Weekly Review — October 13, 2009, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: The Wire Master and his puppets, 1875]

The wire master and his puppets, 1875.

As the United States marked the eighth anniversary of its war in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal asked President Barack Obama to send 40,000 more troops there. Senator John McCain was in favor of the surge, while Vice President Joe Biden argued for unmanned drones. Within days of Pakistan’s announcing a new anti-Taliban offensive in Waziristan, the tribal area that borders Afghanistan, a suicide bomber dressed as a paramilitary officer blew himself up inside a U.N. aid agency in Islamabad, two car bombs killed dozens in markets in Peshawar, and ten gunmen disguised in army fatigues attacked the country’s military headquarters, holding 45 hostages until a commando raid freed 42 of them; the remaining hostages and nine of the militants were killed.AP via Yahoo Newsfoxnews.comAP via Yahoo NewsAP via Yahoo NewsIt was revealed that a young Afghan girl was killed last summer when a box designed to break open in mid-air and scatter public information leaflets fell intact from a British plane and landed on her.The AustralianA British study found that children who are given too many sweets risk becoming violent adults, possibly because they never learn patience,time.comand President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy,” even though the deadline for nominations was February 1st, ten days after he took office.ABC NewsSearching for water, the United States bombed the moon.LA Times

Government ministers in the Maldives, which rising sea levels will make uninhabitable by 2100, were taking scuba lessons and practicing hand signals so that they can hold cabinet meetings underwater.New Zealand HeraldThe government of Ecuador was expelling migrants in the Galapagos because environmentalists fear that the human population, which doubled to 30,000 in the past decade, and which has introduced rats, cattle, and fire ants to the island, threatens native species, among them giant tortoises and brightly colored boobies.NY TimesA Saudi man was sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes for bragging about his sex life in an interview on Lebanese television.cnn.comItalian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi vowed not to step down after the country’s highest court overturned a law granting him immunity from prosecution. “I am the best prime minister ever,” said Berlusconi, who is embroiled in corruption and bribery scandals. “I am absolutely the politician most persecuted by prosecutors in the entire history of the world throughout the ages.” He added that he had spent “200 million euros on judges… excuse me, on lawyers.”NY TimesThe Supreme Court convened its new term, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked 36 questions in her first hour; Justice Clarence Thomas had not asked a question for more than three years.LA TimesBritish entrepreneurs launched Internet Eyes, a program that allows registered users to monitor live feeds from some of the United Kingdom’s 4.2 million surveillance cameras in order to search for a crime in progress, with cash prizes for viewers who spot the most criminals.The GuardianInsurgents in Somalia forced thousands of people to watch as they amputated a foot and a hand from each of two men accused of robbery.Reuters via NYTHouse Democrats pledged to write into health-care-reform legislation a ban on the practice whereby some insurers deny coverage to battered women because domestic violence is designated a “pre-existing condition.”CNNA Sioux City, Iowa, family found a dead deer dressed in a clown suit and wig on their front porch.AP via msnbc.comBritish scientists reported that learning to juggle can permanently increase brain function, and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte returned to Earth, after a visit to the international space station, wearing a foam clown nose.New ScientistCNN

Astronomers discovered the largest ring in the solar system, a colossal circle of debris around Saturn caused by the planet’s moon Phoebe having been hit by wayward space rocks.New ScientistArchaeologists announced a new stone circle a mile from Stonehenge that suggests the prehistoric monument was part of a larger burial complex.CNNU.S. coroners were reporting a sharp increase in the number of unclaimed bodies due to the recession.NY TimesFlorida hospital officials advised more than 1,800 people to get screened for HIV and hepatitis after a nurse was found to have re-used IV bags on multiple patients.NBC MiamiNY TimesScientists announced that they had developed a vaccine that prevents cocaine users from getting high.NY TimesFrance’s new culture minister, Frederic Mitterand, was called on to resign after acknowledging that he “got into the habit” of paying young boys for sex in Southeast Asia.NY TimesEgyptian lawmakers called for a ban on the Artificial Virginity Hymen kit, which leaks fake blood,AP via NY Timesand on National Coming Out Day, thousands of gay-rights activists marched on the U.S. Capitol.CNNMary Cheney was pregnant again.Washington PostA teddy bear made of placenta was touring England as part of an exhibit of sustainable toys.Discover magazineThe Mediterranean Sea was plagued by an outbreak of giant, mucuslike sea blobs.National Geographic

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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.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

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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.

Photograph from Puerto Rico by Christopher Gregory
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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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After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Chance that a Silicon Valley technology company started since 1995 was founded by Indian or Chinese immigrants:

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A gay penguin couple in China’s Polar Land zoo were ostracized by other penguins and then placed in a separate enclosure after they made repeated attempts to steal the eggs of straight penguin couples and replace them with stones.

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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