Weekly Review — September 3, 2012, 6:08 pm

Weekly Review

saluting_the_town_350x278 Mitt Romney formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination at the party’s national convention in Tampa, Florida. “What America needs is jobs,” said Romney. “Lots of jobs.” John Boehner suggested that Romney would be helped by low turnout among Hispanic and African American voters; Romney’s campaign held a party for top fundraisers aboard Cracker Bay, a yacht flying the flag of the Cayman Islands; and two conventioneers were ejected for heckling a black camerawoman. “This,” they said, tossing peanuts at her, “is how we feed animals.” Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan was criticized for making false claims in his convention speech, notably about the timing of a GM plant closure in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, and for exaggerating his finishing time in the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. In the Tampa “free-speech zone,” Vermin Supreme, candidate for the Absurd Party, wore a boot on his head and mediated a confrontation between anarchists and Westboro Baptist Church protesters. Surprise guest speaker Clint Eastwood addressed delegates for 12 minutes, during which he carried on an imagined dialogue with an empty chair he identified as President Obama. “What do you want me to tell Mr. Romney?” asked Eastwood of the chair. “He can’t do that to himself. . . . You’re getting as bad as Biden.”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] Twenty-two pilot whales beached themselves on the Florida coast.[9] Millions of gallons of raw Tijuana sewage spilled into the Pacific Ocean.[10] Hal David, lyricist of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” died at the age of 91.[11] As Hurricane Isaac struck Louisiana, New Orleanians celebrated the Southern Decadence Festival.[12]

In Syria, which saw its deadliest week since the revolt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad began last spring, the rebel Brigade of Free Syrians launched operation Northern Volcano.[13][14] It was reported that Mexican federal police officers had deliberately chased down and shot two CIA agents in Tres Marías.[15] In Afghanistan, where American special forces suspended training of new recruits to the Afghan Local Police until all 16,000 of the militia’s members could be rescreened for terrorist ties, a suicide attacker bombed a compound that contained a provincial governor’s office and a police and army headquarters, while another blew up a fuel tanker on the road separating the compound from a U.S. Army base. “I fell down on the ground,” said a witness, “and everything around me was destroyed.”[16][17] A 550-pound World War II–era bomb was detonated in central Munich, creating a massive fireball, shattering windows, and setting nearby rooftops ablaze. “The fuse was a real bastard,” said bomb-disposal expert Andreas Heil.[18][19] The owner of Hitler menswear in the Indian city of Ahmedabad insisted that his shop’s name, whose ‘i’ tittle is a swastika, was the nickname of his business partner’s strict grandfather. “It was only recently,” he said, “that we read about Hitler on the Internet.”[20][21] Berliners attacked one another with vegetables on a city bridge; revelers in Buñol, Spain, threw 120 tons of tomatoes at each other; and Iran and North Korea agreed to exchange students and share laboratories.[22][23][24] Yosemite National Park warned 1,700 summer visitors that they may have been exposed to hantavirus from infected deer mice at its Curry Village campsite.[25] Thieves stole an eleven-ton elderberry crop in Deutsch Jahrndorf, Austria, and millions of dollars’ worth of maple syrup from a warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec. “We still have enough maple syrup,” said a representative of Quebec producers, who provide three-quarters of the world’s supply. “There will be no shortage.”[26][27][28]

The International Paralympic Committee defended its decision not to perform doping tests on all competitors at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London, where South African runner Oscar Pistorius, who was allowed to race in this year’s Summer Olympic Games after challenging a ban on carbon-fiber legs, lost the 200-meter final to a rival he accused of running on unfairly long blades. “Athletes,” he said, “can make themselves unbelievably high.”[29][30] A sports official was stabbed to death in Düsseldorf by a wayward javelin.[31] A bus tourist in Iceland joined a search party for herself.[32] Fire crews winched a heifer named Sparkle out of a tree growing along a ravine in Sheriff Park, England.[33] France opened a murder investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat; Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, died in Seoul; and a Buddhist group in Thailand announced that the celestial reincarnation of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was residing in a glass palace above Apple’s headquarters in California, where he sleeps in a hoverbed and is served day and night by aides.[34][35][36] A man who had dressed himself in a “Ghillie” military sniper-cover suit in order to provoke a Bigfoot sighting was run over on a Montana highway and died.[37] Police shut down the Burnside Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and detained a group of beard enthusiasts, dressed in camouflage and carrying an assault rifle, who were en route to a “Beards for Breasts” cancer-awareness calendar photo shoot. “We didn’t mean to shake up the community,” said one beard model. “Just going to save boobs, you know?”[38]

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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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Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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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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"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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