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Preparing for a potential strike against Iraq, the United States plucked Vice President Dick Cheney out of hiding and sent him touring Arabia to summon support from the region’s leaders. In the meantime, a special envoy was sent to Israel to make peace between Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat after a week of suicide bombings and other violence in which scores were killed, including a Palestinian woman and her four children when a bomb exploded near their donkey cart. U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan called on Israel to end its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Israeli army stopped a new practice of writing I.D. numbers on detainees’ foreheads and forearms; critics had compared the policy to Nazi branding of concentration-camp inmates. A report revealed that in the past several months, the United States secretly extradited dozens of terrorism suspects to other countries, such as Egypt and Jordan, where they can be subjected to torture, threats to their families, and other interrogation tactics that are illegal in the U.S. The Pentagon revised the bounty for Osama bin Laden after determining that the average Afghan could not comprehend the magnitude of the previous reward, $25 million, rendering the incentive meaningless. The new prize is “anything the Americans think the Afghans would like to have,” including cash, a flock of sheep, or help in drilling a well. President Bush reflected, “[Bin Laden] is . . . you know, as I mention in my speeches, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who’s willing to commit youngsters to their death, and he himself tries to hide, if, in fact, he’s hiding at all.”France went on full hijack alert because an air-traffic controller misunderstood a warning message in English, believing the pilot was reporting “five men on board” instead of “fire on board.” The Immigration and Naturalization Service issued student visas for Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi six months after they crashed planes into the World Trade Center; President Bush reported that the imbroglio left him feeling “plenty hot.” People were complaining about “The Fighting Whities,” a basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado whose white jerseys sport an image of a white man in a suit above the slogan “Every thang’s gonna be all white!”
President Bush announced his goal to double the size of the Peace Corps over the next five years, and to send volunteers “to nations, particularly Muslim nations, that don’t understand America . . . They don’t understand our compassion.” The Pentagon acknowledged that American fighter jets had attacked a vehicle in eastern Afghanistan, killing 14 men, women, and children, though the United States could not say whether the victims were civilians or even whether they were Afghans. Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe since 1980, was sworn into office again after an election marked by political violence and evidence of fraud. The White House refused to recognize the outcome of the flawed election: “Mr. Mugabe can claim victory, but not democratic legitimacy,” noted Secretary of State Colin Powell. “Ladonia,” a virtual country set up on the Internet by a Swedish artist, received thousands of applications from people trying to gain citizenship, including hundreds of requests a day from Pakistanis inquiring about jobs and houses. US Airways announced that in two or three years, it will begin offering a trip to space to anyone redeeming 10 million frequent-flier miles. An American researcher who believes she has found the final resting place of Jesus Christ campaigned to exhume the body, in Kashmir, for DNA tests and carbon dating. Muslims and Hindus in India were fighting over ownership of a single strand of holy beard hair possibly belonging to a Hindu leader named Nimnath Baba, or maybe to the Muslim prophet Muhammad. A Texas school district cancelled further performances of “Stop the Violence,” a play that preaches pacifism, after rioting broke out among the high school students watching it. A Dutch man protesting the quality of wide-screen televisions held 18 hostages for seven hours before killing himself. Eighty clowns turned out for the Million Clown March in Santa Cruz, California. After picketing aimlessly for a while, the group piled into three tiny cars and drove off. “For those brave enough to be out as clowns,” noted the organizer, “the world can be a cold and unwelcome place.”
A monkey was able to move a cursor on a computer screen just by thinking. A federal report showed that Pentagon employees were using government credit cards to pay for such items as LEGOs, pizza, and porn. Mattel obtained a court order banning a new movie, Barbie Gets Sad Too, that depicts the doll having lesbian sex with her Latina servant. Police in Osaka, Japan, shut down an illegal sex ring popular among middle-aged men seeking sex and sympathy from prostitutes ranging in age from 40 to 70. Japan was cracking down on the sale of magic mushrooms. American streams were found to contain traces of drugs, disinfectants, detergents, caffeine, insect repellents, hormones from birth-control pills, and more than two dozen antibiotics, the presence of which could lead to more stubborn strains of bacteria. A 25-year-old calling himself “Dr. Chaos” was charged with storing a cache of cyanide in the Chicago subway system. Parts of London were sinking. A German art historian claimed to have uncovered the identity of the real Mona Lisa, a mother of eleven, who, it turns out, was a woman of “loose morals.” A pregnant woman and her husband were declared the winners of Sweden’s Reproduction Olympics by conceiving a baby before other contestants. An emu that was on the run for three days in San Diego after being bitten by a pregnant donkey was captured. Wild boars were on the loose near Pittsburgh.
More from Margaret Cordi:
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.”