West African extremists, Obama’s gun challenge, and tragic Belgian twins
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West African extremists, Obama’s gun challenge, and tragic Belgian twins
In Algeria, 32 militants calling themselves “Those Who Signed in Blood” seized control of a natural-gas refinery in the Saharan outpost of Ain Amenas, where they threatened to blow up the complex and hundreds of workers from around the world unless the Algerian government freed 100 prisoners. During the resulting four-day standoff, Algerian special forces assaulted the refinery twice, and 38 hostages and 29 militants were killed. The attackers came from Algeria, Canada, Egypt, Mali, Niger, and Tunisia, and were reportedly affiliated with the Masked Brigade, a group founded by one-eyed Algerian bandit Moktar Belmoktar, who planned the attack from northern Mali. “It seems,” said one analyst, “that Moktar has tasked himself with the internationalization of the Mali conflict.” In Mali, Islamist militants fled the towns of Diabaly, Douentza, and Konna under heavy French bombing; France also deployed 2,000 ground troops in the north. “The French resemble a fly that was attracted to a pot of honey,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. “Now their feet are sticky. They can’t fly away anymore.” The Russian army ordered its soldiers to start wearing socks, and a Muscovite upset about a Bolshoi ballet casting decision threw acid in the face of the company’s artistic director, Sergei Filin. “I have a feeling,” said Filin, “that I am on the front lines.” More than 800 Syrians were killed in the country’s civil war. Half of the 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliners currently in operation were grounded following safety incidents, including a battery fire and two fuel leaks, at six world airports; the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced that it would remove full-body airport scanners that produce revealing images; and Chicago’s O’Hare Airport processed a shipment of 18 human heads. “Everybody here is ‘Oh my gosh, you got a box of heads,’ ” said a Department of Homeland Security spokesman. “We’ve seen it at various ports.”
Barack Obama, who was sworn in for a second term as U.S. president, signed 23 executive actions designed to reduce gun violence, and called on Congress to pass a law banning military-style assault weapons. “There will be pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty,” said Obama. “Not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.” At the Crossroads of the West gun show in Phoenix, dealers were raising their prices on such weapons as the AR-15 rifle, which was used in the murders of 27 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, and of a family of five near Albuquerque on Saturday. “It doubles the price I get,” said one dealer of the proposed ban. The National Rifle Association released a “gun safety” video game that allows players to upgrade their weapons for $0.99, as well as an ad accusing Obama of hypocrisy for failing to support its proposal to place armed guards in public schools when his own daughters benefit from such protection. In Lapeer, Michigan, a security guard hired by an elementary school in the wake of the Newtown shootings forgot his gun in a school bathroom. “No harm, no foul,” said the county prosecutor. It was revealed that the Justice Department rarely checks references when hiring new attorneys, and that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had spoken during oral arguments for the first time in nearly seven years. “Well — he did not —,” Thomas reportedly said. “I would refute that, Justice Thomas,” replied the lawyer at the lectern. American cyclist Lance Armstrong, who last year was banned for life from the sport, confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs, bullying his teammates to do the same, and lying to cover up his actions. “I think he has political ambitions,” said a former competitor.
[Correction] It was later reported that the woman started the train by accident. (Source: BBC)
A shop owner in Vernal, Utah, was charging liberals an extra dollar for smoothies, and Jersey Shore residents were complaining about police barricades erected to keep visitors away from towns devastated by Hurricane Sandy. “We live in an open democracy,” said Brick mayor Kevin Acropolis. “I want to get back to that.” In Italy, a record 215 parties submitted logos for February’s parliamentary elections, including the Look What a Mess They’ve Got Us Into group and the Democracy, Nature, and Love (DNA) movement, whose symbol is a porn star. Scientists reported the existence of quadruple-helix human DNA, and short-penised Pacific gooseneck barnacles were found to reproduce by oozing sperm into the water for females to capture. “Why depend totally on penis length?” said a biologist at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine. “Why not spermcast as well?” Baseball hall-of-famers Stan “The Man” Musial and Earl Weaver died, as did “Dear Abby” columnist Pauline Friedman Phillips. A cleaning lady was injured after she stole a commuter train outside Stockholm, drove for a mile, derailed the train, and crashed into a building. “We have only heard good things about her,” said a train-company spokesman.[Correction] A Detroit man was arrested for digging up his father’s body from Gethsemane Cemetery in hopes of resurrecting him, and in Brussels, 45-year-old twins born deaf were permitted to commit suicide because they had also become blind. “It’s not simply that they were deaf and blind that they were granted the right to euthanasia,” said a hospital official. “It is that they could no longer bear being unable to hear or see the other.” On a single day at a hospital in Israel, four sets of twins were born to parents from four different faiths.
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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.”