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The Democratic Party demonstrated its seriousness of purpose by failing to mount a filibuster to block the confirmation of former senator John Ashcroft, who was defeated by a dead man in the last election; Ashcroft was sworn in as Attorney General by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a private ceremony. President George W. Bush, a former oil man, named Vice President Dick Cheney, a former oil man, to head a special task force to devise ways to increase the profits of oil companies. In response to the continuing energy crisis in California, President Bush continued to affirm that pollution was the solution. Mexico was selling fifty megawatts of power a day to California. President Bush called the new president of the Philippines and remarked that “we are the two freshest faces in the presidential ranks.” He also noted that “it’s about past seven in the evening here, so we’re actually in different time lines.” Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada, a recent victim of People Power, affirmed that he was still legally president; his successor told him to give up his “evil designs.” “You cannot win against the people,” she said. “I shall crush you.” French fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen resumed his seat in the European Parliament; Le Pen lost his seat in October after he was convicted of assaulting Annette Peulvast-Bergeal, a socialist politician.Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, who was in trouble because his personal masseur embezzled $3.7 million dollars from the government, went on television and announced, “I am not involved in anything.”
An innocent man who spent thirty-three years, two months, and five days in prison was released after documents were presented that proved not only that he was innocent but that he had been framed by Federal Bureau of Investigation informants, who themselves committed the murder in question. F.B.I. agents knew that their informants were guilty of the crime but remained silent to protect their sources. Mexico’s new customs chief fired forty-three out of forty-seven customs supervisors in an attempt to reduce corruption. United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan presented an 87-point plan to end the suffering of the developing world. Refugees in Afghanistan were freezing to death. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, forced the chief justice of his country’s supreme court to resign; government-backed thugs threatened to remove other justices by force if they refused to do as they were told. Mugabe and his followers were angry that the court had repeatedly declared the government’s seizure of white-owned farms illegal. Members of the Hema and Lendu tribes were hacking one another to death with machetes in the Congo. People died in Zanzibar as police put down opposition demonstrations. Mehmet Fevzi Sihanlioglu, a fifty-five-year-old Turkish legislator, died of a heart attack after he was struck and threatened with a knife during an attempt to break up a fight between two other members of parliament. People in Malaysia were tearing up forests looking for tongkat ali, a traditional medicine that, according to researchers, stimulates the libido of rats. Scientists spent five weeks watching helicopters fly over king penguins in the Antarctic to determine whether the birds topple over backward while watching aircraft. They do not.
Chinesetelevision broadcast footage of five Falun Gong members setting themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square; one of them was a twelve-year-old girl, who was shown in close-up crying “Mama! Mama!” The girl’s mother, who supposedly told her that she would not feel the flames and would be instantly sent to paradise, died. Falun Gong spokesmen pointed out that Master Li, their spiritual leader, prohibits suicide, though flying and being in two places at once are encouraged. A boy in Connecticut set himself on fire in an attempt to reproduce a stunt he saw on MTV’s Jackass. A Mormon in Utah was renting Hollywood movies he had personally edited to exclude nudity, violence, and bad words; Jack Valenti promised to put a stop to it. Utah’s legislature designated Jell-O brand gelatin the official state snack; Salt Lake City, Utah, has the highest per capita consumption of Jell-O in the world. A crazed man attacked a kindergarten in Pennsylvania with a machete, injuring five children, a teacher, and the school principal. A twelve-year-old Toronto girl was still being held in a group home while she awaited trial for briefly licking the genitals of two eleven-year-old girls last year. Four elementary students in Louisiana were strip-searched by a principal who was looking, unsuccessfully, for $20 that had been stolen; a memo was later issued advising that strip-searches of students was a “no-no.” A man in Maldonado, Uruguay, crucified himself to protest violence against children, which he blamed on a “lack of true love.” Newspapers continued to publish righteous editorials condemning the Grammy Award nomination of Eminem, a rapper whose songs are as popular as they are violent. Researchers found evidence that dolphins can stun or kill their prey with sound. In Jonesboro, Arkansas, an eight-year-old boy was suspended for three days for pointing a chicken finger at a teacher and saying “Pow, pow, pow.” The principal who signed the expulsion order said punishment in such cases varies by the tone of the threat: “It’s not the object in the hand,” he said, “it’s the thought in the mind.”
More from Roger D. Hodge:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”