Weekly Review — December 31, 2010, 6:38 pm

Yearly Review

Two thousand seven hundred twenty-two days after
U.S. troops crossed the Kuwaiti border into Iraq,
U.S. combat operations there officially ended. The
U.S.-led war in Afghanistan turned older than the Soviet
Union’s 3,339-day campaign in the country. Twenty-one
percent of young veterans of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan were unemployed, Iraqi government officials
said that some 58,000 stray dogs in Baghdad had been
poisoned or shot, and Target, a dog rescued from
Afghanistan after she alerted troops to a suicide bomber
and saved dozens of soldiers, was accidentally
euthanized. The Supreme Court upheld the right to record
women crushing small animals with their feet and
overturned two precedents to rule that the government
cannot ban corporations from spending money in political
elections. The U.S. House and Senate finalized a
watered-down, 2,000-page financial-reform bill. “Not to
be funny about it,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told
the FCIC, “but my daughter asked me… ‘What’s the
financial crisis,’ and I said, ‘Well, it’s something
that happens every five to seven years.'” The Texas
State Board of Education voted to revise its
social-studies curriculum, mandating that the
U.S. government should not be called “democratic,” and
Republicans took control of the House. A Virginia judge
voided the provision in Obama’s health-care law
requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance. A
Texas newborn with a heart defect was denied health
insurance because of his pre-existing condition. “It
would be hard to argue that we’re going backwards,” said
Obama. “I think what you can argue is we’re stuck in
neutral.”

An earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale hit
Haiti. The media questioned whether it was appropriate
for journalists in Haiti to be wearing tight T-shirts on
air. A 42-year-old man died of stroke after becoming
over-excited while watching the film “Avatar,” and video
surfaced of an Indonesian two-year-old smoking and
propelling himself around on a toy truck because he is
too out of shape to toddle. An unemployed security
worker won Spain’s first siesta championship. A
three-year-old girl in South Korea died of starvation
while her parents played a child-rearing game online, a
Kentucky man was charged with wanton endangerment after
he got drunk and put his five-week-old son to bed in an
oven, and a Georgia mother punished her 12-year-old son
for his bad grades by forcing him to hammer to death his
pet hamster. The body of a registered Japanese
centenarian was found in her son’s backpack. A Minnesota
couple asked visitors to their website to vote on
whether they should keep or abort the wife’s fetus, and
a woman in Florida live-tweeted her
abortion. “Definitely bleeding now,” read one tweet. The
birth-control pill turned 50. J.D. Salinger, Art Clokey,
the creator of Gumby, and the world’s ugliest dog died,
as did Viva Leroy Nash, the oldest U.S. death-row
inmate, of natural causes. PETA proposed replacing
Punxsutawney Phil with a robotic stand-in to celebrate
Groundhog Day, and the American Kennel Club announced
that it will let mutts, or “All Americans,” compete in
shows. In advance of a visit from 5’4″ President Dmitry
Medvedev, a Russian town, Omsk, took down posters for a
children’s theater show that read, “We await you, merry
gnome,” and England’s Prince William agreed to blow a
young boy’s vuvuzela. New Jersey police forced a woman
to put clothes on a Venus de Milo snow sculpture.

BP claimed it may have trouble covering the costs of the
Deepwater Horizon spill if it is prevented from further
drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The twenty-first winter
Olympic Games opened in Vancouver without enough snow, a
piece of ice measuring 100 square miles broke off of
Greenland, and researchers determined that climate
change could make the world more fragrant. The
five-story-tall Taylor Glacier in Antarctica was spewing
a blood-red waterfall. British researchers said that the
G-spot does not exist and concluded that the chicken
came before the egg. Scientists learned that the
“mustache” worn by the male Molly fish in Mexico
attracts females, who are sexually stimulated when the
mustache is rubbed against their genitals, and that the
erect penis of the giant squid is almost as long as its
entire body. Exposure to antidepressants in the ocean
was making shrimp suicidal, and female snails exposed to
the chemical TBT were growing penises from their
heads. A pair of swans stunned staff at a British
wildfowl sanctuary by becoming only the second couple in
40 years to divorce. Seventy-five starlings fell from
the sky in Somerset, England, and 10,000 birds were
trapped in the twin beams of light projected up from the
World Trade Center site, dazzled and unable to return to
their migratory paths. Russia announced plans to divert
the asteroid Apophis, which has a “1-in-250,000” chance
of striking Earth in 2036; an Oregon man found a
4.5-billion-year-old meteorite on the side of the road;
and the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of a
sun-like star eating a nearby planet. At a museum in
Paris, the cable holding Foucault’s first pendulum
snapped, leaving the bob to crash to the marble floor,
where it was damaged beyond repair.

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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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Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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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 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.

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:

$25,000

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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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