Weekly Review — January 14, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Boko Haram raids 16 villages in Nigeria, a bomb is detonated outside an NAACP office in Colorado, and a Muslim cleric bans snowmen.

WeeklyReviewCrocAvitarTwo Muslim extremists in Paris shot and killed 12 people in an attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. French police killed the two suspects after the militants took hostages at a printing shop; a third man who claimed allegiance with them held up a kosher grocery store, killing four, before being shot by police.[1][2][3][4] Ten thousand French troops and 5,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country to protect “sensitive sites”; 1.5 million people protested in Paris; the anti-Islam group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West held a rally attended by 25,000 people in Dresden, Germany; and Charlie Hebdo announced that it would print 3 million copies of its next issue, which will feature a cartoon of Muhammad crying below the words “all is forgiven.”[5][6][7] Hundreds of members of the extremist group Boko Haram, which killed 10,000 Nigerians in 2014, raided 16 villages, murdering as many as 2,000 people. “Dead bodies litter the bushes,” said a local government official.[8][9] In Nigeria, two young girls who were estimated to be 10 years old blew themselves up in a crowded market, killing at least four people, and a 10-year-old girl detonated a bomb she was wearing in another market, killing 20 people.[10][11] A suicide bomber killed 12 people near Baghdad when he drove a car filled with explosives into a group of Shiite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers; a police officer in Istanbul died after a suicide bomber walked into a police station and detonated explosives concealed under her coat. “It’s snowing,” said a tea seller who witnessed the attack, “So there was nothing suspicious about her big coat.”[12][13]

The FBI and Justice Department recommended that felony charges be brought against retired U.S. general David Petraeus for allegedly sharing classified documents with his former mistress.[14] FBI investigators were unable to definitively determine the motive of an attacker who detonated a bomb outside the NAACP office in Colorado Springs.[15] A 77-year-old man told a court he tried to blow up an antique grenade on a bus in Zhejiang, China, because he was upset with the driver for previously having failed to stop in the proper location.[16] A court in Cairo acquitted 26 men who were arrested at a bathhouse last month on charges of debauchery and “indecent public acts.”[17] Russia barred transgender people from getting driving licenses; Britain announced that, to improve diversity, its armed forces will begin asking recruits if they are gay.[18][19][20] Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would not attend an event in Poland marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.[21] Cuba freed 53 political prisoners at the United States’ behest; Cuban state media reported that Fidel Castro, who had not been heard from for three months, broke his silence by writing a four-page letter to soccer star Diego Maradona to discuss global oil consumption and quash rumors of his death.[22][23]

In India, at least 23 people died from consuming a batch of bootleg liquor; 69 people died in Mozambique after drinking homemade beer suspected to be contaminated with crocodile bile; and an analysis of a 700-year-old fecal sample revealed that a patron of Dante, who was also an Italian warlord, died from ingesting a poisonous “brew or foxglove decoction.”[24][25][26] Two nine-year-old students in Elba, New York, were suspended for plotting, with a third student, to poison their teacher by coating her personal belongings with hand sanitizer.[27] Researchers published a method for developing antibiotics from bacteria in dirt.[28] A man had a heart attack while parading a statue of Jesus down the street in Manila in anticipation of the arrival of Pope Francis.[29] Spike Lee announced that he would sell his latest film online, ahead of its theatrical release. “I’m hyped,” said Lee, “to get my new joint, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, out to the world.”[30] The former highest-ranking U.S. cardinal blamed “radical feminists” for the Catholic Church’s pervasive child molestation. “The Church,” he said, “has largely ignored the serious needs of men.”[31] In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim cleric issued a ruling that forbids Sunnis from building snowmen. “It is imitating the infidels,” one supporter said. “It promotes lustiness and eroticism.”[32]

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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.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
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In the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

Photograph from Puerto Rico by Christopher Gregory
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In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
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After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Cost of a baby-stroller cleaning, with wheel detailing, at Tot Squad in New York City:

$119.99

Australian biologists trained monitor lizards not to eat cane toads.

Trump tweeted that he had created “jobs, jobs, jobs” since becoming president, and it was reported that Trump plans to bolster job creation by loosening regulations on the global sale of US-made artillery, warships, fighter jets, and drones.

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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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