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The Supreme Court of the United States decided that it was no longer okay to execute retarded people, because a “national consensus” has emerged that such judicial killings are cruel and unusual punishment and are thus, in light of “evolving standards of decency,” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The Court offered little guidance for determining what constitutes “retarded.” After a series of Palestinian suicide attacks, including an attack on a home in Itamar, a Jewish settlement near Nablus, in which a mother and her three children were murdered, Israel’s security cabinet voted to seize the entire West Bank. Israeli troops killed three young children and an old man when they shelled the central market in Jenin. According to recent polls, a majority of Israelis favor walling off the Occupied Territories and evacuating most of the Jewish settlements; a majority also said they did not think Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has a viable solution to the Palestinian question. Attorney General John Ashcroft petitioned the Supreme Court to permit the federal government to hold secret deportation hearings, a policy that has been rejected by a judge in New Jersey, where an unknown number of people are being held for unknown reasons. Ashcroft argued that the hearings must be closed, even to the families of those being tried, in order to prevent terrorists from getting clues about ongoing investigations and to prevent Americans from harassing the detainees. President Vicente Fox declassified many of the files of Mexico’s secret police, and scholars and families began trying to discover the fate of hundreds of dissidents who had disappeared over the years. The White House was evacuated briefly when an unidentified Cessna aircraft entered the “forbidden zone” over Washington, D.C. Administration officials admitted that the two F-16s that were sent to intercept the plane would not have got there in time had the pilot wished to crash into the White House. A 120-yard-long asteroid came within 75,000 miles of striking the earth last week but was detected only three days later. Slobodan Milosevic was suffering from the flu.
President George W. Bush told Americans to get more exercise, eat less, and stay away from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. The government of Malaysia, concerned about rising divorce rates, encouraged Malaysians to use affectionate names, such as “darling,” with their spouses. Women in Swaziland were told by a royal official not to wear trousers, and he instructed the army to patrol for offenders, who will have the offending garments stripped from their bodies and torn to pieces. Cindy Crawford, the model, was thinking about making a trip to outer space. Southwest Airlines said it would continue charging “people of size” for two seats: “If you consume more than one seat,” said a spokesperson, “you will be charged for more than one seat.” Home Depot declared that it will no longer do business with the U.S. government. A book arguing that a right-wing faction of the American government carried out the September 11 attacks was selling well in France. A Pentagon investigation determined that the American pilot who dropped a 500-pound bomb on some Canadian troops in Afghanistan two months ago had made a mistake. Hamid Karzai was selected by the loya jirga to rule Afghanistan for two more years; Afghan democrats complained that professionals had been systematically eliminated from cabinet positions and were largely replaced by warlords. Karzai was sworn in as president as the sun broke through a dull cloudy sky.
The United States said that it would not participate in United Nations peacekeeping missions unless American troops were granted immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. The Pentagon decided to let American anti-terrorist advisors, also known as Special Forces troops, go out on jungle patrol with the Philippine army. Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, reported that he sold between $20.5 million and $91 million in assets last year and complained that he had to pay accountants $60,000 to figure out how to fill out the required disclosure forms. Governor Jesse “The Mind” Ventura declared that he would not run for reelection and that he would spend the rest of his term traveling. Iraq announced that three novels by Saddam Hussein will be taught in schools next year. A British man made the news by claiming that postmodern art and critical theory had made him severely depressed. The Federal Election Commission issued rules interpreting the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in such a way that soft money, the main target of the law, was not really banned after all. Litigation was expected. An accused murderer broke out of jail in Costa Rica and was eaten by a crocodile as he tried to swim across a river. Ann Landers died. A survey found that two out of three young Britons are ashamed to be British. Another survey found that German women are the hairiest in Europe. The editor of Psychology Today magazine said that he wanted to find a woman who will agree to “learn to love him” and to write a book with him about intentionally falling in love. More than 300 women responded. A Spanish count crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a jet ski. People were starving in Africa, and fires were raging across the American West.
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.”