Weekly Review — December 17, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Ukrainian protests rage on, Nelson Mandela is buried, and China sends a Jade Rabbit into the Bay of Rainbows

Harper's Magazine, June 1883In Kiev, a third week of protests began over the failure by Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich to enter into political and trade agreements with the European Union, and to avoid economic rapprochement with Russia. An estimated 200,000 demonstrators gathered in Independence Square to argue for greater engagement with Europe, tens of thousands of anti-E.U. protesters were bussed into nearby European Square, the European Union withdrew from negotiations with the Ukrainian government, and riot police dismantled barricades set up by protesters, then built new ones to separate the opposing factions. “On this side of our ice wall you have Yanukovich’s regime of slavery and corruption,” said a plumber. “On our side, life is beautiful.” “We have a lot of bread and lemons,” said a college student.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] A riot took place in Singapore for the first time since 1969, and in Thailand, where former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was charged with murder, wealthy citizens were joining rallies against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose supporters are largely rural and poor. “I’m not really for democracy,” said energy-drink tycoon Petch Osathanugrah.[9][10][11][12] North Korea executed an uncle of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and accused him of distributing pornography, failing to clap with sufficient enthusiasm, and sabotaging a monument by having it erected in the shade. “Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader,” said the state-run Korean Central News Agency, “but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams.”[13][14][15][16] At a memorial for former South African president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, a sign-language interpreter translated 17 speeches using random hand gestures. “I had a breakdown,” he said. “I see angels come from sky to the ground.” Mandela’s body was transported to his childhood village of Qunu and laid to rest.[17][18][19]

Residents of Newtown, Connecticut, chose not to hold a public ceremony to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a shooting that killed 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “If we build it, they will come,” said Newtown first selectman E. Patricia Llodra. “So we have to not build it.”[20][21] Students at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, held a candlelight vigil for Claire Davis, who was in a coma after being shot in the head by an 18-year-old classmate who subsequently killed himself. [22][23] A Georgia high school student was suspended for a year for hugging his teacher, and a Madison, Wisconsin, business that offered “therapeutic cuddling” for $60 an hour closed after three weeks in operation.[24][25] Chinese hackers were reported to have breached the networks of several European foreign ministries by sending emails advertising nude photos of former French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy; France’s senate approved a law allowing officials to monitor citizens’ digital communications in real time; and it was revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency had deployed agents to search for terrorists in the online video game World of Warcraft.[26][27][28] Uruguay became the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale, and consumption of marijuana. “[The decision] relied on rather precarious and unsubstantiated assumptions,” said U.N. International Narcotics Control Board president Raymond Yans. “Tell that old man to stop lying,” said Uruguayan president José Mujica.[29][30][31] The mayor of Bogotá was removed from office over allegations he had mismanaged a shift from privatized garbage collection to a government-run service.[32] Canada Post announced that it would phase out home delivery over the next five years, and apologized for returning a six-year-old’s letter to Santa Claus because he had addressed it to “theNorthPowle.”[33][34]

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Prince Henry of Wales reached the South Pole, and American scientists announced that they had recorded the lowest temperature ever measured on Earth, –137 degrees Fahrenheit, along an East Antarctic plateau.[35][36] Google acquired robots named BigDog, WildCat, Atlas, and Cheetah.[37] Iran announced that it had sent a monkey named Fargam into space, the Jovian moon of Europa was shown to be spouting plumes of water taller than Mount Everest, and China debarked the rover Jade Rabbit onto the moon’s Bay of Rainbows.[38][39][40] Oslo added hot-pink decals reading “poo, piss, toilet paper” to its manhole covers.[41] Paleontologists determined that ichthyosaurs were incapable of slurping their prey, and that Edmontosaurus regalis had a cock-like comb. “There is a long and sad history of neglect,” said a researcher, “in the study of dinosaur skin.”[42][43] A study led by a physician at Imperial College London posited that Gollum would have defeated Bilbo Baggins in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit had he sunned himself more often or eaten quiche instead of blind fish. “The triumph of good over evil,” the study concluded, “may be assisted to some extent by poor diet and lack of sunlight.”[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.

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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.)

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

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How to Make Your Own AR-15

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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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