Weekly Review — May 13, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Obama Administration tries to publicize climate change, secessionists stage a referendum in eastern Ukraine, and teenage boys hold a prom-date draft in California 

Babylonian LionTwo teams of American climatologists published research confirming that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun to collapse, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment, which noted that average temperatures in the United States had increased by between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, predicted that in the absence of human intervention those temperatures could rise by another 10 degrees during the coming century, and attributed recent adverse weather events such as floods and droughts to climate change caused by humans. To publicize the report, President Barack Obama appeared in prerecorded interviews that aired on local television weather segments. “Trusted messengers are hugely important,” said White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri. “No one thinks these meteorologists have an agenda.”[1][2][3][4][5] In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad officially began his campaign for reelection, and antigovernment forces began withdrawing from Homs, which is known as “the capital of the revolution” for its central role in the uprising against Assad.[6][7] A Vietnamese patrol boat and several Chinese vessels shot water cannons at each other near an oil rig towed earlier this month by China to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.[8] Pro-Russian militants declared the secession of the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk following a referendum in which voters in some cities placed their ballots in transparent boxes, posters in Krasnoarmiysk urged Ukrainians to vote for secession and reject the “European Jewish choice,” and an electoral commission formed by militants in Donetsk reported that 89 percent of voters had chosen “yes.”[9][10][11][12] Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Crimea for the first time since it was annexed and signed a law banning cursing in public performances. “It is a common practice to swear,” said Russian philosopher Vadim Rudnev, “among the intelligentsia.”[13][14] A dolphin trainer at a tank in Donetsk announced the birth of a calf named Peace.[15]

Following a circuit-court decision striking down Arkansas’s ban on same-sex marriage, Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton became the state’s first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license, in Eureka Springs. When the deputy clerk tried to close the office before issuing any licenses, an 80-year-old man named Paul Wank waved a cane at her. “You’ve been hateful to people like me for years,” said Wank. “Keep up.”[16] Nintendo apologized for building an English-language version of a Japanese life-simulation game that doesn’t allow same-sex relationships; Tom Neuwirth, a bearded Austrian drag queen, won the annual Eurovision song contest; and the St. Louis Rams selected linebacker Michael Sam with the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, making him the first openly gay player in North American professional football. After receiving the news by telephone, Sam wept in his boyfriend’s arms, kissed him, and smeared cake on his face. “We drafted a good football player,” said Rams coach Jeff Fisher.[17][18][19][20] Male students at a Newport Beach, California, high school were found to have held a prom-date “draft,” for which they reportedly scouted girls and traded picks. “A lot of the girls respect the draft and stick with those dates,” said a student.[21][22] In a video showing an estimated 130 of the 276 girls abducted from a Nigerian school last month, the leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram claimed that the girls in the video, who wore the hijab and recited prayers in Arabic, were now Muslims, and offered to release those who had not converted in exchange for the release of Boko Haram prisoners. “These girls you occupy yourselves with,” he said of the converts, “we have indeed liberated them.”[23][24][25]

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In Manhattan, Cecily McMillan was found guilty of assaulting a police officer whom she had elbowed in the face during an Occupy Wall Street protest after he allegedly grabbed her right breast from behind with enough force to bruise the skin. “Most just wanted her to do probation,” said a juror after the verdict was delivered, “But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous.”[26][27] A Brooklyn woman sued the New York Police Department for repeatedly searching her apartment for her husband, who died in 2006 of diabetes.[28] China blocked the release of the Darren Aronofsky film Noah because of its religious themes, and the U.S. Social Security Administration reported that in 2013 Noah was the most popular name for American baby boys, a position held by Jacob for 14 years. “You compare ‘Jacob’ with all its hard, punchy consonants, versus ‘Noah,’ ” said Babynamewizard.com founder Laura Wattenberg, “you can really see where the style is heading.”[29][30][31][32] Paleontologists announced the discovery of Qianzhousaurus sinensis, nicknamed “Pinocchio rex,” a long-nosed tyrannosaur unearthed at a Chinese construction site, and France launched a €3 million campaign to save the Great Hamster of Alsace.[33][34] In Colorado, Rene Lima-Marin was rearrested six years after a clerical error led him to be released 90 years before the end of his sentence for armed robbery, and in Missouri, a judge ordered the release of a man who in 2000 was sentenced to 13 years for robbery but wasn’t summoned to report to prison until last year.[35][36] Chamindu Amarsinghe, a Melbourne janitor who found more than $100,000 in a bin next to a toilet, was allowed by a judge to keep $81,597 of the money. “I just want to spend my life in a normal way,” said Amarshinghe, “[and] find a job in IT.”[37][38]


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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.

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