Friday, January 16, 2004

Fidel Castro ailing? Dead? 

Rumors are swirling around South Florida that Cuban leader Fidel Castro has either suffered a stroke or died. On the same page is a link and excerpt from an article in which the mayor of Bogota, who recently visited Castro, claimed that the Cuban leader "seemed very sick."

Interestingly, this bit of news about American preparations for Castro's demise just hit the wires a few hours ago.

There's probably nothing to the rumor--this is hardly the first time a rumor about Castro's death has circulated. But you never know. Castro will either show up to kill the rumor or he won't. We'll know soon, either way.

UPDATE: It has been almost 40 hours since I posted this, and I have yet to find anything that confirms the rumor (obviously, or it would be all over the news). I have also seen nothing to refute it. No explicit statements from Castro, no recently-dated quotes from him, no stories about anyone meeting with him. It's just a little odd that there hasn't been a peep about this rumor since it came out.

UPDATE 2: It's 5 days later and I just saw the first conclusive proof that Castro is doing fine.
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The other Iowa 

Just in case you're inclined to give the Iowa Democratic Caucus voters more attention than they deserve, remember that these are the same Iowans who went nuts over the world's largest Cheeto.
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The invasion of Mars 

The BBC has a roundup of some of the more colorful interpretations of President Bush's space exploration announcement.

My favorite is from a Palestinian paper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah:

"The US is preparing for the invasion of Mars and other planets... What are the other planets chosen for the US invasion? Are they an axis of planetary evil? And what is the relationship between the regime on Pluto and fundamentalist groups?"
The Zionist-Crusader alliance must be putting hallucinogens in the West Bank water again, because these guys make absolutely zero sense.

Then again, neither do some of our allies:

"The US President may figure that a pre-emptive strike against the Martians should occur while we have the size advantage," wrote columnist Tim Ferguson in Melbourne's The Age.

"Maybe he figures the Mission To Mars money is well spent; he was never much good at book-learnin' and we've seen his disregard for hospitals during the recent Iraq war," he said.

"George's reasons don't matter. Americans should go to Mars and Australians should go with them. Single-minded persistence in the face of futility is what humanity does best."
Oooookay... Does anyone have a clue what that middle sentence was about? Hospitals? Huh?

(Hat tip: Patrick Belton at Oxblog)
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Patriots over Eagles 

Smash reiterates his Super Bowl prediction in an open thread, and invites discussion. I for one totally agree!

First things first; gotta beat the Colts this weekend. The last time the Colts played on a cold January day, during last year's playoffs, they lost 41-0 to the Jets, the second worst defeat in NFL postseason history. (It was 50 in KC last week when they beat the Chiefs.) I'm not saying the same is going to happen at Gillette on Sunday, but remember that Peyton Manning is a New Orleans boy, spent his college days in Knoxville, and now plays his home games in a domed stadium. The only time in the last two seasons he played in the cold was the aforementioned blowout against the Jets. The Colts beat the Broncos in the snow in 2001, but the 2001 Broncos were not the 2003 Patriots, and Mike Shanahan is not Bill Belichick.

The Colts are coming in on a cold day, although it'll be a far cry from the single digits of last Saturday. They are facing a team that set an NFL record for fewest points allowed at home in a 16 game season. They are facing an offense that controls the ball and a quarterback who, to paraphrase Tony Dungy, gets the job done when it needs to get done. And they are facing a swarming, opportunistic defense that will be perfectly prepared by the game's best defensive strategist.

They are facing a team that built up a 21 point lead against them in their own building on Nov. 30, only to let them back into the game via a pass-happy offense which turned the ball over a couple times. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis chose to come out throwing instead of working the clock and protecting the lead by staying on the ground. The Colts came back, and only lost because the Pats stopped them on four consecutive 4th-and-goal plays from the 2.

The Patriots learned a valuable lesson from that game, so don't expect a repeat.

The Pats are going to win again, and it won't be a squeaker this time.
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Liberal radio 

On the subject of establishing a liberal talk radio network, Atrios says, apparently with a straight face, "We need populism, not a 'liberal version of NPR.'" A liberal version of NPR? Wouldn't that be, er... NPR?
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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Free the Grapes! 

If you will permit me a moment of diversion from the serious, weighty issues of the world, I would like to direct your attention to this worthy cause.

Free the Grapes! is a national, grassroots coalition of consumers and wineries who seek to remove restrictions in 24 states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from out-of-state wineries.

I love that, "Free the Grapes!" Heh. Actually, living in a state where I can't receive wine or beer by mail, I'm totally with these guys.

Link courtesy of Ravenswood Winery. They make some damn fine zinfandel if you're into that kind of thing. "No Wimpy Wines" is their motto.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Syria willing to talk peace - take two 

So much for this earlier news. Now the headline is "Syria rules out peace with Sharon."

Syria says it believes peace with Israel is impossible as long as Ariel Sharon's government remains in power.

Prime Minister Naji al-Otari said there was no hope under the "Zionist" administration, as he put it, of getting a just, comprehensive peace.

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Khameini urges reconsideration 

Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the supreme leader of Iran, met with the Guardian Council and told them to take another look at the candidates they have disqualified from the Feb. 20 parliamentary election.

TEHRAN, Iran - Seeking to defuse a political crisis, Iran's supreme leader ordered hard-liners Wednesday to reconsider their disqualification of more than 3,000 pro-reform electoral candidates...

"The basis of decision should be that (candidates) are authorized to run unless it's proven otherwise," he told the members, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

He urged the members to use only "logical and common" grounds for disqualification. "The Guardian Council must definitely and carefully reconsider the qualification of hopefuls," the agency quoted Khamenei as saying.

Now we wait and see how many candidates (including the 80 incumbents) are allowed to run. This has to be seen, for the time being, as a victory for the reformists.
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Syria willing to talk peace 

Haaretz reports:

Syrian President Bashar Assad is ready to resume peace negotiations with Israel without any preconditions and if Israel insists, from the starting point, according to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (Dem.-Florida), who met with Assad on Saturday.

According to the senator, Assad repeated those assertions several times during their meeting, saying that while he believes it would be best - "not a waste of time" - to pick up the negotiations where they were cut off during the Barak administration, if Israel insists, Assad has no objections to starting from scratch.

Surely this must be a coincidence. Just like Libya opening the doors to weapons inspectors. Or Saudi Arabia cracking down on terrorists, reforming their education system, and paving the way for municipal elections. Or North Korea letting an American delegation visit their nuclear facilities. Nope, nothing to do with Iraq... just a coincidence...

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Khatami threatens resignations 

From the BBC:

Iran's reformist president has escalated his battle with hardline clerics by threatening the resignation of his entire administration.

Mohammad Khatami said his government would "stand or go as one" if a ban on reformist candidates standing in next month's election was not lifted.

The reformists are playing hardball--threatening mass resignations and electoral boycotts. Good for them. That puts the Guardian Council in a hard spot. (Along with Ayatollah Khameini, whose intervention seems increasingly likely.)

Resignations and boycotts could create a crisis that is larger than they can handle. For the hardliners, the lesser of two evils might be to let reformist candidates stand for election, at the price of a loss of influence and credibility among the people. The alternative could be chaos on a large scale, which certainly can't help their position.

But perhaps they are counting on their ability to weather the storm--a dangerous assumption, if the announcement in my post below is for real.
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Iran Plan 

Best of Iran has this tidbit:

This Sunday, January 18, 2004

A Plan for the peaceful removal of the Islamic Regime of Iran will be announced during a live program broadcast on many Iranian satellite TV and Radio stations. The program starts at 10 AM PST from NITV studios in Los Angeles and will last for 6 hours, including a fundraising segment to support the plan. Other media who have confirmed the live broadcast of this program include Pars TV, Radio Sedaye Iran, Radio Yaran, Radio Sedaye Emrooz, Rangarang TV, Apadana TV, and Lahzeh TV.

This program can also be seen live via the Internet at www.IranRadioTV.com who will provide a FREE link on that day.

I wonder what the plan is. And I wonder how many Iranians will be aware of the broadcast and can tune in. Interesting, though.

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Been too long 

Expect something new from Bill Whittle by tonight. I can't wait.
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Monday, January 12, 2004

Where do they get this stuff? 

The Boston Globe has an article about a Nigerian village where several children contracted polio and now have to live with useless limbs. The vaccine was available. Even offered door-to-door. So why did these kids come down with polio?

Muslim leaders in hundreds of northern Nigerian communities such as Batakaye limited or halted door-to-door polio immunization last year. They told millions of faithful in this Muslim-dominated region that the American government had tainted the vaccine with either infertility drugs or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS -- statements later proved false by independent laboratory tests.

Some leaders admitted in interviews late last year that they never believed such a thing. But they remained silent, they said, in order to stop anything associated with the United States. The US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, several said, had led them to believe that America wants to control the Islamic world, and the polio vaccination effort gave them an opportunity to resist a US-funded initiative.

They vowed to preach against polio vaccinations as long as the United States pays for them, even though it puts their own children at risk.

Brilliant. Absolutely ____ing brilliant. We'll let our kids get polio... that'll show those imperialist Americans!

Good Lord. What a bunch of nuts. I should stop before I let loose a string of invective. But this is hardly isolated. I remember over the summer reading an article about man-eating "tiger cats," which many Afghanis were convinced were dropped from low-flying American planes to prey on people. Or how about the Iraqis who believed that American soldiers had air-conditioning units in their underwear and x-ray vision in their Oakley sunglasses?

These are the same people who believe in the blood libel and accept the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as truth.

Honestly... What leads people to be so... well, ignorant? I could just call them stupid, but that's, you know, so judgmental. These places have doctors, they have scientists, they have their fair share of educated people who have been around the world. So what gives?
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Dean's race record 

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is having his record on racial issues called into question, most recently during Sunday's final pre-Iowa debate.

DES MOINES, Iowa - Howard Dean, a former governor of mostly white Vermont, was put on the defensive on his record on race in the last debate before Democratic presidential campaign voting kicks off in a week.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton forced Dean to acknowledge Sunday that no blacks or Hispanics served in his cabinet during 12 years as governor.

"Mostly white" doesn't describe the situation well enough. Vermont was 96.8% white in the 2000 census. I live in Maine, where the number was a similar 96.9%. And even in my town, one of the largest in the state, I can go days (and sometimes weeks) without crossing paths with a person from a minority group. In the smaller towns, you would have to go to one of the cities or you might never see a minority. I say this to demonstrate how few there are. (And as cold as it is right now, I think their scarcity is evidence of wisdom.)

So to try to attack Howard Dean for not having any minorities in his cabinet is not really fair. In a place like Vermont, in order to choose a minority for the cabinet, you would have to make the decision to go out and find a minority for the cabinet at all costs. It would be the equivalent of an employer walking around downtown Montpelier, begging every minority on the street to PLEASE come work at Company X. Short of that, the employer might not get even a single minority applicant, let alone fill a vacancy with a minority employee.

Diversity, as it is conceived in big cities or southern states, is simply not the reality on the ground in northern New England. Demanding diversity in Vermont is like demanding a ski resort in Florida. I'm no fan of Howard Dean, but he didn't create Vermont's demographics and he doesn't deserve to be attacked for having to work within that reality.
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Khameini declines to defuse crisis, for now 

Ayatollah Ali Khameini, Iran's supreme leader, is staying out of the struggle over parliamentary elections, but leaves the door open for intervention if legal channels fail to resolve the issue.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that if there were a large number of questionable disqualifications, he would use his constitutional powers to try to redress the situation.

"At this stage we have legal channels and everyone should act based on law," he said in comments carried by state radio.

"If it gets to the point that it becomes sensitive and requires a decision... there is no doubt that I will step in and act in accordance with my judgment and duty, as has been the case in the past."

If legal channels don't pan out and Khameini needs to step in, don't count on more than a token reinstatement of banned candidates--enough to give the appearance of overturning the Guardian Council's decisions, without giving the reformists a chance to gain more clout.
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Sunday, January 11, 2004

Iran in electoral crisis 

Almost a month ago, I posted about Iran's hardline clerics trying to keep reformist candidates out of the upcoming election for the Majlis (parliament). The story got a lot of coverage today.

The BBC has two articles:
"New power struggle erupts in Iran"
"Khatami urges calm as MPs protest"

That isn't the whole story though. President Khatami has also promised to take legal action against the ban on reformist candidates.

The Voice of America describes the situation as "Political turmoil."

The Telegraph and AP have articles, and Iranian bloggers Pejman and Hoder weigh in with their thoughts.

Stay tuned... this could turn into a major struggle for power, or it could end up like so many previous incidents and just fade into nothing.

UPDATE: Reuters has a story, quoting Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi.

"The situation is like a football match in which the referee sends off one team and invites the other side to score."

Nothing about the elections on his blog yet.

Meanwhile, a government spokesman stakes out a position directly opposing the Guardian Council's authority:

"The government sees itself not obliged to put into practice any illegal decision no matter which organ had taken it. No one should insist on illegal methods."

This could get interesting.
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