Weekly Review — December 3, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

United Nations weapons inspectors began their work in Iraq; among the first installations to be inspected were Al Dawrah and Al Nasr, two factories that Tony Blair and George W. Bush, citing satellite photographs, had claimed were sites of renewed production of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Inspectors found nothing but ruins. Another factory (known as Al Furat) that the United States has cited as evidence of a nuclear weapons program was also inspected and showed no signs of illegal activity. It was reported that one of the weapons inspectors is the co-founder of Black Rose, “a Washington-area pansexual S&M group.” A UN spokesman admitted that no background checks were performed before the inspectors were hired but said that the man is “someone who has expertise in warheads and munitions, and that’s what’s important.” American forces were preparing for large-scale war games in Qatar, which is expected to be the base for command and control operations during the invasion of Iraq. President Bush signed the Homeland Security bill and named Tom Ridge as secretary. Many families of September 11 victims were appalled by the bill, which is laden with pork. A new report found that the Capitol complex was still vulnerable to terrorist attack. The Canadian official who called George W. Bush a moron was forced to resign, and the president, who tried very hard to prevent the creation of an independent commission to investigate the September 11 attacks, named Henry Kissinger to be the commission’s chairman. Kissinger, who has been accused of committing war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, and Chile, said he did not expect to discover any conflicts of interest between his work on the commission and his work as an agent for various undisclosed transnational corporations and foreign powers. The Disney Magic cruise ship returned to port with more than 180 vomiting passengers.

Brit Hume of Fox News took credit for the Republican election victory: “It was because of our coverage that it happened,” he told a right-wing radio host who specializes in denouncing liberal bias in the media. “People watch us and take their electoral cues from us. No one should doubt the influence of Fox News in these matters.” Polls found that many Americans dislike Republican policies but dislike the Democrats as individuals even more. Plastic surgeons in Britain were debating whether face transplants, which will be technically possible within the next few months, are ethically permissible. The Bush Administration was trying to decide whether to create an agency devoted exclusively to spying on the American people. Some officials, such as “homeland” secretary Tom Ridge, have argued that domestic espionage should be left to the FBI. Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service, worried about its bad image, announced plans to sell a line of designer underwear bearing its logo and terms such as TOP SECRET, CLASSIFIED, and CONFIDENTIAL. The Justice Department requested that documents relating to claims that the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal causes autism and other disorders be sealed; a spokesman said that the law creating a government fund to compensate people injured by vaccines gives the government control over such information and that the government was merely acting to preserve that right. Lawmakers, bureaucrats, and others in Washington, D.C., were all trying to figure out who was responsible for the inclusion of a measure in the Homeland Security bill that gave vaccine makers additional protection from lawsuits. People who believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism were also somewhat curious.

Terrorists attacked Israelis in Kenya: a shoulder-fired missile just missed a passenger jet on its way to Tel Aviv, and suicide bombers blew up the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, killing 13. “It was just like being back home,” said one survivor. “It really was.” Umar Dangladima Magaji, the state commissioner of Nigeria’s Zamfara state, issued a fatwa against Isioma Daniel, a fashion writer whose article in a newspaper set off the Miss World riots: “What we are saying is that the holy Koran has clearly stated that whoever insults the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, should be killed.” Fighting continued in the Ivory Coast. A bag of money fell off a security truck on Interstate 94 in St. Paul, Minnesota, scattering $50,000 all over the road; drivers stopped and picked up most of the money and turned it in. Zsa Zsa Gabor broke some bones in a car crash. Wildlife officials in Hawaii said they planned to capture the three last po`ouli birds in existence; the three birds live within 2 miles of one another but have never met. Scientists said they had genetically engineered a strain of super-rice by giving it a gene taken from E. coli bacteria. An Italian doctor announced that a human clone will be born in January. A group of scientists was debating whether to make a mouse-human hybrid. One scientist said that the experiment could have results “too horrible to contemplate,” such as a mouse that produces human sperm mating with a mouse whose eggs were made with human cells. Japan was suffering from a plague of giant jellyfish.

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In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

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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 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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