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Civil war in Syria killed more than 40,000 people. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood became Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, succeeding Hosni Mubarak, who was sentenced to life in prison and falsely declared dead. A blindfolded Egyptian child selected the new Coptic pope. A YouTube trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a homosexual womanizer, triggered demonstrations and riots in more than a dozen countries. Islamist militants stormed a U.S. consulate compound in Libya, killing four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. An eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas killed five Israelis and 162 Palestinians. Twitter announced that it would selectively censor tweets at the request of governments, North Korea named as its Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and declared it a war crime to use a cell phone during the country’s 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-Il, Iran’s morality police cracked down on the black-market trade in Barbie dolls, and a Zimbabwean carpenter was arrested for speculating that President Robert Mugabe may not himself have inflated all the balloons at Mugabe’s eighty-eighth birthday party. The members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for a performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral in which they called on the Virgin Mary to depose Vladimir Putin, who was elected president of Russia for the third time and went hang-gliding in a white jumpsuit to train Siberian cranes bred in captivity to migrate south. Greece’s parliament agreed to cut 15,000 government jobs and reduce the minimum wage by 22 percent in exchange for $170 billion in bailout funds from the European Union and the I.M.F. Extreme cold in Europe killed more than 500 people, Dutch bedding company Snurk angered Swedish homeless-advocacy groups by selling luxury duvet covers resembling cardboard boxes, and officials in Kyrgyzstan snuffed the country’s Eternal Flame because of an unpaid gas bill. In India, where people were plugging headphones into robots’ crotches in order to have their fortunes told, the minister of power was promoted to home minister during a blackout that left some 670 million people without electricity. Typhoon Bopha killed at least 1,000 people in the southern Philippines, a munitions-depot explosion in Brazzaville killed more than 200 Congolese, and the deadliest prison fire on record killed 359 people in Honduras. Eighty-two Tibetans immolated themselves in protest of Chinese rule, Burmese opposition leader and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi accepted the Nobel Peace Prize awarded her in absentia in 1991, and Icelandic musicians protested the country’s ban on Motörhead-brand shiraz. “It is a violation of human rights,” said Sólstafir lead singer Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, “to not be able to buy yourself red wine.”
Five men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were arraigned before a military tribunal at Camp Justice in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for orchestrating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Omar Khadr, the last remaining Westerner to be held captive at Guantánamo, was repatriated to Canada. One World Trade Center became New York City’s tallest building, and the Pentagon disclosed that some remains of 9/11 victims ended up in a Delaware landfill. In Afghanistan, where the number of American military deaths reached 2,000, 41 people were killed amid protests over the burning of Korans by NATO personnel at a Bagram Air Field garbage pit, and Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of murder in connection with a shooting rampage in two villages. Ten mass shootings took place in the United States, resulting in 151 deaths. Americans wore hoodies to protest the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American, by neighborhood-watch captain George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. The estate of William Faulkner sued defense contractor Northrop Grumman, and lexicographers declared omnishambles, meaning “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” English word of the year. The United States experienced its hottest month on record. Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean and eastern United States, killing 253. Barack Obama was reelected president of the United States and became the first sitting president to announce that he believes gay couples should be able to wed. Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum, and voters in Colorado and Washington approved the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and the U.S. population surpassed one hundred million times π.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle that endows other particles with mass; NASA celebrated the Mars landing of its plutonium-powered rover, Curiosity; and British mathematicians used the Rapunzel Number to solve the Ponytail Shape Equation. The last known veteran of World War I died, as did Neil Armstrong, Ray Bradbury, Dave Brubeck, Gary Carter, Dick Clark, Nora Ephron, Andy Griffith, Levon Helm, Whitney Houston, Daniel Inouye, Etta James, George McGovern, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Adrienne Rich, David Rakoff, Sally Ride, General “Stormin’ ” Norman Schwarzkopf, Maurice Sendak, Anthony Shadid, Ravi Shankar, Arlen Specter, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, Donna Summer, Gore Vidal, Mike Wallace, and Adam Yauch; the creators of the Atomic Fireball, the bar code, the Kwan bob, and the Porsche 911; the world’s tallest woman; two world’s oldest persons; the presidents of Ethiopia, Ghana, and Malawi; and Paddy Roy Bates, monarch of Sealand. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting a royal baby, and the Games of the XXX Olympiad were held in London. American swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time, and Lionel Messi broke soccer’s record for most goals in a calendar year. The United States Anti-Doping Agency stripped seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong of most of his titles, calling him a “serial cheat who led the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” A man with two hearts reportedly survived a hearts attack, and former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney had his heart replaced. Arkansan goose 50 Cent survived being shot seven times. A man named Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop was arrested, as was a woman who punched and slid down a $30 million painting by Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still, then urinated on herself. Four Nigerian girls developed a generator powered by urine, and Caraquenians in red trousers called for the return of Matisse’s Odalisque in Red Trousers. A hen in Abilene, Texas, laid an egg inside another egg. Sheep rained from the sky near Melbourne, Australia; Iceland exported over two tons of ram penis to China; and North Korea’s state news agency reported the discovery of a unicorn lair in Pyongyang. A lonely Seoul elephant spoke Korean to his trainers. A Dutchman finished building a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, and 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. “The galactic bridge has been established,” announced spiritual leader Alberto Arribalzaga at a ceremony in Mexico. “At this moment, spirals of light are entering the center of your head.”
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Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos, Hill and Wang (N.Y.C.)
The earth once had three moons; the two lost moons may have crashed into the surviving moon, or been sucked into the sun, or flung out of the solar system to drift through deep space.
In Florida, an 87-year-old World War II veteran flying touch-and-go drills in a Cessna collided with an airborne skydiver. “There was a ‘woof’ sound,” said a witness, “like falling on your face into your pillow.”
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”