Weekly Review — January 20, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Pope says climate change is mostly man made, Al Qaeda claims responsibility for the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and residents of a town in Denmark agree to have sex more often

ALL IN MY EYE. Pope Francis concluded a weeklong tour of Asia by officiating an outdoor mass in Manila to at least 6 million people, the largest audience in papal history.[1] Francis spoke to the Philippines’ 80 million Catholics about poverty, family values, and global climate change, which he called “mostly” man made. “God always forgives,” he said. “Nature never forgives. If you slap it, it will always slap you back.”[2] U.S. senators agreed to vote on whether they believe that climate change is occurring; NASA and NOAA researchers calculated that 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history.[3][4][5] Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for an attack on the French publication Charlie Hebdo and said a subsequent strike on a kosher grocery store in Paris, in which four people were killed by a militant who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, was merely a coincidence of “good fortune.”[6][7] E.U. foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss the supposed threat of European Muslims being radicalized in the Middle East and then returning to their home countries; more than 20 people were arrested in Belgium, France, and Germany for suspected connection to terrorist activities; and a frequent Fox News contributor apologized for saying that parts of London and the entire city of Birmingham, England, are “no-go zones” ruled by Islamic religious police. “When I heard this,” said British prime minister David Cameron, “I choked on my porridge.”[8][9][10] Duke University reversed its decision to broadcast a weekly Muslim call to prayer on campus, and a statistician determined that the five most common first names among New York City taxi drivers are Md, Mohammad, Mohammed, Muhammad, and Mohamed.[11][12]

The FBI arrested Ohioan Christopher Lee Cornell, a.k.a. Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, for allegedly plotting to “wage jihad” in the U.S. Capitol; Islamic State militants hacked U.S. Central Command’s Twitter account, tweeted pictures of American personnel standing with a goat at a U.S. command outpost, and replaced the agency’s avatar with an image of a masked militant and the phrase “I love you ISIS.”[13][14] American officials said that the U.S. government relied on evidence obtained from NSA hacking to conclude that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures late last year, and the White House outlined plans to boost viewership of President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union speech by producing a mobile-specific version of the broadcast that will juxtapose footage of the president with photographs of hardworking Americans.[15][16] The staff of House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) posted a series of Taylor Swift GIFs to Boehner’s website alongside a critique of a plan by President Obama to offer tuition-free community-college education, which the staff argued would cost Americans $60 billion over the next decade. “Not even all the Taylor Swift album sales in the world would cover that,” the staffers wrote. Swift, whose fifth album, 1989, has sold 4 million copies in the past three months, sent a check for $1,989 to a fan who wrote her frequent letters complaining about student-loan debt.[17][18][19] Cornish bard Les Merton, author of The Official Encyclopaedia of the Cornish Pasty, was found guilty of sexually abusing girls as young as seven after a Truro Crown Court rejected his claim that he stumbled onto a child-pornography website while researching Rasputin, and publishers of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven removed the book from circulation when its now 16-year-old coauthor Alex Malarkey admitted to having fabricated the near-death experience chronicled therein. “The Bible,” wrote Malarkey, “is the only source of truth.”[20][21]

A homeless man in Sarasota, Florida, was arrested for theft of utilities after a police officer found him charging his cell phone in a public picnic shelter, and Damien Preston-Booth, a beggar in London’s Mayfair district who accepts payments via portable credit card reader, admitted that he isn’t homeless but commutes from his apartment several days a week to panhandle. “I do it,” said Preston-Booth, “to buy things for the flat.”[22][23] A Florida man cashed in a winning $3 million lottery ticket that had originally been a Christmas gift for his dog.[24] The city manager of Bainbridge Island, Washington, banned all cheese products from being consumed in City Hall when the Seattle Seahawks play the Green Bay Packers.[25] It was reported that, in Folkestone, England, a father was sentenced to four years in prison after he dropped his three-year-old son off at nursery school with a lunchbox full of cocaine and knives; that an Iowa man being chased by police stopped briefly to deposit his daughter at school before continuing his flight; and that an 18-year-old woman in the Great Lakes region was engaged to be married to her long-lost father. “Incest has been around as long as humans have,” the woman said. “Everybody just needs to deal with it.”[26][27][28] Residents of Thisted, Denmark, agreed to have as much sex as possible in order to boost the town’s birthrate and create demand for local businesses and schools, and in the Lower Galilee, Holocaust survivors Michael and Marion Mittwoch celebrated the birth of their 100th great-grandchild. “This,” said Michael, aged 92, “is our answer to Hitler.”[29][30]

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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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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.

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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.

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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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