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President George W. Bush, whose approval rating was at an historic low for a new president, unveiled his budget and his tax-cut proposal, and made it through his first major speech with only one minor Bushism. Agriculture Department bureaucrats announced that the government would continue to promote pork. Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to the Middle East and proposed easing the ten-year-old sanctions on Iraq that disproportionately harm innocent civilians. The Pentagon announced a new “active denial system” that fires electromagnetic energy at people and creates a burning sensation on the surface of their skin. The weapon is meant to “influence motivational behavior”; the Pentagon hopes to use the weapon, which Human Rights Watch described as a “high-powered microwave antipersonnel weapon,” for crowd control, instead of tear gas and rubber bullets. Secret Service agents picked up Jenna Bush’s boyfriend at a Fort Worth jail after he was arrested for public intoxication. The grand champion steer at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo fetched a record $600,000 at auction. New York City’sBoy Scouts said they would try to convince the national organization to repeal its ban on homosexuals. Former president Bill Clinton was said to be feeling sad and lonely in his big empty house in Chappaqua, New York.
South Korean president Kim Dae Jung pleased Russian president Vladimir Putin by declaring his opposition to the United States‘ plan to build a national missile defense system that would violate the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. American advocates of the missile scheme typically justify it by professing fear of tiny North Korea. A few days later, after American officials asked for a “clarification” of his statement, President Kim said that he wasn’t really opposed to national missile defense and that the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. Mexicanpolice beat protesters who tried to disrupt a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Cancún. Indonesia’s president Abdurrahman Wahid was sightseeing in the Middle East and north Africa while machete-wielding Dayak tribesmen in Borneo continued to hunt down Madurese settlers and chop off their heads. A bomb blew up a Thai Airways jet just before Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was to board it; the explosion, the cause of which was unknown, originated just below the seat assigned to Shinawatra. China ratified the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Chechen investigators were excavating a mass grave outside Grozny. Another Nigerian province said it would begin observing Islamic law. Hamas announced a new campaign of suicide bombings to welcome Ariel Sharon’s new government. Israelisecurity forces killed six Palestinians over the weekend, including a forty-three-year-old mother and a nine-year-old boy. A Palestiniansuicide bomber killed himself and three elderly Israeli women and injured many others in Netanya. A mob immediately tried to lynch an Arab bystander; police arrived just as they were about to hitch the unconscious man to a truck and drag him through the marketplace.
A team of scientists working on a Martian meteorite known as ALH 84002 said that they had discovered “conclusive evidence” of bacterial life on Mars 3.9 billion years ago, which would be the oldest evidence of life yet discovered. Other scientists were skeptical and appealed to the possibility of terrestrial contamination of the meteorite, which was on Earth for 13,000 years before it was found in 1984. Indian vultures were dying out, complicating the rituals of Bombay’s Zoroastrians, who still follow the ancient ways and lay out their dead to be eaten in an ancient stone amphitheater called the Tower of Silence. British and French governments were slaughtering tens of thousands of sheep and cattle in an increasingly futile attempt to control the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, a virus that is about as severe as the common cold. British authorities cancelled all horse races because of the disease; Ireland called off St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The school superintendent of Mobile, Alabama, proposed doing away with all extracurricular activities, including football, after the state imposed mandatory budget cuts. All Alabama was aghast. Brigitte Bardot was trying to save 200,000 mangy stray dogs in Bucharest, Romania, that bite over 20,000 people a year. Sir Richard Doll, the British epidemiologist who discovered the link between smoking and lung cancer, has concluded that it is true: children (and possibly adults) who live near electrical power lines are more likely to get leukemia. The United States Supreme Court rejected a challenge from industry groups to force the Environmental Protection Agency to use cost-benefit analysis in setting clean-air standards. Black rhinos were dying under mysterious circumstances in Tanzania. Belgium said it would legalize pot. Traces of cocaine were found in a seventeenth-century pipe discovered in Shakespeare’s house. Afghanistan’s supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, ordered the destruction of all statues in the country, which has some of the most significant ancient Buddhist statuary in the world, including two giant standing Buddhas carved out of a mountainside in the seventh century. Important clerics in Egypt, Pakistan, and Iran pointed out that the Mullah’s interpretation of the Koran was incorrect. Mawlawi Qudratullah Jamal, the Taliban’s minister of information and culture, replied that it was “not a big issue,” that the statues were “objects only made of mud or stone.” After announcing that the destruction of the Buddhas had begun, Jamal noted that “it is easier to destroy than to build.”
More from Roger D. Hodge:
Chances that a deep breath inhaled today will contain a molecule from Julius Caesar’s dying breath:
Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos, Hill and Wang (N.Y.C.)
The earth once had three moons; the two lost moons may have crashed into the surviving moon, or been sucked into the sun, or flung out of the solar system to drift through deep space.
In Florida, an 87-year-old World War II veteran flying touch-and-go drills in a Cessna collided with an airborne skydiver. âThere was a âwoofâ sound,â said a witness, âlike falling on your face into your pillow.â
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âAmerican politics has often been an arena for angry minds.â