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.