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The U.S. Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. In audio recordings released following the second day of debate, the Obama Administration’s lead advocate, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., was heard to stumble repeatedly while defending the law. “I’ve seen him argue under pressure,” said a former assistant to Verrilli. “That’s not the way he usually sounds.” On the third day, the justices considered whether to invalidate the entire law in the event they struck down the mandate requiring all U.S. citizens to have health insurance, or only certain provisions. “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that Americans with preexisting conditions should not receive coverage unless they were previously insured. “If they are 45 years old and they show up and say ‘I want insurance because I have heart disease,’” said Romney, “it’s like, ‘Hey guys. We can’t play the game like that. You’ve got to get insurance when you are well and then if you get ill, you are going to be covered.’” Two Buddhist monks set themselves on fire at Tsodun Monastery in Ngaba, making them the thirty-first and thirty-second Tibetans to have immolated themselves in protest in just over a year; a 13-year-old Pakistani boy died after setting himself on fire because he was ashamed of being too poor to afford a new school uniform; and two builders, one of whom had been charged with tax evasion and the other of whom claimed not to have been paid in months, set themselves on fire in Italy. Britons lamented a new tax on heated baked goods such as pasties and sausage rolls. “I’m planning to put a sign up in the window,” said a pasty-maker from Cornwall. ‘‘Hot for the rich, and cold for the poor.” Canada announced that it would eliminate the penny, and a truck crash on a northern Ontario highway spilled between $3 and $5 million in Canadian coins. “We are going to be using magnets,” said a police officer of the retrieval efforts, “and other less sophisticated means.”
The National League for Democracy won 40 of 45 seats in byelections held in Burma, including one contested by party leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. “Look at us; we are so happy,” said a Burmese warehouse owner as men around him sang along to a Johnny Cash–inspired anthem. “It’s like we’ve each been released from prison.” The Muslim Brotherhood broke an earlier pledge not to seek Egypt’s top office by nominating business tycoon and former political prisoner Khairat el-Shater as its candidate for the country’s presidency. “For the first time since I was a Muslim Brother,” said a former colleague of Shater’s, “I’m certain of bad intentions.” “[Shater’s] prayers against those who slander him are answered,” said the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie. “Literally, by the way.” A microphone picked up a private discussion about missile defense between President Barack Obama and outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting in Seoul. “After my election, I have more flexibility,” Obama said. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” responded Medvedev.  The pilot of a JetBlue flight from New York to Las Vegas faced criminal charges after he began ranting while at the controls, then, after being persuaded to leave the cockpit, began yelling at passengers in the cabin. “Iraq, Al Qaeda, terrorism, we’re all going down!” he reportedly screamed. “I’m going to show you Iraq and Iran right now,” said a passenger who subdued the pilot by putting him in a choke hold.
Researchers reported the discovery in Ethiopia of foot bones from a species of hominin that lived 3.4 million years ago and was “fully committed” to walking on two legs. An Austrian man named Hans Url cut off his left foot with an electric saw shortly before unemployment officials were to determine his fitness for work, then put it in an oven. “He wants to work,” said Url’s wife. “But the job he imagines for himself doesn’t exist.” The French government and descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte were planning a new Napoleon theme park in Montereau. “[The attractions] mustn’t be vulgar,” said Montereau mayor Yves Jego, “but fitting for the stature of the man.” The British National Trust released a report on “nature deficit disorder” in children; four teenagers ran naked through Weber County, Utah, armed with BB guns to protect themselves from rogue deer; and a Winter Haven, Florida, man who tore the heads off two of his family’s pet rabbits and broke the neck of a third pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty. Animal-rights activists expressed concern, following a recent decision by Florida’s legislature to overturn a ban on the dyeing of live animals, that shelters would be inundated with unwanted neon and pastel chicks given as Easter gifts. “They’ll usually take one or two of each color, maybe 10 or 15 of them,” said a poultry rancher who sold dyed chicks until his retirement in 2008. “The kids get tired of it pretty quick.”
More from Emily Stokes:
Conversation — October 24, 2013, 8:00 am
Richard Rodriguez on the essay as biography of an idea, the relationship between gay men’s liberation and women’s liberation, and the writerly impulse to give away secrets
Six Questions — October 7, 2013, 8:00 am
Dame Margaret Drabble on the essayistic voice in fiction and North London anthropology
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.”