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The space shuttle Columbia broke apart while entering the upper atmosphere, scattering debris and the remains of seven astronauts over east Texas and Louisiana; three young children in Plainview, Texas, found a charred leg; a man in Hemphill found a torso and a skull along a rural highway. Fragments of the shuttle were offered for sale on eBay within a few hours. President George W. Bush gave a State of the Union address that focused largely on the state of his plans to go to war with Iraq. Bush also unveiled a $15 billion program to fight AIDS around the world, particularly in Africa, and he announced the creation of a Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which will merge different units of the CIA and the FBI. The president said that Secretary of State Colin Powell will soon present new evidence of Iraq’s evildoing, including its alleged ties to Al Qaeda, to the United Nations Security Council. CIA analysts continued to maintain that there is no evidence of Iraqi aid to terrorists, and officials at the FBI also said they were baffled by the president’s claims: “We’ve been looking into this hard for more than a year,” said one anonymous source, “and you know what, we just don’t think it’s there.” Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations chemical and biological inspections team, rebutted many of the president’s reasons for attacking Iraq; Blix said that there was no evidence that Iraq was hiding illegal weapons or weapons scientists in neighboring countries, that there was no credible evidence of Iraqi intelligence agents posing as scientists, and that there was no evidence of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda. “There are other states where there appear to be stronger links,” he said. Blix also said that there has been “no trace” of chemical or biological agents in the many samples his inspectors have taken all across Iraq. United Nations officials covered a tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, which hangs near the entrance of the Security Council, with a curtain to prevent it from showing up as a backdrop during photo opportunities.
Satellite photographs of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex were released that appear to show trucks moving nuclear fuel rods out of storage; intelligence sources said that North Korea could begin the production of bomb-grade plutonium by the end of March. The Bush Administration has refused to comment publicly about the truck activity. Admiral Thomas B. Fargo, the commander of the United States forces in the Pacific, requested reinforcements, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that he will refer the matter of North Korea’s nuclear activities to the United Nations Security Council. President Bush said that “after September the 11th, the doctrine of containment just doesn’t hold any water, as far as I’m concerned.” A Dutchman was charged with fraud for selling plots of land on the moon. Japanese officials admitted that 450 pounds of plutonium (enough to make more than 25 nuclear bombs) was missing. Vaclav Havel stepped down as president of the Czech Republic. Resolutions opposing an American invasion of Iraq were passed in Multnomah County, Oregon; Cleveland, Ohio; Tacoma, Washington; Nederland, Colorado; Amherst, Massachusetts; and Topanga, California. About 57 municipalities, representing more than 13 million people, have passed such measures. Fistfights broke out among participants in Somalia’s latest round of peace talks. A security guard in Nashville who was showing off his 9-mm pistol to a hot-dog vendor accidentally shot a man who was walking by on his way to work.
Israeli voters reelected Ariel Sharon by a large margin; Yasir Arafat offered to hold peace talks immediately but was ignored. Cambodia apologized for a riot that damaged part of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh; the riot began because of a false rumor that a famous Thai actress claimed that Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s ancient temple complex, should be part of Thailand. Fans of the Oakland Raiders looted stores and burned cars after their team was defeated in the Super Bowl. Chicago police discovered a three-year-old boy chained by the neck to a bed; the boy’s foster parents attached the chain to prevent him from taking food from the refrigerator. J. Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House of Representatives, asked the president to file suit to force the European Union to import America’s genetically modified food. The Red Cross quarantined much of its blood supply in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois after a mysterious white fatty substance was found floating in bags of blood. Two boys in California were arrested for murdering their mother, cutting off her head and hands, and dumping the body in a ravine; the boys told police that they had learned their technique from The Sopranos. There were rumors of a lawsuit against Warner Brothers because Dobby the house elf in the latest Harry Pottermovie so closely resembles President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Psychiatrists were working overtime in Venezuela. A substitute teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, was accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in a classroom while other students watched. Belgium’s parliament approved gay marriages. Laura Bush postponed a White House poetry symposium after she learned that some of the poets planned to use the occasion to protest the coming war. A new study by the makers of Viagra found that erectile dysfunction is common among old men; another study discovered that Britons do not like standing in line. Physicists succeeded in teleporting photons for more than a mile. Archaeologists found evidence that cavemen enjoyed drinking milk.
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.”