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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:
Fleming awoke in the dark and his room felt loose, sloshing so badly he gripped the bed. From his window there was nothing but a hallway, and if he craned his neck, a blown lightbulb swung into view. The room pitched up and down and for a moment he thought he might be sick. The word “hallway” must have a nautical name. Why didn’t they supply a glossary for this cruise? Probably they had, in the welcome packet he’d failed to read. A glossary. A history of the boat, which would be referred to as a ship. Sunny biographies of the captain and crew, who had always dreamed of this life. Lobotomized histories of the islands they’d visit. Who else had sailed this way. Famous suckwads from the past, slicing through this very water on wooden longships.
A welcome packet, the literary genre most likely to succeed in the new millennium. Why not read about a community you don’t belong to, that doesn’t actually exist, a captain and crew who are, in reality, if that isn’t too much of a downer on your vacation, as indifferent to one another as any set of co-employees at an office or bank? Read doctored personal statements from underpaid crew members — because ocean life pays better than money! — who hate their lives but have been forced to buy into the mythology of working on a boat, separated now from loved ones and friends, growing lonelier by the second, even while they wait on you and follow your every order.
Rank of Detroit among major U.S. cities whose residents give the largest portion of their income to charity:
A South Dakota researcher concluded that only scant blood spatter results when chain saws are used to dismember pigs.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature