Weekly Review — October 23, 2017, 2:19 pm

Weekly Review

The veterans affair

US president Donald Trump, who once said that “disabled veterans” were “clogging and seriously downgrading” Fifth Avenue and that veterans selling goods on the “most important and prestigious shopping street” would make the “image” of New York City “suffer” if the “deplorable situation” wasn’t stopped, called the widow of La David Johnson, a Green Beret killed in action in Niger, and reportedly told her that her husband “knew what he signed up for” but that it “hurts anyway”; Trump tweeted that he had “proof” that Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had recounted the details of the call, had “totally fabricated” his words, but did not specify what his proof was; Trump’s chief of staff defended the president by holding a press conference in which he said that journalists should watch a “very, very good” movie about a soldier he served with who was killed in action, that it was “not the case anymore” that women were “looked upon with great honor,” and that Wilson was an “empty barrel” who had lied about obtaining $20 million in funding from the federal government for an FBI building in her district; a video surfaced showing that Wilson, who was not serving in Congress at the time the money was granted, had not lied about securing the funding but had been involved in naming the building after two slain agents of the FBI, an agency that Trump accused of paying for opposition research against him; Johnson’s widow told journalists that Wilson’s account of her call with Trump was “one hundred percent correct” and that what “hurt me most” about the conversation was that Trump initially couldn’t remember her husband’s name, which she said made her “very, very upset”; and Trump tweeted that he had not forgotten Johnson’s name. “I had a very respectful conversation” tweeted Trump, who has said that he likes soldiers that “weren’t captured,” that the mother of a US soldier killed in action did not speak about her son’s death because she was a Muslim, that a captured US soldier returned to the country after five years in a Taliban prison should be executed, that “strong” veterans don’t get PTSD, that although the US military buys Viagra for male soldiers it should not pay for the medical treatment of transgender service members, that he couldn’t recall which of his feet had the bone spur that allowed him to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War for the fifth time, and that his “personal Vietnam” was having sex with women in the 1990s without contracting a sexually transmitted disease.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20]

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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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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.

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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.

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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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