Weekly Review — March 3, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

Vladimir Putin’s political adversary is assassinated, Venezuela bans George Bush and Dick Cheney from entering the country, and two people in Seoul are swallowed by a sinkhole

HarpersWeb-WeeklyReview-Popkey-bigAn Islamic State militant known in the press as Jihadi John, who in 2014 is believed to have beheaded at least five Western aid workers and journalists in Syria, was identified as a Kuwaiti-born Londoner named Mohammed Emwazi. His parents told investigators that their son had said he was leaving home to do humanitarian work, and his former boss at a Kuwaiti IT company described him as “the best employee we ever had.” “He didn’t smile,” said the man. “But he wasn’t bad.”[1][2][3] Boris Nemtsov, a former first deputy prime minister of Russia who was an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, was fatally shot four times on a bridge near the Kremlin. Nemtsov, who was recently asked by a reporter if he feared Putin might kill him, had said he was “somewhat worried, but not as seriously as my mother.” World leaders including Putin condemned the murder, and tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow.[4][5] Zakir Naik, an Indian television preacher who has repeatedly said that 9/11 was an “inside job” orchestrated by former U.S. president George W. Bush, was given the King Faisal international prize by Saudi Arabia for “service to Islam”; Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro announced that Bush, former vice president Dick Cheney, and former CIA director George Tenet, whom he called “terrorists,” were banned from entering the country; and police in Sweden stormed a student’s house after seeing two balloons that appeared to be shaped into the letters “IS,” the initials of the Islamic State, displayed in the window. “Extremism should always be taken seriously,” said the student, whose boyfriend bought the balloons, shaped like a “2” and a “1,” in celebration of her 21st birthday. “And we did take the balloons down immediately.”[6][7][8]

The Federal Communications Commission approved new rules to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, and President Obama signed a seven-day funding extension for the Department of Homeland Security 10 minutes before allocated monies were to run out.[9][10][11][12] In response to a civil suit filed by the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a police officer last November while playing with a toy gun, the city of Cleveland argued that the child’s actions “directly and proximately” caused his death.[13] There was a run on cases of 5.56mm M855 green-tip rifle bullets, after the White House moved to ban their manufacture and sale because they can pierce police armor.[14] During the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker responded to questions about how he would deal with the Islamic State if he were elected president by referencing those who opposed his efforts, in 2011, to weaken public sector unions. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters,” he said, “I can do the same across the world.” He later clarified his remarks. “I want to make it clear right now,” he said, “I’m not comparing those two entities.”[15][16]

After South Korea’s highest court struck down a law banning adultery, stock prices for makers of condoms, emergency contraceptive pills, and pregnancy tests surged.[17] A study of U.K. sex workers who had voluntarily chosen the profession found that 71 percent had previously worked in health, social care, education, childcare, or charities, and that 38 percent had an undergraduate degree. “I didn’t get into sex work until I was in my late 40s,” said one former healthcare worker in her early 50s, “but I wish I had started sooner.”[18] A Wisconsin man burned his face while setting fire to a house that a registered sex offender was set to move into, and a man in New York was issued a summons for driving in a high-occupancy vehicle lane with a fake passenger. “I noticed that the front seat passenger was not a person,” said the officer. “It was constructed as if it was Popsicle sticks, large Popsicle sticks.”[19][20] An unidentified group in Worplesdon, England, bolted a toilet, sink, and toilet paper holder to a bus stop shelter, it was reported that a man and a woman were swallowed by a sinkhole as they got off a bus in Seoul, and a 20-year-old Alabama man who grew 46DD breasts as a result of having been prescribed the antipsychotic drug Risperdal as an eight year-old was awarded $2.5 million in damages. The man’s quality of life “was significantly improved,” argued a spokeswoman for the drug manufacturer, “during the time he was taking Risperdal.”[21][22][23]

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The Islamic State carries out two suicide bombings in Beirut, U.S. officials say they are reasonably sure they’ve killed Jihadi John, and an eight-year-old boy is accused of killing a one-year-old girl

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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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