Weekly Review — November 13, 2012, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

AN AMERICAN MASTIFF.

Barack Hussein Obama was reelected president of the United States, receiving 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, and nearly sweeping battleground states. The Democratic Party enlarged its Senate majority, and the Republican Party retained control of the House of Representatives. “Man, sometimes God really sucks,” said conservative radio host Glenn Beck. Fox News commentator Karl Rove, whose super PAC achieved a 1 percent success rate on the $104 million it invested in various races, challenged the network on air, claiming it had prematurely called Ohio, and the election, for Obama. “There’s a bunch of cats and dogs elsewhere, which add up to another 720,000 votes,” said Rove. “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?” asked anchor Megyn Kelly. An official “President Elect” Romney website went live after Romney had conceded; private jets carrying guests to Romney’s post-election party overwhelmed Boston’s Logan International Airport; and staffers taking taxis home from Romney’s concession speech found that their campaign credit cards had been canceled. “Fiscally conservative,” said one aide.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum, and voters in Colorado and Washington approved the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. “Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug,” said Colorado governor John Hickenlooper. “Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too soon.”[11][12][13] CIA director David Petraeus resigned after an FBI investigation revealed that he had been involved in an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Former aides expressed surprise at Petraeus’s infidelity. “I never heard him say, ‘Wow, she was hot,’” said one.[14][15]

Israel fired across its border into Syria, for the first time since 1973, after a stray mortar shell landed in the Golan Heights, and violence in northern Syria led at least 11,000 people to flee the country in one day.[16][17] At a luxury hotel in Qatar, Syrian rebel groups formed a coalition in hopes of gaining international recognition and increased aid from foreign governments.[18] Pakistani flagmakers were anticipating increased sales of American flags for use in effigies following Barack Obama’s reelection.[19] Iranian fighter jets fired on* an American Predator drone flying in international airspace, and Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied that the country was pursuing an atomic bomb. “Those who are stockpiling nuclear weapons,” he said, “they are mentally retarded.”[20][21] Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people in an assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms and 140 additional years in federal prison.[22] Citing inclement weather, the Federal Emergency Management Agency closed several centers dedicated to helping victims of Hurricane Sandy, and a National Guard truck transporting storm-relief workers in New York City’s Chinatown killed an 82-year-old man after running a red light.[23][24][25] In Far Rockaway, Queens, six port-a-potties and fuel for electric generators were stolen overnight from a tent acting as a temporary polling place.[26] Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an emergency order instituting gasoline rationing. “Social pressure,” he said, “will ensure compliance.”[27] New Yorkers were trading gas for sex on Craigslist.[28]

The director general of the BBC resigned after one of the network’s current-affairs programs wrongly implicated a former member of parliament in a child sex-abuse scandal, and Kevin Clash, the voice of Sesame Street’s Elmo, took a leave of absence after he was accused of having sex with a teenage boy. Sesame Workshop said that it would continue to feature the character on the show. “Elmo is bigger than any one person,” the production company said in a statement.[29][30] Police in Belize accused antivirus-software programmer John McAfee—who had been abusing hallucinogenic drugs in pursuit of a “super perv powder”—of murdering an American expatriate.[31] Users of the website Reddit accurately diagnosed a man with testicular cancer after he got a positive result from a pregnancy test, and four Nigerian girls developed a generator powered by urine.[32][33] A nine-year-old Ukrainian boy stole $4,000 of his parents’ savings from the family sofa and spent it on candy.[34] A South African man suspected of selling body parts on the black market was arrested after police found his nephew’s genitals in his wallet.[35] Activists launched condom-filled balloons into North Korea, and Los Angeles pornographers blamed a recent syphilis outbreak and poor voter outreach for a referendum result mandating the use of condoms in adult films. “Those of us in the industry who worked with the political strategists and consultants learned a lot,” said pornographer Christian Mann.[36][37]


*The original version of this post stated, incorrectly, that Iranian fighter jets shot down an American Predator drone.

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The Minds of Others·

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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.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?

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.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
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Before the Deluge·

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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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Monumental Error·

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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.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
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After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:

$25,000

A Brazilian cat gave birth to a dog.

Trump’s former chief strategist, whom Trump said had “lost his mind,” issued a statement saying that Trump’s son did not commit treason; the US ambassador to the United Nations announced that “no one questions” Trump’s mental stability; and the director of the CIA said that Trump, who requested “killer graphics” in his intelligence briefings, is able to read.

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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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