Weekly Review — May 28, 2012, 9:45 pm

Weekly Review

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Syrian government forces killed at least 108 civilians, including 49 children, in Houla, a rebel-held village near Homs. Activists and witnesses said the Syrian army shelled the town with tank fire and mortars during the day, then sent militiamen to kill people house by house that night. The Syrian government claimed that its soldiers had been attacked by terrorists, who then shot and stabbed civilians. “We unequivocally deny the responsibility of government forces,” said foreign-ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi. The United Nations Security Council condemned Syria for the artillery and tank attacks, but avoided assigning responsibility for the close-range massacre of civilians.[1][2][3] Egypt held the preliminary round of its first presidential elections since the February 2011 uprising that forced out Hosni Mubarak. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi and Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq won the right to face each other in the final round of voting next month, prompting thousands to gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “The choice can’t be between a religious state and an autocratic state,” said one protester. A mob set fire to Shafiq’s campaign headquarters, and third-place finisher Hamdin Sabbahi demanded a recount, alleging that hundreds of thousands of serving police officers had voted, in contravention of Egyptian law. “There were many violations, and I think that every one is serious,” said election observer and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, “but collectively they did not affect the basic integrity of the election.”[4][5][6] The Daily Caller website announced that it would give away one 9mm pistol engraved with the Bill of Rights each week until November’s U.S. presidential election, and a vial purportedly containing blood drawn from Ronald Reagan after he was shot in 1981 was withdrawn from auction in response to criticism and donated to the Reagan Presidential Foundation. “I was a real fan of Reaganomics,” wrote the consignor, “and felt that President Reagan himself would rather see me sell it.”[7][8][9][10] Hewlett-Packard announced it would cut 27,000 jobs by 2014, Russia tested an ICBM capable of penetrating a planned missile-defense shield over Europe, and NATO signed a $1.7 billion deal to purchase surveillance drones from Northrup Grumman. “The decision to move ahead with the Alliance Ground Surveillance program in today’s difficult economic climate,” said NATO’s deputy secretary general, “sends a powerful message.”[11][12][13][14][15][16]

The Associated Press reported that 45 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were applying for disability benefits, more than double the proportion of those filing claims after the Gulf War. Officials said some of the claims were the result of economic circumstance. “We’ll say, ‘Is your back worse?’” said the executive director of Disabled American Veterans, “and they’ll say, ‘No, I just lost my job.’”[17] President Barack Obama promised during a Memorial Day service at Arlington National Cemetery not to send troops into another war unless it was “absolutely necessary,” and two female Army reservists sued the United States in an attempt to overturn the military’s restrictions on women in combat.[18][19] North Carolina’s legislature passed through to committee a bill that would make it the first American state to compensate victims of a government forced-sterilization program. “Get it over with and have it done,” said assemblyman Paul Stam (R.), “so they can enjoy it before they die.”[20] An earthquake in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region killed seven people, toppled churches and castles, and destroyed an estimated 400,000 88-pound wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheese.[21][22] Vatican police arrested a papal butler whose responsibilities included shading Pope Benedict XVI with a white umbrella for allegedly leaking private correspondence exposing corruption at the Vatican bank, and the director of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum outside Naples set fire to some of his museum’s artworks to protest cuts to Italy’s arts budget. “We destroy some art,” he said, “to save all art.”[23][24]

A group of Pi Kappa Alphas at Louisiana Tech University reportedly burned down their fraternity house while attempting to incinerate their textbooks.[25] In Montreal, thousands of “casserole” demonstrators banged pots and pans during rallies against planned university tuition hikes and a new Quebec anti-protest law that has led to hundreds of arrests.[26][27][28] Researchers identified as the world’s oldest musical instruments two flutes of mammoth ivory and bird bone, discovered in Germany’s Geissenkloesterle Cave, that were last played as long as 43,000 years ago, and biologists christened Loureedia, a new genus of underground-dwelling velvet spider.[29][30] Records showed that American officials had released sensitive information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden to Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, Barack Obama declared Mitt Romney’s allegation that he had unleashed a “prairie fire of debt” to be a “cow pie of distortion,” and a new biography of Obama claimed that he established several pot-smoking trends as a member of the Choom Gang at Punahou School in Honolulu, and that among Obama’s innovations was “total absorption,” which saw penalties levied against those who exhaled prematurely following a toke. “Wasting good bud smoke,” said Choom Gang member Tom Topolinski, “was not tolerated.”[31][32][33][34]

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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.

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.

Minimum number of shooting incidents in the United States in the past year in which the shooter was a dog:

2

40,800,000,000 pounds of total adult human biomass is due to excessive fatness.

Trump’s former chief strategist, whom Trump said had “lost his mind,” issued a statement saying that Trump’s son did not commit treason; the US ambassador to the United Nations announced that “no one questions” Trump’s mental stability; and the director of the CIA said that Trump, who requested “killer graphics” in his intelligence briefings, is able to read.

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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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