Weekly Review — July 9, 2012, 5:07 pm

Weekly Review

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Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, leaders of the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, were found guilty of ordering the abductions of dozens of children born to leftist mothers imprisoned in the regime’s clandestine torture centers. Testifying in his own defense, Videla had called the mothers, many of whom were later dropped from airplanes into the Atlantic, “active militants in the machinery of terrorism.” Crowds outside the courthouse in Buenos Aires cheered the verdicts. “My life started all wrong,” said Alejandro Sandoval, one of the estimated 500 children stolen during the Dirty War. “But today there are reasons to celebrate.”[1][2][3] Islamist militants attacked a mosque in Timbuktu, destroying a door that had been prophesied to remain closed until the apocalypse, and a meeting in Cairo of groups opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad devolved into weeping and fistfights after a Kurdish delegation stormed out. “They are so different, chaotic, and hate each other,” said an Arab League official of the opposition.[4][5][6] Human Rights Watch released Torture Archipelago, a report detailing abuses by the Syrian regime and including a description of one torture method known as the “flying carpet.” Assad reaffirmed his commitment to peace. “The United States is against me, the West is against me,” he said, “so how could I stay in this position? The answer is I still have public support.”[7][8][9] One in eight Americans disagreed with the premise set forth in the Declaration of Independence that a government derives its legitimacy from the people.[10]

Physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the discovery of what is thought to be the Higgs boson, an elementary particle that endows other particles with mass. “It is very much a smoking duck that walks and quacks like the Higgs,” said one physicist. “It’s the Higgs,” said another. “Nobel prizes all round.” Vincent Connare, the designer of Comic Sans, announced his support for a petition to rename the typeface Comic Cerns, after one of CERN’s presenters used it in her slideshow.[11][12][13] A Swiss laboratory found traces of polonium-210 on clothing worn by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat shortly before his death, prompting Arafat’s widow to demand that his body be exhumed and autopsied. An adviser to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon insisted that Arafat could not have been poisoned by government operatives, because Sharon “didn’t think his physical liquidation would help.”[14][15] The first Miss Holocaust Survivor began her reign in Israel.[16][17] Several thousand men set out on a 68-mile march through the hills of eastern Bosnia to commemorate their escape from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.[18] U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced that Afghanistan would be granted the status of special ally of the United States. Afghan president Hamid Karzai marked the occasion by quoting a Persian proverb: “When a friend is alive, they will meet again.”[19] A Fourth of July fireworks spectacle in Narrowsburg, New York, was canceled out of concern that the town would incur fines if it disturbed bald eagles nesting nearby. “It’s real ironic that we’re celebrating our independence, but you can’t be independent with our celebration,” said a volunteer fireman.[20] Barack Obama, campaigning in Ohio, paused for a Budweiser, and Mitt Romney, vacationing in New Hampshire, paused for a lemonade. “I’m feeling good, feeling steady,” said Obama. “Lemon,” said Romney. “Wet.”[21][22]

Happy hour came back to Kansas.[23] Physicists photographed the shadow cast by a lone ytterbium atom, biologists found that shrews shiver to warm themselves before undertaking cold-water dives, and ecologists observed male mourning cuttlefish courting and cross-dressing simultaneously.[24][25][26] A woman was suing Iceland’s interior ministry because its Name Committee ruled she could not name her daughter Blær, a masculine noun meaning “tint.”[27] Rufus, an American Harris hawk responsible for chasing pigeons from the Wimbledon tennis championships, was stolen from a parked car.[28] Groundskeepers at Wimbledon, where grass coverage on some courts’ baselines had dropped as low as 10 percent, were using high-powered Billy Goats to vacuum up debris, and officials in Washington’s Olympic National Forest were urging hikers not to urinate on trails because the resulting salt slicks attract aggressive mountain goats. “We’re second only to Alaska,” said a wildlife manager, “in terms of how many goats we have.”[29][30] Researchers found that 8 percent of American teens suffer from intermittent explosive disorder (IED), a psychological condition characterized by unpredictable paroxysms of rage, and that a bioluminescent bacterium dwelling symbiotically in the guts of microscopic worms possesses a DNA “madswitch” that causes it to produce insecticidal toxins.[31][32] The Pentagon’s inspector general recommended that Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, be disciplined for verbally abusing his subordinates. “If I could get my hands through the phone right now,” O’Reilly reportedly said during a staff teleconference, “I’d choke your fucking throat.”[33] Duncan Brannan, who voiced Chuck E. Cheese for 19 years, was replaced as part of a brand makeover by the lead singer of the pop-punk band Bowling for Soup. “I hope,” wrote Brannan in a letter to fans, “that you have seen Christ in me.”[34][35]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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