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Every Afghan ruler in the 20th century was assassinated, lynched or deposed. The Communist government tried to tear down the old structures of mullah and khan; the anti-Soviet jihad set up new ones, bolstered with US and Saudi cash and weapons supplied from Pakistan. There is almost no economic activity in the country, aside from international aid and the production of illegal narcotics. The Afghan army cannot, like Pakistan’s, reject America’s attempt to define national security priorities; Afghan diplomats cannot mock our pronouncements. Karzai is widely criticised, but more than seven years after the invasion there is still no plausible alternative candidate; there aren’t even recognisable political parties. –“The Irresistible Illusion,” Rory Stewart, The London Review of Books
In its 2007 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast a sea level rise of between 19 and 59 centimetres by 2100, but this excluded “future rapid dynamical changes in ice flow”. Crudely speaking, these estimates assume ice sheets are a bit like vast ice cubes sitting on a flat surface, which will stay in place as they slowly melt. But what if some ice sheets are more like ice cubes sitting on an upside-down bowl, which could suddenly slide off into the sea as conditions get slippery? “Larger rises cannot be excluded but understanding of these effects is too limited to assess their likelihood,” the IPCC report stated. Even before it was released, the report was outdated. Researchers now know far more. And while we still don’t understand the dynamics of ice sheets and glaciers well enough to make precise predictions, we are narrowing down the possibilities. The good news is that some of the scarier scenarios, such as a sudden collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, now appear less likely. The bad news is that there is a growing consensus that the IPCC estimates are wildly optimistic. –“Sea Level Rise: It’s worse than we thought,” Anil Ananthaswamy, New Scientist
More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders— “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”— and thought it fit her perfectly. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig’s condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God’s, and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”–“It Came from Wasilla,” Todd S. Purdum, Vanity Fair
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.”