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Guns, Tsunamis, Disease, and the Looming Fiscal Cliff

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

 Morning traffic passes a streetside memorial before a moment of silence on Dec. 21, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. Church bells rang out at 9:30 ET to mark the one-week anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

This week, Slate provided extensive coverage of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, focusing on ways to address America’s gun problem.  Emily Bazelon promotes reevaluating our dedication to gun culture, weighing firearm freedoms against the menace of gun violence. William Saletan contemplates the benefit of an assault weapon ban, noting the incontrovertible fact that certain guns kill more people in less time. And Jacob Weisberg suggests we approach guns from a public health perspective similar to that of Michael Bloomberg in his endeavors to curb smoking rates in New York City.  “Dengue, aka ‘Breakbone Fever,’ Is Back: The vicious virus has re-established itself in the South, and mosquitoes are carrying it north,” by Maryn McKenna. Most Americans have never heard of dengue fever—but that doesn’t mean it can’t kill them.  A rare malady in the United States but a pandemic internationally, dengue is beginning to re-emerge in North America, where no one has been vaccinated for the disease since the 1940s. McKenna explores the public health disaster that dengue could pose, as well as how climate change could accelerate the virus’ spread.

Judge Robert Bork died at age 85 on Wednesday.  Michael McConnell images an alternate universe in which Bork won his confirmation battle, comparing his philosophy of judicial restraint with Kennedy’s extreme swings. Richard Posner recognizes the role that politics played in Bork’s confirmation battle, noting that the judge himself, though highly qualified, was himself extremely political. And Akhil Reed Amar reflects on the lessons he learned from Judge Bork, who taught Amar at Yale, about the fallacies of originalism. Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias notes Bork’s little-discussed contribution to anti-trust law, refocusing anti-trust regulation on consumers.

The Day I Almost Shot My Father: I was just a kid, I was angry, and there was a gun,” by James Luria. Since the Newtown tragedy, gun culture has been scrutinized and debated, with many calling for more guns to combat violence. Luria provides a personal account of what happens when firearms fall into the wrong hands, recalling an episode from his youth during which he very nearly shot his own dad.

Is The Impossible Reprehensible? Laura Helmuth and Dan Kois argue about the new movie based on the 2004 tsunami,” by Laura Helmuth and Dan Kois. Following his rave review of The Impossible, Slate senior editor Dan Kois faced his own critic: Slate’s science and health editor Laura Helmuth. The two face off on the film’s message and morals, discussing the sacrifices to reality that narrative cinema must make in order to find success in Hollywood.

The Big Fail: Why John Boehner’s last, best hope at avoiding the ‘fiscal cliff’ exploded in his face,” by David Weigel. “Plan B,” Speaker of the House John Boehner’s proposal to keep America from falling off the fiscal cliff, failed spectacularly Thursday night, drawing little enthusiasm from either Democrats or Republicans. Weigel explains why the bill was doomed from the start (hint: The Tea Party wasn’t too happy about it), and why reaching a true compromise is looking increasingly impossible.

The Flu Vaccine Controversy: Are drug companies really more dangerous than the flu virus?” by Darshak Sanghavi. Yes, flu vaccines cause adverse reactions in some people every year. But they also keep millions more from falling ill. Sanghavi explodes the pseudo-science behind flu shot paranoia, admonishing the media to stop giving equal weight to the arguments of a few conspiracy theorists.   

Do Armed Citizens Stop Mass Shootings? A history of intervention attempts,” by Forrest Wickman. In response to the Sandy Hook shootings, many—including Virginia governor Bob McDonnell—suggested we arm more civilians, like teachers, with firearms. But would that truly help prevent gun deaths? Wickman examines the evidence and suggests that more guns do not necessarily make a safer world—though the evidence is too murky to be cited by either side of the gun control debate.