Weekly Review — January 29, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Inauguration week politics, Aramaic vowel preservation, and Canadian foreskin awareness

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office using a Bible that once belonged to King, and Beyoncé lip-synched “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The president attended a public ball at which guests were served pretzels, mixed nuts, and Cheez-Its, then went to an afterparty in the East Room of the White House, where he led a conga line and competed in a dance-off to the song “Gangnam Style” against singers Janelle Monáe and Usher. “Today has been dubbed . . . ‘Blue Monday,’ the most depressing day of the year,” said Fox News host Steve Doocy. “It has to do with drab weather, holiday bills, and resolutions that we have not met.”[1][2][3][4][5][6] Reince Priebus, who installed in his office the empty chair Clint Eastwood addressed as if it were Obama at the Republican National Convention, was elected to a second term as Republican National Committee chairman at the party’s winter gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina. In an address to attendees, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal asserted that “a handful of good websites” could replace most of the federal bureaucracy. “We must stop being the stupid party,” he said.[7][8][9] New Mexico state representative Cathrynn N. Brown introduced a bill classifying fetuses conceived through rape as “evidence” and abortion of those fetuses as “tampering,” a measure she explained would prevent rapists from compelling their victims to have abortions.[10] The Mississippi Department of Health announced that it would revoke the license of the state’s only abortion clinic over its failure to comply with a newly passed law requiring providers to have hospital admitting privileges, which have been denied the clinic’s doctors by seven hospitals in Jackson. “We were last on civil rights,” said anti-abortion lobbyist Terri Herring, “but we can be first on human rights.”[11][12] A Catholic hospital in Canon City, Colorado, successfully defended itself against a wrongful-death lawsuit over its failure to perform a Caesarean section to save the unborn twins of a dying pregnant woman by arguing that a fetus is not a person. “They’re acting like harlots,” said Catholic League president Bill Donohue. “They should be stripped of their Catholicity.”[13][14]

In Santa Maria, Brazil, 231 people died in a nightclub fire after pyrotechnics set off by country band Gurizada Fandangueira set alight soundproofing panels on the ceiling. The band’s accordion player was killed when he re-entered the burning club to save his instrument, and an investigation determined that the club had no fire alarm, fire escape, or sprinklers, and had only one exit.[15][16] In Mali, French-led troops regained control of the cities of Gao and Timbuktu from Islamist forces. Before fleeing Timbuktu, militants set fire to the Ahmed Baba Institute, which houses manuscripts dating to the twelfth century. “They are bandits,” said institute employee Ali Baba.[17][18] Exxon Mobil overtook Apple to again become the world’s most valuable company, and an Australian company announced the discovery of up to 233 billion barrels of oil beneath the outback.[19][20] Putrid fumes from a gas leak at a factory in Rouen, France, drifted to Paris and the English coast. “Put some Vicks on a tissue,” tweeted the Hastings police, “or carry a scented pomander.”[21][22][23] Twenty-seven tons of caramelized goat cheese burned for five days after catching fire in Brattli Tunnel in Tysfjord, Norway, and an Australian judge exonerated a goat for eating flowers outside the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art.[24][25] The USS Guardian, a U.S. navy minesweeper, struck the Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines, damaging 10,000 square feet of coral. “Just the fact that you allow it to touch ground,” said Filipino transportation secretary Joseph Abaya, “is a mortal sin.”[26][27]

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It was reported that University of Cambridge linguist Geoffrey Khan and tax preparer Elias Bet-shmuel were recording members of the Assyrian community in suburban Chicago, who are among the last speakers of Aramaic, in an attempt to preserve the language’s dialects before it dies out. “I’m getting very excited about some vowels here,” said Khan. “I’m getting excited about the kadeh [pastry],” said Bet-shmuel.[28] Two employees at a cold-storage facility in Georgia stole $65,000 worth of chicken wings, which tend to be scarcest during Super Bowl week. “Chicken companies are not able to produce wings,” said a National Chicken Council spokesman of possible wing shortages, “without the rest of the chicken.”[29][30] In Trinidad and Tobago, a security guard was charged with carrying an unlicensed firearm after he accidentally shot off his penis.[31][32] Activists from the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project (CAN-FAP) protested Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of an antiwrinkle cream containing cells from the foreskins of infants; the sheriff of Woolwich, Maine, revealed the theft of a rare porcelain Oprah doll; and the leader of a gang of Colorado laundry-detergent thieves was sentenced to 30 months in prison.[33][34][35] In New York City, the subject of the 2007 documentary Crazy Love reported the death of his wife, whom he married in 1974 after serving a 14-year prison term for hiring hit men to blind her with lye. “This,” said Burton Pugach, “was a very fairy-tale romance.”[36]


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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.

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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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"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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