Weekly Review — December 22, 2015, 1:05 pm

Weekly Review

Libya’s rival parliaments agree to form a unified government, a third of Republican voters support bombing a fictional city in Disney’s Aladdin, and Holland allows students to pay driving instructors with sex

HarpersWeb-WeeklyReview-RP-LargeThe U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a plan for peace talks to end the Syrian civil war, which has lasted nearly five years and has killed more than 250,000 people. [1][2] The resolution, which called for U.N.-monitored elections within 18 months of the opening talks, took no position on the fate of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “Now,” said Assad, “I can stay.”[3] The Islamic State declared war on Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia included Pakistan and Lebanon in its anti-terrorism coalition without consulting either country.[4][5] Representatives of Libya’s rival parliaments agreed to form a unified government, peace talks in Switzerland failed to end the nine-month civil war in Yemen, the United States and Cuba announced that commercial flights between the two countries would take place for the first time in more than half a century, and Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza rejected a decision by the African Union to deploy 5,000 peacekeepers to his country.[6][7][8][9] Turkey and Israel outlined a reconciliation agreement that would normalize their relations for the first time since Israeli soldiers killed ten Turkish activists on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip.[10] Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested that Washington was behind Turkey’s recent decision to shoot down a Russian warplane flying in contested airspace. “The Turks decided to lick the Americans,” said Putin, “in a certain place.”[11]

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was indicted on six counts of first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old; and a mistrial was declared in the case of William G. Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray.[12][13] A woman drove her Oldsmobile into a crowd on the Las Vegas Strip, killing one person and injuring at least 35 others.[14] Authorities in Texas intensified their manhunt for Ethan Couch, a missing teenager who, in 2013, killed four people in a drunk-driving accident and received no jail time because a judge determined that he suffered from “affluenza.”[15] The owner of a pizza shop in Rochester, New York, accepted a plea deal of 270 months in prison for being a recruiter for the Islamic State.[16] France’s National Front party, whose president, Marine Le Pen, recently compared Muslims praying in public to Nazi occupiers and was acquitted of hate-speech charges, won a record 6.8 million votes in regional elections.[17][18] Danish legislators considered a measure that would allow authorities to seize jewelry, cash, and other valuables from refugees.[19] Public schools in Los Angeles and Nashua, New Hampshire, were closed because of bomb threats, and a poll found that 30 percent of Republican primary voters support bombing Agrabah, the fictional city from Disney’s Aladdin.[20][21]

Driving instructors in Holland are now legally able to accept sex as payment from adult students.[22] A German historian found medical records from 1923 proving that Adolf Hitler had only one testicle.[23] A Thai factory worker was charged with lèse-majesté and could face up to 37 years in prison for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s dog, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dog was quarantined after biting two guests at a Hanukkah party.[24][25] Over the objections of PETA, a North Carolina court ruled that a convenience store could use a live possum for a New Year’s Eve stunt. “I take care of that possum,” said the store’s owner, “better than I do my wife.”[26] Four thousand Romanian shepherds dressed in sheepskins protested new grazing restrictions outside the parliament in Bucharest.[27] Chinese consumers bought canisters of fresh air from the Rocky Mountains in response to a second “red alert for smog” issued by Beijing, and a restaurant in Jiangsu province was found to have been adding an air-cleaning fee to customers’ bills.[28] The town council of Woodland, North Carolina, rejected a plan to build a solar farm after residents expressed fears that the panels would “suck up all the energy from the sun,” and a power station in the French Alps generated electricity from Beaufort cheese.[29][30] Workers at a South Korean recruiting company wept during a motivational exercise that required them to lie in coffins and imagine their own deaths, and an 82-year-old woman in England knit a scarf while she was trapped in a public lavatory for four days. “If I got cold,” said the woman, “I just sat under the hand dryer.”[31][32]

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
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I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

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