. Mueller announced that he was creating an Office of Intelligence as part of a major redesign of the agency. Henceforth, he said, the F.B.I.’s first priority will be preventing terrorist attacks. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the F.B.I. is changing its internal guidelines and now would be permitted to carry out surveillance on domestic political and religious groups in situations where no specific criminal conduct is suspected. The old regulations were imposed 25 years ago in reaction to widespread abuses of power by the bureau. Civil libertarians complained that the F.B.I. was being rewarded with new powers for its failure to make use of the ones it already had. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed suit against the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and accused the company of planting informers, tapping phones, stealing documents, and other forms of aggressive espionage. A federal judge in New Jersey told the Bush Administration that its policy of holding secret hearings for all immigrants held in connection with the September 11 investigation violates the due process clause of the Constitution; the judge said the government may hold secret hearings but only after showing “specific evidence in an individual case of why it must be secret.” Intelligence officials revealed that the C.I.A. had identified two of the September 11 hijackers as Al Qaeda members in October 2000 but had simply watched as the men traveled to America; the agency did nothing to prevent their entry into the United States or to alert the I.N.S. or the F.B.I. so that the terrorists could be put under surveillance. The F.B.I. seized on the information as the missing link that could have enabled them to prevent the September 11 attacks.

Researchers in Scotland have determined that women are better liars than men. Australian scientists were trying to figure out why kangaroos are less flatulent than sheep. The Bush Administration issued a new report on global warming that for the first time accepts the fact that humans are the primary cause of recent climate change and that the main problem is the burning of fossil fuels. The report also acknowledges that massive and costly environmental damage is likely to occur, but concludes that nothing can be done about it and that the best course of action is simply to adapt to the catastrophic changes. A leaked report by the European Union concludes that the organic farming industry will be destroyed by genetic pollution from genetically modified crops if such crops are grown commercially in Europe. American diplomats were busy trying to block an international plan to provide more than a billion people with sanitation by 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency announced that two thirds of Americans live in areas where pollution from toxic chemicals poses an increased risk of cancer. The Food and Drug Administration said that some drugs designed to counteract biological, chemical, and nuclear terrorism will be approved before they are tested on humans and proved to work. Studies in two different states discovered that welfare reform has had the unexpected effect of discouraging single mothers from getting married.

A federal appeals court struck down the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2001, which requires libraries to use filtering software to prevent minors from viewing pornography and other harmful material, because the technology blocks too much information that is neither obscene nor dangerous and thus violates the First Amendment. The Liberace Museum reopened in Las Vegas. There was a fire at Buckingham Palace, which led to an evacuation, and the Queen was said to be approaching a “net worth of nil.” The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the state of Texas in the matter of Calvin Jerold Burdine, who was convicted of murdering his gay lover and was sentenced to die after his court-appointed lawyer slept through the trial; Texas officials, who had argued that having an unconscious lawyer did nothing to affect the fairness of his trial, must now retry Burdine or let him go. President Bush told religious leaders in Moscow that Americans “hold dear what our Declaration of Independence says, that all have got uninalienable rights.” President Bush met with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and somehow thought to ask him: “Do you have blacks, too?” Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, interrupted the conversation and explained: “Mr. President, Brazil probably has more blacks than the USA. Some say it’s the country with the most blacks outside Africa.” Cardoso was later heard to say that Bush was still in a “learning phase.”Punch, the English satirical magazine, published its last issue after 161 years. “The market for sophisticated political satire,” said a representative of the publisher, Mohammed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi died in a car crash with Princess Diana, “has diminished.” President Bush told a group of Republican senators that Kim Jong Il of North Korea was a “pygmy.” Masai tribesmen in Kenya, horrified by news of the September 11 attacks, donated 14 sacred cows to the American people.

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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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