Weekly Review — June 4, 2012, 5:40 pm

Weekly Review

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In Egypt, former president Hosni Mubarak and former interior minister Habib El-Adly were sentenced to life in prison for complicity in the murder and attempted murder of protesters in the 2011 uprising that removed Mubarak from power. “The people released a collective sigh of relief after a nightmare that did not, as is customary, last for a night,” said the judge at Mubarak’s sentencing, “but for almost thirty black, black, black years.” The judge acquitted six police commanders of complicity and Mubarak’s two sons of corruption charges, leading to mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.[1][2][3][4] Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 50 years for aiding Sierra Leonean rebels who raped, maimed, and murdered tens of thousands of civilians. “The sentence is outrageous,” said Taylor’s brother-in-law. “How can you give a man 50 years for only aiding and abetting?”[5][6] Syrian president Bashar al-Assad defended his regime’s military crackdown on opponents during a speech to parliament. “When a surgeon in an operating room . . . cuts and cleans and amputates, and the wound bleeds, do we say to him ‘Your hands are stained with blood?’ ” he asked. “Or do we thank him for saving the patient?”[7] Snigdha Nandipati won the Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling “guetapens,” a French-derived word meaning “ambush,” “snare,” or “trap.”[8][9] The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama oversees a secret “kill list” of prospective assassination targets abroad, and that he has adopted a method of counting civilian casualties that excludes military-age males within a strike zone who have not been explicitly proven innocent. “Laws,” said a former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “are not going to get bin Laden dead.”[10] At the unveiling of George W. Bush’s official White House portrait, Obama praised his predecessor’s “strength and resolve” and thanked him for his guidance and encouragement. “You also left me a really good TV sports package,” said Obama. “I use it.”[11][12]

More than a million people celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee at a pageant of a thousand barges, tugboats, dragon boats, Maori war canoes, and Venetian gondolas on the River Thames. Britons celebrated in Hertfordshire with a naked picnic, in West Yorkshire with a 1950s-themed “knees-up,” and in Oxfordshire with the traditional tossing of currant buns from the roof of the county hall in response to the chant “We want buns!” A poll identified Queen Elizabeth II as the most popular monarch in British history, ahead of Victoria and Elizabeth I. “It’s not a good year for us,” said a spokesman for a British antimonarchy group.[13][14][15][16][17][18] Dutch crown prince Willem-Alexander expressed shame for having taken part in a Queen’s Day toilet-throwing competition at which he’d won a cup topped by a miniature flushing toilet; Norway’s Ila Prison planned to hire people to play chess and hockey with Anders Behring Breivik, at whose trial a judge was caught playing computer solitaire; and the Stuxnet computer worm that infected Iran’s Natanz nuclear reactor was revealed to have been a joint American–Israeli project code-named “Olympic Games.”[19][20][21][22] John Edwards was acquitted of one charge of accepting illegal contributions to his 2008 presidential campaign, while a deadlocked jury led to the declaration of a mistrial on the five remaining charges.[23] Former first lady Nancy Reagan offered her endorsement to Mitt Romney over cookies and lemonade after he earned enough delegates to secure the G.O.P.’s presidential nomination with a primary win in Texas.[24][25] Idaho’s state liquor division banned the sale of Utah-distilled Five Wives Vodka, and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg argued that his proposed ban on soda servings larger than sixteen ounces would increase life expectancy. “Just before you die,” he said, “remember you got three extra years.”[26][27]

Police in Miami shot a naked man whom they found gnawing at another man’s “half-eaten” face on a highway off-ramp; a college student in Maryland was charged with killing a boarder in his family’s home and eating the victim’s brains and heart; a male porn actor who allegedly dismembered an acquaintance and sent his body parts to Canadian politicians was apprehended in Berlin; and a New Jersey man stabbed himself and flung bits of his intestines at police officers called in to help him.[28][29][30][31] Sheep rained from the sky near Melbourne, Australia.[32] A scarf-wearing pig eluded capture by Pennsylvania state troopers.[33] A hen in Abilene, Texas, laid an egg inside another egg.[34] Residents of a Splendora, Texas, home claimed that an outline of Jesus in the mold on their bathroom wall was keeping one of them out of jail and ameliorating the HIV of another. “It kinda looks like me!” said neighbor Michael Bearden.[35] Serpent-handling Pentecostal preacher Mack Wolford was killed by a rattlesnake that bit him during a service at the Panther Wildlife Management Area in West Virginia, nearly 30 years after his serpent-handling father was killed by a rattlesnake bite. “I hated to see him go,” Wolford once said of his father, “but he died for what he believed in.”[36]

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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 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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