Weekly Review — February 19, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Meteoric tidings, a paraplegic piglet’s wheelchair, and Chubby Checker’s Chubby Checker check

A meteor struck Earth’s atmosphere over Russia, releasing a 300-kiloton shock wave that shattered two million square feet worth of glass in the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, collapsed the roof of the city’s zinc factory, and injured 1,200 people before degrading into a 10-ton meteorite that landed in nearby Lake Chebarkul. Old women cried out doomsday prophecies in the streets, a nationalist politician suggested that the explosion was the test of a new American weapon, and Russia’s deputy prime minister called on world leaders to cooperate on asteroid-defense technologies. “So we stood there,” said a Chelyabinsk barmaid. “And then somebody joked, ‘Now the green men will crawl out and say hello.’ ” Fireballs streaked across the skies above Cuba and the San Francisco Bay, and a 150-foot-long asteroid that scientists had been monitoring for more than a year passed 17,150 miles[*] over Indonesia without incident. “This is a wake-up call from space,” said a former NASA astronaut who is developing asteroid-detection programs. “Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?” “This all gives us reason to think,” said a Chelyabinsk deacon in the Church of the Transfiguration. “Is the purpose of our life just to raise a family and die, or is it to live eternally?”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] A lightning bolt struck St. Peter’s Basilica; an underground nuclear test in P’unggye-ri, North Korea, triggered a seismic event measuring 4.9 on the Richter Scale;[*] and hackers in Great Falls, Montana, broadcast an emergency alert warning of a zombie uprising.[9][10][11][12] In Quetta, Pakistan, a bomb hidden in a water tank was rolled into an outdoor vegetable market on a tractor-trailer and detonated by a remote control that may have been stowed in a rickshaw, killing 81 people.[13][14] Thirty-seven people were killed in a series of car bombings in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad; 103 nomadic herders were killed during a machete, RPG, and spear raid in South Sudan; and 36 pilgrims died in a stampede at a gathering of 30 million Hindus in Allahabad, India.[15][16][17]

[*] These two items were corrected after publication.

“Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who competed in the 400 meters for South Africa at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.[18] Former Los Angeles policeman Christopher Dorner, who killed four people during a series of attacks on police officers and their families, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after police fired incendiary tear-gas canisters into the cabin at Big Bear Lake where he had taken refuge. Dorner’s supporters marched in protest of the police corruption he believed had led to his dismissal and of the manhunt conducted to find him. “I really, really believe he was innocent,” said one protester. “In the firing case.”[19][20] Mississippi formally notified the U.S. government that it had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery.[21] This year’s State of the Union address, in which President Barack Obama asked Congress to draft legislation on gun control, climate change, and immigration, was found to have been written at a tenth-grade reading level. As Obama entered the Capitol to deliver the speech, a female greeter wiped from his cheek the lipstick left by another female greeter.[22][23][24] In his final State of the City address, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed that the city lessen the punishment for marijuana possession and ban the plastic-foam packaging used in to-go boxes.[25][26] Iceland was considering a ban on Internet pornography. “If we can send a man to the moon,” said an interior-ministry adviser, “we must be able to tackle porn on the Internet.”[27] France’s parliament voted to allow gay couples to marry and to adopt children.[28] The International Olympic Committee voted to eliminate wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games, in order to make room for one of baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding, or wushu. “Gays,” said a Russian wrestling coach, “will soon run the whole world.”[29][30]

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Musician Chubby Checker sued HP over a Palm OS app bearing his name that estimates penis length based on a man’s shoe size.[31] A Rhode Island mother knocked down a 12-foot snow penis built by her 16-year-old son. “It’s just a big pair of balls now,” she said.[32] A Mankato, Minnesota, woman flung a used tampon at police officers who were attempting to strip search her.[33] While celebrating a $75,000 lottery win, two brothers in Wichita, Kansas, blew up their house with butane purchased to fuel lighters for their bongs.[34] Mountain Dew announced plans to release a breakfast soda called Kickstart, and Bud Light was found to be the most popular alcoholic drink among the underage.[35][36] “Patient John,” the volunteer spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, died of a heart attack he suffered outside the restaurant.[37] A falling lifeboat killed five members of a cruise ship during a safety drill in the Canary Islands, and the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was towed into harbor in Mobile, Alabama, five days after it went adrift without electricity or plumbing in the Gulf of Mexico. Guests slept on feces-soaked carpets, defecated into plastic bags, bartered diapers for cigarettes, and created a tent city on the ship’s swimming-pool decks. “The bathrobes,” tweeted @CarnivalCruise, “are complimentary.”[38][39][40][41][42] A carnival parade in Cologne displayed a float depicting Angela Merkel as a sow suckling hungry European nations.[43] Paraplegic Florida piglet Chris P. Bacon was given a custom-built wheelchair, a volunteer fire department in Orleans County, New York, received death threats for organizing a weekend “Squirrel Slam” hunting competition, and an affenpinscher “monkey dog” named Banana Joe bested a sheepdog named Swagger to win the 137th Westminster Dog Show in New York City. “A fantastic face, a great body,” said the competition’s Best in Show judge. “I’ve never had my hands on a better affenpinscher. Ever.”[44][45][46][47]


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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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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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