Weekly Review — August 6, 2012, 10:42 pm

Weekly Review

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A gunman with a semiautomatic pistol attacked a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six people and seriously injuring three more. The shooter, Wade Michael Page, entered the temple before a Sunday morning service and began firing on priests as others ran for cover. Police killed Page in a firefight in the parking lot,* moments after he wounded the first officer on the scene. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that Page, a former U.S. Army psychological-operations specialist who was demoted in 1998 for being drunk on duty, had been a member of the white-supremacist band End Apathy, and that it had been tracking him since 2000, when he attempted to purchase goods from the National Alliance, a hate group. “I can’t imagine what made him do this,” said Page’s stepmother.[1][2][3][4] The Los Angeles Times reported that Jared Lee Loughner would be declared competent to stand trial for the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that killed six people and wounded 13, and that he would plead guilty as a result.[5] Major Nidal Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people in the 2009 shooting at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, was fined $1,000 for attending a military hearing unshaven.[6] Masked gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers at a checkpoint along the Israeli border.[7] In Syria, a mortar attack killed 21 people at a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, and government forces continued to shell Aleppo in preparation for a ground invasion. “What is happening now is just the appetizer,” said one officer. “The main course will come later.”[8][9] The White House reportedly authorized the CIA to provide support to antigovernment forces in Syria, who kidnapped forty-eight bus passengers they claimed were members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard.[10][11] Syria’s prime minister defected, and Kofi Annan resigned as the United Nations’ and Arab League’s special envoy to the country.[12] Ultra-Orthodox Jews vowed to go to jail en masse after Israel’s defense minister announced that they would no longer be exempt from the country’s military draft. “Religious elders will sit together,” said activist Shmuel Poppenheim, “and declare war.”[13][14]

At the Summer Olympic games in London, American swimmer Michael Phelps won his twenty-second career medal and became the most decorated Olympian of all time, while American gymnast Gabby Douglas became the first black woman to win the gold medal in the individual all-around event. “I have an advantage,” said Douglas, “because I’m the underdog and I’m black and no one thinks I’d ever win.”[15][16] Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt won the men’s 100-meter dash in 9.63 seconds, and it was reported that Sarah, an eleven-year-old cheetah, had run the same distance in 5.95 seconds on a track outside Cincinnati.[17][18] The website Ancestry.com claimed that U.S. president Barack Obama is a direct descendant of John Punch, the first documented slave in colonial America.[19] The Democratic National Committee named Julián Castro, the Mexican-American mayor of San Antonio, the keynote speaker of next month’s party convention, and announced that its platform would endorse marriage equality. [20][21] Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Poland, where one of his aides scolded reporters for shouting out questions. “Kiss my ass,” said traveling press secretary Rick Gorka. “This is a holy site for the Polish people.”[22] Former adult-film star Jenna Jameson endorsed Romney, and a rogue algorithm in an automated stock-trading program caused financial markets to fall when it repeatedly bought and sold millions of shares in such companies as Best Buy and RadioShack. “The machines,” said a market expert, “have taken over.”[23][24] India’s minister of power was promoted to home minister during a blackout that left some 670 million people without electricity.[25][26]

NASA celebrated the Mars landing of its plutonium-powered rover, Curiosity.[27] Lawyers for Pussy Riot, a punk band on trial for hooliganism after an anti-Putin performance at a Moscow church in February, accused the trial judge of appearing bored. “Are you drawing circles?” asked one defense lawyer. “Are you forbidding me to do so?” asked the judge.[28][29] Former U.S. senator Larry Craig (R., Idaho) refused to return campaign funds he spent on legal fees associated with his 2007 arrest for soliciting sex from a man in an airport washroom. “Senate rules,” wrote his lawyer, “sanction reimbursement for any cost relating to a senator’s use of a bathroom.”[30] Police in China’s Zhejiang province were searching for a man’s penis after he reported that it had been stolen while he was sleeping. “I was so shocked I didn’t feel a thing,” said the man.[31] Italy’s supreme court ruled it a crime to tell a man he has no balls.[32] A Vermont farmer destroyed seven police vehicles by driving over them with his tractor.[33] Police in St. Louis tasered a 12-year-old girl while arresting her mother for outstanding traffic tickets, and a Virginia woman who was arrested for letting her four-year-old daughter draw on rocks with chalk at a city park claimed that the girl had been traumatized by the incident. “She’s very scared of chalk,” said the woman. “And she’s very nervous around cops.”[34][35]


* Correction: It has since been reported that Page killed himself after being wounded during the firefight.

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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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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.

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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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