Weekly Review — July 2, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

President George W. Bush said that he would not support the creation of a Palestinian state until the Palestinian people get rid of Yasir Arafat. Bush sketched his vision of a Palestinian state, a vision that included an independent legislature and judiciary and other democratic institutions; Bush also said he wanted Palestine to be a land of free markets without corruption. “I am willing to take my chances and say that this speech will not result in anything,” said Schlomo Ben Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister. “At times I think he is talking about Switzerland and not about the Middle East.” Britain’s foreign secretary Jack Straw criticized Bush’s ultimatum, saying it was up to the Palestinians to choose their own leader. WorldCom, America’s second largest long-distance company, announced that it had hidden $3.8 billion in expenses over the last year in what might be the largest accounting fraud in history. Nasdaq dropped to a five-year low, and trading in WorldCom was suspended. Investors were said to be experiencing a crisis of faith in the capitalist system, and the Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges against the company, which was said to be nearing the end of its useful life. Xerox announced it was “reclassifying” $6.4 billion in revenue from the late 1990s. Financial “contagion” was detected in Latin America. Federal prosecutors said they had widened their insider trading investigation of Martha Stewart to include obstruction of justice. The U.S. dollar fell against the euro and the yen, and Europeans were grumbling that America was perhaps not such a safe place to invest anymore.

President Bush called on Congress to raise the federal debt ceiling before the government runs out of money; he said it was the patriotic thing to do. After some hesitation, lawmakers granted his wish. The Internal Revenue Service admitted that it had never gotten around to pursuing 1.3 million taxpayers who owe the government about $16 billion dollars in delinquent taxes. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that 22,000 devices worldwide are vulnerable to terrorist exploitation in the manufacture of a “dirty bomb”; the agency said that every country has the materials for such a bomb and that more than 100 countries had not taken adequate steps to protect radioactive materials. The F.B.I., which issued a secret alert to law-enforcement officials that terrorists might strike on July 4, was busy checking the library records of people whom they suspect of being terrorists. Federal officers searched the home of a biologist in Maryland as part of the ongoing investigation into last year’s anthrax attacks but said they had found no evidence of wrongdoing. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were infecting monkeys with smallpox in hopes of creating a better vaccine for the virus. The dean of the school of public health at Johns Hopkins University said that this was “an abhorrent experiment by government idiots.” Peter Jahrling, the project’s lead scientist, reassured reporters: “We’re not interested in killing monkeys capriciously. Sometimes I sit bolt upright in the middle of the night,” he said. “I do have a conscience.”

The United Nations issued a report on China’s AIDS crisis characterizing the epidemic there as “beyond belief.” The United States vetoed the renewal of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia because American peacekeeping troops were not exempted from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. President Bush extended death benefits to same-sex partners of officers killed in the line of duty and officially transferred his presidential powers to Vice President Dick Cheney for a few hours while doctors inserted a lighted scope up his rectum. After his colonoscopy, the President went jogging. A British theater company decided to rename its production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame to The Bellringer of Notre Dame because it was afraid of offending hunchbacks. Doctors in India removed a 1.2 kilogram ball of hair from a sixteen-year-old girl’s stomach. Chinese archaeologists discovered seven ancient bronze dildos. The medicine man at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona called for a rain dance. The Vatican banned smoking. Indonesia banned the export of logs. Britain’s Tate Modern revealed that it had paid 22,000 pounds for a limited-edition can of shit created in 1961 by the late Italian artist Piero Manzoni. “What we are doing with this work was looking at a lot of issues that are pertinent to 20th century art, like authorship and the production of art,” said a spokesman. “It was a seminal work.”

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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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