Weekly Review — March 17, 2015, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The Taliban blows up two Christian churches in Pakistan, Vladimir Putin disappears for ten days, and Pope Francis says he misses eating pizza

A category-five cyclone, with winds measuring 185 mph, struck the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. At least eight people were killed, 60,000 children were displaced, and 90 percent of buildings in the capital city of Port Vila were destroyed by the storm, which authorities named Pam. “I term it,” said Vanuatu’s president, “a monster.”[1][2] Taliban suicide bombers detonated explosives outside two Christian churches in Lahore, Pakistan, killing at least 14 people. Christian protestors responded by smashing windows, blocking traffic, and burning to death two people suspected of involvement in the attack.[3][4][5] In Iraq, Kurdish authorities claimed that the Islamic State used chlorine gas as a weapon during a battle with Peshmerga forces.[6] In the days leading up to Israel’s general election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed “leftwingers overseas” were channeling “tens of millions of dollars” into preventing his re-election. “Most of the public wants me as prime minister,” said Netanyahu.[7][8][9][10] Russian president Vladimir Putin, who did not appear publicly for ten days, was rumored variously to have died, to have had a stroke, to have been overthrown in a coup, to have undergone a plastic surgery operation, or to have fathered a love-child in Switzerland with a 31-year-old retired rhythmic gymnast. “His handshake is so strong,” said his press secretary, who denied the reports, “he breaks hands with it.”[11][12][13]

Two people were injured in the Luhansk region of separatist-held east Ukraine when a man used a grenade for a ball at a local bowling alley, and a 20-year-old man charged with shooting two police officers at an anti-police protest in Ferguson, Missouri, claimed he had intended to shoot someone else. “We’re not sure,” said a St. Louis County prosecutor, “we completely buy that.”[14][15] Creflo A. Dollar, Jr., the Atlanta-area megachurch pastor and leader of World Changers Church International, canceled a fundraising campaign to buy a $65 million Gulfstream G650 private jet so he could “blanket the globe with the Gospel of grace.”[16][17] On the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis told a Mexican television station that he might step down as soon as two years from now. “I would like,” he said, “to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria.”[18] The Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that it was seeking to redraw the boundaries of Virunga National Park, a U.N.-protected World Heritage site, in order to look for oil. “Europeans, you have eaten all your animals,” said a senior official from the Congolese Ministry of Hydrocarbons. “And now you ask us … to protect animals?”[19] A 75-year-old woman in Henrico, Virginia, choked and killed a rabid raccoon that had attacked her in a botanical garden. “It looked so much like my last dog,” she said. “That upset me.”[20]

A 17-year-old girl in Sweetwater, Texas, was crowned Miss Snake Charmer 2015, winning a $1,500 scholarship and the chance to decapitate western diamondback rattlesnakes.[21] It was reported that since Tanzania banned witchcraft in January to combat the murder of albinos, whose body parts are used in rituals, police have arrested hundreds of witch doctors, recovering lizard skin, warthog teeth, ostrich eggs, and monkey tails. Ecstasy and magic mushrooms were temporarily legalized in Ireland.[22]  Three people died in a Kansas hospital after being served listeria-contaminated Blue Bell ice-cream chocolate-chip cookie sandwiches, and a Norwegian man pleaded guilty to slipping abortion pills into his ex-girlfriend’s smoothie, which caused her to miscarry. “I felt like a total shitbag,” he said, “but I thought that it was the only way out.”[23][24] Finnish law required the food company Kesko to remove the word “meat” from online descriptions of its meatballs. “The balls have the equivalent of 52 percent meat,” said a company spokesperson. “However, according to current legislation, they aren’t from parts of the animal that can be described as meat.”[25]

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In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

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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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The kangaroo’s tail is a fifth leg.

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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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