Weekly Review — August 27, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

A poison-gas attack in Syria, a verdict in the Manning trial, and wing-walker Flame Brewer

A Humbug (Weekly)Five days after a poison-gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 300 people and caused symptoms of neurotoxicity in more than 3,000 others, the regime of Bashar al-Assad agreed to allow United Nations inspectors to collect samples of soil, blood, urine, and tissue in an attempt to determine who was responsible. Calling the use of chemical weapons a “moral obscenity,” Secretary of State John Kerry said that President Barack Obama would make an “informed decision” about the U.S. response. “Failure awaits the United States,” said Assad, “as in all previous wars it has unleashed.”[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] Documents declassified by the CIA indicated that the Reagan Administration offered intelligence to Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq War in the knowledge that he would use nerve agents. “The Iraqis never told us,” said a retired Air Force colonel. “They didn’t have to. We already knew.”[8] Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was removed from power by the army in 2011, and Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badie, whose party was removed from power by the army last month, went on trial for incitement to kill protesters. “Those who tried and are still trying to break the Egyptian army,” said a spokesman for interim president Adly Mansour, “will fall alongside the Tatars and Crusaders.”[9] At Fort Hood, Texas, Major Nidal Hasan was found guilty of 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder for his 2009 attack on an Army barracks; at Fort Lewis, Washington, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was sentenced to life in prison for killing 16 Afghan civilians in 2012; and at Fort Meade, Maryland, Private Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks. “Justice,” said a relative of Bales’s victims, “was served the American way.” Manning announced that she would now live as a woman named Chelsea.[10][11][12][13]

George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watchman acquitted last month of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, toured the facility in Cocoa, Florida, where the gun he used to shoot Martin was manufactured. “That was not part of our public-relations plan,” said a spokesman for Zimmerman’s attorney.[14][15] Martin’s parents were among tens of thousands of people to gather on the National Mall to mark the semicentennial of the March on Washington. “My generation cannot now afford to sit back,” said Newark mayor Cory Booker, “getting dumb, fat, and happy thinking we have achieved our freedoms.”[16][17] Pilgrims of the Universal White Brotherhood converged on the mountains of Bulgaria to practice their paneurhythmy.[18] A third of white high-school-age girls in the United States admitted to having used a tanning bed in the past year, and lepidopterists discovered that Calindoea trifascialis larvae hop away from the sun to pupate.[19][20] The Rim Fire was approaching Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir.[21] A real estate developer installed a Beaver Deceiver in Fairview, Texas, and the city of Zurich opened nine drive-in sex boxes. “It will not work,” said a local politician, “because the clients will not come.”[22][23] San Diego’s city council voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Mayor Bob Filner, who has been accused of sexual harassment by 18 women in the past six weeks. “He made me begin to feel like a 16-year-old again,” said one of Filner’s advisers, “with the vitality of his ideas.”[24] The Canadian military was continuing tests on Loki, a $620,000 stealth snowmobile, and Australian scientists were modifying beer to increase its rehydrative properties. “This is definitely not a good idea,” said one nutrition researcher.[25][26] A South Florida judge dismissed a citation issued in April to a man jogging backward. “I came very far,” said the jogger, “to get to where I’m at.”[27]

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The walrus left Jökulsárlón, and the eggman collected blackberries in Exbury.[28][29][30] A skydiver died in Yolo County, California.[31] A girl named Flame Brewer wing-walked over Gloucestershire.[32] French pigeon hunters spooked a horse in Kent, and 3,000 donkeys in Kenya’s Rift Valley were found to be on leave.[33][34] Swedish neonatologists requested that crocheted octopuses no longer be brought to maternity wards.[35] Stray dogs in Detroit and Swainson’s hawks in Calgary were disrupting postal rounds. “It’s like Chihuahuaville,” said mailwoman Catherine Guzik. “They’re quite clever,” said postman Reuben Hawkes.[36][37] English archaeologists prepared to extract the tenth-century sarcophagus of “somebody terribly important.”[38] In Pennsylvania, a clown couple married at Clownfest. “Every layer of greasepaint,” said a clown named Happy, “is a layer of happiness.”[39][40] Researchers found that Double Stuf Oreos contain only 1.86 times the cream filling of traditional Oreos, that crocodilians who eat fruit do so deliberately, and that British snails locomote more quickly than previously assumed. “They are not,” said one malacologist, “just lettuce munchers.”[41][42][43] A Krispy Kreme in Edinburgh announced that it had sold an average of one doughnut every three seconds since opening in February. “They are ruinous,” said Scottish National Obesity Forum spokesman Tam Fry.[44]


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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.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
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What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Factor by which single Americans who use emoji are more likely than other single Americans to be sexually active:

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Moore said he did not “generally” date teenage girls, and it was reported that in the 1970s Moore had been banned from his local mall and YMCA for bothering teenage girls.

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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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