Fidel Castro: Bush couldn’t debate a Cuban ninth-grader

“Shortly after US president George W. Bush praised a plan to realize a “transition to democracy” in Cuba, Fidel Castro challenged Washington to be “clear” about such plans, and criticized American capitalism

After laundering ‘keen observations’ made by the US economist, Daniel L. McFadden, the Cuban leader said that the United States, with a fiscal deficit of more than $520 billion, was handling its economy as a ‘banana republic’.

Then, the attacks were straight to the White House. Making fun of George W. Bush mistakes, Castro said Bush couldn’t debate a Cuban ninth-grader,’ as he leaned across the podium.” —Pravda

Time Can be Turned Back

The appetites of Pravda readers appear to have much in common with those here in North America who pick up the National Enquirer at the supermarket checkout line. (Me? Never!) The illustrious Russian daily is reporting that weather balloons retrieved after being sent up into an area of spinning gray fog over the South Pole consistently have their clocks set backward thirty years. Supposedly, the CIA and FBI are fighting for control of research into the anomaly; experiments are underway to send a human subject into the past.

A year ago, I reported on a Pravda story that Saddam was reverse-engineering a UFO that had crashed in a remote Iraqi region, and that the invasion of Iraq may have been about stopping him from gaining control over this presumptively invincible technological advantage. The paper is also describing reports of an alien visitor to a Russian province in the Urals. January, 2004’s unconvincing story of a Russian girl with ‘x-ray vision’, for which I credited Ananova, was also picked up from Pravda.

Amateur Makes Astronomical Find

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“While poking around the night sky with a telescope at home, amateur astronomer Jay McNeil discovered a nebula.

In what astronomy groups believe is the first such discovery by an amateur in 65 years, McNeil photographed the illuminated cloud of gas and dust lit by what astronomers believe is a newborn star…

For the 32-year-old McNeil, the discovery is the payoff of a passion he’s had since he was a teenager and saving money to buy telescopes.” —CBS News

Failed States All Over

The concept of the ‘failed state’ has been on our tongues (including mine) this week with regard to Haiti, which many have asserted exemplifies something about Haitian society. But the columnist argues that it essentially blames the victim while “simultaneously justifying either intervention (poor things) or abstention (they’re hopeless)”; in essence, is it a construct of the foreign policy of the superpowers? Interestingly, he applies the concept to American intentions toward Iraq, noting that it is easier to destroy a society than to “nation-build” and that recognizing that the US would be in control of whether the Iraqi nation-state descended into chaos was a factor in planning the invasion all along. ‘Failing’ another nation, i.e. causing it to become a ‘failed nation’, is an instrument of US policy and was part of the plan in Iraq.

Or take Iraq. Shia leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani blamed the U.S. for failing to take security measures before this week’s grisly bombings. We warned them, he said. Is he just being an ingrate? The rational people in the Bush government knew, before the war, that the likely outcome of overthrowing Saddam would be civil war and chaos. (The fanatics among them believed a miraculous, U.S.-style, democratic transformation would occur.) The question is: Did they find such an outcome acceptable?

I know it seems counterintuitive. Globalizing business leaders and foreign-policy wonks are supposed to value stability. But there may be cases where it’s unavailable, or its price is too high. In that case, “failing” a state might offer its own perks.—Globe and Mail

The truth about New York’s traffic buttons

‘Mechanical placebos’: “For years, at thousands of New York City intersections, well-worn buttons have offered people a rare promise of control over their pedestrian lives.

The signs say: To Cross Street Push Button. Wait for Walk Signal. Dept. of Transportation.

Millions of dutiful city residents and tourists have done just this. Many may have believed they actually worked. Others might have suspected they were broken but pushed anyway, out of habit, or in the off chance that a walk sign might appear more quickly.

As it turns out, the cynics were correct. The city disconnected the vast majority of the buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, Department of Transportation officials have admitted.

More than 2500 of the 3250 pedestrian walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos.” —Sydney Morning Herald Growing up in New York City, I can tell you that the buttons did nothing (except contain impatience) even thirty or forty years ago. My suspicions were confirmed when I moved to Boston for college; the lights actually changed almost immediately in response to pushing the buttons, and they still do.

Republicans rally at Bush’s alma mater

Yeah But: it’s difficult to tell the supporters from the protesters these days: “Complete with flags, banners, drums, and even a cardboard cut-out of President George W. Bush ’68, students from across the state of Connecticut came together on Friday in front of Payne Whitney to show their support for Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Also present at the rally was a group called ‘Billionaires for Bush’ who staged a demonstration chanting slogans such as ‘Leave no billionaire behind,’ and ‘Defend Enron.’…

Republican supporters were not alone, as they were joined by the group Billionaires for Bush. Around 30 students were present, all dressed in formal attire and holding signs such as “Blood for Oil.”

Members also chanted slogans like “Who needs equal rights?” as they handed out pamphlets.

The “Billionaires” refused to give any real names or discuss the group’s platform. Instead, participants attempted to mix in with the Bush supporters while chanting slogans.

Pamphlets included lines such as “tax cuts generously gave millionaires and billionaires nearly $100,000 for each billionaire” and “the benefits to the poor and lazy average less than $100 per year.”

“I thought it would be great to support global warming,” a demonstrator who would give his name only as Seymour Benjamins said. “You can see how white I am, and global warming gives better tans.”…

Bush supporters expressed their unhappiness with the Billionaires for Bush counter-rally…

“Liberal immaturity has really revealed itself tonight,” Brian Kim ’06 said. “Their chants have nothing to do with the candidates.”

Chung said it was difficult to stop the group because they blended in with the Republicans.

“One of the problems we faced in this rally was that they kind of look like Bush supporters,” Chung said…

” —Yale Daily News

An Anomalous SETI Signal

“No one knows for sure what caused this signal. There is a slight possibility that it just might originate from an extraterrestrial intelligence. The bright colors on the blue background indicate that an anomalous signal was received here on Earth by a radio telescope involved in a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). A search for these signals is ongoing by several groups including volunteer members of the SETI League. Time labels the vertical axis of the above plot, and frequency marks the horizontal axis. Although this strong signal was never positively identified, astronomers have identified in it many attributes characteristic of a more mundane and ultimately terrestrial origin. In this case, a leading possibility is that the signal originates from an unusual modulation between a GPS satellite and an unidentified Earth-based source. Many unusual signals from space remain unidentified. No signal has yet been strong enough or run long enough to be unambiguously identified as originating from an extraterrestrial intelligence.” —APOD

A Calculated Departure

“Can it ever be rational — or defensible — for a sane and healthy person to kill himself or herself? Medical ethicists, clinicians and experts in suicide find themselves at odds on the matter.” Suicidologists consider it axiomatic that suicidal people are desperate to live and that covert depression or at least cognitive rigidity contributed to even an apparently ‘rational’ suicide. Moralists are more willing to accept that suicide can be a rational choice, but consider it a moral failing in instances where it does not arise from a mental disorder. —Washington Post In essence, faced with the essential mystery of suicide, does everyone want to rationalize it in the terms of their own realm of expertise?

He Harms/She Harms:

This New York Times article is a portrait of the work of a London psychologist who has designed elegant studies to correlate objective measures of pain with subjects’ subjective experience. While most coverage of his work I have read focuses on the (admittedly interesting) observation that people are willing to accept more pain inflicted by women than by men, the broader finding, which makes intuitive sense, is that people experience pain as less intense if they experience more sense of control either in choosing it or in their lives in general. I have noticed in my psychiatric work that chronic pain complaints in severely mentally ill patients correlate with their sense of control. For example, paranoid patients who feel controlled by others will often have chronic pain conditions such as lower back pain or irritable bowel syndrome, while grandiose patients rarely do. [My observation, of course, is unscientific, since it may just be that they do not divulge their complaints as much…] The article quite rightly observes that a medical profession which keeps its knowledge esoteric and does not share it with the patients subject to it, and clinical environments that emphasize the patients’ lack of control over their fate, do little to assuage the patient’s pain experience.

Hip-Hop’s Crossover to the Adult Aisle

“Hip-hop has lately taken a turn toward the bourgeois, with prominent rappers renouncing violence, embracing philanthropy and donning pinstripe suits. But in deliberate defiance of this newfound respectability, some top acts have begun to pursue a less-than-wholesome sideline: commercial pornography. Pop music has always pushed sexual boundaries, of course, and rap has never shied away from gleefully smutty lyrics. But now, some stars are moving beyond raunchy rhetoric into actual pornographic matter, with graphic videos, explicit cable TV shows and hip-hop-themed girlie magazines.” —New York Times

This one goes out to GWB:

Tramp The Dirt Down

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign

A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain

She spills with compassion, as that young child’s

face in her hands she grips

Can you imagine all that greed and avarice

coming down on that child’s lips

Well I hope I don’t die too soon

I pray the Lord my soul to save

Oh I’ll be a good boy, I’m trying so hard to behave

Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live

long enough to savour

That’s when they finally put you in the ground

I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

When England was the whore of the world

Margaret was her madam

And the future looked as bright and as clear as

the black tarmacadam

Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn’t

haunted by every tiny detail

‘Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands

all she thought of was betrayal

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run

Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his

only son

And how it’s only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt

Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt

Try telling me she isn’t angry with this pitiful discontent

When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment

And then expect you to say “Thank you” straighten up, look proud and pleased

Because you’ve only got the symptoms, you haven’t got the whole disease

Just like a schoolboy, whose head’s like a tin-can

filled up with dreams then poured down the drain

Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and


Who takes all the glory and none of the shame

Well I hope you live long now, I pray the Lord your soul to keep

I think I’ll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep

I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap

‘Cos when they finally put you in the ground

They’ll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down

— Elvis Costello (with apologies)

Don’t Know Why Norah Jones Is Hot?

Critics of Hip-Hop Do. “Even that bastion of gravitas, the New York Times editorial page, felt compelled to weigh in on The Norah Question, offering the interesting theory that Jones’ popularity among her core audience of baby boomers reflects widespread desire for musical consolation in difficult times.

But what exactly is troubling these millions of middle-aged listeners who seek solace in the music of a woman young enough to be their daughter? Is it the war in Iraq? The sputtering economy?

A better answer may be found elsewhere on the pop charts. Jones’ was not the only Billboard milestone last week: For only the second time in history, all of the Top 10 singles were by African American artists. More precisely: All of the songs were by hip-hop performers. A quarter of a century after the American mainstream first encountered hip-hop’s radical revision of the pop-song form — replacing sung verses and traditional instrumentation with syncopated speech and dense, machine-generated rhythms — the genre’s conquest of hit radio is complete.

The difference between the songs on “Feels Like Home” and those topping the singles chart could not be more stark.” —LA Times

Hip-Hop’s Crossover to the Adult Aisle

“Hip-hop has lately taken a turn toward the bourgeois, with prominent rappers renouncing violence, embracing philanthropy and donning pinstripe suits. But in deliberate defiance of this newfound respectability, some top acts have begun to pursue a less-than-wholesome sideline: commercial pornography. Pop music has always pushed sexual boundaries, of course, and rap has never shied away from gleefully smutty lyrics. But now, some stars are moving beyond raunchy rhetoric into actual pornographic matter, with graphic videos, explicit cable TV shows and hip-hop-themed girlie magazines.” —New York Times