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President George W. Bush held a news conference down at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, and again defended his plan to use military courts to try terrorism suspects: “One thing is for certain,” he said, “whatever the procedures are for the military tribunals, our system will be more fair than the system of bin Laden and the Taliban.” A reporter asked the President whether the events of the last year had changed him. “Talk to my wife,” he replied. “I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, except when I comb my hair.” A Pakistani newspaper reported that Osama bin Laden had died “a peaceful, natural death” near Tora Bora from a “serious lung complication.” An Afghan functionary said that bin Laden had escaped to Pakistan and was under the protection of the extremist Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam party. American officials dismissed the claims, preferring to believe that the Evil One had died of unnatural causes in a cave somewhere. French police insisted that they had made no mistakes when they allowed Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” to board his flight to America. “We made no error at any stage,” a police official said. “And we did everything we could.” The United States Department of Transportation announced that it would allow current baggage and passenger screeners to stay on the job, even if they lack high school diplomas, when the government takes over security for American airports. A passenger in Memphis, Tennessee, was arrested when he attempted to board a Delta Airlines flight with a loaded 9-millimeter pistol in his carry-on bag; the man had successfully boarded two previous flights before the gun was found in a random search. Two English journalists somehow managed to smuggle a miniature cleaver, a four-inch dagger, and a three-inch stiletto onto a British Airways flight at Heathrow Airport. In a fit of road rage, an Italian driver bit the little finger off a cyclist who scratched his car. American B-52s started bombing Afghanistan again. Afghan villagers were still digging through rubble looking for their dead children. India deployed short-range ballistic missiles, which are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and have a range of 150 miles, along its border with Pakistan as both countries prepared for war.

School officials in Boulder, Colorado, were planning to exterminate a colony of prairie dogs. People in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were still bickering over the wisdom of putting up a statue of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air. Members of Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, burned hundreds of Harry Potter books. “These books encourage our youth to learn more about witches, warlocks, and sorcerers,” declared Pastor Jack Brock, “and those things are an abomination to God and to me.” Geraldo Rivera declared that “the time has come to stop the Geraldo-bashing” after he was criticized for his “honest mistake” of claiming that he was at the site of a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan when he was in fact hundreds of miles away. Marisa Tomei, the actress, insisted that her cat was psychic. A Kentucky meatpacker owned by Tyson Foods recalled 250,000 pounds of ham after it was discovered that a disgruntled worker had packed the ham with nails. Anchor Food Products â?? the world’s largest producer of frozen French fries, whose motto is “One World. One Fry.” â?? shut down its frozen-onion-rings factory in Pecos, Texas, eliminating 700 jobs, 10 percent of the town’s workforce. It was reported that corporate America laid off 1 million workers last year. A legless man in a wheelchair stole 10 pairs of pants from a Gap store in Vancouver. Farmers in Thailand started an organization to promote the use of dried cattle dung; Sarawut Supalaksuksakorn, a spokesman for the group, pointed out that the 38,500 cattle in the Sikhoraphum district produce 197,000 kilograms of dung every day. Australian officials were investigating whether sewage could be recycled as drinking water.

The United States Forest Service approved a large mine, which will produce 10,000 tons of copper and silver a day for 35 years, in a Montana wilderness area that provides habitat for protected bull trout and a population of grizzly bears. A smoker in Romania used 7,000 cigarette packs to construct his own coffin. The American Red Cross was running low on blood. Sydney, Australia, was surrounded by wildfires, many of which were deliberately set. Hundreds of people burned up in Lima, Peru, after someone lit a firecracker and started a chain reaction of explosions among illegal fireworks stands, destroying a four-block area of a downtown historic district. Members of Abu Sayyaf, a small Muslim insurgency in the Philippines, were said to enjoy taunting government troops with cellphone text messages. A rap version of the New Testament was doing well in France, where it has sold 140,000 copies. Israeli peace advocates delivered two tons of food and clothing to Beit Umar, a Palestinian village in the West Bank that has been cut off by Israel’s military blockade for more than a year. Israel’s supreme court rejected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s choice for antiterrorism adviser because the nominee, Ehud Yatom, a former Shin Bet agent, once used rocks to crush the skulls of two Palestinian prisoners who had hijacked a bus. Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia expanded his crackdown on vice by declaring war on karaoke: “If we know of any karaoke parlor still open,” he told the military, “go to close it immediately and take tanks to knock it down.” President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa called for an end to child rape. President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine declared a national day of celebration to commemorate the creation of the first Soviet computer on December 31, 1951. The Queen of Denmark cracked her ribs. Prime Minister Tony Blair of England witnessed the discovery of a mummy in Egypt and was cursed to be eaten by a crocodile, a lion, or a hippo.

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