Weekly Review — August 20, 2012, 7:54 pm

Weekly Review

humbug_350x387 In Moscow, a hundred-year moratorium was placed on gay-pride parades, and Judge Marina Syrova sentenced members of the punk band Pussy Riot to two years in a prison camp for felony hooliganism related to an impromptu anti-Putin performance at a Russian Orthodox cathedral in February. Before delivering her verdict, Syrova read aloud from a court psychiatrist’s evaluation of the band’s leader, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, whom the doctor had diagnosed with an affliction he identified as “mixed-personality disorder” and characterized as involving stubbornness, “inflated self-esteem,” and a “proactive approach to life.” Upon hearing their sentence, the members of the band laughed. Pro–Pussy Riot demonstrators outside the Russian consulate in Marseille were arrested for wearing balaclavas. “Absurd!” said the protesters. “Ridiculous!”[1][2][3][4] Police killed 34 workers on strike from a platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa. “We are aware,” said an officer of the London-based company that owns the mine, “that it will take some time for some trust to be regained.”[5][6] Elderly women in Swaziland were growing Swazi Gold, a potent variety of marijuana. “If you grow corn or cabbages,” said one grandmother, “the baboons steal them.”[7] Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan. Revelers in Mogadishu fired guns in the air to mark the city’s first peaceful Eid al-Fitr in years, while in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad emerged from hiding to pray at the Rihab al-Hamad mosque next to his palace.[8][9][10] The United Nations observer mission in Syria ended with heavy fighting still taking place around the country.[11] Afghanistan’s education ministry approved a new history curriculum that largely omits the coups and Soviet invasion of the 1970s, the rise of the Taliban, and the American invasion after 9/11. “It is as if someone is trying,” said an Afghan journalist, “to hide the sun with two fingers.”[12]

“Social welfare” nonprofits, which are not required to disclose the names of any of their donors, were reportedly spending more on TV ads in support of U.S. presidential candidates than were super PACs, which are. “We can take corporate money, personal money, cash, shekels, whatever you got,” said the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.[13] Senate candidate Todd Akin (R., Mo.) defended his categorical opposition to abortion. “If it’s a legitimate rape,” Akin explained, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”[14] Vice President Joe Biden, addressing a predominantly African-American crowd, spoke of Mitt Romney’s desire to deregulate Wall Street. “They’re going to put y’all back in chains!” said Biden.[15] The Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, invited former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore to become its first female members since it was founded 80 years ago.[16] The Iowa State Fair, at which vendors offered 57 types of food on a stick, concluded in Des Moines. “Fairs and carnivals are roller coasters of stimulation,” said an overconsumption expert. “Carnies understood this long before neuroscience did.”[17] In Japan, where the offspring of pale grass blue butterflies captured near Fukushima were showing drastic mutations of their antennae, eyes, and wings, the country’s “last ninja” spoke about the end of his kind. “Ninjas just don’t fit into the modern day,” said Jinichi Kawakami, head of the Ban clan. “We can’t try out murder or poisons.”[18][19]

Pig-rearing squatters were threatening the Nazca geoglyphs of Peru.[20] A Belgian gynecologist found that uterine length-to-width ratios in fertile women are nearly golden, and American demographers announced that the U.S. population had surpassed one hundred million times ?.[21][22] Particle physicists at the Large Hadron Collider created a quark-gluon plasma with a temperature of 9.9 trillion degrees Fahrenheit, and astronomers observed that the sun is very round.[23][24] Researchers discovered that the black hole at the center of the Phoenix galaxy cluster, unlike the black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster, was not emitting a B-flat fifty-seven octaves below middle C. “There are times,” said one astrophysicist, “when the music essentially stops.”[25] Crickets raised amid silence were found to be more aggressive than those raised amid song.[26] Caraquenians in red trousers called for the return of Matisse’s Odalisque in Red Trousers, and Niçois defended the purity of the salade niçoise. “Lemon and shallots, no, no!” said one woman. “I refuse any gastronomic fundamentalism,” said a local chef.[27][28] In Wales, National Health Service officials expressed concern about inappropriate emergency calls from sufferers of hamster bites and hangovers, and from a man who needed help spreading ointment on his back.[29] Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis, Holly, Monty, and Willow, and her dorgis, Candy, Cider, and Vulcan, attacked Princess Margaret’s Norfolk terrier Max at Balmoral Castle. “Unfortunately the dog boy lost control,” said a witness. “There was blood everywhere.”[30][31]

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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 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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