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The end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Mayan calendar, an event believed by many to mark the beginning of the apocalypse, passed without perceptible incident on December 21. Thousands gathered in the majority Mayan territory of Mérida, Mexico, to celebrate the start of a new age. “The galactic bridge has been established,” announced Alberto Arribalzaga, who officiated the ceremony. “At this moment, spirals of light are entering the center of your head.” Gabriel Lemus, the ceremonial keeper of the flame, burned his finger on the kindling, and Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History suggested that the Mayan and Western calendars might have been synchronized incorrectly by a few days. A Russian museum sold tickets for $1,000 apiece to an end-of-the-world party in a Cold War–era bunker 184 feet below street level in central Moscow, and the Chinese government arrested more than 500 members of a Christian doomsday group known as Eastern Lightning, which preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. Schools in Michigan were shut down in response to rumors of doomsday violence, and National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre advocated during a press conference on the recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that armed guards be placed in schools. “The only thing that beats a bad guy with a gun,” said LaPierre, “is a good guy with a gun.” A sixth-grade student in Salt Lake City brought a .22-caliber handgun to school in order to protect himself from possible attacks, a Denver mother who believed her daughter was being bullied threatened four of the girl’s classmates with a semiautomatic firearm, and American gun merchants claimed they’d seen a fourfold increase in assault-weapon sales because of a ban proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.). “If I could give an award to President Obama and Senator Feinstein,” said a gun salesman in Falls Church, Virginia, “it would be sales persons of the year.” Projections by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revealed that deaths from gunshots would begin to overtake automobile fatalities in 2015, and a mall Santa in Fairfax, Virginia, was lecturing children who requested toy weapons for Christmas. “Guns were designed to make people cry, to make people die,” he told kids. “Now, take a candy and a holy card.”
President Barack Obama nominated Senator John Kerry (D., Mass.) to be the next U.S. secretary of state, and critics accused current secretary of state Hillary Clinton of faking a concussion to avoid testifying about the attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi in September. “If you demanded Romney’s tax returns but you think it’s paranoid to ask for Hillary Clinton’s medical report,” wrote blogger Jim Treacher, “#YouMightBeALiberal.” Pope Benedict XVI pardoned his butler for leaking confidential documents and appointed Reverend Robert W. Oliver, who advised disgraced cardinal Bernard Law during a 2002 sexual-abuse scandal in Boston, as the Vatican’s new “promoter of justice” responsible for reviewing all abuse cases. A Vatican department store offering duty-free shopping and steep discounts to Holy See employees and their dependents held “extraordinary opening hours” for Christmas. “The Nutella is just better here,” said Maria Grazia Mancini. North Korean state media accused South Korea of lighting a Christmas-tree shaped tower near the border because it was jealous of the North’s successful satellite launch earlier this month. Curators at the Museum of London found the world’s first recording of a family Christmas, from 1902; the Queen of England filmed her annual holiday address in 3D; and Welsh winter vomiting had risen 66 percent compared with last year. Wales’s Big Pit National Coal Mining Museum installed 200 solar panels to save on heating bills, and the Argentine ship Libertad, held captive in Ghana since October, was set free. Greek civil servants protested pay cuts by parading a clothesline with the words “Take these too” written across 16 pairs of underpants.
Blacky, a stray Chilean dog who regularly joins student protests, appeared at a recent march in an orange bandanna instead of the checkered kaffiyeh he often wears to symbolize the Palestinian resistance movement. Veterinarians failed to save Boniface, a Russian dachshund renowned for his ability to swim in a diving suit. “He ate something on the street,” said the dog’s owner, “and it killed him.” An Irishman died in a house fire in Cooke Crescent, Cookstown, and researchers found that Purple Urine Bag Syndrome can be caused by eating turkey. A dentist in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was exonerated for firing his assistant because she was too attractive, and police in Swaziland threatened to enforce a ban on miniskirts and other “immoral” attire. “The act of the rapist is made easy,” said a spokeswoman, “because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women.” After being crowned Miss Universe and awarded a limitless supply of beauty products, Rhode Island native Olivia Culpo announced her ambition to travel in Asia. “I love soup,” she explained. “I really want to go to Vietnam and try some soup.”
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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.”