Weekly Review — February 7, 2012, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: A Humbug, December 1853]

Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its campaign to suppress dissent and backing an Arab League plan for Bashar al-Assad to step down as Syrian leader. The vote came as the Assad regime was launching a major offensive on the city of Homs, whose residents were under mortar attack over the weekend and into Monday morning. “A couple members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant,” said the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov argued that the resolution placed too little emphasis on the “armed extremists” attempting to unseat Assad, and characterized Western reactions as “somewhere on the verge of hysteria.” “People are in a state of panic,” said one Homs resident. “They are screaming, â??May God help usâ?? or â??Where are the Arabs?â??” In Damascus, one of the Syrian cities previously least affected by civil strife, residents were stockpiling food and water and enduring rolling blackouts. “Nobody is comfortable anymore,” said one socialite, adding that she had curtailed her weekly visits to the nail salon. “And I paint my nails black when I come, just like the situation.”ReutersNPRReuters via The Daily StarAFPNY TimesAt least 70 people died in a riot at a soccer stadium in Port Said, Egypt, and in Moscow, tens of thousands of activists rallied in Bolotnaya Square to oppose Vladimir Putinâ??s presidential candidacy, while tens of thousands of Putin supporters rallied at Poklonnaya Gora, calling the antigovernment activists “Orange trash” and “Bolotnaya snot.” Putinâ??s detractors, some of them dressed as condoms, turned out in spite of below-freezing temperatures. “We are not revolutionaries in mink coats!” shouted one speaker. “I am!” replied a woman in a mink coat. “We are a snowball,” said an interior decorator, “and we are rolling.”NY TimesNY TimesRIA Novosti

A cold snap in Europe killed scores in Ukraine, dumped three feet of snow on Sarajevo, caused a dam in Bulgaria to collapse, and forced temporary shutdowns of the Roman Colosseum and the Manneken-Pis, a 17th-century bronze statue in Brussels that depicts a young boy urinating.AP via CTVAP via Yahoo!ReutersTwo of the three peacocks living on the grounds of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York failed to display their plumage, auguring an extended winter. “Theyâ??re not allowed to have anything with sugar,” said a local woman of the birds, whose names are Jim, Phil and Harry, “and they probably shouldnâ??t have the Chinese noodles.”New York TimesA fifth of dogs and a quarter of cats in America were classified as obese. “I didnâ??t notice the weight creeping on,” said an Atlanta woman of her dog, Dodger. “All of a sudden he was just this fat dog.”CNNThe New York Giants, who won the Super Bowl in Indianapolis on Sunday, observed their Friday post-practice ritual of eating pizzas from a Long Island restaurant, which packaged the pies in heat-retaining bags and sent them by police escort to La Guardia Airport for the flight to Indiana.ReutersNY PostNewt Gingrichâ??s presidential campaign deployed robo-calls falsely accusing Mitt Romney of having deprived Holocaust survivors in nursing homes of kosher meals during his tenure as Massachusetts governor, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie refused to apologize for calling a gay state assemblyman “numbnuts.”Atlantic WireNJ.comLouis Helmburg III, a college student in West Virginia, filed suit against the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and one of its members for negligence, claiming that the accidental detonation of a bottle rocket inside the memberâ??s rectum had startled Helmburg and caused him to fall off the fraternityâ??s deck.UPI

In India, where busloads of underprivileged children donned Gandhi costumes to mark the 64th anniversary of the Mahatmaâ??s death, people continued to plug headphones into robotsâ?? crotches in order to have their fortunes told.Chron.comDiscoverMitt Romney said on CNN that he wasnâ??t “concerned about the very poor,” and the Dutch bedding company Snurk angered Swedish homeless-advocacy groups by selling luxury duvet covers resembling cardboard boxes.APUPIA hotel guest in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, discovered a Manchurian black water snake hanging from her trouser press, and a 12-year-old ball python named Annie latched onto a Wisconsin womanâ??s face during a book-club meeting.UPIUPIResidents of ĂŤsafjörĂ°ur, a town in northwestern Iceland, celebrated the return of the sun, which arrived several days late, and Russian scientists had nearly penetrated the two and a half miles of ice atop Antarcticaâ??s Lake Vostok, which has remained sealed off for more than twenty million years. “If it doesnâ??t go well,” said one researcher of the drilling, “it casts a pall over the whole effort to explore this wet underside of Antarctica.”The ReykjavĂ­k GrapevineWashington PostBBCA federal judge in Iowa approved a fire sale of eighteen llamas, and American monkey-lovers continued to evade wildlife-control agents. “Itâ??s not what I fought for, to be treated like this,” said Jim Clark, a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in a motor home on the Texas-Louisiana border with his wife, Donita, and their four capuchins, Tina Marie, Meeko Mae, Sara Jo, and Hayley Suzanne. “So many of us want to disappear,” said Ann Newman, president of the Simian Society of America, “and have our own community where we can safely keep our monkeys.”KCCI Des MoinesAP via USA TODAY

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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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"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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