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presidential election, and a vial purportedly containing blood drawn from Ronald Reagan after he was shot in 1981 was withdrawn from auction in response to criticism and donated to the Reagan Presidential Foundation.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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In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
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The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

Illustration by Richard Mia
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But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

— Karl Marx

Photograph from the United Arab Emirates by the author. This page: Ruwais Mall
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To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
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What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Minimum square footage of San Francisco apartments allowed under new regulations:

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A Disney behavioral ecologist announced that elephants’ long-range low-frequency vocal rumblings draw elephant friends together and drive elephant enemies apart.

The judge continued to disallow the public release of Brailsford’s body-cam footage, and the jury spent less than six hours in deliberation before returning a verdict of not guilty. The police then released the video, showing Brailsford pointing his AR-15 assault rifle at Shaver while a sergeant asked him if he understood that there was “a very severe possibility” he would “get shot.”

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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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